Lesson 31

Headphones for the studio

Headphones are a great tool to have in any kind of recording studio. They can have high fidelity sound, often at a reasonably low price. 
You’ll use headphones for checking your mixes, as a monitor for the artist to hear themselves, and the backing track, and as a reference during mixing and mastering.

I don’t recommend doing the bulk of mixing and mastering using headphones, because ear fatigue seems to be more pronounced when using headphones, and you will lose the ability to have sound judgment. I’ll use headphones for mixing if I’m on the road, and want to get a good start on a song, and I use them as a reference. I also use the same headphones for casual music listening, so that I know how a mix should sound through them.
Often, after a few hours of mixing a song through my main speakers, putting on the headphones can be like getting a second opinion. I’ll notice the lead vocals aren’t the right volume, I’ll notice the trumpet clashing with the synth at 8khz. I’ll also usually notice things in the bass.
Headphones are also a critical component for me in the mastering phase. Because I mix and master in the same studio, I use a couple different pairs of headphones to really get a good sense of how the mix sounds, and will translate onto other systems.
I use the iSK HD-9999’s to get a good feel for the overall sound. They have deep bass, and are pretty smooth right up to the high trebles. If there are treble issues, I’m really able to notice it, and fix it with these headphones. Then I use the iSK MDH-9000 headphones to check the bass. These headphones have a bit prominent in the bass, much like many consumer headphones, so when there’s something conflicting, or just not right sounding, they bring it out a little more.

There are open back headphones, and closed back headphones. 
Closed back headphones house the speaker driver within a sealed enclosure. This offers the best isolation, with minimal sound bleed in or out. This is ideal in a recording setting where you don’t want the headphone mix bleeding into the microphone. It’s also beneficial to reject outside noise coming in, such as a nearby drummer, so you can still hear the click track.
Open back headphones allow the speaker driver to be open to the air. The advantage of this is a more natural sound, because the sealed enclosure will effect the sound.
The iSK HD-9999’s are closed back, so they have really good isolation, and they attempt to mimic the effect of open back headphones by utilizing a fairly large enclosure. 

When purchasing headphones, look for a comfortable fit. Light weight also helps, as you may find yourself wearing them for hours on end.
Also look for an even frequency response across the lows, mids, and treble. Listen for clarity, and the most natural sound.
What you want to avoid is headphones that boost certain frequencies, or attempt to make music sound better. Many consumer headphones are known for doing this. When using the headphone as a monitor, they will give you a skewed perception of the sound, and be detrimental to your performance or your mix.
Also, for studio purposes, you do not want noise canceling, or wireless headphones. These are always consumer grade, which means they are designed to sound good, but not designed to be accurate. They also have their own built in amplifier, which will generally be not as good as the headphone jack in your recording interface. Also worth note is the inconvenience of wireless headphones. They can only be used with a device they are synchronized to, they are subject to interference, and if you forget to charge the battery, you can’t use them at all. So, for studio purposes, stick with wired headphones.