What Is the Purpose of Studio Headphones?


Headphones are headphones, aren’t they? Well, surprisingly not, and studio headphones are a case in point. So, what is the purpose of studio headphones?

The purpose of studio headphones is to reproduce sound as accurately as possible. They’re used for recording and mixing audio. The accuracy enables sound engineers to identify audio issues and make adjustments. It also helps them get the best audio mix to optimize the final recording.

You’re probably thinking accurate sound reproduction is surely the purpose of all headphones. But actually, that’s not entirely true. If that’s confused you more, you’d better keep reading.

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What Are Studio Headphones?

Let’s start by explaining what we’re talking about when referring to studio headphones.

Studio headphones are the type of headphones used in recording studios.

They’re the headphones you’ll see the sound engineer and music producer wearing, though performers also wear them while recording tracks.

Studio headphones differ from the regular headphones you use to listen to music. Perhaps, the most telling difference is in the accuracy of the sound reproduction.

Studio headphones reproduce the performance or the recording precisely, without any enhancement. Call it accurate, or pure or raw. But you get the idea.

With studio headphones, you’ll hear the performance exactly as it sounded.

Don’t Regular Headphones Reproduce Sound Accurately?

Well, not really. Of course, a decent pair of regular headphones will give you a great sound experience.

But that doesn’t mean they’re giving you an accurate one. You see, most regular headphones aim to produce pleasing sounds. But those pleasant sounds aren’t necessarily true to the original performance.

You could say regular headphones exercise a bit of artistic license to render consumer-friendly sounds.

Regular headphones do this by boosting specific frequencies, like the bass and treble. The more bassy sound you get with regular headphones is what you end up with.

Of course, the elevated bass produced by your regular headphones may sound great. But that increased bass may not have featured in the original recording.

So, what you hear through regular headphones may be of excellent quality and pleasing to your ear. But it’s artificial, not an accurate reproduction of the original audio.

In contrast, studio headphones don’t give any emphasis to one frequency over another. That is, they have a flatter frequency response. What that means is, you’ll hear sounds that are true to the source. You’ll also hear sounds on them that you won’t hear through regular headphones.

That’s because when you boost parts of the frequency range, you can end up concealing other parts. You’ll understand why that’s not desirable for studio headphones from the next section.

For more information, check out this article about whether studio headphones are necessary.

Why Do Studio Headphones Need Such Accuracy?

The answer to this question takes us directly to the purpose of studio headphones, namely:

Recording

You’ve probably noticed artists wearing headphones in the recording studio. They’re not wearing them so they can listen to their favorite radio show while they work. No, really, as explained in the following clip:

So, artists in the recording studio wear headphones when overdubbing, which is the method used for most modern music recordings. 

So, as you saw in the video, take the example of a vocalist recording their vocals. They’ll hear a pre-recorded track of the instruments that will make up the final recording. So, they’ll sing to that track rather than to the instruments playing in real-time.

They might also be hearing a click track, a track that helps a performer keep in time with the pre-recorded track and also played through the headphones.

Obviously, there’s no point playing the pre-recorded or click tracks through speakers. If you did, you’d hear those tracks on your recording. And you don’t want that.

That’s where the use of closed-back studio headphones comes in. They allow the performer to hear the pre-recorded and click tracks. But, they prevent those tracks from bleeding out into the recording. 

Equally, such headphones block out distracting external sounds. So, the performer only hears the backing and click tracks and can focus on their performance.

A popular choice of closed-back studio headphones for recording is the Audio-Technica ATH-M50X. They’re highly rated, yet price-wise, they won’t break the bank, making them ideal for home studios.

Audio-Technica ATH-M50X Professional Studio Monitor Headphones, Black, Professional Grade, Critically Acclaimed, with Detachable Cable
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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

Monitoring

In music production, monitoring involves listening out for any flaws in the performance. A flaw may be a performer hitting the wrong note. Or, it might be an unwanted noise that creeps in.

The flatter frequency response of studio headphones means you’ll hear all those things. That’s because they’ll reproduce all the sounds picked up by the microphone, including any imperfections. 

And that’s crucial because that’s the point of monitoring. Namely, to listen critically to the audio to remove quality issues and stray sounds.

You can encounter so many different noise issues when recording. And they’re the type of noises you won’t want on your final product. So, you don’t want headphones that conceal them from you.

Examples of the sort of unwanted noises you might encounter when recording include:

  • Feedback from a microphone’s position and interaction with speakers: Studio headphones can help refine speaker or microphone positioning and settings, eliminating feedback.
  • A performer brushing against the microphone will show up as an unwanted sound on a recording: Studio headphones will pick this up, so you can adjust the performer’s position to remove the problem.
  • Squeaks and creaks from the equipment: You might miss these if using regular headphones.
  • Crackling sounds caused by faulty cables or connections: You definitely don’t want these on your recording. But studio headphones will help you detect them so you can resolve the problem.
  • Interference from other devices: Maybe someone’s left their cell phone on. That can create interference with other electrical equipment, which studio headphones will detect.
  • Humming or buzzing noises caused by ground loops or other electrical issues: These can sometimes be too low to detect without studio headphones.

For more information, check out this article about why you need both headphones and monitors for a recording studio.

Mixing

When you’re mixing audio, you’ll take recorded tracks and combine them to create the end product. So, it might involve adjusting the levels of individual tracks. Or finding the optimal balance between each element in the mix within the stereo sound field.

So, when you’re mixing audio, it’s vital that you can hear everything on each track in its original form. 

You won’t get the result you want if your headphones distort the audio, which is what regular headphones do. So, on regular headphones, you’re not hearing the recording itself but an adjusted version of it.

That’s why for mixing, you need studio headphones with their flat frequency response. That will mean frequencies across the spectrum have equal prominence. So, nothing is hidden or masked by a dominant frequency.

Hearing the unadulterated recordings enables you to assess the recording properly, which will allow you to maximize the quality and effect of the mix. 

Can You Use Studio Headphones To Listen to Music?

If you love your bass, you probably won’t want to use studio headphones for general music listening.

As discussed above, regular headphones make adjustments to the frequency range. Typically, that’s at the low end, namely, the bass. That’s because such adjustments give a recording a warmer sound. And that makes it more appealing to most music listeners.

You don’t get that with studio headphones because they don’t tinker with the frequency range.

So, listening to music on studio headphones, you’ll hear a very different sound. To be honest, it’s unlikely to be as satisfying as listening on regular headphones.

But, just because it’s different from what you’re used to doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. So, give studio headphones a try.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you now have a sound grasp of what purpose studio headphones serve. They’re used for recording, monitoring, and mixing audio. 

The flatness of their frequency range gives an accurate reproduction of sounds. That includes all sounds, even those you don’t want on a final recording. 

That’s crucial in music production when you need to hear warts and all sounds to optimize the end result fully.

Sources

Last update on 2021-05-12 / 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!

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