What are the best headphones for drummers?
The most important factor of headphones for a drummer is sound isolation.
What is sound isolation and why is it so important to drummers?
Drums are loud. Everyone knows that, even if they have never picked up a pair of sticks in their life. Remember your first few times behind a kit? You probably weren’t using hearing protection (lets be honest). After you stopped playing you would hear a high pitched ringing in your ears. This is called ‘Tinnitus’, and it is the first sign that hearing damage has been done.
We don’t want to alarm you or make you feel bad. But hearing damage is no laughing matter. Studies show that over 74% of musicians will experience hearing loss in their lifetime (source: nih.gov). The best time to start taking your hearing protection seriously is right now. Do your long term health a favor and invest in a good pair of sound isolation headphones. These types are the best headphones for drummers bar none.
Isolation vs Noise Canceling
Sound Isolation is a pretty simple concept. Think about those big earmuffs that the people directing airplanes on the ground wear. They can be either over the ear, or in ear plugs. The over the ear models use a good solid cupping seal around your ears, while the in ear models use foam inside your ear canal to block outside noise.
Random Useless Fact: Isolation is also sometimes called “Attenuation”.
Active noise canceling is a little more complicated. It’s a cutting edge technology that the all best headphones for drummers currently use.
It is a really cool technology that uses something called ‘phase inversion’. When you create two sound waves, and one is the inverse of the other, they nullify each other, kind of like matter and anti-matter. Yeah, it’s really that cool… sound is all a matter of physics after all.
Noise canceling headphones have a built in microphone which picks up the ambient noise coming from your drum kit or the rest of the band. They then use an electronic signal to create an ‘anti-noise’ that cancels out the noise.
Over-the-Ear models vs ear buds.
These days, ear buds are by far the most common style of headphones that people wear, but they are not necessarily always the best. The apple ipod/iphone style headphones are great for everyday use, but they are far from the best headphones for drummers… in fact they are some of the worse.
For a good in-ear to meet the standards for sound ‘isolation’, the foam of the bud must create a perfect seal inside your ear canal. Chances are, if you haven’t had higher end headphones in the past, you had a much less than perfect seal.
The very best ear bud headphones are made from custom molded foam, which requires a fitting by an audiologist. This is very expensive, and is beyond the scope of this article. We recommend looking up a specialist in your area, if you absolutely must have in-ear headphones and cannot find a decent fitting pair.
Over the ear
Think of that guy standing on the runway of an aircraft carrier, waving those orange sticks. Can you imagine what the sound of a military-grade, jet engine is at that distance? Those brave men and women use an over the ear style of hearing protection. This is the same concept that is reflected in the ‘external’ muffling provided by over the ear headphones.
Some people can find these uncomfortable, especially compared with a well-fitting pair of ear buds. A good sturdy clamp is needed, in order to properly muffle sound, and this can sometimes be uncomfortable on your head.
Also, many pros will say that even the highest end over ear models will not match the precision of an in-ear version. There’s nothing like getting all the frequencies locked in, right into your ear drums.
I personally think over the ear is more comfortable. I guess it’s because I’ve never gotten that audiologist-crafted perfectly molded pair. Some people prefer the best of both worlds, and will wear a good pair of earbuds along with an outer layer of gun-range quality ear muffs.
Bass Boost – More is better?
A few words about bass. The best headphones for drummers are not necessarily the most bassy. Most headphone manufacturers will boast about how bassy their headphones are. This is a carryover from the mainstream world of ‘beatz’ and other type of boosted headphones. This artificial bass boost is not a sign of a high quality sound. In fact, it can often masked shortcomings of other frequencies.
A serious musician needs balance and flat sounds. When you are trying to distinguish the sound of your drums from the rest of your band, or even your click track, you need to be able to hear all ranges equally. This is especially critical if you ever intend to be in a studio setting. Even if you’re a beginner, you should still plan for that level from now. We won’t get into any further details about this, as it is a complicated issue for another time, but suffice it to say ‘more bass’ does not equal ‘better’.
One small cavaet to this is your personal preference. If you spend most of your time jamming to your favorite music, and you just LOVE that subwoofer style bass, then have at it!
How much do the absolute BEST headphones for drummers cost?
That’s really up to you. Quality and overall build-quality are the variables that will change as you move into the higher end models. Consider your own personal needs. If you intend on getting serious about your drumming, and will stick to it for at least a year, I would strongly recommend something in the range of three digits.
Cheaper models will come apart easily. Remember, when you’re behind a drum kit, the environment is a lot tougher than just casually sitting with your smartphone earbuds in. You’ll tangle your drum stick in cables, forcefully ripping at them. You’ll drop and even strike your headphones by accident during more energetic sessions. They’re going to go through a LOT! Buy quality the first time, and your investment will last for years to come.
It’s all about the metronome
This is something that all drummers at all skill levels need to hammer into their skulls. You must practice with a metronome. Yes, you… at least some of the time. Regularly. Even if you’re just sitting down to mess around for a couple of minutes, throw on your headphones and get that metronome going. With a good pair of headphones, you can do it even when you’re playing with others. You have to do it, it will make you a much better drummer. We won’t get into all of the magic of it, its about muscle memory and developing your ‘internal clock’ and a whole bunch of cool stuff that goes on behind the scenes. It will super charge your practice and make you a much better drummer. Do it!
In every price range, the best headphones for drummers are…
Shure SE102: A solid, entry-level choice if you are tight on cash. If these fit your ear canal well, they will provide a great amount of isolation.
In ear – Shure SE215: These take everything great about the SE102s and super charges them. Shure is one of the top names in serious audio equipment, and has a great pick at every price point.
Getting Serious –
Shure SE315, one step further still. These will do the job in any live gig or demo-level studio situation. It may not make a big difference to a beginner, but once you’ve used these for a while you could never go down to the lower models.
(side note: speaking of Shure, if you read our other reviews, you’ll see that their SM57 is hands down the best overall instrument microphone in the industry)
Beyerdynamic DT250 – A legendary studio staple. Remember we mentioned how important ‘neutral and balanced’ was? These babies are custom engineered to maximize on those things. These are my personal choice, and I think they are hands down the best headphones for drummers on the market today.