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Tracking Down the Best Studio Headphones - One Man's Story

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There's a common issue that pops up when you mix the internet and headphones. It's really tough to judge how good a product sounds by only looking at it, no matter how many reviews you read. There is an additional set of factors in the headphone game -- differences from person to person concerning fit, how we hear, and even our sense of style. As the ubiquitous "they" say, one man's trash is another man's treasure. [caption id="attachment_2944" align="alignright" width="300"] Max Dutcher visits HeadRoom! Max Dutcher visits HeadRoom![/caption] Internet, meet Max Dutcher. Max is an independent musician and composer for commercials, film, and other assorted media. He contacted me asking for suggestions on a solid closed back can. Having moved to a new apartment where he can't make as much noise, Max needed a new headphone for tracking that he could wear for long sessions. I can relate to his predicament and know how tough this truly is to find, so I put together some initial picks and invited Max down to our listening room. One of the first headphones that I happened to own, the Sony MDR-7506, is good for almost any use. With its balanced sound, comfy pads, great price, and incredible track record there was a time when I felt that these headphones couldn't be beat. I also set aside the Audio-Technica ATH-M50. These hit the market in 2009 with an incredibly rugged build and great sound. I've seen them on tons of commercial and film sets as they've become quite the professional's standby these days. [caption id="attachment_2943" align="alignleft" width="300"] Max Dutcher in the HeadRoom listening room. Max demos the world's best sealed headphones.[/caption] A recent addition to my personal arsenal, the Sennheiser Momentum, has quickly replaced all the other headphones on my desk and in my booth. Great isolation, amazingly comfortable fit, and a truly smooth but authoritative bass response make these my go-to can any time of the day or night. Easy to drive, headset cable included, amazing looks.... these cans just don't stop dominating no matter where I'm at, on the road or in the studio. So with these initial picks in hand, Max dropped by the shop. Surprisingly, he asked to demo the AKG K550, which is a great can but one that I find hard to get a good fit with glasses on. For some people this headphone can be too heavy, but Max had heard a lot of positive things online. After his first round of listening, Max came back with some interesting results. The 7506 was a big hit, as was the K550. As I expected, the weight of the K550 was a show stopper. "My neck was tired after only a few minutes," he said. He wasn't as big a fan of the M50, and the Momentum he really liked but was out of his price range. He let his ears rest for a few minutes while I snagged a few more picks for him to demo. Out on the floor I reached for the Skullcandy Aviator. The Aviator has been a great can that I've hooked a few DJs up with; mostly because they actually sound quite great, look pretty cool, and carry a lifetime warranty. The V-Moda M-100 also made the cut with its tank-like build and solid acoustics, but I wasn't sure if the comfort would be there for those long late-night sessions. I also grabbed the Shure SRH840 as Shure has been a studio staple for years and the leaner low end is great for tracking. They're also really comfortable. Finally, I wanted him to try the Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro, a can that I haven't had a chance to try in the studio but I still wanted to get his feedback on. [caption id="attachment_2942" align="alignright" width="300"] Max with his new cans! Yet another happy headphone lover![/caption] After some additional "alone-time", Max seemed pretty positive that he had found the one. The V-Moda's sounded great and were great to look at at, but didn't fit his head right. The Aviators were good, but weren't up to snuff with all the other talent in the listening room. Surprisingly, the SRH840 came back as a big winner for Max. He loved them. The pads fit his head great, and the lean sub-bass response seemed to tickle his fancy for recording sessions. Having broken his last pair by snapping the jack, the detachable cable was a big plus as well... just look at that face. By and large, the most surprising part of this whole ordeal was that Max had never considered or even heard of the Shure SRH840. With all of the white noise plaguing the internet and an endless number of audio related forums, you end up entering an echo chamber. A small number of models (depending on the forum) will be repeated as the end-all be-all of audio in a particular price range, others won't be mentioned, or worse will be beaten down by those who haven't heard them. Comments such as, "...I think I've heard enough complaints about XXX headphones to be wary of buying them," make me cringe to no end. Working in retail, you find that happy customers are quiet customers. We've all heard the saying "The squeaky wheel gets the grease". Personally I wish we could all only comment on experience, but that's not how the internet works. A week later, here's what Max had to say:

"So i'm still super excited that i went with the shure 840s. i'm relatively new to the recording game, but i'm at a point now where definition counts. i'm hearing different textures and clarity that i'm not used to hearing in my mixes or other tracks from other bands. such subtleties can make all the difference in a mix. another major selling point for me was the comfort of these headphones. i wanted something that i can wear (with glasses) for long periods of time and feel little to no discomfort. these cans certainly fit the bill in that category. one thing i learned trying out so many different pairs of cans in the headroom listening room, is that everyone has different needs. i listened to cans well out of my price range that were probably technically "better" than the 840s, but weren't at all comfortable to my head and might not have had the sound that i was looking for. what was so great about my experience in your store was the fact that i had the option. i wasn't guessing or basing my purchase off of other customer reviews. each listener is unique and each listener deserves options, especially when purchasing high end headphones. -max"

But this is just one man's story. What's yours?  Tell us your story, or which of these headphones you most want to try.  If you have a personal experience to share, or some questions to ask, tell us!  A few lucky commenters on this blog post will receive a swanky Shure/HeadRoom tee-shirt! [soundcloud url="http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/84507549" params="" width=" 100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]
 
 
You can also check out The Headphone Samurai's review of the Shure SRH840!

1 Response

Ben
Ben

March 02, 2017

Hey there thank you for this guide on the best studio monitoring headphones. Not sure if you noticed, but a few of your codes are broken. Anyway, I’ve been using the Audio Technica ATH-M50x mixing headphones for over two years now and I think they’re pretty good headphones. They haven’t disappointed me at all. Those who want quality yet affordable monitoring headphones should definitely get the ATH-M50x. It’s always mentioned in top studio monitoring headphones across various websites for a reason. I’m not going to replace my headphones anytime soon, but if I need a new pair of headphone monitors I think I’m gonna go for the Sony MDR 7506 next.

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