Many people concentrate on getting the visuals right when filming and forget that audio is just as important. A good pair of studio headphones can make the movie, or let it down. In this quick tip I’ll explain what studio headphones are and why we use them.
What Are Studio Headphones?
Studio headphones are different from regular headphones (and DJ headphones) as they’re designed to reproduce sound more accurately and retrain a more neutral sound signature. This makes the sound ‘flatter’ than other types of headphones, which might have an emphasis on a certain range; bass for example. Think of it as having a filter over your camera lens; you wouldn't see the ‘true’ image and the same can be said for sound.
There are two types of studio headphones, open-back and closed-back. Open-back ones sound more natural as they let in more background sound. This can cause a problem if you’re in a relatively quiet environment and are standing near the source you’re recording as the sound can leak out. These are better for louder sounds like band music. Closed-back headphones isolate your ears so you hear very little of background noise; for this reason they are much more suited to monitoring than open-back. The downside is that the sound can appear unnatural to our ears and for this reason, they’re not as good for mixing.
These DT 770 Pro headphones from Beyerdynamic are around £100 to buy and are mostly used for 'studio' work. We also have a cheaper pair for in the field:
These HD 205 headphones by Sennheiser are only about £40 and do a really good job monitoring on location.
Why Do We Use Them?
There are two main reasons for using studio headphones; monitoring and mixing (covered briefly above) so you’ll want to choose your headphones based on your main requirements. If you’re filming in the field and recording audio, you need to know you’re hearing exactly what is recording. Your meters could be bouncing away and sound good only for you to get home and realise there was distortion or wind noise recorded too. Without headphones you’d have little idea of what was getting into your raw file, making it much harder for you in post-production. With things like interviews, you may only get the one chance to get it right, so using headphones and monitoring your levels accurately is integral.
How to Choose Your Headphones
Cheaper headphones won’t give you an accurate frequency response (some might be bass biased for example), meaning your starting point will be skewed for any later changes you might make. A bit like having an un-calibrated monitor for picture editing and getting a completely different print than you thought.
When choosing headphones, consider the following:
- Over ear rather than ear in ear. This will give you better quality and help isolate sound so you’re only hearing what’s going on in the mic and not around you.
- Comfort. You’ll more than likely use them regularly so choose well-padded head and ear.
- A curly wire… it might sound silly but a curled wire will tangle less frequently and doesn’t bend/break the wire as easily.
- Durability. They’ll be in and out of kit bags regularly so check reviews before you buy. You don’t need to spend a fortune but consider them as important an investment as the rest of your kit.