Even if you don’t work in the music or sound technology industries, you surely know the difference between good and poor quality headphones. All the more reason if you are a musician, you will also know that there are several technologies behind the professional listening devices that are used in recording rooms.
You may, therefore, need some suggestions on how to choose a good studio headphone. We also specify that the following buying guide is intended as purely informative, in the sense that it was conceived by our team of experts to be accessible to most readers and, therefore, deliberately free from technicalities, mathematical formulas, and big words. Difficult. Enjoy the reading!
Studio Headphones vs. Consumer Models
When buying a pair of studio headphones, the first thing to keep in mind is that “expensive” doesn’t always mean perfect quality. However, compared to models designed for simple listening to music pleasure, these devices offer:
- Greater comfort, so you can wear them for several hours a day without feeling any discomfort;
- Sturdiness, to limit wear caused by frequent use;
- Flat frequency response, to make them sound as faithful as possible to the original;
- Maximum definition of all audible frequencies, both in the deep bass and in the high tones.
Obviously, it is quite difficult for commercially available models to meet all these requirements optimally, but the closer they are to them, the higher their quality will be.
Furthermore, we must not forget that the design of “standard” headphones is often dictated by the average consumer’s needs, which do not always coincide with those of musicians and sound engineers.
Although consumer models generally offer a fairly satisfactory sound performance, they still tend to modify the sound in a way that makes it more pleasing to our ears, for example, by emphasizing the bass.
In the studio and during recordings, however, it is important that certain frequencies are not amplified or unnaturally highlighted to obtain a perfectly balanced and “truthful” sound as possible.
The Technical Parameters to Consider
That said, let’s now define the main technical parameters to be taken into consideration when buying a good pair of studio headphones.
1. Frequency Response
Frequency response is how an audio device responds to a given input pulse. In the case of headphones, this value indicates the range within which the sound received in input is “changed” during playback.
From a technical point of view, the frequency response is reported on a graph (the so-called phase response graph), which shows the frequency domain along the abscissa axis and the amplitude of the response on the ordinate axis.
Generally, the best-selling and best-reviewed studio models online can reproduce most of the frequencies audible to the human ear in the range from 20 to 20,000 Hz.
Furthermore, to make the reproduction as faithful as possible, the frequency response of the headphones should be linear (flat) and optimized (tailored) so that they do not modify or alter the sound received at the input, which from the point of viewgraph results in a perfectly straight horizontal line.
When we talk about “sensitivity” about studio headphones, we refer to the effectiveness with which the device converts an electrical impulse into an acoustic signal, a value that is typically measured in Sound Pressure Level per milliwatt (abbreviated to SPL / mW).
For example, if a model has a sensitivity of 100 dB SPL / mW, it means that for every milliwatt of input power, it can generate a sound pressure of 100 decibels. Therefore, the higher the headphone’s sensitivity, the more powerful the returned sounds will be, a value that should generally range between 80 and 125 dB SPL / mW.
Impedance is a physical quantity that indicates the ability of a circuit to resist the passage of an alternating electric current and is measured in ohms (Ω). In-studio headphones, this value is generally included in a range from 8 to 600 Ω.
Still, in principle, it is always advisable to choose a model with an impedance that is as close as possible to that of the device to which it will be connected to maximize the transferable power and, therefore, the level of sound intensity.
Unlike the previous ones, this parameter refers to the design of the headphones, which can be on-ear, over-ear, and in-ear. The in-ear (in-ear) models fit inside the ear and ensure good sound insulation, while the supra-aural (on-ear) versions rest on top of the ear, offering better frequency extension than in-ear models. ; however, in the face of less insulation from external noise.
Finally, we have the circumaural headphones (over-ear) that surround the auricle and the external ear canal, providing greater acoustic insulation and at the same time being more comfortable but also bulkier.
Although in-ear studio headphones with excellent performance are available on the market, it is better to opt for on-ear and over-ear models in the professional field.