Are Studio Headphones Necessary? What You Need To Know


Have you ever wondered why musicians in recording studios wear headphones? Well, those headphones are studio headphones and aren’t the type you typically use to listen to music. So, are studio headphones necessary, and if so, why?

Studio headphones are necessary for the audio production process. They enable musicians to hear other instruments while recording their performance. They also help sound engineers to detect flaws in the audio and decide how best to mix different tracks.

In essence, that’s why studio headphones are a standard issue in most recording studios. But there’s much more to them than meets the eye. So, we’ll discuss below what you need to know about why studio headphones are absolutely necessary.

Untitled design 49

In What Context Are Studio Headphones Necessary?

Let’s be clear about one thing. If you’re a casual music listener, we’re not suggesting you should run out and buy a set of high-end studio headphones. Studio headphones definitely aren’t necessary for the average person jamming out and listening to tunes.

The context in which studio headphones are necessary is in audio production. Typically, that means the audio recording, monitoring, and mixing processes.

What makes studio headphones necessary during these processes are their unique design features, namely:

  • Accurate sound reproduction
  • A wide frequency range 
  • Excellent sound isolation

Let’s look now at what you need to know about why these features make studio headphones necessary.

Studio Headphones Give Accurate Sound Reproduction

Unlike regular headphones, studio headphones reproduce sounds that are faithful to the source. It’s this accuracy that makes them such a necessary part of the audio production process.

Take music production as an example. Modern music production uses a multi-track method, which means recording each instrument and vocal as separate tracks. 

Once recorded, the tracks are mixed together. Mixing generally includes adjusting and optimizing the tracks to produce the best sound combination.

Check out my list of the Best Studio Headphones under $50.

Why Can’t You Use Regular Headphones for Mixing Audio?

For this mixing process, it’s vital you hear an accurate reproduction of what was recorded. Regular headphones don’t provide this accuracy. Instead, they’re designed to enhance audio to give a better listening experience overall. 

This enhancement usually involves making certain frequencies more prominent than others. Typically, this is at the bass end of the frequency range. However, adjustments vary from one set of headphones to another. 

Such adjustments allow regular headphones to produce sounds most of us find pleasurable. But that’s no good when you’re trying to make decisions on how best to mix your multi-track recording.

That’s why studio headphones don’t try to enhance what you hear. Instead, their design strives to reproduce sounds that are true to the source. Having the benefit of accurate sounds makes the mixing process a whole lot easier.

It gives you a neutral starting point of reference for assessing the audio. That’s crucial for deciding how best to combine and adjust the tracks. Adjustments to optimize your mix might include equalization (EQ), compression, and reverb.

For more information, check out this article about the purpose of studio headphones.

The following clip will give you an idea of what magic sound engineers can work through the adjustments they make:

Can’t You Just Use Studio Monitors for Mixing?

Of course, if you have studio monitors, you’ll want to listen to your mixes on them, too, because they also reproduce sounds with accuracy. 

But, audio sounds different when played on monitors than it does on headphones. Instead, you’ll want to optimize your mix for both. After all, consumers of your final output won’t be listening only on one or the other.

Also, not everyone has the luxury of studio monitors or studios with good acoustics. In that case, using studio headphones for mixing is more than a necessity.

Check out this article about why you need both studio monitors and headphones.

Studio Headphones Have a Wide Frequency Response

One of the essential aspects of the audio production process is the monitoring of the audio. Monitoring may occur during recording or when checking audio that’s already recorded. The purpose is to detect any imperfections or unwanted sounds in the audio.

What Does a Wide Frequency Response Mean?

A wide frequency response means that studio headphones can pick up a greater range of sounds than most regular headphones. After all, you can only monitor audio effectively if you can hear everything that the microphones pick up. 

If you can’t, you won’t know that your audio contains sounds that shouldn’t be there. So, unwanted sounds could end up on the final recording that the end consumer may hear.

Maybe it’s a low-end hum from electrical equipment or circuitry or the sound of a pin drop. Whatever, you want headphones that will reproduce that sound. You can then decide how to deal with it, for example, by adjustments like EQ.

That’s why studio headphones have a wider frequency response than regular headphones. 

Why Else Would You Not Use Regular Headphones for Monitoring?

Remember, regular headphones boost some frequencies and are designed this way to meet consumer listening preferences. However, elevating one frequency can also block out others. The sounds on those blocked-out frequencies become inaudible.

In contrast, studio headphones don’t do this because they’re not made for consumer markets, meaning they’ll reproduce sounds across their frequency range.

Therefore, there’s no risk of concealing unwanted sounds when listening on studio headphones. That means you can detect and deal with them before finalizing your recording. 

Check out my guide list to the Best Open Back Headphones.

Can’t You Monitor With Just Studio Monitors?

Indeed, studio monitors have the same general frequency response characteristic as studio headphones. So, they’ll reproduce accurate audio, including imperfections. In theory, if you have studio monitors, you don’t need studio headphones for monitoring your audio.

However, in reality, studio headphones’ close fit can help you hone in on details that studio monitors may miss. It’s like the aural equivalent of a camera’s macro lens. Such lenses let you focus on the tiniest detail that other lenses don’t capture.

This is why studio headphones are necessary for monitoring audio, even if you have studio monitors.

Check out my list of the Best Studio Headphones under $100.

Studio Headphones Provide Sound Isolation

We’ve all seen those images of our favorite artists in the recording studio. We’ve all probably also wondered why they’re wearing headphones while recording. After all, the headphones aren’t always that flattering.

However, studio headphones are necessary because of the multi-track recording process mentioned above.

Studio Headphones Minimize Sound Leakage

To record their tracks, each musician needs to hear the other instruments. Often, click tracks are also used to enable musicians to keep time.

However, if you play these over speakers, what the speakers’ output will end up on your recording. Obviously, you don’t want that.

This is why studio headphones are necessary when recording. Studio headphones with a closed-back design isolate the sound played through them, which prevents that sound from bleeding out of the headphones.

Now, with studio headphones, you can play the tracks of other instruments to the musician you want to record. But you won’t pick up those tracks on your recording. That way, you can ensure each track remains separate from one another for proper mixing later on.

Studio Headphones Reduce External Noise Interference

The other benefit of studio headphones is that they don’t just prevent sounds from bleeding out. They also limit external sounds from getting in, especially useful if you’re recording in a noisy environment.

When recording, external noises can be distracting, and they can affect the focus and quality of the performance, too.

So, don’t knock those bulky ear cups you typically see on studio headphones. Aesthetic they may not be, but effective they certainly are. The large ear cups completely enclose your ear, giving robust sound isolation in both directions.

Why Can’t You Use Regular Over-Ear Headphones?

Of course, you can get regular headphones that fit over your ears. Now, you might be thinking, why not just use those, especially if you already have some lying around.

Sure, they’ll do a decent job of sealing sound in or keeping noises out. But, whether it’s enough to ensure a recording that’s unadulterated by sound leakage may be a bit hit and miss. 

So much will depend on the build quality, and think how miffed you’ll be if you find leakage from your headphones on your two-hour recording. 

Therefore, studio headphones are necessary if you want to get a clean recording. It’s what they’re designed for. And, having the right tools for the job is fundamental, no matter what you do.

Fortunately, a decent pair of studio headphones won’t break the bank. For example, take the Audio-Technica ATH-M50X Professional Studio Monitor Headphones. They’re pro-standard yet have an affordable price tag.

Audio-Technica ATH-M50X Professional Studio Monitor Headphones, Black, Professional Grade, Critically Acclaimed, with Detachable Cable
19,312 Reviews
Audio-Technica ATH-M50X Professional Studio Monitor Headphones, Black, Professional Grade, Critically Acclaimed, with Detachable Cable
  • Critically acclaimed sonic performance praised by top audio engineers and pro audio reviewers
  • Proprietary 45 millimeter large aperture drivers with rare earth magnets and copper clad aluminum wire voice coils
  • Exceptional clarity throughout an extended frequency range with deep accurate bass response

Conclusion

That’s all you need to know to understand why studio headphones are necessary. It comes down to three essential characteristics of such headphones:

  • Accurate sound reproduction
  • A wide frequency response
  • Robust sound isolation

If you want to get the best results from your audio recordings, studio headphones should be a staple in your toolbox.

Sources

Last update on 2021-10-04 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Vinnie

I'm Vinnie, and I'm here to support you to create your own studio at home, whether it’s for photography, recording audio, podcasts, or videos!

Recent Posts