Beat Lab Top 10: Best Studio Headphones 2018
Beat Lab Top 10 is a series featuring the Top 10 of a product of a given time period. In this article, we will go over the 10 best studio headphones available as of this year. First, we’ll go over the different features that we judge each headphone by. Then, we’ll provide a list of the 10 best studio headphones and what makes them special. Read below for the breakdown.
What Are Studio Headphones?
Studio headphones are headphones built for use in professional audio. They are a key piece of monitoring equipment. If you’re like us you’ll want something that works for most applications like Recording, Engineering, and DJ’ing. In this article, we’ll go over ten of the best studio headphones on the market today. What would you want in your pair of studio headphones?
Well, the best studio headphones will withstand wear and tear. You’ll be carrying them to studios, traveling with them, and bringing them to venues to perform. That’s a lot of opportunities to damage your headphones, it’s also a lot of time spent wearing them.
Comfort + Design
With that point in mind, you’ll want a pair of headphones that are comfortable to wear. Comfort has a lot to do with the design specifications of the headphones – things like the materials they are made of and the electronics inside. Read below as we go over the design types that define studio headphones.
Open-Back and Semi-Open Headphones
Open and semi-open back headphones are best for mixing and mastering music. Their design most accurately mirrors listening in real-world environments because they let some audio enter and exit the headphones. How does that help?
Wherever you are, unless you are using sound canceling earbuds/headphones, you’ll hear other noises when listening to music. Open and semi-open back headphones recreate those circumstances and thus are more accurate for monitoring.
The downside to this is apparent when recording and in loud listening environments. If recording with open or semi-open back headphones your microphone is likely to pick up that audio. In those situations, it is handy to have a pair of Closed-back headphones.
Closed-back headphones don’t let any audio escape the headphones. This is very useful when recording anything with a microphone that could pick up audio bleed. These can also be appropriate when in a loud listening environment but we wouldn’t suggest mixing or mastering under those conditions. You should mix and master your music in a place where you can hear your music without distractions.
Closed-back headphones are a good option when mixing in a low-noise listening environment, but won’t be as accurate as open or semi-open headphones. Why is that? There will be audio coloration due to the accumulation of sound reflections inside the cups. This isn’t ideal but on the other hand, because sound cannot escape, it is very easy to hear detail in the music.
It is for that very reason that closed-back headphones are useful when DJ’ing. Their closed design will help you hear your mix over the party. There are benefits and drawbacks for either design when it comes to choosing headphones.
Which One to Choose?
It is important to keep in mind the situations you will use your headphones in the most. If you already have a pair of monitors then it might be time to invest in a pair of closed-back headphones for recording. Maybe you already have a decent pair of closed-back headphones and monitors, but your neighbors complain about the noise, then it could be time to get yourself some open or semi-open headphones.
Whatever your reasons for needing studio headphones are, your budget is going to be the ultimate decider.
Headphone pricing can vary from entry-level ($50-$150) to mid-tier ($150-$500) to upper-mid ($500-$850) to the high-end ($850-$1000+). You should adjust your budget according to what you can afford, and to your level of experience. There is no purpose in paying the highest price if you’ve only just begun your musical journey. Your money will be much better spent on other gear. Read below for our recommendations based on model, design, and price.
1. Sennheiser HD 650 | Open-Back | $499 (on-sale for $319 for now)
The Sennheiser HD 650 headphones are arguably the best mid-tier headphones in the world in terms of comfort and sound quality. Sennheisers are revered for their transparency when it comes to audio, and they pull out the stops here for phones under $500. Their frequency response ranges from below and above the human threshold for hearing: 10 – 41000 Hertz. With that range, you can pick up every detail in your mix. The more accurate your mix, the better your song will sound.
The 650’s are known for translating across a huge range of sound systems. That plus their super soft around-the-ear cup design makes for a killer pair of headphones.
2. Sennheiser 800s | Open-Back | $1,499
The Sennheiser 800 S headphones are the holy grail of studio headphones. They are by far the highest priced headphones on this list but are easily regarded as the best. Their frequency response is the largest on this list ranging from 4 – 51,000 Hertz. Why extend that range beyond the human range for hearing (20 – 20,000 Hz)?
These headphones let you feel the bass. They let you sense the highs. On top of it all, they look awesome. A super low amount of harmonic distortion (0.02 % (1 kHz 1 Vrms)) makes them incredibly sensitive to detail. These means that the audio you hear is almost completely uncolored by the headphones. Every sound you hear is how it will sound on other systems.
3. Audio-Technica ATH-M-50X | Closed-Back | $150
These headphones are as infamous as they come. Their low-cost, solid build, and accuracy all lend to what is an attractive affordable option. They float right on the boundary between entry-level and mid-tier pricing for us.
A beginner would be as comfortable learning on them as someone who has a slightly more developed ear. Their frequency range goes surprisingly low for the slim design: 15 – 28,000 Hertz. The low end becomes apparent at louder volumes but be careful when mixing for extended periods of time with any headphones, especially closed-back ones.
4. Beyerdynamic DT880 Pro | Semi-Open | $249
Often when you hear of Beyerdynamic headphones you’ll see the 770 Pro (closed-back) or 990 Pro (open-back)headphones. We included the 880 Pro headphones in our list because this pair meets in the middle of its siblings with a Semi-Open design.
It does a fair job accomplishing the balance between those other two headphone models. It remains isolated enough for tracking but open enough to represent a realistic listening environment. When it comes to comfort, these are a tie for first place with the Sennheiser 650 headphones. They’ll definitely take you where you need to go.
5. Sony MDR-7506 | Closed-Back | $130
Sony MDR-7506 headphones are a studio classic. They are simple and designed for function. Their cups are comfortable to wear while remaining light enough for long sessions. Despite being lighter they have a strong bass response that emphasizes the dynamic range. Who cares?
You do. A better dynamic range will help your mixes translate emotion and feeling. Accomplish that with these headphones.
6. V-MODA Crossfade LP2 | Closed-Back | $150
The V-Moda Crossfade LP2 headphones are easily the slickest looking pair of cans on this list. The metal exterior lends to the listening quality and durability of the headphones. Their rugged closed-back design makes them an ideal pair of headphones for DJ’s, and they perform well in the studio.
These tanks have a clever design that separates the bass and mid drivers from each other. How so? The physical separation of the drivers ensures you can hear each frequency more clearly, that way, your mixes translate.
7. AKG K 240 | Semi-Open | $64.99
Besides looking really cool, the AKG K 240’s are a reputable pair of headphones. They reproduce an impressively well-balanced signal for being the most affordable option on this list. These headphones are another affordable option that doesn’t compromise on quality.
These headphones utilize Varimotion technology which reproduces a wide dynamic range. There’s a reason these are one of the most popular studio headphones available.
8. Shure 1840 | Open Back | $499 ($100 Instant Rebate from Shure)
Shure is a name synonymous with quality in the music industry. Their gear is infamous in the recording world – microphones and headphones alike. A pair of headphones like the 1840’s is highly regarded for their consistent sound. They are unique in that they deliver sound similar to how a speaker would which helps them translate across to other gear.
Their build is made of aircraft grade aluminum which adds to the durability of the product. You can’t go wrong with these.
9. Shure 1540 | Closed-Back | $499 ($100 Instant Rebate from Shure)
The Shure 1540’s are the Closed-back equivalent of their Open-back 1840 model. They retain the same pristine quality and design but opt for the closed-back design instead. This pushes their sound away from that of a speaker and more toward the headphone sound.
Because of the closed-back design, there will be some coloration, but nothing you won’t like. Take note of their super comfy ear cups and these are another quality pair of headphones.
10. Focal Spirit
Our final suggested pair of headphones on the list is the Focal Spirits. These are slightly less common than the prior mentions but nonetheless revered for their sound. They opt for an on the ear cup design which may make or break your decision. Comfort-wise, that may physically fatigue your ears. However, if you have flexible lobes you’ll be fine.
Of the closed-back headphones on this list, these are in the lead for offering the most precise uncolored audio. Focal has designed a pair of headphones that defies expectations.
Of the headphones available on the market, we wanted to narrow your search to the very best available. There are so many options that it is easy to get lost, so hopefully, you’ve found an easier way with our list. Whether you’re a DJ, Recording Artist, Producer, Engineer, or Sound Designer you’ll be able to find the perfect pair of headphones above.
What matters the most is you find a pair you are happy with. Spending time with and getting to know your headphones will serve you in the long-run. Your mixes will sound better the more you work on them, and having a solid pair of headphones is part of that equation.
You can’t go wrong with any of the choices we listed above. If you have the opportunity to go to your local music store then try them all out! Enjoy the search, and make dope music.