WHEN WE record music, we typically choose mics that are suitable for the instrument we’re tracking—for example, a dynamic mic for a snare drum, a ribbon mic for a trumpet, or a large-diaphragm tube mic for vocals. Yet when it comes to another important set of studio transducers—stereo headphones—we often use the same set for critical listening that our drummer uses for tracking and overdubbing.
Headphones are available at a wide range of price points, and it’s not uncommon to find that the models engineered to reproduce sound in a balanced and accurate way are the most expensive. In this article, we examine a handful of mid-priced headphones, ranging in price from $199 to $499, that are designed for editing, mixing, mastering, and overall critical listening. All of the prices indicated are retail, unless otherwise noted.
All of the models in this roundup are circumaural, which means they surround the ear entirely, and the majority of them have closed-back designs, which provide isolation from external sound. Every model has a 3.5mm plug at the end of the cable, so that each is compatible with consumer devices, but an attachable 1/4″ adapter is always included.
Listen Before You Buy I listened to a variety of musical styles as I tested the headphones. This included raw, unmixed vocal and instrumental tracks from sessions, as well as mixed and mastered files in various resolutions. It was not surprising that each set had its own sound, which was almost immediately identifiable. [read]