Used to be that convenience was the name of the game with music consumption. Our players got smaller while our music libraries got bigger, and for listening on a mobile device it was all about the tiny, unobtrusive earbuds that likely came prepackaged with your mp3 player of choice. However, according to a recent report on music consumer habits by market research company The NPD Group, it looks like that the times, they are a-changin’.
In Headphones Ownership and Applications, the NPD Group notes that the premium headphone segment of the audio market – a segment which is made up of headphones with a retail price point north of $100 – has grown dramatically in the past year. What was once a niche market that was the purview of audiophiles and musicians, premium headphones now make up 43% of all headphone sales in 2012. This shift in consumer tastes was reflected in a 65% growth in unit sales in the first half of 2012 alone and has made the headphone market into a billion dollar industry in the US.
X Factor judge Simon Cowell has recently teamed up with Sony to design a line of high-end, studio-quality headphones. Cowell’s newest business venture has him following in the steps of Dr. Dre, whose custom line of Beats headphones recently netted him the top spot on the list of the world’s richest hip-hop artists. Cowell’s custom X Headphones will feature memory foam earpads that form to the shape of the listener’s ears. The large, swiveling earpads also reportedly block most outside noise and provide enhanced low-end bass reception. Speaking of the headphones’ quality, Cowell stated, I needed a serious tool to be able to do my job. I’ve tried all of [the headphones], literally every single one. And I just wanted something better. The rest of the world’s headphones were seen crying as Cowell left a nearby Best Buy where he had told them that they sounded like one-year-olds making babbling noises. The X Headphones will retail for $299.99, and will reportedly lack a feature that injects harsh criticism of whatever god-awful song you’re currently singing along to in your horrendous, mouse“like excuse for a voice.
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Mixing and equalizing can seem like an intimidating task, however you don’t need to be a professional sound engineer to make a very listenable track as a producer. In the real world, many songwriters send their music on to get mixed by fresh ears all the time. Part of the reason is to simply have the track mixed from the audience’s point of view, the other reason is that you just spent twenty-four to forty-eight straight hours of recording it and your ears are about to throw up. Therefore, if you’re merely a composer, then you probably don’t need to be 100% up to date on mixing and equalizing. You are meant to drain your creative energy on the best part of music”making and performing it. However, it’s good to know some basics or maybe even establish a process for rough mixes. Doing so will allow you to go ahead and perform/publicize a new song your excited to share. Let’s get started!
Overall, this is a very basic and proven process for mixing and equalizing a rough mix. Now before we begin, take into consideration that this mixing process is solely meant for mixing digital electronic music. However, whether you love or hate Propellerhead, their Web site offers free mixing and EQ techniques for recording audio vocals, guitar, bass and drums. Although these tutorials are meant to help Record users, 90% of the information is generic enough to apply to most mixing and EQ setups. Since it’s a popular DAW, we’ll be using Reason 6 to reference its mixing board for visual stimulation.
What will you need?
- A fully recorded song
- A pair of good monitors and headphones
- A digital audio workstation (DAW) with a generic mixing board as seen within Reason.
A couple of weeks ago, we wrote a few reviews on some headphone options for when you want to work and mix in the studio. The topic, however, is not applicable to the majority of the market. Most people shopping for headphones are looking for great quality sound and physical comfort so that they can enjoy listening to their favorite music. This week I’ll talk about some of the designs and technologies behind headphones created specifically for enjoying music rather than creating it.
While it may seem obvious, there are several standard designs to look for when purchasing headphones, and they all have their own applications. There are three basic construction methods here: Ear buds, on-the-ear and over-the-ear. This may all seem straight forward, but there are some distinct concepts to keep in mind.
Ear buds, as a general rule are quite directional. That is to say, while the speakers are small and aren’t that loud, they are placed inside the ear directly toward the ear drum. Everyone is familiar with ear buds because they are the standard headphones that come with an iPod. Their spec’s? They may sound familiar:
Frequency Range: 20-20,000 Hz
Impedance: 32 Ohms
These spec’s match the Ultrasone studio monitors we mentioned in the Studio Headphones post. Of course, their lack is the shape of their frequency response curve as well as construction. A frequency response curve is a graph that indicates how loud a headphone puts sound out across its frequency spectrum (An example is pictured at right). The iPod ear buds have small drivers that are designed to have a healthy mid spectrum with some odd dips/boosts on the lower end. They are, however, quite convenient and are a staple for “workout” headphones or just for listening to your iPod. Keep in mind that there are many brands that offer an even more direct ear bud design by going further into the ear (often called “in-ear headphones”).
Disclaimer: Please be wary of the amount that you use your ear buds. Because the sound is so direct and placed so close to your ear drum, you don’t need to play music very loud to create damaging effects (a diluted version of that “ringing,” clogged feeling you get after a loud concert) on your hearing . When at all possible, listen to music on speakers or with on/over-the-ear phones.
On-the-ear headphones are the most nostalgic for me. You may recall the sets that came with old Walkman CD or tape players. They are foam-covered speakers that are placed on your ear, right outside of it. This is a great alternative for those who have trouble wearing buds (whether they don’t fit or are just uncomfortable). We’ll go with a favorite style, the behind-the-head variety.
Frequency Range: 12-24,000 Hz
Sensitivity: 106 dB
The manufacturer of these doesn’t specify impedance but the sensitivity is adequate. Also, the frequency range is very large on these. I can’t say it’s the deciding factor for a purchase, but it’s good to know.
Finally, for the ideal listening situation, We would recommend a high-quality pair of over-the-ear listening headphones. The difference between this type and a pair of studio over-the-ear is that the goal is to maximize the sound of the song for listening purposes. Therefore, these phones will never have a really flat response, and will theoretically be designed to boost/cut certain frequencies for the best sound. For the most affordable vs. highest quality, we recommend checking out Skull Candy headphones. The brand is somewhat new, but it offers every variety discussed here. They have so many varieties and technologies that it’s almost pointless to give you one set of spec’s. So, check them out and pick the right ones for you. Note: They come in all different types of colors and styles, a nice perk for the style-conscious.
We’ll end this post with a quick mention of a couple of important, innovative technologies that headphones use. Hopefully this will help you determine what type is best for you. One of the best innovations is noise-cancelling technology. Not to be confused with noise-reducing (where the headphones simply block outside noise), “noise-canceling” actually requires power to put out a small amount of noise/interference to cancel out what you hear as noise outside the headphones. We’ll break it down. First, the headphones detect what low-level noise wave forms exist naturally. Then, the headphones produce an equally loud set of noise that is opposite in phase to the outside noise, thus canceling it out. Think about adding a positive number and a negative number of equal values. You get zero. Canceling noise works the same way. Try it out in a room with a loud air conditioner or something. First put the phones on without the NC activated. Then turn it on. You’ll get the strange sensation of the noise going away, giving your ears near silence!
Let us briefly mention wireless technology and modeled surround sound. While these require much research and testing, they are pretty self-explanatory. Wireless headpohnes transfer sound from the music player to the headphones via radio waves (just like a wireless guitar system). Of course, this allows you to listen to music without being encumbered by a wire. Modeled surround sound uses subtle panning and amplitude shifts from left to right to make it seem as if you’re listening to the music in a theater or with a home theater surround system. The Ultrasone headphones mentioned a few weeks ago feature this technology. They are particularly great when watching movies or playing video games, giving you that immersive experience.
We hope we’ve given you some information and, perhaps, the confidence to pick out your headphones out without needing to spend hours in your favorite store. Unless, of course, you’re like us and you do that anyway.
When it comes to March, I’m sure the first thing that springs into your mind (no pun intended), is National Pig Day on the 1st! Here are a few pig festivities to try on your own along with some nice tunes! We got so into the festivities yesterday that we were forced to post this blog today but trust me, you should definitely check it out!
You’ve got one task: put headphones on a pig and keep them on for as long as possible!
This one is you vs the pig and only time will tell who finds the 6 guitar strings in the mud first!
You’ve played horseshoe, so replace the shoe with a hula hoop and the stake with a pig! Voila a nice family friendly game!
Whether you play those games or not (Joe here was the only one at our festivities who actually participated!), check out some of the OurStage artists who pay homage towards the lovely creatures we call pigs within their music!