Headphones are a must have for everyone from hobbyist musicians and music lovers all the way up to the pros. But headphones don’t come in a single shape, size, or design—there are many differences separating one pair of headphones to the next.
Closed-back vs Open-back headphones
Closed-back headphones are all about sound isolation. The general consumer will know closed-back headphones as those that shut out the music around them, leaving their music to be enjoyed in a clear musical environment, unpolluted by the noise from the outside world. Great uses for closed-back headphones are DJs during a live set so they can easily hear the upcoming track for beatmatching, tracking instruments in the studio, or just casually listening to your favorites songs if you prefer a more intimate sound to your music. The Shure SRH440 headphones are a great example of these.
Open-back headphones on the other hand don’t block the sound coming towards your ears from the headphone drivers. They let some of the audio escape out of the back of the headphones giving the audio a more “live” sound. Open-back headphones will make your music feel as if it is in your environment with you. Open-back headphones will give an audio representation closer to the sound of a speaker, where the audio coming out of a speaker has to travel through the atmosphere before it reaches your ear. These headphones will give you a similar sound. The AKG K240s are a big seller in the middle price range.
One of the biggest components of a pair of headphones that effects sound quality is the size of its drivers. Small earbuds have small drivers around 8-12mm. Higher-end over-the-ear headphones will have much larger drivers, usually between 30-40mm, with some going as high as 50mm and over. You can relate a headphone driver to the size of a speaker.
They are generally two main types of microphones that most used: Condenser mics and Dynamic Mics. Dynamics mics are extremely versatile, working well for both live performance and in the studio. They also tend to be less expensive and more durable.
Condenser mics have increased sensitivity and require what is known as “phantom power,” which simply means it requires separate power to operate. Most audio interfaces and mixing boards have a button for phantom power, so it’s hardly ever an issue. Condenser mics might be a bit more popular in the studio due to their greater frequency response from their higher sensitivity. Also, they work well in the studio where you have more room to play with your instrument setup, room sound, etc.
The Shure SM57 is a cardioid, dynamic microphone with one of the best reputations in the music industry for being an inexpensive, high-quality microphone with extreme durable and versatility. The SM57 is used for both live instrument miking and in-studio miking.
A mic’s polarity relates to it’s directionality. A Cardioid microphone picks up sound from the front but not the sides or back. Generally, a cardioid microphone is the best for studio recording or live instruments, as it picks up audio just from the very front of the mic and leaves other environmental sound out. For example, a cardioid microphone placed right above a snare on a drum kit will not pick up much sound from the other drums (also known as bleed) making mixing easier as you can isolate each drum’s audio more accurately, without bleed from other drums on that track.
Super-cardioid and Hyper-cardioid mics are variations of the basic cardioid mic. Super-cardioid mics have a narrower front area of sensitivity with a very small rear-end pickup. Hyper-cardioid mics have an even larger rear end pickup, closer to a Bi-directional or Figure-8 microphone, as you can see in the chart below.
Bi-directional microphones pick up sound in the front and the back, while sound coming from the left and right sides of the mic are not. Omnidirectional mics pick up audio equally in all directions. These work well as room mics when recording in a live room in the studio. Shotgun mics are generally used for film and TV. Think of boom mics.
Like the Shure SM57 for recording and miking instruments, the Shure PGA58 microphone is a dynamic, cardioid microphone tailored specifically for clear and natural-sounding live vocal reproduction.
You might not have the access to a high-end studio to record, whether it be financially or logistically. Maybe you have a gig at a location that doesn’t have any in-house soundboard.
The Yamaha MG10 Mixer is perfect for these applications. Incredibly inexpensive for a 10 channel compact mixer, it has 4 mic inputs and 10 line inputs (4 mono and 3 stereo), while 2 of those stereo line inputs can be used as RCA inputs.
You can’t just use any old speakers in your home studio to listen to your music. Studio monitors are specifically designed to have a flat frequency curve, giving you a much more accurate depiction of your sound, compared to speakers that might be bass heavy or high-end heavy. The Yamaha HS5 Powered Studio Monitor even has specific response controls built for tailoring the monitors sound to your room environment, so you can get the sound just right to how you want it. It’s a high-end studio monitor at a lower-end price.
Need a mixer and speaker combo for portable performance? Check out the Yamaha StagePas 600i Portable PA System, a 10-channel mixer/dual speaker combo. Whether for a full band, a small duo or trio, or even speaking engagements, this is a portable, all-in-one solution. The mixer fits inside the speakers, collapsing it into one small unit with a carrying handle. It even has a USB input to play music off your iPod or iPhone, charging it at the same time.
Also, don’t forget your mic and instrument cables, as well as any mic stands and holders you might need.