Selecting headphones is a personal choice. Just like for monitor speakers, one headphone might appeal to some people, while others will totally despise it. In order to simplify and clarify things for beginners in their music production journey, we believe it is important to distinguish the main criteria which are important to consider before attempting to give a list of the best studio headphones. While personal preferences are important, there is undeniably the question of cost that is implied: if you are on a budget, you probably won’t be able to buy the most high end headphones. Nevertheless, quality comes at a certain price.
That being said, one should not lament oneself for not having the money as there are some great options available in reasonable price ranges (100-200 $). Money is, indeed, an important factor, but here are some other things we would like you to take into account. One of these important factors is that with some of the best studio headphones (if you produce music) , you will need to buy an additional amp to power them properly. In this article we won’t treat the differences between Hifi and Monitor headphones since you would certainly not use the former when it comes to mixing (unless you want terrible results). However, we will go through some fundamental questions, every buyer needs to ask himself before purchasing a quality pair of headphones.
The way you feel when you listen to reference headphones.
Should I choose Open, Semi-open, or Closed-back headphones ?
Before going into any judgments or verdicts, it is important to note that all types of headphones have their benefits and disadvantages. We would recommend you to always have a variety of pairs of headphones that are good at doing different tasks. Just like you would A/B a mix with several studio monitors to check if your mixdown is good, you would do the same with headphones.
Open headphones wille offer a more natural and realistic sound, at the expense of leaking sound and providing less isolation. Closed-back headphones are good at retaining sounds. This is especially useful when you are working on your music in a public space. These headphones are also good at letting you focus on a specific sound. Their disadvantage is that they can be boxy and not give you a good representation of where the sound is really going. Semi-open headphones are somewhere in between. They try to incorporate both the qualities of Open headphones and Closed back headphones. However, this also comes with a drawback. Indeed, they won’t be as good at something specific like the other headphones we listed.
Should comfort matter?
In our opinion, yes. More specifically, there is a big difference between circumaural headphones, which are definitely more comfortable, and Supra-aural headphones which are directly in contact with your ears (uncomfortable for long sessions).
What are the elements I should look for in terms of sound quality?
Sound quality is quintessential. The majority of headphones are delivering a full 20-20,000 Hz sound spectrum which corresponds to human hearing. Frequencies that are outside of this range are deemed inaudible, at least to humans. However, often, numbers don’t really matter unless they are backed up with a proof (graph representing the sound frequencies).
Power handling is also important to prevent ear fatigue and damaging your hearing. If impedance is mentioned everywhere, it is not that important. Basically low impedance signifies that the headphones will be able to deliver a higher volume with less power. In the end, in order to make a reasonable choice, the best test is to listen to them. If you can’t, you will certainly not make a mistake by considering one of the headphones we listed.
Best Studio Headphones On Today’s Market
AKG K712 Headphones
These headphones are specifically intended for studio-use since they are of an open type. Moreover, the wide audio frequency bandwidth (10 – 39800 Hz) covers the essential frequencies for music production which are hearable for the human ear. These headphones are rather sensitive (105 dB SPL/V) and offer an 62 Ohms rated impedance. Reflected in the sound quality the frequency response is balanced, clear-sounding and very pleasing to the ears with present bass, mids and highs. Very detailed, these headphones work well with almost all genres. A strong point are the male vocals which are well detailed. Conversely, female vocals might be a bit too warm.
In general, sometimes you might feel that bass is too prominent. What we really liked is that very long listening sessions with this pair produces no fatigue or abrasiveness. Another advantage is a provided detachable cable which is more than 3 m long. Furnished earpads are also replaceable. While dimensions are not really the most important aspect of headphones, weight counts. The AKG K712 is very light (235 g). Besides design and audio features, connectivity is equally important. Here, the headphones provide a stereo plug of 3.5mm (1/8-inch) with a 6.3 mm (1/4”) screw-on adapter. It is also worth mentioning that these headphones come with a quality carrying bag.
Pros & Cons
Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO
The well-constructed version of the DT 770 PRO was modernized with the purpose of optimizing it for portable devices. Another important feature is that these circumaural headphones were specifically conceived to be used in loud environments such as concerts. Contrary to the AKG K712, the DT 770 PRO is a closed dynamic headphone which has been designed for critical sound monitoring. The frequency response is of 5-35,000 Hz. Sound with these is bright whilst remaining soft. On the low end, the Beyerdynamic DT-770 PRO still offers one of the best sub bass on the market. In turn, these headphones will deliver a very detailed and precise sound.
This is what makes them so good for music production purposes (the 80 and 250 Ohm ones). The single-sided 3.0 m (9.8 ft.) coiled cable makes the handling of the headphone easy. DT 770 PRO has a 250 ohms impedance which makes it perfect for mixing applications in the studio. These headphones are slightly heavier (270g) than the AKG K712. Moreover, it is worth mentioning that these headphones are equipped with a bass reflex technology which significantly improves the bass. In the box you will also get a drawstring bag. A big plus, is the fact that velour pads are replaceable. These also make the headphones very comfortable to use.
Pros & Cons
Beyerdynamic DT 990
Described as some of the best studio headphones, the DT 990 are headphones that will satisfy all listeners by their comfort and representative sound. In terms of sound quality, the DT 990 delivers a strong bass and treble, making up for a balanced and dynamic sound representation. The analytical and high-resolution audio reproduction is made up of a 32, 250 or 600 ohms impedance with a headphone frequency response between 5 and 35,000 Hz. Moreover, the 600 ohms model which is especially aimed at production has no static or shorting. Without any external sound card (audio interface), the stereo will still produce an authentic and pleasing sound. The sound in itself can be described as warm.
The build quality with these headphones is absolutely phenomenal. An open-back design provides for realistic sound quality which makes these headphones perfect for mixing. Furthermore, the robust spring steel headband does make your headphones more resistant without depriving the listener from a comfortable experience. In fact, the headband is really soft and convenient. Accompanied by circumaural type of ear pads, listening will be an utmost enjoyable experience. Connectivity accounts for a straight connecting cable with mini-jack plug (3.5mm) & 1/4 “ adapter (6.35 mm). While not being the lightest headphone of its category (290g, without packaging), the product will remain easy to carry, although a bit bulky.
* Also comes in a 250 and 600 ohms version.
Pros & Cons
Sennheiser HD8 DJ Headphones
Originally conceived for DJ purposes, acoustically, these headphones were inspired by the legendary HD 25 DJ headphones. They deliver an excellent sound reproduction. In terms of sound quality, the HD 8 offers an 95 ohm impedance for optimum compatibility with DJ equipment. Paired with a frequency response of 8 – 30,000 Hz, sound representation is very accurate across all the ranges. Sound-wise, these headphones are also capable of a very loud, high SPL, suitable for loud DJ environments, but high noise isolation mitigates the need to max out the volume for safer listening. To describe the sound in a few words, the bass is excellent. It is not the muddy type you can find on cheaper headphones. What surprised us that the mids and highs are equally great sounding.
With one of the best soundstages of all the headphones on this list, you can really push the headphones volume without losing sound quality. The build quality is overall very satisfying with premium constructed metal-crafted reinforcement parts. Moreover, the headphones are crafted from durable, high quality metal parts to guarantee years of use. Soft and durable ear cushions ensure a comfortable fit even after hours of use and eliminate almost all background noise so that nothing comes between you and your music. Lastly, you will really appreciate the metal pivot rings allows the user to swivel the circumaural ear cups up to 210° for easy one-ear monitoring at the turntable.
Pros & Cons
Sennheiser HD 800 Headphones
Assembled in Germany, the Sennheiser HD 800 reference headphones provide the listener with an enjoyable experience. With an Open, around-the-ear design, these dynamic stereo headphones come in a silver colour and plushy, luxurious ear and headband padding. The ear cups are open, which facilitates transparent sound. The Metal headband is also constructed with an inner-damping element. The traditional stereo jack is 1/4 “ (6.3 mm).
In terms of sound, it is realistically framed, being natural and without any resonance. The innovative dynamic transducer system provides a specific sound, as the headphones are symmetrically specially tuned. The soundstage is incredibly wide and has a microscopic level of detail. It is large and detailed but never really aggressive-sounding. The bass is present but not exaggerated. Mids are present and seemingly open and spacious, not excessively warm. Higher frequencies are very clear, and extended. An impedance matching cable with low capacitance is provided. A holistic sound is produced by a wide frequency response (14 – 44100 Hz (-3 dB) and a high impedance (300Ω). If this headphones are heavier than the previous ones (330g), they are about the same weight.
Pros & Cons
Our final recommendation would be to buy headphones which are manufactured by a reputable brand. The best studio headphones that are listed above are definitely a safe choice. With the AKG K712, you get one of the most comfortable experiences and a very accurate sound. For mixing purposes, these are a great choice. Both Beyerdynamic models provide that extra bass which might please some, whereas others will not appreciate it. The Sennheiser HD 8 has a closed back design, and is a great model for tracking. The HD800 provides the largest soundstage and a very balanced sound. Furthermore, if it is possible to test the headphones with music you are familiar with, you should definitely do it. To conclude, the most important of all would be to, use your ears to decide which headphones sound best to you.