Which Headphones to choose for Mixing?
Semi Open vs Open Back vs Closed Back Headphones. Which One Is Right For You?
Choosing the right headphones for mixing music is essential because the type of headphones you use can affect the final sound. There are three main types of headphones: open-back, closed-back, and semi-open. Open-back headphones provide an honest and accurate soundstage representation but may not be ideal for noisy environments. Closed-back headphones provide isolation and quietness but may limit the accuracy of your mix. Semi-open headphones offer a balanced mix of precision and isolation but may not give the extreme presentation of open or closed-back headphones. Consider your specific mixing needs and choose the headphones that give you the most accurate representation of your mix.
Let’s go through each type so you can make the right decision. We’ll also recommend several pairs along the way.
Headphones for Mixing and Mastering
If you plan to use some reference Headphones for mixing or Mastering, here are some recommendations. Most of them are open back headphones for mixing and mastering.
Headphones between 100-300€:
- Sennheiser HD600 (Extremely clear sound, Very comfortable to wear, Very durable)
- AKG K-612 Pro
- AKG K702
- Audio-Technica ATH-AD900X
- Massdrop x Sennheiser HD 58X
- Massdrop x Sennheiser HD 6XX
- Beyerdynamic DT-880 Pro
- Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro
Headphones between 300-600€:
- Sennheiser HD650
- Audio-Technica ATH-R70 X
- beyerdynamic DT-1990 Pro
- Shure SRH1840
- Slate Audio VSX
- Neumann NDH 30
- HifiMan Ananda
Headphones between 600-5000€
- Focal Clear MG Professional
- Focal Utopia
- Audeze LCD-4z
- Audeze LCD-X
- Audeze LCD-XC
- Hifiman Arya
- Hifiman - HE1000se
- Hedd Audio Heddphone
Open-back studio headphones mostly are ‘open’ at the back of the earcups. Well, not completely. Usually, they feature some sort of grill or hole design, which allows air to flow to the internal speaker components such as the drivers.
When it comes to sound quality, open-back style is consistently ranked amongst the best mastering and mixing headphones you can buy.
Why? Because they offer superior sound quality!
The design allows for a more natural soundstage where the sound is both coming to your ears and moving away into the surrounding environment. There is also little echo and minimal pressure. These qualities mean that music is more natural and feels like it comes from around you rather than just from the speakers themselves.
If you’re a music professional, you want to get open-back headphones for mixing or mastering. These applications require you to hear the best quality and most accurate sound possible.
The bad news is that since sound leaks out into the environment, everyone can hear what you are listening to, and you can hear what is going on around you. It’s best to use these types of headphones in quiet and private environments.
If money is no object, the Sennheiser HD 800 S is widely regarded as one of the best open-back headphones. We don’t blame you if the price tag is a little too exuberant. In that case, the Sennheiser HD 600 is also a great choice. Otherwise, check out the AKG K240’s which can be grabbed for under $100.
- Natural and open sound: Open-back headphones provide a more natural and open sound, as the soundstage is not limited by the closed design of the headphones.
- Comfortable: Open-back headphones are often more comfortable, as the lack of pressure from a sealed ear cup design allows for better ventilation and less heat buildup.
- Reduced ear fatigue: Open-back headphones can reduce ear fatigue.
Lack of noise isolation: Open-back headphones do not provide noise isolation, which can be a problem in noisy environments.
- Not suitable for public use: Open-back headphones are not ideal for public use because they allow sound to leak out,
As the name suggests, closed-back headphones feature closed earcups. Naturally, this makes them great at blocking out surrounding noises. Typically, they can reduce surrounding noise by more than 10dB, and if you were to turn the volume up, you could virtually cancel out any noise other then what is being listened to. Some even come with active noise-cancellation, which emits waves that essentially cancel out outside sound.
Hence, closed-back headphones are fabulous for recording. Say you’re listening to a track and then need to record yourself playing an instrument or singing. There will be minimal sound escaping the earcups so the recording will not be distorted with that extra sound.
Furthermore, these headphones are fabulous for public use since environmental sound will be kept to a minimum and won’t disturb those around you. The bad news is that this limits the soundstage by only directing sound towards your ear, so of course, the sound is not as natural as using an open-back design. This creates a sort of ‘in your head’ listening experience. Plus, your ears will have less breathing room, so they are more likely to get hot, stuffy, and uncomfortable after long listening sessions.
For all these reasons, I would not prefer this type for mixing on headphones.
When it comes to balancing price and performance, Audio-Technica’s ATH-M50x is about as good as it gets. In fact, they are regarded by many audiophiles and sound engineers as the best closed-back studio headphones period.
- Immersive listening experience: Closed-back headphones provide a more intimate and immersive listening experience because the sound is contained within the headphones.
- Noise isolation: Closed-back headphones provide excellent noise isolation, making them ideal for noisy environments.
- Lack of natural sound: Closed-back headphones can provide a more intimate and immersive listening experience, but they also limit the soundstage, resulting in a lack of natural sound.
- Ear fatigue: Closed-back headphones can cause ear fatigue, as the pressure of a sealed design can become uncomfortable over time.
- Increased heat buildup: Closed-back headphones can lead to increased heat buildup because the sealed design does not allow ventilation.
Semi-open headphones strike a balance between the other two types.
They are mostly closed-back in appearance but still show parts of the internal headphone elements. Therefore, there is some movement of air through the earcups.
Mostly, they have the advantages and disadvantages of open-back and closed-back headphones, but to a lesser degree.
Sound does leak out, to a lesser extent. At the same time, noise isolation can be OK but not as good as closed-back headphones. On top of this, the sound does have a wider sound stage, but again, it is not as complete as you would get with open-back headphones.
So, what does this mean in a practical sense?
Well, since there is sound leakage, it’s recommended your listening sessions be done in privacy. Furthermore, If you need to do some recording, sound may leak and cloud your music.
It’s for these reasons that semi-open headphones have divided opinion amongst music professionals. Some argue that they strike a great middle-ground while others wonder what the real advantages are if they cannot indeed excel in mixing on headphones or recording.
At the end of the day, the decisions to invest in such a pair of headphones is up to you. But if you are specifically going to record or mix, you are probably best to either get open-back or closed-back.
It can be tricky to choose which semi-open headphones to recommend. After all, defining such a type of headphone isn’t an exact science. The Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro’s will not disappoint and strike a balance between being well priced as well as performing to an exceptionally high industry standard.
- Balance natural sound with noise isolation: Semi-open headphones offer a balance of natural sound and noise isolation, making them ideal for use in various environments.
- Reduced ear fatigue: Semi-open headphones can reduce ear fatigue because the pressure of a sealed design is not as intense as with closed-back headphones.
- Comfortable: Semi-open headphones are often comfortable because the partially open design allows for better ventilation and less heat buildup.
- Lack of noise isolation: Semi-open headphones provide less noise isolation than closed-back headphones, which can be a problem in noisy environments.
- Lack of natural sound: Semi-open headphones may not sound as natural and open as open-back headphones because the partially open design limits the soundstage.
The Truth About Headphone Types
Although these labels are handy when choosing which type of headphone is right for you, a lot of it comes down to marketing. And as we know, marketing does not always benefit the buyer, but instead helps sells units and makes more money for the manufacturer.
Some closed-back headphones have a lot of sound leakages, while some open-back headphones do not really sound that great. When you get to a higher price range, you will notice that many closed-back sounds as good, If not better than other open or semi-open designs.
One of the best ways of telling if a studio mixing headphone is worth its weight in gold is to see how long it’s been used in the industry. Unlike other technology products, studio headphone manufacturers tend to stick with what works. If they can perfect a pair of headphones, you’ll see those headphones circulating for years, sometimes decades.
After all, if a specific pair of headphones has been used by studio professionals for years, surely that means it’s a good pair?
Of course, there are other ways you can perform your due diligence before buying a new set. Read reviews across multiple reputable sites and test them in-store if you can. Doing so will ensure you make the right purchasing decision.
Which type of headphone is right for you?
The choice between open-back, closed-back, and semi-open headphones ultimately come down to personal preference and the type of listening experience you are looking for. Open-back headphones may be your best choice if you prefer a more natural and open sound. Closed-back headphones may be a better fit if you want a more intimate and immersive listening experience. And if you want a balance of natural sound and noise isolation, semi-open headphones may be a perfect choice.
When deciding, it is also essential to consider the environment in which you will use your headphones. Closed-back headphones may be the best choice for noise isolation if you use your headphones in a noisy environment. On the other hand, if you use your headphones in a quiet environment, open-back headphones may be better because they allow for a more natural and open sound.
Ultimately, the choice between open-back, closed-back, and semi-open headphones come down to personal preference and the type of listening experience you want to enjoy. It is essential to consider your environment and what you want from your headphones when making your decision. By understanding the pros and cons of each type of headphone, you can choose the best headphones for your needs and get the most out of your listening experience.
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