As soon as you see an electronic drum set, you might figure out that it’s no good without headphones. Without the acoustic response of traditional drums, you can only rely on the audio output. This makes choosing the headphones for electric drums a responsible mission. Not just any pair will do: There are certain no-go’s, as well as industry’s favorites. Let’s see what you will need from a pair used with electronic drums.
The Sense of Headphones for Electronic Drums
At most rock concerts, you can see a drummer wearing headphones. So do those with electronic kits at club gigs or sessions. The requirements for an acoustic drummer’s headphones and those of an electronic musician are very different.
The main reason is purely physical. An acoustic drum kit makes sounds directly. A drummer needs the headphones to hear the rest of the band and to protect their own ears from an acoustic overload.
When you’re playing the electronic kit, though, it’s the samples you play with certain parameters (speed, velocity, sustain, etc.) which are triggered with your sticks. They are routed to the output (audio or MIDI), so you can only hear them through that output.
This means you won’t hear the sound as you play without the headphones. As for protecting the eardrums, it’s easier when you can adjust the volume. On the other hand, you still need to hear the band, so the overall quality should be at least decent. So should the response: The shorter the delay, the better.
When it comes to choosing the right headphones for electronic drums, there are several factors to consider. First and foremost, you need to consider the type of headphones you will be using. There are two main types of headphones to choose from: closed-back and open-back.
Closed-back headphones are designed to isolate sound, which makes them ideal for drummers. They also help to prevent sound leakage, which means that you won’t be disturbing those around you.
What to Search For
As it’s one of the most important tools that connect you to the instrument (along with your sticks), you need to choose responsibly. To pick the best model that will suit your needs, pay attention to the following details:
- Convenience: You are going to spend long hours with the headphones on. They shouldn’t be too tight or loose; neither should they be too heavy to feel comfortable.
- Decent frequency range: The standard range for headphones is 20 – 20,000 Hz, but you might want to search for an even wider range. This is a must because your headphones are the only way to hear what you’re playing, and you need to hear everything, from the lowest kicks to the highest cymbals.
- More than decent isolation: This is both about ear protection and external sounds. At a gig, what the rest of the band is playing is also routed to your headphones, so you don’t need to listen out. If you’re practicing at home, you won’t want anything to distract you. It does matter at a studio as well, though the recording is happening digitally.
- Brand: Though now the market is oversaturated with affordable Chinese models, and some of them perform fantastically, it makes sense to stick to reputable brands. Some of them specialize in high-end and studio-class acoustics (AKG, Beyerdynamic), and others come from the world of musical instruments (Alesis, Roland).
- Accessories: If you plan to take your headphones with you often, you’d better store them in a case or a bag. Accessories like native adapters or extension cables also matter because these are usually high-quality and perfectly compatible. In addition, they are tailored to the musician’s needs.
- Comfort and Fit: When you’re playing drums, you need to focus on your playing without being distracted by uncomfortable headphones. Therefore, you need to find a pair of headphones that fit well and are comfortable to wear for long periods of time. Look for headphones that have an adjustable headband and ear cups that fit snugly without causing discomfort.
- Sound Quality: The sound quality of your headphones is crucial when it comes to electronic drums. Look for headphones that offer a wide frequency range, as this will ensure that you can hear all of the different sounds your kit is producing. You should also consider the overall sound signature of the headphones, as some models may emphasize certain frequencies over others.
- Noise Isolation: As you mentioned, noise isolation is important when it comes to electronic drums. You need to be able to hear your playing without being distracted by external sounds. Look for headphones that offer good noise isolation, which will help to block out unwanted sounds.
- Durability: As a drummer, your headphones will likely undergo a lot of wear and tear. Look for headphones that are built to last, with sturdy construction and high-quality materials. You should also consider whether the headphones are easy to clean and maintain, as this will help to prolong their lifespan.
- Cable Length: The cable length of your headphones can also be an important factor to consider. If you’re playing with an electronic drum kit that is located far away from your mixer or amplifier, you may need headphones with a longer cable. Additionally, some drummers prefer to use wireless headphones to avoid getting tangled up in cables.
Some parameters are also appreciated in the studio or audiophile headphones, but for playing the drums, they’re not as important:
- Soundstage: It’s great when you can tell where each instrument plays from when listening to a quality record. Yet it’s not as important for a drummer.
- Flat sound: A little bass boost or even a slight V-shape will not do much harm (unless you use the same pair for mixing and mastering).
- 5.1 sound: This might be great for gaming or cinema experience, but at a gig, this gimmick is of no use at all.
What to Avoid
It seems that everyone starts with the warning that Bluetooth headsets are completely out of question. That’s a reasonable warning. Wireless headsets always have some longer latency which is tolerable as you listen to some records or speak on the phone. However, when you’re playing live, even 100 ms will ruin the feel. The usual lag with Bluetooth headphones is even longer than that. Yet, you shouldn’t just dismiss any model that has Bluetooth: Some of them have wired mode as well, and the sound might be quite decent.
Do Brands Matter?
We have said that you can expect a decent pair of headphones from a brand that specializes in professional equipment rather than from those focusing on the consumer market. Indeed, if you look at any list of the best headphones for drummers, it will be dominated by brands like Roland, Alesis, Beyerdynamic, Focal, AKG, or Audio-Technica. Yet, you will also see models by Sony or Sennheiser, which are popular among regular listeners too.
When you dare to rush in where angels fear to tread – that is, into the territory of budget and obscure brands – you will also discover a lot.
HiFiMan is a high-end consumer brand, but it has a lot to offer. Superlux offers quality rip-offs of popular professional models. From our experience, we’d also recommend trying Takstar, TIN Audio, Yoga, or Spider. All these manufacturers are Chinese or Taiwanese, so they might remain on the periphery.
We recommend avoiding brands that make or have ever made mobile phones (except for Sony). Apple (that also owns Beats), Samsung (also owns JBL), LG, Philips, and some others are often seen in the streets, but their products are tailored to satisfy regular customers, not professional musicians. It applies even to the best of their products.
When it comes to electronic drums, headphones are the only way for them to show their real voice. So you’d better listen to more than one pair before buying. We strongly recommend trying them with your actual drums. If it’s not possible, listen to some jazz recordings with rich drum solos or pure drum samples in them. Of all the models that sound great, choose the one that sits the most comfortably.
If you have something to add, welcome to the comments. Ask your questions or share your own impressions!