In past articles we’ve discussed an overview of a home studio and the USB microphone. But before we get into other topics, I wanted to talk a little bit about headphones. They’re an essential link to your workflow for auditions and absolutely necessary if doing a digital patch session (source connect or ipdtl).
Before you just order a pair, here is some information about the different types that are available.
The first, and easiest are earbuds, or in-ears, because almost everyone has a pair laying around. They generally have a mini 3.5 mm plug and go directly into most USB microphones (eliminating latency), and sound fine for the job. Look, if you are using these for talking on the phone you are listening to the human voice.
They work, they are portable and convenient. If you have a microphone with an input/output device (external preamp), there might only be a 1/4” standard headphone jack, in which an adapter would be needed. There are other great in ear headphones that have higher fidelity like Etymotic, Sennheiser, and Shure.
Over Ear Headphones
The next type are over ear headphones. These are larger and are more adjustable and most have a combination 1/4”/3.5mm plug with adapter. To some, these are more comfortable with foam or padding around the ears. There are two types, open and closed. The open ear headphones generally are more comfortable and lighter, but allow external noise to mix with the sound. In a home-studio situation, it probably isn’t a problem unless they are really loud.
They can sound a bit more natural if you aren’t used to hearing your voice coming back to you in headphones. Closed ear headphones isolate the sound coming in from external noise on the outside. They are a bit tighter fitting but still comfortable.
These are ideal for drummers or musicians where bleed might be a problem. Or if your recording area is compromised, these allow you to get closer to the microphone without feedback. As a location audio engineer I employ closed ear headphones because they really allow me to only hear the microphone(s) that I am recording.
These work great in a home studio as well and I have both types in my arsenal. Some examples are Audio Technica, AKG, Beyerdynamic, Bose, Grado, and Sony.
What about wireless? All these headphones I have mentioned have a cord and plug and most will have an adapter that screws off to cover both sizes. At this time, there isn’t bluetooth technology built into USB mics or audio interfaces/preamps. Maybe we will see that in the future. Another thing to note is impedance. Think of it like resistance or water flow in a hose.
There are headphones with higher impedance that tend to sound clearer and more open, but they need more amplification to drive them. Audiophile headphones tend to be higher impedance, but in those cases, will be driven by a separate headphone amplifier. Many open and closed and most all in-ears are low impedance and will sound fine for home studio usage!
Lastly, cost. You can spend anywhere from $25 to hundreds for headphones, but a good pair averages around $50-100. Take a minute to find the right fit in a set of headphones. You’ll be glad after a two-hour session or after a day of audio book recording!
Dave Kresl is an experienced Senior Audio Engineer with a demonstrated history of working in the media production industry. He has worked on commercials and films. Visit his Facebook page here.