The best headphones for your lab (or yourself)

CultofMac has a great review of the headphones I started using in my lab last year.  Sonically I prefer the semi-open AKG-style, but for holding up in class these are the absolute best you can buy.

At the beginning of the year, we went through three different models in actual classroom use: The Sennheiser HD201, the AKG K240, and the Shure SRH440.  The Sennheisers are super cheap, which is good if you’re on a tight budget I suppose, but they will only last about a year or two before the hinges snap.

The AKG’s *should* have worked well.  They’re very flexible, but not in a hinge-snappy kind of way.  The problem I had with these is that after a short use period, the electrical contacts in the ear cups would start to fail.  Back when they made these in Austria I never encountered this problem, but the newest batches are Chinese-made and must not have a reliable production method yet.

The Shure SRH440, on the other hand, is built like a truck.  These are the most solid headphones I’ve ever used – all metal, and still pretty comfortable.  The backs are closed, which make them a bit worse for mixing than the AKG’s, but for general class use they can’t be beat.

How to avoid overbuying Pt. 2: Microphones

I could go on all day about not overbuying equipment.  Our school produces a fairly high quality album of music every year, and we don’t own top shelf equipment.  We own only what we need to get the job done.  When asking a dealer about what equipment you need to buy, they’ll tend to recommend stuff that’s either a) too expensive or b) low quality garbage.  You want the narrow middle end of this equation.

Let’s go shopping for enough mics to capture a generic rock band drum kit.  Here’s what we use:


  • (2) AKG C1000 small capsule condenser  ($400)   -or-
  • (2) Samson C02  ($120)  -or-
  • (2) Røde NT5 ($500) we actually use these in our auditorium but sometimes I’ll use them on a session
As a side note, Røde’s are the highest end I’ll go – they sound almost at good as high end AKG’s, and are made by robots in Australia, which makes them more awesome.  Do NOT buy a Neumann or one of those Sennheiser mics that look like a Star Trek phaser for a school – they’ll get broken and you’ll cry.

I usually end up just using the C02’s.  They’re cheap enough that I’m not scared to have students set them up, and they sound good enough to pick up cymbals.  If I want better clarity I’ll use the C1000’s – note that I don’t use these miss for anything but drum overheads.  The flaws in the C02’s are readily apparent when recording acoustic guitar.

Snare Drum:

With Snare drum, I find myself using the “snap” sound from the bottom head more in the mix, so I put the higher quality microphone there.  Either way, these are pretty general purpose mics.  The PG’s are very similar electrically to the SM series, with the main difference being the entire chipset isn’t drowned in acrylic glue to make them durable as a handheld mic.

Kick Drum:

  • Shure PG52 (kit part) (inside on a pillow)
  • Shure PG56 (kit part (ouside pointed at the pedal mallet – mounted on the bottom rim of the snare but pointed outward)

These do a pretty good job at capturing kick drum.  The PG56 has to be placed spot on to capture a good signal for the higher frequency “slap” it’s trying to hear, but it works.


  • Shure PG56 – mounted between hi and mid toms
  • Shure SM57 ($99) – on low tom

More of the old standbys here.

Room mic:

  • AKG C3000  ($300) – actually the vocal mic that is set up waiting for the vocalist’s take.  We just point it at a corner on the other side of the room, and it captures some of the air, in case you need it.

If you buy enough mics to cover a drum set, you’ve got enough to do anything else – vocals, acoustic guitars, whatever else comes your way.  If you were keeping score, for just over $1000 you can get all the mics you’d ever need, and have a solid foundation for recording any source that comes into your studio!