This post was updated with new information on May 15th, 2016. It was originally posted November 24, 2014.
We’ve covered a lot of different headphones for a wide variety of uses so far, but they’ve all been aimed at people listening to music for recreational purposes. What if you’re more into making music? If you’re a professional or have a home studio, you’ve got different needs. We’ve got you covered.
We should note that we’re not covering the higher end here. Our audience has spoken and they’re much more interested in the affordable than the absolute top of the line. If you want to recommend $1000 headphones as your pick for the best studio headphones in the comments, you’re more than welcome, but that isn’t our focus in this list.
by Audio-Technica – ($299.00) Amazon.com
You might be looking at the 7 in the name up there and wondering if we have made some sort of mistake, but no, that is most certainly on purpose. The ATH-M50x are a fine pair of headphones indeed, but they’re nowhere near as transparent as the Audios-Technica ATH-M70x.
Gone are the color options of the ATH-M50x, but the look is very similar. While those headphones hype certain frequencies in the name of excitement, these aim to be as clear as a pane of glass. Lows extend further downward and the same can be said of the highs, but there is no dip in the midrange.
If you want accuracy, these are one of the best.
If you’re buying headphones just to listen to your favorite music, this likely isn’t the pair for you, but that isn’t the goal of any of the headphones in this line. You won’t find a mic or remote, and the cables are long — after all, they’re meant to reach all the way to the headphone amp on the other side of the studio in many cases.
At around $220, this isn’t a cheap pair of headphones, but the ATH-M70x are Audio-Technica’s flagship headphones, so you should expect to pay some sort of premium. For more details than you’ll get in the 4.3 out of 5 star score on Amazon, see our full review of the ATH-M70x.
If you’re looking for something more affordable, read further down the list.
by Shure – ($189.00) Amazon.com
Shure is a huge name in the audio world, but the company is mainly known for its microphones. While it may be the company that the Unidyne built, Shure isn’t limited to just one key product. Case in point: these headphones.
The Shure SRH840s offer a clean, natural sound.
Soundstage is good and the bass response is tight, but these aren’t going to gloss over any rough spots in a recording. Despite the neutral leaning of the headphones, they don’t make for a boring listen, so if you want to use these just to kick back and enjoy some music, they’ll still get the job done, and well at that.
The sound isn’t the only nice thing about the Shure SRH840. These come with memory foam earpads, which provide nice isolation and a super comfortable bit. The downside is that memory foam pads don’t always last that long, but in this case the pads are replaceable, so you can swap them out for a new pair whenever you like.
Unlike the other items on this list, we don’t have any other coverage of the Shure SRH840, but between our real-life experiences with the headphones and the sheer amount of praise they receive from other respectable sources, we feel very confident recommending them.
Grado SR-60e / SR-80e
by Grado – ($79.00) Amazon.com
While they started and remain a small company, Grado Labs is a popular name among audio enthusiasts. While most people focus on the company’s higher end offerings, a lot of people forget that Grado also has headphones available for those on a budget. The SR60e and SR80e are their most wallet-friendly offerings, but they still pack the sound that Grado is known for.
Accurate sound usually isn't affordable, unless your name is Grado.
Both the SR60e and SR80e are open back, which offers better sound stage, trading off isolation in the process. You won’t want to wear these as monitor headphones while recording an instrument in a quiet room, but for mixing and listening back, they’re great. Both models are fairly similar, with the difference being that the SR60e are on-ear while the SR80e are over-ear.
Both the Grado SR60e and SR80e can be found online for less than $100, and both of them are some of the best headphones you’ll find at the price — it’s just a matter of whether you prefer on-ear or over-ear headphones. For more info check out our review of the SR60e.
While the Grado headphones offer great value for the money, they still might seem too expensive if you’re not super serious about your setup. That said, they didn’t get a 4.6 out of 5 star rating on Amazon for no reason.
by Audio-Technica – ($99.00) Amazon.com
Again, this is no typo, for the same reasons we mentioned talking about the ATH-M70x above. Despite being much cheaper than the M50x, the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x offer a more neutral sound signature, and at a price of $99, they’re not out of the price range of anyone serious about music.
The trade-off for the lower price is that everything is slightly smaller
Smaller drivers, slightly smaller build, etc. The materials used aren’t quite as good either, with plastic replacing metal in a lot of places, and a generally less comfortable feel.
What you do get is surprisingly accurate sound, especially for the price. The signature is very similar to the ATH-M70x in general, though the soundstage is lacking in comparison, and the lows and highs don’t extend as far as they do with that pair of headphones. At this price, you really shouldn’t expect them to.
For all the details, see our review of the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x, but what you’re getting for the money here is impressive, and that’s what gets this company a second spot on this list and a 4.6 out of 5 star rating to boot.
If every pair of headphones so far has been too expensive for you you’re in luck, as the next pair shouldn’t be unobtainable.
by Monoprice – ($22.94) Amazon.com
The Monoprice 8323 are another pair of headphones we’ve mentioned before, and while audiophiles love to balk at the cheap price, there is no denying that these are one of the best budget options available. You’re not going to find flashy looks or fancy features here, but you will find sound that seems like it should cost a lot more.
Judging by the sound, these should be more expensive than they are.
When I first read a review of the Monoprice 8323 in Tape Op — a magazine for audio professionals — I couldn’t believe how much the writer seemed to like them despite the price. I gave them a try and was an instant convert. Even though I try out much more headphones every month, the Monoprice still sound good when I go back to them. The DJ-style hinges make them stage-worthy, but these aren’t the toughest headphones out there. Keep them at home and they’ll be fine though.
You can find the 8323 headphones for around $25 from Amazon. They’re a great pair of headphones for the price, and if you’re looking for fairly accurate monitoring without spending a lot of money these are one of the best bargains you’ll find.
Again, our picks tend toward the midrange and lower as far as pricing goes, but there are many other headphones out there that will cost you a whole lot more than what we’ve got here.
What about your favorites? Let us know your picks for the best studio headphones in the comments below!