Alright, we admit it: Studio headphones are not hip. Since the Beats revolution has erupted over the last few years, headphones have become as much about style as substance, and studio headphones have quietly watched that trend from the outside, staying true to their roots like the musical Luddites they are.
However, if you’re trying to put together a home studio, podcast work station, or even fill out your professional studio with some decent loaners, studio cans are an all-but essential purchase. And at just $200, the Z55 Reference headphones from Samson make for an enticingly affordable choice, offering a professional audio experience on the cheap.
While it’s true that all studio cans tend to blur together when it comes to style, Samson has added some thoughtful features to the Z55’s exterior that helps them take a step forward from rival studio cans. The headphones may sport a healthy amount of plastic on board, but it’s easy to tell they’re built with durability in mind, and the lighter materials also make them a lot easier to wear over time.
To that end, there’s plenty of padding along both the ear pads and the headband, sheathed in real lambskin for a smooth and cushy fit that makes the Z55 ideal for those long mix sessions. The earpieces also lay flat, for travel, and even collapse into the band if you need to save some space at your workspace. One thing we did note about the exterior design is that the paint seems to wear off without much help, so playing rough and tumble with these cans may not break them, but it will likely leave them looking a little ragged over time.
Unlike most consumer headphones, the most important accessories for the Z55 are the cables, and the headphones really deliver the goods there. Inside the box you’ll find three options, including an accordion cord that stretches to 10 feet to allow free movement to and from your computer or mixing board; an eight-foot straight cord perfect for laying down tracks, and a basic four-foot cable with a single-button mic piece for taking the cans out of the studio and into the world.
Samson also includes a soft carrying pouch for travel, along with a screw-on quarter-inch adaptor in gold.
But its the sound of the Z55 that really prove their worth. The 45mm drivers provide a clear, wide-open sound signature that makes it easy to track instruments across the stereo image. Frequencies across the scale are excellently balanced, and the headphones capture a lot of detail for the price — especially at the attack of instruments.
The cans tend to lean just a tad light in the upper midrange, especially notable in acoustic guitar tracks, and they’re also a little lacking in the mid bass, so you’ll have to watch out for overcompensating in the mix there. However, lower bass is impressive for such a clean sound signature, hitting with real authority in the deeper frequencies.
While there are a rainbow of choices out there for entry-level studio cans, Samson’s Z55 pack a lot of bang for the buck at the $200 line. For those trying to build a nice home studio setup, or even fill out their loaner sets in a pro-setting, the Z55 Professional Reference Headphones are well worth a long look.