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Studio Monitor Headphones - What to look for.

A good pair of headphones is an invaluable resource in the studio. Some people prefer to do all their monitoring in cans, some only when mixing and others have them as an option to continue working when in noise-sensitive environments. Regardless, if you don't have solid pair of headphones as part of your production set-up, they're well worth considering. Studio based headphones differ from those you may use for DJing or even just general day-to-day use. When monitoring and mixing in headphones, you need the sound reproduction to be as neutral as possible, how can you tell if your bass needs more low-end if the headphones you're using have a low-end boost built into them? For reasons like these, studio headphones often have characteristics like flat frequency reproduction, giving you as honest a picture of your soundstage as possible. This, can leave them sounding slightly less exciting than other models, designed for listening to music. But that's the point. When you're mixing and mastering you want to hear transparent audio, so you can make informed decisions about how to colour your production using EQ, compression and fx.

That being said, there's a lot of technical information to be digested, across a huge range of models and brands. So, we're going to discuss a few important elements that you might consider when choosing studio/monitor headphones and then break down some options in different price ranges.

Open Back vs Closed Back
This is one of the most common queries about headphones for studio use, what's the difference? Does it matter? It does, but it depends on how you intend to use them. Open backed headphones, intentionally allow some leaking of the sound out. This "bleed" prevents the buildup of certain frequencies, mostly bass, inside the cup and as such offers a more natural or flat sound. This is ideal when mixing or mastering, as the buildup of frequencies can colour the accuracy of your mix. On the other hand closed headphones give you much greater isolation, keeping the sound in, which is perfect when recording a microphone or situations where you need to keep external noise out. Closed back headphones generally function better as a "multi-use" headphone and are a great stating point as they can be a touch more versatile.

Frequency response
This describes the range of frequencies (pitches) a set of headphones can reproduce, between Point A (the lowest frequency) to Point B (the highest). Most headphones boast a frequency range of at least 20-20,000Hz. This is the full range of human hearing, meaning any sound that occurs outside of this is inaudible. So, the ability for a pair of headphones to reproduce sounds outside of this 20-20,000Hz range is mostly meaningless. Measuring the frequency response of headphones can be difficult too as everyone's ear canals are highly individual and will receive sound differently. So, unless the frequency response of a pair of headphones is stated as significantly less than the range mentioned above, don't put too much weight into this specification as a reflection of quality.

Impedance is how much resistance a device poses to an electrical current being passed through it. It's measured in ohms and regarding headphones, refers to the amount of power you'll need to deliver decent listening volume. Most headphones will fall somewhere between 25 and 600ohms, the higher the number the more power needed. This is important because certain devices; smart-phones, cheap music players etc, may not be able to power higher impedance headphones appropriately. Generally, most cans up to 100ohms won't have any issues with smaller, less powerful devices. If you're using anything with an impedance of 100ohms or higher you might want to consider using a headphone amplifier, which will increase the power, volume and clarity of the sound. The benefit of higher impedance headphones, if powered correctly, is that they will deliver higher quality and accuracy. This is not to say that lower impedance headphones are bad, not at all!

You may also want to look at whether a particular headphone model has easily available and reasonably priced replacement parts. Quite often things like cables or ear pads are the first things to deteriorate and replacing these can extend the life of your favourite set of cans.

Having identified some of the more common headphone specifications, let's now look at a few different price brackets and some of our staff's picks for great options within those.

Below $150:

$150 - $250:

$250 and above

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