At some point, consumer electronics companies decided that every product they make needed to be introduced with a video that looks like the trailer of a DC Comics movie.

I blame Apple for this, and the MBAs and marketers who relentlessly copied Apple’s aspirational marketing so that every slab of dumb, cold metal now has its own cinema-quality movie, with a swell of music and the promise that each and every new entry in a company’s product line is the one that “changes everything.”

I mean there’s so much sizzle throwing up so much smoke these days that you kind of even forget you were cooking a steak. A set of headphones won’t save your life, teach you how to make better music or play it better. I’ve interviewed at least 200 artists in my life. Not one of them ever told me, “When I got this set of headphones… that’s when it really came together for me.” Never happened. They won’t make you a better person, increase your bust or your jock. They’re just fucking headphones. If you are in a position in your life where a pair of headphones can change everything for you, seek spiritual guidance immediately.

But while the best music ever made was probably crafted by someone with shit gear and more talent than cash, there is something to be said for acquiring a good set of monitors – or, as more and more people are slimming down studio spaces to the size of a laptop, studio headphones. Out of those hundreds of artists, I have heard it said – repeatedly – that the most underrated piece of studio gear is a good set of monitors. And they’re underrated precisely because so many people overlook them.

And with a flash of lightning and a clap of thunder via it’s “official video,” that’s where Pioneer DJ’s HRM-5 and HRM-6 studio monitor headphones come in. In a rather confusing bureaucratic decision, Pioneer followed up on their HRM-7s with the 5s and 6s, but the primary difference is in shape and, in the case of the HRM-5, some give and take between price and dynamic range. While the HRM-5 represents a slight step-down, the HRM-6 matches or exceeds the 7s in nearly every provided listing on the spec sheet.

The main point here – and why Pioneer hopes you look beyond your DJ headphones and find room for dedicated studio headphones in your life – is the bass, as the HRM line appears to be targeted specifically for dance and other bass-heavy genres. But for the mixdown especially, having an accurate rendering of the low-mid and mid-range sounds is crucial. The HRM-6 reproduces frequencies up to 40 kHz (30 kHz for the HRM-5) with an output level that exceeds the earlier 7s, bumping above 100 dBs where the HRM-7s fell just shy of this. (As a comparison from a set on hand, Sennheiser HD8s have a frequency response up to 30 kHz.)

Studio headphones in the past were frankly a bit clunky. This was by design: they weren’t meant to be thrown in a bag and dragged around town. The reality in 2016 is much different: as many studios are now “mobile,” so too are their components, and the HRM-7s really suffered from a traditional high-arching design. The HRM-5 and HRM-6 lines are shamelessly compact in comparison – really, indistinguishable from any DJ-standard headphones.

Which is where you (or rather Pioneer) might have problems: the line between the low-end of their studio headphones and the high end of DJ headphones is becoming a bit hazy. Short of professional mastering, having good monitors is the most important step in getting pro-quality sound for homemade tunes. It’s been said before that you can’t really pay too much for this. But if the highest quality is just out of reach financially, the next step down presents a huge range of options to choose from.

 

Disco, Love and the DJs that brought House Music to the White House: originally published inside 5 Magazine Issue #131, featuring Al Kent, Quentin Harris, The Chosen Few DJs in Washington, Anaxander and more. Become a member of 5 Magazine for First & Full access to everything House Music – on sale for just $1 an issue!