Headphones - Are They Needed?

Anything about hardware musical instruments.
155 posts since 22 Jun, 2015

Post Mon Mar 20, 2017 5:24 pm

I am sure many similar questions have been asked, but I wanted to put my own spin on it.

The topic I would like to discuss is studio headphones :phones:

They are sold in all different price ranges, but it seems that the main ones that seem to get great reviews / recommendations are in the $150 range and up (not to say that less expensive ones don't get recommended), which to me seems a little expensive for something like this. Not to say they aren't worth it to other people, but I question if something like this is really needed for my own personal needs.

The main uses for headphones that I can think of are...
1.) Listening to music for pleasure
2.) Listening to tracks while recording vocals
3.) Mixing
4.) Checking Your Mix
5.) For a DJ to wedge one ear piece between his ear and his shoulder while looking down.
6.) (In certain cases) Showing everyone how cool you are :)

Thoughts about above topics
1.) Probably nice to have, but I have smaller headphones for this that are a little more portable.
2.) I am sure having an accurate representation would be nice but a less expensive pair would probably give you enough to reference your tracks while singing/recording.
3.) Most say to never "mix" with headphones.
4.) This I can understand but there are many ways to reference your mix.
5.) This looks uncomfortable, not something I want to spend $150 for :)
6.) I am already cool, I don't need headphones for this 8)

So I was wondering if anyone has any advice?
I can see buying a less expensive pair because they obviously do have a purpose, but would an expensive flat response studio quality pair offer me something that I am unaware of?
Last edited by miketurn on Mon Mar 20, 2017 5:36 pm, edited 2 times in total.

User avatar
Touch The Universe
3396 posts since 2 Oct, 2008

Re: Headphones - Are They Needed?

Post Mon Mar 20, 2017 5:31 pm

A lot of people use headphones to listen to music, so making sure they sound decent in them is a good idea. You mentioned most, if not all, the reasons how they can be useful, and, to me, those alone seem like all good enough reasons to consider buying one. From personal experience, there is always some adjustments I make after listening to a mix through headphones, and more adjustments to make when a track is mixed using headphones. The bass and sub region is the main area where I need to adjust slightly to make sure they sound good on both speakers and headphones. Once you have a good sounding bass on speakers, it is relatively safe to start mixing on headphones, though I would always make sure they sound good on either of them for the final mix.
High Quality Soundsets for Lush-101, Hive, Electra 2, Diversion, Halion, Largo, Rapid, Dune II, and Spire.

6825 posts since 7 Aug, 2003 from San Francisco Bay Area

Re: Headphones - Are They Needed?

Post Mon Mar 20, 2017 5:37 pm

My advice would be to do careful monitoring on a good pair of headphones which accurately bring out the details of your sounds. Then mix on studio monitors, and check your work on some truly awful speakers and earbuds.
Incomplete list of my gear: 110V AC to 12V DC 1.5A power supply (+ tip)

155 posts since 22 Jun, 2015

Re: Headphones - Are They Needed?

Post Mon Mar 20, 2017 6:24 pm

@Touch The Universe and @deastman
Thank You guys so much for your responses, this is very helpful.

(Sorry for the long posts)
I really have a great deal of trouble picking out certain types of products, there are so many options, it is hard to know what is a suitable choice and what is overkill.
In the past I was dead set on going for a pair of Audio-Technica ATH-M50x headphones some time in the future (which are about $150), but just recently I really started to question if this purchase was necessary for my needs, which brought me here.

I hesitated to mention this in my original post but I probably should ask the following two questions as well....
For recording vocals, minor mixing and minor mix referencing in a home environment
1.) Is there a particular price point that can achieve what is needed without going overboard?
(is $150 considered overboard for something like this, for my needs?)
(would like this to be a one time purchase, not something I want to have to upgrade in the future)
2.) Without getting crazy on the recommendations, are there any universally great options that will cover most peoples general needs (that are also comfortable and limit fatigue)?

I have searched around and have come up with the following....
(with peoples reviews it can get a little difficult to tell because general needs vary)

Audio-Technica ATH-M30x
Audio-Technica ATH-M40x
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x (most expensive / love the removable cord!)
Sony MDR7506
Sony MDRV6
AKG K 240
Sennheiser HD 280

User avatar
Touch The Universe
3396 posts since 2 Oct, 2008

Re: Headphones - Are They Needed?

Post Mon Mar 20, 2017 6:54 pm

I have the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x and it is the only pair I use. This headphones are extremely well priced for the sound you get. You probably won't find another pair near this price range to fit your needs with the same sound quality. It would be a safe and intelligent purchase.

I have also heard some good things about the Sony though, and they are cheaper. Maybe someone else can do a sound comparison quality/price ratio for you.
Last edited by Touch The Universe on Mon Mar 20, 2017 9:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.
High Quality Soundsets for Lush-101, Hive, Electra 2, Diversion, Halion, Largo, Rapid, Dune II, and Spire.

User avatar
399 posts since 23 Aug, 2012 from Way Out West

Re: Headphones - Are They Needed?

Post Mon Mar 20, 2017 8:48 pm

^ yeah, you're not gonna find better sounding HP's @ that price point. Not sure why they're $150, mine were $89 but that was 4-5 yrs ago. I also own the 7506's which I used to use exclusively for dj'ing. There's no comparison imo, the M50's bury them! I use AKG K712's exclusively for mixing. They'e quite neutral and present a better soundstage than the ATH-M50's but they're also 3x the price.
Last edited by Hooj on Wed Mar 22, 2017 3:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.

1912 posts since 25 Dec, 2005

Re: Headphones - Are They Needed?

Post Mon Mar 20, 2017 9:43 pm

Forget the idea for all purpose headphones,DJ headphones are more bass emphasized which must not be a bad thing.
After three weeks reading and comparing and listening to a couple of headphones in a shop i found my best headphones ever.
The headphones should be suitable for long time low level hearing/wearing and not damaging the ears.The frequency spectrum should be balanced and audible from deep bass up to the highs.
So that is the AKG K612 Pro for me.
Although i put some make up pads behind the ear pads and they need at least a audio interface/headphone output.They don't work very well with a smartphone or standard motherboard output.

For singing/recording you need closed headphones or in ears.For me they are not comfortable for longer wearing.

User avatar
4440 posts since 9 Jan, 2003 from Saint Louis MO

Re: Headphones - Are They Needed?

Post Tue Mar 21, 2017 6:17 am

I have Superlux HD668B, which were $40, after reading lots of reviews. They have sound that arguably rivals pretty much anything in the $150 range. The downsides are that the pads on them can easily feel hot, and don't have as much isolation as some headphones if you need that.

I do everything with them. With more critical mixes I will go back and forth between monitors and headphones, and also check in the car and on a phone through my favorite wireless earbuds. But for most of my stuff, which is headphone beard-stroking music anyway, I'll just stick with the headphones throughout the whole process.

17604 posts since 11 Apr, 2010 from Germany

Re: Headphones - Are They Needed?

Post Tue Mar 21, 2017 6:23 am

I have a pair of Superlux headphones too (i think also the HD 668B, i really like them, although i tend to think they're a bit more on the "hi-fi" side). I would never solely make music using headphones though. Every time i do something which sounds good on headphones, it sounds totally crappy on my monitors. I don't think there's anything which can fool you as much as sound on headphones.

User avatar
23177 posts since 27 Jul, 2005 from the wilds of wanny

Re: Headphones - Are They Needed?

Post Tue Mar 21, 2017 6:31 am

I have a pair of Audio-Technica ATH-M50x which I use for tracking vocals and acoustic guitar mainly. Very happy with them. I used a pair of Sennheiser HD450 II before that, mainly for live work & DJing. The ATH-M50Xs are much more detailed.

2360 posts since 17 Apr, 2005 from S.E. TN

Re: Headphones - Are They Needed?

Post Wed Mar 22, 2017 8:58 am

Hi Mike

As you summarized, it depends on the purpose.

For "hifi" uses, either listening pleasure or mixing or whatever, decent open-back phones can work better. Even real good sealed phones can sound somewhat "boxy". But the ear gets acclimatized to thangs real well. If you never used decent open-back phones, you wouldn't notice the "boxy" effect of sealed phones until you try some open-back models. On the other hand, if you like lots of low bass, sealed phones might do better.

Open phones don't have much isolation, which is a good thing in a quiet environment or where you might like to be able to hear a smoke alarm, car horn or crying baby. OTOH lack of isolation ain't so great if you don't want to hear environmental sounds. Also, the lack of isolation makes open-back phones not good for tracking because the leakage can feedback into microphones, or if you are "one big room" recording-engineering, the live performance leakage into the open phones makes it too hard to hear the audio in the phones themselves.

Also worthy of mention for some tasks are "high end" earbuds such as Etymotics, Shure, Westone or whatever else is good. With a properly-fitted earpiece, they have excellent fidelity and as good isolation that you can get. Because they are in the ear, you don't get the "boxy" sound of sealed phones. I have some old Etymotics ER4 nearing 20 years old, still work fine but I don't use them daily. They have very flat freq response, plenty of bass and highs, low distortion. I primarily used them for listening for subtle audio defects when programming audio applications and plugins. It is as close to "hot wiring audio to the brain" possible, IMO. You have to be unusually cautious with in-ear phones that you don't turn it up loud enough to cause hearing damage. I don't know which brands or models are currently "best", am too cheap to buy lots of models to compare.

A good reason to have some cheap boxy sealed phones is when recording drummers or guitarists or other folks who like it loud and might be rough on equipment. Or you could just tell em to bring their own phones. I don't mean to besmirch drummers and guitarists-- Some of my best friends are drummers and guitarists, but honestly some of em could tear up a brick and if they are gonna wreck some phones, it might as well be cheap phones. :)

Am not a fan of phones and I only wear them when necessary. Had some expensive old stax open-back phones that sounded great but were a hassle to use and not very comfortable. After an hour they would mash the ears and make them sore. I have some little cheap Sony "sport phones" from years back that are small and open and don't sound horrible. Will use em to listen to the kindle ebooks in noisy environment, or if I want to hear something on the laptop without annoying the wife.

If you want recreational phones, the Sennheiser rechargeable wireless phones don't sound awful and seem durable. I've bought/installed several sets for mom, wife's mom, and wife, mainly for TV watching. Never tried tracking with them, but a set or three of wireless phones MIGHT be more convenient nowadays than wiring up a studio headphone distribution system.

I'm a real cheap tightwad. Hate to spend money. A couple of years ago I acoustically treated a new "audio office" and got it tweaked as good as I could do and embarked on "remastering" a bunch of my old recordings. I hadn't done practical audio for a few years, too busy programming. The ear was real confused trying to decide how to EQ the old recordings so it would be "the best" balance, and an improvement on the original. After going back and forth between speakers, boombox and the factory sound system in the jeep, broke down and bought a couple of new phones for another reference. All my old "good" phones except the etymotics earbuds had rotted away.

Got a Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro, can't recall the price. More than I wanted to pay but cheap compared to the modern "high end" phones. And (dunno the model number) some little Sony round sealed phones like they've made for years for about $20 or $30. Old Sony 7506 are good "standbys" because they have a certain "well known" sound, fairly durable and are not super-expensive. But 7506 are hyped in certain frequency ranges and I wanted some cheap modern phones for mastering evaluation, and some "pretty good" more expensive phones as a sanity check against the studio speakers, boombox and car.

For some music the little round $20 Sony phones sound surprisingly good. Relatively flat and workable levels of bass. Maybe a bit strong in the mids. The beyer DT770 Pro sound good enough for my purposes. They sound balanced enough but maybe a bit "muddy" maybe a tad too much bass or something, but lots of folks listen to bassy phones nowadays and might be useful to to try to get a "non-muddy" mix or mastering. Both sets are comfortable to wear. The beyerdynamics are some of the most comfortable phones I've owned.

But I don't listen to em very often, mainly for occasional sanity-checks. I greatly prefer speakers-- Got the office acoustics and speakers tweaked purt good and am now accustomed to what music sounds like in the room on these speakers. Music sounds "better" on the speakers in the treated room, and phones are just annoying to use long-term.

If I ever do any more tracking with microphones will probably use the DT-770's.

281 posts since 24 Nov, 2014

Re: Headphones - Are They Needed?

Post Thu Mar 23, 2017 3:12 am

As a general rule...

Open backed headphones are more natural and better for mixing. However they are useless for recording vocals as the spill from the open backed design will be all over your vocal recording.

Closed back headphones are what you need for recording. But the downside is that they generally - and I'm not saying all - have less natural bass response, so you need to pay more to get something you might want to mix with.

Personally I don't like mixing with headphones. Some people do, and it's a perfectly valid choice. So I'd also be mindful that you might be someone who ends up just preferring monitors, as I do.

User avatar
2824 posts since 26 Oct, 2007 from Kent, UK

Re: Headphones - Are They Needed?

Post Thu Mar 23, 2017 3:23 am

t3toooo wrote:..and not damaging the ears.
All headphones are damaging to the ears ;) Notice how your ear canal tightens up just on hearing a signal through headphones?

I find headphones useful for listening for subtle distortion. I check some masters on headphones if they're being smashed for loudness. Apart from that I use them very little.

155 posts since 22 Jun, 2015

Re: Headphones - Are They Needed?

Post Tue Mar 28, 2017 2:56 pm

Thank You all for the responses,

Ahh, well at least my choice of the AT M50X would not have been a foolish purchase.

I have done a little research on the Superlux HD668B (first recommended by @foosnark)
Seems they get a lot of good reviews, seems if any complaints they mostly revolved around people mentioning a grainy high end response. The cost of these are literally four times cheaper than the AT, I also like they went with the same approach as AT with a removable cord that you can change the cord lengths. I read a review comparing them to the AT M50X but I wish I had them both to compare myself.

Also kind of nice to hear others say they don't really care for headphones at all.

Still a little undecided at the moment.

If I do buy a pair (which I am going to) I was ideally looking to only have to purchase one set, little tough though because as a few of you have mentioned, open backs may be better for mixing/referencing and closed are better for recording to avoid audio bleeding into your microphone and just general situations where you need to block out room sounds.

The AT M50X are closed back, so they will be fine for recording, as you guys mention they have great clarity so they would be helpful to mix/reference but with the closed design hopefully they won't feel too closed in (but it seems that you guys who own them don't seem to think so).

Some say certain headphones require a little more power than an mp3 player can provide in order to use them to listen to music on. Have any of you guys that own the AT M50X been able to listen to music with them on a iPod or other mp3 player?

Again Thank all of you again for your responses/advice.

User avatar
5 posts since 28 Mar, 2017

Re: Headphones - Are They Needed?

Post Tue Mar 28, 2017 11:31 pm

Unfortunately, my home studio does not allow listen to studio monitors in a comfortable way. I still have them, however, when mixing I rely on headphones (Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro). The final check nevertheless I do with the monitors.

Return to “Hardware (Instruments and Effects)”