Isolating Headphones Are Best For Tracking
“Tracking” is the recording phase of audio production. The best headphones for tracking/recording are ones that can give a performer clear audio while they are being recorded without that audio leaking into the microphone that is recording them. This is called “headphone bleed.” It is not important for the performer to have an amazing-sounding mix — they instead need a really useful mix for their cues and to hear themselves. Conversely as an engineer listening to the performance you should buy the best sounding pair of headphones that you can afford. Buying something that needs to be upgraded later is more expensive in the long run.
There are two types of headphones that work well for tracking: Closed-back and in-ear. Closed back can be more comfortable (or worse) and are more sanitary for sharing. In-ear headphones are naturally excellent for tracking because the drivers are so tiny, and so close to your eardrum, that very little bleed can reach the microphone. A basic rule of logic is if you are looking to record others buy closed-back. If you are a musician looking to record yourself invest in some good in-ear monitors (bonus: you can use them on stage!) Minus: using in-ear monitors (and headphones in general) gives greater risk of hearing loss than using speakers.
This is a list of all the manufacturers that I could find that make professional-quality sound isolating headphones. Also included are a few personal picks that aren’t quite technically ‘isolating headphones’ but still serve well as tracking headphones. The list is alphabetical.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x – These feature a detachable cable which is useful for the longevity of the headphones
Beyerdynamic DT-100 – These are a classic set of workhorse cans used in tracking music, VO, radio and basically every other audio field for decades. Tomstein writes, “Sometimes they’re the only ones (out of the many I have) that keep click tracks out [of] mics.” However these are not ‘truly’ isolating headphones. They are just good at this job. I post these here instead of the Beyerdynamic DT 770 M which is another alternative from this company which has mixed reviews about its isolation qualities
Direct Sound EX29 Plus – These are designed primarily for isolation but also comfort. These are not designed for mixing/critical monitoring but if you need to track drums all day they are great. (Passive Attenuation: 36.7 Db)
Focal Spirit Professional – Focal is known for their studio monitors. I love my pair of Solo 6Be’s. Sound On Sound writes: “Focal claim that their headphones sound amazing, but they also make great claims for the degree of comfort and the amount of isolation from external sources the Spirit Professionals achieve.” $349
germanMAESTRO GMP Series
Gordy Knudtson GK UltraPhones – This company claims their headphones are “the highest isolation” headphones on the market today. They look like the kind of earmuffs you’d find on a rifle range. (Passive Attenuation: 29 Db)
Remote Audio HN-7506 – These use Sony MDR-7506 drivers with custom and very heavy-duty baffling. $310
Sennheiser HD 25 – These are designed to isolate noise “offering high attenuation of background noise”
Shure 1540 – RKeefe1032 has this to say: “The Shure 1540s are great but cost around $500.00, you’ll love them. Very “roomy” sounding because of the big cups, soft pads, and the isolation couldn’t be better. Have used them close up with a ramped up U47 without a hint of bleed. Have to throw in my other favorite Sennheiser HD 25-1 II, small, comfortable, big sound, great isolation.”
Sony MDR-7506 – These are listed here partially for historical purposes but also because of how many great recordings have been made with the musicians wearing these. They are high quality but are not designed to completely isolate. They are comfortable. The padding can wear out, but can also be replaced with more isolating padding. $99
Ultrasone Signature Studio – Earcatcher, who has a lot of informative posts on Gearslutz, has this to say: “Sennheiser HD-25: no sound out, no sound in. One earcup can be folded backwards. Ultrasone Signature Studio: no sound out, more sound in. You can keep both cups on your ears and still hear yourself directly, but no sound will reach the mic. This one is very popular with singers I have in the studio because it has very detailed highs, so you can easily hear the quality of your mouth noises.”
These are a great way to go except one huge problem. Hearing damage is very easy to happen here. You’ll need to have your talkback/monitoring set up well. It can also be annoying to have to unplug/replug them in. If you’re really fancy you can use a wireless system but make sure it’s not adding latency (Bluetooth could cause a lot of issues depending on your system). If you’d like a very effective budget solution then bring a pair of simple in-ear headphones and wear some shooting earmuffs over it (the kind used at a firing range)
This is a list of all the companies that make in-ear monitors I could find with particular products that stuck out to me. If your brand is not listed please drop us a message
Apple – These can be problematic for Pro Tools and your mileage may vary with latency — however if you are doing voiceover and don’t want to deal with cables you might find some useful stuff here. The older wired iphone earbuds can do just fine in a pinch for pro situations with an 1/8th inch to 1/4 inch TRS adapter. Additionally you can get a TRRS to Y-cable of 1/4 inch TRS and XLR and use the microphone too
Advanced Sound Group
Custom Art Music One
It is generally agreed upon in the professional audio community that in-ear and closed-back headphones are not optimal for mixing.