Blue Microphones Lola Black by sotgw
Blue Lola Headphones: A Good Fit in the Studio?
By Eric Butterfield
The Blue Lola headphones ($250 MSRP) are a follow-up to the more expensive Mo-Fi cans, which had a built-in amplifier. The Lola pair lacks the built-in amplifier, which isn't a drawback in my opinion. I preferred the passive mode on the Mo-Fi headphones. Without an amplifier, the Lola headphones cost less than the Mo-Fi cans, yet have the same 50mm drivers, which is a win-win if you ask me.
For this review, I am focusing on using the Lola headphones for tracking and mixing in a studio (you can find plenty of general reviews elsewhere). The company already has a strong reputation for making high-quality microphones. And, the company's product page boasts that the Lola headphones are a good fit for musicians while recording or mixing. Blue's literature also boasts a fealty to sound quality, not headphone convention. The very striking design certainly makes a fashion statement. But how fashionable-looking your headphones are doesn't fly far in a recording studio. Studios can be rough environments, and for this the Lola's removable cable is a welcome feature.
There are many glowing reviews online that attest to how comfortable the Lola headphones are, which baffles me. I compared them to two other pairs I use for reference in my studio: Audio Technica ATH-M50x and Sony MDR-V6 headphones. To be fair, I don't find headphones comfortable for very long, but I found the Lola headphones less comfortable in a matter of a few minutes.
The weight is a little cumbersome, at 14 ounces. By comparison, the ATH-M50x cans weigh 10 ounces; Sony's MDR-V6 headphones weigh 8 ounces. Also, the pressure of the headband springs put on my head was a little severe. For the record, I do not have an abnormally large head (my baseball cap size is small-medium). Unlike its older sibling, the Mo-Fi, these headphones do not have a tension adjustment built into the headband (not that I found a loosening of this tension to be any help with the Mo-Fi cans either). I don't buy the notion that the double-hinged design makes these headphones more comfortable than other models.
Even if the pressure on my head wasn't a deal-killer, the weight probably would be. These are heavier than anything I would want to have on my head for any extended period of time, unless perhaps I was lying down. They feel restrictive, that I can't move my head quickly for fear of them flying off. The big ear cups may be a big reason why other reviewers have found these headphones to be quite comfortable--they go completely around your ears, keeping the fabric in front of the drivers off your ears, which is a plus. And, it is possible that the padding over time would soften and be more comfortable than I've found them to be out of the box. Being dense memory foam, it lacks the give of the fluffier foam used on other headphone models.
The potential good news here is certainly the isolation that should come with the ample padding of deep ear cups--the padding is twice as thick as on my ATH-M50x pair. But in practice, I did not find that this delivered better sound isolation. I compared the Lola headphones to my ATH-M50x pair while banging away on the drums, playing to a mix in the headphones. I found no benefit to wearing the Lola headphones, and did not think they blocked out the drum sound any more than the Audio Technica headphones did. Drumming is a very physical activity; without demonstrably better sound isolation, there's no reason to have extra weight on your head distracting you from the groove. I wore the Lola headphones while laying a guitar track as well, and came to same conclusion: A lighter pair of headphones putting less pressure on my head was less distracting and therefore preferable.
The Lola Sound: Can You Trust the Mix?
Many reviewers have glowing praises about the sound of these headphones. But my interest here is strictly for mixing applications. My music styles range from rock to Americana and singer/songwriter. For this, I cannot say I was floored. The most obvious sound quality here is full bass (the frequency response is 15Hz-20kHz). But I do not mean punchy and defined. I found the low end to be flabby and boomy in the 50Hz-100Hz range. It added an unnatural thump to kick drums and snares, robbing them of presence. On my pair of ATH-M50x cans, mixes sounded up-front and clear, while on the Lola cans they lost presence and became boomy. Of course, all this could mean the other cans are lying, I'm a terrible at mixing, and Lola is the guardian angel I refuse to acknowledge.
So I compared other sources, taking the same material to my home stereo and car stereo (and, of course, my near-field monitors), in an attempt to see if the Lola headphones were showing me something closer to the truth. One plus was that Lola's wide frequency response is helpful in identifying excesses below roughly 40 Hz, which just happens to be the cutoff of my near-field monitors. But when I adjusted a mix using only the Lola headphones, their exaggerated low end caused me to overcorrect my mistake.
Also, there is a boxiness to the midrange--a honky characteristic--that I found hard to enjoy. When playing with the EQ, boosting a little at 10 kHz for definition seemed to counteract it a little. Other reviewers have said that the definition in the sound allowed them to hear things they had not heard before. This may refer more to the ample soundstage some reviewers claim, but to my ears, the lack of clarity in the high end is more important for mixing applications. I appreciate that the high end is not overhyped, but it made them a less than ideal candidate for mixing in this frequency range. For definition to help you hear things you've never noticed (like hiss or guitar amp noise so you can fix it in a mix), I think a pair of cans with a high end boost is a better fit. For example, the Sony MDR-V6 headphones, which have a boost around 10 kHz. The hyped-up high end may fatigue your ears, but it definitely will bring out hissing or buzzing you'd hate to miss while mixing on your flat-reference monitors.
In the end, I find the Lola headphones to be a better bargain than their Mo-Fi predecessor, having ditched the expense of the built-in amplifier. But for tracking in the studio, the extra weight is distracting and did not provide additional sound isolation, to my ears. Also, I found the pressure and memory foam density to be uncomfortable, particularly for long mixing sessions. Although, the accentuated low end will help you find excessive bass in your mixes, I would not trust a Lola pair as the sole headphone source paired with near-field monitors.