Alright, we admit it: Studio headphones are not hip. Ever since Beats revitalized and revolutionized the headphone business a few years ago, 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 musical Luddites.
Still, if you’re trying to put together a home studio, podcast work station, or even fill out your professional studio with loaners, they’re an essential purchase. And at just $200, the Samson Z55 Reference headphones make an enticingly affordable choice, offering a professional audio experience on the cheap.
While it’s true that studio cans tend to blur together when it comes to style, Samson has dressed up the Z55’s exterior in a way that sets them apart from other budget studio cans. The headphones may sport a healthy amount of plastic, 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 room at your workspace. One design issue we noted is that the paint seems to wear off really easily, so playing rough and tumble with these cans may not break them, but it will prematurely age their appearance.
Unlike consumer headphones, the most important accessories for the Z55 are really the cables, and the headphones deliver the goods there. Inside the box you’ll find three options, including a coiled cable that stretches up 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 (we noted them as 10 in the video, but eight feet is still plenty of room to work with); and a basic four-foot cable with a single-button inline microphone for use in the outside world.
Samson also includes a soft carrying pouch for travel along with a screw-on, quarter-inch, gold-plated adapter.
But its the sound of the Z55 that really impresses. 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, Samson’s Z55 Professional Reference Headphones are well worth a good look.