Headphones: Which “Cans” Are For You?

Headphones: What to Know

Knowing what headphones to invest your hard earned money in can be confusing. Closed or open back, impedance, noise attenuation — what does it all mean to you? Well, choosing a great pair of headphones for your needs does not have to be difficult. Different headphones are often used for recording and mixing, and whether you buy one or two pairs, the important thing to remember is that you get what you pay for. And although you do not have to spend a fortune, high quality headphones will be an investment you will not regret. Coming in a very close second to good microphones, your headphones are key to creating quality music.

Closed back headphones are the best choice for recording tracks, so you can monitor a mix as you play or sing without sound from your headphones bleeding into your live mic. This is why it is important to buy a pair that has maximum sound isolation. This isolation is important not just for minimizing mic bleed, but for creating a sound environment where room reflections and other sounds will not disturb you while you record. Over-ear circumaural headphones that encase the entire ear (as opposed to on-ear) are what you will need.

Open back headphones are rarely used for recording. Open-back headphones aren’t ideal in a wide variety situations, and not everyone loves the sound. Those who enjoy an open back headphone sound feel the music sounds less isolated, and more realistic. But this can cause a variety of problems, and if your listening and mixing environment is not ideal, the noise floor (including outside sounds and unwanted signals) will end up in the decisions you make for your music. Open back headphones are excellent for mixing and mastering in a treated environment, because closed back headphones can result in ear fatigue and frequency build up, especially in the lower frequencies.

Whether you make the choice to own one or two pairs of “cans,” here are some specifications to  consider when buying:

—A driver of 40mm or larger (the size of the diaphragm)

—Impedance of 40ohms or higher

—A frequency response of 20-20,000Hz

—THD (Total harmonic distortion) of less than 1% (the less the better)

Headphone specifics can seem daunting, but you don’t need to understand physics and mathematical equations to make a choice that will work for you. You just need to remember what you are using them for, and the environment you are using them in. One of the best ways to find your perfect pair is to take some music you listen to on a regular basis (or tracks you have recorded at home) to your nearest audio store and audition multiple sets of headphones. Also, take comfort and ease-of-adjustment of the headphones into consideration as well. You will be wearing these for prolonged periods of time, and fit and comfort are important. Just like your favorite pair of jeans.

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