Guidelines For Selecting Headphones For Live Applications

All quality headphones meet the same criteria and tick the same boxes - here's a rundown.

Quality Of Construction

Headphones can live a pretty rough life. They get thrown in bags and cases, are used on a daily basis in all weather conditions, have cables that get stepped on and pinched, and they get connected to all sorts of gear, often within just a single gig. So they must to be roadworthy, with a build quality that can withstand the abuse – at least for a while. Here’s what I look at when considering construction:

• How compact are they when folded? This determines how much space they take up in the tool bag and whether or not a couple of additional tools can be carried.

• How comfortable is the headband? It will be touching the top of the head for the best fit, so it should be padded enough not to create discomfort yet not too bulky.

• Overall weight? It’s surprising how sensitive our heads can be when it comes to weight. A couple of grams can make a huge difference when needing to wear the headphones for an extended period of time.

• What do the joints look like? Are they made of flimsy plastic or sturdy metal? Do they look like they’ll break if you stare at them too long or are they solid?

• What connection do they offer? I always go for the combined connector with both 1/4- and 1/8-inch connection. I also prefer the connector that gets screwed on rather than just pushed on – it ensures a better and longer lasting operation.

• Cable type? This is more of a personal preference, but my own preference is a coiled cable rather than a straight one. It’s less messy and offers more flexibility, but that said, this aspect isn’t necessarily a deal breaker for me. It can also be beneficial if the cable can be replaced easily since it’s one of the parts that gets broken the most.


I never discuss exact amounts when it comes to gear pricing, because the definition of expensive and inexpensive is extremely subjective. However, I do want to point out that the price should be something that you’re willing to pay given that they’re be used on the road. This can mean losing them with luggage, having them stolen, exposing them to the elements, scratching them, someone accidentally sitting on them… the list of potential complications is endless.

Anyone constantly stressed about the fate of their headphones because they’ve spent a lot of money on them should reconsider their choice. My rule of thumb: if I can pay for them with my next two shows, then they’re within my price range. Some folks go for more than that, others less – there’s no right or wrong answer, only what the individual is comfortable with spending as part of an informed decision.

Many engineers tend to use the same pair of headphones for a long time simply because they’re so used to having the same reference baseline. But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be on the lookout for new developments.

And, when we’re asked by others about our selected brand and model, it helps to tell them why specifically we chose it and what personal preference that decision is based on, so that they can have more options and make better informed choices.

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