Headphones are like indie bands – they run the gamut from being absolute trash to bordering on heavenly intervention, and they all vary in their stylistic approach. Open-back headphones are ideal for mixing and mastering in the studio. Closed-back headphones are ideal for tracking or monitoring live sound.
There are great sounding headphones meant only for casual listening, and then there are the ones that professional engineers swear by which can sound unquestionably awful. It’s a lot to take in, so don’t worry if you feel overwhelmed.
We’ve reviewed a lot of headphones here at Higher Hz, so take your time browsing through to get a better understanding of what you’re looking for.
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How we test and rate headphones
Considering the multiplicity of sound signatures and intended uses within the headphone market, we try to take special attention to the context surrounding a specific pair of headphones.
For example, you may want a pair of headphones with some great noise cancellation, and that’s great! There’s plenty of reasons to seek that out, and they’re all valid. However, open-back headphones are notoriously terrible when it comes to cancellation and isolation. Does that make them bad? Absolutely not.
More often than not, open-back headphones sound far better than their closed-back counterparts – they just weren’t designed for isolation.
The most important aspect when it comes to finding a decent pair of headphones is and will always be its power and frequency response – or sound for the layman. As most other things in audio, a flat and neutral response is usually best. You don’t want an over-exaggerated low end, nor do you want a pair of headphones with an overly sibilant and harsh high end.
Sometimes, you can make a case for such things, in that sometimes a harsh high end can help a mix engineer to find the rough inconsistencies of a mix. Likewise, a large and booming bottom end can serve well for hip-hop, EDM, and more modern indie pop and rock mixing styles. Still, the flatter the better.
After sound, everything else is taken into account on equal terms. We don’t look for noise cancellation in open-back headphones, but we do look for comfort and a decent build quality.
Build quality can be less of an issue if the headphones are inexpensive, but the headphones need to sound good to be worth the risk of them breaking after a few months – and the list goes on.
Context is important, and there will always be a trade-off of some sort. There’s no such thing as perfect headphones, and one engineer’s trash is another engineer’s gold. What’s important is to find a pair of headphones that you can afford, and be happy to own, and use with minimal issues.