The best of two worlds

November 23, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

Two of the most valuable tools we have at Octave Records are a pair of Audeze headphones and the FR30 loudspeakers.

Putting the headphones on while setting up a recording mix is an incredibly important tool that allows us to hear deep into the music as if looking through a magnifying glass before switching to the FR30 for the big picture.

Headphones and loudspeakers: an unchallenged microscopic view deep into the music balanced by the tactile sound pressure and grand view of a great loudspeaker, delights the ear and moves the soul.

It makes perfect sense to me why so many of us have both headphones and great speakers.

The best of two worlds.

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34 comments on “The best of two worlds”

  1. I’d be interested what’s more concretely the add. effect of headphones here, as realistic imaging and soundstaging effects are usually not a strength of headphones.

  2. Headphones must purely be for sussing out those microscopic details in the music because only correctly set up loudspeakers can give you the big picture of a 3D holographic soundstage with pinpoint imaging...cans can't do that.
    With cans everything is happening right in the centre of your head.
    I can barely last twenty minutes listening through a set of cans, no matter how good they are, before my brain completely rejects them.

    How long does someone look through a microscope before they draw away from it to look at
    the bigger picture? ...(rhetorical) 😉

    1. I also thought so and don’t understand yet why the microscopic view on details is any important for mixing. I thought, there the big picture rules and not how detailled the shape of a voice is or how fine a triangle sounds.

      1. It's a great question and one interestingly enough that will be the subject of an upcoming Paul's Post (you guys are always ahead of me!).

        As Mr. Rat suggests, one needs to zoom in on those microscopic details before zooming out for the big picture. Why? Because so much in recording is in the art of the capture. Get the capture perfect and the rest is pretty easy. How to get the sound of a violin just right? Get your ear close, move the microphone in to duplicate what you hear, then back away and see how it fits into the mix.

  3. Both, loudspeakers and headphones require sophisticated DSP-corrections for correctly reproducing a professional stereo recording: crosstalk cancellation for loudspeakers and crossfeed plus HRTF-correction for headphones. Furthermore loudspeakers require a most challenging set-up and their high frequency output is dramatically dampened by the ambient air - the bigger the listening distance the bigger the damping effect. I haven’t yet read that headphones require a sophisticated set-up procedure. 🙂

    1. ps,
      I've never had a problem with my loudspeaker's high frequency output being dramatically dampened by the ambient air...but then I'm only eight feet away from them.

      Is that why some people like compression horn tweeters...because they can cut through the ambient air with the greatest of ease? 😉

    2. Your comment may be valid for speakers in a home system but not for monitoring speakers. Adding digital correction before monitoring the mix hides things from the audio engineers.

    3. I love your comment about high frequencies ‘being dramatically dampened by ambient air’ Paulsquirrel.

      Martin, In my apartment, 8 foot distance from speaker to ear really does diminish the high frequencies and micro details.

  4. Both are nothing but tools in the recording world. Each tradesman has their favorite for getting the job done. When the tools no longer get the job done they they are expected to do, they quite often are tossed.

    Neither work with out electronics to drive them, but can look quite nice sitting on a dummy head or as a room decoration / coat rack for those so inclined.

    Once you get to the level of the consumer, both become instruments to deliver what ever the end result of a recording is. That result is hopefully pleasing to the end user, but is always incorrect (flawed) in some way….

    The choice / preference of which way to listen to the final recording result is as individual as the person or other entity listening.

      1. Thanks for those details Paul. The LCD-X is very nice - on my wishlist. The Anubus certainly makes sense given your Pyramix ecosystem. Great to get insight into how the sausage is made 😉

  5. I'm not a recording engineer, but my layman's imagination is perfectly capable of grasping the need for headphone use during the recording/mixing/mastering process. I would expect that the engineer is not using them to gain any kind of appreciation of the whole sound "picture" (if you'll indulge the visual analogy), but rather to listen for the presence and quality of small details that are important to the artist and/or engineer. If those details sound bad during the "microscopic" headphone listening, or they're entirely missing or obscured, then no set of speakers, regardless of quality, and no room setup, regardless of its efficacy, is going to improve or restore them. Once the engineer is assured of the presence and quality of all the component "parts," he or she can turn their efforts to creating the intended overall presentation as delivered by loudspeakers.

    As I say, that's how my imagination sees the process, at least.

  6. Paul, Tim uses a pair of Shure in-ear electrostatics. They're so good he rarely bothers with his Stax SR9s any more. You should give them a listen if the opportunity ever arises .... 🙂

      1. He has the model KSE1200 (https://www.shure.com/en-US/products/earphones/kse1200). It comes with an amplifier but no DAC. There is a slightly more pricey model KSE1500 (https://www.shure.com/en-US/products/earphones/kse1500) that has a built-in DAC, but Tim was suspicious that their DAC might not be all that good. He uses a Chord Hugo-2 (https://chordelectronics.co.uk/product/hugo-2) which is the same size as the KSE1200's energizer and straps onto it with a pair of Shure-supplied elastic bands. Very effective. I've had a quick listen myself, and I have to say they're pretty darned good.

  7. While we’re on the subject of headphones, I have no doubt that the Audeze LCD-X is a fabulous studio headphone. What really bothers me is that no one speaks about the SQ of the Quad ERA-1 which I find to be really excellent at a very reasonable price. They were reviewed by the Absolute Sound, Stereophile and Positive Feedback among others as incredibly revealing and musical headphones with bass slam that is highly detailed and mid range and upper frequency reproduction that is sublime. It boggles my imagination that more people don’t speak about these planar headphones. I just found a shootout review and I have seen several others where the Quad really knocks everybody’s socks off.

    https://www.head-fi.org/threads/quad-era-1-thread.878180/page-4

    1. I had the Quads for a while and just didn't really care for the sound very much. Also the headband assembly was extremely creaky and would make noises with the slightest head movement. Maybe it was just a bad pair but I returned them. I thought the HD600/650 was better all around.

      1. Life is strange. I sold my HD 600’s because I thought they were lacking in many ways. Perhaps it’s your headphone amplifier or mine that brings out the best and worst in both of these pairs of very different style headphones. I’m using a PASS HPA –1 which is sounds damn good to me. I used to own Stax electrostatics, but they were too hot and sizzling for me. One thing we agree upon is the way the headphone band fits. Quad could’ve done a much better job with that aspect of the construction quality.

  8. I usually use headphones when I am listen to music while at my computer since I have no speakers in my study. I do not do this a lot because it interferes with what I am doing on the computer. I can ignore the lack of imagining when I do this.

    I also use headphones when I am doing needle drop recordings of my vinyl. Using the headphones for this I can understand what Paul is saying. I am listening for flaws in the recording and the headphones allow me to "zoom" in and concentrate on exactly what I am hearing. I am not trying to enjoy the music, I am trying to hear flaws.

  9. My NHT 2.9 are as close as I'm going to get with headphone sound without the headphones. Amazing speakers and close to the flagship 3.3. I have many headphones in my collection including Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro, Sennheiser HD600, and B&W P7 along with some vintage Sennheiser headphones from the 70's that are lightweight and have a midrange to die for.

  10. The Audeze LCD-X is great and the LCD-5 is a true advancement to the state of the art in natural sounding headphones. The old cliche of hearing things I've never heard before is constantly true. Completely satisfying sound for long-term listening with a lot of "goose-bump" moments. No DSP required.

  11. Ah yes, headphones….the best of nine worlds…
    So far…
    (IMO):
    The LCD-X will provide an engineer’s clinical dissectible pinpoint clear reproduction. Kind of like color computer graphics at 4K on a high resolution PC monitor.
    The Meze Empyrean are an immersive painters colourful warm blanket of musical delight. Like that Moonlighting close up scene of the leading lady when they slightly haze & soften her face. Kind of like movie colors at 4K resolution on a film screen.
    Oooh, those Romanians…
    The Shure SE846 in ear are nothing short of astounding. Their subwoofer (yes a subwoofer in an in ear monitor) is an absolute engineering marvel. In the words of Ferris Beuller, if you have the means, I highly recommend you picking one up.
    I haven’t tried an electrostatic headphone or in-ear. Yet.

    Yet.

    Those rabbits down there must wear a lot of headphones.
    DAMN those rabbits and their big floppy audiophile ears…

    They bait & snare you with nice cables you know. Two or three inches of nice braided twisted cable and a robust balanced XLR emerging from the hole and wriggling ever so slightly. You bend down to grab it and ThhhhhhP. Gone.

  12. I've also been using Audeze headphones for guitar and piano recordings for years. Unfortunately I don't have a DSD recording option. My experience is that if the sound sounds nice through these headphones, then 80-90% of the recording is done. The rest is regulated by the mastering. I recently found an interesting way to improve the sound of a recording or a CD or vinyl if necessary. In Audirvana there is a possibility to integrate software plugins such as Equalizer, Exciter, Vitalizer, Loudness etc. and thus adapt recordings to your personal preferences or your living and listening situation. You can try such plugins here for 14 days free of charge

    https://www.plugin-alliance.com/en/products/spl_vitalizer_mk2-t.html

    I would be interested to know if anyone here has had good experiences with such plugins?

    1. I tired an Audeze plugin thing with several DSPs or where you can replicate several studio sounds and preferences of some famous engineers and their studios - I did not like any of them. They all sounded heavily processed and unnatural to me. But if it's a free trial - give it a shot!

      1. Yes, there are some software plugins that really don't sound natural. Others sound great. I always prefer the hardware solutions too, but the serious software solutions are increasing. I can only recommend everyone to try the Vitalizer from SPL.

  13. Some time ago, I mentioned my visit to Rick Rubin’s Shangri-La. My friend who invited me to visit sent me this chat between Rubin and Neil Young with a Kiwi journalist. They are in front of the Dylan touring bus. It happened after my visit as Young had just finished recording and they were removing some of the equipment used.

    They discuss some issues many will find relevant. I have not seen it all as I’m visiting my family in Australia. Not much time for this.

    Enjoy!

    https://youtu.be/PZ-AVFpB3KI

  14. I absolutely love headphones. I’m a detail guy, so Paul’s post feels bang on to me.

    For the record. I love Audeze as well. Scott McGowan and I both own the Audeze XC closed back headphone. It is very good for the money. 🙂

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