People love music, not headphones. Headphones are just tools that let us listen to music. Whether you’re a professional sound engineer or a musician, you’re going to need a pair of studio headphones that let you hear what your music sounds like with as little embellishment as possible. So what are the best studio headphones you can get? Look no further, we got you covered.
Editor’s note: this list was updated on March 23, 2020, to replace the Sony MDR-7506 with the AKG K371.
The best studio headphones are the Sennheiser HD 820
Sennheiser is one of the most trusted brands in audio and although there are plenty of debates over which of their headphones sound better, the HD 820 dominates the hi-fi conversation. The large, closed-back design is a departure from the beloved HD 800, but the Sennheiser HD 820 retains the same unique aesthetic Sennheiser fans have grown familiar with.
Sennheiser HD 820
Although listeners may be concerned by the transition from open-back to closed-back between the high-end models, Sennheiser claims that this design is able to achieve the same open soundstage that we’ve come to expect. What’s more, it’s also able to insulate listeners from external noise better as a result of the closed build.
For better or worse, these 300-ohm audiophile headphones require the use of a DAC and amplifier, which will set you back quite a bit more. We understand that many people are simply in search of reliable studio headphones and aren’t looking to consider a payday loan to cover their next set of cans. Regardless, we felt it appropriate to tip our hats to the Sennheiser HD 820 and feature more financially viable options below.
Related: Best Sennheiser headphones
What you should know about studio headphones
Studio headphones aren’t for everyone, but there’s still a lot to like about a pair of headphones that won’t color your music too much when you’re listening.
One of the most popular pairs of headphones right now is the Studio3 Wireless from Beats by Dre, and even though they have the word “studio” in the name they’re not what you’d want to be using if you plan on working with audio. While we could go on about all of the reasons why you should want some studio headphones, we’ll keep it simple with a few quick points.
- You’re going to want a pair of headphones that reproduce a relatively neutral frequency response, to allow for accurate, consistent mixing. When looking at our objective readouts in individual reviews, keep an eye out for relatively “flat” response lines. This means that the headphones themselves won’t make any one particular sound louder than any other, or at least they’ll try not to. nothing is perfect.
- While consumer cans don’t typically require an amp or DAC, we’re talking about studio headphones here, which sometimes do. Fortunately, there are plenty of easy-to-use USB interfaces available to streamline your production process.
- Your ears aren’t perfect. Most of us can hear sounds from 20Hz – 20kHz, but that depends greatly on your age and how well you’ve been taking care of your ears throughout your life. You can even up to your ears to the test here.
Save money and go with the Grado SR60e
Grado is a headphone manufacturer in Brooklyn that makes some of the most respected products in audio. Its cans usually have a somewhat minimal design with beautiful build quality, and the SR60e just happens to also have a great sound for under $100.
Grado SR60eFull Review
These are also open-back headphones with a leather strap holding the two earcups in place. This means you’ll get a realistic reproduction of 3D space, something that isn’t a given with closed-back cans. The downside to this is that you can’t really use these headphones on-the-g0. Grado has preinstalled retro foam padding on the earcups that make them easy to wear for extended periods of time. If you want good sound on a budget, the SR60e is a solid choice.
Mix it up with the Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro
Beyerdynamic is one of those companies that people trust just because of their reputation. They’re known for great quality headphones, and the Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro, like its junior, is no exception. Besides being super comfortable thanks to padded velour earcups to keep your ears happy, they also have a relatively flat sound with the exception of a slight peak in the 7kHz-11kHz range.
Beyerdynamic DT 880 ProFull Review
If you’re going to be mixing tracks and don’t want the headphones you’re wearing to color your mix at all these are a good pair of mid-tier headphones to look into. Of course, if you decide to use these with mobile devices you’re going to need an amp to power the 250Ω behemoths, but it might not work out for you as these are also semi-open back so sound leakage is going to be an issue. But if you plan on keeping your headphones deskside, these won’t disappoint.
Audio-Technica’s ATH-M50X is a classic
The ATH-M50x has a reputation for being a pair of studio headphones, but they’re not as flat sounding as many people seem to think. Sure they’re “flatter” than most headphones out there and they’ll get the job done in the studio if you need them to (which is also what makes them such a great all-around pair of headphones, but I digress), but the headphones we mentioned previously are way better in terms of accuracy.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xFull Review
Because of the bump in the low end of the ATH-M50x headphones, these might be better for the musician that might need to feel that extra bit of emotion from the instrumentation while in the recording booth and then still wants to listen to some music on the way home. These are a versatile pair of cans that will satisfy both roles well. The ear cups sit flat on your ears and provide a decent amount of noise isolation, not to mention that they also swivel up to 90-degrees which gives you the versatility you need while wearing them out and about.
If you decide you like the sound of the ATH-M50x, you might be interested to know that they now have a wireless variant called the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT. This variant can also be used with a 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable if need be, but it’s good to know that there’s a step-up model out there if you want your studio headphones to also be what you use on your commute.
Take your mixing anywhere with the AKG K371
The AKG K371 reference headphones are a great pick for anyone whose job requires frequent travel. Despite the over-ear design, these headphones are slim and portable: the ear cups flip up and into the headband similar to Audio-Technica’s design. What’s more, the K371 is good for DJs as you can rotate either ear cup upward to get a better read on the crowd or get them more pumped up.
AKG K371Full Review
The natural-leaning frequency response is a necessity for creating an accurate product. The midrange frequency response nearly meets the platonic ideal, making this a pristine pair of headphones for vocal-heavy recordings. What’s more, AKG supplies you with three cables, two straight and one coiled, so no matter your environment, you’ll have something that works with you.
Despite the plastic build, the headphones are durable and withstood multiple trips at the bottom of Lily’s book bag. That’s not to say you can get away with dropping an unabridged encyclopedia onto them headset, but the build can withstand some roughhousing. What’s more, these headphones are great for listeners with glasses because the slow-retention memory foam wraps around the arm bands. Pressure is also minimal around the ears and atop the head. This tends to have its downsides, too, though as users have reported the headset coming off with vigorous shaking.
- AKG 240 Studio: These headphones serve as a great alternative to the Sony MDR-7506 and feature a more modern, stylish design with larger ear cups.
- Audio-Technica ATH-M40X: Although the ATH-M50X is often in the limelight, the M40X cans are no slouch, and provide a less emphasized low-end.
- Beyerdynamic DT 240 Pro: This set of on-ear headphones is compact enough for transport with the inclusions of studio headphones, like a removable coiled cable.
- Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro: This is a good budget option if you want the highest-quality drivers that Beyerdynamic has to offer, but don’t want to spend a lot on creature comforts
- Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro: If you want absolute luxury and don’t mind paying for it, these open-back cans look, sound, and feel premium.
- Sennheiser HD 800: This headset was the best all-around pick until it was dethroned by its predecessor, the HD 820. This, however, is available for less than half the price of the best pick.
- Sennheiser HD 280 Pro: This monitoring pair is widely regarded as some of the best budget-minded studio headphones that take a tank to kill. For under $100, that’s not a bad return.
- Sennheiser HD 598SE: The large, circumaural design makes these headphones comfortable for extended periods of time, while the open-back design allows for a more realistic reproduction of 3-D space.
- Sennheiser HD 58X Jubilee: While these are a Massdrop exclusive, they’re still a great pair of open-back headphones you should check out if you want one great pair of headphones that can do it all (as long as you don’t use them outside with a lot of noise).
- Sennheiser x Drop HD 6XX: This is the closest you’ll get to a true HD 650, but for half the budget. These are outstanding headphones for the mixing station—not so much for the booth.
- Sony MDR-7506: The retro design might not be for everyone and the ear pads aren’t the most comfortable, but when it comes to sound quality the neutral-leaning sound will get you as close to your audio as you can get at this price point.
Why you should trust SoundGuys
Working at SoundGuys allows each of us to have plenty of hands-on time with the latest and greatest audio products. While we do spend ample time testing out great products, we also receive some ones that need work. Regardless of how one pair of headphones stack up against another, it gives us a different reference point for understanding what’s good and what’s not when it comes to consumer products.
Ultimately, we want to make the research process easier for you, so you can spend more time enjoying your headphones. And while you can read all about our ethics policy, we’re transparent in that none of our writers may benefit from championing one set of cans over another.
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!