After too many decades on this planet, I now understand the benefit of studio headphones, and what makes them different than normal (consumer) options.
My old set of Denons just died, so I decided to go with a pair of Audio-Technica ATH-M70’s.
An early TL;DR!
Just to save you some time, the answer is threefold, in order of importance:
Accurate representation of the source audio
Extremely wide frequency range
Higher quality construction
Here’s a bit more on each of these.
Accurate representation of audio
Studio headphones are mostly used by professionals who need to know exactly how their audio sounds as they’re creating it.
So they can’t be getting any sort of help from the speakers or headphones.
You don’t judge voices by listening to them being auto-tuned.
Beats headphones had a reputation for being super bass-heavy, which a lot of consumers loved, but audiophiles hated.
Most headphones impart distortion—modifying the audio in some kind of way that they think makes it sound better.
So that’s the most important aspect of studio headphones: Accurate reproduction.
Because regular headphones don’t have much range they might not be able to detect bad things happening at extreme high or low frequencies. And those artifacts can be picked up by certain peoples’ ears, or magnified by certain equipment.
Studio headphones pull all that garbage out so you can hear it.
This one is minor but definitely present. Top end headphones just feel more sturdy and durable, and they’re likely to last you five years, ten years, or even longer due to their superior materials and construction.
Analysis is a strong word; I’m a n00b.
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The thing I first noticed with my new Audio-Technicas (playing the new Tool album) was an underlying hiss. That was disappointing, but as I continued to listen I immediately heard way more stuff going on that I’d not heard before.
To me everthing sounded really bright, which based on my research means my previous headphones were probably magnifying the low-end.
Listening to voice
A big reason I got these headphones is because I product a podcast, and I’m getting a bit obsessed with good voice/audio quality for the show.
One of the shows where I really like the audio is Sam Harris’ Making Sense podcast. So I listened to it with these headphones, and wow!
I could hear some clear noise in certain moments after he stopped speaking, which I think is due to a noisebridge. And my own audio sounds really bad under such scrutiny (which has caused a number of tweaks already.
In short, I am hearing way more in everything, from voice to music, than I ever have.
It’ll take some getting used to, but I doubt I’m going back.
Studio headphones are for people trying to find and fix impurities in source audio, so they focus on being able to hear everything without distortion or bias.
This includes having a much higher frequency range to find issues in strange places in the audio.
Regular headphones have a more limited range, and are generally biased towards low and high-end to give an impressive superficial sound.
I didn’t think the distinction was going to be that significant, but I was wrong.
The next time you consider a headphones purchase—especially if you’re into audio—you should explore some studio-quality options.