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Starter Headphones...

11 posts in this topic

I'm looking for a good pair of starter headphones.

I heard that the Beyerdynamic DT-880 and the V-MODA Crossfade LP2 are pretty good, but they're a bit pricey. I've had a friend recommend the Sony MDR7506, but I don't know how to tell if they're good for music production.

I'm also wondering if I need to get any special equipment for headphones, and if so, what equipment.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

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Well, in general, you should check the impedance on the headphones you choose to buy. If it's large, like 250 ohms, then you would need a headphone amp to get the volume to a normal level. As always, I would actually recommend you save up for the Beyerdynamic DT-880, 32-ohm version if possible. I've been using them for about 5 years now (got them on sale for 51% off), and they have been working especially well.

  • They really helped with mixing bass and upper treble with relative ease; they are semi-closed back, so they don't leak too much bass (unlike open-back), but also don't make it too muffled (unlike closed-back). Something that I couldn't mix properly on my previous headphones (Grado SR-60i) in less than 6 hours, I managed to mix on these in 30 minutes.
  • They give an honest stereo field. Some headphones spread things out too wide...
  • They give an honest representation of the amount of reverb that is actually going on. All of the other headphones I have tried previously exaggerate the reverb to some extent.

So those are some of the things you could consider. Here's an example of something I've written using those headphones.

I haven't tried the Sony MDR-7506 before, but I would suppose that they are alright. Here's a frequency distribution for three headphones to compare:

graphCompare.png.607fd937f0ea5caf2799091c1752ae33.png

For a cheaper option than the Beyers, I also recommend checking out the Grado SR60i (open-back); those are sadly discontinued, but you may find them on amazon for roughly $80, or the SR-60e edition should also be as good. You can see from the graph that they are definitely fuller than the MDR-7506, particularly below the midrange and in the upper treble region. I still have them today.

Note: yeah, they can get kinda itchy, but once I took the time to break them in, they did help with bass and treble mixing. I used them to write this at one point.

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I had the 250-ohm version, which did need a headphone amp to get up to normal listening volumes. Lower impedance values means it is easier to get up to normal volumes. So, no, the 32-ohm version won't require an amp.

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I have the 250ohm version of the DT880s and use it without a headphone amp, just plugged it in to my audio interface. It doesn’t go as loud (which is a good thing IMO, wrt ear damage) but it has been working great for me for years in this setup. Would it sound even better with a headphone amp? Probably. Can you use it without one? Definitely.

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Having said that, I also have a pair of Sony MDR 7506. They are very different from the DT880s:

  • The Sony is closed backed, whereas the DT880 is semi open. This makes the Sony great for recording (because no sound leaks out), but when mixing the DT880 gives a much better representation of the stereo field and it makes appropriate panning and how it translates to speakers a lot easier.
  • Both have a more pronounced top end, but the DT880 is better at the low end. That makes mixing your bass easier on the DT880 and it also makes the Sony sound more toppy. There is still bass enough to work with, but you have to work harder at it.

In all fairness you could probably mix on both of them, once you've spent enough time with them and know their characteristics. But the DT880 make it a lot easier and are -to my ears- overall more pleasant to listen to. For any headphones, pick something that you like the sound of, that fits your budget and spend the time to get very familiar with how they sound, I'd say.

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If you want the most "honest" sound, try first plugging it in directly. You don't strictly need an audio interface if you know the headphones should be good already. Mainly what those provide is further fine-tunability for the frequency distribution you get, as well as giving you an additional volume control (more precise than your computer gives you, probably). Having an audio interface, however, does give you more flexibility, so it could help.

[What I would do if you do want to use an audio interface is to try to match what you get when you plug in the headphones directly with what you get when the interface is in between the headphones and the PC (then adjust from there).]

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Benefits of an audio interface? In general lower latency (the delay between playing something and hearing it, roughly), better quality when you want to connect instruments to record from (guitar, microphone, keyboard, what have you) and the convenience of, for example, a separate headphone out with volume control. There’s more of course, but for this topic these would be the highlights I think.

Do you need one? Well, you can use whatever audio thing is in your computer, but it will be slower, have lesser audio quality, more prone to interference if it’s an onboard thing and just not as convenient. Let’s just say I am glad I got myself a decent audio interface early in the process :)

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