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Headphones vs. Inner Earphones

Discussion in 'Monitoring / Headphones' started by Kruddler, May 13, 2011.

  1. Kruddler

    Kruddler Active Member

    OK, so I'm learning about the home recording process and on Tuesday I will be doing my first session. I believe I have the recording equipment side of things right. Now, the issue of the listening device comes up. The store I've been buying equipment has lots of different headphone brands and so on. Headphones seem to be the standard for recording purposes. Why? What's wrong with earphones? Especially inner earphones (the kind that have a rubber seal that fits inside your earhole)?

    When I'm listening to music on my iPod, I have a natural inclination to prefer earphones to headphones. When I listened to a $150 pair of headphones the other day, I still felt that my $70 pair of Senheiser earphones sounded better with more clarity and definitely more bass.

    If I were to make the investment in a good pair of headphones, why would I be doing it? What's the advantage? A guy at the store said that headphones are sealed and that earphones can bleed in to the mic a bit. That is clearly rubbish because no sound can be heard from outside when I'm listening to my earphones.
  2. Rude Boy

    Rude Boy Guest

    Earplugs will kill your hearing, sooner or later.
    All earplugs I have ever tried could not reproduce all frequencies correctly.
    For recording I prefer HPs over earplugs, anytime, and later for mixing, earplugs are totally out...
    M2c... get a good, closed can. Excessive bleed is not to be expected and would only come from too loud monitoring.
    Safe your hearing... :)
  3. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    They are called in ear monitors, in ears, or IEMs. They are no more likely to cause damage than headphones, and can save your hearing on a loud stage because they can lower the overall SPL exposure. Good quality IEMs sound fantastic and are probably more accurate than expensive headphones. In the studio preferences vary, but I get good results from both. The only drawbacks to IEMs are that they are less convenient to insert/remove than donning/doffing headphones, and you can't share them.
  4. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    To add to Boulder's nice post, quality open back headphones are more natural sounding than closed circumaural headphones but of course do nothing for sound isolation which in some studios or CR's is an issue.
  5. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    When starting recording sessions, you want to be using speakers, control room monitor. If you need to be monitoring in the studio while recording, you need to use what you find to be most personally comfortable for your needs. Open-air can still be utilized in many different situations but generally a closed back pair are the de rigueur standard. IEM's is something similar to underwear. This is a very personal thing and generally, you don't want to be wearing somebody else's earwax. This is fine if it's your own personal pair and you like using them. But at a recording studio, musicians coming in off of the street will be provided with headphones. Many IEM units also require custom molding to your ear and are not necessarily considered earphones. That's why they call them IEM's. Every toy personal player is provided with earphones. You can also purchase earphones such as the Sennheiser's and everything else made in Taiwan. Not all require custom molding but I don't want to wear somebody else's underwear before they've been washed at least. And generally I don't suggest that you wash your earphones. You are sort of talking about reusable tampons/condoms. No! I'm not going there.

    I've had my ear flaps surgically removed so as not to cause these kinds of problems for myself.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  6. Kruddler

    Kruddler Active Member

    All interesting points. Lets deal with them one by one

    1) Hearing Safety.

    From Rude Boy
    From Wikipedia:
    On IEMs (Not personalised)
    So the general idea that I get is that listening to anything (headphones, speakers, or ear-plugs) will damage your hearing if you listen to it at above 80db. If I just turn my ear-plugs down, won't it be the same level of risk as headphones?

    2) Sound Reproduction

    Rude Boy

    You might be right on that. But, that's really why I started this thread. Is this really true? Or, is it something that people just say? Personally, as I said, my $70 pair of IEMs reproduced the sound more faithfully than a $150 pair of recording headphones. Is perhaps the case that as you go up the scale of price, headphones well and truly take over the level of faithful sound reproduction? Do headphones have a broader frequency range in general?

    3) Hygiene

    Good point here. If the guy I am recording with is happy to use the ear-plugs, I will make sure I have a clean pair of rubber thingys to put on the end.

    4) Sound Isolation

    I find that my off-the-shelf IEMs are very good at isolating sound even though they are not moulded. I know this because if I put them in, I hear a lot less ambient noise without turning the sound on. Are you saying that a good pair of closed headphones would isolate the sound even better? What if this is not even a criterion? What if there is no sound coming from outside? Forgive my ignorance, but if I am recording with a mic, wouldn't the only sound in the room be coming from the instrument/vocals itself?
  7. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    There is some mixing up of earbuds and IEMs in there. IEMs isolate the user from ambient noise, and that allows lower volume which decreases the potential for harm. Many consumer earbuds do not isolate much, so people turn them up to drown out the ambient noise which increases the likelihood of damage.

    The other problem with lack of isolation is that you can get bleed from the monitor mix to the microphone. Click tracks and backing tracks can get into your later tracks and possibly make them difficult or impossible to mix. Some singers feel the need to take one side of headphones off, which adds to the bleed. Also, it's possible for the performer to lean too close to the mic and cause feedback which is unpleasant and can damage hearing, especially with open back headphones.
  8. Kruddler

    Kruddler Active Member

    Again, perhaps this would be more ignorance because this will be my first real attempt at recording anything - why would anyone take one earplug-headphone out? What are monitor speakers for?

    My idea was that 100% of the backing tracks would go in to the ear-plugs therefore eliminating the need for monitor speakers and also eliminating all ambient noise except for the instrument itself. Am I missing something?

    Perhaps some of these issues will become apparent when I actually start recording. How knows?
  9. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    "Monitors" can mean a lot of things. In this case I mean the headphones or IEMs used by a performer during tracking. The "monitor mix" is what the performer hears.

    Sometimes a performer, usually a singer, can hear themselves better with one side of the headphones off. When they do this the side they take off can be picked up by the microphone. With open back headphones this can happen even with both sides on the ears.
  10. Kruddler

    Kruddler Active Member

    That makes a lot of sense. So, open back headphones are a less limiting option. However, if the performer prefers to have isolated sound, they could get annoyed because they will have the sound of their instrument/vocals coming through. So it comes down to preference.

    If the performer really wants one plug in and one plug out, I can just turn off the other channel so there's no bleed though.
  11. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    I would say that open headphones are more limiting because there are more situations in the studio where you can't use them because they bleed even when on both ears. Closed headphones are more practical.

    Yep, but with IEMs you will have less bleed than with headphones. Since they are placed closer to the ear they put out less volume in absolute terms.
  12. Guitarfreak

    Guitarfreak Well-Known Member

    Referencing the original question, I believe that what is being asked is not for tracking purposes, but rather for mixing and post-production. Is that correct?

    If so and only if so: Headphones have a larger diaphragm which allows for more low end response (not the same as amount of low end!!!) and have the potential to be more accurate across the entire frequency spectrum if designed to be so. The thing with those special earbuds you have is that with a diaphragm the size of an ant, the circuit/physical enclosure must be modified or designed specifically to FALSELY display the characteristics of a much larger system. The end result is a gum and paperclips bastardization of the entire frequency spectrum. When creating a mix and altering things based on what you are hearing, this is not what you want to be using. You can go ahead and use them anyway, but when you burn a CD and put it into your car stereo or listen to it at a friend's house, it may sound completely different and most likely not in a good way. This is the importance of creating a mix on an "honest" listening system.

    If you are talking instead about isolation listening devices for tracking only, then you can disregard what I said. There have been many well informed posts prior to this one on that topic.
  13. Kruddler

    Kruddler Active Member

    GuitarFreak, I think you have answered my question. Actually, I was coming from a recording perspective only. I'm not going to be mixing/mastering. Although I will take a quick stab at that, I'm going to send the tracks off to be mastered properly. I'm nowhere near good enough at that stuff to think I can master well.

    Basically, the point is: headphones will give you a truer representation of the sounds that would come out of actual devices like stereo speakers and so on. What you are saying is that my $70 ear-plugs might sound fantastic, but that doesn't mean that they are faithfully recreating the frequency response of real monitor speakers or whatever. Whereas, a good set of headphones would do this. It's probably the case that the design of the ear-plugs is compensating in some area so the sound I get out of them is going to be different from what I would hear after the mastering on some other listening device.

    That makes complete sense.

    But as for recording, wouldn't it be safe to say that as long as the performer can hear themselves clearly, the main problem of getting sound in to their ears has been solved?

    Now, that's not to say that I'm better off using cheap ear plugs for recording, it's just saying that at the end of the day, the finished product is not going to be affected by the fact that the performer used IEMs on the day rather than a pair of $800 headphones.

    I will probably buy the headphones anyway because I think in the long term, it would be good to listen to my music with quality headphones so that I can pick up subtle tihngs that I might not pick up from my stereo or IEMS. But, there seems to be no rush to buy a pair for my recording session tomorrow night.

    Is my understand OK here?
  14. Guitarfreak

    Guitarfreak Well-Known Member

    It is a much smaller and less intrusive variable when just using it for tracking, but depending on how heavily you rest on it, it can still hamper you. If you use it for hearing the click and yourself, it doesn't really matter what you use. When you use what you are hearing through it in order to make a judgment call on microphone positioning, then you are right back to square one where what you are hearing is so twisted and contorted compared to what the microphone is initially hearing that you might as well disregard everything you hear and place the mic visually. It would be like an artist making a color or shading decision while wearing colored sunglasses indoors.
  15. Kruddler

    Kruddler Active Member

    OK. Ordering headphones online now...

    What is a good model to buy for about $350? I'm thinking AKG or Senheizer.
  16. Kruddler

    Kruddler Active Member

    I mic'd up my guitar amp and tried to record myself tonight. I put my ear-plugs in. It sounded like dog $*^t. I couldn't get any of the instrument's fibre coming through at all. Shifting the mic around made no difference because I couldn't get enough of the sound coming through to the ear-plugs anyway. Lesson: cheap ear-plugs are not a replacement for good quality headphones. It still begs the question "would good quality ear plugs be better?" But, I'm guessing that they wouldn't be that much better.
  17. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    I've found the Sennheiser HD280Pro model pretty decent for tracking at $99.
  18. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    We use Shure E2C IEMs for tracking. They work great. The E2C is discontinued but there are equally good replacements.
  19. 3daudio

    3daudio Active Member

    Hi Kruddler,

    Here are my 2 cents with headphones and earphones. I have quite a number of them as I am bit finicky with the sound quality. What I have found that earphones can be excellent if you are ready to shell out premium price. The high end in ear earphones produces entire audio spectrum just like any high quality headphones. However, I do have doubts how linear they are as main consumer for these devices are consumers and not sound engineers. I have an ultimateears earphone before they have been acquired by Logitech and they are really solid in performance. They do not sound colored in my ear and produces very close image like my Sony MDR 7506. I have seen that ultimateear has released a new in-ear monitor model at $999 http://ultimateears.com/en-us/products/reference-monitors?WT.ac=pl|HPbanner|ReferenceMonitors which must be real good from my previous experience with them. However, I totally agree with RemyRAD that a pair of studio monitor is really indispensable for monitoring application.

    Comfort wise, my ultimateear is quite wearable for an hour. Thereafter I feel it uncomfortable and itchy. Moreover as you have to insert it fully in your ear so ear wax is real issue ;-) All high quality in-ear phones comes with a ear wax cleaner tool, so be prepared for some extra maintenance.

    My personal favorite is Sony MDR-7506, cheap and solidly built. Nothing yet beats it in my ear in performance. It is close ear design and isolates external sound quite well. If you really want to suppress external noise, the in-ear earphone will be your best friend.

    No, I do not think in-ear will damage your hearing unless you play it too hard and pump in high db sound for prolonged time. The same damage will happen if you listen to high db sound through speakers or headphones.
  20. Scot

    Scot Active Member

    Yes it really makes great sense and headphones have less limiting option but it is quite good and i feel comfortable using headphones.
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