Monitors > Headphones & Earphones
Commonly misused in the world of church audio, headphones have found themselves getting a pretty bad rap. It is a common scenario that we run into on a consistent basis, and it is one that unfortunately still finds itself prevalent after decades of attempting to root it out. The scenario is sound operators attempting to mix the main feed for the congregation or venue, basing their fader and EQ settings on what they are hearing through a set of headphones. The belief is that it somehow provides them with accurate audio for mixing, better than that which they can hear in the main room. The misconception is extremely easy to fall into, especially amongst newer sound operators, as it seems to make sense. The problem however, is that what you hear through the headphones, is not what is being heard through the main speakers, not even close. There are many factors that completely alter the audio once it is run out from the mixer and through the speakers. By using a set of headphones, you are completely cutting yourself off from what the actual sound is in the seating area, and you are not even remotely achieving the best mix possible.
With more and more sound operators coming to realize this basic principle, the use of headphones have steadily decreased over the years, with most sound systems not having a good pair to use for other excellent applications. The options available to the sound operator for mixing are incredible, and a good pair of headphones can give the operator a wonderful world of advantages when properly utilized. Here are some of the great uses:
Any mid-to-large sized console, like the Allen & Heath MizWizard 16:2, or the GL2400-424, come equipped with a fair number of auxiliary outputs. These incredible outputs allow for a number of completely independent mixes to be sent out from the mixer, to be used for monitor feeds, audio recording on CD’s or MP3's, hearing assistance systems, sound for video recordings, distribution systems throughout the church, and the list goes on.
One of the common requirements that pops up with these auxiliaries, is the need to monitor them to hear what is actually coming out, and to try and balance them. This is where a good pair of headphones comes into the picture. By utilizing a button typically labeled ‘AFL’ - it is sometimes unlabeled - which is basically always located next to the master auxiliary control, it can allow an operator with their headphones connected out from the mixer to specifically hear only the auxiliary that they have selected. The implications are fantastic, as you can then make specific changes to those feeds, providing whatever is being sent to have the balance that you feel it should.
Now although, as mentioned, you should never use the headphones to mix the channel faders, they can certainly be used in another extremely helpful way. Every channel on a mid-to-large mixer will have a button typically labeled ‘PFL’ or sometimes ‘SOLO’. These buttons can be pressed and used in exactly the same way as the Auxiliary ‘AFL’ buttons. Once pressed, you key in on that input specifically, and only hear that which is selected. The more you select, obviously the more you will hear at once - this is not typically helpful for much of anything in live sound.
When only one is selected, it can provide the operator with a lightning quick reference for what is actually coming through on the channel (i.e. vocal one, vocal two, a guitar, the pulpit mic, or whatever else is being fed into the mixer). This is particularly handy when you have multiple singers and cannot remember which microphone is for which singer. A simple one-by-one PFL selection can allow you to run through the microphones and hear who is singing on which one.
As with most pieces of equipment, the higher the quality and functionality, the higher the price. That being said, an excellent, well-priced, set of Headphone Monitors are the AKG K77 Closed Muff Headphones.
Although these can definitely be used in the same applications as any headphone, and conversely a pair of headphones can be used with the following applications, a precision set of earphones are the goal with any In-Ear Monitor System, like the Galaxy AS-1100, or Hearing Assistance System, like the Listen Technologies LT-800 and LR-400 combination.
In these applications, a small, comfortable, properly fitted earphone, provides the greatest support for those listening in. When performing on stage, or listening in the audience, the last thing you want is a bulky set of headphones weighing you down and drawing attention. This is why you often see most perfomers these days with a small earphone tucked into their ears. It not only provides them with the essential monitor reference that they require, and eliminates feedback limitations from floor monitors, but it does this all without causing discomfort to the user.
It is essential to note that not all earphones are created equal. Most commercial store bought brands are inadequate for the sound pressure level and frequency range demands that are placed on them. Having perfected their In-Ear Monitoring Systems, both AKG and Shure have also developed a few earphone options of varying quality. Thier basic entry level units are the AKG IP2, and the Shure SCL2, which offer a standard measuring stick of the lowest means necessary for providing the required audio. From there, the options continues to increase in terms of the quality of sound, as well as product designs for increasing ear comfort for the user. This can be a major deal-breaker though in terms of whether the musicians enjoy using the In-Ear Systems, as the lower the quality is, the less they will like using them. Please click here for more information on In-Ear Monitoring Systems.
For use with Hearing Assistance Systems, the same rules apply. That being said, it is far easier to offer a basic earbud like the Listen Technologies LA161, for budgetary concerns, and then offer those utilizing the systems the option of purchasing an upgrade themselves for better quality and comfort. Please click here for more information on Hearing Assitance Systems.
AKG K77 Closed Muff Headphones
The AKG K77 is a low cost, closed muff headphone. It is very comfortable and provides decent quality sound for the low price. The K77 is ideal for record mix monitoring and intermittent PFL checking in Church use. If you are looking for an excellent headphone for extended use, the K271 is a perfect choice.
AKG K271 Closed Muff Headphones
The AKG K271 are closed back, isolating studio headphones, ideal for recording (no leakage from headphones to mic). They are very comfortable and incorporate a headband operated automatic on/off switch. The earphones are gimbal suspended to optimally conform to the shape of the head. They have soft earpieces which are easy to replace and clean. Two transducers in each earphone provide distortion free, high sound level. They come in a matte black finish. The K271 headphones have a flat frequency response from 20Hz through 20KHz and a sensitivity of 92dB SPL at 1 mW. Their impedance is 75 ohms per channel and they come with a 10 foot cable with 1/4 inch stereo plug.
Shure SCL2 Sound Isolating Earphones
An excellent introduction into premium audio via sound isolation, the Shure SCL2 Earphones feature single dynamic microdrivers for full sonic range and resonant bass. Available in black and clear. Shown in clear.
Shure SCL3 Sound Isolating Earphones
Designed for the demanding audio specifications of live performance, the sleek, low profile design of the Shure SCL3 Earphones combine WideBand microdrivers with incredible isolation for detailed tone across the frequency range. Available in gray and black. Shown in gray
AKG IP2 Sound Isolating Earphones
These high quality earphones provide a wide-range sound with sharply contoured bass reproduction as well as excellent isolation to suppress high ambient noise levels encountered, e.g., on a loud concert stage.
An integrated sliding cable tie and the supplied soft-rubber earmolds in three different sizes enable the earphones to adapt to every shape of ear.