Location headphone monitoring...

Discussion in 'Live Sound' started by FifthCircle, Jul 17, 2006.

  1. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    Feb 12, 2001
    Los Angeles, CA
    Home Page:
    Looking at my options again when it comes to headphones. I've been using the Sony MDR-V700 DJ cans which aren't bad, but aren't fantastic either... They seem to translate pretty well, but the darned things are horribly built. I can't even count the numbers of pairs that I've broken, and true to Sony's wisdom, it costs more to fix them than to buy new ones.

    I'd love to have open ear phones, but I work in a lot of noisy environments. One venue I work in will only let me sit in the hall during concert recordings, other venues have air conditioning in the dressing rooms that sounds like the engine room of a ship. I like Grados, some of the Sennheisers, etc... but I just can't get enough isolation to make the usable. I'm also not particularly fond of the 7506 as the top end just has way too much ear fatigue (been there, done that, don't care to again...).

    So.... What do you folks use and what have you found works well? Price isn't an object so much as the usability under less-than-perfect situations.

  2. zemlin

    zemlin Distinguished Member

    Sep 4, 2004
    Indianapolis, IN
    Home Page:
    I am also a big fan of Grado cans, FWIW.
    My location monitoring setup consists of FutureSonics EM3 in-ears with custom molded sleeves (optional, but very nice) - and a pair of Bilsom Leightning L3 earmuffs (-31dB). The in-ears combined with the muffs provide awesome isolation - I don't hear nuthin' unless it's coming through the wires. Both the in-ears and the Leightning muffs are very comfortable and I can wear them for a good long time with no discomfort.

    The Futuresonics are great sounding, but are a little lacking in high end. A couple of dB of EQ around 10K is helpful.

    It looks like FutureSonics is coming out with some new goodies, so it might be worth keeping an eye on their web site.

    I really like this setup - I can have my head inside a piano, or be standing right in front of a BELTING operatic soprano and trust my mic tweaks.
  3. Simmosonic

    Simmosonic Active Member

    Jan 13, 2005
    Aha! Great topic, Ben. I've been looking at new headphones for the last few months, because I am getting very tired of second-guessing what the end result will be when making recordings in the same space as the performers (or in otherwise noisy environments). I'm also sick of making what I think are great recordings, only to find there is too much tabla or similar LF sound source when I play them back later...

    Unfortunately, there is no single pair of headphones that is good for all situations. As much as I love the Sennheiser HD600s and similar, they are totally useless for working in the same space as the performers - unless you can turn them up ridiculously loud, which is not good for anyone. So I think we need at least two pairs - one pair of lovely open headphones for those times when we have the luxury of an isolated monitoring environment, and one pair of rather more functional closed-cups headphones for all the other times, when isolation takes precedence.

    I've tried the active noise-cancelling models from Bose, Sennheiser and Sony. All fun for listening on a bus or train or airplane, but not accurate at all - in fact, some are outright terrible when the noise-cancelling is turned on! IMO, the Bose were the nicest to listen to and very comfortable to wear, but there is so much LF boost that it leads to midrange masking. Great if you're a DJ, but useless for what we do, unfortunately.

    I have not considered any of the Etymotic or similar things that stick into the ear canal because my right ear is particularly sensitive to anything other than air being stuck into it - it tends to develop wax plugs very easily, and that puts me out of recording action for a couple of days. Plus, all of those types of insertion 'in-ear' earplugs tend to exaggerate head noise (jaw movement, sniffing, breathing, etc.) which I personally find very distracting. Finally, they're not the kind of thing you would pass to someone else for a quick audition or second opinion. Urgh...

    So, I have settled on the Direct Sound EX29 'Extreme Isolation' headphones. They are not what I'd call accurate; you have to spend a bit of time getting used to them because they sound slightly retro and dull (reminiscent of the big old black Pioneers I loved about 30 years ago When Low Frequencies Ruled The Earth and guys like Quagmire were the dominant audio species). BUT, in the field, I am finding the EX29s are quite amazing to work with. Not flattering and not at all exciting to listen to, but the end results are always surprisingly reliable and good. They claim to offer up to 28dB or so of isolation. However much they offer and at what frequencies I am not sure, but one thing I am certain of - when I make a recording in a noisy environment using them and then play it back in a quiet environment, I am not getting any nasty surprises. The extra 10dB or so of isolation they offer over my Beyer DT250s makes all the difference in the world when it comes to discriminating between the recorded sound and the spill. AND, I don't have to turn my monitoring up anywhere near as loudly as I did with the Beyers, so my ears aren't getting a bashing and I don't get fatigued so soon.

    To tell you honestly, they are the first headphones with which I feel totally confident when recording in a noisy environment - especially when the noise is the sound source I am recording. My philosophy on headphones in the field has now switched. In terms of microphone/instrument positioning and direct/reverberant balances, I now realise that good isolation is far more important and helpful than a perfectly flat frequency response. The EX29's stereo imaging is good enough, the overall tonality is acceptable, and it is much easier to hear the reverberation and so on as it dies down.

    Here's the most surprising thing: when I am using the EX29s, it feels like I am working with my head in a portable control room! So... I can happily walk around the performers while wearing the headphones and move the microphone rig into the right spot with an enormous amount of confidence.

    If the truth be known, I didn't like them at all when they arrived for audition. I didn't like the look of them, I didn't like the sound of them, I didn't like the feel of them, and I didn't like the way they were marketed on some websites! But the concept made sense so I took them out on a few jobs anyway and they soon proved their usefulness. (I am writing this from Pokhara, Nepal, where I am doing more recordings of folk music. I have always used the Beyer DT250s for this work, but for this trip I also packed the EX29s because I was curious to see how they'd perform in this 'extreme' situation. I'm glad I did - the DT250s are now stuffed deep down in my backpack and haven't seen the light of day for a few weeks. I am using the EX29s exclusively now and feel like I've *finally* got the headphone problem solved - at least for tracking on location.)

    I've recommended them to a studio engineering friend, and he recently emailed me with some very positive things to say regarding wearing them while fine-tuning microphone positions.

    I'm not saying the EX29s will be for everyone, but please give them a fair go by a) familiarising yourself with their sound, and b) actually taking them out on a couple of jobs where you have to monitor in the same room as the performers or in an otherwise noisy environment. Assess the results after the job and let me know what you think...

    [Dang, this whole thing sounds like one of those detestable testimonials on one of those hated marketing websites I mentioned at the start of this post. Oh well. Good is what good does.]
  4. bap

    bap Guest

    I have the Sony 7509s and don't think that the highs are as hyped as some headphones.

    After reading S's testimonial (as well as many others), I am seriously looking in the Extreme Isolations. They can be found for less than $100 and offer 60 day money back guarantee - not a bad offer!

    (I always look at the word 'guarantee' and wonder about the spelling....)
  5. zemlin

    zemlin Distinguished Member

    Sep 4, 2004
    Indianapolis, IN
    Home Page:
    One other option - the Senn HD280Pro cans have good isolation and can be pretty revealing - I find them to be a very good test for EQ issues. They're lacking, however, in both the high end and the low end, so for that reason I might be reluctant to rely on them exclusively for location work.
  6. mdemeyer

    mdemeyer Active Member

    Dec 22, 2004
    Dublin, CA USA
    Grado HP-1s are my 15-year reference phone, when isolation is not needed (or for playing back takes when the musicians are not performing). Etymotic ER-4 for when isolation is needed (which is most of the time during performances).

    The Grados are fabulous in all respects except comfort. Use the original 'slotted' pads, not alternate comfortable pads. It matters for resolution. The only source for pads I know of is Todd the Vinyl Junkie on the web.

    The ER-4 are a little thin on bottom - OK, more than a little. But with experience I have no trouble listening through that. They make a model with more bottom, but I have not tried it. Of course, I don't mind things stuck in my ears. I'm going to a set of custom moulds for them, and will update on that experience.

  7. Simmosonic

    Simmosonic Active Member

    Jan 13, 2005
    Oh dear...

    I've just re-read my earlier post and, well, you can see that I'm bored as batshit sitting here while my knee recovers, with nothing better to do than write enormous posts. I've written a zillion repetitive words when three or four would've done. :oops:

    I wish my ears were not so fussy, because the Ety concept is very appealing to me (er, except for the inability to pass them to someone else for a quick listen, of course). I have a pair of custom-molded earplugs at home (the type that give 15dB or so of attenuation) and, despite one of them being molded to my right ear, even *it* causes aggravation.
  8. huub

    huub Guest

    I was working on a (lets drop some names: nigel kennedy 8) ) recording, and the soundsupervisor was monitoring on sony cd 5000's..apperently theyre not produced anymore but can be found if you're lucky.. He really loooved them for location recording..
  9. huub

    huub Guest

    or was it cd 3000? im not sure any more.. cd-something anyway..
  10. TeddyBullard

    TeddyBullard Guest

    for location work, I have found the etymotic er-4 pair to be unsurpassed in terms of clarity and isolation. Before I bought those I went through the sony 7506, Sennheiser HD600s, Grado, and many others, from 100 a pair to 2,000 a pair. I never go on a gig without my etys. At home I use Stax Electrostatics.

  11. d_fu

    d_fu Guest

    Beyer DT-831 or 801 for me... No longer manufacured, I believe, and I don't know the current closed Beyers. Found them on ebay...


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