The Best Headphones for Film Editors
- How to pick the best headphones for film editing
- What matters most to a film editor using headphones
- Headphone reviews, suggestions and my personal choice
Last Updated – June 2019
As a film editor I spend many hours working in client offices, on-set and other random places with a need for some high quality, reliable and comfortable headphones.
In this post I’ve put together a guide to help you choose the best set of headphones for film editing.
We’ll start with a quick run down of the specific needs of a film editor, a few technical details you need to understand and then a selection of headphone options and recommendations from myself and other editors I polled in researching this post.
What did I choose?
Update June 2019 – Sennheiser have since discontinued the HD380 Pros and the HD 6 Mix headphones and replaced them with the HD300 Pros, which I’m hoping to personally review soon. If you can find a pair of either of these older models, they’re excellent headphones and well worth considering.
The headphones in this post are grouped by brand and so do not appear in any particular order. If you want to dive right in, jump to:
The best headphones for film editing, the short list!
Here is a list of quick links to some of the best headphones for film editors, in the order they appear in the post. These links will take you to your local Amazon Store, where ever you are in the world.
- Sennheiser HD6 Mix
- Sennheiser HD 280 Pro
- Sennheiser HD 380 Pro
- Sennheiser HD 300 Pro
- Sennheiser HD-25
- Sennheiser HD26 Pro
- AKG K240
- AKG K702
- Audio Technica ATH-M50x
- Audio Technica ATH-M70x
- Sony MDR-7506
- Sony MDR-7510
- Beyerdynamic DT250
- Beyerdynamic DT770 Pros
- Sony MDRZX 110
- Sony MDR-V150’s
How to choose the right headphones
For comfort, you will definitely want circumaural headphones – which basically means the pads sit around the earlobe, rather than pressing down on them. This should help prevent your ears from hurting after many hours of use and reduce how hot they may feel too.
For quality, and suitability of our particular use, you want Monitoring headphones, or Reference Monitors – which is self explanatory really… they are designed for monitoring, so won’t colour the sound too much. This means they will provide a more accurate representation of your mix.
Some headphones that are more designed for music – such as the popular Beats headphones, artificially increase adjust the sound to increase the bass and other things. If you’re using these kinds of headphones then you’ll think there is more bass in your mix than there really is.
You’ll also want to avoid noise cancelling headphones too as they will be adjusting the sound to filter out background sounds. In the future I might update this post to include ear-bud headphones, as I know a lot of editors like using them for their portability, but they won’t deliver as balanced a sound as reference headphones.
One last thing you might want to look for specifically is the ability to replace the headphone cable, as this tends to be one of the most likely things to break or get damaged over many years of active service. I’ve included links to replacement cables where applicable.
Understanding the technical details of headphones
There are a few key terms that you need to understand to make sure your buying the right kind of headphones for film editing. One of my most technically minded post-production friends (thanks Gareth!) sent me this helpful explanation of the difference between open and closed back headphones and ohms.
Understanding Open & Closed Back Headphones
With closed back headphones you have 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, and by default the air behind it will move as well.
If that air can’t move as freely (being fully closed creates a build up of pressure), it will affect the movement of the speaker and therefore affect the fidelity of the reproduction. Whether that difference is notable by the listener is another question.
I’ve personally tried closed and open back headphones side by-side, at first glance I couldn’t hear much difference.
A lot of high-end headphones tend to be semi-open to balance the issue of isolation vs fidelity. I think the Beyerdynamic 770 Pros 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 Frequency Range
One of the key attributes to look for in a pair of headphones is the frequency range they can deliver.
Essentially the greater the range of frequencies the headphones can reproduce, the more accurate their sound. Human hearing is generally considered to be 20-20,000 Hz.
In my post on In-Ear Headphones for film editors there are some headphones which are considered to be capable of reproducing frequencies beyond human hearing.
Here is what the Sony site had to say about ‘High Resolution Audio’ and increased frequency range.
While most people can only hear frequencies from 20-20,000 Hz, [the Sony XBA-H3] actually reproduce 3-40,000 Hz. This is because infra- and ultrasonic frequencies are not heard—they are felt.
This creates the richness of live and studio-quality music experiences—an experience lost with compressed digital files or some other headphones.
Whichever headphones you end up choosing, you’ll want to see at least 20-20,000 Hz range (or greater), although depending on the particular make up of the inner workings of those headphones (drivers, type of metal in the cables etc.), the precise reproduction of those frequencies might differ, creating marginally different sounds for discerning ears.
This is pretty much why personal preference will always trump technical run downs and spec comparisons.
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 100 ohms – iPods, laptops, field recording; 250 ohms – 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:
FiiO Portable Headphone DAC Amplifier
Plus it will most likely offer better quality than the built in headphone out of most laptops and due to it using USB. Check out this short review of several Fiio Headphone Amps.
2019 Update – Sennheiser have discontinued both the HD 6 Mix and the HD 380 Pro headphones replacing them with the HD 300 Pro series. If you can find a pair of either of these headphones they’re still well worth your consideration!
Scroll down for details on the new HD 300 Pro headphones.
2015 Update – The latest headphones from Sennheiser that are suitable for film editors include their DJ Mix series with the HD6/7/8 Mix headphones.
The HD6 Mixes are the only ones in the series that don’t have any kind of bass boost in them and so I wouldn’t recommend the HD7 or HD8 Mix headphones for accurate post production work as a result.
Sennheiser HD6 Mix: These headphones are seriously impressive. Nicely packaged in a ‘presentation case’ style box they feel like a premium set of headphones before you’ve even put them on.
When you do put them on they feel extremely comfortable and cut out a huge amount of background noise which helps you to feel totally ‘in’ your mix, free from distractions. They also have a greater frequency range than the HD380 Pros with a top end of 30,000Hz rather then 27000. The HD 6 Mix’s also have a higher ohm count at 150 ohms compared to the HD380 Pro’s 54 ohms. (See above for what this means!)
The HD6 Mix headphones come with 2 detachable cables – one coiled and the other straight, as well as an additional set of velour ear pads, should you wish to swap them out for the ones they arrive with. They are also packaged in a really nice carry-case, but because they don’t fold flat like the HD380 Pros, it is a little bit on the bulky side for day-to-day transport.
One of the other nice things about the HD6 Mix headphones is that you can detach the 3.5mm jack cable and connect it via either earpiece. This is handy for times when you want to plug into a port on the left side of your head (e.g. a Macbook Pro) so that you don’t have to have the cable crossing over your body/desk.
More expensive than the other Sennheiser headphones listed here, you won’t be disappointed by the sound quality and comfort of these incredible headphones.
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.
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.
2015 Update: The HD 380 Pro Headphones were one of the pairs Sennheiser sent me for testing. After several extensive 8 hour editing days, I can say that they offer excellent sound quality with great clarity in both the high and low end, and, if you get them set up and positioned correctly on your head (I found I had to have the band a bit further back than normal for maximum comfort) they will carry you through the day without a hitch.
One of my favourite things about them is that they a) come with a travel case and b) fold flat into the travel case which really helps when you’re fitting them into your editing bag with the rest of your gear. These were originally in the final running for my selection for good reason, a great buy for any editor who travels frequently.
One of the slight niggles with the HD380 Pro’s is the heavier coiled cable, which you can see in the image above. Some users like to replace it with a lighter weight cable like this one.