Making music? Here are a few things about headphones and monitor speakers you may want to know – their use in the music making process, how to choose them etc…

Headphones

Using headphones when making music – programming, mixing and listening back – has an advantage of not letting the sound onto the surroundings and others.

Personally i feel more focus, attention and intention when using the headphones, the surrounding noises and distractions kept to a minimum. After all in some productivity courses don’t they suggest that you use a pair of headphones (noise cancellation or normal) even if you are not listening to music – to avoid distraction (and to discourage others from disturbing you).

Go for closed phones that sit over the ear of the user

  • this gives reasonable sound isolation
  • minimizes leakage into nearby microphones.

Why low leakage from headphone is important

When the vocalist uses the headphones to listen to the mix while singing, preventing leakage into the microphone is important. Especially if you are using condenser mics, which are really sensitive and will pick up the slightest leakage from the headphone.

Levels when using headphones or loudspeakers

Remember that prolonged exposure to high SPLs can cause hearing damage. Keep the levels to lowest possible whether using headphones or speakers. Good engineers say that if you have to shout when talking to someone while playing the mix, then the level is high. You should be able to hear a conversation at a normal volume, while the music is played.

Tips on headphone buying:

  • Go for closed headphones
  • Dynamic headphones with a wide frequency range of 16Hz to 20kHz are available for affordable prices.
  • You could look for gold-plated, stereo 3.5mm mini-jack with a screw-on quarter-inch jack adaptor.
  • Option to detach and replace the cable can be advantageous.
  • Finally you have to try the headphones yourself as some may match our individual comfort (head shape) while others may not.

Headphones show up the slightest distortions and clicks, reverb and delay tails, and other details that you may never hear over loudspeakers.

Monitor speakers

The bass frequencies

To listen to the bass frequencies you do need the monitor speakers. A good monitor speaker will faithfully reproduce frequencies down to 30Hz. Only the more expensive and advanced headphones will have bass response similar to that.

Bass frequencies take some distance to evolve, so listen from a distance, even from outside the room.

The stereo field

The perception of stereo field can be different when listening through a headphone. W should consider the fact that many listeners will be using speakers and our music maybe played in venues that use only speakers, we need to listen through speakers and make sure the stereo field is alright through the speakers.

How to select monitor speakers?

We should be looking for monitors which are not too bright nor dull

However, the perceived tonal balance of a speaker is the combination of the direct sound from the drivers and reflected sound from nearby surfaces.

So when placing the speakers,

  • try to get symmetric reflective surfaces on either side.
  • try get as much diffusion of reflected sound and better acoustic properties for the room as possible.
I have used Rs.2000 headphones, Creative Computer Speakers. Later i bought AKG K271Headphones headphone (Rs.7000) and Rubicon R8a speakers (Rs.42,000 a pair). You can start with computer speakers or a decent headphone or both. As you get better you can invest on better headphones and on monitor speakers.

Conclusion – use both headphones and speakers

Check your mixes on headphones as well as speakers.

  • Headphones are necessary to hear details and glitches which may go unnoticed on big speakers, especially in our home monitoring environment.
  • Speakers are important to
    1. judge the bass frequencies
    2. check the stereo field which could be different in the headphones.
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