The Most Powerful Recording Tool (That You Already Own)

2016 Feb 29, 2016

What if I told you there was a recording tool so powerful that it could help you get the best sounding tracks, no matter where you record or what gear you record with?

Not only that, it doubles as a powerful mixing tool as well.

And the best part – you probably already own it. That’s right, the most powerful recording tool you could have is a pair of studio headphones.

Your Recording Secret Weapon

It’s funny how much emphasis is put on microphones, preamps, and converters when it comes to recordings, and yet no one seems to talk about whether or not you can hear what those performances really sound like.

Unless you have a dedicated control room that is acoustically tuned and treated, then you have no way of knowing what your recordings are really sounding like on tracking day.

The common situation for us home studio owners is a simple one room setup – and chances are very high that the room doesn’t sound very good to begin with.

So even though things like proper mic choice and strategic mic placement are the key to killer recordings (beyond talent and performance of course) you’re working from a disadvantage if you can’t hear every nuance of the instrument you’re tracking.

Create Your Own Monitoring Standard

This is where a pair of good (i.e. not super cheap) headphones is so valuable – as the gold monitoring standard. They allow you to hear your tracks in isolation and with consistency every single time.

No matter what your room sounds like, playback on those headphones is consistent.

No matter where you record (on the go, in another studio) playback on those headphones is consistent.

What it comes down to is simply this – if you have a pair of accurate headphones (more on that in a minute) and you know what good music sounds like on those cans, then you have a monitoring standard with which to make accurate microphone choice and placement decisions.

Ultimately this leads to better recordings that virtually mix themselves.

Over the years I’ve found this to be true, especially when I was doing a lot of mobile recording.

I would fly to places like Boston, Washington D.C., and Richmond to track albums for really talented artists. I’d work out of basements, churches, and living rooms without my normal speakers and the room I’m used to.

But thanks to my pair of trusty studio headphones I had a standard with which to make my mic placement decisions. It’s been an integral part of my development as an engineer.

What Headphones Should You Use?

This might all sound obvious to you – but I don’t want you to miss the profound implications of this truth. A pair of good studio headphones is your most trusted friend in the studio.

Now, I’m sure 99% of you already own a pair of “good” studio headphones, but for those who are in the market for a pair of if you simply want to know what I think is an acceptable option for the studio, here are some thoughts.

Go for a pair of closed back studio headphones. They will give you more isolation and separation which is great for tracking and playback in one room setups.

You don’t need to spend a fortune. I personally use and recommend the KRK KNS8400s and they will run you around $150 US. That’s half the price of a budget set of speakers!

Also – as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Grammy winning mixer/engineer Andrew Scheps mixes on a pair of $99 Sony MDR-7506s from time to time. Why? Because he’s had them for years and knows what music sounds like on them.

Honestly, any pair of closed back studio headphones above $99 US is putting you in a range of quality that will work great. You’ll get full frequency response with drivers powerful enough to give your the detail and nuance that you need when making critical sonic decisions.

If All You Did Was This

With so many variables in the recording studio, having at least one piece of stability and consistency is invaluable. That’s what a pair of trusted headphones can do for you.

Here’s the takeaway for you:

  • If you don’t have a pair of studio headphones, make it a priority to get one as soon as possible.
  • Once you’ve got your cans in hand, the most powerful thing you could do is take some time every day to listen to at least 10 minutes of good music on those headphones. Just for fun.
  • Familiarize yourself with what that good music sounds like on those headphones. Take note of how the low end responds, where vocals sit, and how the top end cuts through.

If all you did was train your ears to intimately know every detail of your headphones, you’d be steps ahead for your next tracking session. And that will snowball into better sounding mixes in the end.

Sound off – what is YOUR favorite pair of studio headphones? Let the community know below!

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