I’ve always hated headphones. When it came to studio monitoring, I hated headphones even worse. I always found the whole headphone thing to be unnatural, uncomfortable, and just unpleasant. All of that is changing.
Like I said, I’ve never been a fan of headphones. Maybe it’s because I hate having the sound coming from practically INSIDE my ear or maybe it’s the fact that I never bothered to purchase any good quality headphones. But when I heard the Audio Technica ATH-M50 studio monitors getting rave reviews from big boy engineers who shouldn’t be raving about $150 headphones I had to take a closer look.
I managed to find a set on Ebay that only cost me $110 after shipping. I’m not sure if they were refurbished, brand new, or stolen by the Latvian mafia (seriously) but they seem to be in perfect order to me.
The Great Studio Monitoring Dilemma
It seems like my continual war with my studio monitors has been raging longer than Israel fighting Palestine. No matter what I do, my Mackie HR 824 studio monitors never expose all the problems in a mix. I’ve put serious effort into placement, room acoustics, ETF analysis, bass trap construction, etc. There is always something the Mackie’s forget to tell me in just about every mix or they don’t make a big of deal about something as they probably should. This puts a person in a passive place at mixing time where you don’t know how aggressive you should attack the problems that eminently rise up.
The long story short is if I had to get a mix right the first time without checking it on other systems, I’d give the Mackie’s a snowball’s chance in hell at telling me the whole picture. It just doesn’t happen. The years I’ve spent doing all the things you are supposed to do has gotten me closer, but even to this day I’m tempted to start using my home theater setup and I have to admit that I feel uncomfortable when beginners ask me for studio monitor advice because this has been my own little war that I’m still fighting.
A New Idea: Studio Monitor Headphones
So I heard about the Audio Technica ATH-M50s making headphones and I was interested. The consumer headphones I’ve been exposed to had a frequency response chart that resembled the Grand Canyon so it was nice to see that someone had come along and actually designed a headphone designed for accuracy. For all I know, the Audio Technica ATH-50s are not designed for accuracy. Maybe they just slapped the name “studio monitor” in the name to trick desperate fools like myself.
I still don’t immediately start with headphones when I mix. I still start with the Mackie HR 824s until I have a mix sounding pretty solid. There will be a point where it’s just about time to render the mix down and check on my computer speakers and home theater system. Now I toss the Audio Technica ATH-M50s on and give the tune a listen. It’s amazing just how many flaws creep up that the Mackie’s were oblivious to.
I find the ATH-M50s have a more hi-fi sound than my Mackie’s do in their current state. (It didn’t used to be this way. It took a long time to get rid of that blasted lower mid scoop in the Mackie monitors.) The studio monitor headphones immediately tell me if my vocals are too thin while the Mackie’s are less forgiving in regard to excessive low mids. Guitars that may have been a bit fizzy in the Mackie monitors are DEFINITELY fizzy in the ATH-M50s. Sibilance up around 10k is clearly represented and I caught myself adding a de-esser on every vocal for an entire project after I got the ATH-M50s.
I find the ATH-M50s to be a little bit too forgiving in the lower midrange. Their naturally mid-scooped sound has a way of allowing stuff in the 200-600Hz stuff to get a bit excessive without me knowing. I wouldn’t say this is an enormous problem for me, but due that is due to the fact that my Mackie monitors now do such a good job at catching this sort of thing.
I wish the deep low end was a bit more aggressive in the ATH-M50s. I’ve heard that I need to break them in so as we speak I have some Van Halen song on loop playing through them. Maybe this will bring out a bit more low end.
For whatever reason, I find myself mixing kick drums about 3dB too loud in the Mackies. I do it every single time. Maybe I just like a loud kick drum, but I don’t think that’s it. I still haven’t figured out exactly why this occurs in the Mackies. The ATH-M50 headphones are great at telling me if my kick drum is too loud. In fact, I’ve saved myself from embarrassment on several occasions.
I simply can not imagine going back to just using my Mackie HR824s. I would not do it. The Audio Technica ATH-M50 studio monitor headphones make my job dramatically easier.
I’ve got big ears. Some may attribute this to my amazing recording ability. Alright. I’m lying! I don’t have amazing recording ability, but I do have ears that don’t always fit into standard sized headphones comfortably. The ATH-M50s make it easy to use headphones for an extended period of time on my head. I can’t say this about all headphones.
I’d say this $109 investment has dramatically improved my studio monitoring system. It takes me dramatically less mixes to get a tune finished. I spend less time burning cds or looking for my flash drive so that I can check the song on other systems. I feel more confident after checking a mix the studio monitor headphones because there are almost always changes that need to be made to get a mix to happily co-exist with both the Mackie HR824s and the Audio Technica ATH-M50s.
The added confidence from knowing that a mix is dramatically closer to translating to the outside world is hard to stamp a price tag onto. However, I know for a fact that this is one of the best investments I’ve made for any amount of money in music recording and it was a measly $109.
I think everyone should make the investment for studio monitor headphones. I’m very pleased with them. Oh yeah, I catch myself using the headphones more and more. Sometimes I mix for an hour or more and don’t realize that I’m not using headphones. So maybe these headphones aren’t so bad after all!
For the guys on a robo budget who can’t afford studio monitors, I highly recommend taking a look into the Audio Technica ATH-M50 studio monitor headphones.