As you record your drum tracks at a studio, you need headphones, like you do every time you play your drums. However, it’s better to use your usual drum kit. It’s not as clear with the accessories. Should studio headphones for drummers be different from those one uses at gigs or sessions? Or will your regular ones do? Let’s take a look at what both cases require and come up with something.

Drummer Headphones in General

As you know, the drummer needs headphones for a whole bunch of reasons. Here are the most obvious ones that define which headphones are the best:

  • Eardrum protection. As you’re in the middle of incredible acoustic pressure, you’d better soften it at about 20-30 dB. Good headphones, either over-ear or in-ear, provide this protection which makes the whole experience more tolerable and thus more fun.
  • Contact with the band. Through the mixer, you hear the mix of what the rest of your band plays, so you are in touch with them despite the impossibility to hear each other directly.
  • Contact with yourself while playing, especially if you use electronic drums which provide no relatable acoustic output.

Given this, the headphones for the drummer should be great at isolating the ears from external sounds (both in-ear and over-ear models have their fans), provide decent sound with a wide frequency range, and be comfortable because they are worn for hours. A good long cable and a stable connector are also necessary.

When it comes to studios, all these requirements are still in place. But is there anything to be added to them? Let’s see whether any good headphones for drummers are equally good on the stage and in the recording booth.

The Difference Between Gigs and Studio Sessions

How is the studio recording process different from live concerts? First of all, there is less external noise. If the band is playing together simultaneously, as they do at the venue, they are still in the same booth, hearing nothing but each other in their headphones. There might be even no loudspeakers in the live room: They are a must in the control room where the sound engineer checks the sound and builds the mix in real-time.

Does it mean isolation is not so critical? On the contrary, it’s even more necessary than at a gig. First, the drums are still loud (unless they are electronic), and the drummer’s ears need to be protected all the same. Secondly, each particular track that makes it into the mix should be recorded as clearly as possible, and if the headphones bleed out the sound of the other musicians, these low but distinct sounds can make it to the track. This is not desirable. So the studio headphones should have as solid two-way isolation as possible.

What about sound quality? The better it is—the better, sorry for this tautology. As the drummer needs to pre-control the sound along with the engineer, the quality should be as close to perfect as possible. We have talked about a wide frequency range, flat sound, and good soundstage. It all applies to studio drummer’s headphones as well.

More than that: The sound is transformed when the mics are installed on the drums. A decent drum microphone set includes mics of different types. Dynamic microphones are great for recording sounds close to the source. Condenser microphones are best when overhead; they are also usually used as dedicated mics for cymbals. No wonder many manufacturers (like AKG, Shure, Sennheiser, etc.) sell special microphone drum kits with manuals on where to install each. This setup makes your drums more expressive, but what you hear in your headphones might be quite different from what you hear in real-time.

As for the soundstage, it’s even more important at the studio because you might want to separate the sounds in the mix. For example, you might want your hi-hats moved a little leftwards in the mix, while congas or rides shifted rightwards. This can’t be controlled directly, because the stage is not well-readable while playing live. In the studio, though, you record your drums and cymbals with separate microphones at each of them, and the routed sound can be rebalanced to make the drums sound more stereo. Headphones are your only way to hear the result in real time.

Thus if you record your drums in the studio, you require the same qualities as you need for gigs but better implemented. It would be a great approach to choose the headphones for the studio and then play with them live.

Should Headphones Differ for Acoustic and Electronic Drums?

It’s a commonplace notion that headphones are everything for electronic drums as they are the only way to hear what you’re playing. So choosing the pair for an electronic kit is considered to be an even more responsible task. But does it differ from choosing headphones for an acoustic kit?

The answer is: In the studio, there isn’t much difference. As you hear yourself playing even more distinctly than at a gig, quality rules in both cases. So does the fidelity: While electronic drums are only heard through the output, the right mic setup can make even an acoustic drum kit sound differently from what the drummer is used to. So, despite how crucial the headphones are for electronic drums, in the studio, the use case isn’t that different.

The Conclusion in the Live Room

In short, the headphones to record your drums at the studio should be just like those you use at gigs or for training, but better. You can also go the opposite way and buy a pair that qualifies as a studio drummer option. It will surely be good enough elsewhere. Don’t forget that they have to feel comfortable: Studio sessions can also be very long.

We’d like you to share something from your experience if you wish. If you can add something to our considerations from your own perspective or just want to ask a question, welcome to the comments!