Having a quality pair of headphones can make a world of difference if your job revolves around sound and audio production. For professionals, stock headphones honestly can’t do the trick. Whether you are a producer, DJ, MC, mix/master or any other type of sound fanatic, you will need a pair of quality headphones, and in this article, we will explain how to pick one, and give you few examples.
How To Choose Studio Headphones?
When it comes to studio headphones, there are two main categories to consider; open and closed back.
- Open back headphones are ideal for people who do a lot of mixing. The main feature of these is superb sound quality. Isolation and sound quality are opposite- when the sound quality goes up, the isolation goes down, and vice versa. Open back headphones provide the best quality sound, no doubt about it, and if that is the most important feature you are looking for, go for the open back.
- Closed back headphones, on the other hand, provide maximum isolation, that is their main selling point. They aim to cancel the sound coming from the speakers completely- nothing will “bleed” into the microphone that is recording live. It will also help when playing/making music in a noisy environment, reducing the outside noise and helping you focus on your music. If that is the thing you are looking for, go for closed back, but keep in mind that the sound quality is much lower than that produced by open back headphones.
Those were the two main types of studio headphones. However, like with any other things you are looking to buy, some other factors should also be considered.
- First, your budget- it will tell you a lot about what you cannot. Still, never go for the cheapest product, if you absolutely don’t have to. You are looking for studio headphones, and have chosen them over regular ones. That means that you are willing to pay extra to get better sound quality, so apply the same principle when browsing between studio headphones.
- Second, extras. Guys, forget about them. BT, microphones and all other stuff manufacturers add to the headphones, all of those take away from the sound quality. If you are serious about what you intend to do, and that is studio work, forget about all that. All the studio headphones we will review in this article only have pure sound quality and/or isolation in mind. No extras.
Best Closed-Back Studio Headphones
1 Sony MDR7506
You cannot go wrong with Sony, especially when choosing high-end models. This company has been around for ages, and needs no introduction- their audio products are top of the line. Sony MDR7506 really proves this claim. These headphones have neodymium magnets coupled with 40 mm magnets that will deliver superb sound quality. The frequency response of these headphones is 10-20 kHz. The closed-back design makes sure nothing gets through, ensuring maximal isolation.
These headphones are very comfortable, even after long hours of wearing. The cable is quite long, 9.8 ft, and its length will never be a problem. On the end of it, you will find a gold-plated plug. A great thing about these headphones is their foldable design, making it easier to carry and store. The overall design is rugged, and gives a quality feel- you should not drop them, but if you accidentally do, don’t stress, they feel like they can stand quite a beating.
If you are looking for a great pair of headphones, with excellent price/quality ratio, look no further- Sony MDR7506 is for you.
2 Audio-Technica ATH-M50x
Audio-Technica is a well-respected company among the audio quality fanatics. Almost every model they make is top-class, and you can choose between them with your eyes closed. Yet, if we have to pick, in our opinion, ATH-M50x should be your first choice.
The one thing that makes these headphones stand out from the rest are rare, earth magnets inside them and copper-clad aluminium coils. The sound quality 45mm drivers produce is flawless, and one of the best of all closed back headphones we have tested.
Besides the superb sound, ATH-M50x also has a good design. Cups rotate up to 90-degrees, and the cable is detachable and interchangeable, allowing more options. However, you can only replace the original cable with those made by Audio-Technica, which we do not like. Earpad and headband are well designed, and you will not notice them even after many hours of use. Circumaural designed will cancel any noise, both ways.
All things considered, ATH-M50x is an excellent pair of headphones, and they are one of the most popular models out there for a good reason.
3 Sennheiser HD280 Pro
If you ask the audio professionals which studio headphone to buy, the answer you will hear most often is Sennheiser HD280 Pro. The closed-back design will provide maximum isolation (up to 32 dB), ideal for recording. These headphones are ideal both for studio monitoring and in-home use.
With really low weight (285g), and ergonomic design, HD280 Pro is perfect for long hours of studio work. The cable is long and coiled, easy to adjust to the right length. The around the ear design will block up to 32 dB of outside noise. Headphones are foldable, which will allow you to carry them with you when travelling.
Maybe the best thing about Sennheiser HD280 Pro is it having replaceable parts. You can replace headband padding, ear pads and the cable. This will prolong the lifetime, giving you good value for money- if something breaks, you do not have to replace the whole thing. You can expect to use them 5+ years.
4 Shure SRH840
If you are browsing for studio headphones with sound clarity in the first place, we think we have found the right ones for you – Shure SRH840. The whole sound spectrum will be pinpoint- highs, mids and lows. When listening instrumental music, you will be able to hear every single instrument and tone it produces. However, these headphones deliver accurate sound- if the source is low-quality, the sound you hear will be the same. The maximal volume of SRH840 is really high, and the closed back design provides great isolation, making this Shure model perfect for noisy environments.
The overall design is outstanding. Cable is detachable and coiled (with a gold platted adapter), and the headphones are collapsible. Both cups and headband are soft, and will not cause discomfort even after wearing for long hours straight. You will also get a cute carrying bag. They are really well made and feel durable.
All in all, Shure SRH840 is an excellent pair of headphones, and you will be more than satisfied if you choose them for your studio.
5 Focal Spirit Professional
For those of you who are looking to get quality headphones and have accurate sound in mind, Focal Spirit Professional is a good option. The sound these headphones produce is entirely transparent, without any distortion- it is all about the precision and the details; if you have a critical ear, Focal Spirit Professional is for you.
These are closed back headphones, and have excellent isolation, cancelling outside noise. With these, you will get the neutral sound quality that is (almost) like you get with open back, paired with the isolation of the closed backs.
Plus it is not only about the sound- these are quality made headphones. You can put cups in different positions, and the memory foam will provide not only great comfort but also maximal sound isolation. The headband, on the other hand, is a bit tighter, but you will get used to it after a couple of days, once it gets loose.
This French company really did their homework, providing us with a unique product- superb quality all over. They are a bit expensive though, but if you can afford them, it will be worth every penny.
Best Open Back Studio Headphones
6 AKG K 240
If the money is a bit tight, consider AKG K 240, you will hardly find better headphones in the sub $100 range.
These headphones are praised by many audio professionals around the world. First, the XXL transducers placed in vented enclosures that are acoustically tuned, and place in circumaural (around the ear) pads provide both comfort and impeccable sound quality, at least for the price. The “semi-open” design takes the best of both worlds, giving you an ideal solution if your budget allows only one model for both mixing and recording. However, if you ask us, they are better used for mixing, since the sound will leak out.
We have mentioned comfort- K 240 has shape-forming global suspension design, that is a standard for the AKG brand. They are comfortable- headphones will be stabile on your head, but won’t clap too tightly. This will result in maximal comfort even after you spend many straight hours mixing. Headphones feel durable and quality made. After all, they are manufactured by hand in Brooklyn, NYC.
AKG K 240 are not the best headphones on the list. However, for this price, you will not find any better. If you are on a tight budget, and an all-around solution, AKG K 240 is your best bet.
7 Sennheiser HD 600
We have already presented you with one Sennheiser model from the HD series, but now we will talk about one of the “open” versions, HD 600.
The sound quality HD 600 produces is something else. Like with all open back models, this one is best used by studio engineers when mixing. The sound will leak outside, but open backs are all about the superb sound quality- and with Sennheiser HD 600 you will get precisely that. You will not find better-sounding headphones, not only in this price range but even above that, period. They are not exactly cheap, but for this level of sound quality, they are best valued of all open back headphones. If you do not trust us, just check online- you will see dozens of audio professionals and fanatics praising these headphones.
HD 600 is comfortable, and the velour fabric used for pads will allow your skin to breathe- so no sweating. Also, like with HD 280, these headphones have removable parts, extending lifetime. The only flaw is the plastic used for parts- it does feel a beat cheap. However, once you hear the sound these headphones make, you will instantaneously fall in love. With sound this good, they could be made out of paper.
8 Beyerdynamic DT 990
If you are looking for sensitive headphones with clear, spacious sound, and good, deep bass, consider DT 990 by Beyerdynamic. Both low and high-frequency ranges will be clear and sharp, and this can really be felt when listening to vocals, as it will feel like you are live in a concert hall. If you are really into accurate sound, you will love DT 990. Open back design is responsible for giving spaciousness to the music.
The build quality is also very good. Aluminium-plastic combination works and feels well. Overall DT 990 is very light and quite comfortable, and if you like bigger headphones, you will love how they feel. Cable is coiled, 3m long, which is more than enough.
You will not go wrong With Beyerdynamic DT 990. Impeccable sound, comfortable design and German quality are a winning combination.
9 Shure SRH1840
Another great model from Shure, this time in the open back part of the list. SRH1840 is the first open-back model made by Shure, and it definitely means they are on the right track. The sound is so accurate that you will hear noises you never knew existed, even on tracks you have listened to a zillion times before. The sound is realistic and accurate, and everything is just right, as is, without any exaggerations.
Shure chose velour to use it for padding, allowing your skin to breathe. The headband is also very flexible and adjustable. The skeleton is made out of aluminium, and these headphones are quite durable.
Overall, Shure did an excellent job with their first open-back model, and we cannot wait for the new ones to arrive. However, until then, SRH1840 is more than enough to keep us happy.
10 Sennheiser HD 800 S
So far, we were mostly focusing on budget-friendly or best value for the price models. However, the last model on our list, Sennheiser HD 800 S is something entirely different. These headphones cost more than ten times as much as some other models we have presented. For those of you with an unlimited budget, that want the best audio quality, and are not asking for the price, these are the only headphones you should get, ever. These open backs meet the highest studio standards and are used by professional mixers worldwide.
Sennheiser built HD 800 S with true accuracy in mind. Every single sound that was produced while recording the music will be accurately reproduced, as is. This really is “as is”- nothing will be boosted, nothing will be fake, HD 800 S produces the clear sound that was captured when recording the music you listen. Furthermore considering the price range, we will not even mention comfort and build quality- be sure it is maximal.
This is a complete truth- no other headphones on these two lists of great headphones come close to Sennheiser HD 800 S- both in sound quality and the price. So be wise, don’t overestimate yourself, if you do not need this level of sound quality, HD 800 is a waste of money, no matter how deep your pocket is. On the other hand, if you do need it, then save extra money if you have to, but get them, a whole new world will open to you once you hear how good they sound.