The Year’s Best Studio Headphones

Whether you are recording or mixing you’ll need some headphones. You’ll need them for when you are recording vocals and instruments, and you’ll probably need some for mixing. And that’s not just being kind to your neighbors. Mixing on headphones as a supplement to using your studio monitors will give you another perspective and approach to your music. For recording, you’ll need to use “closed-back” headphones. These are designed to prevent any sound from leaking into your microphone. But for mixing you’ll need something open or semi-open because the isolation of closed-back headphones can feel very unnatural.

In the recording environment, you are looking for something different to a pair of listening headphones. This is not about looking cool in Dr. Dre Beats fashion statements, this is about having accurate sound and something comfortable enough to wear for many hours of production.

There are a lot of great studio headphones for reasonable prices and in this round-up of best studio headphones, we’ll include a range of budgets. Hopefully, you’ll be able to find something that matches your pocket and your professionalism.

Our 2018/2019 Picks

Audio Technica ATH-M50x

Street Price: $149 (at time of writing)

We’ll kick off with the fabulous Audio Technica ATHM-50X because if you were going to get one pair of headphones and you get bamboozled by “Best of” lists then get these — job done!

The ATH-M50x have everything you’d expect from a pair of professional monitoring headphones. They look the business, all padded ear cups and headband. They are also available in white but no one in their right mind would get them in anything other than black. They have solid low-end definition, a reassuring amount of clarity across the frequency range and are regarded as being pretty extraordinary considering the price.

They have excellent isolation, making them perfect for recording and monitoring. The earcups can easily rotate so you can push one ear off for single-ear monitoring and still have a comfortable fit on the other. The cables are detachable which for many people is a critical feature in an environment where cable tangling or stretching can be a problem.

Despite the great isolation they are also great all-rounders, being favored by DJs, and are often used for mixing and personal listening.

Closed-back
Link to Website: audio-technica.com

AKG K240 Studio Headphones


Street Price: $69 (at time of writing)

The K240 headphones are a studio classic. You can always spot them by the distinctive gold band around the earcups. They are remarkably cheap, comfortable and being semi-open are ideal for mixing and tracking. If your budget is tight then the K240s are going to fit the bill nicely.

The 30 mm “Varimotion” drivers produce a solid low end, accurate mids, and some really nice high frequencies. The headband adapts to your head and the earcups are comfortable enough to wear for extended periods. They have an airy feel to them that doesn’t over-emphasize the bass and reduces the fatigue that you can get with closed-back headphones. The cable is detachable using a mini XLR connector which is great for cable replacement but slightly annoying that it’s not likely to be the type of cable you’ll have knocking around.

For $69 you can’t get a better pair of headphones for critical listening and mixing.

Semi-Open
Link to Website: akg.com

The ATH-M50x have everything you’d expect from a pair of professional monitoring headphones. They look the business, all padded ear cups and headband. They are also available in white but no one in their right mind would get them in anything other than black. They have solid low-end definition, a reassuring amount of clarity across the frequency range and are regarded as being pretty extraordinary considering the price.

Sennheiser HD 280 Pro

Street Price: $99 (at time of writing)

Sennheiser makes a lot of headphones. Their HD range has been a studio staple for many years. Any list of headphones would include at least two pairs of Sennheiser HDs. Our first pick is the relatively new HS 280 Pro. They are chunky, comfortable, rugged and remarkably good value at under $100.

They are closed-back with good isolation and offer up to 32dB of ambient noise reduction. Ideal for monitoring situations like recording vocals or instruments with microphones. The earcups swivel to give that single ear monitoring possibility and can fold up for space saving when you need to be portable. They are not the prettiest of headphones and have a permanent coiled cable which you will either love or hate.

The HD 280 Pros make for a great closed-back alternative to the more open AKG K240s.

Closed-back
Link to Website: sennheiser.com

Sennheiser HD 800

Street Price: $1,699 (at time of writing)

As I say, there are a lot of good headphones in the Sennheiser HD range. Consider the mid-range HD 660 or HD 700s. But if you want to head into the high-end then check out the HD 800 S.

These are “reference class” headphones. That means that they’ve been engineered to a level where they can be used as devices to test other audio equipment. The sound is completely transparent, giving a crisp high-end and a ridiculously defined low-end. The huge 56mm drivers are encased in steel and direct sound to your ears at a precise angle to offer a more natural soundstage. The sound is all there, without distortion, without masking — it’s crystal clear.

The plush earpads are handmade from microfibre and the low-fatigue aerospace headband makes them comfortable all day. There are two cable socket options for regular jacks or mini XLR. Being open, they are aimed directly at mixing and mastering, or someone who wants to rediscover their love of music.

The difference, when compared to headphones knocking around for a couple of hundred dollars, is astounding. I mean we spend a lot of energy trying to big-up sub-$100 headphones but with the HD 800 S, they will be the best things you’ve ever put on your head.

Open-backed
Link to Website: sennheiser.com

Yamaha HPH-MT7W Studio Headphones

Street Price: $299 (at time of writing)

Back to the reality of headphones we can afford, the Yamaha HPH-MT7W will give you something stylish, comfortable and accurate. They follow the same philosophy as the classic NS10 studio monitors. They are designed to offer a flat and accurate response to help you find the best way to improve your mix.

The 40mm neodymium dynamic drivers give an accurate reproduction across the whole frequency range. The closed-back design makes them ideal for monitoring and recording but Yamaha designed the MT7Ws primarily for mixing. The circumaural design helps seal you from the outside world and prevents bleed into the microphone. In many ways, this makes them the perfect all-rounder.

They look fabulous. Somehow Yamaha has captured something more stylish than most in these headphones. The earcups move for single-ear monitoring and the mixture of ABS housing and die-cast aluminum support arms make them pretty robust. The only slight disappointment is that the cable isn’t detachable.

Closed-back
Link to Website: usa.yamaha.com.com

You can never go wrong with your AKG or Sennheisers; they will always come up with the goods regardless of the task or the environment you’re in.

Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pro

Street Price: $599 (at time of writing)

Heading up in price with the Beyerdynamic, another company that could easily have more than one pair in this list. But you’ve got enough choices lower down so it’s time to look at something a bit special. The DT 1770 Pro Tesla studio reference headphones are designed for mixing, mastering and monitoring.

They are beautifully understated and use the latest Tesla driver technology to pour all of that Beyerdynamic expertise into a benchmark set of headphones. A 3-layer membrane suppresses unwanted vibrations, the impressively efficient drivers and carefully selected acoustic fabric offers distortion-free audio even at high volumes. Made with high-tech materials throughout, they are so comfortable you’ll forget you’re wearing them.

The closed-back design can overwhelm the low frequencies but in the DT 1770 Pro, they are kept clean and punchy. The isolation copes brilliantly with the outstanding output level, meaning you never have to worry about the bleed. But Beyerdynamic has been clever here to include two sets of earpads. One leatherette set provides the best-closed sound for monitoring whereas a second velour set provides a more open sound for mixing and mastering. So, you’re not having to compromise whatever function you want to use them for. However, if you predominately need headphones for mixing then the DT 1990 Pro offer the same specifications but with an open back for the same price.

Comes with a hard case and both a straight and curly cable that connect via mini XLR. The DT 1770 Pro is a professional solution to your listening, mixing and monitoring needs.

Closed-back with open earpads
Link to Website: www.north-america.beyerdynamic.com.com

Adam Studio Pro SP-5

Street Price: $499 (at time of writing)

Adam Audio is famous for their studio monitor speakers. The SP-5 is their first foray into the headphone market but these are shaping up to be every bit as desirable as their speaker environments.

The SP-5s are closed-back and designed to offer a balanced and dynamic response for mixing and monitoring. The 40mm gold plated diaphragm gives a wide response with an excellent transient response and very low distortion. Their Ultrasone’s S-LOGIC Plus technology gives a natural, three-dimensional sound using a decentralized driver position that engages the outer ear before blasting your auditory canal. It gives it the ability to define direction and distances and positional information increasingly common in mixing for music in games and other media.

The S-LOGIC technology also allows it to take some of the energy out of the sound without reducing loudness to reduce the fatigue on your ears — so you could wear these all day. There’s even special shielding to reduce magnetic radiation. A lot has gone into these headphones to make them comfortable and easy to use in environments where you may need to be wearing them all day, which can be very common in residentially based mixing situations. Maybe Adam is onto something.

Closed-back
Link to Website: www.adam-audio.com

Conclusion

Like microphones, some headphones stick around as studio favorites. You can never go wrong with your AKG or Sennheisers; they will always come up with the goods regardless of the task or the environment you’re in. But there are other choices and putting down a couple of hundred dollars will get you a different mixing experience to what you may be used to.

Studios are not the same as they’ve always been. The way we make music, the way we listen, mix and master has changed. The type of content we’re mixing for and the end product can now be so many different things. Maybe Adam Audio has something going on with being futuristic-looking and diverse in application. In any case, they will beat your earbuds or DJ cans any day of the week.

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