Headphones Review: Senal SMH-1000

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Headphones are a critical tool for video production. If you’ve ever forgotten to bring headphones to an interview or dialogue shoot, you know what I mean. Yes, you can look at the db meter to make sure the level you’re recording is loud enough, but without being able to actually listen to the signal, you have to wonder whether the audio you’re getting is noisy, full of echo, picking up RF interference or 60-cycle hum from power lines … The list of possible issues goes on and on.

I’m a gear minimalist and a cheapskate, but for anything that’s worth recording, you need real headphones. A set of iPod earbuds aren’t going to cut it. Not only do earbuds and cheap headphones attenuate portions of the audio signal, they don’t block out enough of the surrounding ambient noise to really isolate the sound you’re listening to.

For years, my favorite headphones have been the Sony MDR 7506. These collapsible, closed-back “cans” are rugged, accurate, and comfortable. The new SMH-1000 headphones from Senal Sound are very similar to the 7506, but with a couple of important features that make them well worth a closer look.

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Like the Sony, the Senal unit costs about $89, is collapsible, weighs about 8oz, and is capable of a 10hz-20khz frequency range (approximately equivalent to the limits of human hearing).

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Unlike the Sony, which – like most headphones – comes with a permanently-attached, coiled cable, the Senal SMH-1000 has the eyebrow-raising capability of allowing different cables to be plugged into it. It comes with two: a stretchable 4′-10′ coiled cable, and a 3′ straight cable. This is one of those brilliant features that I didn’t realize I wanted until I tried it. For editing on my laptop, or the many shoots when I’m both camera-operator and audio engineer, the 3′ cable is much more convenient and less likely to get tangled than the longer, coiled cable. For editing on my iMac, or plugging into a mixing board, the longer cable is great.

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Moreover, with conventional headphones, if the cord gets pinched, stretched, or cut, you have to replace the whole set (unless you’re more patient and handier with a soldering iron than I am). With these, you can just buy a new $15 cable and plug it in. No muss, no fuss.

While most monitoring systems pride themselves on representing the audio signal as accurately as possible, the Senal headphones descriptions states, “The headphones are designed with an EQ curve that’s been tailored for a slightly enhanced low end that allows field engineers to detect wind noise more effectively, and for studio engineers to monitor bass and sub bass frequencies. The high frequency response has been extended to accurately reproduce spatial detail. There is also a pronounced but smooth midrange that reduces ear fatigue over prolonged periods, while maintaining focus on vocal and dialogue intelligibility.”

I’ll be honest … I spent several hours using both headphones – including some back-to-back comparisons on some Miles Davis tracks – and I couldn’t hear the difference. If there’s an EQ difference with the Senal, it’s a very subtle one. I’m sure there are some dedicated audio pros who could instantly tell which set was which, but they both sounded great to me.

The bottom line with these headphones is that they are extremely comparable to the industry-standard Sony MDR-7506. The cost is virtually identical, the performance is similar enough to baffle this 15-year video veteran, and the main point of differentiation is – in my opinion – the flexibility of being able to exchange and replace cables on the Senal SMH-1000. This is one of those happy circumstances in which you really can’t go wrong: buy either the tried-and-true Sony or the up-and-coming Senal, and you’ll be able to have confidence not only in your headphones, but in the sound you’re hearing.

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