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More about Studio Headphones

What is a studio headphone?

Studio headphones and in-ear monitors don’t look any different from headphones and earbuds aimed at the consumer market. They might be a little less flashy, but otherwise the basics are the same. What is different is the tuning. Headphones and earbuds aimed at the consumer market are often tuned so that music sounds more energetic and bass is boosted.

Studio headphones and in-ear monitors are preferred by music purists, and professionals who might wear them in a studio. They deliver a flat frequency response—free of enhancement—that replicates an audio recording as precisely as possible.

Different types of studio headphones and their benefits

They may look similar, but not all studio headphones are the same.

The most popular in a studio situation is a closed back design. These headphones have large ear cups that completely cover the wearer’s ears and seal out noise. They also prevent audio from leaking out from the headphones. Singers who wear headphones to listen to a guide track won’t have to worry about noise leaking from closed back headphones and being picked up by a microphone. Closed back headphones tend to be heavier, and the inability for sound to escape can boost low end frequencies.

Open back headphones have perforations in their ear cups. This makes them lighter, lets in some ambient sound, helps to prevent low frequency sound waves from becoming too dominant, and offers an improved sound stage.

In-ear monitors have the advantage of being much lighter and less obtrusive to wear than headphones.

Connectivity varies, but studio headphones and in-ear monitors typically use a physical connection in order to optimize audio quality. This might be 1/4 inch or 1/8 inch headphone jack, or USB. Some use Bluetooth wireless, but the conversion to a digital signal with compression does impact audio quality.

Key features

There are a number of features to look for when considering in-ear monitors and headphones. One of the most important is a comfortable design. In-ear or over-ear, if the headphones are uncomfortable to wear, it doesn’t how good they are technically—you won’t want to use them.

On the performance front look for factors that directly impact sound quality. These include impedance (or the amount of amplifier power needed to produce high quality audio). Headphones with low impedance (less than 25 ohms) are well suited for use with smartphones, while headphones with higher impedance are meant for use with amplifiers and receivers. Frequency response of 20 to 20,000 Hz is the usual for headphones, with a flat response preferred for studio headphones—meaning no frequencies are boosted or emphasized. Harmonic distortion should be as low as possible.

Noise reduction and safety cut-offs at higher volumes are popular features in consumer headphones, but not typically offered with studio headphones aimed at professional use.

Which in-ear monitors & headphones are best for multi-purpose or portable use?

Studio headphones and in-ear monitors aren’t just the choice for professionals, they are often preferred by music enthusiasts who want sound that’s as true to the original recording as possible. So which headphones are best for multi-purpose or portable use? In-ear monitors are a top choice for portability and comfort, especially Bluetooth wireless versions. Open back headphones are also a good choice, with less bulk than closed back versions.