Tag Archives for " headphones "

New Music Gear Monday: Yamaha HPH-MT8 “NS10 Inspired” Headphones

yamaha-MT8 headphonesFor a generation of engineers prior to their discontinuation in 2001, Yamaha NS-10′s were a monitor fixture in every control room, no matter how big or small. They weren’t used because they sounded good, mind you, but quite the opposite – they sounded rather ordinary.  That’s why it’s a bit of a mystery that the company’s new HPH-MT-8 headphones bear the moniker “NS-10 inspired.”

NS-10’s were never particularly accurate (legendary mixer Bob Clearmountain started the trend of putting tissue paper over the tweeter to tame the high-frequency response), so when Yamaha touts the MT8 as its “most accurate headphone set ever offered” you have to wonder whether its marketing and engineering departments are on the same page. That said, with the number of home studio engineers relying on headphones more and more to keep the noise level down, the need for an accurate headphone that closely mirrors real world acoustic monitoring is greater than ever. Still, you’d probably never hear “most accurate” and NS-10 in the same sentence from anyone that used them, but that dichotomy of perception makes me want to give these a try all the more.

Now for the tech: the MT8 features custom 45mm drivers with a 15Hz to 28kHz frequency response, built with copper-clad aluminum wire voice coils, and neodymium magnets. Other features include a detachable straight 10-foot cable and coiled 5-foot cable (you see this combination supplied with more and more headphones these days), corrosion-resistant gold-plated stereo mini plug and quarter-inch stereo adapter.

The Yamaha HPH-MT8 has a street price of $199. A less expensive version, the HPH-MT5, is also available at $99. There’s more information on Yamaha’s dedicated webpage. If monitoring on NS-10s is your thing, then you probably want to check these out.

Tips For A Great Headphone Mix

Tips For A Great Headphone MixPerhaps the greatest detriment to a session running smoothly is the inability for players to hear themselves comfortably in the headphones. This is one reason why veteran engineers spend so much time and attention on the cue mix and the phones themselves. In fact, a sure sign of an inexperienced engineer is treating the headphone mix as an afterthought instead of spending as much time as required to make them sound great.

While it’s true that a veteran studio player can shrug off a bad or distorted phone mix and still deliver a fine performance, good “cans” makes a session go faster and easier, and take out of the equation a variable that can sometimes be the biggest detriment to a session. Here are 3 tips from the recently released Recording Engineer’s Handbook 4th edition that will make sure that the players and vocalists are happy with their headphones when the session begins.

1. Long before the session begins, test every headphone to make sure there’s no distortion and they’re working correctly (test with actual music).

2. Make sure there’s plenty of cable available so that the musicians can move around as needed. Use cable extenders as necessary.

3. Check to make sure that the cables are not intermittent (Nothing stops a session as fast as a crackling phone).

As far as the headphone mix is concerned, some engineers send the stereo monitor mix (the mix that you’re listening to in the control room) to the phones first and then add a little more of the individual instruments as needed (“more me”). This is a lot easier than building up individual mixes, unless that’s what the musicians request. Of course there are plenty of systems now available for the player to dial in his own mix, but it’s still a good idea to for the engineer to set up a preliminary mix for him. Some players just can’t aren’t able to set up a basic mix.

Whereas at one time each studio had to jerry-rig together their own headphone amp to power their cue mixes, these days it’s easy and fairly inexpensive to bu ya dedicated headphone amplifier from any number of manufacturers that’s easy to set up and sounds great. Companies such as Behringer, Furman, PreSonus, Rolls, and Aphex all make units that will work better and can be a lot cheaper than the traditional method of a large power amp with resistors strapped across it.

You can read more from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.

Look Out Security – Headphones Turned Into Secret Microphones

Headphones secret microphonesIf you’ve studied audio technology at all then you know that loudspeakers/headphones and microphones are both principally the same in how they operate, they just work backwards from one other. Where the diaphragm of a microphone responds to moving air molecules to turn sound into an electronic signal, the loudspeaker turns an electronic signal into moving air molecules thanks to the motion of its diaphragm. We’ve used loudspeakers as mics in the past, most recently with the popular subkick on kick and bass, but now an Israeli company has found a way to turn headphones and earbuds into secret microphones to record the surrounding conversations.

Researchers at Israel’s Ben Gurion University have created a proof-of-concept exploit called “Speake(a)r,” that found that headphones were nearly as good as a microphone at picking up audio in a room. The hack is done by restasking the RealTek audio codec chip output found in many desktop computers from an audio output to an input. Apparently this is fairly easy to do, but hackers just haven’t it discovered it yet. The worst part is that it doesn’t even require a new driver, since the embedded chip has no security built into it and is easily reprogrammed.

Keep in mind that this is just a proof-of-concept, so no need to worry about your conversations or your audio tracks being compromise yet, but it does bring up a big question about the security of the everyday computer peripherals that we all use. Probably the last thing we ever think about is the cyber-security of our audio gear, but perhaps its time to be concerned.

What’s worse is the fact that audio professionals usually use higher-quality headphones than the average earbud listener, which means that the capture quality is better as well, although I’m not exactly sure the frequency response would be that good with closed-back headphones tightly fitted to the head. Then again, it’s pretty rare that matters of national security is discussed in a recording studio (unless you’re with Jeff “Skunk” Baxter). Still, it’s time to be aware that some of our everyday studio gear can be turned into secret microphones.

More Headphone Freakout Solutions

more headphone freakout solutionsI’m always amazed how musicians react to their headphones and cue mixes while recording. Some are extremely picky, needing everything to be as perfect as possible before performing, while others can make do with just about anything that closely resembles a mix and a working headphone or two. Rob Tavaglione recently wrote a nice piece at ProSoundNetwork regarding “Headphone Freakout Solutions” that covered a few things that I never thought of, which prompted me to fill in a few more solutions and tricks that I’ve learned through the years. Here we go.

First from Rob:

  • Try flipping the phase of the mic. This might open up a hole in the center of the cue mix where the vocal can sit better both frequency-wise, and if you’re providing a stereo mix, panning-wise as well. Just remember to flip the phase of the track back for a playback or when you mix.
  • Try some open-back headphones. The isolation of the cue mix might seem too foreign to some players who don’t have a lot of studio experience, so open-back phones might make them feel more comfortable. Watch out for the level so you don’t get too much headphone bleed, or even feedback with vocalists.

Now some of my own.

  • Set a mix up for the players. In these days of personal cue mixers, you’ll find that some players just cannot dial in a mix to save their lives. They know what they want, but just don’t know how to get there. That’s why it’s always best if the engineer sets up a basic mix first, then helps each player tweak it as needed. Remember, in a situation like this, fewer choices work the best.
  • Give the drummer some isolation headphones. Drummers need their headphones loud (especially the click) because they’re usually right in middle of a big ruckus of their own creation. Save everyone some grief with leakage by having the drummer wear some good iso phones.

For vocalists and overdubs in general.

  • The kick, bass, and one main instrument should be prominent in the mix. The kick will keep the singer in the pocket, the bass is the key center, and keeping one basic backbone instrument high in the mix (like a piano or guitar) will help the singer find the pitch.
  • Eliminate chorus or modulation effects. Anything that varies the pitch even a little makes it really difficult for some singers to find the pitch center, so they end up not being able to sing in tune. That nice wide chorus on the keys might be a great effect, but a boring mono part will probably help the singer a little better.

Setting up a great headphone mix is an art in itself, but it’s so important to a player or singer’s performance. Follow these tips and take enough time to get the phones right, and you’ll have happy players, singers and producers.

September 23, 2016

Game Audio Composer Brian Schmidt On Episode #127 Of My Inner Circle Podcast

Brian SchmidtBrian Schmidt is a legend in game audio and he’s my guest on Episode #127 of my Inner Circle Podcast.

Both a composer and sound designer, Brian has worked on over 150 games, and he’s been the architect for the X-Box audio system and XACT gaming audio tool. Brian is also the founder of GameSoundCon, a conference exclusively for game audio professionals.

On the podcast, we discuss a variety of issues, like what’s trending in games, what are typical budgets, how large are the audio teams, how do you break into game audio, and what are the tools you need to know, among many other things.

On the intro I’ll discuss how the major record labels are moving to limit streaming exclusives, and some headphone freakout solutions.

You can listen to it at bobbyoinnercircle.com, or via iTunesStitcher, Mixcloud or Google Play.

Helpful Recording Accessories

Vocal EZE accessoryThere are a number of recording accessories that prove to come in handy almost every day you’re in the studio. In fact, a session can absolutely ground to a halt without a few of them. Here are some suggestions for some accessories that you’ll be so happy you have when the need arises.

Console tape – for marking everything from mic position to making notes. Get the real deal – Shurtape P724.

Sharpies – the best ones are the ultra-fine-point type that let you squeeze lots of info onto a small strip of console tape without blurring.

Flashlight – for looking into the many unlit spaces in the studio and around gear. I like the Outlight A100 or the very cool 9V Blocklite.

Gobos – for increasing the isolation between instruments. If you don’t want to build them yourself, the ATS Studio Stacker is a good place to start.

Throat Spray – a quick spray will help keep a vocalist’s sore throat at bay. Entertainer’s Secret or Vocal EZE work great.

Throat Coat – a nice herbal tea to sooth abused vocal chords. Tastes good too, even if your throat feels fine.

Etymotic ER20 ETY Earplugs – for finding the sweet spot when loud drummers or guitar players are playing. The best $13 you’ll ever spend.

Monoprice 108323 headphones – excellent sounding yet inexpensive headphones. If you’re constantly replacing your expensive phones, try these. You’ll be shocked how good they sound for 20 bucks.

Hue lighting – digital mood lighting from your smartphone. The starter pack is expensive, but you’ll be surprised at the effect they have on just about any session when you dial in the prefect color scheme.

Cable adapters – a variety of cable adapters for every occasion. The adapters from Seismic Audio or Monoprice are fairly inexpensive.

– 10 dB inline pad

– XLR Phase reverser

– XLR male to male

– XLR female to female

– 1/4” male to XLR female

– 1/4” male to XLR male

– 1/8” male to 1/4” female

– 1/4” female to female

Headphone extender cables – extend the life of your headphones cables with cable extenders. Once again, the cables from Seismic Audio are pretty good quality yet inexpensive.

8 to 16 channel drum snake – cut down on the clutter of mic cables around the drums. Once again, Seismic Audio beats everyone’s price.

Personal mixes for musicians (at least 4 stations for rhythm section). Hear Technologies is my favorite, but there are lots of alternatives these days.

Every studio, regardless of how large or small, can benefit from having these recording accessories readily available. Anyone else have an accessory that I missed or you find you can’t live without?

You can read more from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.