When it comes to mixing and producing electronic music, you need a pair of headphones that can deliver the full range of frequencies. You want to be able to hear the cutting leads in detail, just as you need to feel the chest-thumping low end. This is why it is essential to have headphones that will let you hear the intricate details of your music.
For home recording musicians on a budget, a good pair of headphones is worth its weight in gold. In fact, choosing studio headphones is arguably just as crucial as choosing the right monitor speakers. Many professional studios actually have several headphones on deck for various applications.
Types of studio headphones
Studio headphones come in three varieties: closed-back, open-back, and in-ear.
Closed-back headphones are the most common kind and are best used for tracking. They feature thick padding that fully covers the ear, allowing for comfortable use over long recording and mixing sessions.
The closed-back design results in minimal “bleed”, which refers to the sound leaking through the cups. This is especially useful when you don’t want the audio to be picked up by a live microphone. Because recording often involves cranking up the volume at some point, these headphones are ideal for home recording settings.
Open-back headphones are usually preferable for mixing. Most designs feature the same type of ear padding as closed-back headphones, but with an open back that allows sound to escape. This reduces the buildup of low frequencies.
Open-back headphones are costlier and generally higher quality than their closed-back equivalents. However, they are much more likely to allow sound to bleed through.
Musicians usually use In-ear monitors (IEMs) for monitoring in live settings. There are also high-end IEMs that can be used in a studio environment. Keep in mind, however, that IEMs can’t accommodate larger, more efficient drivers due to their compact size.
In any case, if you choose closed or open-back over-ear headphones, you should expect some sweat buildup in the cups. It’s a good idea to have a piece of cloth nearby to wipe the ear cups clean during and after long working sessions. Wiping them down with an alcohol solution will prevent germs and other microbes from accumulating over time.
Impedance: What it is and why you should care about it
One of the main characteristics of monitoring headphones is impedance value, which is measured in ohms (Ω). Impedance essentially indicates how much resistance the headphones’ drivers exert when an electric signal passes through them.
High-impedance headphones (>=250Ω) are designed for direct connection to an amplifier. Although they produce high-quality sound, they also require additional gear to make them work at optimal volume levels.
Low-impedance headphones (32 to 80 Ω) are designed for direct connection to audio sources such as phones, laptops, or audio interfaces. Because they can output sound more efficiently than their higher-impedance counterparts, they are better suited for a wider variety of applications.
Choosing headphones for specific genres
Interestingly enough, the genre has little bearing on the type of headphone you choose. Whether you’re working on a pounding house beat, an ear-blasting rock anthem, or a silky-smooth jazz piece, you still need a pair of headphones that deliver a balanced frequency response. It would be best if you also chose headphones based on impedance and comfort characteristics, rather than how suitable they are for a particular genre.
When mixing and producing electronic music, you will, of course, want to hear the optimum low-end response. But bass-heavy headphones are better suited for casual listening than producing. In a production environment, bassy headphones could negatively affect your mixing decisions, resulting in thin-sounding mixes lacking in low-end “oomph” when played back through different speakers.
Our top picks for producing and mixing electronic music
Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro
One of the best pairs of open-back headphones, this newer addition to the Beyerdynamic lineup features comfortable padding suitable for long working sessions. In terms of sound, you could expect full lows, rich mids, and crystal-clear highs that will satisfy professionals as well as beginners.
The DT990 Pro boasts of an impressive frequency range of 5Hz to 35kHz. The drivers are capable of three-dimensional sound for extremely accurate spatial image representation. All the parts are easily replaceable as well, making them an excellent choice for amateurs and more advanced users. With a starting price of 125£/140€/160$, DT990 Pros are affordable for even those with tight budgets.
- Replaceable parts for easy cleaning and repairing
- Impressive tonal balance and representation
- Wide spatial image
- Cups can get sweaty quickly and will start flaking soon without proper maintenance
An improvement over the legendary M50x, the ATH-M70x features large neodymium drivers. The use of proprietary driver technology allows for a faithful representation of the low-end range, which is what many budget offerings lack. The design also results in crisp highs, with an impressive response range of 5Hz to 40kHz, which is much higher than what the human ear can perceive. This provides added detail to the high end of your tracks.
The sturdy construction of the ATH-M70x makes them suitable for every conceivable scenario, including mixing, mastering, producing, DJing, and casual listening. The package includes three cords, two straight and one coiled, all of which are detachable and user-replaceable.
The ATH-M70x is favored by producers all over the world due to its cutting-edge features and innovative design. With a starting price of 230£/250€/300$, it is admittedly a significant step-up over our previous pick. Even so, it is an excellent choice for those that have the cash to spare. If your budget is a bit tight, the lower-end M50x is still a worthy contender that can stand toe-to-toe with the best headphones on the market.
- Detachable cords
- Wide frequency range
- Soft cushioning provides added comfort
- Like all closed-back headphones, they suffer from low-end buildup during long sessions
Sennheiser HD-280 Pro
Sennheiser’s HD-280 Pro is the second most recommended pair of headphones after the ATH-M50x. It features a closed-back design and fairly impressive bass response, earning it a reputation as the poor man’s version of the Sennheiser HD-600. At one-third of the price (75£/85€/100$), you’d be hard-pressed to find a pair that offers better bang for your buck.
The HD-280 Pro is rated at 32Ω, which makes it compatible with almost any audio source, from iPhones to laptops to audio interfaces. Don’t be fooled by its budget status. The HD-280 Pro boasts of articulate low-frequency response, starting at an incredibly low 8Hz. At the same time, it does a great job of reproducing the highs, as you would expect from dedicated mixing headphones.
- Accurate frequency response
- Comfortable and secure
- Non-detachable cable