Listening to music with headphones or any headset immediately enhances the listener’s capacity to perceive sound and when it comes to music there are many factors that skyrocket, the bass, the guitars (rhythmic or melodic) any instrumentation handled by panning to left and right, usually done on vocals and drums and dynamic range. As good as music can be there are those albums that stand out as great, they handle these elements with utmost care in the mixing and mastering process and in most cases are carefully planned or thought to place the listener on a whole other level. So, Today we will take a look at the most outstanding albums that will give you, the listener, an experience beyond others.
Radiohead – Kid A (2000)
Radiohead has a magnificent discography, since their first album in 1993 Pablo Honey they have had a road of singles and awards given to them, but if one album stands out for its authentic musical production it has to be Kid A As this was an album that represented a more abstract change in sound and lyrics it also went down the same road in production and post-production, in songs like How to Disappear Completely and Everything in its Right Place. They introduce a series of robotic-like sounds combined with bass and guitar that switch from one ear to another accompanied by a slight reverb that can be highly appreciated in headphones as the voice of the vocalist takes a very fleshy-realistic texture as if he was whispering by your side.
As for a song that combines all the individual elements of sound on the album it has to be The National Anthem a six minute journey into a very strong bass riff, a solid work in drums that loop, accompanied by electronic glitches, and two vocal tracks one robotic and one natural, the high point of focus in the song is a gathering of trumpets mixed in different panning channels and dynamic range that will overtake your headphones full sound spectrum.
The whole album is full of surprises and it is very well segmented and structured for a headphone user as it uses the elements of sound in a very in-depth and technical manner, you will perceive immediately that most of the sound’s warm and profound tone will not sound as well on any pair of speakers or monitors as it will on your headphones.
The Cure – Mixed Up (1990)
The Cure has been renowned for their high-quality music, complex lyrics and variety in sound, but it was in 1990 when they released an album called Mixed Up which is a remix of their most popular hits, remixed by themselves and treated by vocalist, Robert Smith, who did some equalisation and sound treatment on all the previous hits tracks and developed them further in with effects such as reverb, delay, panning, sound distortion and glitching, for each instrument for each track, the method of hearing Robert Smith used for remixing all these songs was through headphones so the nature of the sound must be heard through the same method.
The album’s strength and quality is most up noted in the guitars and vocals which share a very
dynamic warm tone to them, speakers have a real hard time to replicate the warmness of the voice as in headphones it is easier to hear it as the sound is closer to the ear and there is no ambient loss in quality.
The most remarkable song in this Remix is Close To Me the bass quality sits perfectly with the rhythmical aspects of the drums and clipped noises used as additional percussion, also, Robert Smith’s voice has a very clear, natural and human tone that guides the song into feeling like a live performance. Another interesting mixing is the guitars on Fascination Street the first two minutes are jaw-dropping on headphones as it was all experimental from Robert’s part and the result was a very consistent play through of several tracks.
The Fugees – The Score (1996)
Awarded for the best Rap Album Of The Year, The Fugees released a jewel in the history of Rap, being one of the best constructed and varied albums in the industry, touching bits of soul, hip hop, ambient and deep and well structured vocals, but why listen to it on headphones you might ask? The album has a huge gamma of mixing power into it, with headphones the tone and power of the bass are highly boosted and sounds a lot more profound and outstanding, you can perceive the nature of the voice coming from the talented vocalist Lauryn Hill.
The mixing and mastering process of this album was a contribution of a few hand-picked sound engineers by the members of The Fugees and The Fugees themselves behind the console working each track. You can find a very wide spectrum of use of panning and dynamic range in Ready Or Not and Fu-gee-la as the beat constantly fights for attention with the lyrics and keeps you focused in both as they play their part amazingly.
The legendary single Killing Me Softly has a denoted strength in the vocals as they dance around from left to right and the chorus takes over you along with the simple drums and slight hints of reverb in the snare and Lauryn’s Voice which has been said to sound like if she was singing “right next to you” by many music producers and sound engineers, acknowledging the huge work behind it. The drums are tightly mixed to fit well in a part of the sound spectrum, and they hold through with a consistency and strength that you will not find in most albums, in any genre so easily.
GZA – Liquid Swords (1995)
GZA, former Wu-Tang Clan Member released another sound jewel in 1995 that blew up the musicophiles with the classic approach in the nature of its sound, it sounds as if you were hearing an early 70s mixed album, with classic bass mixing booming hard, very humanely characteristic vocals that sound you only get from an 'analog' recording.
Through headphones you will perceive a whole other level of characteristics, from the very beginning there is a little boy’s narration that transports you to what he is saying immediately
and gets your attention and focus in a breeze, there are sounds going on around you almost as if you were in the actual place.
The beat/instrumental production used the drums as a strong grounding to play with synths and real instruments which alternate through each song through the left and right panning and in small parts feels as if they were behind you or above you.
The three most jaw-dropping songs have to be Shadowboxin , Cold World and Liquid Swords they all share the following characteristics to a maximum standard, Raw well-mixed Lyrics that feel very vivid and colourful, great instrumentation that switches in the dynamic range and carries the song’s strength into a haven perfection, very tight drums that boost the bass and the snare perfectly, you can even notice a bit of white noise mixed into them to add consistency to them.
Liquid Swords especially plays with the lyrical power GZA has as there is a game of “hushings and shushing” in between the verses and the chorus.
Queen – Sheer Heart Attack (1974)
The third studio album by the legendary rock band was one of the firsts to be carefully mixed and mastered for being listened in both headphone and a sound system, it still remains and will remain as one of the best-produced jewels.
Why may you ask? The guitar solos were driven to two channels a left and a right, so you are hearing a multi-track song of the same instruments (simulating how live sound works) Freddie Mercury’s voice was carefully treated with real reverb recording and proper compression in all the channels.
As for the most outstanding songs it totally has to be Killer Queen and Brighton Rock, In Killer Queen you can hear the guitar crossing from one side to another, cemented by Freddie’s voice and guided hard towards a direction of strength and impotence by the drums and the bass, the bass has a very slap-like characteristic keeping you in pace with the song, in headphones you will notice also a high reverberance on it that never makes it completely silent adding body to the low-frequency spectrum always.
Brighton Rock was a very experimental song for them, it has a punk-rock feel to it with your classic Brian May guitar riffs, you will hear a very subtle phasing and distortion in both voice and guitar, the most noticeable characteristic in this song it has to be the drums moving all over the place, they suddenly are behind you, by your sides and above.
Not only these two songs handled dynamic range and panning amazingly but the whole album does, in an extremely detailed manner that really is hard to avoid paying total attention to, definitely one of the most pleasing experiences for a headphone user and musicophile who is seeking an extreme experience.