Buyers Guide – Headphones of Choice

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Headphones. What a myriad of options there are, from manufacturers who have been driving music to our ears for years and from others who are new entrants into the headphone world. With numerous choices in the types of construction, designs aesthetics and prices out there, how does one decipher this maze?

In this article, we’re going to take a look at several different sets of headphones, what they can be used for and demystify some of their differences. Whether you’re tracking or mixing in the studio, playing on stage, mixing a live show or DJing, having the right set of headphones is key. Let’s dive in and take a look at some options.

Firstly, let’s start on some more entry-level options, because let’s face it, sometimes the budget doesn’t permit for a big splash of cash on headphones. Most users are going be benefit most from a closed back set of “cans” (more details to follow) at the lower end of the pricing scale. Why? Quite simply, versatility.

Let’s look at the AKG K52 entry-level headphones. These can comfortably be used in numerous applications, from tracking live in the studio, live mixing, podcasting, in the classroom or for monitoring radio, the list goes on. The closed-back design reduces noise bleed into microphones when recording and the impressive frequency response gives a solid response across the frequency spectrum.

Moving up from the entry level, the Sennheiser HD280 Pro is a solid choice. These headphones have earnt their place in the recording studio for their great isolation, which is pretty essential for reducing bleed into microphones whilst tracking. They also fold up nicely to save space when required.

Taking ourselves up to the next tier of headphones we’ll start to see some different options, which will include some semi-open and fully open back designs. We’ve already covered the differences between closed and open back headphones in our article “Headphones Open or Closed: Which is Best for You?”, so feel free to have a read of that after this for more info.

Open back headphones as the Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro offers you a less fatiguing listening experience, simply due to their open back design by not pushing the sound into your ears and allowing the sound to escape more naturally. This can be especially useful for longer mixing sessions. These headphones are typically rated at 250 ohms (although there is an 80 Ohm version available), so you’re going to need to be listening or mixing on a device that has a good amount of gain to drive the headphones at a decent volume.

AKG recently released a new line of professional headphones, all with a nifty new foldable design and being served up in a few different flavours. From the closed back on ear (or supra-aural) design of the K175, to open and closed back over ear (or circumaural) designs of the K245 and K275 respectively. They offer solid frequency response, detailed imaging and other professional features in a compact form factor and are all rated at 32 ohms. These new headphones are worth a look and a listen too for those who looking for a professional headphone that can comfortably be taken anywhere from the studio, living mixing or DJing.

So, now that we’ve taken a look at the entry-level professional headphones and several tiers up, what happens when we start to look at professional studio headphones? What’s the difference, what can we expect? Well firstly, once you get up to this sort of reference level of headphone, the frequency response is spec’d higher, with the ability to reproduce frequencies and sound with more detail and accuracy. Listening to a song you’re really familiar with on a high-end pair of reference headphones can be a pretty “ear opening” experience, sometimes being able to hear nuances and even instruments in songs you may not have been able to hear before. They’ve always there but due to design, quality of components and performance capability, they are clearer and reproduced more accurately.

Sennheiser’s HD600 is designed with the professional recording engineer in mind and can produce sound between a frequency range of 12- 40500Hz. Their open-back circumaural design produces crisp, clean sound and is made with the highest quality components. You’ll need a decent headphone amplifier for these, being rated at 300 ohms, but most wouldn’t be expected to be using these listening on your phone or mixing directly from your computer.

Bouncing in the same ballpark are AKG’s K712 Pro reference studio headphones. With a frequency response of 10 – 39800Hz, extended low-end response, airy top end detail and high-quality components will offer users hours of listening comfort at the highest fidelity. Rated at 62 ohms means you’ll be able to listen on most devices at a reasonable volume, but we imagine most users wouldn’t be taking these out on the train or bus listening to their latest mix.

So, what’s next? Well, yes there are of course numerous options priced well above what we’ve covered in this article, but that’s for another day. Hopefully, you’ll now have a slightly clearer idea of what some of the differences are between certain headphones, what can be expected in terms of spec, performance and detail. Having a set of headphones you’re familiar and comfortable with will give you a superb reference point for your mixes when you’re next tracking in the studio or mixing a live performance. Get out there, try some out and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

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