Headphones and Vinyl: How to get the most from your setup

Thinking of buying a decent pair of headphones for your vinyl setup? Our guide below will make sure you choose the right pair to suit your situation!

Listening to vinyl isn’t just about the music and setup you have, but also about HOW you listen to it. Most people mainly listen to vinyl through a speaker setup, but there’s something to be said for listening to vinyl through headphones. Speakers are wonderful, but it can take a while to find the right pair that suit you, you have to find the right positioning for optimum sound quality and usually you’ll have to find a time period when you’re alone if you really want to sit down and drink in the atmosphere without anyone else getting annoyed at your ‘noise’.

Enter, headphones. Headphones allow you to be transported into your own world of listening pleasure, offering you a completely different and arguably more personal experience than listening through speakers. You might even pick up a few sounds or layers to a track that you’d never even noticed before when listening through headphones. 

A lot of what headphones you decide to go for will be decided by personal preference. Do you live alone or doesn’t it matter too much about noise? Will you only have one pair of decent headphones for all situations? What different types do you choose from? How much are you willing to spend? All these questions and more can be answered by reading on below!

 

On-Ear Vs Over-Ear Headphones

There are two main types of headphones that we’re going to look at for this guide: On-ear and over-ear. On-ear headphones tend to ‘rest’ on the outer ear whereas over-Ear headphones encompass the whole ear within them. There are benefits and restrictions to both of these designs.

Over-ear headphones tend to replicate a speaker sound more directly with the added benefit of positioning the headphone’s drivers further away from the ear, thus creating a more natural sound. They are also pretty comfy and can be used for extended periods of time. As a negative, they look and feel massive compared to on-ear Headphones and some people complain about their ears getting too hot when fully covered.

On-Ear headphones focus the sound directly into the ear, so it may be less natural than a speaker sound, but some people prefer this. They’re really more designed to be used when moving around as they’re smaller and more compact without suffering in as much sound quality issues as ear-buds. One problem with them, however, is that some find them much less comfortable due to the constant pressure on the ears. You can also get quite a bit of ‘sound-bleed’ (sound spilling out into the open world) because your ears are not fully covered. 

Verdict for Vinyl:

Over-ear headphones are preferably better for listening to Vinyl. They give a more natural sound, are usually more comfortable, and because you will be only sitting in one place, there is no need for them to be compact and moveable. 

Headphones and Vinyl for Home

 

Open-Back vs Closed-Back Headphones

These two sub-types of headphones can make a big difference to the listening experience, so they’re also worth discussing.

Open-back headphones have a grill or ‘open-back’ on the outside of the headphones, which allows air to pass through the speaker elements, therefore creating a freer and more natural sound that isn’t just contained to the small space of your headphones. Once you’ve had a listen to music through a decent pair of open-back headphones, the benefits are immediately noticeable. The drawbacks of this system are, once again, to do with sound bleed. Anyone around you will be able to hear the sound coming from your headphones more clearly, and outside noises could also make their way into your ears. Because of this, it’s best to listen with open-back headphones in a quiet place with no-one else around (probably the best way to listen to music anyway). These headphones are not the ones to use on your morning commutes unless you want to annoy people around you. Another note to be aware off – dust and moisture can get to the electronics a lot easier so make sure to clean and store properly. 

Closed-back headphones are, as they suggest, headphones with a back that doesn’t leave everything open to the elements: the inside electronics and sound apparatus are fully contained. This means the music is only allowed to go directly into your ear, creating a less natural sound, but still impressive on higher-end headphones. Because of the closed-back, the sound doesn’t bleed as much as open-back equivalents making them perfect for commutes or travelling as well as listening to vinyl in the home. They’re also pretty handy in the studio to block out noise when recording.

Verdict for Vinyl:

If you’ll be listening to vinyl on your own in a quiet place, open-back all the way. It gives a more natural sound and the difference can almost blow you away. If you don’t want to annoy other people in your house or you commute a lot and can only afford one pair, maybe closed-back is the option for you.

 

Cost

Here’s the big question…cost. As with anything money-related, it’s all relative. If you’re willing to spend the big bucks, you’re going to get superior sound quality. But, you can get some really good headphones for listening to vinyl from around £100. As with a lot of sound equipment, you can spend a little above average to get a huge jump in sound quality, but after that, as the price rises even further, the quality to money ratio diminishes. So yes, you can spend a silly amount to get the best headphones and sound for your setup, but it’s likely to only be marginally better than something that costs a fraction of the price.

As always, get out to the shops, try on a few pairs and see what you like. If you want to take them back to your house to try out with your system, many shops and online outlets offer a 30-day money-back guarantee if you’re not satisfied.

 

Headphone Recommendations

Below, we’ve given you a few recommendations to get the best out of listening to vinyl on headphones, depending on your setup and situation. The choices start from around £100 because from this price range you will feel a real jump in sound quality compared to anything cheaper. We haven’t gone mega expensive (believe me, there are a lot of expensive ones out there…) but if you were going to spend any more than £400, chances are you already know a hefty bit about headphones.

 

Grado SR80e

These headphones are the goto for many audiophiles and at around £100, they really can’t be beaten on price against sound quality. They have a real industrial, retro look about them if that’s your thing, and with an on-ear, open-back design, their best used inside due to the sound leakage. Some people swear that these bad boys sound better than headphones for more than twice the price.

Grado SR80e

 

 

Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO Studio

If you think your situation requires you to have closed-back headphones to keep in all that noise, then you couldn’t find much better than these for listening to vinyl. At around £100 they won’t break the bank and they also feature interchangeable parts, so if one piece breaks you can easily replace the part instead of buying a brand new set of headphones.

Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO Studio

 

Sennheiser HD 660S

These are some real powerhouse headphones with a price tag to match. Clocking in at around £350, these headphones aren’t cheap, but if you’re looking for a pair of over-ear, open-back beauties, then you couldn’t ask for more or better for the price of these Sennheisers.

Sennheiser HD 660S

 

Closing Points

We haven’t gone into areas such as wireless headphones or noise-cancelling options. Both these options would benefit being on the move rather than enjoying music on vinyl in the comfort of your own home. Wireless headphones are getting better with each new generation, but they still cut off a certain amount of music quality. Noise-cancelling could be said to do the same, and your setup at the home shouldn’t need either of these if you want to experience as good a sound as possible. 

We hope you’ve found the above helpful and interesting, please let us know in the comments below if you have any thoughts and views about anything based around listening to vinyl on headphones. 

If you enjoyed this, why not take a look at our article on buying a second-hand record player setup?

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