Studio Headphone Monitors
Studio headphone monitors are a special type of headphone designed to be used in sound studios during the recording and the mixing process. They are often referred to just as “studio headphones,” so as not to confuse them with the system of speakers known as studio monitors. Like the name suggests, their purpose is to monitor the sound as you’re recording it, as well as later when you’re mixing it.
Studio Headphones and the Recording Process
When you’re recording vocals or instruments to use in your track, the singer or the musician will need to hear what has already been recorded in order to stay in time with the rest of the track. You cannot play the recorded material through the sound monitors, as the sound would spill into the microphone. It would be impossible for you to isolate the vocal or the instrument and blend it in with the backing track.
But you can play the backing track through a good pair of studio headphones. Because they are designed to isolate the sound and prevent any spillage, only those wearing them (in this case the singer or the musician and the engineer) will be able to hear the track. You will therefore record only the vocals or the instruments which will immediately be ready to use in the final mix of the song you’re working on.
Studio Headphones and the Mixing Process
Once everything is recorded, you will move on to the mixing process. Here you are expected to combine dozens of different audio elements together in order to create a unified stream of sound. In music, these elements will include “dry” vocals and separate instruments that need to be combined into a single song. There are also additional sound effects you will use to make your track stand out from the rest.
This is a process that requires a lot of precision, and studio headphones make that possible. The main difference between studio headphones and regular, consumer-type headphones is their frequency response. Because studio headphones have a flat frequency response, they will allow you to hear your mix as it is, without a bass or treble boost.
As you listen to your mix while you’re making it, you will be able to hear every imperfection and anomaly that needs correcting. Things won’t always sound the way you want them to, and there will often be some accidental glitches or hiccups in the mix. Studio headphones give you an opportunity to notice all the finer details that might use additional work and adjust them according to your preferences. It is recommended you use studio headphones along with studio monitors (speakers) for a more well rounded mix.
Open-Back vs. Closed-Back Studio Headphones
All studio headphone monitors are invariably over-ear type – they are larger in size and encase your entire ear. Due to their size, they use a larger driver, which results in higher volume and better bass delivery. The driver is placed further away from the ear canal, providing a better, more spacious sound.
Open-back headphones, as the name suggests, have a casing that is opened in the back. This makes the sound come off more natural to the listener, as it allows surrounding sounds to come through, as well. They are useful for monitoring louder instruments, but their structure makes them prone to sound spillage.
Due to this spillage, they are not suitable to use in the recording process. The recording microphone will have no problem catching the sound in the headphones, which will render the vocal tracks useless. Because they tend to have a weak bass response, open-back headphones are not recommended for use in the mixing process, either.
Closed-back headphones isolate the listener’s ear completely, thus preventing sound leakage. They also have the ability to cancel out the outside noise, making them perfect for studio monitoring. Because they encase your entire ear, the bass reproduction will be much more faithful than with open-back sets.
The fact that closed-back headphones isolate your ear also results in what is perceived as their biggest shortcoming. Namely, by cutting off environmental noises from our ears, the sound they produce will often feel unnatural. This is why it is not recommended to use them when listening to the mix.
Because they are intended to be used over longer periods of time, studio headphones are designed to provide comfort to the listener. The headband and ear pads are made of durable and comfortable materials, so that at times you can almost forget you’re wearing headphones.
Studio Headphones vs. Regular Headphones
If you’re looking for headphones to use in your recording studio, you will get better results using studio headphones instead of the regular consumer type. The main benefit of studio headphones is that they deliver a flat frequency response and add no boost to the sound quality in any way. This gives you the ability to hear your mix as it is, with all the imperfections and possible errors, and change it accordingly.
Many manufacturers today have dedicated lines of studio headphones. Sennheiser, Sony, Status, and Audio-Technica, among others, are widely known for their studio monitor headphones. These will often vary in price, but there are numerous inexpensive high quality models on the market.
Audio-Technica ATH-m50x is the most popular model of studio headphones currently available. If you’re in the market for something slightly cheaper, you might want to give Sony MDRV6 studio headphones a go. Status Audio CB-1 is another inexpensive set that delivers all the goods at a low price of around $80.