So here's the list; In the order of importance as I see them they are as follows:
- Audio Interface
- DAW Software
- Power Conditioner
- Acoustic Treatment
- Studio Monitors (speakers)
- External Hard Drive
- Cables & Accessories
Many people new to professional audio don't understand what a proper pair of headphones are. In fact, I've found that people who have worked with audio for years sometimes don't know how to distinguish a proper pair of headphones. Do You? Look at the headphones next to you - are they ear buds ('in ear' type) or labelled, 'Pro', 'DJ' or 'Noise Canceling'? Don't worry - it's not necessarily a bad thing. Now think about how you use them - do you love the way music sounds on them, but hate listening to audio books (or vice versa)? Do they claim to pump more bass into your music? These are some of the factors that influence your selection when you're looking for a pair of casual use headphones. However there's one simple phrase to look for when you are searching for a good pair of headphones - 'Studio Monitor'.
Why Studio Monitor? It means the headphones are intended to give you a flat response across the sound spectrum. In fact, they will typically say something or even have a chart on the box with a notation '15hz to 25Khz frequency range'. Some will be higher, some will be lower. Don't worry - you probably can't hear everything they are capable of playing. Oddly enough - price (to a degree) doesn't always indicate an identifiable difference in performance. And just like there is no one microphone perfect for all voices, there is no pair of headphones perfect for all ears. Let's go back to price. What price often does determine is the level of comfort, portability, appearance, quality of materials, name recognition and even life of the product.
So why did I mention to stay away from the ear buds, Pro, DJ or noise cancelling headphones? The ear bud style headphones will often lead to ear fatigue or discomfort (unless they are custom fit). The Pro, DJ and Noise Cancelling headphones typically 'color' the sound. Pro and DJ styles often add more bass and change the treble and mid tones of music. Mix on a Pro or DJ set of headphones and you'll find that everything sounds good on those headphones, but, when listening through standard speakers, it may sound very thin or unexpectedly muddy. Noise cancelling headphones are simple - they actively change the sound based on any interference, the same technology that allows you to hear music while on an airplane or train is what makes these unreliable for mixing.
So what to choose? Well, there are many more choices in our store - but I'll share with you some of those options below that I know have worked well.
The ''Low End', 'Mid Range' and 'High End' distinction are not to say they are the lowest or the best, just a range with the average budget that clients have come to me with. You may decide your budget allows even more - and I will assure you there are options to suit you.
For decent comfort, good sound, doesn’t allow much sound in or out. Some replaceable parts. The Audio-Technica ATHM40FS Precision Studio Headphones deliver clean audio and at about $50-60.
For good comfort, good sound and editing in more open environments. Some say they are better than other low end, others disagree and say you're paying for the Sennheiser name. However, the Sennheiser HD-280 PRO Headphones seem to deliver between $80 - 90.
These are a bit of a quirk. People seem to love them or hate them. they are decent in their comfortable, clarity and collapsible. They even come with a soft bag for transporting. Caution - if you love them you won't want to use anything else. The Sony MDR7506 Professional
comes in at about $80-90
Standard equipment at many recording studios/radio stations for great musical range, allows airflow for extended wear comfort – good for quiet home environments and studios they are my personal all around favorites: The AKG Acoustics K-240 Semi Open Studio Headphones have a good overall balance of price, clarity and comfort all for about $100
As you would expect we start with a set of headphones that is a step up in comfort, quality and appearance. These, like many high end headphones, have some replaceable parts to insure they will last you some time. The Audio-Technica ATHM50 Studio Monitor Headphones with Coiled Cable delivers it nicely for about $160
Again besting it's little brothers in several areas, these are comfortable for long periods of time, again have several replaceable parts and are good for areas where there might be distractions or in a bit more of a noisy environment. The Sennheiser HD 380 Pro might be right for you and cost about $190
Better Comfort, better sound and again doesn't allow much sound in or out. Several Replaceable parts make these last a long time. You'll often find these are labelled 'hands off' in broadcast studios as the owner doesn't want to share.The AKG K271MKII Closed Back Circumaural Headphones delivers all of the good of it's little brothers and makes it better for about $160
Now - like all equipment, you can spend as much as you have available for a lovely set of headphones that are hand built, have wooden ear-cups and a guarantee for comfort, etc. I hope you're able to add those to your collection some day. The sets I've shown you, however, should carry you into a new world of audio clarity. A word of caution, if you listen to your CD's with these or similar quality headphones - you may not want to use anything else. You'll hear what I mean if you do!
Stand by for next week's installment in our Home Studio Equipment Reviews and Recommendations Series for some discussion on what is commonly called 'Sound Proofing'. I prefer to call it Acoustic Treatment or Sound Management and it should be some fodder for great discussion.
Until then, onward and upward!