People love music, not headphones. Headphones are just tools that let us listen to music. Some put emphasis on different aspects of sound that we might enjoy and others leave it as is, it depends on how you like to enjoy music. But headphones aren’t just for listening to your favorite songs on the way to work, plenty of people use them for creating sounds as well. Whether you’re a professional sound engineer mixing down a score in the studio or a musician creating original tracks from your bedroom, you’re going to need a pair of headphones that let you hear what your music sounds like with little embellishment. That way you can tweak the sound to your liking without worrying too much about blowing out someone’s speakers the second they press play. So what are the best studio headphones you can get? Look no further, we got you covered.
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For the studio you might want a comfortable pair of reference headphones that you can use for all-day listening sessions. Or maybe you want a pair of headphones that can pull double-duty, letting you use them in or outside the studio. Whatever your preference, we picked a few solid pairs of options to get you started on your journey, or to continue onwards to the next level.
Sennheiser HD 800
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 800’s are certainly in the conversation. These are large open-back headphones that tell it like it is. Some people even say these might be little too much, to the point where they sound unnatural. They have a very flat sound with little to none distortion, crazy good detail, and a wide soundstage perfect for hearing every frequency range. There are mixed opinions on long-term comfort and everyone unanimously agrees that these are expensive, but if you’re serious about audio they might be worth it.
Grado SR60eFull Review
Grado is a headphone manufacturer in Brooklyn that makes some of the most respected products in audio. They usually have a somewhat minimal design with beautiful build quality, and the SR60e just happens to also have a great sound for under $100. These are also open back headphones with a leather strap holding the two earcups in place. You’ll also get 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.
Beyerdynamic DT 880 ProFull Review
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’s are no exception. Besides being super comfortable thanks to padded velour earcups to keep your ears happy, they also have a decently flat sound with the exception of a slight peak in the 7kHz – 11kHz range. 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 cours,e 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 ATH-M50xFull Review
The ATH-M50x have 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. Because of the bump in the low end of the ATH-M50x headphones, these are better for the musician that might need to feel that extra bit of emotion from the instrumentation while in the recording booth. 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.
Sony MDR-7506Full Review
One of the best studio headphones you can get for audio just happens to also be one of the cheapest. Well under $100, the Sony MDR-7506 headphones are basically an industry standard. Whether you have an entire team of people that you need to equip with a solid pair of headphones or are just getting into audio engineering and aren’t sure what to get, you can’t go wrong with these. These aren’t exactly the newest headphone, but if it ain’t broke don’t fix it right? 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 sound will get you as close to your audio as you can get at this price point.
If you’re planning on using these headphones for casual listening as well, it’s worth mentioning that bass-lovers won’t love these headphones. The low end is fine, but you’re not going to get the bump you’d expect from most consumer headphones. Instead, the Sony MDR-7506’s put a fairly decent emphasis on the kids and the highs which is part of what makes them so good for monitoring audio. If there’s any harshness in your mix, these are going to show you. The coiled cable is also great for studio or desk use as it measures in at 9.8 feet, but it’s going to be an inconvenience if you’re going to be plugging these into a smartphone while on the go. It ends with a 3.5mm jack but comes with a 1/4″ adapter if you need to plug into some higher end gear.
As good as these are, they’re not flawless. The plastic build doesn’t feel all that sturdy and because these fold at the hinges for easy transport, you might want to be careful with these when you stuff them in your backpack. The ear cups could also use an upgrade because even though they swivel a bit to get a better fit, they don’t rotate at all. So letting them dangle around your neck when not in use can be uncomfortable. But that said, the pros outweigh the cons. These are an industry standard for a reason.
What you should know
Now let’s be clear, 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 are 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. Why? Because they emphasize the low end way too much. As their popularity might suggest, that’s not exactly a bad thing. General consumers might appreciate having a more powerful low end when listening to their favorite tracks, but that emphasis on bass is going to do more harm than good if you bring it into the studio.
If you’re looking into getting a pair of headphones that are good for studio work, chances are you’re going to be working with audio. Whether this means you’re going to be recording podcasts, editing audio for videos, or producing a sick beat, you want to hear, as closely as possible, how that raw audio file sounds without any tweaks or effects. In audio, this is called having a neutral or flat frequency response.
To truly understand what this even means it’s probably best to read this piece on what it is and how it can affect your music. But if you’re strapped for time here’s the short version: frequency response is a measurement of how well the components in your headphones or speakers can reproduce the signal that’s being fed to them. In a perfect world, every piece of equipment is able to perfectly output the input signal, and this is usually what you want for something like studio headphones. A product that will perfectly play for you the audio signals it is receiving. Unfortunately, the world isn’t perfect. So when you’re looking at frequency response graphs, a smoother line is generally preferable to one that fluctuates rapidly with a flat line being the unobtainable goal.
Your ears suck
Okay, so actually your ears are pretty damn amazing and can pick up a wide range of sounds. What I mean by this is that just like the mechanical and electrical components that make up your headphones, your ears aren’t perfect. Most humans 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. Check how well your ears are doing via the SoundCloud file below (no it isn’t my mixtape).
Your ears can detect plus or minus 3 dB at a given frequency between the audible range of 20Hz – 20kHz, so fluctuations of 1 – 2 dB probably won’t have any real impact on the audio you’re working with since you can’t hear it.
So why it important to worry about a neutral frequency response? And why is it important to know the basics of how humans hear? Because the point of editing audio is to make sure it sounds as good as possible to as many people as possible. For example, if you’re mixing a track while wearing a pair of headphones that puts emphasis on the low end you might think, “This bass is way too much, let me pull it back.” Then you export the track and send it to your friend who plays it through their speakers, who then tells you that there’s barely any bass. What happened here? Because your headphones weren’t neutral you took away emphasis that was being added by your headphones, not by your software.
Pro-tip: Play your first mixdown in a few different ways, but prioritize how your audience will be listening to it. So the next time you export a track, play that file on your phone without headphones. Then with headphones. Then on your computer speakers. Then in your car. Then on a Bluetooth speaker, and so on. Hopefully, you won’t find any glaring issues. But if you do, prioritize how it will sound to your audience. So if you’re mixing the score to a short film, you might want to make sure it sounds best on speakers. If you’re mixing a podcast, headphones might be a better choice.
Do you need an amp/DAC?
For most headphones, you won’t need either. But this a list of the best studio headphones, so as you might expect there are a few on this list that will require something a little more powerful than your computer driving them. Whether you’re working out of a professional studio, a home studio, or a laptop, you’re going to at least an amp. Depending on your work the DAC that comes built into most computers nowadays are good enough until you can invest more, but your computer is going to have a hard time driving the Sennheiser HD 800 headphones we have on this list, so an amp is a better choice initially. The good news is that if you’re working with instruments or microphones that use XLR cables you probably already have a decent audio interface which should get the job done.
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.
Related: Best Headphones for Bass
What about your favorites? Let us know your picks for the best studio headphones in the comments below!
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