The Best Headphones For Home Recording
When it comes to recording, your most-used tool is almost certainly a pair of headphones; there’s just no way around it. Today we’re covering the basics of studio headphones and how to choose wisely.
A Word About Headphones and Speakers
For music production, headphones will never be a true replacement for full-range monitors. They simply cannot reproduce the same range of detail. But what if you can only afford a pair of decent headphones? Not to worry—plenty of great music has been made and mixed with headphones, despite their deficiencies when compared with a set of larger speakers.
Interested in buying speakers? Be sure to check out our write-up on shopping for the right studio monitors.
Closed vs. Open
The primary reason we use headphones or in-ear monitors when recording is to minimize or to effectively eliminate bleed (in studio terms, this is considered a method of isolation). Headphone bleed can quickly ruin an otherwise great recording. Imagine yourself singing the perfect vocal take only to realize later the metronome that was blaring in your headphone mix is not only audible in the recording, but nearly impossible to remove or mask!
This has led many manufacturers to design over-the-ear headphones with a fully closed back. The Sennheiser HD280PRO is a closed-back design that is found in almost every professional studio the world over.
However, there can be a downside. Closed-back headphones reject a lot of ambient sound and can feel restrictive to many musicians, who are used to hearing themselves in the context of the space around them. Often musicians who are feeling this way will remove one ear of the headphones, exposing the speaker to the open air making bleed even worse!
For this reason some designs are semi-open, meaning the rear of the speaker is partially exposed to allow for more ambience to reach the listener. The most popular in this category is undeniably the AKG K 240, another studio standard.
If you can only have one, we recommend a closed-back design. It might feel strange at first, but it’s worth taking the time getting used to it.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
Like most things in the audio world, headphone preference is highly personal. It takes time to learn and get used to how your headphones respond along the frequency spectrum. Because of this we believe whatever headphones you buy should be worn and used for a reasonable amount of time before judging whether or not they’re right for you. Stand by your choice! Any quality pair of “cans” (more studio lingo) will do the job. That said, we have a list of what we think are the best options for your money.
As mentioned before, the HD280PRO is a standard, and for good reason. Its frequency response is relatively flat, so it can be useful for a number of applications.
The MDR7506 sounds wonderful and is lightweight compared to other headphones, perfect for extended wear.
Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO
A step up from some of the other standards, the DT 770 is extremely detailed and comfortable.
The HD7 is a very inexpensive semi-open design with a surprisingly nice frequency response.
These are a great option for about $25. The TH-03 is perfect if you’re recording a full band and need more than one pair of headphones.
You may find yourself in a situation in which the performer needs to be in a separate room or far from your interface’s headphone jack. We can solve this problem by running an output from your interface to a headphone amp near the performer.
We like both the inexpensive Behringer MICROAMP HA400 and the PreSonus HP4 for this task.
Can I use In-Ears?
Of course you can. In the live music world, in-ear monitors reign supreme. They drastically reduce stage noise by eliminating the need for “wedge” monitors and provide the performer with a reasonable amount of isolation from bad-sounding rooms. In-ears are at their best when they’re made from custom inner-ear molds unique to the listener, but there are plenty of great universal options. We don’t recommend you mix music with in-ears, but for tracking they can be just as effective as traditional headphones. If you’re interested in in-ears check these out:
Westone UM Pro Universal-Fit
Whether you like it or not, headphones will be a part of your recording workflow. Why not invest in a pair that will help you take your recording process to the next level? Get yourself a new pair and get to work already!
Headphones are only one piece needed for a home recording studio. Here are some other things you may need: