Headphones for Singers - General Information
In the recording studio, it's not just the choice of mic and headphone mix that influence a singer’s voice and sound. The make and model of each headphone is designed to work with and present sound differently; some emphasize the treble range making the sound very bright, while others boost the mid or bass. So just like singing on a mismatched mic, this can cause a singer to push or strain. When all factors are properly matched for the singer, singing can feel magically easier and freer even influencing things like one’s pitch accuracy.
Once you know the right headphones to use, I encourage you to invest in your own set and bring them to the studio for recording. This puts you more in charge of your recording session and enhances the experience and quality of result.
I have recently begun focusing on testing and reviewing different company’s headphones and here offer you the results of my newest findings and recommendations.
HD 280 Professional – Studio Monitoring Headphone
Deva Straight Talk: The HD280s are the BEST I've ever used in the studio - and I've sung with many. They help to make singing easy which keeps the session fun and efficient in achieving final vocal tracks. They are light weight and adjustable with very comfortable and luxurious ear pads permitting extended wear. This is important because the weight and pressure created by some headphones can actually cause head and neck tension and sometimes even headaches. I have personally sung with these in challenging vocal recording sessions and found them to be a most wonderful asset.
With these on, I can hear exactly what I’m doing with no alteration. As part of my testing, I brought them to a session for which I was the vocal producer. The singer was using a different company’s headphones. When she showed signs of having vocal difficulty, I switched the headphones she was using to the Sennheiser HD 280s. Immediately she was able to sing better, more freely and with more expression just by changing to this headphone.
Best Uses: These headphones reproduce both male and female voices equally well. While I have not used them for every type of voice and musical style, I am confident that the HD 280s will support them all. I don’t usually make such sweeping statements about equipment but these headphones are fabulous. It’s likely that audiophiles and DJs will enjoy the sound of these as well, but I’m only reviewing them for singers in studio sessions.
Technical Details: The HD 280 Pro is a closed, around-the-ear headphone that provides what could be called “aggressive noise isolation” which is very important for studio recording. They also block out room noise with up to 32 dB of ambient noise attenuation. They have a single-sided, coiled cable with a 1/8 mini jack and a locking screw-type ¼ inch jack adapter. You can also replace the ear pads if they ever wear out. The collapsible design and swiveling ear cups make it easy to pack and carry. The only thing I wish Sennheiser would include with these headphones is a carrying bag.
Final Notes: I encourage recording studios to purchase several sets of the HD280s. It’s important for producers and engineers to hear what the singer is hearing. While of course you can send the headphone mix through your external studio monitors, since each monitor is designed to reproduce sound differently, you will only truly hear what the singer is hearing if you use the same make and model headphones.
Sennheiser HD 380 Professional Monitoring Headphones
Deva Straight Talk: Listening to music with these headphones was awesome. They have a full lush sound. However, singing with them had two drawbacks. First, while the earpiece is comfortable, they are slightly oval and long (see picture). Though they fully enclose my ear for good noise attenuation and sound isolation, they extend below my ear and sit on top of my jaw. For singing, this makes movements of my jaw cumbersome and uncomfortable.
The other drawback is that they exaggerate aspects of the sound spectrum. That means my voice is not being perfectly reproduced when I’m singing which causes me to alter the way I sing in an attempt to make my voice sound the way I’m intending it to sound. When using mics and headphones that don’t truthfully reproduce their voice, singers will subconsciously manipulate vocal muscles causing strain and other complications.
Best Uses: I feel the HD 380s are best for listening to music: audiophiles and DJs.
Technical Details: These are around-the-ear, full sound isolation headphones. The HD 380s provide extended frequency response with increased sound pressure level (up to 110dB) for demanding applications. Accessories include a carrying case, a detachable/replaceable 3.2-foot coiled cable (extendable up to 9.8 ft.) with a 1/8 inch jack and a locking screw-type ¼ inch jack adapter. They also have replaceable ear pads (part # 523310).
Final Notes: I would not recommend them for singers or for studio monitoring by engineers or producers. They enhance aspects of the sound spectrum (even though beautifully), especially the midrange and low frequencies, so one is not going to hear the exact sound that is actually being played and recorded influencing judgment and session engineering.
Sessions with Jeannie are always high energy but at the same time relaxed and productive. I would therefore highly recommend her services to producers and artists who want to get convincing vocal performances. That is why I've always called her Coach!