Since building my mixing space last summer, I’ve been looking for a solid pair of headphones for mix referencing that wouldn’t break the bank. When I heard that ADAM Audio, maker of highly regarded studio monitors, had ventured into the headphone game, I had to try them for myself. Their SP-5 (short for “Studio Pro”) headphone is a closed-back headphone with S-Logic Plus Technology, developed by Ultrasone [Tape Op #34, 82]. According to ADAM Audio, the SP-5s “were engineered with a specific goal in mind – to allow professional musicians, producers and engineers access to a portable form of monitoring with the excellent transient response and tonal balance of ADAM Audio’s professional monitor speakers.” I have to say; they’ve really done just that.

For years I have been using my trusty Sennheiser HD 280 Pro headphones for tracking, and the occasional mix reference. I understand that a pair of SP-5 headphones is almost five times the cost of the Sennheisers, but I imagine, like myself, that most people interested in buying them will be looking to upgrade lower priced headphones. I used the Little Labs Monotor [Tape Op #117] headphone amp after an Antelope Audio Orion [#99] converter to conduct my tests. At first, I did some critical listening to records I know very well, and the results were astonishing. I’d never heard headphones quite like this. Because of the S-Logic Plus technology, there is incredible space and depth to the soundstage, whereas the Sennheisers felt as if the music was being shoved right into my ears. It truly sounds like you’re listening to speakers in front of you. The SP-5s have an impressive frequency response of 8 Hz to 38 kHz, allowing for a reliable translation from studio monitors to headphones. For example, in a song I’m currently loving that was recently released, it wasn’t until I put on the SP-5s that I realized there was upright bass on the track, not electric bass. On my Sennheisers, there is low end, but it’s undefined and doesn’t have the midrange detail that would allow for this kind of critical listening. With the SP-5s, I could hear reverb tails and delays clearly, and the instrument “staging” in the mix mimicked almost exactly as I hear it on my Ocean Way Pro2A [#116] monitors.

We recently held an event at Jackpot! Recording Studio for ADAM Audio’s Berry Hill Sessions where we tracked a live band (Sunday State) using ADAM Audio monitors while the band used the SP-5 headphones. Toward the end of the day, I asked the band members how they felt using the SP-5s for tracking, and they all had wonderful things to say. The drummer said there was excellent isolation and that they never slipped off his head while playing. The rest of the band all said the headphones were incredibly comfortable and gave them no ear fatigue, which leads me to my next point…

One of the coolest features of these headphones is that they provide even and balanced power at high and low volumes, leading to virtually no ear fatigue. Working on this review has been eye opening for me in realizing how unnecessarily loud we listen to music on headphones. We use volume to compensate for lack of detail, but with the SP-5s I found myself listening to music at lower levels while still receiving a fantastic and defined sound. This is extremely helpful when we spend full days in studios listening to music. The SP-5s also come with a detachable coil cable (via a twist-lock 1/8-inch connector), which is handy for customizable options and helps increase their lifespan.

If a studio has the budget to buy these headphones for their session musicians, it would be money well spent. They’re comfortable, transparent, sturdy, and well-built, which is crucial for gear that gets used and abused every day. The SP-5s are the first headphones I’ve heard under $1000 that I trust for mix referencing. They’re also comfortable and transparent, which is crucial during tracking sessions. The imaging and depth are exceptional, and they’re easy to listen to for hours. If you’re looking to upgrade from your old, cheap classics, I can’t think of a better pair of headphones to consider than the SP-5s – I’ve already got a pair of my own now!

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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