EQUIPBOARD GEAR REVIEWS

Top 10 Studio Headphones for Music Production, Mixing & Mastering

Best Studio Headphones
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Updated October 2019
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10 Headphones

Equipboard is the world's largest database of artists and the gear they use. Since 2013 we have been on a mission to bring you the best music gear for your money. Read about our review process.

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WHY THIS ONE? BUYING OPTIONS
Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO-80 Closed Studio HeadphonesBeyerdynamic DT 770 PRO-80 Closed Studio Headphones

Closed-back, over-ear. Nice warm sound, great sub-bass. Very comfortable. Read more

Available new on

AMAZON

4 available used from $124.99 on

REVERB
Sennheiser HD 280 ProSennheiser HD 280 Pro

Closed-back, over-ear. Flat, honest & present. Great value. Read more

Available new on

AMAZON

1 available used from $89.00 on

REVERB
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Professional Monitor HeadphonesAudio-Technica ATH-M50x Professional Monitor Headphones

Closed-back, over-ear. Longtime favorite of music producers, very detailed mids and nice styling/quality. A bit uncomfortable long-term. Read more

Available new on

AMAZON

4 available used from $103.98 on

REVERB
Sennheiser HD 25 HeadphonesSennheiser HD 25 Headphones

Closed-back, on-ear. Great on-the-go studio headphones that double as reliable DJ headphones. Read more

Available new on

AMAZON

4 available used from $100.00 on

REVERB
Sony MDR-7506 Professional HeadphonesSony MDR-7506 Professional Headphones

Closed-back, over-ear. Hardworking headphone whose excellent sound reproduction makes up for flimsy build quality. Great value. Read more

  • Best under $100

Available new on

AMAZON

5 available used from $60.00 on

REVERB
Status SM-CB1 HeadphonesStatus SM-CB1 Headphones

Closed-back, over-ear. Holds its own with headphones 2-3 times the price. Great value. Read more

  • Best under $100

Available new on

AMAZON
AKG K240 MKII HeadphonesAKG K240 MKII Headphones

Semi-open-back, over-ear. Not the most suitable for bass-heavy music, but a solid entry point into the world of open-back headphones. Read more

Available new on

AMAZON

0 available used from $79.99 on

REVERB
Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO Open Studio HeadphonesBeyerdynamic DT 990 PRO Open Studio Headphones

Open-back, over-ear. The best overall open-back headphones for the money. Read more

Available new on

AMAZON

8 available used from $110.00 on

REVERB
Sennheiser HD 650 HeadphonesSennheiser HD 650 Headphones

Open-back, over-ear. Extremely comfortable, high-end open-back headphones that provide supreme clarity and detail. Pricey. Read more

Available new on

AMAZON

0 available used from $220.00 on

REVERB
Samson SR850 HeadphonesSamson SR850 Headphones

Semi-open-back, over-ear. Budget version of the AKG K240. Amazing value. Read more

  • Best under $100

Available new on

AMAZON

2 available used from $39.99 on

REVERB
Group photo of studio headphones that Equipboard tested and reviewed
Some of the studio headphones we tested and reviewed.

Studio headphones are one of those purchases you ideally get right the first time, simply because the more you get to know the headphones and the more you break them in, the better your results will be in the studio. When it comes to dropping $100, $200, maybe even $300+ on a shiny new pair, there are a lot of things you need to understand and consider.

We went to work to bring you a guide to the best studio headphones - what they are, what you need to know, and our top recommended models.

What Are Studio Headphones?

Studio headphones are mostly used for creating, recording, mixing, and mastering music - 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 when listening to music in your living room, gaming, watching movies, working out, 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) typically alter 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 - and more importantly mixing - tracks, you need more professional headphones that are honest; you don’t want any frequencies to be under- or overrepresented. Why? 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.


What to Look for When Choosing Your Studio Headphones

Variety is the spice of life, but the staggering amount of headphones out there labeled as "studio headphones" can make shopping for a pair frustrating.

You have to be careful of marketing deception. Think of it this way - when a food says “low fat” on the box it doesn’t necessarily make it good for you, the same as if a headphone slaps the word “studio” on the box doesn’t necessarily make it suited for studio work.

Well, fear not, we’re here to cut through the hype and clear up any confusion. The following are the important things to understand and decide on when you’re ready to get yourself some great studio headphones:

» Closed-Back vs. Open-Back

In your search you will encounter closed-back, semi-open, and open-back headphones. This is very important, because they're pretty different from each other.

Closed-back headphones have ear cups that are completely closed off, and since the soft foam (or leather) pad forms a seal with your head around your ear, the sound has nowhere to go so it stays inside the ear cup. The majority of headphones out there are closed-back.

Open-back headphones have ear cups that are not closed off. The part of the ear cup opposite your ear - the one that faces the outside world - is open, meaning that instead of sound staying contained within the ear cup, it can travel outwards.

Closed-back vs. open back-headphones

This has great implications on what the headphones are going to sound like. Closed-back headphones are great for isolation. If you’re producing in a noisy environment, outside noise will be kept out, and people won’t be able to hear what you’re listening to. The sound is tighter and more focused, and as a result the bass frequencies might be slightly exaggerated. Furthermore, the soundstage and stereo separation doesn’t sound as wide and open. In other words, it feels more like you have headphones on.

Open-back headphones are just the opposite. Sound will easily leak in and out, so if you’re in a noisy environment, forget about using open-back headphones. If you are in a quiet environment, open-back headphones can actually sound significantly better. That’s because everything will sound more airy and natural, and the sound space can seem like it’s huge.

Semi-open headphones are somewhere in the middle, and we would not recommend them for noisy environments because of the sound leak.

In short, think about what you want to do with your studio headphones. If you’re always working in a quiet space and you want to produce and mix as accurately as possible, consider open-back. If you’re in noisy spaces, or you want to record live instruments like guitar and vocals, closed-back is better since sound leakage would be a big issue.

One last note - if your primary goal is mixing, hopefully you can do that in a quiet studio space, since open-back headphones tend to be much more accurate and suitable for that.

» On-Ear vs. Over-Ear

On-ear vs. over-ear headphones

On-ear vs. over-ear is a pretty easy concept to grasp. An on-ear (or supra-aural if you want to sound fancy) headphone rests on top of your ear, and over-ear (a.k.a. circumaural) goes over and surrounds your entire ear. On-ear headphones tend to be more compact since the ear cups aren’t as large, although the main problems are that 1) the pressure applied directly to the ear can be uncomfortable, and 2) the sound isolation isn’t as good, since there’s no tight seal created.

An over-ear headphone has the advantage of sound isolation. That makes them better suited for recording, and working in loud environments. They also provide a more immersive listening experience. Because the ear cup needs to fit around your ear, these types of headphones tend to be a little bit larger - not an issue in the studio, but it might be for portability. The majority of studio headphones are over-ear.

» Budget

Often budget ends up being the deciding factor when selecting the best studio headphones for you. If this is your first pair of quality headphones, it doesn't make sense to jump straight to a $400 pair.

Generally speaking, there's a noticeable jump in quality every $100 or so. If you’re currently producing on cheap earbuds, $150 Audio-Technica ATH-M50x are going to change your life. If you’re already using something in the price range of the ATH-M50x and want to upgrade, you’ll want to look at something in the $250-300+ range to make a significant difference.

Luckily a few of the headphones we recommend hit way above their weight class when it comes to price vs. quality.

» Intended Use - Recording, Mixing, or Both?

Your intended use of the headphones, as well as your level of experience, kind of ties everything together. If you produce electronic dance music on your laptop, and you frequently travel and produce on the go, delicate open-back headphones don’t make much sense for you. A nice durable pair of closed-back cans is what you should aim to get.

If instead you have a nice quiet home studio and you work on perfecting your mixes late at night and can’t use speakers for fear of waking up your housemates, open-back headphones would be a good bet.

Ideally, it would be great to own a great pair of closed-back headphones for producing and recording, open-back headphones for mixing, and a few other pairs to test your mixes on. However, owning that many headphones is not only pricey, but also not necessarily practical. Prioritize what’s most important to you, and make your decision that way.

» Frequency Response

You could read entire books on audio frequency, so we’ll stick with the very simple explanation. Frequency is measured in hertz (Hz). Humans can generally hear from 20Hz all the way to 20,000 Hz. Every headphone advertises their frequency response, which is the effective range they can reproduce of bass, mids, and treble. Some headphones have a frequency response that spans beyond that which humans can hear (5 to 35,000 Hz for example). This does not make their sound quality better.

Make a note of the frequency response, but don’t base your buying decision on it. What's more important is the headphone's frequency response curve. Since no headphone has a completely flat response, the curve shows where on the spectrum they have any peaks or dips you need to be aware of.

» Comfort

A headphone’s comfort is important, no matter how you feel about any of the other criteria. If a pair feels like a head vice after 30 minutes, you’ll never be able to focus, get in the zone, and truly enjoy your music production.


How We Tested Studio Headphones

We ordered all of the headphones ourselves and put them through extensive testing over several weeks before reviewing them in this guide.

We plugged all of them into an RME Fireface 800 audio interface (as well as our laptop and phone's headphone jacks for our causal listening test). We used each headphone both in our quiet home studios, and noisy office environment to test isolation.

We played with software synths, and pulled up unmixed projects (with and without vocals) all in the context of Logic Pro X. We also used the headphones with our Casio Privia PX160 digital piano and solid state guitar amps.

Review Methodology

It's not fair to compare a $70 pair of closed-back headphones to a $300 open-back pair. For this reason, we decided the best thing to do would be to split the list into:

  1. Closed-back studio headphone reviews
  2. Semi-open and open-back studio headphone reviews

To further keep things on a more level playing field, for each headphone we break down the review into:

  1. Unboxing & First Impressions - Quality of packaging and what's included in the box.
  2. Fit & Finish - Build quality, aesthetics, design details.
  3. Comfort - Comfort level over long sessions wearing the headphones.
  4. Sound: Studio Production & Mixing - How does it sound when producing and mixing various genres within a DAW? Does a rough mix translate well on flat studio monitors?
  5. Sound: Casual Listening - How well suited are the headphones for listening to music, movies, and gaming? None of these headphones here are suitable for gym or active outdoor use, so we won't comment on that.
  6. Bottom Line - Summary of our impressions.

Best Closed-Back Studio Headphones

Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO

Type Closed-back, over-ear
Impedance Available in 32, 80, or 250 Ω
Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO
The Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO.
Giulio Chiarenza
Giulio's Pick

A rugged & indestructible workhorse of a headphone that sounds fantastic both for studio work and casual listening. I owned the Sennheiser HD 280 PRO for a while and upgrading to these was a game changer. If I did more mixing & mastering work I would go with the DT 990 PRO.

Unboxing & First Impressions

We've owned the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro 80 headphones for many years, so while we don't quite remember the unboxing, here's what you can expect to find in the box:

  • 9.8 ft. straight connecting cable (non-detachable)
  • 1/4" adapter
  • drawstring storage bag

Fit & Finish

These German-made headphones have a very utilitarian look and feel. The rounded ear cups make them look relatively bulky - we wouldn't call these stylish - but they're made very well. We've owned them for years, and they are 100% intact with not a single piece of material deteriorating. We've dropped them plenty of times and their thick metal frame has ensured no damage.

Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO build quality
The Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO are very sturdy and durable. Ours have lasted years and are still going strong.

Comfort

The velour ear pads are amazingly comfortable. In fact, it'll make you want to replace any other headphones' leather pads with this microfiber fabric.

The pressure they place on the head is relatively light, and we find them comfortable to wear for hours on end with no breaks. The velour ear pads have a lot to do with that, but the ear cup surface is also quite large and the pressure is distributed evenly.

Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO comfort
The Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO feature amazingly comfortable soft ear pads.

Sound: Studio Production & Mixing

The DT 770 are outstanding for music production. Everything we listened to sounded warm and punchy, and they are remarkably even, especially from sub-bass all the way to the upper mids. In fact, the sub-bass response makes these especially well suited for electronic music production.

Beyerdynamic DT 770 frequency response graph
Beyerdynamic DT 770 frequency response graph courtesy of RTINGS.com.

When it comes to the highs they can be a little bright, but for us a lot of that depended on the source material.

Sound: Casual Listening

The DT 770 excel for casual listening mostly due to their comfort, light pressure, and excellent bass response. No question, movies and music will sound great, and the nearly 10 ft. cord gives you some flexibility.

The isolation is moderate; in a quiet office a little sound leaked out of them, enough to be a minor distraction if that's the only audible thing.

Bottom Line

Considering how good they are, the Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO headphones are priced remarkably well. For the music producer on the go or in the studio looking for closed-back headphones, there's really not much bad to say about them. You'll be able to wear them for hours with no discomfort, and while they might slightly over-represent the bass, for the most part your mixes will be in a good place when it comes time to test them on other systems.

Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO-80 Closed Studio Headphones

Available new on

AMAZON

4 available used from $124.99 on

REVERB

Sennheiser HD280 PRO

Type Closed-back, over-ear
Impedance 64 Ω
Sennheiser HD280 PRO
The Sennheiser HD280 PRO.

Unboxing & First Impressions

These are sub-$100 headphones, and the no-frills packaging reflects this. Opening up the small and simple box reveals the folded-up headphones, a non-detachable 1.3 m coiled cable with 1/8" connector, and 1/4" adapter. There is no case or carrying pouch.

Sennheiser HD280 PRO unboxing
Unboxing the Sennheiser HD280 PRO.

Fit & Finish

The HD 280 PRO are pretty attractive with a sleek matte black finish. They're mostly plastic but feel pretty durable. The ear pieces fold up and in for portability, and the ear cups swivel out in one direction.

The ear pads are a thin soft cushioned material. From experience having owned a pair of these a few years back, the material will eventually crumble and need replacing.

Sennheiser HD280 PRO portability
The Sennheiser HD280 PRO fold up nicely for storage & portability.

Comfort

These headphones suffer a little in the comfort department. We found them to be more comfortable over long sessions than the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, but that's not saying a whole lot. If the tightness doesn't get you, the ear cups - which are decently comfortable - start feeling a little warm and stuffy after some time.

Sennheiser HD280 PRO comfort
Sennheiser HD280 PRO ear pads & headband.

Sound: Studio Production & Mixing

These closed-back headphones are favorites of producers worldwide, which is an amazing considering they are sub-$100. The simple reason is that they sound great, and faithfully reproduce frequencies across the spectrum.

Sennheiser HD280 PRO frequency response graph
Sennheiser HD280 PRO frequency response graph courtesy of RTINGS.com.

The bass is excellent - very punchy and tight. Mids are crystal clear and not over- or under-represented, and the treble behaves well also.

The HD 280 PRO don't have an especially wide soundstage - which is understandable, since they are closed-back headphones - but their sound is remarkably present. Listen to a track like Alison Wonderland's "High ft. Trippie Redd" and you'll see what we mean. The vocals are balanced, the synths that live in the midrange are very distinguishable, the percussion is crisp and when the bass kicks in it's very punchy.

Sound: Casual Listening

The HD 280 PRO work well for casual listening, though the comfort issues (heat and tightness) might necessitate that you take some breaks. The coiled cable might be annoying if you need to stretch it over a long distance.

Isolation is pretty solid. The ear cup forms a tight seal, and while not quite noise-cancelling quality, they isolate well in noisy environments with minimal leakage in or out.

Sennheiser HD280 PRO isolation
The Sennheiser HD280 PRO isolates pretty well. High Ambient Noise Attenuation is one of the main benefits on the box.

Bottom Line

The Sennheiser HD 280 PRO have become a sub-$100 industry standard. They're durable (engineered in Germany and USA-made), but not fancy by any means. Our biggest gripe is that we wish they were more comfortable and breathable.

For music production and studio use, they are great where it counts - they reproduce sound extremely well across the spectrum.

Sennheiser HD 280 Pro

Available new on

AMAZON

1 available used from $89.00 on

REVERB

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x

Type Closed-back, over-ear
Impedance 38 Ω
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x.

Unboxing & First Impressions

Opening the box of the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x reveals some thoughtful details. A very nice leather carrying pouch is included, as is a 1/4" adapter and 3 detachable cables:

  • 3.9-9.8 ft. coiled cable
  • 3.9 ft. straight cable
  • 9.8 ft. straight cable
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x unboxing
Unboxing the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x.

Fit & Finish

The ATH-M50x are designed very well, and are one of the more attractive studio headphones around. They're mostly plastic but feel very sturdy and well-built. The brushed aluminum touches are nice and offer some visual contrast to the matte black.

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x build quality
Great build quality.

The ear pads are leather (or leather-like) and feel soft and cushioned. The ear cups fold up for portability, and they also swivel in both directions. The headband is also leather and looks nicely stitched together.

Comfort

The ATH-M50x are one of the most popular and lauded studio headphones out there, but sadly comfort is where they miss the mark. The ear pads are soft, so it's more of an issue with the distribution of pressure and the headband.

More so than any other pair, we found ourselves having to take breaks every hour or so. They're not the lightest set of cans around (0.63 lbs) which might contribute to the discomfort.

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x comfort
Despite soft ear pads, these headphones suffer a bit in the comfort department.

Sound: Studio Production & Mixing

When it comes to price-per-performance ratio, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x are nearly unbeatable (the Beyerdynamic DT770 PRO come very close). For studio use, whether you're producing hip-hop or electronic music, tracking vocals, recording guitar, etc. these deliver outstanding results.

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x frequency response graph
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x frequency response graph courtesy of RTINGS.com.

As you can see in the graph, the frequency response is amazing. The bass isn't thumping but it's punchy and solid. The mids are one of the first things that wowed us when we put these on; amazingly detailed for headphones in this price range. Despite what the treble looks like in the graph, in practice it sounds great and it was hard to find flaw in it.

Sound: Casual Listening

Audio-wise the ATH-M50x are outstanding headphones for movies, music, and gaming. They're attractive and sleek so have no fear rocking these in public. The 3 included cords are handy, and you can switch them out depending on your use-case.

The downside is their low comfort level, so unless aesthetics are very important for you, we recommend the Beyerdynamic DT770 PRO for casual listening over the Audio-Technica.

Bottom Line

Without going to the $250 price-point and beyond, the ATH-M50x are definitely some of the very best studio headphones for the money.

So much so that they almost risk being over-hyped by producers and audiophiles. The fact is that they're popular for good reason - they're are a great choice for people who want closed-back, over-ear headphones that can be used for just about any type of studio work.

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Professional Monitor Headphones

Available new on

AMAZON

4 available used from $103.98 on

REVERB

Sennheiser HD 25

Type Closed-back, on-ear
Impedance 70 Ω
Sennheiser HD 25
The Sennheiser HD 25.

Unboxing & First Impressions

A simple cardboard box gives way to some no-frills packaging. The Sennheiser HD-25 headphones come with a non-detachable 4.9 ft. cord and 1/4" adapter. It's a similar package to the HD 280 PRO headphones, though we expected a little more here due to the HD 25's higher price point.

Sennheiser HD 25 unboxing
Unboxing the Sennheiser HD 25.
Sennheiser HD 25 cord
The Sennheiser HD 25 cord actually IS detachable, but it takes some work.

Fit & Finish

These headphones are light, coming in at 140g (0.3 lbs)! The HD 25 are marketed as industry standard DJ headphones, which means they can withstand the rigors of touring and continue functioning. You wouldn't think this from feeling them for the first time - they're fully made of plastic and rather thin.

But apparently our concerns are misguided, as they are the most used DJ headphones in the world partially due to their durability and every component being easily replaceable.

They have a nice minimal design and look good when worn. The ear cups have a similar feel to those on the HD 280 PRO (though remember these sit on the ear as opposed to over the ear). There is a small amount of swivel in the ear cups, but they can actually twist a long way due to how they're constructed.

Sennheiser HD 25 headband
The Sennheiser HD 25 feature a headband that separates.

Comfort

The HD 25 are very light and minimal, which makes them quite comfortable to wear. You might be a little more aware of them being around your head due to the on-ear design, but thankfully they don't apply any vice-like pressure to your head. We were able to wear them for many hours continuously.

Sennheiser HD 25 comfort
The Sennheiser HD 25 are comfortable and very light.

Sound: Studio Production & Mixing

If you're familiar with the HD 25, you might be thinking, "why are they in a studio headphone guide?" It turns out that while they are industry standard DJ headphones, they're surprisingly capable studio and production headphones.

Sennheiser HD 25 frequency response graph
Sennheiser HD 25 frequency response graph courtesy of Head-Fi.

The bass is very good, and there's a gentle roll-off past 50Hz so the sub-bass is also pretty decent. The mids and highs are incredibly crisp - percussion and vocals sound very detailed. A test mixdown we did using the Sennheiser HD 25 sounded more or less how we expected coming out of Yamaha studio monitors.

Sound: Casual Listening

Because of how lightweight they are and their crisp sound, the HD 25 make for good casual listening headphones. The relatively short 4.9 ft. cord might be a limiting factor though, since it's only enough length to reach your phone or laptop.

The isolation on these is surprisingly good considering they are not an over-ear headphone.

Bottom Line

While the Sennheiser HD 25 might be known to most as a DJ headphone, it's no slouch in the studio. This is great news if you need a headphone that's extremely durable and pulls double duty (as is the case for world famous music producers Axwell, Steve Angello, Dirty South, Deorro, and Deniz Koyu).

Sennheiser HD 25 Headphones

Available new on

AMAZON

4 available used from $100.00 on

REVERB

Sony MDR-7506

Type Closed-back, over-ear
Impedance 63 Ω
Sony MDR-7506
The Sony MDR-7506.
Michael Pierce
Michael's Pick

The MDR-7506 are an attainable reference standard and have been proven for decades. I can wear them for hours without discomfort, they fold up so I take them everywhere, and sound great.

Unboxing & First Impressions

Inside the box you'll find the MDR-7506 headphones with a non-detachable coiled cable that is 9.8 ft long at full stretch. There's also a 1/4" adapter, and a soft carrying pouch. Not a bad package for a sub-$100 headphone.

Sony MDR-7506 unboxing
Unboxing the Sony MDR-7506.

Fit & Finish

The Sony MDR-7506 are legendary studio headphones, but fit & finish is not where they shine. They feel flimsy and thin, and rattle a lot. They are mostly plastic, with the actual band being metal. That said, it's definitely a stretch to expect a luxurious build at this price.

Sony MDR-7506 service manual
The Sony MDR-7506 come with a service manual detailing every little piece, making repairs and part replacement simple.

Their design is fairly sleek and not too offensive. The ear pad material looks as if it will flake off and eventually need replacing.

Sony MDR-7506 headband
In case there was any doubt, the Sony MDR-7506 are studio monitor headphones.

Comfort

The Sony MDR-7506 are very comfortable. They're light and the pressure is distributed very evenly which did not cause us any aches and pains during prolonged periods of wearing them. The ear pads are soft and comfortable.

Sony MDR-7506 comfort
The Sony MDR-7506 feel comfortable over long studio sessions.

Sound: Studio Production & Mixing

Being such a legendary studio workhorse, it's hard to not go into it with some expectations of good performance. We're happy to report the MDR-7506 exceeded our lofty expectations.

In short, they sound fantastic. The excellent bass response means working on a sub-bass-heavy electronic track in our DAW was a pleasure. The mids sounded sparkling clear on a vocal and acoustic guitar recording, and the highs are well-behaved and not overly sibilant.

Sony MDR-7506 frequency response graph
Sony MDR-7506 frequency response graph courtesy of RTINGS.com.

Sound: Casual Listening

The MDR-7506 are well suited for movies, music, and gaming due to their excellent sound and comfort. The coiled cable might make things difficult if you're not close to the headphone output, and unfortunately it's not detachable.

Sony MDR-7506 portability
The Sony MDR-7506 fold up nicely and are very portable.

Bottom Line

These studio stalwarts don't disappoint. It's great that over the years they have remained virtually unchanged, and the price has remained steady as well. They're not the best headphones in the looks, fit, and finish department - for that, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x pretty much demolish these - but in terms of audio quality and reproduction, the MDR-7506 and ATH-M50x are very evenly matched. That's saying a lot considering the Sonys are quite a bit cheaper!

Sony MDR-7506 Professional Headphones

Available new on

AMAZON

5 available used from $60.00 on

REVERB

Status SM-CB1

Type Closed-back, over-ear
Impedance 32 Ω
Status SM-CB1
The Status SM-CB1.

Note: Equipboard received this model from the manufacturer at no cost, but that in no way influenced its inclusion on this list.

Unboxing & First Impressions

The Status SM-CB1 box is a little nicer than what you would get in a pricier $100-150 Sennheiser headphone, which is a nice surprise. Inside you'll find the headphones, two detachable cables (3 m straight and 3 m coiled), and a 1/4" adapter. The cables have a locking mechanism to keep them firmly attached to the headphone.

Status SM-CB1 unboxing
Unboxing the Status SM-CB1.

Fit & Finish

The design of the SM-CB1 is a mixed bag. On one hand, they feel more solid than the Sony MDR-7506, but not quite as refined as Audio-Technica ATH-M50x. They are made of plastic, and there are no large logos or branding to speak of (which either makes them look more generic or more sleek - you decide).

The cushion on the headband is passable, but the ear cup padding is massive; they're like big pillows. The thickness of the pads makes these look pretty massive on the head. The ear cups are able to swivel out in one direction.

Status SM-CB1 close-up detail
The Status SM-CB1 studio headphones have very minimal branding.
Status SM-CB1 build quality
The Status SM-CB1 build quality is comparable to that of the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x.

Comfort

Because of how thick the ear pads are, the SM-CB1 are pretty comfortable. We expected our ears to burn up after a while, but long-term comfort was great. No undue pressure was placed on our head.

Status SM-CB1 comfort
The Status SM-CB1 have massive ear pad cushioning, which makes them pretty comfortable to wear.

Sound: Studio Production & Mixing

The sound of the Status SM-CB1 is extremely good for a closed-back studio headphone in this price range. This is definitely a budget headphone that definitely doesn't sound that way.

We did extensive testing of these versus the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro and the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, and could not discern any immense differences. All 3 are more or less neutral but none of them sound exactly alike; the Beyerdynamic have a certain warmth and roundness to the bass, and the Audio-Technica have mids so detailed that you almost feel like you're listening to everything live. The Status SM-CB1 sits somewhere in between.

The soundstage is pretty good and decently wide considering they are closed-back.

Sound: Casual Listening

Nothing stops the SM-CB1 from being excellent headphones for casual listening, aside from maybe that they make your head look pretty wide because of the large ear pads! The choice of straight vs. coiled cable is much appreciated. Their high comfort level means you don't have to take many breaks while enjoying your movies, music, or games.

Status SM-CB1 portability
Good portability.

Bottom Line

The Status SM-CB1 headphones made our list because they are an outrageous value for studio headphones. In the headphone world we tend to consider Sennheiser HD280 PRO or Sony MDR-7506 budget-priced, but not every musician or sound engineer can or wants to spend $100.

Status proves that it doesn't have to have "Sennheiser" or "Beyerdynamic" on the ear cup to be considered an excellent studio headphone, and they have produced a model that can contend with headphones twice its price.

Status SM-CB1 Headphones

Available new on

AMAZON

Best Open-Back Studio Headphones

AKG K240 MKII

Type Semi-open-back, over-ear
Impedance 55 Ω
AKG K240 MKII
The AKG K240 MKII.

Unboxing & First Impressions

Opening the box reveals the following:

  • 9.8 ft straight cable
  • Coiled cable
  • Velvet ear pads
  • 1/4" adapter

It's nice of AKG to include velvet ear pads as a replacement to the default leatherette, just in case you prefer the velvet feel or the leatherette deteriorates.

AKG K240 MKII unboxing
Unboxing the AKG K240 MKII.

Fit & Finish

The AKG K240 MKII are well-designed headphones with retro styling. They're very light and the build quality feels decent. The headband is not reinforced with plastic or steel like on other headphones, but rather has a 2-prong outer frame for support.

AKG K240 MKII build quality
The AKG K240 MKII sport retro styling and are very lightweight.
AKG K240 MKII headband
They have a unique self-adjusting headband.

Comfort

These are some of the most comfortable headphones around. They're extremely light and comfortable over long periods, with no harsh pressure or tightness.

AKG K240 MKII comfort
The AKG K240 MKII can be worn for hours at a time with minimal discomfort.

Sound: Studio Production & Mixing

The AKG K240 MKII deliver a very pleasing and balanced sound. Being semi-open, you should expect the bass to not sound as deep and full as closed-back headphones, but unfortunately with these headphones it suffers a bit more than we'd like. It's probably not the best headphone for producing or mixing bass-heavy genres.

AKG K240 MKII frequency response graph
AKG K240 MKII frequency response graph courtesy of RTINGS.com.

To compensate, the mid-range and treble sound great; very even and honest. The soundstage is nice and wide, which combined with their lightness on the head makes them very good for working on mixdowns on all but the most bass-heavy of tracks.

Sound: Casual Listening

The K240 MKII are not great for casual listening. The lack of low-end is a bit underwhelming for entertainment purposes, which is a shame because these headphones are super comfortable to wear. Without a dedicated headphone amp, they also lack a bit of volume when driven by a phone or laptop.

Being a semi-open back, there is substantial sound leakage so they are not suitable for any noisy environments.

Bottom Line

The K240 MKII are a quality set of semi-open back headphones, and come at a cost that doesn't break the bank. They're a fantastic value, and we would recommend them to any producer or mixing engineer who wants open-backs in their arsenal and works with genres that don't need a lot of sub-bass.

AKG K240 MKII Headphones

Available new on

AMAZON

25 available new from $70.42 on

REVERB

Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO

Type Open-back, over-ear
Impedance 250 Ω
Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO
The Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO.

Unboxing & First Impressions

The German-made Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO come in a box with the headphones, carrying pouch, non-detachable 9.8 ft. cord, and 1/4" adapter.

Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO unboxing
Unboxing the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO.

Fit & Finish

These are basically the open-back version of the Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO headphones, and share a lot of design elements with them. They're not the most stylish headphones around, and sport more of a utilitarian look and feel. The grille on the outside of the ear cups adds some visual interest.

The DT 990 feel extremely durable and well-built, with a metal frame and no loose or noisy joints. The leather around the headband can easily be removed and replaced if needed.

Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO build quality
The Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO are some of the most solidly build headphones around.

Comfort

The plush velour ear pads are supremely comfortable. Like the DT 770, these can be worn for hours without much discomfort. Pressure is distributed evenly, and the padded headband provides additional comfort.

Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO comfort
Like the DT 770 PRO, the DT 990 PRO have extremely soft and comfortable ear pads.

Sound: Studio Production & Mixing

In this price range, the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO are a gold standard when it comes to sound quality in an open-back headphone. They are extremely balanced, have a fairly wide soundstage and great stereo separation.

Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO frequency response graph
Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO frequency response graph courtesy of RTINGS.com.

They lack a little sub-bass, as can be expected of open-back headphones, but the mid- and high-bass sounds great. Composing and mixing bass heavy genres is not a problem on the DT 990.

The mids are very flat and honest, and the highs are detailed despite a spike around 8 kHz, which wasn't a bother in our tests.

The sound stage isn't the widest we've heard in an open-back headphone, but still very respectable.

Sound: Casual Listening

The usual open-back headphone limitations apply when recommending the DT 990 for casual use. They are extremely comfortable, and if you'll be using them by yourself, the sound leakage won't be a problem. However due to the lack of isolation and high impedance, we're more inclined to recommend the Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO for casual listening.

Bottom Line

Beyerdynamic's DT line of headphones delivers amazing results for the money, and the DT 990 Pro are no exception. Their sound signature is very flat and honest, and the velour ear pads offer unparalleled comfort, making them ideal for mixing sessions in the studio. If you're looking for an open-back headphone to be your workhorse without busting the bank, look no further.

Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO Open Studio Headphones

Available new on

AMAZON

8 available used from $110.00 on

REVERB

Sennheiser HD 650

Type Open-back, over-ear
Impedance 300 Ω
Sennheiser HD 650
The Sennheiser HD 650.

Unboxing & First Impressions

The Sennheiser HD 650 are premium headphones, and the unboxing reflects that. They come in a beautiful box with a hinged lid, and the headphones are resting in custom-cut foam inserts. It's reminiscent of unboxing a high-end pair of sneakers, which is a nice touch after you've spend this kind of money on a headphone.

In the box you'll find the headphones with a detachable 9.8 ft. cable, and a short adapter cord to convert the 1/4" connection to 1/8". Strangely there is no carrying pouch, but the solid case compensates for that.

Unlike most headphones where the cord attaches to just the left ear cup, the detachable cords hook up to both ear cups. It's not a nuisance, just something to be aware of.

Sennheiser HD 650 unboxing
Unboxing the Sennheiser HD 650.

Fit & Finish

The HD 650 are bulky due to the ear cups being a tall oval shape. Aside from that, the design is very nice and the fit & finish is excellent. There's a mix of metal and plastic, and the color scheme is an attractive metallic gunmetal gray.

The outside of the ear cup has a cool looking grille, and the ear cup padding is amazingly soft and plush.

Sennheiser HD 650 headband detail
The finish on the Sennheiser HD 650 is very attractive.
Sennheiser HD 650 build quality
The Sennheiser HD 650 have a great build quality. They feel less rugged but more luxurious than the Beyerdynamic DT 990.

Comfort

Even after hours of using the HD 650, it barely feels like you're wearing headphones. They're a little bulky, but that's only because the ear cups are large. The headphones themselves are light, and the soft ear cup padding distributes weight very evenly. The headband is also nicely padded with foam. The fact that they are open-back also makes them more breathable.

Sennheiser HD 650 comfort
The soft ear pads make the Sennheiser HD 650 extremely comfortable.

Sound: Studio Production & Mixing

The big question is, are the Sennheiser HD 650 worth the high cost of admission when it comes to sound quality for studio use? In a word, yes.

Sennheiser HD 650 frequency response graph
Sennheiser HD 650 frequency response graph courtesy of RTINGS.com.

They are very warm and neutral through the entire spectrum. In typical open-back fashion they're a little short on sub-bass, but the bass is very detailed and punchy, the mids are fantastic, and the highs are crisp and detailed.

Compared to the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO, the treble on the HD 650 is a little less pronounced. That's not necessarily better or worse, just different. When played on another system, a mixdown done on the HD 650 tends to sound a little brighter, but otherwise translates very consistently.

The imaging is outstanding, and the sense of space of the various instruments in a mix need to be heard to be believed, especially when upgrading to these headphones from a more budget pair.

Sound: Casual Listening

This is a luxurious high-end headphone, and being open-back we have some reservations about calling it ideal for casual listening. If you already have multiple headphones and have the cash to add another to the collection, the HD 650 has an awesome soundstage for movies and music. They're also very comfortable, so provided you're in a quiet environment they could certainly work. Just make sure you have a headphone amp to get the most out of them, due to their high impedance.

At the end of the day the HD 650 are very tempting to use for causal listening because of how nice they are, but in practical terms their price tag and open-back design are pretty big deterrents.

Bottom Line

The Sennheiser HD 650 are superb open-back studio headphones. In and of themselves, they look and feel very polished, and deliver a very warm, flat, and honest sound with superior imaging. They cost twice as much as the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO, but it's hard to say that they are twice as good. If you're looking for the best value for the money, we'd suggest skipping these. If you insist on the best and the money is no issue, it's hard to argue against the Sennheiser HD 650.

Sennheiser HD 650 Headphones

Available new on

AMAZON

9 available new from $399.99 on

REVERB

Samson SR850

Type Semi-open-back, over-ear
Impedance 32 Ω
Samson SR850
The Samson SR850.

Unboxing & First Impressions

In the cardboard box you'll find the headphones, with a non-detachable 8.3 ft. cord and 1/4" adapter. Nothing of note here.

Samson SR850 unboxing
Unboxing the Samson SR850.

Fit & Finish

The Samson SR850 is a budget headphone, and the first sign of that is the build quality. It feels a little flimsy. It borrows a lot of its styling from the AKG K240 headphones, albeit slightly less polished without any silver accents.

Like the AKG headphones, the headband is self-adjusting. The SR850 have all plastic components, and the ear pad cushions are velour.

Samson SR850 build quality
Build quality leaves something to be desired.
Samson SR850 vs. AKG K240 MKII
The Samson SR850 are essentially a budget version of the AKG K240 MKII. They look nearly identical.

Comfort

Fortunately, like the AKG K240, the Samson SR850 are very light and comfortable. They don't apply strong pressure to your head, and the ear pad cushions are comfortable and soft to the touch. No problems here over long listening sessions.

Samson SR850 comfort
Light & comfortable, no issues here.

Sound: Studio Production & Mixing

With budget packaging and build quality, you'd expect budget sound quality... and you'd be wrong! The Samson SR850 are on our list of best studio headphones for good reason; they sound fantastic.

Are they perfect? Certainly not. The highs in particular seem a little too harsh and pronounced (a glance at the frequency response graph confirms this).

Samson SR850 frequency response graph
Samson SR850 frequency response graph courtesy of Home Studio Basics.

The bass - and even some sub-bass - has surprising punch and sounds well-rounded, likely due to the 50mm drivers. The mids have nice detail as well.

The soundstage is decently wide for semi-open-back headphones, but not as good as the pricier options.

Sound: Casual Listening

The Samson SR850 makes a pretty solid headphone for movies, music, and gaming. The semi-open design causes sound to leak both ways, but that's by design. They're comfortable to wear and breathable, which is a big plus. While the exaggerated bass and treble isn't desirable for studio use, for casual listening it enhances the experience.

With an impedance of 32 ohms, they are also easy to drive without the use of a headphone amp.

Bottom Line

We wouldn't say the Samson SR850 surpass other open and semi-open back headphones in this list like the AKG K240 MKII or Beyerdynamic DT990 PRO, but they come close as far as sound quality is concerned.

More than anything, the value for the money is outrageous. If you can live with the over-emphasized bass and treble, this price of admission for a capable semi-open back studio headphone is almost too good to be true.

Samson SR850 Headphones

Available new on

AMAZON

2 available used from $39.99 on

REVERB

Best Studio Headphones Under $100

The best closed-back studio headphones under $100 are the Sony MDR-7506. At or under $100 you have a few options, and we debated this quite a bit since the Sennheiser HD 280 PRO and Status SM-CB1 are perfectly capable as well. In the end, it's hard to beat the sound quality and well-roundedness of the Sony MDR-7506. They are classics, and there's a reason they have been virtually unchanged since their release in the early 1990s.

If your price cap is closer to $70, you'll be very happy with the Status SM-CB1.

The best open-back studio headphones under $100 are the Samson SR850. There just aren't that many sub-$100 options in the open-back headphone world, and the Samson SR850 are very capable workhorses. The price of the AKG K240 MKII varies quite a bit depending on where you look, and we have seen them for just over $100, though not consitently enough to recommend them here.

Best studio headphones under $100
The best under $100 crew. Hard to beat the Sony MDR-7506 for closed-back, and Samson SR850 for open-back.

Best Studio Headphones Under $200

The best closed-back studio headphones under $200 are the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x AND the Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO. It's too close to call between these two, they are both fantastic. The Audio-Technica are a bit more honest, they look sleeker, but the comfort isn't great. The Beyerdynamic have a warmer and more pronounced low-end, look more rugged, and are extremely comfortable.

The best open-back studio headphones under $200 are the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO. No question here, if you have a $200 budget and need open-back studio headphones nothing nails that sweet spot quite like the DT 990.

Best studio headphones under $200
The best ones under $200. It's a toss up between the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x and Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO for closed-back, and Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO take the open-back crown.

Best Studio Headphones Under $300

See the Best Studio Headphones Under $200. We think you would need to spend $400 or more before you saw a big enough quality jump to justify the investment over the ones we recommend under $200.

Best Studio Headphones for Mixing and Mastering

The best studio headphones for mixing and mastering are the best OPEN-BACK headphones you can afford. It's hard to recommend a specific model without knowing your budget. But in general, mixing and mastering a track is a more technical skill that requires more detailed critical listening, as opposed to producing or recording where you might be in a more creative state of mind.

For this reason, open-back headphones don't exaggerate bass frequencies like closed-back headphones do, and they create a more wide open soundstage so you can more accurately place instruments in the stereo field. Mixing and mastering should preferably be done on studio monitors, and open-back headphones get closer to that experience than closed-back headphones do.


If the world of studio headphones and studio monitor speakers makes your head spin, we created this infographic to help you decide what to get! Click the preview below to see the full version.

Infographic: A Guide to Choosing Studio Headphones & Studio Monitor Speakers

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About the authors
Michael Pierce

Michael bought his first guitar, a Fender California Series Stratocaster in Candy Apple Red, in 1998. He likes rock of all types, from classic to punk to metal. Michael co-founded Equipboard to satisfy his curiosity around what gear his guitar heroes use. Read more

Giulio Chiarenza

Giulio co-founded Equipboard with his friend Michael. He plays the piano, guitar, drums, and had a brief stint signed to a label as an electronic music producer. Read more


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Comments 9

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+3
andrei_tuduran
andrei_tuduran
614 almost 4 years ago

I own a pair of Audio Technica ATH-M50 and I can tell you that it sounds amazing, very detailed and sharp. Considering in Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro for a semi-closed experience.

+2
odilon_od_martinez_jr
odilon_od_martinez_jr
101 over 3 years ago

This awesome! I personally bought Sennheiser HD 280 Pro and it was worth every penny, this article helped me out to choose the headphones I bought

+2
charlice_eedu
charlice_eedu
103 almost 3 years ago

Thank you equipboard for sifting through the chaff and bring the best of the studio headphones.

Useful for the beginner and those thinking about buying a new bass headphone.

+2
andrei_tuduran
andrei_tuduran
614 over 2 years ago

I want to come back after a year and tell you that, after having the ATH-M50 then Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro and then ATH-M50, the best headphones for mixing and mastering from my opinion are the Sony MDR-7506. I had the chance to find them in a very good shape and I was blown away.

+2
gchiaren
gchiaren
5572 over 2 years ago

@andrei_tuduran That's really helpful feedback. It's not often someone has experience with 3 out of our 5 best studio headphones! Glad you came back to report on it. I'm assuming what you like best about the Sony MDR-7506 is that they are the most neutral and honest? It's certainly hard to argue with their price tag...

+1
andrei_tuduran
andrei_tuduran
614 over 2 years ago

@gchiaren , Yes, are more neutral than both ATH-M50 and DT770 Pro. The highs are a bit hyped but not too much. They are more light than both, the low end is excellent and the midrange is what you need. If your mix sounds good on them, be sure that will sound good on everything. I am sure that DT880 Pro are good but I wanted closed back because I don't want to bother anybody and don't want to be bothered too by others. A really good pair of headphones that I start my mixes when I am not home are the Apple Earpods (..and yes, I am serious) . These sound so good and translate very well on my Sony MDR-7506. Happy mixing!

+2
hedningermusic
hedningermusic
231 over 2 years ago

I can agree that those ATH-M50X's are some good cans.However, do yourself a favor and buy a spare cable for them with the 1/4" connection. They short out like nobodies business after about a year of use. Been through 2 cables already... Other than that, these will give you some outstanding sound quality in the studio for tracking/monitoring and for just listening to music too.

+2
sandra1910
sandra1910
101 9 months ago

bueno bueno

+1
jonathancyprien
jonathancyprien
115 21 days ago

Great article