This Icon Picks roundup features a selection of professional studio headphones that deliver high-quality accuracy and durability for musicians, engineers, and DJs. This buyers guide also breaks down the different headphone types to help you choose the right pair of cans for the job.
What are Studio Headphones?
Studio headphones are an essential monitoring tool whether you are producing music, recording, or mixing and mastering. However, finding professional-quality headphones for the studio can often be an overwhelming task. There are several different types of studio headphones and many considerations to be aware of before choosing the right headphones for the job. To help narrow your search, we put together a selection of high-quality headphones for the studio.
Headphone Design Types
There are three main studio headphone design types: closed‑back, open‑back, and semi-open. Each type has an entirely different listening experience as well as advantages and disadvantages. When choosing a pair of studio headphones, consider the which type best fits your monitoring needs.
Closed-back headphones are typically used for both music production and recording. One of the primary advantages of closed-back headphones is noise isolation. Closed-back headphones work amazingly well at preventing sounds from the surrounding environment to bleed through. An isolated audio experience makes it easier to hear more sonic details within the music, especially at lower volume levels.
However, the isolated design prevents sound from leaking out and causes pressure to accumulate inside the cup of the headphone which can give you a false impression of the low-end. Moreover, closed-back headphones are also considered to be less accurate for critical listening. The enclosed sound waves accumulate making everything sound more ‘colored’ because of all the reflections in a small space. However, the isolation allows you to focus on sounds better than open-back headphones and are necessary for the studio or on the stage.
Open-Back and Semi-Open Headphones
Open-back headphones and semi-open headphones are ideal for mixing and mastering because they are more accurate. These types of headphones typically have vented/perforated or mesh-covered ear cup enclosures that allow air and sound to flow in and out.
Open-back and semi-open headphones also provide a more natural and accurate sound to the listener because the reflections can escape. Having sound waves flow more freely also results in less coloration, and the drivers can respond more quickly and efficiently. It also makes sounds seem larger/wider and more open/airy. These two types of headphones also tend to give you a feeling of being in an environment, much like listening to a pair of monitors.
However, there are drawbacks to using open cans. There is less isolation and sounds can leak out making them impractical for recording because microphones will pick up the leakage. They are also less ideal for noisy listening environments.
Top 10 Headphone Recommendations
Below is a selection of quality studio headphones in no particular order. They range from affordable budget headphones to high-end professional headphones.
1. Audio-Technica ATH-M50x | Closed-Back
The ATH-M50x professional monitor headphones are praised by leading audio professionals and are highly reviewed by everyday users. These closed-back cans sport a modern design that features great sound isolation, 90-degree swiveling earcups for one-ear monitoring, and detachable cables. The M50x also comes equipped with large 45 mm aperture drivers that deliver exceptional clarity throughout a wide frequency range. They also emit a deep, accurate bass response. In addition, they are built solid!
The ATH-M50x headphones are the top choice for music production, mixing, DJing, and personal listening.
2. Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro | Semi-Open
The Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro headphones are another popular choice among audio professionals. Their semi-open design gives you the strengths of both open and closed headphones. You’ll have just enough “air” when tracking instruments while still having the isolation you want when recording. You’ll also find that the cozy soft skin ear pads make the Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro headphones extra-comfortable for extended use.
In addition, the 880s deliver a full stereo image and are very neutral sounding. They also boast incredibly detailed resolution and have a transparent sound, making them perfect all-around studio headphones. The 880s are also robust and easily serviceable. All parts are replaceable.
The DT 880 PRO headphones are ideal for mixing and mastering, editing, and general listing.
3. Sennheiser HD 800 | Open-Back
The Sennheiser HD 800 audiophile and reference headphones are top-of-the-line and provide one of the best listening experiences in the industry. However, top-notch quality and construction come with a high price tag. The HD 800’s are by far the most expensive on the list.
Sporting the largest transducers in the game, these professional cans incorporate Sennheiser’s most advanced driver technology inside an around-the-ear, open-backed earcup design. The quality extends to the comfortable headband and rugged construction. In addition, the HD 800’s sound amazingly open, realistic, and natural. These headphones are made to give you the best performance.
The HD 800 headphones are ideal for mixing and mastering, editing, and detailed listing.
4. AKG K240 MKII | Semi-Open
The K240 MKII professional over-ear, semi-open headphones are a long-time standard in studios. For more than three decades, professional engineers and musicians have made the K240 the most widely used studio headphones. Their advanced Varimotion 30 mm XXL transducers deliver solid low end, accurate mids, and crystal-clear highs. The semi-open design also provides the airiness of open headphones with the powerful bass response of closed designs.
These very affordable cans feature a leatherette headband, velvet earpads, and two detachable cables. They also offer a wide frequency range, giving you highly accurate monitoring with the added functionality of single-ear use. Also, if your leaning towards AKG headphones, check out their newer K701‘s. The superlative K701 open-back dynamic headphones provide an outstandingly accurate sound and are praised by audio professionals worldwide!
The K240 MKII headphones are ideal for mixing and mastering, studio monitoring, and detailed listening.
5. Sony MDR-7506 | Closed-Back
The Sony MDR-7506 professional headphones are a staple in recording studios worldwide. They are known throughout the music industry as one of the best-sounding yet most reasonably priced headphones available. Their closed-back design provides you with a consistent listening environment while isolating sound inside and outside of your headphones, making them perfect for critical listening. Moreover, their 40mm drivers deliver deeper bass and a wider dynamic range, giving you the performance needed in quality studio headphones. They are also comfortable enough to wear for long sessions. Unlike most folding headphones, the MDR-7506’s can easily withstand the abuse of daily wear.
The MDR-7506 headphones are ideal for music production, studio monitoring, detailed listening, and DJing.
6. V-MODA Crossfade LP2 | Closed-Back
The stylish V-MODA Crossfade LP2 fuses fashion and function. These rugged closed-back headphones are perfect for mobile producers and musicians who require reliability and unparalleled performance. The Crossfade LP2 has been designed to deliver professional sound while withstanding even the rigorous needs of travelers.
Furthermore, this versatile headphone rocks 50mm dual-diaphragm drivers that deliver vibrant bass, vivid mids, and crystal clear highs. Moreover, the drivers inner and outer rings separate the bass from bleeding into the mids and highs. Additionally, the V-MODA’s are built like a tank. They feature a steel frame, interchangeable aircraft-grade metal shields, and a kevlar-reinforced cable. The LP2’s are also customizable.
The Crossfade LP2 headphones are ideal for mobile producers, detailed listening, and DJing.
7. Avantone Pro MP1 | Closed-Back
The Avantone Pro MP1 mixphones are the first ever multiple use headphone. The innovative design allows you to switch between normal neutral-voiced stereo, mono, and “Mix” mode which emphasizes the midrange frequencies to simulate Avantone’s renowned Mixcubes.
These triple-mode closed-back cans give you three headphone types in one well-crafted design. Moreover, the large-format 50mm drivers deliver clean, powerful reproduction of any signal ranging from 18Hz-25kHz.
The Pro MP1 headphones are ideal for music production, mixing and mastering, detailed listening, and DJing.
8. Focal Spirit Professional | Closed-Back
The Focal Spirit Professional headphones have been designed primarily for sound engineers, producers, and musicians. Moreover, they allow you to mix and record with precision.
These modern closed-back cans feature 40mm titanium alloy transducers that combine rigidity, lightness, and high damping properties. This provides a remarkably neutral, uncolored sound without any distortion. They also have a full-range frequency response of 5Hz-22kHz, as well as highly accurate reproduction of bass frequencies. In addition, these studio headphones have comfortable memory foam for the earcups and headband – perfect for those extra-long studio sessions.
The Spirit Professional headphones are ideal for music production, mixing and mastering, and detailed listening.
9. Shure SRH1840 | Open-Back
The Shure SRH1840 Professional headphones will immerse you in comfort and great sound. Their 40mm drivers deliver detailed highs, rich bass, and excellent accuracy. Moreover, these open-back headphones give you a more natural, speaker-like listening experience, which helps your mixes “translate” better on various speaker systems.
The SRH1840 also provides excellent comfort and adjustability for extended studio use. They sport cushy circumaural earpads that comfortably envelope your ears and a fully adjustable, premium padded headband. In addition, Shure made these cans with aircraft-grade aluminum alloy and stainless steel grilles, making them lightweight and durable.
The SRH1840 headphones are ideal for mixing and mastering, editing, and detailed listening.
10. Sennheiser HD 650 | Open-Back
The Sennheiser HD 650 audiophile and reference headphones are another top-of-the-line pair of cans. If your looking for studio headphones that pick up every sonic detail with absolute accuracy without any “colored” hype, then look no further than the HD 650s. These ultra-cozy open-back headphones deliver both in amazing sound and comfort. With the 650s, your mixes will “translate” consistently better on any speaker system or other listening environments.
However, high-end professional quality comes with a large price tag. If you’re just starting out and are looking for a quality pair of cans, then check out the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro. You get the comfort, isolation, reliability, and accuracy that Sennheiser headphones are known for but at a much more affordable price.
The HD 650 headphones are ideal for music production, mixing and mastering, editing, and detailed listening.