Why using headphones sounds better?


Senior Member
I have a decent set-up (Pearl Masters and Paiste Sigs/ Zil A-Customs around) and an acoustically treated home studio (Auralex foam and bass traps). And while the acoustics in the room sound pretty phenomenal, it always sounds better with headphones on. I guess I can understand why as the sound is just so piercing without them. But what I can't figure out is why I seem to even play better with headphones on. I further understand that I am not necessarily hearing all the flaws in my drumming with headphones but for whatever reason it sounds like a completely different drummer.

I'm trying to figure out which is more accurate sounding in the "real world" (recording, playing live gigs, etc.).... the sound I am hearing with or without headphones on? The deeper (less piercing) sound while using headphones is MUCH more desired but would a live audience and/or recording sound like the sharp piercing sound I get with no cans?

I can play the EXACT same groove with or without cans and it sounds like a different drummer altogether. I mean I will work on a groove and feel like I've nailed it (where it sounds good with headphones on... not music, just headphones) and then play it without headphones and realize its not as good, haha. What's the reality - or is it all in my head?

If it matters, I use the Audio Technica ATH-M50 phones.


Silver Member
phones tend to cut out a lot of the high-end/ringy sounds. To your ears it sounds more polished, more like a heavily eq'd studio recording, "better."

The way the drums sound change how you play. If I have a small, dry snare with a tight pop, I'm going to groove differently than with a fat and loose backbeat rock snare.


Administrator - Mayor
Staff member
Exactly Prep. I play with in-ear Skull Candy head phones and really don't like how my drums sound without them. They are EQ'd and all of the tinny sound is blocked with them in my ears.


Senior Member
But what would an audience hear or how would they sound recorded through mics? Is is closer to what I am hearing with headphones or will it pick up the piercing tinny sound?

It sounds so much warmer and pleasant with the cans on but I don't want to give myself a false impression of what others hear. I would probably play differently or alter my dynamics if I knew which sound others would be hearing.

Example: On a half time shuffle the ghost notes on the snare between the hats sound perfect with headphones on but I have to alter them a bit more without wearing headphones. If I were to record that or play a live gig then which method would I want to mirror?

I agree, that to my ears it sounds much more polished with headphones on since it tends to cut out a lot of the high-end/ringy sounds. BUT, how should I expect it to sound to others? Cause this would change the way I play. If live or in a recording they hear it the way I hear it with phones on then I will play one way - if they hear it like I hear with phones off then I need to play a different way.

Hope this makes any sense. Thanks!


Platinum Member
I've never played with headphones. I tried ear plugs many years ago but they mustn't have been very good because it made everything sound flat and muffled - no sparkle.

Our drumming always sounds very different to others. In that sense, our vantage point on the drums is not "reality". When you have someone else play your kit, even a distance of 10 feet makes a big difference.

sopranos said:
But what would an audience hear or how would they sound recorded through mics?
As for front-of-house sound, that depends so much on the room, the PA and the engineer I find it hard to answer that question. Chances are that it sounds better than you think it does from onstage.