What exactly are studio headphones?
The term studio headphones gets thrown around a lot, but what exactly does it mean? Studio headphones are headphones meant to be used for creating, recording, mixing, and mastering music – in other words, things commonly done within the context of a music studio. Of course these days, a proper studio space is hardly necessary. With little more than a laptop and some software, you can record and produce anywhere at any time.
Basically, you want studio headphones when critical listening is important, as opposed to more entertainment uses (like casual listening to music or podcasts, gaming, watching movies, etc.). Let’s say you’re an electronic music producer, or a recording artist, and your goal is to produce a track or demo. You’re going to want headphones that have a flat frequency response, meaning they don’t “color” the sound by artificially boosting the bass or treble.
Consumer headphones (i.e. headphones & earbuds meant primarily for causal and entertainment use, and even some noise-cancelling headphones) are notorious for altering the frequency response. When the bass and treble are artificially boosted, everything just magically sounds better to us. As an artist who is recording or creating tracks – and more importantly mixing your tracks – you need more professional headphones that are honest; you don’t want any frequencies to be under- or overrepresented (again, that’s called a “flat” frequency response). Why? The idea is that if you can get your music to sound nice and balanced on flat/honest studio headphones, your music is going to “translate” well to wherever people listen to it – laptop speakers, cheap earbuds, car stereos, etc.
One last thing – what about DJ headphones? Can those be used as studio/recording/producing headphones? While several of the headphones we recommend in this guide might be suitable for a live DJ setting (we’ll make a note of those), this guide is biased towards the producer in a studio setting.
Key things to consider when buy studio headphones
Buying the best studio headphones is really important. As a recordist or mix engineer, you are likely to be using them every day. Investing a decent amount of money into a pair will help ensure that they will last for many years. There are some key things to consider before you purchase a pair of studio headphones. Before you go ahead and buy a pair, thinking about the following.
What is my budget?
It is a fairly obvious question, but an important one. You can purchase very good headphones for under $100, however, the more budget you have the better the headphones you can get. If you are a serious producer or mix engineer you will want to spend more than $100 to get a higher build and sound quality. Decide what your budget is before shopping and this will help you make a better decision when there are so many options available to you.
Will I use them for just recording, just mixing or both?
This is an important question as it will determine what type of headphones you might buy. If you are a looking to use them to record and track to, then you will want to get a pair of closed back over-ear headphones. These headphones will minimise noise bleed. They will prevent external sound of the headphones from leaking into the microphone and being picked up on the track.
The downside of closed back headphones is that they do not have as a good or as wider soundstage as open back headphones. This essentially means they are not as clear and will not give you as much sound clarity as open back headphones. Studio headphones with open back designs are better for mixing because it prevents the build-up of bass frequencies inside of the headphone and allows for a more flat, accurate sound. If you are looking to mix in your headphones, then open back headphones will be a better choice for you.
How often will be use them?
This question is worth bearing in mind as getting a comfortable pair of headphones is really important. The more you wear them the more comfortable they will need to be!
So now we’ve got that bit out of the way, let’s explore the top 5 best studio headphones.
Top 5 best studio headphones
- Weight: 9 ounces
- Design: Open, circamural
- Drivers: Unspecified (neodymium and aluminium voice coils)
- Frequency response: 12 – 39000 Hz
- Impedance: 300 ohms
- Open metal mesh make
- Detachable cable (Kevlar-reinforced)
- Cable: 9.8 feet
- Comes with 1/4″ adapter
Sennheiser are the masters of studio headphones. The HD range has something for all price brackets. All their headphones are good value for money and well made. The Sennhesier HD 600 headphones are an open ear headphone stated at being one of the best studio headphones for mixing. Some may complain about the ‘sound leakage’, but the open headphone design just makes them sound better. They are designed for sound great, not privacy.
The HD 600s are the perfect balance of great sound, great build quality and value for money. They probably won’t be the best choice if you just want a set of headphones to record with – see the Audio Technica ATH-M50x headphones below. However, the HD 600s are perfect for mixing. They have a well balance, clear and full sound, which will enable you get mixing your music true and accurately. They are also really comfortable to wear – ideal for long mixing sessions. The HD 600s are one of the best studio headphones around and worth their place on our top 5 best studio headphones list.
In conclusion, they are one of the best set headphones on the market for mixing. If you fancy splashing out a bit more, then check out the even better HD 650 headphones.
- Design: Circamural, full-sized
- Weight: 10 ounces (without cable)
- Drivers: 45mm (earth magnets and copper-clad aluminum coils)
- Frequency response: 15 – 28,000 Hz
- Impedance: 38 ohms
- 90 degree swivelling ear cups
- Collapsible for portability
- Detachable cables (comes with a 1.2m to 3.0m coiled, a 3.0m straight as well as a 1.2m straight cable for customizing)
Audio-Technica headphones have really dominated the headphone market for a while now. Their original ATH-M50 are one of the most popular models out there. This new version of the M50 studio headphones includes an interchangeable cable to give you some options for connectivity, as well as 90-degree swivelling ear cups to help with mixing or portability. As far as ‘professional’ mixing and mastering, not too many gear heads are high on these as they’re between the line of pro mixing and/or mastering and the consumer-based listeners. We’d recommend grabbing a pair of ATH-M50x headphones if you’re in a low-budget home studio, plan on using your headphones for everyday use or merely a mixture of the two.
It is also worth noting that the ATH-M50x headphones are closed back headphones, so they can comfortably double up as tracking headphones. In conclusion, they are an affordable, high quality well made and versatile set of headphones. They will give you a good, true sound to mix from. They also have minimum ‘sound leakage’, making them a useful set of recording headphones. The ATH-M50x headphones are a worthy addition to our top 5 best studio headphones list.
They’ve also just come out with a brand new upgrade to these, although they’re about twice the price. If you are interested check out the ATH-M70x headphones.
- Weight: 10 ounces
- Design: Semi-open, diffuse-field
- Frequency response: 5 – 35.000 Hz
- Impedance: 250 ohms (available in higher versions)
- Nylon carrying case included
- Adjustable soft-padded headband
- Cable: 9.8 ft. coiled
- Replaceable ear pads
- Comes with nylon carrying case
Beyerdynamic is a solid brand and should be considered as a choice of headphone. These are said to be better for mixing (semi-open design). They’re equipped with a very analytic and refined sound that’s rather wide in range in terms of frequencies. They are high rated, for example, Headfonia added these in their old school trio studio headphones article.
There have been complaints that these headphones lack ‘high end sparkle’, but these headphones are designed for accuracy and do not alter the sound. Aside from an accurate and true sound, these headphones are very well made. They feel solid when you hold them and the earpieces are replaceable. The padding around the earpiece is soft and comfortable making them good for long listening sessions.
On conclusion, the DT 880 headphones are some of the best around. Well made and perfect for mixing and everyday listening. They are up there with the Sennheiser HD 600s in terms of quality. You can’t really go wrong with these headphones. They are worth their place in our top 5 best studio headphones list.
- Design: Closed, around-the-ear
- Weight: 8 ounces
- Drivers: 40mm (neodymium magnets)
- Frequency response: 10 Hz – 20 kHz
- Impedance: 63 Ohms
- Maximum power: 1000mW
- 9.8 foot cord with gold-plated plug
- 1/4″ adapter included
- Foldable for portability\storage
The Sony MDR7506 are one of the best pairs of studio headphones around. Many people use these headphones for mixing and recording and rate them very highly. For such a good pair of headphones they are also very reasonable at under $100. They have a fairly average driver size of 40mm, but their impedance goes a bit higher than others that cost more.
In addition they also feel very comfortable. They have an accurate sound with nice low end frequencies, strong mids and clear high end frequencies. They are just a good, accurate, affordable headphone.
In conclusion, when you take into account price and quality the MDR7506 headphones are a great bet and are worthy of their place amongst the top 5 best studio headphones.
- Weight: 12 ounces
- Drivers: 40mm (neodymium dynamic)
- Design: Closed-back, circamural
- Impedance: 44 Ohm
- Frequency response: 5 Hz – 25 kHz
- Cord: 9.8 ft coiled (detachable)
- Adjustable, moisture-wicking and padded headband
- Memory foam earpads (replaceable)
- Collapsible for easy travel and storage
- Gold played 3.5mm stereo mini plug
- Comes with 1/4″ adapter
The Shure SRH840 headphones are very popular in the studio headphones market and one of the best studio headphones around. They are a great pair of monitoring headphones. Indeed, they are very well balanced. The bass is deep and the treble is clear, so the sound is very accurate and perfect for mixing. These are arguably the best pair of studio headphones in the $200 price range.
They are also very comfortable They boast memory phone ear pad (which are also replaceable for longer life). They are collapsable, which make them easier to travel with and store.
In conclusion, they are a great choice of headphone from a very reliable and respectable brand. The Shure SRH840 headphones are worth their place in our top 5 best studio headphones list.
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