Headphones for laptop music monitoring
September 7, 2012 2:08 PM   Subscribe

I have questions about monitoring audio on a laptop using headphones.

I would like to get back into hobby music making on a Macbook running Ableton Live, a version of NI Komplete from a few years ago, Bias Peak Studio (R.I.P.), and a few other apps. I need a good pair of circumaural headphones and came across Beyer Dynamic DT990s which come in various flavors of impedance.

Right now I'm leaning toward the 600 ohm version, although at the very high end of my budget. Is that overkill? Can I drive them with a USB audio interface, or is a dedicated headphone amp the best way to go?

I have not decided on the Beyers so any other suggestions of various impedance, can design (open, semi-open, closed), amp/no amp, are appreciated.
posted by preparat to Media & Arts (8 answers total)
Those are very nice headphones, but for monitoring and mixing home studio recordings, I and just about every serious studio musician and producer I know prefers AKG K240 because of their predictable, flat sound. They're not the best sounding headphones, but they always sound the same, they're predictable, and every studio has them so you know what you're hearing and how it will sound when you put it on something else - the headphones are not making your music sound better, which is important if you're going to have someone else listen to it on their own system.

Beyond that, I find that it depends on what kind of music you're making. For electronic music, my favorite headphones in terms of sound, quality, feel, etc. are the Pioneer HDJ-2000, which are an absolute steal price-wise for the materials and quality you're getting. But they are optimized for EDM, so if you're doing acoustic music or other very airy stuff, they might not be ideal.

I find that it's useful to have at least three different kinds of headphones in the studio, to switch between as I test out a mix.

But yeah, those Beyer Dynamics are amazing.
posted by The World Famous at 2:38 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thank you The World Famous. I'll research those Pioneers.
posted by preparat at 2:45 PM on September 7, 2012

600 ohm? Blimey! You will need a separate amp for them. FWIW I have a pair of DT250/250ohms and my MacBook just about manages to drive them at a decent level.
posted by run"monty at 2:47 PM on September 7, 2012

The Sony MDR-7506 / MDR-V6 are the other "standard" studio headphones, and very affordable. The only downside is that the vinyl pads break down quickly. You can get soft replacement pads, though.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:23 PM on September 7, 2012

Is it fair to say a MacBook should be able to drive any of these:

AKG Acoustics K-240, 55 ohm
Pioneer HDJ-2000, 36 ohm
Beyer Dynamic DT 880 Premium, 32 ohm (now considering the 880 due to the claimed "Neutral and Linear" sound)
Sony MDR-7506, 63 ohm
posted by preparat at 7:55 PM on September 7, 2012

Yeah, The World Famous makes a very important point, you want your monitoring equipment to have as little "input" into the sound as possible, so that when you make changes to the source music, you know that you are producing that sound, and that it's not the headphones producing that sound.

If you were just going to passively listen to music, those Beyers are probably some of the nicest headphones money can buy, and I'm sure they make any recorded source sound better. But if you're going to be actively making music (for other people to listen to on their sweet headphones) you'll be much happier with the results you get using either the AKGs or the Sonys. They are literally the two most popular monitoring headphones in the world. And you won't need any kind of special headphone amp unless you're trying to drive more than one pair of headphones with the same signal.

I personally have owned a couple pairs of those AKGs, and find the semi-open design preferable, with less ear fatigue. They sound great for just casual listening, too. A friend of mine swore by the Sonys, a little more in your face sound, up close (mids maybe?).
posted by grog at 9:42 PM on September 7, 2012

monitoring equipment to have as little "input" into the sound

Thank you grog, b1tr0t, run"monty, and The World Famous. Sounds like AKGs are the more sensible choice for flat sound and comfort.
posted by preparat at 4:53 AM on September 8, 2012

One more point in Sony's favor: The V6/7506 headphones fold up into a nice compact ball and include a protective pouch. If your music-making plans include bringing your macbook to coffee shops and your friends' studios, you will appreciate the Sony's small size. The AKGs are much larger and don't fold up at all.

[At the moment, my AKGs are plugged into my Macbook, and my Sonys are plugged into my Tinysizer. It is nice to have both.]
posted by b1tr0t at 2:28 PM on September 8, 2012

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