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Mix Tech Spotlight: Headphones 2023

Dec 25, 2023

Every year, the range of studio headphones options only grows, with new brands, new models and more. With that in mind, here’s a baker’s dozen of the major releases we’ve seen in recent times.

By Mix Staff

New York, NY (August 14, 2023)—Every year, the range of studio headphones options only grows, with new brands, new models and more. With that in mind, here’s a baker’s dozen of the major releases we’ve seen in recent times.

Sony made a big splash at NAMM in April with the launch of its 360 Virtual Mixing Environment service and MDR-MV1 Reference Monitor Headphones. Top engineers have been raving about them ever since. The open-back design, according to the company, helps with the extended spatial sound reproducibility and sound object positioning within a 360-degree space, while also reducing internally reflected sounds and eliminating acoustic resonances.

The headphones’ driver units provide wideband playback (5 Hz – 80 kHz) with natural high frequencies, said to help with localization, spaciousness and detailed changes. The open-back structure of the headphones reduces internally reflected sounds and eliminates acoustic resonances.

Avantone Pro introduced its new “Planar the II” headphones in June, updating its original Planar model with a lower-weight edition. The open-back, reference-grade headphones’ planar drivers operate via a matrix of neodymium magnets that both push and pull from both sides of its thin, ultralight diaphragm across its entire surface area, creating a wavefront with little harmonic distortion and a fast response time; the frequency response extends to 30 kHz. Along with comfortable ear pads, the Planar the II package also comes with a high-grade, removable, 2-meter, noise-free, 3.5mm cable that can be plugged into either side to suit workflow. There’s also an eco-friendly shoulder bag with room for accessories and the cable.

Featuring the same Audeze Planar Magnetic technology behind the MM-500, introduced in 2022 with A-list engineer Manny Marroquin consulting in the development and loaning his initials, the MM-100 is both lighter weight and more affordable. It’s also built for comfort and extended hours of use. The over-ear, open-back design includes a 90mm transducer with an ultra-thin Uniforce diaphragm. Frequency response is stated as 20 Hz – 25 kHz, THD of < 0.1% @ 100 dB SPL, 1kHz; sensitivity 98 dB/1mW (at Drum Reference Point); and max sPL is 120 dB. The MM-100 comes with a braided headphone cable, 6.3mm- to-3.5mm adapter cable and a soft storage bag.

The closed-back DT 700 PRO X can be used for studio or mobile production, while the circumaural, open-back DT900PROXis aimed at professional monitoring, mixing and mastering. Each model makes use of the new Stellar.45 driver, based around a strong neodymium magnet and a lightweight voice coil made of copperplated, high-tech wire. Used in conjunction with a newly developed three-layer speaker cone with integrated attenuating layer, the efficient driver system has an impedance of 48 ohms.

The SRH840A, released in 2022, updates the SRH840 and features a circumaural (over-ear), closed-back design, making them appropriate for tracking. Shure bills them as “monitoring headphones,” featuring some “nuanced” improvements to the sound, resulting in lower harmonic distortion and more precise left-right driver matching. The frequency response of the 40mm driver is reported as 10 Hz – 22 kHz; impedance is 38 ohms. The SRH840A weighs in at 0.6 pounds, with plush ear cushions, adjustable headband, and both ear cups able to swivel. It comes with a 9.8-foot straight cable.

The HD 400 PRO studio reference headphones are built around a lightweight, open-back design fitted with soft velour ear pads, the first open studio headphones in the company’s PRO line.

Producing a frequency response of 6 Hz – 38 kHz, the in-house-developed 120-ohm transducers include a diaphragm made from a proprietary polymer blend that is said to provide deeper bass. Distortion is below 0.05% (measured at 1 kHz, 90 dBSPL)

The Clear Mg Professional (Clear Magnesium) Headphones incorporate a magnesium cone for greater dynamics and tonal balance across the full audio spectrum. The circumaural, open-back design incorporates 40mm, full-range speaker drivers with Magnesium M-shaped inverted domes, combined with the frameless 1-inch-diameter and 1⁄4-inch-high copper voice coil. The open grille inside the ear cup is said to extend high frequencies.

The Hi-X65 headphones incorporate the company’s Hi-X Drive Technology, which begins with a 44mm driver, a ring magnet system, and a copper-plated aluminum voice coil. The Hi-X65 is said to provide excellent stereo imaging and low total harmonic distortion (measured at <0.1% at 1 kHz). Frequency range is stated as 5 Hz – 28 kHz, with 110 dB SPL/V impedance. The Hi-X65 comes with both 3-meter and 1.2-meter detachable cables, with 3.5-mm connectors at both ends.

Last year, Neumann introduced the new NDH 30 open-back headphone as a reference-class studio headphone for mixing and mastering in both stereo and immersive formats. While the headphone retains the metal construction of the closed-back NDH 20, it features a new acoustic system design, including optimized and positioned dynamic drivers intended to recall planar magnetic transducers. It is said to have a low harmonic distortion and uses frequency-selective absorbers to shape an even response across the audio spectrum.

Both models are closed-back, circumaural (over and around the ear) designs with the KNS 8402 aimed at pro studio use. The KNS Series phones use 40mm dynamic drivers with neodymium magnets for a rated impedance of 36 ohms. They are rated at 0.1% total harmonic distortion while handling 500mW per driver. Sensitivity on the KNS 8402 is 97 dBSPL @ 1mW, with maximum SPL of 124 dB. Frequency response is specified as 5 Hz – 23 kHz. All the KNS headphones come in matte black only and are made using an impact-resistant plastic material that makes them super lightweight.

Early in 2022, Rode introduced its first-ever headphone: the NTH-100 professional over-ear model, sporting custom-matched 40mm dynamic drivers based around a custom voice coil with a four-layer aluminum alloy as its core. There’s also a stiff triple-layer Mylar diaphragm, and a rare-earth neodymium magnet, aiming to provide low levels of distortion and an accurate response across a broad frequency range.

The K371-BT serves double-duty as a wired studio headphone with Bluetooth (5.0) connectivity. The over-the-ear, closed-back model was designed for maximum sound isolation and superior bass response. Hefty 50mm drivers produce an extended frequency range of 5 Hz to 40 kHz. The ear cups are made of memory foam–like material, and both cups swivel 90 degrees, making the K371-BTs also suitable for DJ use. The package includes three connector cables: 9.8-foot and 3.9-foot straight, and a 9.8-foot coiled.

The result of a global crowd-sourcing campaign where end users voted on their favorite color of the next ATH-M50x model, the limited-edition “Ice Blue” color version of A-T’s popular ATH-M50x sports 45 mm large-aperture drivers, professional-grade earpad and headband material, and a collapsible design with detachable cable. It is applicable for numerous audio applications, including recording, live sound, broadcast, DJ and personal listening.

Mix Staff

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