Q It Up: Headphone Check - What headphones do you use in the studio?

q-it-up-logo2Q It Up: What headphones do you use in the studio? What do you like about this pair? Do you use headphones to mix? Do you think mixing with headphones is a good or bad idea, and why?

Liz Brace [LBrace@talksport.co.uk], www.talksportcreative.com, London, England: Our headphones of choice at talkSPORT Creative in the heart of swingin’ London are: Beyerdynamic DT 770. They are rich, clear and comfortable to wear.

HP-HD280Silver hiresJohnny George [jg@johnnygeorge.com], Johnny George Communications Inc.: I used Sennheiser open-air headphones when I was in college. I graduated to whatever was available in the studios at the station during most of my radio career. Usually, I used the Sony MDR-V6 or equivalent. However, once my headphones became a personal item of choice, for not only quality, but comfort, I went with my favorites – The AKG K 240’s.

I bought two pair in 1993 for my first home studio. They were 125.00 each back then. One got damaged by an overly energetic user, who will remain nameless, and the other pair just started showing signs of wear about the time I left radio in 2006. Since then, I’ve been using another pair of K240’s that used to belong to the late, veteran voiceover God, Billy Moore. I inherited his headphones and have been using them ever since.

I still love them and it keeps the spirit of Billy alive with me in my JGC DigiStudio.

BTW… the new Sennheiser HD 800 headphones that retail for 1399.99… WHO is going to pay THAT for a pair of headphones? If you’ve heard them, please enlighten me… and your income.

Dennis Mattern [production.pa@verstandig.com], WAYZ-WPPT-WBHB-WCBG: SONY MDR-7506… Starting to show some wear, maybe losing a little. Still great sound after 14 years. Fairly comfortable. They just “feel right.”

Rarely use headphones to mix. Unless the building is unusually noisy or crowded and I need to escape.

Depends on the individual. Using headphones can improve your overall focus.

HP-Sennheiser hd25 hiresRic Gonzalez [Ric.Gonzalez@CoxRadio.com], Cox Radio, San Antonio, Texas: Fostex T20RP. Like the way they fit. Like the way they sound. Like their durability. I use them only when voicing. What? Voicing with headphones! Uh oh… that is a subject for a whole other Q it up.

Back to mixing. I seldom mix with them on. I use the monitors or small close range speakers. I think mixing with your headphones on can be bad if you’re one of those folks who cranks your cans up too loud. Then it’s like mixing with your production room monitors blasting. Nobody listens to commercials that way. This is why I usually check the final mix on a cue speaker.

But if I am doing post prod on a commercial at my desk, sometimes I wear my headphones out of kindness to the offices next to mine… engineering on one side and promotions on the other. They don’t need to hear me mix a commercial for a breast enhancement cream.

If I mix at home late at night, I sometimes do so with my headset. My son’s bedroom is on the other side of the wall.

Now… about “voicing” with headphones on….

HP-Sony7506Rob Maurer [robmaurerprod@yahoo.com], FOX News Radio, New York, NY: For tracking VO’s and double-checking mixes, it’s the Sony MDR-7506 cans for me. I even have a pair for personal listening use at home. Maybe it’s because I like them... maybe it’s because they’ve been in every radio and recording studio I’ve ever been in... whatever. I am just used to them, and I know how they translate.

I never use them to mix... no one should solely use headphones to mix, in my opinion. No matter how “flat” your cans are claimed to be, everything is hyped in them, or drastically cut (in the case of the low, low-end) making it virtually impossible to get a proper sonic balance. You can get “in the ballpark” on cans, or use them as a starting point (especially as our mixing rooms go more and more mobile), but that’s about it.

Todd Franklin [tfranklin11@sc.rr.com]: The Sony 7506 cans!! You can’t get any better than that!! They capture the true essence of vocal quality in your read is just unmistakably true audio heaven.

Andrew Frame [andrew@bafsoundworks.com], BAFSoundWorks, Lehigh Acres, Florida: I haven’t used headphones in the production room since I went from using two-track machines to multi-track back in the mid 1980’s. When I have talent record for me, I encourage them to not use headphones, to get a more natural sound.

mitch-toddMitch Todd [Mitch .Todd@siriusxm.com]: When it comes to headphones, I’ve always been a broadcast “traditionalist”. From the 70’s through the 80’s it was Koss “Pro Four Double A’s”...then the more fragile “Triple A’s” (picture circa 1980 attached - Mitch as “Brad Mitchell”, circa 1980 @ WSLC 610 AM in Roanoke, Virginia!)

Then, I finally switched to Sony MDR-7506’s and haven’t changed since. However, I have never used headphones for critical judgments, like mixing. They’ve always been a utilitarian device for monitoring where monitors aren’t practical or an option.

Finally, I feel I’m a bit of a traditionalist as well when it comes to mixing, in that headphones should generally NOT be used for that purpose unless you have no choice. But I don’t like ear buds or even listen to music with “cans”, so perhaps I’m just “old school” (I also prefer using faders)!

Steve Stone [steve.stone1@sbcglobal.net], Jinglegiant.com: When I first got started in radio, I wasn’t making the big bucks I am now. (I’ll give you a minute to stop laughing!)

So I bought the cheapest things I could find at World-Mart. Sony mdrV150. You know, the ones that always break in the same place just above one ear! Anyway, over the years I’ve tried some others and I keep going back to the $19 specials. They’re cheap, every World-Mart has them and I like the way they sound. Although I know that I’d love them, I just can’t bring myself to splurge for some Bose. As far as mixing, I will do rough mixes with cans, but always do final mixes through good speakers.

Wally Wawro [wwawro@wfaa.com]: WFAA-TV, Dallas, Texas: Headphones? Like the ice cream store there are at least 32 different flavors. In my audio post suite at WFAA-TV I rarely use them for mixing. They come in handy to check a signal source or make sure a CD has burned correctly without having to call up a Pro Tools screen. Across the glass for those rare visits from voice-over talent (it wasn’t that way years ago) I pretty much have been an AKG 240 and 270 user. They’ve been in my booth since the early 1980’s simply because they work. Recently though, I noticed a need to “lighten the load” in there, so to speak, and I also have available a set of Sennheiser HD-25 SPII cans. These are the headphone-only part of their ubiquitous sportscaster headset, without the attached boom microphone. Why those? They’re a little more hair-style friendly and not as heavy as the AKG’s. They sound great.

I mix all the musical entertainment for our weekday morning show, Good Morning Texas. Because the show originates from a remote “showcase” studio, my challenge is to mix at a distance of 10-12 feet off camera from whoever is performing. Headphones that isolate well are a must since I’m getting pounded with 90-100db of audio from whatever band is on the show that day. I started using the AKG 270’s which do the job nicely, but then I’ve switched to Sony MDR-7509HD phones, the big brother to the standard Sony 7506. The Sony phones seem to be standard with live sound guys, and occasionally a band will have their own mixer do that chore (which I’m perfectly fine with), and if they don’t bring their own set of cans, at least I have something familiar available.

I do engineering/production for a number of sports remotes (high school football primarily, which is akin to religion in Texas). For that I need isolation and long term comfort, so the nod tends to go to the Sennheisers I mentioned before, but I have a pair of Beyer consumer phones I bought for $30 that I like a lot.

I look for clarity and comfort in a good set of headphones. And fit is important for me as well since for the last several years I’ve worn “personal communications assistants.” Your friendly neighborhood audiologist will tell you that’s the new way they market hearing aids.

An audio guy with hearing aids! Who da thunk it!

Jeff Berlin [jberlin@jberlin.com] JBerlin.com, Boston, Massachusetts: Ultrasone Proline750’s. Only headphones I’ve ever worked with accurate enough to mix on. Great when you’re working at home and don’t want to wake the baby.

Travis McGinnis [travis@aimstudios.net], AIM Studios: I stopped using headphones about ten years ago. In fact, I think I only used headphones a handful of times when I was a rookie, because I specifically remember the day when I was 15 years old recording a spot in production with headphones on. My good friend and long time mentor came in and told me to never use headphones again when recording. Headphones are for the air studio only. I took his advice and now I only use headphones when I’m on-air.

To directly answer the question though, I use the good old Sony Studio Monitors (MDR-V600s). They’ve always been my favorite... and for on-air work, I don’t really need anything super fancy or expensive.

When it comes to voicing and producing, the cans stay in my top desk drawer. Voicing with headphones on returns a deceptive sound to my ears -- it makes me want to speak louder and be more “announcery” when I can hear my voice coming back at me.

For production, a good pair of speakers is all you need. Most listeners don’t listen with headphones, so why should I be producing with them? I optimize sound for the listener, not for the studio. Headphones are just another link in that chain which I’d just as soon remove.

Blaine Parker [bp@slowburnmarketing.com], Slow Burn Marketing, Park City, Utah: Perhaps showing that I never did time on-air, I never use headphones unless I’m trying to not disturb someone. It’s an unrealistic representation of how the material will be heard. Radio is listened to in all kinds of environments and on all kinds of speakers, but typically not on headphones. I work with a pair of M-Audio BX-8 monitors. Then, for an idea of what things will sound like on a real-world, bass-challenged lo-fi system listen, I listen to my mixes on a pair of Avantone MixCubes (sort of an updated, sexier version of the iconic Auratone grot-box).

I know a lot of former air guys will probably take me to task on this, but I find those big Sony phones that everyone loves to be too heavy and too sizzly — like a Black & Decker drilling through the sheet metal between my ears. That’s really fatiguing. When I’m using phones, there are three different models I currently use. There’s a Sennheiser HD280 Pro for location recording and occasional use in the studio. It’s an affordable, OK sounding circumaural headphone that packs reasonably well. When travelling light but wanting something to use with my iPod or on the occasional “emergency” recording, the Sennheiser PXC250 is a lightweight, noise-cancelling headphone that works surprisingly well and folds up into a pouch. And for “serious” listening when my curmudgeonly inner audiophile demands more, the Grado SR80 comes out. They’re actually rather primitive looking, and aren’t particularly comfortable for long-term wearing. In fact, they look like they were built in John Grado’s garage — and may have been. Doesn’t matter. For a $100 pair of cans, these things sound phenomenal.

Hmm. That seems like a lot of talk about headphones for a guy who just said he doesn’t usually use ‘em…

Jim Knight [jckradio@yahoo.com], www.jimknightaudio.com: What headphones do you use in the studio? Sony MDR-CD180. What do you like about this pair? They’re very lightweight and have an average frequency response, as will most of the media sources where your production will be heard. Do you use headphones to mix? No, usually. Do you think mixing with headphones is a good or bad idea, and why? I had a chance to hang with the guys in Deep Purple one night, and they told me their final mix was done via 6” car speakers. They believed they should send it out of the studio based on how the majority of people where going to hear it on the other end. I’ve always felt that way too. But it’s always a cool feeling to finish a piece of production that you’re really proud of, and then BLAST it on a set of studio monitors. You know you’re always going to hear one more thing you’d like to go back and edit anyway.

Dan Zullo [Dan@VoiceGalaxy.com], VoiceGalaxy Productions , Cleveland, Ohio: I like Sony 7506. I find them to be comfortable and affordable. I use headphones to mix the details like sfx and music. I also listen through the speakers at different volumes and move around the room. My ultimate mix is done through a cue speaker. If it sounds good there, it will sound good anywhere.

Dave Anton [danton@wccoradio.cbs.com]: 1. I actually use a cheap pair of Sennheisers (HD 202 or something).

2. I don’t necessarily like them, but I use them because they reproduce a more flat response and don’t gussy the sound up at all (after all, I can’t expect every listener to have top-shelf headphones too!?). If the monitors didn’t cut every time I hit my MIC on, I wouldn’t use them.

3. I think mixing with headphones can mask the true sound and give inflated results. Headphones are great to “check” the mix… then again so is using a really bad boom box. Monitors, monitors, monitors.

I’m just sayin’….

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