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.

Mixing To The Beat Of A Different Drum

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In a home recording environment, we have the ability to track almost any instrument. But if your home studio is space limited, tracking live drums is not an option. The neighbors, your family, acoustics, as well as other reasons make it impossible. So, if you don’t have another studio to record that familiar drum kit, or if you don’t even KNOW a drummer — you can program drums yourself, or use drum loops. These will work well, especially if you know how to edit and “humanize” these beats. But, in a world that is growing smaller, we get a chance to hear the percussion of other countries via an Internet filled with unique taps, clicks, and swells and that awaken our ears. You do not need to mix or produce world music to use these distinctive instruments. They can fit seamlessly in pop, singer-songwriter, country, or ANY genre. I use them extensively, and you will hear an example in a mix of mine that I have posted at the bottom of this page. There are millions of samples and loops of these great alternative sounds waiting for you to incorporate into your next project. Here are a few ideas:

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Panning Techniques That Make Your Music Dance

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As mixing engineers, we want to breathe life into our creations. And, ladies, we need to remember how we listened to songs when we were little girls. Did you twirl around and dance to the music? Maybe you still do — and that is fantastic! What if you could achieve those “twirls” and movement in your mix? Well, you can! The movement of your mix is controlled by YOU, and you can bring your mix to life with some small, but very effective panning moves.

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Women. Home Studios. DAWs. Woohoo!

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So, you love mixing music, and you have no Y chromosome. You are in the right place! Mixing, mastering, recording, producing, audio editing — these skills are not accomplished with anything below our belt line. We use our ears, our minds, and our hearts. The fact that most mixing engineers are males is just one of those things. Like the gender dynamics that existed in the medical field decades ago, when the term “doctor” produced an image of a middle-aged male with a smile and a stethoscope. But times keep on changing. Although we may still visualize a music producer or mixing engineer as a male in the framework of our mind, the access of affordable home recording and mixing technology is in the hands of everyone who wants to create music. Everyone. And I have a feeling that there are females out there who are rockin’ the Auralex off of their home studios. Ladies, this blog’s for you!

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