There are hundreds and thousands of headphone brands, types, and shapes, that are made for a different kind of audience and can be used in so many different situations.
One situation we’re particularly interested in and are going to discuss here in more details is the situation of guitar playing. What are the best headphones for guitar practice to use in your daily practice routine?
To answer this question for you, I’m going to explain some of the features and characteristics of the typical headphones of our modern day, their relevance to the situation of guitar playing, and in the end, I’m going to recommend a few headphones that I believe to be ideal and affordable for every guitar player, especially beginners. So, without further ado, let’s get started!
NOTICE: Scroll Down to the Bottom for our Selected Top 4 Headphones for Guitar Practice and Guitar Amp!
The Top Headphones' Characteristics You Should Know
1. Choosing the Type of the Headphones
There are generally two types of headphones around:
- Headphones (DJ-Style Headphones, over-the-ear Headphones, behind-the-neck Headphones)
Earbuds and in-ear Headphones tend to be a lot cheaper than the DJ-Style Headphones and offer more or less the same sound-isolation. However, they have a reputation of breaking more often, hurting the ears, creating dents due to the cheap plastic they are made of, and offering lower sound quality overall.
P.S: Sound-Isolation is the ability to keep the sound in, and block any outside noise.
Headphones, on the other hand, have a higher price range, but they are better than the earbuds in almost every aspect, except maybe space-saving (obviously).
Headphones typically are known for their big, DJ-style looking shape, they offer good sound isolation, good sound quality, and less pressure exuded on the eardrums, resulting in longer listening sessions and less damage to the ears.
Additionally, because of their extra-large size, many brands started incorporating technologies like Wireless and Bluetooth into their headphones which made them more versatile and fun, but on the other hand, cost considerably more.
The cords are usually bigger than the cords of the Earbuds, and many of them come with a plug that you can connect to the headphones instead of coming as a built-in part, so you can easily replace them in case if they break.
Judgment: Headphones (over-the-ear, or behind-the-neck Headphones)
Impedance is a metric normally engineers are interested in. It is the impedance or the resistance (in Ohms) measured on the output of the headphones.
Audio engineers design headphones, or any audio device that is intended to output sound to speakers or amplifiers, so the measured impedance (in ohms) in the device’s output (where the sound is supposed to exit to a speaker or an amplifier) is something around 25 Ohms, but it differs from one product to another depending on the market and new technologies coming out. Normally the value is between 10 to 30 Ohms.
Being a practical engineer myself working in the field of analog electronics and development, I know a lot about impedance matching, what is it used for, and why it’s important, but I won’t bore you to death with all the technical information and will give you precisely the information that you need to know.
Basically, what you need to know is this: you want to look for headphones with an Impedance that MATCHES the INPUT Impedance of your guitar amplifier. This should be written somewhere in the amplifier’s manual or on the box.
However, if there’s a mismatch of impedance, it’s not the end of the world and it doesn’t mean that you cannot use them.
Having a mismatch of impedance between your speakers and your amplifier will only mean that you’ll have to turn the volume up or down slightly to get the same volume results if you would’ve used a matching impedance pair of headphones, that is all.
Judgment: It’s recommended to match Impedance, but not necessary.
3. The Looks
The looks is something only DJs and other professionals who are required to appear in front of an audience or on television are concerned in.
For you, the lone guitarist practicing in his room or in the basement with his fellow band members, looks is something totally neglectable.
Some headphones might cost 200$ while others might cost 300$ and the only difference between them is some added feature intended to give the headphone a more awesome and cool look.
Judgment: Disregard the looks completely for an even more friendly cost.
The name “noise-cancelling” gives the impression of something of utmost importance, but it really isn’t.
Headphones with some really decent noise-cancelling capabilities are very expensive, starting with 250$-300$ and above, and they are simply not worth investing in for our situation of guitar playing and guitar practicing.
Noise-cancelling feature is intended to act as a feature that its main purpose is to try and cancel unwanted noise from the outside world and ambient noise, so you can concentrate only on the sound coming originally from your amplifier or output device, to your speakers, into your ears.
This seems like an awesome feature, why then did I suggest to ignore it?
First of all, it’s a very expensive feature to have on a decent pair of headphones. Second, this feature might filter REAL sound coming from your guitar, because it was interpreted as “noise”, so you might not hear the full tone of your guitar or the volume will be lower.
Noise-cancelling is a feature that, in my opinion, could be suited either for real professional DJ’s where they don’t mind spending some big bucks on a very expensive, excellent pair of headphones, or for purposes other than music listening such as pilot communications on an airplane. Either way, I don’t recommend running after this feature for financial issues, and for a more natural, truer sound experience.
Judgment: Disregard Noise-Cancelling feature.
5. Open-Backed or Close-Backed Headphones?
Open-backed headphones tend to give less sound-isolation, but a more natural sound and everyone around you will be able to hear what you’re listening to, and you too can hear the environment around you. They are more comfortable on the ear and thus is a good choice for home, casual use around a relatively quiet environment.
Close-backed headphones, on the other hand, tend to have a great sound-isolation characteristic, they feel heavier on the ears, and can sometimes have reverberation from the bouncing of the sound waves off of the closed plastic back.
For our situation of guitar playing, both types are equally suitable and it is up for each person individual to decide what suits him best.
For me, I would probably go for the open-backed headphones because they are more comfortable, which will lead to a more pleasant practicing session and a longer one as well.
Additionally, since the majority will be practicing his guitar in a relatively “quiet” environment, sound-isolation is really just another thing that you can ignore here.
Judgment: I vote in favor of the open-backed headphones, but it’s a personal preference issue and both types are equally acceptable.
6. Frequency Range
Every signal, whether it’s an electrical signal or a sound signal, propagates in a specific range of frequencies.
Humans’ audible frequency range is roughly 20 Hz to 20 KHz, and all decent headphones come within that range.
If the headphones are within approximately that range, you’re good to go.
Judgment: Anything close to this range: 10 Hz to 25 KHz or bigger
7. The U-Curve or Frequency Response
The u-curve is a graph that shows the responsiveness of the specific headphones to the range of frequencies that it supports.
Take for example a pair of headphones that have a frequency range of 15 Hz to 25 KHz. If the graph’s curve looks very similar to the letter U (hence the name, u-curve), it means that you will be able to hear soundwaves with low frequencies (Close to 15Hz – 20Hz – The BASS) and high frequencies (around 25KHz – TREBLE) very loud, while the middle frequencies would be considerably lower.
If the u-curve shows that the “U” is bigger on the lower end, it means you’ll hear the lower frequencies louder than all the other, and this translates to louder BASS sound through the headphones.
Some headphones come with a “Flat” curve, meaning all frequencies are more or less on the same level, which in turn translates to a flatter sound with no emphasize on the bass or the treble, but will enable you to analyze the layers of your sound much more easily and efficiently.
Most people are used to u-curve headphones, meaning you can feel the kick of the bass louder (but NOT better, the quality of the sound is irrelevant to this curve, it relies on other parameters and features), and when they’re presented with a new pair of headphones with a flat curve, they describe it as more “boring” or “missing the bass”.
For more information about the frequency response and other technical stuff, visit this page by headphone.com
Judgment: I would go for a flat curve pair of headphones because you’ll be able to hear every layer of your guitar playing sound equally and as accurately, and you can analyze your own sound and judge it more efficiently.
So far we have accumulated enough information that enables us to know approximately what kind of headphones we are looking for, for our guitar practicing sessions.
We want a pair of stereo headphones that are comfortable enough to put on our ears for a few hours straight, preferably open-backed and have a flat curve graph, and doesn’t cost a ridiculous amount of money. Say, between 100$ to 500$ sounds reasonable, and with that price, you’ll get a durable, brand headphones with a warranty of at least two years.
DO NOT go for less than 100$ because it would definitely be missing on at least one of the important parameters I mentioned above and they are considerably less durable so they won’t last as much too.
If you are on a seriously low budget, however, please don’t go under the 50$ mark cost.
We Have Chosen Top 4 Headphones for You
(That matches with all/most of the above recommendations)
Sennheiser HD 518 Headphones
The Sennheiser HD 518 Headphones are DJ-Style Headphones, Open-Backed, and with good Sound-Isolation capabilities.
Sennheiser is one of the leading companies in the Headphones industry.
Price: 90$ – 150$
P.S: There's a newer, enhanced model called the Sennheiser HD 559, check it here.
AKG Q 701 Quincy Jones Signature Reference-Class Premium Headphones
AKG is also a leading company in the Headphones industry and they produce a lot of good and high-quality headphones for a variety of purposes.
The AKG Q 701 headphones have some great sound and noise isolation characteristics, are open-backed, have accurate sound, and great sound quality overall.
They are also Ergonomic and comfortable to wear for a long listening time.
Price: 250$ – 320$
Sennheiser HD 598 Special Edition Over-Ear Headphones
The Sennheiser HD 598 are over-the-ear headphones, open-backed, inexpensive, lightweight, have a great sound quality overall and are made comfortable for long listening hours.
These headphones are great for those guitar players who are looking to buy an inexpensive pair of headphones without sacrificing sound quality, sound isolation, or ergonomics.
Price: 100$ – 150$
Philips X2/27 Fidelio Premium Headphones
These headphones are simply amazing for the price and are just right for our guitar practicing sessions.
They have a very wide range of frequency (5Hz – 40KHz!) yet precise sound, which means you're going to hear an even truer, more natural sound out of them.
They're open-backed, very comfortable to wear, have excellent sound quality, and with a tangle-free cord.
Price: 200$ – 300$