Top 10 Studio Headphones 2021
If you’re just getting started on your music production journey – you might be listening to your mix on desktop speakers, cheap earphones, or even laptop speakers. However, after you’ve picked the best laptop to produce music with – the next purchase to consider is the right pair of headphones for you.
Why Are Studio Headphones Important?
The best studio headphones help inform you how the track you’re working on in your DAW truly sounds (i.e flat sound.) Laptop speakers are simply too small to accurately recreate bass sounds below 200 Hz. Consumer speakers or headphones are usually bass boosted or colour the sound in different ways to entertain the listener.
The best studio headphones, on the other hand:
- Recreate the entire frequency range that we can hear (20 Hz to 20,000 Hz)
- Accurately represent the frequency response of your track – without adding colour
- Help you understand how your sounds are placed spatially in the stereo soundstage
So – Studio Headphones Or Monitor Speakers?
There are pro’s and con’s to both – but producers can absolutely create, mix and master their tracks to get them radio-ready simply on a good pair of cans (that’s producer-speak for headphones).
If you have the budget, space, and tolerant housemates – check out our article to help you pick a pair of studio monitor speakers.
However, if your current budget only allows you to pick one (studio headphones OR monitor speakers) – the one big advantage to headphones is their portability. Have a moment of inspiration on the bus, in the park, or at a cafe? Simply pull out your trusty studio headphones and make magic from wherever you are.
Which Design Type Is Best For Me?
Open-back and Semi-Open Headphones
These headphones allow some audio to enter and exit the headphones. So you might be able to hear a little bit of the world around you, and simultaneously – the world around you might be able to faintly hear the audio coming from your headphones (‘bleed’). “Open” headphones allow for this exchange of audio the most, while “semi-open” headphones allow for it less.
These headphones are best suited for mixing and mastering music, as they accurately mirror listening in real-world environments.
However, these headphones aren’t ideal for monitoring (i.e using headphones to hear what you’re recording through a microphone), as the mic is likely to pick up the headphone bleed. 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 design makes it best suited for monitoring.
Closed-back headphones are a good option for mixing in a low-noise listening environment. However, they won’t be as accurate as open or semi-open headphones – especially at louder volumes – due to the accumulation of sound reflections inside the cups. This isn’t ideal but on the other hand, because sound cannot escape, it’s very easy to hear detail in the music.
That’s why 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 to either design when it comes to choosing headphones.
Which One Should I Choose?
Think about the situations in which you will use your headphones the most.
If you’re just starting out – you might like the detail you can hear from closed-back headphones. The privacy that they allow due to their lack of bleed may also help the shy producer that’s not yet ready to share their sounds with the world.
If you already have a decent pair of closed-back headphones and/or monitors, but want another reference to clearly hear the soundstage – then it could be time to get yourself some open headphones.
Otherwise, you might like the versatility that’s offered by 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 reason to shell out more money than you can afford if you’ve only just begun your production journey. Your money will be much better spent on other gear!
If you’re a Beat Lab student – don’t forget that you can email us at [email protected] and access exclusive discounts!
Read below for our recommendations based on model, design, and price.
1. Audio-Technica ATH-M50x | Closed Back | $149
Best “first headphone”
Everyone remembers their first, and for the producer that’s just getting started – it’s hard to go past the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x. The detachable cable, foldable design, and relatively light weight (285g) make them a great contender for your first pair of headphones.
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.
2. Sennheiser HD300 PRO | Closed Back | $200
Best ambient isolation
Although open-backed headphones are normally more comfortable to wear, you’ll need to block out ambient noise if you’re operating in an unfavourable setting. That’s where headphones like the Sennheiser HD 300 come in.
For their size, they provide excellent acoustic isolation, precise and informative sound, and replaceable cables and pads.
3. Focal Listen Professional | Closed Back | $300
The Focal Listen Professional Closed Back headphones are well known for their supreme sound quality. Despite their closed back nature, the snug fit & design ensures comfort even over long studio sessions. One downside to consider is that their silicon headband is known to attract sweat – so keep this in mind if you’re working in a stuffy studio.
However, with a frequency range going from 5hz – 22khz, and a distinctive look – you can’t go wrong with the Focal’s.
4. Sony MDR7506 | Closed Back | $100
Most tried & tested
For nearly 30 years, Sony’s MDR7506 Professional Headphones have been the standard in recording studios all over the world. These headphones are well-suited for recording any instrument or mixing music in any genre due to their fully neutral sound.
They have a foldable design, Sony includes a bag, and only weigh half a pound (229 grams). If you have sensitive ears, bear in mind that their earpads are a little less plush than many other over-ear headphones. Still, there’s a reason they haven’t been replaced in over 30 years!
5. Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro | Closed Back | $160
Any headphone list would be incomplete without mentioning the legendary Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro’s. This pair of headphones is one of the most comfortable on the market. It has a great bass reflex because of the diffuse-field systems mounted in it. This results in some seriously good sound quality. The combination of comfort and high-quality audio has never looked so stylish!
6. AKG K240 MKII | Semi Open | $100
If you’re looking for a pair of headphones that can be used for mixing and recording, the AKG K240 MKIIs are the way to go. They have a semi-open design that is a cross between open and closed-back versions.
The K240s feature advanced Varimotion 30mm XXL transducers for strong low end, precise mids, and crystal clear highs. Furthermore, the over-ear configuration ensures that the ear pads comfortably encircle the ears. You can’t go wrong with a pair of these headphones if you’re looking for a one-stop headphone purchase.
7. Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro | Open Back | $160
These headphones are the open back cousins of the previously mentioned DT 770’s. They produce excellent audio, but their open-back nature makes them unsuitable for everyday use. Also at low levels, they leak a lot and don’t block any ambient noise. However, they make this list because of their crisp sound quality and spacious soundstage. They may sound a little harsh at times due to an overabundance of treble, but the bass, instruments, and vocals are all well-balanced and reproduced with high fidelity.
8. Sennheiser HD 650 | Open Back | $400
Most flat headphones
The Sennheiser HD 650’s are well renowned headphones for mixing, mastering and production in studios around the world. They provide a clear, accessible sound that is ideal for critical listening. Like most open back headphones, if you plug them directly into your phone or a built-in headphone socket on your laptop, they might not have enough volume. However, if you’re using an audio interface, there’s no need to be concerned because any modern unit can drive them loud enough. Keep in mind that they don’t block any noise and leak a lot due to their open design, so they’re better used in isolation where their sound quality can really shine.
9. Beyerdynamic DT1770 Pro | Closed Back | $600
Handiest choice for true audiophiles
While these headphones are priced for the serious audiophile, – we felt they were worth a special mention because of a unique feature they boast.
Beyerdynamic thought ahead and included two sets of earpads. A closed sound for monitoring is provided by one leatherette set of pads, while a more open sound is provided by a second velour set for mixing and mastering.
10. Sennheiser HD 820 | Closed Back | $1,700
Best headphones on the market
Sennheiser is one of the most well-known audio brands, and although there are many arguments over which of their headphones sounds better, the HD 820 dominates the hi-fi discussion. Although the wide, closed-back design differs from the beloved HD 800, the Sennheiser HD 820 maintains the same distinct aesthetic that Sennheiser fans have come to expect.
The price and resistance of these headphones (300 ohms) necessitate a high-quality source and amplification. It’s best to use a headphone amplifier or DAC with the Sennheisers to get the most out of them.
If budget truly isn’t a constraint – or if you’re just having fun diving into the headphone rabbit hole – also check out the Audeze LCD MX4’s priced at a whopping $3,000!
If you’d like to learn more about music production with Ableton Live with access to online live study groups, find out which of our programs is right for you.