In our next review we take a look at headphones designed specifically for music production. Most producers and engineers will recommend that production headphones are an essential piece of kit for any recording studio. Not only this, a decent set of full frequency headphones is also a great alternative to speakers for those who may not have the money or space for high-end monitors. Another thing to note here is that even if you do have a good set of monitors, your room may not be perfectly acoustically treated and headphones become a very important point of reference for your tracks. Plus it is highly advisable that you check the stereo image of your work on headphones. If your mix-downs are translating well from your usual monitoring set up to a good pair of headphones, then there’s a good chance you’re on to a winner! In this review we will look at a variation from the budget end to the more pricey sets of cans but the bottom line here is that a good pair of headphones could save you a lot of time and strife when it comes to both the idea’s stage and mixing stage of composing and producing music.
Now, a word about the types of headphones in this review. Most will be familiar with ‘closed-back’ headphones. This means that the outer part of the earpiece is closed off and any external noise will be much less likely to interfere with what it is you are working on. Conversely, open-back headphones allow the sound to escape from the outside of the headphones. You might think this sounds counter-intuitive but what this also allows is the user to hear the ‘sound of the room’. Using open back headphones can be considered more like using speakers as it will sound more like you are working in an acoustic space, giving a more spacious or airy sound. The choice here is often down to personal preference, however you may want to consider whether the environment you will be working in will be noisy and it might be important to block out that external noise. likewise, if you will be working in the presence of others (say, on public transport), be aware that the sound of open back headphones will be easily heard by people nearby. Furthermore, open back headphones maybe more suitable for performers such as vocalists recording lyrics as closed-back headphones will drastically alter the perception of the performers voice to themselves, possibly making them conscious resulting in a below par performance.
There are other factors to take into consideration when when deciding which headphones are right for you. One such factor is ohmage (Ω). This refers to impedance, i.e. the effective resistance of an electric circuit or component to alternating current, arising from the combined effects of ohmic resistance and reactance. In leyman’s terms this means that the higher the ohmage, the more gain you will need. This means that if you are working exclusively though the line out (headphone port) or your laptop or PC you might be better off with lower ohmage headphones, likewise if you are wanting them to double up as general listening headphones. If you have an audio interface or headphone amplifier you will be able to benefit from the increased clarity of the higher impedance models.
The products featured in this article are ordered from least to most expensive. That’s not to say that any in the list are categorically better that any others. As with most things in life you generally get what you pay for but some of the entries here are particularly good value for money, especially some of the mid-range ones that come recommended by some of the most prevalent audio engineers in the industry. Finally, the actual fit and overall comfort of the product is not to be overlooked. Theres no point shelling out on a product that might sound great but will end up being very uncomfortable after an hours use, so as we have advised in other reviews, get down to your local music store and see if there are demo models that you can try before you buy. There maybe be several products suitable in your price range and you might find that it is the ergonomic design that will help swing it for you.
MT Series studio monitor headphones remain true to Yamaha’s fundamental concept, delivering precision sound reproduction that meets the demanding requirements of today’s professional studio and monitoring applications. With unmatched fidelity in a sturdy yet stylish design, and the durability to hold up to the rigors of the road, Yamaha’s MT Series headphones offer a level of comfort you’ll be thankful for after long hours in a critical listening environment. High-grade monitor headphones that deliver a balanced sound faithful to the source. Perfect for in the studio, music production at home, or for personal listening. Great portability thanks to the folding arm and 250g light weight hardware designing. These headphones are a good contender for those buying on a budget.
Cup Type: Closed
Frequency response: 20Hz - 20kHz
Impedance: 51 Ω (at 1kHz)
Cable: 3m Straight
As with Yamaha, KRK have a great reputation for affordable yet adequate speakers for music production. It’s the same with their headphones. They offer two closed back models, the other coming in a little more expensive, but with a couple more features. These headphones are popular with producers from all genres as they provide a very accurate and natural frequency response. They are also super comfy and claim to use latest in acoustic foam technology. The special foam conforms to the ear to help ensure an improved fit, which helps you to stay focused during those long mixing sessions. Extended low frequency definition, ensures the bass component of your music is accurately reproduced, and is not lost. The KRK 6400’s should be a serious contender for those looking to spend under the £90 mark. Furthermore these are low impedance so will double up well as general listening headphones.
Cup Type: Closed
Frequency Response: 10Hz - 22kHz
Impedance: 36 Ω
Cable: 2.5m straight (detachable)
Beyerdynamic have been producing headphones for a long time. Anyone who has ever been in a recording studio (or seen any archive footage from Abbey Road Studios) might be more familiar with the DT100’s, a stalwart of the recording and broadcast industries since the 1970’s - not because they sound great, but because they are easy to wear on one ear (a preference for many vocalists and drummers), plus all the parts are serviceable and replaceable, and the same is true for the 770’s, however these actually do sound great! The frequency response you get for the reasonable price is unrivalled. The sound of these headphones is very true and accurate - and headphones that go as low as 5hz at around the £100 mark is very helpful for those wanting to pay particular attention to the low end of their mixes whilst not having access to large speakers or pricey subwoofers. The padded circum-aural design of the cups and padded headband make these cans very comfortable, even over very long sessions. They also come in an open back version, the DT990’s, that are around the same price, and a ‘semi-open back’ model in the DT880’s which tend to be around £70 more. The DT990’s come in a 80 and 250 ohm version so if you have an interface or headphone amp, the higher ohmage version should be considered. One downside of this whole range is that they are quite bulky and do not have a ‘fold away’ design like some others in this review, and they are probably a bit to hefty to use whilst out and about. They are however, a very rugged and robust feeling product that have a trustworthy sound.
Cup Type: Closed (DT990 for open version)
Frequency Response: 5Hz - 35-kHz
Impedance: 80 Ω / 250 Ω
Cable: 3m straight
Audio Technica ATH-M50X
Audio Technica is a brand synonymous with high quality audio equipment. They have a full range of the M-series headphones, at varying price points. The M50x sit in the middle of the range and a great all round headphone. They deliver accurate audio and outstanding comfort, perfect for long sessions in the studio and on the go. Contoured earcups seal tight for excellent sound isolation, with minimal bleed. This means they will also triple up as great general listening headphones as they pack away neat and tidily and are also suitable of DJ use, especially with the 90° swivelling ear-cups, which will also come in handy for various other performers if using in a studio application. Another handy feature for such applications is that they come with three different detachable cables, so you can use them in different situations as you see fit.
Cup Type: Closed
Frequency Response: 15Hz - 28kHz
Impedance: 38 Ω
Cable: 3 x Detachable cables (1.2m - 3.0m coiled cable, 3.0m straight cable and 1.2m straight cable)
Sennheiser are famous for Microphones and Headphones. This model are collapsible, high-end headphones and are ideal for professional monitoring use. The HD 380 Pro offer a closed, circum-aural design which provides excellent passive attenuation of ambient noise while Sennheiser’s Ergonomic Acoustic Refinement (E.A.R) technology channels the audio signal directly into the user’s ears. The headphones are lightweight but don’t feel as rugged as some of the other offerings from Sennheiser but are still well built enough to withstand day-to-day studio use, and the 2 year warranty that Sennheiser offer will back that statement up. These are full frequency headphones and give a very true representation of your tracks, and the slightly higher price tag makes sense when you compare the frequency range of these compared to some cheaper options.
Cup Type: Closed
Frequency Response: 7Hz - 27kHz
Impedance: 54 Ω
Cable: 1m coiled extendable to 3m
AIAIAI TMA2 Studio Preset
AIAIAI are a new brand compared to most the others that feature on this page, and they only make headphones and earbuds (for the moment, at least), so you’d hope they know what they are doing. However, as the Danes like to do, they have taken a different a approach to most manufactures and they are set apart in that they have four ‘preset’ models. The idea here is that the whole range of products is modular, with two or more versions of the headband, drivers, ear-pads and cable available. This means you could buy the monitor preset and use these as production headphones, then when you move over to the decks you can swap the drivers and ear-pads to a more suitable configuration (you’d have to buy the other parts, of course). All of the components are available in a number of alternative specifications, all of which are compatible with every other component in the range. The available options include three headbands, four speaker units, five ear pads and six cables, which can be mixed and matched to create 360 possible combinations. Furthermore there are configurations created by artists, producers and DJ’s that you can find their website and available to buy. The swapping out of parts is quite straight forward and can be done in a matter of seconds. It also means if one part breaks they can be quickly and easily replaced, and will be less expensive then buying a whole new set of cans!
Cup Type: Closed
Frequency Response: 20Hz - 20-kHz
Impedance: 32 Ω
Cable: 1.5m coiled (but you can choose a different one if you prefer)
Audio Technica ATH-M70X
Where as some of the reviews in this post also mention variations of the brand in questions offerings, Audio Technica have found themselves with two separate entries. There is in fact four different models in the M-series of headphones. We have included the two that we think are suitable for music production - there are some cheaper option in the M20X and M40X variations. However the M70X are like the big daddies of the range. Ergonomically they are all fairly similar, however the 70’s have a more slightly more sleeker design and a nice, slimmer and more minimal design on the headband, however this comes without a compromise as the ear-cups still swivel like those lower down in the product range, and as a result they pack away nicely in a rather fancy protective hard case that comes as standard. It’s worth noting that the impedance is very low for a product at this price point, but it does make them extremely versatile. In fact the company recommend the following applications; Front Of House, Mastering, Studio Mixing and Tracking, DJing, Post Production and even Audio Forensics - yep thats pretty much everything then! If you are in the market for a high-end, versatile, reliable pair of closed back headphones, these are the ones!
Cup Type: Closed
Frequency Response: 5Hz - 40kHz
Impedance: 38 Ω
Cable: Cable: 3 x Detachable cables (1.2m - 3.0m coiled cable, 3.0m straight cable and 1.2m straight cable)
The Sennheiser HD600 (as well as the HD650’s) can be seen somewhat as the flagship model for the brands range of reference headphones. The price reflects this, but they do sound excellent - very true, very accurate. These are also some super comfy headphones and are also fairly lightweight. The reason the HD650’s are also mentioned above is that they look very similar, and actually sound very similar as well. There are numerous reviews and comparisons online that you could spend a long time wading through, but to save you the effort let us say that the HD600’s are probably the more suitable model when it comes to music production. The HD650’s are said to have a slightly warmer and fuller sound, while the HD600’s are more airy and and natural, with a slightly more pronounced treble. Both versions are open back and they give a very natural and transparent feel to the audio. For the money you do get some slight more advanced engineering in extremely lightweight aluminium voice coils, which ensure excellent transient response. They cannot be folded away and won’t transport particularly well, i.e in a rucksack, but if you are spending this much on headphones you might want to keep them safe in your studio anyway. We wouldn’t recommend wearing these on the bus… and neither would the person next to you!
Cup Type: Open
Frequency Response: 12Hz - 40.5 kHz
Impedance: 300 Ω
Cable: 1.5m straight