Often asked, “What sort of headphones are best?”, I’ve limited my reply to two simple facts. It takes unbelievably bad headphones/earphones (hereafter ‘headphones’) to diminish the effectiveness of AVS. Any form of active noise cancelling will damage AVS-type signals.

As my AVS experience has been with relatively inexpensive headphones, I have felt ill qualified to have an opinion in a realm where so many have expensive and exotic sets, my deepest plunge having been a pair of $169 AKGs. My time with high-end audio gear was way back – first full-time job in fact!

As I’m spending hours a day listening to AVS, much of it for commercial purposes, I decided to raise my stakes a little. A pair of Roland RH-300 Monitor Headphones – NZ$479 marked down to the pricepoint I had in mind. It was fun choosing the RH-300s – I took my iPod with a bunch of my own tracks, and switched between the three top candidates for quite a while. Second choice would have been the Roland RH-200. And this is the part I found most valuable – I can still hear well enough to make a very clear distinction between two decent pairs of headphones.

So pleased, was I, with the headphones, that it made me sad to think that they would only be used with 16-bit audio. So I left with a M-Audio FastTrack Pro USB Audio/Midi Interface. With good headphones, Mind Workstation sounds absolutely stunning in 48k/24-bit – many of the “rough edges” being polished.

Headphone cables. I forgot, when I bought the AKGs, how much I detest two-cable headphones. I have also had enough sets of headphones to realise that cables come in two lengths – too short, and just long enough to be inconvenient without being useful. The Rolands have a 3.4m cable and single (left can) entry – long enough to move comfortably from workbench to couch. Unless you enjoy being hit in the side of the head with light weight AVS devices – stay away from curly-cords!

Two more statements I’m now happy to make… Higher quality equipment does improve the experience. More important than anything else, is to take some of your preferred tracks to a dealership and find headphones you enjoy wearing and listening to.

I would have had to pay quite a lot more than I did for the Rolands if I had chosen ones I liked as much from the Shure, Sennheiser or Bose ranges. It amuses me to read headphone and speaker reviews in audiophile magazines – so much like wine-tasting, a whole expressive vocabulary that means very little to anyone who hasn’t been learning the lingo or had first hand experience of the sensations being described. It seems to me that once you reach a certain pricepoint, you’re going to have good headphones. How much more you choose to pay is something that you can decide for yourself – the differences are so subjective that debate is nugatory.

Anyway, this is by no means a review or recommendation of anything in particular. I bought what I bought because I liked it and it was in the right price range for me.

Happy headphone hunting!


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  • Andy Owings  On September 13, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    Hi Craig. I have Bose Noise Cancelling headphones. I use them with The Monroe Institutes HemiSync tracks which I believe are binaural beats. The Institute said that noise cancelling headphones are fine. I havent had any problems so far. Why would noise cancelling not be ideal for AVS products but ok for normal binaural beats? Or, did I get faulty information from the Institute? Thanks, Andy

    • CraigT  On September 14, 2012 at 8:51 am

      Hi Andy,

      Noise cancelling headphones and soundcard audio enhancements are notorious for introducing crosstalk between sides. This can completely destroy the binaural effect and damage asymmetrical sessions of any stimulus type.

      Neuroprogrammer and Mind Workstation both include, under Tools, a headphone test which will determine whether to expect problems.

      All noise cancellation systems are not equal and, Bose being a good name, if it all seems to be working for you then it probably is.


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