Headphones come in all sizes, from large over-the-ear types to tiny in-ear buds.

Out in the “regular” world, people wear headphones for all sorts of reasons…
– Don’t want to hear the other people around them.
– Want to listen loud, but don’t want to disturb the neighbors.
– Tunes while exercising.
– Want to be seen wearing the popular brand.

What seems most important is that they make a sound, not necessarily that they make great sound.

I’ve been watching reviews of consumer headphones. One that caught my attention recently talked about how the headphone in question had weak bass, inaccurate highs, distorted easily when turned up, was cheaply made and cost too much. But the reviewer still recommended buying them because they look so good.

I thought the whole idea was to get headphones that sound good? Maybe I’m just too old to understand anymore … I’ll just sit over here in the corner making bubbly noises in my glass of milk.

In the pro audio world, headphones have specific jobs.
– In the on-air studio, headphones allow you to hear the program material while the microphone is on. A live speaker would create feedback. Any type that doesn’t “leak” sound into the microphone is OK.
– In the production room, a headphone can let you more clearly hear the fine details of your recording. Makes editing easier.
– A sportscaster uses headphones for noise isolation (so he can hear himself over the crowd noise), and to receive cues from his producer. Full-coverage is needed here.

Music mixing is one task that has traditionally been handled by the studio monitor speakers instead of headphones. Reference monitor speakers are carefully made to be as accurate as possible, so you can be sure that what you hear faithfully represents what’s actually on the recording.

Few headphones have the same sonic “signature” as a good pair of reference monitor speakers. Try it yourself. Select a very clean piece of music, set the speakers to a comfortable listening level, then match that level for the headphones. As you put on the headphones, the sound should ideally be nearly identical to the sound you heard from the speakers. You may be surprised by the difference.

Finding headphones with a similar character as your speakers has been a hit-or-miss adventure. The headphones that best represent the sound of the monitors are not always the most popular models. I have had good results with Audio-Technica ATHM40FS, Sennheiser HD280, and a few others. The new KRK KNS-6400 and KNS-8400 are specifically made to match the sound of KRK monitors.

When the headphones and speakers match, you can have confidence that your mix will be good whether you are wearing cans or not.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go over here and make more bubbly noises in my milk. Rock on.

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