As sound professionals, we often put so much care and attention into best miking techniques, wireless solutions, etc, in order to get the best sound possible, and we make these decisions primarily based on what we hear. But what we often overlook is the integrity of what we actually hear and what we're NOT hearing.
This isn't a full on debate on which pair of cans is best, I'll try to keep this one simple. However, an industry standard pair of headphones or "cans" are the Sony MDR 7506's due to their accurate reproduction of sound, comfort, portability and cost. I've been using these for years but every month or so I'll have at least 1 job where I am recording sound in a very loud environment. I know I have great microphones that are placed very well but with the Sony's, I sometimes find it difficult to tell if what I'm hearing in my ears is actually coming in from the headphones / microphone or if it's just bleed coming THROUGH the headphones, rather than actually being picked up by the microphone. In other words, it's sometimes difficult to know whether or not I should worry about a certain ambient or other background sound. The Sony's have never been known for their isolation and I was recently able to get my hands on a pair of Audio Technica M70x headphones courtesy of Headliner Magazine. The ATH M50 and M70 series headphones from Audio Technica are known for their great isolation, so I did a side by side comparison between the Sony MDR 7506 and the ATH M70x purely to compare their isolation effectiveness.
I recorded my voice in a quiet room with a DPA 4061. I then placed a DPA 4061 in the earphones of a Sony MDR7506 and another in an Audio Technica M70x as well and closed the headphones on a bicycle seat to simulate my head (Yes, I figured my head is basically the same as a bicycle seat, or at least a few kids in 6th grade thought it was the same). I then started blasting some music right next to the 2 pairs of miked headphones while playing back the clean voice recording from earlier through a computer and into the headphones. So in this test, the microphone recording the voice is picking up 0% of the music, however, we still hear the music bleeding through our headphones. When you listen to this recording below, you will find a clear winner between the two in terms of isolation. Whether the winner is good enough for you in the setting of a live concert for example, is up to you. I wish I could compare more cans, but for now, this is it.
If you don't feel like listening for 1 minute, the winner was clearly the ATH M70x in the right ear. I've heard it's not the most comfortable pair of headphones to wear all day, as opposed to the Sonys, but wearing them for about 15 minutes (for what it's worth), they felt more comfortable than the Sony MDR 7506s and they also reproduce a wider frequency response (5Hz-40kHz) as opposed to the Sony MDR 7506s (20Hz-20kHz) which will help me use my low cut filters more effectively. With cans that give me better isolation, I'll be able to more confidently tell a Director or AD, "Nope, we're fine! I don't hear it, let's move on!" Our ears are our brains, our eyes, our frontline. Let's not compromise on what's telling us what to do.
Brett Ainslie is a NYC based freelance non-union Production Sound Mixer owner/operator.
He has been mixing sound on location for Film & TV since 2010 for narrative feature films, TV commercials, corporate videos, musical and corporate event live streams and broadcasts, digital content, documentaries and network reality shows. Brett has mixed sound for TBS, HBO, Showtime, Bravo, Disney ABC, Discovery, Food Network, Fox, VH1, A&E, ESPN, MTV, National Geographic, Bloomberg, Vice and more.