Whether you’re just starting our or you are a seasoned veteran of the industry, you can’t run a music production/recording studio without a good set of cans. That is just fact. Today we are going to go over some of the best models you can get. We’ve selected top 10 best studio headphones divided across a number of different price ranges. This way you can find something that will work for you no matter your budget or your skill level. After we go over our picks, we’ll get into what makes good studio headphones but also why they’re necessary.
Top 10 Best Studio Headphones :
Shure’s studio headphones are nowhere near as popular as their microphones. However, this brand has shown the same level of quality in this branch of the industry. Their Shure SRH1840 is a perfect example of what an open back set of studio headphones should sound like. We are talking professional level of detail and precision with an outstanding spatial dimension.
Starting with the frame, we see a very minimalist design that is well padded and pretty light. We’d like to see a bit more padding on the headband but that is not a deal breaker for sure. The hardware inside consists of two high performance neodymium drivers which offer immense range and ultimate transparency plus a truly massive sound stage.
One of the more interesting options in the pro segment are the Beyerdynamic DT 1770 PRO Studio headphones. These represent a high end closed back set of cans which are mean to deliver utmost levels of precision and accuracy. The design itself is pretty simple yet very efficient. Beyerdynamic didn’t spend too much time on aesthetics, that is for sure.
What they did spend time and effort on is hardware and performance. These are 250 Ohm headphones which means that you won’t have issues using them with just about any piece of studio gear. Its two 45mm dynamic Tesla drivers are impressive when it comes to transparency and precision. Needless to say, these offer great sound as well as accuracy.
Audio Technica’s M series of headphones have made quite a bit of noise when they first appeared. This was mainly due to the fact that the entire range offers impressive performance for not a lot of money. Same goes for ATH-M70x despite them being anything but cheap. These are a perfect set of cans for studio work and live performance
As always, Audio Techica has made sure that the frame can keep up with the drivers. In other words you are getting a good amount of padding and hence good comfort all around. The drivers come in form of two 45mm units with a frequency response range of 5Hz to 40kHz. The overall performance you’re getting is definitely great.
Focal is a brand that is known for their unique headphone design and great performance. Thanks to Focal Listen Pro, we have found out that this same description applies to their studio headphones segment. Listen pro are both attractive and utilitarian, light and comfortable. In a grand scheme of things, these are about exactly what you’d want in a studio.
It is not all about the looks, though. Underneath the shiny exterior lies an impressive set of drivers which make monitoring and mixing easy. The amount of range and detail these headphones have to offer is right up there with the best. Especially if you are after closed back models. On top of that, there is plenty of headroom available.
Considering the nature of this list, it is only normal to find Sennheiser among the top models. Their HD 380 Pro is definitely one of the better pairs to hit the market in the lower mid range segment. If you are looking for the optimal bang for the buck, these might just be the by far best option out there.
The frame is definitely an important part of this entire design. It’s simple, functional and pretty lightweight all things considered. The hardware and drivers inside allow for quite a flat output and a very wide frequency response range. Sennheiser has managed to squeeze in a whole lot of performance into a package which is neither too expensive nor too demanding.
AKG K series of headphones are truly something to behold. These have been around for a while and come in a variety of options. One of their most distinctive features is their frame design. It’s super light and features a pretty ingenious leather headband. This adds a lot when it comes to comfort, all while reducing fatigue quite a bit.
Drivers which come with this set are awesome. Being an open set of cans, you are also getting that spatial dimension. With that said, AKG K702 is great in terms of clarity, accuracy and overall transparency. You can use them for monitoring as well as mixing. Naturally, there are some limitations to this design, but those aren’t a big factor.
Sony’s offerings have always been highly respected among music producers. One thing this brand knows how to do is no-nonsense performance oriented gear. Sony MDR-V6 may not look like much, but it’s a true workhorse of the budget segment. These will get you a lot of bang for your buck and as you might imagine, that’s great on a budget.
What makes them so competitive are the CCAW voice coils and the overall driver configuration. You are getting a whole lot of range from two pretty powerful drivers. The abundance of headroom is even more appreciated when you take into consideration the flat and transparent performance Sony MDR-V6 has to offer. Needless to say, these are an awesome budget choice.
Chinese headphone brands have really started stepping up their game. This entire process started with Superlux. This manufacturer turned the entire industry upside down with their ridiculously inexpensive models which performed as good as models which are 10 times as expensive. If you’re on a tight budget and need a good set of cans, Superlux HD-685 is a good choice.
These headphones pack a lot of bang for the buck and feature what is essentially an AKG design. However, it is worth mentioning that hardware is what these are all about. The sound is a bit heavy in the lower end but that can be ironed out with a good EQ map. Fortunately, there are plenty of frequency graphs available.
Trying to score a good set of cans on a budget, and we’re talking strict budget, used to be borderline impossible. Fortunately for us things have changed. These days you can find awesome headphones which sound great and are reasonably transparent on the cheap. One such mode is the Rockville PRO-M50. These are simple, effective and more than reasonably comfortable
What surprised us the most is the fact that Rockville has nailed frame design. These are pretty much on point when it comes to comfort and padding. The hardware comes in form of two fairly decent 40mm drivers capable of delivering good, transparent output. Are they completely bias free? Nope, but they are close enough considering their price and purpose.
Yamaha’s RH50A are by far some of the best studio headphones you can find on the cheap. These will get you started in music production and definitely put you on the right track. Best of all, they are much better than we had expected. For a cheap set of cans, RH50A pack a good punch. Plus, they are pretty comfortable.
The only downside is the frame, which looks super odd. If you can get over that, you will enjoy two pretty good drivers and their fairly flat tone. Sure there’s bias and the resolution is very limited, but they are much better than a consumer grade pair of headphones. That’s about as much as we can ask for from them.
Even though many don’t like it, this is the real entry level segment for studio headphones. For $50 can get your foot in the door and allow you to mix with a decent level of accuracy. Naturally, there will be compromises, especially in terms of build quality and level of sonic detail.
At around $100 things start to look better. This is where you will run into better features, including detachable cables, swivel mounts and similar. Investing this kind of money into studio headphones also gets you a good level of transparency. For some, this segment is the so called ‘true’ entry level category.
Once you reach $200, you are in the goldilock zone. This is the sweet spot for price and performance. You are getting the most bang for your buck. This is also where you will start running into more serious driver designs, larger cones and overall more refined hardware.
The difference between the $300 and $200 is very small but noticeable. It comes down to different types of headphones offering different performance brackets. We are talking decent open and semi open designs which really push the whole thing to a new level.
The $500 segment is where your top tier commercial models are going to be found. Sure, there are more expensive studio headphones out there but those are niche cans that not many are considering on the pro level. Headphones in this range are going to have a very flat response and a great sound stage if you’re running open back cans.
Why Are Studio Headphones Important?
Recording music, mixing music and overall music production in general requires a lot of skill and equipment. At least it does if you want to do it the right way. However, no amount of either of these two things will do you any good if you can’t hear that music. This is where studio headphones, also known as monitoring or reference headphones come in. What most people take for granted is that every stereo system, every set of cans or earbuds reproduces music in its own way. Some are bass heavy, which is mostly the case with modern consumer headphones. Some have extremely sharp mids and trebles. What they all have in common is bias. Bias isn’t inherently bad but it’s definitely not something you want to deal with in the recording and mixing stage of music production.
Instead, you want to observe your mix in the most unbiased way possible. No accentuated lows, mids or trebles. What you want are flat headphones. Flat in this context is related to their frequency response graph. In other words, the dB response from the lowest possible frequency they offer and the highest one should be as close to a fixed value as possible. Only when all frequencies are equally represented can you start tweaking your mix.
But How Do You Make A Track Sound Good On Commercial Headphones?
That’s the beauty of the whole process. Using reference headphones allows you to experience the track in its most neutral format. Then, you get to experiment with different settings and values, which may not sound great on your studio headphones, but will sound extremely well on a set of commercial headphones. This is where we have to point out one more thing. Making sure that everything is represented well in the mix isn’t the only purpose for using reference headphones. Thanks to their clinical performance, these will help you flesh out any subtle issues with the mix. This can mean anything from tweaking a specific channel or adding more of a certain effect. Those details aren’t always obvious when you are using a standard set of headphones.
Are Studio Headphones Sufficient?
One of the most heated and honestly most ridiculous discussions among newer producers is whether studio headphones are better or worse than studio monitor speakers. Here’s the thing. These are two very different types of diagnostic tools. In other words, you will want to use both at all times.
Sure, you can get away with using only speakers or headphones until you put your entire setup together, but don’t think even for a moment that you can run your entire operation on headphones only. It doesn’t work that way. Headphones will indicate issues that speakers wont and vice versa. With speakers you have that spatial dimension as well, which is a whole different ball game to dial in.
Types of Studio Headphones
Now that we know why studio headphones are important, lets talk a bit about what types of studio headphones are available. There are two major categories and one that is not as represented these days. We are talking about closed back, open back and semi open studio headphones. Each of these has their pros and cons which will affect how you experience your mix. Lets take a look at each category a bit closer.
Closed Back Headphones
Closed back headphones are considered to be the default choice in the industry. There are numerous reasons for that, some of which we will go into a bit later. Just like their name states, these headphones feature closed back design which means that they do a good job of isolating the outside noise. Also, since your ears are surrounded by a closed chamber along with the driver, you will get an immense amount of detail. As you can probably tell by now, immense amounts of detail are good in this business. Closed back headphones are also much more forgiving towards weaker drivers. In other words, you can have a mediocre set of transducers in your headphones, nut that closed design will boost their performance to an acceptable level. This is why almost all affordable studio headphones are closed back in design.
Open Back Design
Opposed to closed back headphones there are open back. If you were to look at the speaker cups, in many cases you can actually see the speakers from the outside. Since there is no longer any material to form a barrier between your ears and the environment, the noise isolation is almost nonexistent. That just so happens to be one of the main flaws of this design. You have to work in a very quiet environment otherwise you aren’t going to get much done. With that said, there are tangible and quite important benefits to using open back headphones. The main one is the introduction of a spatial dimension. When you let those drivers breathe, they gain a lot of depth. If you were to close your eyes, you should be able to find the position of each instrument in space around you. This is why recording engineers often use these to iron out live bands.
Semi open designs were introduced in an effort to bridge the gap between these two main categories. As it usually goes with jacks of all trades, they ended up being a master of none. To be completely honest, there are some decent semi open designs out there. They have a bit of that depth and a lot of clarity, but they are no match for a proper dedicated set of open or closed cans.
What To Look For In Studio Headphones
If you look at our picks you will notice that none of the come with extraordinary features or anything similar. It is all about that performance. However, there are still some things you should look for in a set of studio cans. Some of these are going to be vital while others might be considered optional.
If you are wondering why comfort is higher than hardware or other factors, there is a perfectly valid reason for it. It all comes down to efficiency. No matter how great a pair of headphones is if you can’t stand to wear them for longer than 30 minutes. Comfort is imperative. It is the first thing to look for, no ifs, ands or buts. What defines a comfortable pair of headphones? It all comes down to headband padding and ear pads.
There are different schools of thought when it comes to headbands. Some prefer old school padding while others tend to experiment with different designs. For example, AKG prefers a simple wire frame with an independent leather strap. On the other hand, Audio Technica is all about smothering the frame with padding. Which design works best for you is a matter of personal preference. What matters is that you’re getting good results and fatigue prevention.
Next to frame padding, ear pads are the one component that can make or break a pair of headphones. What you want is good depth and diameter to start things off. Good depth ensures that your earlobes won’t rub against the internal mesh of the ear pad, while a generous diameter guarantees good coverage. One thing that is perhaps even more important is the material from which ear pads are made. Velour is has been the standard lately and for a good reason. If you go full on vinyl which some brands do, your ears will start sweating like nobody’s business. Velour on the other hand ensures good ventilation.
Enough Frame Adjustment
One of the often overlooked aspects of frame design is the amount of adjustment you can make. This ought to be a straight forward thing but you would be surprised just how many brands are skimping out in this department. Because of that, do yourself a favor and be vigilant.
Next comes the hardware. This is where your options are mostly going to be dictated by your budget. Higher end drivers with better voice coils and proprietary tech are naturally going to cost more. On the other hand, more basic driver designs will be cheaper. The more refined a driver is, flatter it will be in practice. That is all there is to it. However, keep in mind that you can boost the performance of cheaper headphones by pushing them through an EQ. Especially if you already have an accurate graph of their response. All it comes down to is negating that bias by countering it with a detailed EQ map. That way you can definitely improve the performance of your headphones.
Cables are a big part of a studio experience. Most headphones are going to come with at least one cable, usually two. Before we get any further, lets just say that if you can get a set of headphones with a detachable cable, do so. Get them even if it means spending a bit more money. Here’s why that is so important. No matter how static you are during your work, you will move and that cable will move with you. After a certain amount of time most cables simply start to degrade. The option you have with a detachable cable is to replace a faulty one with a brand new one.
On top of that, there is always the matter of cable length. Why would you limit yourself one length of cable when you can enjoy several depending on your task? Coiled cables work better behind a workstation while standard cables make sense if you move around a lot. Cables are important so don’t neglect them when you start looking for your pair.
Are Bluetooth Headphones Something Worth Pursuing?
Most experienced producers will outright say no. If it isn’t wired to the terminals, it isn’t going to work. Or at least that is the idea most people have in the industry. Here’s our take on wireless studio headphones. Some work, most don’t. Those which work often bring a tradeoff with them. You will lose some clarity or precision but have utmost freedom of movement. For some, that is all it takes. Some producers are fine with sacrificing a bit of that performance for personal convenience.
In our opinion, if you don’t have a really good reason to go wireless, don’t. It is almost never worth it when it comes to performance and with long cables your freedom of movement is going to be more or less similar. With that said, we have added a wireless model to our list just in case you have a strong need for that type of headphones. If you’d like to check them out, consult the breakdown of categories.
At the end of the day there is really no substitute for a good set of studio headphones. They are an essential tool for any producer and are definitely available in a variety of prices. The ones we have listed in this guide are what we consider the best. There are more expensive models on the market, but those fall within niche headphones and are not something beginners or even intermediate users would benefit from. Whichever model you go for from our list, chances are that you will have a good, wholesome experience with them.