HEADPHONES: Why don’t audio engineers use high-end headphones?

James Harward, works at James Harward ProductionsUpdated September 19, 2018 · Upvoted by Michiel Lombaers, 30 years as a sound engineer writes ...

Audio engineers typically do use high-end headphones, just not high-end consumer headphones.

There is a difference from headphones that are meant for studio use (mixing) vs. what is used for listening to music (consumer).

The difference is the frequency response. Most consumer headphones are made to either boost or reduce frequencies to enhance the music you are listening to. For example, Beats headphones designed their frequency response to have an added bass boost to sound really good with hip-hop music. When I Listen to music, I want awesome headphones that sound really good with rock music.

Audio engineers need the exact opposite. When I am acting in my role as an audio engineer, I can't use headphones that boost or cut frequencies. When I am mixing the music, I need to be able to hear exactly what is happening with the music, so I can choose the appropriate frequencies to boost, or cut for the final mix. To do that, I need to have studio headphones with a flat frequency response. If I mix on headphones that have an added bass boost, I might feel like I have an appropriate amount of bass in the mix, but when the mix is played on a sound system without the bass boost, the bass will sound weak.

I knew some guys that made a documentary for a musician. They mixed the main documentary on a good flat-frequency system that made sure it sounded good. They then made a last minute decision to add a song for the DVD special features, and they did a quick mix of it on their laptop speakers. Because their laptop speakers lacked the bass frequencies, they could not determine how to appropriately mix the bass. They added a bass in the mix, and then sent the DVD off for duplication. It wasn't until they got the DVD's that they listened to the special features on a system with sub-woofers, that they realized that they added way too much bass. They almost blew out their sub-woofer.

I realize that last example was not headphones, but it illustrated the necessity of mixing audio using appropriately flat speakers/headphones. Audio engineers are the ones who are making judgement calls on how the end-product of music should sound. They need to make sure it can sound good on any system. To do that, they need to hear it right. When they hear it right, they can mix it right. When it is mixed right, it is delivered as the final product to the consumer. At that point, it is set up for high-end consumer headphones to do their thing, which is to give you the best listening experience that money can buy.

I have put a lot of money into my mixing set-up. Naturally, I do most of my mixing with my near-field monitors, and use my headphone mainly for tracking, and those moments when I can’t have the speaker doing their thing. I consider my monitors, and my headphones high-end. Now, the headphones I hand to the musicians. . . . that may be a different story. I have had multiple sets of headphones broken by musicians, so they get the cheapos.

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