Recording studio headphone review: we were feeling a bit sniffy when we were first asked to review these closed back headphones from Studiospares. We run a pretty high end set up here and our gut feeling was that this budget offering wouldn't stand up to scrutiny. As a result, we decided we would throw them right in at the deep end and shoot them out against some of the top contenders on the market. What follows is our entirely subjective view on the outcome.
Right out of the box we were surprised to find the cans in a neat little canvas case with a sturdy zip. As we opened them up our surprise continued. Removing the spare set of padded ear cups we found a very expensive looking set of cans indeed. Certainly not the cheap moulded plastic we expected and which is virtually universal amongst their competitors. Instead an expensive looking dark solid plastic and black chrome finish adorned these beauties. In addition the cable which led to the usual eighth/quarter jack combination also had clever jack connectors to the cans themselves. We hated to admit it to ourselves but we were impressed! But beauty is only skin deep right? Let's see how they performed in every day use...
Now in our view probably the hardest job for an isolation headphone is when an engineer is trying to find the sweet spot in front of a blaring guitar cabinet or a thundering drum kit for his microphone placement. First job of the day then was to mic up our house DW kit in our stone room.
At the outset we found the fitting of the headphones to be a little on the tight side. Not painfully so but snug enough to have our glasses wearing Joe Ninety lookalike assistant, also called Joe, to complain about it. Quickly relieved of that duty, we sent him off to make the tea as befits an assistant in a recording studio.
As the drummer began to whack the snare and we began the process of finding the sweet spot we found ourselves impressed for the second time. Isolation was good. Very good indeed! Now we are lucky to have some very nice closed back cans around the place: Audio Technika's excellent ATH-50 and Beyerdynamic DT 770 PROs amongst others. Honestly? We didn't think this was going to be a fair fight with the Studiospares demo set coming in at around half the price of the competition. But in round 1, the isolation test, the review pair came a very close second place indeed to our set that usually gets the job: the top of the range Extreme Isolation headphone set, and completely wiping the floor with the much more expensive competition from AT and AKG. We also felt that they provided good feedback on what the microphones were capturing. When we checked back on our ATCs the drums sounded great! So far so good...
Round 2 was where we wheeled in artists and asked for their feedback during two separate recording sessions. The first with the drummer referred to above, the second on a female singer. In short, the drummer loved them. They were the loudest of all of the headphones we reviewed and he fed back that he thought his drums sounded great (and that little psychological boost can be all important in getting the very best take possible). The female singer was less impressed saying that she didn't feel inspired by the sound of her own voice through them. We couldn't wait to hear them ourselves so that we could try to understand the disparity so it was time to A/B them against the competition.
We had a clear bias at the outset. The Audio Technika's had long been our favourite closed back set for tracking sessions. The Beyer's had been our previous love while the Extreme Isolation had always been our choice for drum sessions. We didn't really expect any of this to change. For the third time, however, the demo set from Studiospares upset our expectation biases.
In the comfort test, after initially getting used to them (and their newness may have played some part in this) we found them to be the second most comfortable set on test. Second only to the ATs. By contrast the Beyers felt overly loose. The EIs didn't even compare.
Sonically. Again the AT's won the day being reasonably balanced across the range (or as balanced as a closed back is ever going to be). The race for second place, however, was a much closer one than we expected with the Beyers just pipping the Studiospares unit at the post. Again, the EIs trailing a distant fourth.
Tonally we found the Studiospares unit to have a solid low-end with good extension. Low-mids seemed a bit on the boxy side to us. We found the units to be quite 'mid-forward' generally. Their weakest point was in the high end which rolled off very quickly. This of course may explain the reason our female vocalist didn't get on with them if she wasn't getting any air around her voice.
All in all then, we thought that these were a fabulous little unit for the price. So much so that we've ordered a 'five pack'. Admittedly they didn't come close to the Audio Technika's but, given the price differential, that's hardly surprising! That said, they got amazingly close to the Beyers and completely wiped the floor with the EIs. In the circumstances, if we could only have two pairs of headphones in the studio for recording, on the basis of the play off between isolation and sound quality the Studiospares set would be one of them! And at that price, what's not to like! Do yourself a favour. Get online and do what we did... go get yourself a pair (actually, we bought six pairs!!)