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Why do drums sound so good with headphones on?

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  • Why do drums sound so good with headphones on?

    After endless tuning, head changes, cursing, etc, I've finally gotten my drums sounding close to how I like them. But when I put on a pair of headphones, the sound instantly improves 100%. I'm not talking about listening thru the phones, I'm talking about just putting them on...not necessarily connected to anything. A certain harsh quality instantly goes away...they just sound so much more musical. Does anyone know why this is? Or, more importantly, are there any recording tricks - EQ, compression or whatever - that can reproduce this effect electronically?

  • #2
    Dead tones sound good? If you're a drummer I could see why this may sound good or at least be a change for you. Ears are fragile things and ear fatigue can be painful. You can do the same thing by wearing ear plugs.

    I often tune my set and gets mics setup using headphones to monitor them. I'm not much of a drummer but I do know how to tune and setup my studio set. Its well known good isolation headphones can help get mics setup properly.

    83dB is the standard for mixing because you can hear the frequency best at that level and experience the least amount of ear fatigue. I suspect your ears are telling you something along those lines.

    I've always preferred drums that had less ring and more cannon tone. Learning how to get drums tuned to eliminate ring and dampening them just right to sound great with mics has been a long quest. I've had many drummer who come in and play that studio set and the drummers who've never recorded before think they sound dull. The drummers experienced in recording know why they sound dull and simply play the hell out of them. They know why a skilled engineer has them tuned that way and know what the results will wind up being.

    I commonly use a kick drum pad and drum mufflers to kill overtones. I don't kill all the brightness, I just take it down a little to reduce mic distortion and harshness depending on the mics being used. Drums are a three dimensional instrument which projects sound in all directions too. There are many blind spots a drummer sitting in back of a set simply cant hear. He puts on headphones and listens to all the mics his ears are being separated from his head and moved all over the place. He's able to hear his drums as an audience might and tweaks them to sound good as a player. Little noises, rumbles, flutter and sizzles he never noticed sitting in one position become very apparent and that extra maintenance and tuning can really tighten up how a set sounds

    With less resonant heads can add much of the brightness back and highlight attack using compression in creative ways when mixing. Using the right kind of reverbs and EQing them separately is important too. Deader drums allow you to add more compression and less ring too because small rings become highly offensive when you boost them up to get those killer rock tones. Lets the drums push air like guitar speakers do.

    In the end it boils down to the kind of music you're playing and the room you're playing it in. If you play live allot you get to hear drums in all kinds of rooms. If I were playing Motown tunes I'd want a big bright reflective sound from the drums with hard reflective reverb happening. If I were playing an older Tom Petty tune I'd want pure tones without resonance, gated and a good dose of compression to make them sound big.

    All those differences aren't easy with a single acoustic set if you don't experiment and learn how to get them. I wouldn't mind trading my current set for a set of electrics. I could simply push a button and dial up the tones I want. Much of what you hear today is simply samples that replace the original drum tracks. Adding midi triggers is another way of getting the tones you want. All cool options you can explore and many giving you the creativity you want.

    I'm not sure why you like the deader tones, but you're in good company. Even Ringo star used to put a sheet over his drums to cut the brightness down on selected tracks from the last couple of albums. I'd have to look the tracks up but songs like Come Together and Something in the way she moves definitely sound like there was a sheet thrown over the toms to deaden the sound and free up those frequencies to allow guitars and vocals to reside where only noise used to be.

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    • #3
      Some info on Ringo

      https://www.ringosbeatlekits.com/muf...echniques.html
      _____________________________________
      Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.

      Join Date: Aug 2001
      Location: N. Adams, MA USA
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      • #4
        Wow...great pics of Ringo and his sheets!

        Yeah, I've done all kinds of experimenting with o-rings, moongels, and gaffer tape (never tried bedding though!). I'm actually not a fan of a really dead sound, I like some sustain. I'll use these things sparingly...mainly to kill any high pitched ringing. I'll also throw an o-ring on a tom if I'm tuning to a specific note...it knocks out some frequencies and purifies the tone.

        But the headphones are doing something that these muffling devices don't. Hard to describe it...try giving your snare a few wacks with and without phones and you'll see what I mean. It doesn't so much deaden the sound as mellow it somehow. I'm thinking maybe it rounds off the sharpness of the attack...or something that just makes it more pleasing to the ear.

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        • WRGKMC
          WRGKMC commented
          Editing a comment
          You'll get more direct sound and less reflected. Reflected sounds are weaker and wont penetrate the headphones as easy as the direct sound.

      • #5
        Originally posted by Mickmeister View Post
        After endless tuning, head changes, cursing, etc, I've finally gotten my drums sounding close to how I like them. But when I put on a pair of headphones, the sound instantly improves 100%. I'm not talking about listening thru the phones, I'm talking about just putting them on...not necessarily connected to anything. A certain harsh quality instantly goes away...they just sound so much more musical. Does anyone know why this is? Or, more importantly, are there any recording tricks - EQ, compression or whatever - that can reproduce this effect electronically?

        What brand / model headphones are you putting on?

        I suspect a few different things are happening, but the main thing is that you're attenuating the overall level, and yes, the highs are probably being attenuated the most (the unpowered, undriven headphones are blocking more of the highs when you put them on than anything else) and that lowering of level and rolling off of the highs is making the drums sound better to you.
        **********

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        • #6
          I get that effect wearing -33db ear plugs. Cheap compression.
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          • #7
            Thanks for the responses. Sounds like some combo of EQ and compression...I'll have to do some more messing around when I get a chance.

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