Best Studio Headphones – A Complete Buyer’s Guide

By John Stone

When it comes to recording music, one of the most important aspects is of course, the ability to hear it properly. By this I don’t mean having a good hearing (although that helps too), I mean having a solid arsenal of equipment which will enable you to record and reproduce your creative endeavors in a proper fashion. No, I won’t argue with the ‘talent combined with hard work is everything’ mantra, but if you leave the gear out of the equation, you’ll certainly have a tougher time in achieving your goals.

As a long time musician and a casual home-recording aficionado, I’ve come to realize that aside from the obvious items in the signal chain (instrument, cables, digital workstation, plugins, etc), the final link (speakers) can indeed be a critical one to the overall picture.

Having a sub-par set of speaker monitors or headphones can greatly diminish the end-result of your work, i.e. the mix. Some producers like to do the mixing on speakers, others prefer headphones. I belong to the latter group. I became a favorite of headphones over the years because I hear everything better when the music is ‘directly in my head’.

In this article you’ll find out what are the benefits of using the best headphones at your disposal, which are the best headphones for mixing, which ones should be used for recording, what are the important aspects you should consider before making a purchase and we’ll review some of the top studio headphones today.

Studio Headphones Comparison Table

Image

Model

Type

Impedance (ohms)

Sensitivity (db)

Frequency Response (Hz)

Price

Rating

Sennheiser HD 800

Open

300

102

6 – 51000

$$$$$

Sennheiser HD 600 Open Back Professional Headphone

Sennheiser HD 600

Open

300

97

12 – 39000

$$$

Shure SRH840 Professional Monitoring Headphones

Shure SRH840

Closed

44

102

5 – 25000

$$

Audio-Technica ATHM50RD Professional Studio Monitor Headphones, Red

Audio-Technica ATHM50RD

Closed

38

99

15 – 28000

$$

Sony MDRV6 Studio Monitor Headphones with CCAW Voice Coil

Sony MDRV6

Closed

63

106

5 – 30000

$$

AKG K 240

AKG K 240

Semi-open

55

104

15 – 25000

$

Pioneer HDJ-1500-S

Pioneer HDJ-1500-S

Closed

32

108

5 – 30000

$$

Samson SR850

Open

32

104

10 – 30000

$

Beyerdynamic DT-990-Pro-250

Open

96

32/250

5 – 35000

$$

Sennheiser HD 280 Pro

Closed

64

102

8 – 25000

$

Different Types of Studio Headphones

First things first, it’s important to distinguish between two major types of studio headphones. Depending on the task before you, you’ll need to choose between open back vs closed back headphones. If you’re looking for the best studio headphones for mixing, you will want to check out the open back models. On the other hand, if you need a set of headphones for recording, closed back is the choice for you. Let’s see why this is important.

best studio headphones

Open Back Headphones For Mixing And Mastering

If you’re wondering why you need to get the open back headphones for proper mixing and mastering, it’s because of their ability to create a more natural overall sound. Their open back design allows for a certain amount of background noise to be combined with the recorded sounds.

The best mixing headphones have a well-rounded frequency spectrum where all of the sounds are reproduced equally and no frequency is able to dominate the overall sound image (a common example would be over accentuated low end, when mixing with closed back headphones). Check out some of the best open back headphones here.

Closed Back Headphones For Recording

When it comes to recording, it is extremely important to isolate the playback sounds coming from the headphones while you record an instrument. This is particularly important when recording vocals.

Closed back headphones have great noise-isolating capabilities, so they are a natural choice for recording tracks. By now, you’ve probably noticed a slight drawback here, because you can’t really do a great job with both recording and mixing on one set of headphones. Of course, it’s not impossible to do it on one set, provided that you have enough experience and knowledge.

You will need to be able to determine exactly which frequencies could be fighting for room in the mix. Still, I’d recommend having a separate set of each in order to ensure maximum results. Closed back headphones can also be used for live applications, but in ear monitors are a better choice if you can afford both.

Top 5 Best Headphones For Studio Reviewed

Based on what we’ve discussed previously, take some time to consider what will be the main purpose of headphones you’re planning to buy, before you make the purchase. If you are a casual user who’s only looking for studio quality headphones for music listening, then I advise you to consider closed-back models.

Open back models can be used too, of course, but you need to take into account that anyone around you will be able to hear what you’re listening to, and probably quite loudly too. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular studio headphones today.

Sennheiser HD 800 Reference Dynamic Headphone

Sennheiser HD 800 Reference Dynamic Headphone

Let’s be perfectly clear here. These headphones are not for everyone. They are designed for absolute studio professionals who are looking for the best quality money can offer when it comes to open back headphones.

Reference headphones are the ones which reproduce sound without boosting any of the frequencies to produce a true, unaltered sound image. While most professional headphones feature a 20 Hz – 20 kHz frequency range, this model has an astounding range of 6 Hz – 51 kHz.

One of the key features of this model is the unbelievably realistic spatial characteristic of the sound it produces. When listening to a well-produced piece with many instruments you will feel like you’re right there among the musicians, being able to determine exactly where the sound is coming from, left right, up or down.

This feature is created with Sennheiser’s innovative, 56-mm-wide transducer, 40 mm aluminum coil and the 42-mm magnet system. They offer unbelievable sound clarity, top of the line craftsmanship and guaranteed quality. Truly, one of the best headphones for music production.

Sennheiser HD 600 Open Back Professional Headphone

Sennheiser HD 600 Open Back Professional Headphone

Another audiophile-grade, open back model from Sennheiser, HD 800’s younger brother, HD 600 is a mastering favorite of many sound engineers in the world. It offers an amazing sound quality at a reasonable price.

You should note that unlike HD 800, these headphones are a hi-fi model, which means they are very good headphones for music listening, too. They are geared more towards hi-fi users who are looking to enhance their listening experience, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use them for other applications, like studio mixing, as well.

They feature neodymium ferrous magnets which create a punchy, dynamic frequency response and a very well balanced, spatial sound. The oxygen-free copper cables are detachable for extra portability and enhanced with Kevlar. No, they’re not bulletproof, but Kevlar sure does make a difference when it comes to cable isolation quality.

Shure SRH840 Professional Monitoring Headphones

Shure SRH840 Professional Monitoring Headphones

If you’re looking for the best headphones for recording, SRH840 will most certainly deliver the goods without burning a hole in your pocket. As always with Shure, you can expect a high quality product, built to last.

With an ergonomic over-the-ear design and memory foam earpads, SRH840 won’t fatigue your ears even with extended listening but they will provide enhanced sound isolation and maximum comfort. Best recording headphones should always feel comfortable and you won’t have trouble with SRH840 in that department.

Its 40 mm neodymium dynamic drivers create a very distinct soundstage with all the frequencies packed in their place neatly. You won’t hear an instrument struggle to find its place in the mix with these headphones, for sure. This is a very important aspect to consider when it comes to mixing and mastering, you need to be able to find a frequency range for each and every sound so that it doesn’t interfere with other frequencies.

Audio-Technica ATHM50RD Professional Studio Monitor Headphones, Red

Audio-Technica ATHM50RD Professional Studio Monitor Headphones, Red

ATHM50RD is one of the best studio monitor headphones out there today. They are quite popular too, and with a very good reason.

They have a frequency response of 15 – 28 000 Hz, sensitivity rating of 99 db, and a low impedance value of 38 ohms. This makes them a great all-round solution for your needs, because they can be run by any device and you won’t need a separate headphone amplifier to power them. The drivers are 45mm with neodymium magnets, as with many of the top-class headphones.

For those with an accented fashion sense, the red and black color scheme would certainly make you stand out in the crowd (DJs, I’m looking at you). The cups swivel 180 degrees, which makes one-ear listening quite simplified. Again, a great feature if you work as a DJ. But don’t be tricked that these are meant only for DJs, these are definitely one of the best monitor headphones in their price range.

Sony MDRV6 Studio Monitor Headphones with CCAW Voice Coil

Sony MDRV6 Studio Monitor Headphones with CCAW Voice Coil

You might be surprised to see Sony among the top picks, since they are not an audio-only focused company, but as with many of their products, their headphones quality is hard to ignore.

One of their prime headphone models, the MDRV6 delivers clarity and transparency of sound through its 40 mm drivers and neodymium magnets, comparable to many of the bigger players in the field. It has a very healthy frequency range of 5 Hz – 30 kHz which easily beats some of the more expensive models.

Build quality is superb, you can almost conclude that by only taking a look at the headphones. These things are built to last. Over-the-ear design ensures great noise isolation and comfortable fit, while oxygen free copper cord ensures the best possible connection without any interruptions in the signal. If you’re looking for a budget solution, these are one of the best studio headphones under 100 dollars.

Top Headphone Brands

I’ve read many studio headphone reviews and tried many different models of good studio headphones over the last eight years of my humble home recording career and I’ve come up with a list of several brands which I now deem valuable and trustworthy. There’s no big surprise here, if you want premium quality, more often than not you will need to say goodbye to a fair amount of money to get what you need.

When it comes to brand trust, I would personally recommend the likes of AKG, Shure, Sennheiser, Audio Technica, Grado, Pioneer and Sony. When you buy from a well-established brand, in 99% of the cases you know what you’re getting and you know that the investment is cost-worthy.

That of course, does not mean you shouldn’t give the less popular brands a chance to prove their worth. For example, I’ve tried and enjoyed some great earbuds in the lower price category. I would recommend a targeted approach to buying less popular brands: find out what their best models are and give them a try.

Looking for best cheap studio headphones is much easier than selecting extremely expensive models, so you can afford to try out a couple of models. You might end up liking some of them, you never know. I’ve already written about best headphone brands, so check out that article if you want to read more.

Points To Consider When Selecting Headphones

There are several aspects you should take into account when choosing your next headphones. Let’s take a look at some of the important things which will help you make a correct decision.

  • Open Vs Closed – As we’ve discussed earlier on in the article, your starting point should be to decide whether you want to mix or record on a particular set of headphones. Make sure you get this one right, because it could cause you a lot of frustration if you don’t.
  • Impedance Value – A rather simple notion which many beginners tend to overlook. You should know that even though high impedance headphones usually create a better and more powerful sound, they also require a lot of power to reach their full potential. A general rule is that headphones with up to 80-100 Ohms don’t require a separate amplifier, while those with more than 100 Ohms do.
  • Reference Vs Hifi – Reference headphones are generally the best recording headphones you can get, as they present an unaltered sound image. They also work good for mixing. What you record is what you actually hear. On the other hand, Hi-Fi’s are designed to be the best headphones for music because they enhance the frequencies and make them more enjoyable to the listener. You don’t need to buy reference models if you just want to enjoy music and vice versa.
  • Style – It’s strange how many people actually buy headphones just because they like the way they look. This of course, isn’t a primary issue to anyone serious about sound, but it doesn’t hurt if they are neatly designed either.
  • Frequency response and sensitivity – Depending on what kind of sound processing you do, it could be an important factor to be able to weed out the lowest of the low and the highest of the high frequencies.
  • Wired or wireless – Might be an important aspect if you prefer mobility. Note that wireless headphones need to be recharged almost every day.
  • Build quality – An obvious factor, you wouldn’t want to buy something that many people reported breaking down within six months of purchase.
  • Brand – As we’ve previously discussed, brand trust is important. If you have a favorite brand that you’re already fine with, all the better.
  • Warranty – Last but not least, look for products with the longest periods of warranty. Many top brands offer two or more years of warranty on their product, which is cool.

Conclusion

I hope I’ve managed to present you with a great source of information based on my previous experience with various studio headphones. Ultimately, it all depends on you and your taste. Some people will like certain models, others won’t, even if they’re quite expensive and supposed to be of very high quality. Price doesn’t always mean quality, though in most cases it certainly does.

The thing about any technology today is that it evolves at lightning speed. Every year there’s tons of new and improved models coming out, it’s really hard to keep track of all the changes. This is a great thing of course, because the prices are constantly reduced, even for high-quality products, as new ones take their place. Take some time to read through the reviews of a product you like and form your own critical opinion, you’ll be glad you made an educated guess. Good luck with your search!

Product Images Sourced From Amazon.com

The post Best Studio Headphones – A Complete Buyer’s Guide appeared first on Blogtrepreneur – For Busy Entrepreneurs.

      

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