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Best studio headphones
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 will want to hear your music reproduced accurately. Thankfully, studio headphones can go a long way to help you with that, and we’ve rounded up the best ones currently on offer.
- This article was updated on February 9, 2024, to ensure the timeliness of the information within.
- We are in the process of testing and reviewing more open-back headphones from Sony and Sennheiser, so stay tuned to see if they make the list.
- Also, check out Lily's educational piece on why you might not want studio headphones and perhaps consider some of the best over-ear headphones instead.
Why is the Beyerdynamic DT 900 PRO X the best set of studio headphones?
The Beyerdynamic PRO X series caters to the modern creator with a low 48Ω impedance and comfortable build. The Beyerdynamic DT 900 PRO X has an open-back design, and all of the parts are easy to replace without the need for tools. This is a great pick for engineers who want to focus on production and can’t afford to get bogged down with difficult repairs.
If you’ve used a set of over-ear Beyerdynamic headphones before, you’ll feel right at home with the DT 900 PRO X and its plush ear pads. A mini-XLR input sits on the left ear cup, and the included cable locks into place.
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Since this is an open-back headset, its utility is a bit limited. You’ll hear everything gone around you should you choose to take it on a stroll. But hey, that’s unlikely anyway since this is built for studio use. When you do get the headset into a quiet environment, you’ll enjoy excellent audio reproduction with consistent volume output from the bass and mids. There’s a 5dB boost relative to our house curve, from 4-7kHz, but that can make it easier to hear string attacks during a particularly busy part of a song. This isn’t always ideal when mixing audio, so you can always EQ it down via a desktop application.
The DT 700 PRO X is essentially the same headset but with a closed-back design instead. If you want the option to listen to your music on the go, this is a better option than the DT 900 PRO X. Both headsets cost the same, but the open-back version has a better midrange response for mixing, though the treble peaks are greater than the DT 700 PRO X. You can see a frequency response chart comparing the two headsets here.
For a purpose-built set of open-back critical listening headphones, the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO is a decent option, but it’s better for mixing. It sells for less than the DT 900 PRO X and still offers a good balance of comfort and utility. One downside is that its 250Ω rating requires a headphone amp or audio interface if you want to equalize the headphones. If you have one already, then that works, but if you don’t, the nice price (compared to the DT 900 PRO X) might not actually work out to be cheaper overall.
Save money and go with the Sony MDR-7506 for professional mixing
Ever since the mid-1980s, producers and artists alike have relied on the Sony MDR-V6 and its progeny. Boasting a revealing frequency response and a rugged, convenient design, the Sony MDR-7506 is all over the audio industry. If you want the gear the pros use, this is the starting point.
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Of course, older headphones like this have some drawbacks. Namely, those ear pads don’t tend to last a long time even if you clean them often, so you may find yourself looking for replacements. Not to worry, though, Amazon has a ton of those, and they’re fairly cheap to buy. Other headphones like the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x and its series also use the exact same size of headphone pads. It’s also from the era when you could expect your headphones to be repairable, making them slightly more eco-friendly than the average headphones.
The MDR-MV1 are Sony’s latest open-back headphones
Spatial Audio is all the rage these days, and so, of course, Sony is offering a headphone solution for mixing in those audio environments. Released in November 2023, the Sony MDR-MV1 are open-back headphones designed with a wide soundstage in mind. With a neutral frequency response quoted from 5Hz to 80kHz, these headphones could find their way into many studios. We got to try them at NAMM 2024, but stay tuned for our full review coming soon.
Play it safe with the Sennheiser HD 800 S
If you’re in the market for audio nirvana and have the budget to match, look no further than the Sennheiser HD 800 S. These headphones are an audiophile’s dream, meant for those who desire an “endgame” experience without future upgrades. Don’t let their understated appearance fool you. Forgoing gold leaf and leather, they focus on what matters most: exceptional sound quality and unparalleled comfort. The unique, hemisphere-shaped ear cups maximize space around your ears, allowing for an impressively natural sound reproduction. Paired with a lightweight build and velour ear pads, comfort is guaranteed, even during marathon listening sessions.
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But the real magic lies in their performance. Offering a soundscape that provides an uncanny illusion of spatial depth, the HD 800 S is a cut above the rest. Thanks to deep ear cups and angled drivers, they excel in recreating the intricacies of various genres—from the crispness of orchestral pieces to the adrenaline of action movies. The bass is a tad subdued, which might not be to everyone’s taste, but this is by design. Besides, the bass and other sound elements are easily adjustable via equalization without any noticeable distortion, even at higher levels.
So, is this headset worth its hefty price tag? Absolutely, but with a caveat: they are for a very specific audience. If you’re someone looking to invest in a dedicated indoor listening station where cost is secondary to quality, these headphones will feel like a revelation. The Sennheiser HD 800 S delivers a top-tier performance with only minor footnotes, making them a shoo-in as a top pick for studio headphones.
The Sennheiser HD 490 are a more affordable and versatile open-back option
The Sennheiser HD 490 PRO is a reference headphone with two types of ear pads: velour for a more low-frequency biased response and fabric for a flatter, neutral response. Swapping between the two ear pads is easy, and they are even machine-washable.
Sennheiser includes a license to the dearVR MIX-SE plugin with each set of HD 490 PRO headphones, which simulate different mixing and listening environments and come with tuned presets for each of Sennheiser’s reference headphones.
Sennheiser is an audio stalwart and remains one of the most reputable audio companies around. Sure, many debate over which of its headphones sounds better, but the HD 820 dominates the hi-fi conversation, and it far exceeds our top-end budget of $1,000. The large, closed-back design is a departure from the beloved HD 800, but the Sennheiser HD 820 retains the unique aesthetic Sennheiser fans have grown familiar with.
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 300Ω audiophile headphones require the use of an external 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.
Audio-Technica’s ATH-M50X is a classic pair of studio headphones
The ATH-M50x has a reputation for being the go-to pair of budget studio headphones, but it’s not as accurate as many people think. Sure, Audio-Technica tuned these to have a more neutral frequency response than most consumer headsets, but there is some audible bass amplification. This isn’t inherently a bad thing as it makes the ATH-M50x a great pair of versatile headphones for daily listening, but be aware that the ATH-M40x has a slightly more accurate sound profile.
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Because of the bass bump, this might be better for the musician who needs to feel more from the instrumentation while in the recording booth and then still wants to listen to some music on the way home. The ATH-M50x will satisfy both roles well. The ear cups sit flat on your ears and provide a decent amount of isolation, not to mention that they also swivel up to 90 degrees.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 is everything we love about the ATH-M50x but with wireless connectivity. You get your choice of the SBC, AAC, and LDAC Bluetooth codecs when out and about, or you can just revert to the 3.5mm headphone jack for studio use. The microphone is pretty good, and it’s a great option for those who want one pair of headphones to do everything with.
Take your mixing anywhere with the AKG K371
The AKG K371 is a great pick for anyone who travels frequently. Despite the over-ear design, this package is 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 backward and up to keep one ear on the crowd.
The frequency response was tailored using Harman’s consumer preference research curve, which helps create content that translates well to other systems. AKG supplies you with three cables, two straight and one coiled, so no matter your environment, you’ll have something that works for you.
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Despite the plastic build, the headphones are durable and withstand multiple trips at the bottom of a backpack during our full review. Don’t drop an unabridged encyclopedia onto this 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 glasses’ arms.
The best studio headphones: Notable mentions
- AKG K240 Studio ($56 at Amazon): This pair of open-back headphones serves as a great alternative to the Sony MDR-7506 and features a more modern, stylish design with larger ear cups.
- AKG K702 ($135 at Amazon): This pair of open-back headphones has its place in a studio, but remember that it won’t have much bass. While it’s very comfortable, the size can be a bit unwieldy, and you can get a better-value headset.
- Audio-Technica ATH-AD900X ($189 at Amazon ): While you don’t want to use this in the recording studio because the open-back design causes the sound to bleed through, it’s great to use during the mixing phase of music-making.
- Audio-Technica ATH-M20x ($49 at Amazon): If you really can’t push your budget, this is one of the best options for studio-style headphones under $50.
- Audio-Technica ATH-M40X ($119 at Amazon): Although the ATH-M50x is often in the limelight, the M40X is no slouch and provides a less emphasized low-end.
- Beyerdynamic DT 1990 PRO ($529 at Amazon): If you want absolute luxury and don’t mind paying for it, this set of open-back cans looks, sounds, and feels premium.
- Sennheiser HD 280 Pro ($87 at Amazon): 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 x Drop HD 6XX ($199 at Drop): 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.
- Sennheiser HD 600 ($299 at Amazon): Older-model headphones stick around because they perform their function and perform it well. The Sennheiser HD 600 is one of the most venerated headphones in the audiophile space over the last few decades and for good reason.
Don’t need studio headphones? Get something else!
If you want good quality headphones and have money to spend but don’t want studio headphones, you should probably get something else. Though studio headphones offer very good sound quality, these headphones are most often more expensive to get and offer far fewer features than consumer headphones. It’s very probable that if you’re not an audiophile or music creator, you don’t want studio headphones.
For example, studio headphones are pretty terrible for commuters: a situation where you’d want active noise canceling headphones instead for their superior noise isolation and bassier sound (that can more easily be heard over engine noise). Additionally, studio headphones aren’t generally meant for gaming consoles — making them a poor pick for that purpose.
Studio headphones shine by the computer and in the mixing booth. They’re most often tools designed for a specific purpose, even if they can be utilized for your own enjoyment, depending on the situation.
What you should know about studio headphones
Studio headphones aren’t for everyone, as many of us prefer a bit of bass amplification for daily listening. What many people consider to be good sound isn’t what everyone else considers to be good sound. But when you’re getting paid to do a job, accuracy takes priority over a consumer-friendly experience. 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.
How should studio headphones sound?
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Any set of headphones has a designated frequency response, which indicates how a particular set of headphones reproduces all of the tones within our range of hearing (typically 20Hz-20kHz). If you’re recording or creating music, you will want a pair of headphones with a relatively neutral frequency response to allow for accurate, consistent mixing. This means that the drivers don’t emphasize or de-emphasize any particular area of the spectrum more or less than the others. Nothing is perfect, but the closer you can get to that ideal studio response, the more accurate your mix will sound.
Do you need an amp or DAC?
While consumer headsets don’t typically require an external amp, studio headphones often will need them. Fortunately, plenty of easy-to-use USB interfaces are available to streamline your production process.
Should you get open or closed-back headphones?
Open-back and closed-back headphones refer to whether the back of the headphone driver is open to the environment or enclosed. While closed-back headphones are better for isolating the listener from their surroundings, open-back cans are typically better for studio applications: they create a better representation of three-dimensional sound. Studio headphones are typically closed-back, so the musicians can use them while recording without risk of sound feeding back into the microphones. Still, open-back headphones can be used for monitoring and mixing purposes.
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. None of our writers may benefit from championing one set of cans over another.
Frequently asked questions
The Sennheiser HD 25 is ideally suited to DJs with its swivel ear cups and on-ear fit. That on-ear fit is more isolating than other on-ear typically but not as effective as the seal you get from closed-back over-ear designs. Again, it’s comfortable for on-ear but not ideally suited for studios. Still, it does have a long cable, which is handy for tracking musicians.
The Sony WH-1000XM4 don’t have a particularly neutral frequency response, and they do let you equalize the sound signature in their app. You will want to use them in active mode (electronics switched on) since the passive response is not good at all.
Ideally, you will have both studio headphones and studio monitors. Studio headphones are necessary for recording and tracking, but studio monitors are much better for mixing. They create a more accurate soundstage than headphones can, making it easier and faster to create good mixes.
More vendors than just Amazon have quick and cheap shipping now, and plenty of small businesses sell your favorite products too. Where you choose to buy your headphones could depend on a lot of things, including your shopping ethics, how much customer support you want, and the warranty of the company. Check out our guide to get a rundown of some options and their stats.
For studio recording, musicians typically use closed-back headphones to prevent sound from feeding back into the microphones. However, for other studio applications like monitoring and mixing, open-back headphones are preferred due to their ability to create a better representation of three-dimensional sound.
Producers lean towards trusted classics and modern marvels alike. The Sony MDR-7506 has been a staple since the mid-1980s, while newer entrants like the Beyerdynamic DT 900 PRO X and the Sennheiser HD 600 have also found their place in professional studios.
In the studio realm, closed-back headphones are standard for recording sessions, ensuring sound doesn’t escape and interfere with recordings. Yet, when the scene shifts to mixing and monitoring, the open-back variants are often the top pick, offering a detailed and open sound profile.
Studio-grade headphones come with a range of price tags. For those on a budget, options like the Sony MDR-7506 start at around $99.99. On the higher end, headphones like the Sennheiser HD 820 can reach up to $2,399.95. But there’s a diverse range in between, catering to various needs and budgets.
Absolutely. Studio headphones are built for precision and flat frequency response, enabling accurate audio reproduction. They are designed for professionals who require nuance and detail in sound. In contrast, regular headphones often have a “colored” sound that boosts certain frequencies like bass, making them less accurate.
Generally speaking, studio headphones are not the go-to choice for DJs. DJs usually prefer headphones with enhanced bass and louder volume to cut through ambient noise, features typically absent in studio headphones. However, studio headphones can be useful in a studio setting for creating and mixing tracks.
Studio musicians usually hear a customized mix that helps them keep time and pitch. This mix often includes a metronome click, other instruments, and sometimes even a guide vocal. The goal is to provide them with all the necessary audio cues for a pitch-perfect performance.