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Best budget studio headphones
Studio headphones might conjure up images of professional recording setups and pricey equipment, but that doesn’t have to be the case. One of the reasons why you should get a pair of studio headphones is that they also make for a good choice even if you never mix a track in your life because they are well-built. Their relatively neutral frequency responses let you enjoy your music closer to the way the artist intended. If you want those features at more reasonable prices, read on to see our picks for the best budget studio headphones.
Why is the Sony MDR-7506 the best cheap studio headphones?
The best set of budget studio headphones also happens to be an industry standby, the Sony MDR-7506. This set of Sony cans has found its place everywhere, from famous recording studios to garage band setups, and for good reason. The MDR-7506 is cheap and performs excellently.
The Sony MDR-7506 has a relatively neutral frequency response, with some added emphasis on the mids and highs. That might not be ideal for casual listening, but for editing tracks where you’re picking through minute differences in recordings, it can make a world of difference. The build is mostly plastic, which means these headphones are comfortable to wear for hours on end while you work.
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Another bonus of the Sony MDR-7506 is its repairability—Sony even created service manuals for it. That’s quite a world away from the almost inherent expendability of true wireless earbuds. In fact, this model has been around since 1991, and its predecessor Sony MDR-V6, is from the 1980s.
There are some small drawbacks, including sub-standard ear padding that doesn’t do the best job of blocking out background noise. Plus, the all-plastic build and appearance immediately indicate the budget status of the MDR-7506. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better set of all-around studio headphones for less than $100.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x makes for a very versatile option
Perhaps the other iconic brand in studio headphones is the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x. These budget studio headphones tend to cost a bit more than Sony’s offering, but they have a lot to show for it — literally, they look quite snazzy for such a functional pair of cans. Heck, they even come in multiple colors and sometimes exclusive or limited editions.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x is made of plastic, but with its rotating padded ear cups and metal band, it doesn’t feel cheap despite the price. That also makes it versatile, and you can listen to tracks with one ear and your environment with the other.
Another bit of flexibility these ATH-M50x offers comes courtesy of its frequency response. While it’s relatively neutral, a low-end that’s slightly louder than the mids and highs means your music will definitely sound enjoyable during casual listening, even when you aren’t mixing tracks. This even makes it one of our favorite headphones for gaming.
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The ATH-M50x doesn’t have the best isolation, however — it’s not awful, but don’t expect active noise canceling-levels noise reduction. And those big ear pads can get hot after wearing them for a while. Finally, the cords use a proprietary design, so replacements will have to come from Audio-Technica. Still, at this price and with its Instagram-worthy aesthetics and multiple use cases, the ATH-M50x shows that cheap studio headphones can suit almost any task.
The Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO keeps you comfortable
Let’s cut to the chase: the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO delivers premium sound without emptying your wallet. Priced around $150, these open-back headphones are a favorite of audiophiles and aspiring musicians alike. The headphones offer a unique studio frequency response that emphasizes the 50-300Hz and 2kHz-20kHz ranges. This is also a big deal for gamers, who can catch subtle auditory cues and mixers, who’ll find their tracks less grating.
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These aren’t just another pair of pretty headphones; they feel like pillows for your ears for long listening sessions. Thanks to their lightweight plastic build, accented with a metal band, you can forget about neck fatigue. The velour-wrapped ear pads are not just plush but also eyeglasses-friendly, offering minimal gaps around the frames.
While there’s a lot to love, be mindful of a couple of drawbacks. The non-removable, heavy-coiled cable can be a nuisance, especially for those using smartphones. Plus, the open-back design makes them susceptible to moisture and foreign object damage, making them less than ideal for outdoor use. Overall, the DT 990 PRO nails the basics: exceptional sound and comfort, all at a price point that won’t induce buyer’s remorse. If you’re hunting for an entry-level studio-quality set that stands the test of time, these should be on your radar.
Sennheiser HD 560S brings open-back performance
The Sennheiser HD 560S hits the sweet spot between price and performance. Designed for the audiophile-in-the-making, these headphones bring impressive clarity and depth to your favorite tunes. Although they’re not bass monsters, their sound profile is refreshingly balanced—making them a great choice for purists who prefer their music unadulterated.
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The HD 560S doesn’t just sound good; it’s also versatile, featuring a removable locking 2.5mm TRRS plug that hints at the possibility of a balanced connection. Although the build material is primarily plastic, it doesn’t severely compromise durability. Yes, it’s a trade-off, but one that puts top-notch sound within reach without making you feel like you’ve settled for less.
All in all, the Sennheiser HD 560S is a compelling package for anyone looking to elevate their listening experience without diving headfirst into the deep end of the audiophile pool.
Open-back designs like this come with the problem of sound leaking, but with this style of headphones, that can’t be avoided. However, that does mean this design isn’t all that workable on a train or out on a jog, so you’ll mostly have to leave these cans by your desk.
The other downside of openbacks is there’s a tendency for them to be a bit light on the low end. This is due to the nature of low frequencies, which travel further than high frequencies. Consider a loud car stereo with the windows up and doors closed, and most of what you can hear outside of it is bass. Open up the housings of the headphones, and more bass in relation to other frequencies will evade your ears, leading to lower relative volume in the bass and sub-bass regions.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT brings good bang for your buck
The Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT proves that good things come in simple packages. It’s the no-frills, wireless successor to the beloved ATH-M20, aimed squarely at users who want reliable performance without breaking the bank. Don’t expect any fancy features; this headset focuses on doing its core job well. With a Bluetooth radio, battery, and microphone seamlessly integrated, it’s utilitarian tech at its finest.
A standout feature is its feather-light weight of 216 grams, significantly lighter than most over-ear Bluetooth headphones. This makes marathon listening sessions a breeze. And while the stock ear pads might be a tad shallow for some, the design is universally compatible with a variety of replacement options. Got larger ears? No problem. Swap out the ear pads, and you’re good to go.
Sound quality is more than respectable for the price. While it may not satisfy the pickiest of audiophiles, it delivers a balanced output that will please most. Add to that a robust battery life and rapid charge ability, and you’ve got a headset that punches well above its weight. Though it lacks active noise canceling, its closed-back design offers decent noise isolation. It’s a practical, straightforward option that checks all the essential boxes without emptying your wallet.
Best cheap studio headphones notable mentions
- AKG K240 Studio ($56 at Amazon): These headphones may be budget-friendly, but they sound great and are one of the few semi-open-back options available.
- Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT($79 at Amazon): One way to save money is to get a single pair of headphones you can use for your studio that also works elsewhere, like connecting wirelessly on the bus. These are the ones to check out if that’s you.
- Audio-Technica ATH-M30x ( $79 at Amazon): The less splashy sibling of the ATH-M50x and ATH-M40x has a different frequency response, but you get a solid pair of studio monitors for less money.
- Audio-Technica ATH-M40x ($119 at Amazon): If the price tag of the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x is a bit off-putting, the brings many of the same features at a lower upfront cost. It has a little more of a utilitarian aesthetic, but some people might prefer that. You still get a similar frequency response curve, ear cup padding, and build quality. Overall, if you want the sound and durability of Audio-Technica for less than $100, these cans are worth a look.
- Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO ($169 at Amazon): For those who will be mixing and recording tracks for hours, the Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO provides a comfortable experience. Though this is a budget pair of studio headphones, it won’t pinch or poke you even if you keep it on all day.
- Etymotic ER2SE ($99 at Amazon): Our other options above have all been over-ear designs, but the Etymotic ER2SE is a set of in-ear monitors (IEMs). That means excellent isolation, so you can focus on editing, and less bulk around your head and neck when you’re not.
- Linsoul TIN HiFi T2 ($49 at Amazon): Another set of in-ear monitors, this pair of buds has a frequency response that closely aligns with our target curve, lots of ear tip options, and removable cables. Some people might find them to be uncomfortable, however, but the price is appealing.
- Massdrop x Sennheiser HD 58X Jubilee ($149 at Drop): These headphones straddle the boundary between heavier bass consumers tend to enjoy with the neutral response purists want. Still, they are larger and of an open-back design, so expect to keep them at your desk at all times.
- Sennheiser HD 280 Pro ($87 at Amazon): Listening to songs through Sennheiser HD 280 Pro is just as enjoyable as creating them with it, so these make for a great option in both use cases. Plus, they don’t leak audio and are pretty comfortable.
- Shure SE215 ($99 at Amazon): Controversial choice on a list of best budget studio headphones, but IEMs can often give you a lot of bang for your buck. These are suitable for studio use, especially if you’re tracking and need isolation. You might not want to do your final mix, however.
What to look for when buying cheap studio headphones
Regarding studio headphones, the price might be a major motivating factor, but there are a few other aspects to keep in mind before you take a pair home. Going in with some knowledge ahead of time will help ensure you don’t end up disappointed.
How should studio headphones sound?
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Unlike headphones designed for the everyday consumer, studio headphones tend to have relatively neutral frequency response characteristics. Generally, they don’t emphasize any part of the audible spectrum more than the others. Most notably, they don’t tend to kick up the bass nearly as much as mainstream consumer models. That is perfect for mixing music where you want everything to sound balanced and don’t want your headphones unintentionally affecting how you create tracks. However, it can be a bit of a shock to hear your favorite tunes without that strong bass. Models like the ATH-M50x try to bridge this gap a little, but no set of studio monitors should be turning the bass up to eleven.
If you find that to hear anything out of your cheap studio headphones, you have to crank up the volume really high; an amp might help out. A standalone DAC bypasses a computer’s built-in audio hardware, which might be helpful if you introduce noise or other problems. Another reason might be if you want to use your budget studio headphones with your phone or other portable devices. Sometimes, those types of devices just can’t drive a big pair of studio headphones, and an amp will help make that possible. You’ll have to drag the amp around with you, too, though.
Should studio headphones block out background noise?
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Isolation is how well a given set of headphones blocks out external noises without using active noise canceling (ANC). Those outside sounds can end up overwhelming what you’re listening to, and that means you might end up mixing music with background noise in mind instead of what’s actually coming out of the drivers.
Most of the cheap studio headphones models we recommend here have at least some isolation, either due to their padded ear cups, clamping force around your head, or a combination of those factors. An exception to this would be open-back models: these can’t isolate much at all as a consequence of their design. Ideally, you should be mixing tracks in a silent room with your preferred DAW, but if that’s not possible, isolation can definitely lend a good helping hand.
Are open-back or closed-back headphones better for studio use?
Open-back versus closed-back is a big debate, and we can’t cover everything here. Both configurations have benefits and downsides. Closed-back headphones provide better isolation, as mentioned earlier, which lets you take them around more easily — maybe even for a walk outside — because external noises won’t make it to your ears as easily. Sound doesn’t leak out of them, either, so you can wear them to listen to what a recording sounds like live as it’s being recorded. However, they typically give you less of a sense of “space” or “soundstage” in your music. That’s where open-back models tend to shine.
When you listen to tracks through an open-back headset, your ears can do a better job of pinpointing where sounds come from. That can be useful if you mix tracks with various instruments in particular configurations — take classical music, for instance. For pop and rock songs, however, you might not notice this quite as much. However, open-back designs let in all sorts of external noise, and they leak sounds playing through them to the outside world, too. As a result, you might annoy your roommates when using them, and you can’t wear them during a live recording session. So, when it comes to picking the perfect pair for you, consider where and when you’ll be using your budget studio headphones, whether you’ll be using them to record live instruments, and what you’ll be mixing.
Why you should trust SoundGuys on the best cheap studio headphones
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Frequently asked questions about cheap studio headphones
Prices for top-of-the-line studio headphones can range from $300 to $1,000 or more, depending on the brand and features.
You can, but that doesn’t mean you should. Standard headphones might not offer the flat frequency response and sound isolation that studio headphones provide. Studio headphones are specifically designed for professional audio work.
While not strictly necessary, studio headphones are highly recommended for recording. They offer better sound isolation and a more accurate audio representation, crucial for tasks like mixing and mastering.
Not technically, no. However, the big caveat here is you won’t know if it’s your headphones making your music sound a certain way or if it actually sounds like that from the recording itself. For instance, you might think your bass player is way too loud, but that might just be because most consumer headphones amp up the bass way more than anything else.