Headphones are worn on the head and function to project sound directly into the user’s ears. They usually consist of two cushioned cups or earpieces, a head strap and a cable. A soft strap the fits over the head and connects the earpieces. Usually, the cable is attached to one of the ear cups and is connected to the music player or mixing desk. Professional headphones usually have 1/4 (6.3mm) jack connectors whereas those designed for personal music players feature a 3.5mm connector, also known as a mini-jack. Some headphones include an adapter (1/4 to mini-jack or vice versa). Some DJ style headphones have only one earpiece, so the user can hear both the main mix and tracks being cued.|
Headphones tend to block out or mask other sounds, isolating the user from the environment. This characteristic makes them valuable to musicians, sound engineers and anyone seeking an intimate, focused listening experience. The converse is true too, as headphones are usually also designed to allow you to listen to music without disturbing others around you.
Younger music fans often choose featherweight earphones that are worn in the ear, but for musicians and studio engineers these lightweight earphones are no substitute for the accuracy of the larger drivers found in high quality headphones. These consumer-grade earphones are not to be confused with much more expensive IEM’s (in-ear monitors), which are designed for stage use in place of conventional wedge monitors. This type of earphone (often including a custom tip moulded to the contours of the user’s ear) blocks out a great deal of ambient noise and features small drivers designed for maximum fidelity in compact form. IEM’s are usually attached to a belt-worn wireless receiver. Drummers (who usually don’t need to move around) can avoid the expense of the receiver and simply connect their IEM to a monitor send from the mixing desk.
A visit to an audiologist is necessary in order to have custom moulds created for these pricy but useful items. A professional musician’s hearing is worth protecting, regardless of cost. For more information, please consult our Online Advisor on in-ear monitoring. Full-size headphones aren’t used on stage very often though sometimes you will see a drummer wearing them while playing to a click track – usually a clue that at least some of the ‘band’ sound is not live. Some drummers will use IEM’s in these circumstances, but others who don’t like the isolation or cost may prefer to use ordinary studio headphones, slipping them on or off as required for songs with loops or click tracks.
When choosing headphones you should first determine whether you need an open or closed back model. Closed back headphones usually have a plastic shell that covers the back of the ear cushions, blocking out ambient sound to provide much more isolation than open designs. Open headphones are often more comfortable to wear for extended periods, as closed back headphones tend to be heavier and clamp more securely to the head. Closed back headphones are also better at preventing the sound of the headphones from leaking into the environment, useful both for discreet listening in public places and in the studio, to prevent the backing track from spilling into open mics.