If you’re serious about creating well produced music, you should invest in a pair of quality studio monitoring headphones. But the question is, which ones? With the huge number of headphones available on the market today, it can be quite hard to choose. To aid you in your search we’ve compiled a list of the best studio monitoring headphones on the market. Higher ratings are given to headphones manufactured by reputable brands, as well as those that are extremely popular and well-reviewed by users. We have reviewed only the best headphones, and then chosen only the best of the best as our “Editor’s Choice” in each category.
Before you start your search, however, you may want to learn a little about the different types of studio monitoring headphones. If not, feel free to skip down the page to see our picks.
Types of studio headphones
Closed-back vs. Open-back: Open-back or simply “open” headphones provide a very natural and accurate frequency balance, making them ideal for critical listening and mix monitoring. They also tend to be very comfortable. However, they provide less isolation so external noise can come in more easily. When recording instruments (including vocals), sound from inside the headphones may leak out and be picked up by your microphone, which can provide background noise in your recorded tracks that may present a problem in some mixes. Open-back studio monitoring headphones also allow external sounds to come in, so if recording very loud instruments such as drums, you may find that the drums drown out the music track from the headphones.
Closed-back headphones are ideal when you want total isolation. Most studios use closed-back headphones for monitoring while recording since they suffer less from the bleed issues. However, closed-back studio monitoring headphones do tend to create pressure on your ears when low-frequencies are played (compared to open-back styles) which can cause ear fatigue and a less-flat frequency response.
Circumaural vs. Supra-aural: Circumaural headphones, also known as around-the-ear headphones, have pads that cover the ears completely, greatly isolating against any external noise. Since they cover the whole ears, they tend to be larger. Supra-aural headphones, on the other hand, only sit on your ears, so they provide less protection from external noise and bleeding.
Factors to consider when buying studio monitoring headphones
Impedance (Ohms) – Studio monitoring headphones come in a variety of impedances, from 8 Ohms up to several hundred Ohms. Low impedance headphones (such as 32 ohms or less) are normally louder, and are generally better suited to portable device usage, such as with smartphones and mp3 players. Studio monitoring headphones can have impedances up to hundreds of Ohms.
Frequency response – A wider frequency response is better for mixing. Headphones with a lower Hz value and a higher kHz value quoted reproduce more bass and treble. All the headphones selected on this list have an excellent frequency rang, relatively flat frequency response and are suitable for studio use.
Comfort – If you’re going to be using the headphones for monitoring applications which might involve hours of listening, comfort becomes an important consideration. There are a lot of factors that contribute to comfort, including quality of design, materials, weight, and sound. Longer cables will also allow you to move more freely. All the studio monitoring headphones on this list are comfortable enough for a long mixing session, although some are more comfortable than others.
Now that you know some of the basic differences between studio monitoring headphones, we now present you with a list and reviews of the best studio headphones.
Best Closed-back Headphones
Sennheiser HD 280 Pro
List Price: $129
When it comes to closed-back headphones, the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro is often regarded as the industry standard. Easily the most popular studio headphones in the world, this model is used by many sound engineers, recording artists and DJs. Despite not having any special or unique features, these studio monitoring headphones perform their job really well—they provide excellent sound quality and will give you the much needed detail and accuracy for serious mixing applications. They’re also excellent at noise isolation, providing up to 32dB attenuation of outside noise. Thanks to their secure and comfortable fit, they can easily be worn for long hours without an issue.
Read the full Sennheiser HD 280 Pro headphone review.
Sony MDR 7506
List Price: $130
It’s very hard not to like the HD 280 Pro, but if you find someone who doesn’t, it’s most likely because they prefer the Sony MDR 7506 studio monitoring headphones instead. These headphones have been around since 1991 and have become a favorite of many audio professionals. They’re just as durable and provide as much isolation as the HD 280 Pro, but many have found them better in sound quality and comfort. They have a flat response and sound extremely well-balanced. The soundstage is surprisingly good, and there’s very little distortion at higher volumes. If you want budget headphones that can do the job well, the MDR 7506 might be what you’re looking for.
Read the full Sony MDR 7506 headphone review.
Audio Technica ATH-M50x
List Price: $239
There are plenty of reasons why the Audio Technica ATH-M50x received the honor of being the Editor’s Choice. The most critically-acclaimed closed-back headphones of Audio Technica, the ATH-M50x have been regarded by many audio magazines and professionals as the best sounding studio headphones in the world. Featuring a balanced and detailed sound with virtually no distortion, these headphones pack a lot of bass and offer a smooth, detailed high end and a good midrange. Users have praised its ability to prevent bleeding. Perfect for very long sessions, these headphones offer extreme comfort and won’t cause headphone-induced fatigue. There’s almost nothing bad to say about these studio monitoring headphones. For their price of $239, you get a lot more than what you pay for.
Read the full Audio Technica ATH-M50x headphone review.
V-MODA Crossfade M-100
List Price: $250
The V-MODA Crossfade M-100 are another popular studio monitoring headphone. These headphones are built exactly for professional monitoring applications—they were designed using feedback from audio professionals as well as the manufacturer’s online community of headphone enthusiasts. Made to be extremely durable, they are designed to meet the specifications set by the US Military. Sound-wise, these headphones are a treat, providing a very rich sound and full bass response popular with EDM producers. The high end and midrange are also pretty decent. Considering the great sound and the design to the stringent Military Specifications, the Crossfade M-100 is definitely worthy of your consideration.
Read the full V-MODA Crossfade M-100 headphone review.
Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro
List Price: 50 Ohms – $299.99
This range of headphones was first released in the 1980s, and since then Beyerdynamic have had plenty of time to optimize this design resulting in a very high quality set of studio monitoring headphones. Made from high-quality parts that are all replaceable, these headphones should last you a long time. The Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro comes in three variations, with the 80 Ohms and 250 Ohms variations being the ones most suited to studio monitoring tasks. Users have praised how comfortable and light they are, with some commenting that they’re almost like a pair of cushioned ear muffs. When it comes to the sound, the DT 770 Pro does not disappoint—clarity and accuracy are exceptional and it sounds good no matter what the music genre is. A punchy, responsive bass and good, detailed highs and midrange are among some of its offerings.
Read the full Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro headphone review.
Best Open-back Headphones
Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro
List Price: $249
The Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro studio headphones have been chosen by both audio professionals and audiophiles for the maximum comfort and the great sound they provide. Featuring a clear and well-balanced sound, these headphones have a lot of bass, a smooth midrange and great highs. It has a wide soundstage and instruments are well-separated. It also boasts an exceptionally wide frequency response. In terms of comfort, these headphones deliver with many users happy to put in the midnight oil wearing them during their mix sessions. Another thing that makes these headphones great is their extreme durability. Thanks to its robust construction, the DT 990 Pro doesn’t break easily and will last for years of use.
Read the full Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro headphone review.
List Price: $399.95
The Sennheiser HD600 headphone monitors get the Editor’s Choice in the open-back category. A model that’s loved by users globally, these headphones are known for their excellent sound and their ergonomic design. Very few headphones have managed to match the detail, clarity, depth and impact that the HD600 provides. It also delivers an impressively wide audio spectrum that delivers the bass register all the way through the high frequencies. The build quality is great. If you want studio monitoring headphones that will deliver great performance and at the same time are durable enough to last you a long time, then we highly recommend the HD600.
Read the full Sennheiser HD600 headphone review.
AKG Pro K702
List Price: $409
The AKG Pro K702 are premium headphones that are an expansion on AKG’s high-end K701 product line. Wholly composed of plastic, these headphones feature a robust and attractive build. They are designed to be comfortable and sport soft Velour ear cups and a leather band that offers grip. Sound-wise they don’t disappoint, offering excellent imaging and instruments separation. A good sounding mix in these will also translates well to other systems, making the AKG Pro K702 perfect for mixing and mastering applications. While the price is indeed higher than other open-back studio monitoring headphones, it does offer impressive performance making them a very worthwhile investment.
Read the full AKG Pro K702 headphone review.
Sennheiser HD 650
List Price: $499.95
The Sennheiser HD 650 are premium studio monitoring headphones that are a step up from the HD600. Aside from looking and feeling luxurious, they’re also comfortable to wear. Their drivers are hand-picked to ensure that the left/right tolerances are matched precisely, and their computer-optimized neodymium magnet system minimizes distortion. They feature an accurate and neutral sound, so you’ll hear exactly what was played or recorded. They offer a great balance of reality, detail, and resolution and are extremely fun to listen to. A great set of studio headphones, the HD 650 is perfectly suited to mix engineering and monitoring, and is a nice upgrade from the Sennheiser HD600s if you have the available budget.
Read the full Sennheiser HD 650 review
List Price: $875
As Shure’s first premium headphones, the SRH1840 headphones are beautifully constructed featuring aircraft-grade aluminum alloy and stainless steel. Lightweight, comfortable and durable, these headphones are ideal for long monitoring sessions. The SRH1840 model works well with practically all music genres and presents very realistic reproductions of recordings, achieving high-praise from many reviewers. If you work with bass-heavy material, you’ll appreciate their very natural bass response.
Read the full Shure SRH1840 review.
Sennheiser HD 800
List Price: $1399.95
The Sennheiser HD 800 headphones are one of the most transparent studio headphones available today at any price. They feel luxurious and offer exceptional performance, sound more like studio speakers in a room than a set of headphones. They are super comfortable and leave little to be desired. If these headphones fit into your price range then they would be our pick of this bunch for mixing duties.
Read the full Sennheiser HD 800 review
Final Recommendations and Conclusion
Studio monitoring headphones are a very important studio tool for creating high-quality recordings and mixes. We’ve reviewed several exceptional quality studio headphones, and while we have only awarded the title of “Editor’s Choice” to one model in each category, the rest of the ones listed are still great performers and certainly offer excellent performance and value for money.
For practical and great-value combination, we recommend the Audio Technica ATH-M50x headphones for recording and the Sennheiser HD600 headphones for mixing. This gives you great isolation and sound quality for recording along with amazing sound quality and comfort for mixing.
If you can only afford one pair of headphones for both recording and mixing, we would recommend the Audio Technica ATH-M50x headphones. While being great for recording, they can be used to create great quality mixes and can be worn for long sessions without being fatiguing. If you are not recording any instruments that require isolation, go straight for the Sennheiser HD600 headphones due to their amazing sound and greater comfort.
If you want the absolute best and have the available budget, we would recommend the Sennheiser HD 800 studio monitoring headphones for mix engineering and mastering duties. They are incredible. The Sennheiser HD 650s are also a good choice if you want headphones that are an improvement over the HD600s but don’t have the budget for the HD800s.
Since you’ll probably be using your headphones all the time for monitoring and recording, it’s worth getting a pair that you’ll be happy with. Keep in mind that you can buy top-of-the-line headphones for a fraction of the price of top-of-the-line monitoring speakers, hence headphones provide amazing value. While we did pick out our favorites (and the favorites of many others too!), all of the headphones on this list are of high quality and provide excellent value for money.
If you have any questions about our list of the best studio monitoring headphones, or if you own one (or more) of the products reviewed here and have some feedback to offer, please let us know in the feedback section below.