As a film editor I need to buy a new set of headphones for use during long editing sessions in client offices. Comfort, quality and audio fidelity are what I’m looking for. Not really knowing where to start I polled my creative friends to get their advice on the best headphones they’ve used. Thanks to Alex, Gareth and Adam for all their input which has provided most of the content for this post.
For comfort, you will definitely want circumaural headphones – which basically means the pads sit around the earlobe, rather than pressing down on them.
For quality, and suitability of your particular use, you want Monitoring headphones, or Reference Monitors – which is self explanatory really… they are designed for monitoring, so wont ‘colour the sound’ too much.
Here are a selection of the best headphones for film editors….
Sennheiser HD 280 Pro: These are their cheaper pro monitoring headphones, and considering that, and the brand, this seems like a really good value price. £89
Sennheiser HD 380 Pro: For not much more, these are their top end ones – better audio range, build quality and a replaceable cable – Take these over the cheaper ones. £102
AKG K240: Another great make – I have 2 sets of their headphones. These have a slightly smaller range of frequencies than the top end Sennheisers, but are slghtly cheaper. I have a similar pair that are the most comfortable things I have ever worn. Again, there is a detachable/replaceable cable. £88. Buy from Amazon.com/Amazon.co.uk
AKG K702: I have these (except mine are the non-pro model, which basically just means the cable isn’t removable, and they are a much prettier colour!) and even though they are way more money, I’ve included them cos I love them and think they are worth it. They need to be listened to for some time to break in the sound, but they are great and super comfortable! £207.
Sony MDR-7506: These are the slightly better, much more comfortable version of the(cheaper) ones you see in loads of edit suits – from universities to post-houses, but basically they are otherwise the same. I think they are considered to be good for editors. This, of course implies that they aren’t great for sound mixing, but are close enough for general reference/mix. The difference between these and the ones you normally see in suites, is that these have proper big ears for comfort instead of those little round ones, and a better cable. £70.
Sony MDR-7510: These are Sony’s much better equivalent in terms of getting a more accurate sound. Actually they seem to have the widest range of audio frequencies of the lot, so in the sound sense they are the ‘best’. £120.
Understanding the technical details of headphones – (Thanks Gareth!)
Understanding Open & Closed Back Headphones: With closed back headphones you need a trade off. Fully closed will isolate more sound (for the listener and away from any bystanders) because of less ambient interference. But as sound is about air pressure, with a speaker moving the air in front of it to create sound, by default the air behind it will move as well. If that air can’t move as freely (being fully closed creates build ups of pressure), it will affect the movement of the speaker and therefore affect the fidelity of the reproduction. Whether it’s notable by the listener is another question. I’ve never personally tried closed and open back headphones side by-side. A lot of top-end headphones tend to be semi-open to balance the issue of isolation v fidelity. I think the 770Pros have a small slit in the casing so the sound can breathe, despite being considered closed backs. I suppose another crude summary – for personal use in public, on the tube, etc – fully closed; for use in a well insulated sound/editing suite – open/semi open.
Understanding ohms: If you remember physics lessons back at school, electrical resistance (measured in ohms) is related to wire width. The thicker the wire the less resistance (as there is ‘more space’ in the wire for the current to flow through – think of it like water in a pipe, the narrow, the harder to get through). Therefore speakers / headphones made with thicker wire need less power to drive and can therefore go louder, but that thicker wire (which is coiled around and around at the back of the speaker cone) is therefore heavier and means the speaker cone moves less freely, thus affecting it’s reproduction of the sound. Conversely speakers / headphones made with thinner wire will move easier, but will need more power. Crudely speaking, lower impedance (less than 100 ohms), needs less power to drive, therefore can get louder; higher impedance (250 ohms), better sound but more power needed. Real world examples would be, less than 100ohms – iPods, laptops, field recording; 250ohms – hi-fi installations, studio monitoring.
And the end of the day in an ideal environment, 250 ohm headphones will sound better and more natural. If power is an issue and you don’t have a headphone amp, you could consider something like one of these
Plus it will most likely offer better quality than the built in headphone out of most laptops and due to it using USB.
Film Editors Headphone Summary
UPDATE – I went for the BeyerDynamic DT770 Pro’s in the end and they have been both extremely comfortable for long editing sessions and provided fantastic depth and clarity even in the midst of a busy office environment. I would highly recommend them!
An affordable alternative…
If you just need a pair of cheap and simple headphones to get you started then I’d recommend these Sony MDR-V150′s which I found once in a Soho edit suite. Nice sound, pretty comfortable and reasonably priced at under £20.