The Wild and Wonderful World of Headphones

Yesterday, we here at PAL broke down the basics in buying the perfect monitor setup for a home recording studio. We discussed the two types of speakers and both of their pros and cons. Basically, there are two types of speakers; you have you powered speakers and your unpowered, also known as active and passive, respectively. With your unpowered variety, the speaker will need an outside source of energy that it gets from being connected through a power amplifier. Powered speakers on the other hand power themselves via its own AC plug, meaning that they can work without the need of any other equipment, specifically, the power amplifier. Also, the fact that powered speakers don’t need the use of an amplifier means that the sound generated from the monitors are as-is, unchangeable beyond its own ability, unlike unpowered which get their EQ and settings from the power amp. Check out the story here for more details. Anyways, since we are on the subject of sound solutions for a home recording studio setup, there are players out there who simply do not have the benefits of being able to mix in a loud environment due to neighbors, roommates or a number of other reasons. For those out there who need a more personalized take for their mixing needs, why not try a pair of studio quality headphones?  And I’m not talking about Beats by Dre. Pricing aside, there are a few different variations when it comes to studio quality headphones from the way they fit to the way they interact with their environment. So, for those of you interested in making that recording sessions a little more personal, read on and check out the all about studio quality headphones.

First off, when it comes to headphones, they are usually categorized using two different properties: the way they fit around the ear and the “open-ness” of their design, specifically meaning how well they create a seal around the ear. Also, there is no straight forward right or wrong choice when it comes to selecting headphones – if they meet your budget and feel right – then those are probably the right ones for you. Also, it should be noted that since we are using to separate criteria to for categorization, some headphones may fall under two of these categories.



This type of headphone literally means “around the ear,” also sometimes referred to as “full-size” headphones for their obvious girth. These type of headphones tend to have a circular or ellipsoid (think stretched circle) ear pad meant to completely cover the ear. These headphones are often designed with a closed seal in order to completely block out any outside noise from leaking in. Also, these headphones tend to have a heavy focus on ergonomics since their added weight (sometimes as much as a pound) can lead to discomfort.



The name itself refers to the fact that these types of headphones have pads that sit on the top of the ear rather than around them, resulting in a more comfortable and lightweight fit but with a varying degree of fidelity depending on how precise the ear pads are placed on the ear. Also, these type of headphone do not create a seal around which results in both outside noise leaking in and degradation of bass.


Open Air

When the phones on a pair of headphones are open-air, it means that there is no seal made around the ear when worn, hence, open to the air. These type of headphones tend to be less expensive than their closed air counterparts but are usually much more comfortable and lightweight. Supra-Aural headphones are in this category as well since they do not create a tight seal around the ear. Those of you out there looking to do some live recording while wearing a pair of headphones should avoid these for two reason; outside noise leaking in can sometimes drown out the actual sound coming from the phones (such as a drummer trying to listen to a track while recording drums) and inside sound coming from the headphones can leak out, enough sound that it can interfere during certain circumstances such as a singer trying to record vocals while listening to the instrumental track (which can cause the leaked sound to be picked up by the vocal mic).



The main objective of these type of headphones is to create a tight, noise cancelling seal around the ear. These are by far the go-to choice for studio mixing and live-recording as they are best able to stand up to all of the outside noise (such as those loud drums). Also, they keep the sound of the headphones from leaking out which can possibly get picked up by a mic during recording. One of the downsides to this type of design is that the ears tend to get a bit sore after prolonged use.



These headphones come with one goal; to bring you the best of both worlds. Semi-open headphones combine the best features of both closed and open air varieties with very few or none of the disadvantages of either (depending on their quality).



These are by far the most common and less expensive of the whole bunch, and honestly, don’t actually count as studio quality headphones, but they are prevalent everywhere so might as well list them. These are the headphones that come with every iPhone or pretty much any kind of media player. More specifically, these do not come with a headband but rather fit directly facing – but not inserted into – the outer ear. These type of headphones usually provide little to no acoustic isolation of outside noise causing users to commonly raise the volume in order to compensate for the intrusion. They are commonly shipped with a foam pad around the bud for added comfort.


In-Ear Monitors

Similar to the portable friendly earbuds, in-ear headphones can range from the inexpensive consumer level to a very huge chunk of change for the very top of the line. Similar to the way Rolex calls their watches “time pieces,” the very top of the line variety of these headphones are known around the business as “in-ear monitors.” Just in case the name wasn’t a bit self explanatory, in-ear headphones are placed directly inside the ear canal which results in a tight, closed seal. The outside of the phones is usually covered by rubber or other similarly elastic material in order to create a comfortable, form fitting seal inside the ear canal. Most studio quality in-ear headphones usually ship with a variety of rubber (or sometimes elastomer and foam) covers in order to give the user options for the best fit and optimal noise isolation. while these make an excellent choise for any quality junkie out there, it is not recommended that these be used for a portable media player as the noise cancellation features may keep users from being able to listen to important outside noises while walking, such as that car about to run you over.


Alright, now that you know the differences between several different designs of studio quality headphones, head over to PAL's headphones section for a huge variety at the best prices guaranteed!

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