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Headphone/Earphone/IEM Monitoring of Live Recording

  1. analogsurviver
    Hi everybody !
     
    I have been lurking here on head-fi for quite some time now. 
     
    Let me introduce myself. Long time audiophille, concert goer, in past also worked in a music shop, selling CDs and not that few LPs. Being unsatisfied with present recording quality in general, decided to start making my own recordings. I specialize in anything acoustic, but main body of my current recordings represent vocal and choral music.
     
    The greatest nigtmare for me are - headphones. Don't get me wrong - I am not the kind of person that would rather ban music listening altogether if it was not reproduced over speakers. In fact, I do more, much more listening through cans of all possible descriptions than I do listening through speakers. As I mostly listen to classical, I can not afford to disturb neighbours too much - I do not want to compromise the dynamic range or bass,
    both of which are problematic with neighbours all around you. 
     
    But primarily I am not interested for reproduction over headphones like majority of head-fiers. I found the only practical solution for monitoring while recording on location (live or as scheduled recording session ) are headphones of some description. I do not (or plan to)
    own a "recording van/truck" where near field monitor speakers could give me the known acoustic space making it easier to decide on mic placement etc when working in new
    venue I never recorded in before. I tried carrying with me some monitor speakers to be set up in another acoustic space somewhere near the recording venue, but it is just too demanding - imagine you have to first ask permission to do it, spend at least a couple of hours setting the listening system up, only to find that in given conditions and time available it just can not be set up well enough to represent some kind of reference one could rely on. So....cans.
     
    Most of the time I work in churches and halls that do not have separate acoustically isolated booths. Even if there is ocassionally such a booth available, I tend not to use it - I like to be in the general vicinity of the mics to allow me to quickly hear with my own ears and then compare what comes over recording chain.That means all open headphones I otherwise adore at quiet of the home ( AKG K 1000, Stax Labda Pro ) can not be used. The first thing you will do to hear anything of your recording with an open headphone will be to turn volume up by about 10 dB in order to supress the direct sound of performers - giving you a false recording and more important, hearing loss in the long run. Provided the open headphones are capable of reasonably clean levels of 120 dB SPL to begin with. This clearly is not the way to do it.
     
    So, closed over/around/in ear. 
     
    Please note I consider AKG K 1000 the best possible compromise when listening to acoustic music. It has its shortcomings in inability to produce much below 50 hz, it does not have the electrostatic precision of say Stax or punch of a good ortho - but it is
    the best in a discipline all other head/earphones, with the notable exception (in not so slightly lesser extent) of Jecklin Float, miserably fail. That is allowing your ears to function and hear normally, as anything that comes around, over or in your ear will drastically  change your hearing AND lessen or completely prevent crosstalk between your ears. All that leads to colourations of various kinds and that tipical "in your head"
    sensation.
     
    ( For all of you who have not experienced the AKG K 1000 - if you put them on and not propagate signal throug it, you will hear your surrounding almost exactly the same as if they were not on your head. They start to be "audible" at around 14 kHz, they are that open and transparent sounding construction - IIRC, the drivers are 78 % acoustically open ).
     
    I found that any "normal" headphones with the two exceptions noted above need some form of crossfeed in order to sound anything like similar to music heard live. The worst are hit of course in ears with their practically perfect isolation - but given reasonably good crossfeed, the music will no longer be caged strictly within skull, with the ears as final limit of this "prison". To me, this crossfeed thing is more important than general frequency response, as it distorts the spatial cues worse than anything (short of really gross distortion) possibly could. Stax Labdas  (whatever model) are good cans in anybody's book - yet did not achieve proper recreation of space prior to application of crossfeed, with or without ED 1 Diffuse Field Equalizer. Generally, the sonic picture gets strecthed too far left/right, to far removed in plane of your ears or even slightly behind - instead of somewhere forward and not that extreme separated ( the actual position of musicians on the stage ). I went through most of my recordings and all I can say - now I know what I have been missing ( crossfeed on anything but K 1000) all those years...
     
    This question belongs more on the gearslutz forum - but I thought more heads know more, recording crowds tend to be somewhat conservative. With good reason - no recording engineer in his right mind would risk monitoring with anything he or she is not entirely familiar with - that means it "translates" well in final recording or mix that will sound good on most equipment prospective buyers are most likely to listen. But by playing it (too) safe I might be missing a can or two (among many) reviewed on head-fi that just may prove instrumental in achieving my goal - that is, when recording to achieve as close to zero difference between sound heard live and monitor heard in the
    "cans of whatever description".
     
    Ideally, I would like to avoid equalization. That would mean a neutral or analytic "can".
    Also would mean crossfeed could be done in analog hardware. That would be ideal for truly portable recording rig. Among many options for this I feel Meelectronics A161p
    should fit the bill, or perhaps Hifiman RE 0 or RE Zero.
     
    However, if a "can" sports very good results in almost any other department, but shows frequency response anomalies that are of reasonably low quality ( in lay terms, peaks and walleys are not very sharp but any deviations are reasonably smooth ), I am willing to go with either real or virtual parametric equalization. Here I was particularly thinking of Yamaha EPH 100  IEM that has great extension, superbly low distortion and smooth but otherwise very irregular "fun" frequency response that should be possible to tame completely with good EQ. 
     
    I would not aprori dismiss closed over/on ear headphone - and JVC HA S500 popped up. I have been following the JVC's Carbon Nanotubes - somebody mentioned at least partial resemblance to sound of Stax - and that gave me thinking. No way a dynamic driver could ever achieve resolution of electrostatic ( perfect material does not and will not exist, the diafragm is driven only at the contact with the coil - electrostatic is driven across entire surface uniformly, down to the molecule level ) but if it comes close...
    And of course in closed format for a reasonable coin - why not ?
     
    More for joke or laughs I ordered Philips SHE3581 ( a white 3580 ) - and I still find it hard to believe how good this 12 EUR delivered IEM can sound. True, it needs dedicated EQ I am still experimenting with, of course needs crossfeed - but I would not be hesitant now to use it for monitoring the next scheduled recording. It is far from the last word in detailing or freedom from harshness, but it can give you reasonably true picture. It is a tiny and light IEM that punches many times above its weight - so thanks go to Joe Bloggs and Dsnuts for introducing this gem to the community.
     
    I would particularly like to thank Joe Bloggs for his somewhat "one note samba" posts regarding the importance of dedicated EQ and its practical implementations. Yes, it is not fun, yes you have to work to achieve good result, yes it is beyond the capabilities of portable equipment regarding DSP - but it does lead to better result. For your very "cans" and your very own pair of ears - no real "can" is likely to match your very own ear in response perfectly - that would mean a special model for every human, just not practical.
     
    I would also like to thank to XNOR and his crossfeed plugin for foobar2000. It really does very good impersonation of loudspeakers over headphones, both regarding spatial positioning as well as particularly inteligibility in the lower end of the spectrum  -  prior to this plugin bass tended to be thin in character, no matter how equalized. Now bass, cello, drum etc have their proper weight and body and it is really fun and joy to listen to some sublime quiet interplay of say upright bass and drum that was "some bass lumped together" before. 
     
    @XNOR : VIELEN DANK, NACHBAR  !
     
     
    I would kindly ask you all to help me find something that might eventually lead to the desired result. My budget is low - this economic climate is not exactly the best thing for a free lance recording engineer. But if per chance any of you posses Sennheiser IE800 and can confirm it is the answer to all the prayers in IEM - I would break that last resort piggy bank, as ten $ 100 "cans" that ultimately prove unsatisfactorily are immensely more expensive than one that does the trick, albeit at punishing cost.  But hope for the piggy bank to remain in one piece...
     
    In the end, it all should lead to the better recordings  - like the operatic recital of the soprano we coloquially lovingly  refer to as The Beast ( one of the very loudest Homo Sapiens I have heard (of)) - here in her probably best role, VERY quiet by her standards (and not recorded by me) from the Christmas concerto 2010 of Kranj High School:
     
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7dAKz6E7U-8
     
    Best regards,
     
    analogSurviver
     
  2. Swimsonny
    I read it all but did get a bit lost by the end.
     
    It seems an IEM is the way to go and i gathered you want accuracy and isolation. If that is indeed what you want then at a low price the obvious solution is the Etymotic HF5, the best isolation you'll come across as well as great accuracy.You will find it lacking bas though.
     
    If you are willing to break the bank though i will say go for the Heir Audio 4.Ai. They are so true and just beautiful earphones. Sound phenomenal and also isolate extremely well but not quite Etymotic level. It also has unparalleled imaging and presentation and a 3-D soundstage which would be great for recording and listening to the linked track was a joy although i could locate were the people were coughing through out :p
     
  3. Dsnuts Contributor
    Wait till you try out a HA-S500..I can guess if your a fan of the Philips phones. Joe if you read this. Get yourself a HAS-500 too..Seriously. Eveyone gotta try something new with an exciting sound.. Look forward to everyone's take on the sound. Happy listening fellas..
     

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