Best headphones for Barbershop music

I’m a barbershop singer trying to find the best headphones for the Pioneer XDP-300R. I use that system for learning music for my quartets and chorus. Naturally I use it for everything else as well but mainly barbershop. Hoping to find someone familiar with that kind of purely vocal harmonies that can lead me in the right direction to get the most out of my XDP, which I’m convinced is a beast capable of much more than I’ve uncovered so far. Cheers

1 Like

I would think you would have a “clear cut” advantage from headphones that will reproduce the effect of a comb filter well. Less expensive phones would be good also? Who wants to give their wallet a haircut? Razor-accurate sound reproduction is a must. You don’t want the highs to be thinned out, or to have a choppy midrange. I know it’s unfair of me to undercut your question with a response like this. Maybe, it’ll give your topic some buzz.

Seriously, I did have a friend who sang barbershop, and as vocals are mostly midrange, I’d think you really would look for something that excells in neutral mids and that does not try and create it’s own auditory space. I’d expect open back would be preferred.


I absolutely appreciate your input, especially as a virtual newbie in the headphone world. Growing up and being in barbershop most of my life I’ve listened to everything but never to the extent that I wrecked my hearing like some guys my age. I definitely want the mids but as a bass I also need to be sure that line of the tracks is clear. As I’ve bumbled my way to this point I would confidently say that I can hear the sound improvement as I’ve been able to get better headphones. I can also confidently say that I’m sure the XDP can go further.

Since I am a newb, what is the real difference between open and closed backs? I’ve read the descriptions and think I get it but I feel like I’m not quite getting the picture on one over the other. Maybe I just need to get a different outlook on that. Thank you tons, cheers

I have the Pioneer XDP-300R, a beautifully sounding m/c with any of my headphones. I recently discovered that Pioneer do a very cheap plug in ear set of balanced phones that fit in the 300R …the Pioneer SE-CH5BL-K Hi-Res Audio Balanced In-ear Headphone. Only £69 in the uk and a marvelous sound.

1 Like

Human voices, even bass and soprano, are in what we would call mid-range in audio. When we talk about “bass” think of organ 32 foot pipes, large drums, and synthesizer.

Many speakers - particularly in car audio, where the size of the space makes engineering difficult, have a rise in “mid-bass” probably 80-150hz (that’s just a guess, I’m not one of the engineers here). This can fool inexperienced ears into thinking it’s deep and low, but as you listen more you will find the sound is muddy.

Barbershop is rarely accompanied music, so that goes to the middle ranges of the audio spectrum.

There are many different design philosophies with headphones and IEMs (in ear monitors). How to place, construct, and enclose the drivers that make the sound is a matter of design and control. It can profoundly affect your listening experience.

Have you noticed that when you are inside, close your eyes, and listen, you have a pretty good idea as to how big a room you are in? This is part of the difference between headphones that try to enclose your ears or block off sound from the outside (like IEMs). The headphone becomes a tiny room around your ear. Proper positioning of drivers and good quality recording can give you enough information that you will hear the size of the room that the recording was made in.

But sometimes the effect is more natural when real room noise can seep in - as with foam pad earphones or “open back” earphones. Open backs also allow the sound created from the back of the driver to escape away from your ears. Again, I am not saying this as an engineer would, only as a listener. Finally, as a matter of comfort, it takes really good design of closed back phones AND THEIR EARPADS to keep your ears from getting warm and sweaty during extended listening in warm weather.

I’m sure that my imprecision will kick off a number of learned corrections, so let’s watch and read.

I too own the XDP 300-r and can vouch for it being a quality Dap. I also agree with @pennstac regarding Mid focused iem’s.


Welcome, Barbershopper! I’ve formerly sung Barbershop Chorus for many years and I love to sing. I used to learn my parts easiest by playing them through the car speakers while I commuted 45 minutes each way (you sometimes get strange looks at a traffic light when others see you singing your heart out! ) Playback volume in the car is easily adjusted for optimal balance with my own voice, making it sound natural to me. I can feel the pitches, hear the blend and can work towards ringing the chords.

While I’ve not used my headphones to learn parts, I would think an open-back headphone would let you hear your own voice more clearly, less muffled and better mixed with the recorded sound, than a closed-back headphone would. All open-backs would have this advantage. The room would need to be otherwise interference-free (no kids playing, no TV in the background, nobody studying, etc.) so this usage in a busy household might be limited.

My open-back headphone of choice is the Sennheiser HD600 which I’ve owned for years, but to be fair I’ve not listened at length to any others. I found this model to be (for me) a reasonable trade-off of price for performance. Great for just listening, too, in a very quiet room. Go take a listen at your dealer, and bring your chorus recordings! Other Sennheiser models are even better, so pick one that makes other voices sound natural to you.

What’s your most challenging location to rehearse? On a recent small-boat cruise, the concierge arranged for us to use the cafeteria during off-hours to practice.

1 Like

Thank you all for the feedback, much appreciated and very helpful. So I bit the bullet and loaded up on headphones. I ended up with some Bose earbuds that have that rig around the neck, those have gone back. I returned those due more to comfort than play quality, they were honestly no better than the dre’s that I have. Next was an over the ear wireless option, for that it was the Sennheiser HD1. Excellent crisp and clean sound quality from those, very close to what I’ve been trying to achieve and very comparable to my reliable Sennheiser HD558’s. I’m seeing a personal trend of comfort and reliability with Sennheiser. The recommended big boy set was the MrSpeakers AEON FLOW. I’ll start by saying these really are amazing headphones and deliver stunning sound…for what they are good for. I changed the physical things to be more what I need and still get really clear sound in the mids and uppers, but the bass line is just muffled. Almost like the bass is being played through a pillow while the rest is free of any audible obstacle. I do like them but they may find some other use around my life or and up being a gift.

Now to the winner of the tale that I had asked about before taking the leap and getting into these headphones. We all know that when you are looking and researching equipment like this it’s a major investment to add to the audio family. So the set, I had been researching and leaning toward before getting advise from the experts, are the Pioneer SE-Monitor5’s. These…headphones…are beyond amazing and exactly what I have been searching for. Everything is crisp and clear all the way up and down. They feel like you’re actually right next to the music live whether it be sitting in on a recording session or a private front row seat. One of life’s examples that like goes with like. These headphones paired with the XDP-300R is an audio match made in heaven. I really smile more and more every time I have to do my learning ‘work’ now.


Nice to see some at least former barbershoppers in here. You should come back into the fold. The society has grown leaps and bounds even from when I started 26 years ago. I may not agree with every move they make but after some thought I can see the value in them and try to find a way that I can be, what I consider, a supporting part of that.

Most recently our most challenging rehearsal space is my lead’s restaurant, The Quesadilla Grille in Old Town in Albuquerque, NM. There’s some advertising for him if you’re ever in the area I do recommend it. Great food, great environment. As long as you don’t need him necessarily present for a rehearsal lol. not a good idea in general to rehearse while at a members place of business while he’s working. Outside of that outdoor venues or pretty much anywhere the noise just drowns out life much less sound. Thanks for the input, get back into singing it’s the best food for the soul. Cheers

small world! We enjoyed Old Town and the Quesadilla Grille on vacation last year! We traveled there with another couple, he sings too (almost as good as barbershop chorus :sunglasses:, he’s in Dallas Symphony Orchestra Chorus). We enjoyed the little shops in Old Town. We also enjoyed the Unser racing museum and the national museum of nuclear science and history.

There’s nothing like ringing a chord in your head with a small group!

I own the closed-back version of MrSpeakers’ Aeon Flow as well. I wouldn’t prefer these either for singing along. Not bad for some genres of music though depending on your taste. They provide good isolation from ambient room noise. I’m keeping them for now.

I also like my Etymotics in-ears for certain things, such as big pipe organ productions with chorus. The 3-cone silicone earbuds these come with are perfect for my ears, but even those are not comfortable for extended listening (for me) and I certainly couldn’t use them to practice singing without mixing a microphone in somehow.

I also carry a pair of Etymotic hi-fi earplugs with me all the time, in case they’re needed. These provide maybe -20dB of isolation as needed without coloring the soundscape, such as dance recitals and high school auditorium productions that have the volume at 11. You can still hear music and conversation, but your hearing is protected. I recently completed a 200-mile car trip with (someone else’s) two screaming kids, and these were heaven. Hearing damage is cumulative and permanent!

WOW!!! Truly a small world. That’s awesome! If you’re in the Dallas area as well you have to know about The Vocal Majority as a past barbershopper. They are International Chorus Champs many times over and a great group of guys. Sorry, I’m all about spreading bbshop to all lol. As I still sing with the quartet in ABQ, even though I live in 'Bama now, maybe our paths will cross at the Grille or hopefully some bbshop convention either as a performer, competitor, or just an observer of great music and fellowship. Glad you enjoyed the Grille, I’ll definitely be telling my lead about this. And the rest of the sights and museums are my nieces favorites. She actually had her last birthday at one of the museums just a few months ago. Be well, Cheers.

Marco Gonzalez

‘07’ RMD Champion Bass

‘07’ Final Buckeye Invitational Champion Bass

‘05’ Buckeye Invitational Entertainment Champion Bass

Foundation of ‘The SUMMIT’

Impressive creds, there, my friend!

I love singing Bass! Guess that might explain my love for subwoofers and bassoons, too!

Yes, I’m a big fan of The Vocal Majority. Great chorus! I’ve got a few recordings of their International performances.

I sang a bit with Heart of Texas chorus in San Marcos back in the day, they’re a fun group.

I love hearing a huge chorus flex its might with precision. One of my extreme privileges in live is having attended a few rehearsals of the DSO Chorus as observer and friend of the Chorus. What power!

Just out of curiosity what has kept you away from being involded? Just life turns and priorities or just didn’t get the biggest bbshop bug bite, that apparently sunk in and took hold with me lol.

I guess I’ve just moved on to other priorities. No excuses, just different! I retired 15 years ago, a grand daughter was born, we moved 300 miles south. Life goes on! I now love headphones, Revel loudspeakers, JTR and SVS subwoofers, and movies!

Yeah, makes total sense. Life and definitely family have to take center stage. And congrats on, I’m sure, your beautiful and the joy you’re getting from them, especially the little ones. I’m not fortunate enough to have my own yet but I am a very proud uncle to some pretty awesome kids. But me being free of that allows me time to learn about this kind of stuff so I can pass it on if they choose to go down our family’s musical path. We’re not the Partridge Family or anything but we’ve all been in involved in music at some point in our lives. It’s just good for the soul. And hopefully when the family gets back together I can pull out some of dads old records and say ‘listen to where your grandad came from musically’.

Hi Marco,

I’m happy to hear your whole family is into music. That’s terrific!

Music has been a blessing in my life as well. My dad was a big early influence, an excellent musician, sang bass really well (big Stamps Quartet gospel fan) and a master at playing piano - any song, any genre (classical to stroll to barbershop to gospel), any key, no sheet music required, transpose on the fly – awesomely! (That’s too high, can you play it a couple of keys lower? sure!) If he’d heard it on the radio, he could play it. Or somebody just hum a few bars. He could comp and accompany, too. We sang bass together in church choir for many wonderful years before I left for college.

My somewhat mediocre bassoon playing skills from high school got me full paid tuition through the first two years of college until Engineering School was taking all my time away from music. Years later when my son was in school, he played bassoon and saxophone (very little arm twisting, honest!) and exhibited a much higher skill level than I ever did. We even played bassoons together in a few Church ensembles - favorite memories. He is now a high school marching band director in his 15th year of teaching, and his wife is also a high school marching band director (french horn specialty) at the same school. So that’s my little music legacy. Oh, and yes, the 6 years old grand daughter inherited the music genetics as well, she just completed participating in three musical stage play performances this past week, after two months of day-long rehearsals, dancing and singing with 50 other youngsters age 15 and younger. She memorizes words and music off of DVD musicals on her own, and has great sense of pitch and rhythm. So life goes on!

…And that’s my life story! Here’s hoping you have lots of future musical kids and grand kids while you’re young enough to keep up with them!


That’s a great story. I wish that I had even an ounce of musical talent. I must be truly wonderful to be able to hear a tune and replicate it like that.


Thank you, Paul!

Being able to enjoy music that others make, at your own personal satisfying level is great too.

I liken it to watching the Olympic Games on TV knowing that any skills I might have are dwarfed in comparison, but I’m still able to enjoy and celebrate their victories even more. Music is like that for me too, when I watch a pro ensemble - especially in person.

I never acquired my father’s ear for hearing and replicating music, myself. The improvisation part of music (making it all up as you go along, and make it sound great) I never could achieve - always sheet music and memorization for me - but I enjoy it when done well by others!

1 Like

Yes I am in no way musically gifted but like you thoroughly enjoy listening to music. It’s a hobby open to everyone.