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You may have a pair of studio headphones in your home studio that you use for your music production activities. If like most of us, your home studio is a multi-purpose room that can be used for entertainment purposes, can you use those studio headphones for listening to music?
As a general rule, studio headphones are a great option for listening to music. They give a very accurate representation of the sound, being designed to have a flat frequency response. It can take time to adjust to them, as they do not contain any enhancement features such as bass boost.
Your studio headphones are essentially a specialized version of common headphone technology. Read on to learn how this specialization affects everyday tasks such as music listening, and if you really need to buy consumer-level headphones as well for those tasks.
You may also be interested in these related articles…
- Are normal headphones any good for music production?
- Can you record with open-back headphones?
- Can you record without studio monitor speakers?
If you are interested in checking out the best recording gear such as audio interfaces, studio monitor speakers, microphones, etc., you can find them at Amazon by clicking here.
What are studio headphones?
Studio headphones are headphones designed for music production. They differ from consumer-level headphones in that they give a very accurate representation of the sound. To do this they are designed to have a so-called “flat frequency response“.
They do not “enhance” the sound in any way. Consumer headphones will often have enhancement technology built into them to improve the sound in some way. Bass boost is a very common example. Studio headphones will not add bass; they will give you just the bass frequencies present in the recording.
The design goal of studio headphones is to present the music as accurately as possible, not to make it sound as good as possible. This makes sense when you consider their primary purpose.
If you are mixing a song, you need to hear everything as it actually sounds to be able to make good decisions. If the headphones are changing the sound in some way, your mixing decisions are going to be based on incorrect information.
If something sounds bad, you want your headphones to tell you, so you can take steps to rectify it. For example, if you discover a nasty sounding frequency on a track during mixing you want to be able to accurately hone in on it so you can make an EQ cut there.
There is some debate about if you should mix on headphones. That’s why I wrote this article on why it’s considered bad to mix on headphones. I highly recommend reading it if you are considering mixing using headphones – it will help you avoid common pitfalls and get the best mix possible.
Studio headphones have a few more key characteristics…
- Low distortion
- Wide frequency response (you will hear more detail in the low and high-frequency ranges)
- Designed to be comfortable for long sessions
- Don’t color the sound at all (you get out what you put in)
- Wired, not wireless
- Tend to be quite bulky, but physically well-built and durable
There are actually two types of studio headphones – open-back and closed-back.
Open-back headphones are generally used for mixing. They give a more accurate representation of the sound, and a better presentation of the stereo space. As their name suggests, the ear cups are not completely closed. Consequently, a fair amount of the sound actually leaks out of this type of headphones into the surrounding environment.
The open-back mixing headphones I highly recommend are the AKG K-702 Reference Headphones (affiliate link), which you can get at Amazon for a very reasonable price. These are the headphones that I have been mixing on for years, with great results.
Closed-back headphones are typically used for recording. With this type, the ear cups are completely closed, so they leak very little sound out into the surroundings. This is important for recording, as you won’t get any bleed from the headphones into the microphone. Closed-back headphones tend to emphasize bass more than their open-back counterparts, so are considered to be less accurate.
My preferred closed-back headphones are the Sony MDR-7506 headphones (affiliate link), available from Amazon for a great price. These are the headphones I use in my home studio for all my recording activities, and they have proven very reliable.
Studio headphones are great for music listening
Due to their flat frequency response, accuracy and presentation detail, studio headphones are a good choice for listening to music. They will give you a very accurate sound, letting you hear the music exactly as the producer intended.
They may reveal detail you haven’t heard before, such as…
- High-end frequencies in instruments such as cymbals
- The attack of the pick or fingers on a guitar or bass
- Low-end punch from a bass drum
- Breath noises from singers
Regular headphones vs studio headphones
Regular or consumer-level headphones are designed for general audio listening. This could be music, TV, films, podcasts, radio, gaming, etc. Their primary goal is to make whatever sound source they are presenting sound as good as it possibly can.
That means accuracy is often sacrificed for a “better” sound, although that can be very subjective. What is considered “better” varies from listener to listener. Regular headphones often have enhancement technology built into them, such as…
- Bass boost
- EQ music style profiles (rock, classical, pop, etc.)
- EQ range emphasis settings (vocals, mid-range, scooped, etc)
Regular headphones are usually closed-back in full over-the-ear form, or earbuds style.
Disadvantages of studio headphones for music listening
Although studio headphones are generally excellent for listening to music, they do have some drawbacks…
Open-back headphones leak sound out into the environment. You may be wearing headphones to keep the noise away from people around you. If you are listening at any volume other than very quiet, then those people are going to hear some leakage out of your headphones.
Studio headphones do tend to be bulky. This means they tend to be durable, reliable and last a long time. But they are not inconspicuous and are not great where space is at a premium e.g. in airplane luggage, or where you may want them to be unnoticeable such as on public transport.
The cost of studio headphones is also quite high compared to regular headphones. The design effort gone into them, the quality of components used and the high precision engineering used in the manufacturing process all contribute to this expense.
Studio headphones as well as revealing detail, may also reveal flaws in a recording. Some examples are…
- Background talking
- Bleed from one track onto another
- Excessive guitar finger noise
- Rumble from a vibrating microphone stand
These may or may not bother you, but it is something to bear in mind.
It can take some getting used to if you are switching from standard headphones to studio headphones, depending on your own personal listening tastes. If you are accustomed to listening with the enhancements that regular headphones provide, you may find the accuracy and honesty of studio headphones a little disorienting at first.
Your ears will adapt over time, and become accustomed to studio headphones’ clean sound. But it may be that you will always prefer the sound of regular headphones. It is difficult to give general advice here, as everyone’s ears and musical preferences are different. If you can, try to listen to some music through a friend’s studio headphones. Give this a few tries over a period of time, to try and gauge if you will get used to them.
To an extent, you can use EQ to compensate for the character of sound you are more used to. But if you are resorting to this sort of tactic, you may be better off sticking with your regular headphones.
This article is about if you can use studio headphones to listen to music. You may also be wondering the same thing about studio monitor speakers. I have an article that addresses exactly that question, and helps you decide if you should listen to music through studio monitors.
Should you buy studio or normal headphones?
If you have a home studio set up in a multi-purpose room and you already have some studio headphones, my advice would be to use those for your general listening activities, for example…
I don’t think it would be worth buying separate standard headphones in this situation, unless you really cannot adjust to the sound of studio headphones.
If you are looking to buy a pair of headphones for general use and not music production use, then I would not consider studio headphones for this purpose. Standard headphones would be more suitable in this case, and will save you some money. The only exception to this is if you are intending to start using them for music production some time in the future.
I would not recommend standard headphones for music production activities. If you are just getting started you can at a push use them, especially for recording. But for mixing, I would certainly wait to get a decent pair of studio headphones.
Can you use studio headphones for a phone?
Studio headphones can be used with a phone to listen to audio. They give a more accurate representation of the sound than earbuds, but with no enhancements such as bass boost. Although they can be used, studio headphones are probably not the best choice for portability due to their size and bulk.
Here is some of my favorite home studio gear…
Thanks for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful in your home music-making activities. Here are a few of the tools that I personally use in my home studio. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to use any of them I’ll earn a small commission.
Audio interface: My personal choice for audio interfaces are the Focusrite Scarlett series. I have been using these for years, and they have always given me great-sounding recordings. For a very reasonable price from Amazon you can buy the excellent Focusrite Scarlett 4i4, or if you don’t need MIDI capability the Focusrite Solo is a great choice.
Amp sim: Guitar amplifier simulator software has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, such that I record all my electric guitar parts using amp sims these days. One of the very best is the incredible Amplitube from IK Multimedia, which I have used on many of my songs.
Headphones for recording: My favorite headphones for recording are the Sony MDR-7506s, which I use for monitoring during all my recording sessions. They can also be found in many pro recording studios. Get the Sony MDR-7506 headphones from Amazon here.
General-purpose microphone: You can’t go wrong with a good ol’ Shure SM-57, one of the most versatile and ubiquitous microphones around. I’ve been using one in my home studio for as long as I can remember. Amazon offers the Shure SM-57 for a very competitive price.
To see all of my most up-to-date recommendations, check out this resource I made for you!