Everything you will ever need to know about the Best Studio Headphones
As part of our continuing series, on the best studio equipment we present you your one-stop-shop for identifying and selecting the best studio headphones on the market.
Okay, but headphones are just headphones, right?
In a sense, this is correct. However, if you’re a recording artist, picking one of the best studio headphones is important for a host of reasons:
- Finding the best studio headphones ensures that you can actually mix your music correctly. For example, if you’re listening to your mix through a pair of stock iPhone earbuds (sorry Apple) you’ll probably end up with a lower quality final mix. This is because Apple’s custom headphones are designed to optimize your listening experience. Therefore, they will elevate the quality of your sound recording, so you won’t hear the mistakes that need to be corrected when you go to actually edit your recordings. This will put you at a substantial disadvantage during the audio engineering and mastering process! We discuss the importance of this in our best studio monitors article as well. Therefore, they will elevate the quality of your sound recording, so you won’t hear the mistakes that need to be corrected when you go to actually edit your recordings. This will put you at a substantial disadvantage during the audio engineering and mastering process! We discuss the importance of this in our best studio monitors article as well.
- The best studio headphones will have some noise canceling properties as well. I’m sure you’re thinking ‘Okay, but do I really need this? I can just listen to my recordings in a quiet room!’ This is both true and false. While it may seem counter-intuitive to seek headphones with a noise cancellation feature if you are able to retreat to your own environment with your mixes easily, this makes a substantial difference.This is because noise cancellation operates by using a bunch of scientific algorithms (we won’t bore you, don’t worry) that basically ‘focus’ you into the music so that your hears absolutely nothing but what is coming out of the headphones. It is hard to explain this through words, as it is such a subjective experience, so we advise that you go to your local electronics store and ask if you can listen to headphones with this feature to see for yourself how well this works out.
- Headphones may be the most crucial piece of equipment for audio engineers and producers. Have you ever listened to a song and thought ‘Wow the quality of this recording is amazing!’ Or perhaps you’ve listened to a song from world renown producers such as Diplo, Kanye West, or Flying Lotus, and heard some of the most minor nuances in the recording?While talent and musical prowess are obviously two requisite characteristics of these producers, their ability to listen to their mixes at the optimum quality allows them to hear the ‘empty spaces’ in the recording and carefully level out each requisite element so that every little ding and bell sounds perfect by the time it’s playing in your car or on the radio.
- The best studio headphones also allow for better recording. For pretty much all the reasons that we listed above on why the best studio headphones elevate your ability to mix and master your tracks, they benefit recording in a similar fashion. As mentioned in our best studio monitors article, an essential part of the recording process is ‘monitoring.’ Monitoring refers to the process of your output (speakers or headphones) playing your input (sound going in) for you.For example, you got a good pair of studio headphones hooked up to your pre-amp, and you’re ready to go. You go up to the microphone and say ‘Hello!’ and hear your voice in your headphones saying ‘Hello!’ in real-time. That is what ‘monitoring’ is. This is important for all recording artists because it allows them to get a feel for what they sound like as they are recording.And, as you guessed, if you have one of the best studio headphones then you’ll be able to hear yourself more accurately and clearly than you would with lower quality models.As with mastering and engineering your recordings, this will substantially enhance your vocal experience. I’m sure you can imagine how useful it would be to accurately hear what your recording sounds like as you are recording instead of guessing around thinking you sound amazing when it really sounds a little iffy! That would be embarrassing.
- Last, but not least, the best studio headphones are needed for any recording artist because they allow you hear the full-depth of the song. You’re probably thinking ‘Didn’t we already cover this in number 2 or 3? Sort of. What we mean when we say ‘full-depth of the song’, is that the headphones will allow you to hear the rumbling bass, trebles, and other nuances in the song that someone may not necessarily hear if they’re playing your song from Spotify or some other streaming service on their phone, but would hear if there were to play it on some loud speakers at a party or in their car’s audio system.Have you ever listened to a song that sounded great in garden variety headphones but as soon as you played them on some loudspeakers the quality suffered drastically? This is probably because the audio engineer working with that song was not using one of the best studio headphones. Don’t be like that guy! Invest in a pair and allow yourself to hear what your mix sounds like as if it were being blown through the loudest loud speakers! This will be useful in making sure that your mix has enough head room as well and that the bass will not overpower the vocals or distort at certain volumes in a way that might not be obviously heard through regular headphones.
Alright, I understand why I need a pair of the best studio headphones now but what do I look for?
Good question. While this article will provide a list of the best studio headphones for you below, it will be helpful for you to understand what exactly qualifies a pair of headphones as one of the best studio headphones or just another garden-variety pair.
One of the trickiest things when dealing with music is to justify the objective quality of the hardware. Unless you’re able to listen or use the device in person, you’re only hearing a subjective description of the item at hand and given that the descriptions are generally provided by the companies that want you to buy their specific piece of equipment, all you’ll read from them are ‘Our product sounds great!’ Reviews can be helpful as well, but reading a comment from John in Kansas City that says ‘These headphones sound amazing, I love the quality!’ Only goes so far when you’re comparing between five of the best studio headphones that all have a bunch of similarly worded reviews. So, we look at the technical makeup of the device to give us our ‘tiebreaker,’ per se.
‘But can’t I just look at the specs?’
Of course, you can! However, unless you already have a wealth of knowledge on audio engineering, some of those terms and audio ranges may just look like a bunch of foreign words and numbers without the proper understanding. We’ll help you break down tricky terms like ‘ohms’ in a way that makes clear sense in everyday terms so that you can know exactly what you’re getting when you select one of the best studio headphones.
So what do I need to know?
There are only five categories that will have an objective impact on the quality of the best studio headphones, and they are the headphone’s drivers, frequency response, impedance, sensitivity, and maximum power. We’re going to briefly break down these terms below for your benefit.
- Drivers – If you perused through our article for the best studio monitors, you’d notice that we made heavy mention of ‘drivers’ throughout the article. So why are they important? The answer is because drivers are responsible for providing that ‘big speaker’ sound in a pair of headphones. If you’ve ever listened to music through one of the best studio headphones, one of the first differences you’ll notice is that the bass is substantially more prominent than it would be through a normal pair of earbuds. The headphone’s drivers are responsible for this. There are two types of drivers, and they are the:
Dynamic Drivers – Basically, this the more ‘basic’ driver. We won’t get too heavy into the science of how this thing works, but basically, when sound hits the dynamic driver, it sends the signal through the voice coil to give that big bass sound. You lose out on sound quality, though.
Balanced Armature Drivers – These drivers are by the most popular in the best studio headphones. Long story short, these drivers are favored because they are smaller which make them easier to install and they capture more of the nuances in recording which is an essential quality for the best studio headphones.
- Frequency Response – Similar to what we described in our best studio monitors article, the frequency response in the best studio headphones is a measure of how accurately the headphones will reproduce the recording itself.The frequency response in the specs will typically include some range of numbers like ’30kHz-30Hz’. You only need to remember one rule of thumb here, and that’s the wider the range, the better the frequency response and thus the accuracy of the headphones. If headphone A has a broader range than headphone B, then headphone A is better for this purpose. Period.
- Impedance – We discussed this concept in our best condenser microphone article a bit as well. In laymen’s terms, the impedance of the best studio headphones refers to the ‘power source’ needed to provide quality audio. The lower the impedance, the lower the power needed and vice versa. If you look at the specs, the impedance will be measured using a term called ‘ohms.’ As a rule of thumb, if the total ohms are 25 are less, then the impedance is A quality.
- Sensitivity – Interestingly enough, a headphone’s ‘sensitivity’ measurement works similarly to how impedance does for speakers. Without going into too much detail, the ‘sensitivity’ of the headphones is an indicator of how much clarity the device can produce the sound of the recording. The sensitivity of a headphone will be listed in a decibel value. For example, a headphone may list a sensitivity of 90 dB in its specs. So what does this mean exactly?Basically, that number shows how ‘loud’ the headphones can play each incoming signal. Therefore, the higher the sensitivity, the louder each signal can be. This is useful because it generally increases the maximum volume of the headphones and ensures that mixes won’t need to be turned up too loud in order for the engineer to hear. In general, the best studio headphones will usually have a sensitivity of above 100 dB.
- Maximum power – This one is pretty self-explanatory, but it just describes what the maximum power for the particular set of headphones is. This is not of particular importance when looking at headphone quality, but it is something that one should consider when purchasing headphones off the best studio headphones list and other sources because if your power source (amp) is too powerful then it will destroy the headphones and you don’t want that to happen!
So now that you’re pretty much an expert on all things headphone-related, we’ll dive right into our list of best studio headphones.
Criteria Used to Develop The List
The best studio headphones in this list will be graded on a scale of 0-100 (0=worst, 100=best) using three criteria; aesthetics, hardware, and pricing.
Aesthetics will look at the visual beauty of the headphone in question. The best studio headphones should not only perform well but look amazing too. Nothing gives a better aura of sophistication than a pair of headphones that complements your studio’s look. On our list of best studio headphones, we made careful sure to curate only the most visually appealing ones.
Hardware – Remember all of that technical stuff we were just discussing earlier in this article? Well, don’t worry about crunching those numbers out here on our best studio headphones list. We’ll do the math here and give you the full breakdown on where the device stands among other finalists on our best studio headphones list and other competitors.
Pricing – In addition to making sure that you get a fashionable pair of one of the best studio headphones, we also want to ensure that you don’t have to break the bank on them either. We’ve added a pricing evaluation to contribute to ensuring that you’re getting the highest-quality headphones for the best prices.
Without further ado, we would like to present the industry’s best studio headphones:
The Official List of the Best Studio Headphones
#5 – Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones
Frequency Response – 15-28,000 Hz
Maximum Input Power – 1,600 mW at 1 kHz
Sensitivity – 99 dB
Impedance – 38 ohms
Overview – Coming at #5 on our best studio headphones list, the Audio Technica ATH-M50x is a very solid quality pair of headphones for any recording artist in the studio. It has the durability, sound quality and general traits that you would expect out of a device of its caliber.
Aesthetics – Aesthetically, the headphones have a solid professional look. They headphones are completely black in color with flexible extenders connecting the earpiece to the overhead band. The headphones have a sleek, modern look to them that gives it that professional feel. We must admit that they leave a little to be desired on the side of aesthetics because of the lack of wow factor, but it is said that sometimes ‘less is more.’
Hardware – The hardware on this device is very solid. The frequency response, impedance, and sensitivity metrics all indicate that this device should perform on par with most other studio microphones and is not appreciably worse than the other headphones on our best studio headphones list. Other features of the device indicate that it should give a pretty solid booming sound that one should expect from one of the best studio headphones.
Price – Price-wise, the headphones represent a decent deal. Given what they offer, it would be incorrect for us to say that they are a steal of any sort, but they are definitely worth slightly more than the asking price. If you’re on a very limited budget for a home studio or want to receive a device comparable to the best studio headphones in the industry without paying any substantial amount of money, then this may be the perfect device for you.
If you wish to purchase this product or conduct further research and read customer reviews, click here.
#4 – Shure SRH1540 Premium Closed-Back Headphones
Frequency Response – 5Hz – 25kHz
Maximum Input Power – N/A
Sensitivity – 99 dB
Impedance – 46 ohms
Overview – Coming in at #4 on our best studio headphones list, the Shure SRH1540 is a quality device for any professional or aspiring one to have. Carrying on Shure’s tradition of providing great quality devices of all sorts, these headphones definitely deliver.
Aesthetics– The first thing that sticks out about these headphones aesthetically is the design pattern of the earphone’s cushion. It features a thick black cushioning that looks incredibly comfortable with a white dot pattern going across is identical to the pattern on the earpiece’s outside shell. Extending from this shell is a metallic-colored attachment of the overhead band, which fades into the actual band itself. The overhead band is hit or miss; we personally weren’t huge fans. The metal extension that extends from the earpiece can be seen throughout the entire band with black cushion on either side. Personally, these just give off the appearance of being slightly uncomfortable, but it could be a matter of personal preference.
Hardware – The device’s hardware capabilities are respectable. The frequency range exceeds what is generally expected of the best studio headphones on its lower end and solidly covers the maximum range of frequency for most recording devices on the high-end. There is no maximum input power listed, which is somewhat concerning because this is important information for any headphone connoisseur to have. The headphones do, however, have a great sensitivity rating which ensures that its listeners will probably not need to push the device to its max power capabilities (whatever that is) in order to accurately hear recordings. The impedance rating is not terrible by any stretch, but it does leave a bit to be desired.
Pricing – The pricing on this product is not excellent and thus relegates it to ascending no higher than fourth on our list of best studio headphones. While it isn’t outrageous, it just isn’t very prudent at its listed price. What redeems it though is that it is a quality piece of equipment and that cannot be denied or ignored. For that reason, we would still not advocate against these headphones as they are comparable in quality to each other device on our list save for the #1 (which is substantially cheaper by the way)
If you wish to purchase this product or conduct further research and read customer reviews, click here.
#3 – AKG K550 Closed-Back Reference Class Studio Headphones
Frequency Response – 12Hz-28kHz
Maximum Input Power – 200 mW
Sensitivity – 114 dB
Impedance – 32 ohms
Overview – Coming in at #3 on our best studio headphones list, the AKG K550 headphones are a very reliable device for any professional looking to make a substantial initial investment on this type of device.
Aesthetics – The device takes on a very powerful appearance at first glance. They have one of, if not the most professional look out of all other devices on our best studio headphones list. The headphones come in an all-black color with a sleek metallic finish on the outside of the earpiece. Rather than extending from the top of the earpiece, the overhead band extends from the middle of a protruding part of the earpiece and then covers the head – a unique and innovative design. The earpiece themselves are probably the device’s best feature, visually. The earpieces are a bit flatter than those of other devices on our best studio headphones list and are longer as well, covering most of the user’s head. Visually, they have the look of a very expensive and exclusive piece of equipment.
Hardware – The hardware on this device is solid, albeit a regrettable weaker aspect of the device’s overall composition. The frequency response matches industry standard, while the maximum input power of the device leaves a bit to be desired hanging on the low end of just 200 mW. The device’s sensitivity rating, however, is superb, so hearing recordings shouldn’t be any problem for the listener.
Pricing – The pricing of this device is not bad. We can’t qualify it as a ‘steal,’ but it is a very good deal for the purchaser. You won’t be mad if you can get your hands on these headphones.
If you wish to purchase this product or conduct further research and read customer reviews, click here.
#2 – Status Audio CB-1
Frequency Response – 15Hz – 30kHz
Maximum Input Power – 1,600 mW
Sensitivity – 97 dB
Impedance – 32 ohms
Overview – The Status Audio CB-1 makes a graceful appearance at #2 on our list of best studio headphones and for excellent reason. This particular device may be one of the best deals out of all devices on the market, and it still provides top-notch quality for the listener. The company states that the headphones are a ‘studio workhorse’ that is ‘designed for audio professionals who make their living with their craft and demand absolute sonic neutrality and the utmost clarity.’ We find it hard to argue with them on that.
Aesthetics – Appearance-wise, the device is also #2 on our list of best studio headphones. It makes a stark break from other headphones on the list in its implementation of a duo-colored scheme of a dull titanium gold-ish on the outer rim of the earpiece and a deep black that refuses to compromise in its clarity of depth. Similar to #3 on our list of best studio headphones, the overhead band stems from an outer piece on the headphones themselves. The earpieces hold plenty cushion to ensure a substantial amount of comfort during long listening sessions – a critical feature one would require of any of the best studio headphones.
Hardware – The device’s hardware is of high quality. The frequency response gives the user a solid range while the input power stands at an impressive number – ensuring that most professionals will not find themselves offensively maxing out the device’s capabilities. The device’s sensitivity leaves a very incremental amount to be desired but is still outstanding nonetheless. The device’s impedance lingers just outside of the preferred range for the best studio headphones, but not so far as to make a substantial difference in sound quality.
Pricing – The pricing of this device makes it almost a give-away. At the time of writing, the device is currently going for 80 USD which is nearly unheard of for this type of hardware and material. It’s a wonder how this company is making any money – but that’s not your problem. If you need a pair of headphones ASAP on a tight budget, we would absolutely recommend purchasing these. We can guarantee that you’ll receive the professional quality of the best studio headphones on the market that go for nearly six times the value of this one. Trust us on this one.
#1 – Sony MDR7520
Frequency Response – 5-80kHz
Maximum Input Power – 4,000 mW
Sensitivity – 108 dB
Impedance – 24 ohms
Overview – Featuring one of the most trustworthy and recognized brands in music, our #1 spot has been rightfully reserved for the Sony MDR7520. Staying true to their namesake, the Sony MDR7520 represents what any serious recording artist should expect out of the very best studio headphones the market has to offer.
Aesthetics – Visually, this device holds a simplistic beauty that we absolutely love. At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be anything remarkable about the device’s design – but that is where its beauty derives from. The headphones feature an all-black covering with thick ear muffs on each earpiece that screams ‘I’m comfortable.’ The overhead band also features this cushioning, yet in a more discrete manner that makes it blend in seamlessly with the device itself. The Sony logo on the side of the earpiece looks awesome and gives it an authentic retro feel. These headphones don’t look like something you’d find on just anybody.
Hardware – The hardware capabilities on this device are out of this world. The range on the frequency response is absolutely ridiculous. These headphones can produce high-quality audio at sound frequencies that even a dolphin would enjoy. The device’s sensitivity rating is also extremely high, guaranteeing that it won’t need to come close to its maximum power capabilities to produce audibly clear records. However, just in case it does need to use its maximum power capabilities then rest assured that those are also extraordinarily high, which makes it darn near impossible to blow out no matter what its hooked up to. The device also boasts an impedance rating that is better than all others on our best studio headphones list and probably in the industry at large for the most part. There is no doubt that with these headphones you’re receiving the best that technology can currently offer, making them a great fit on our best studio headphones list.
Pricing – Despite all of the awesome qualities of the headphones that we listed before, the best thing about these bad boys may be their price. At the time of writing, its price on the market is absurdly low for the quality that they provide. While they aren’t quite as great of a deal as #2 on our best studio headphones list, they aren’t far from it, and the quality is exponentially better. Instead of spending more money on a pair of overpriced headphones of questionable quality (see: Beats) you can receive the best the market has to offer for even cheaper. If you have a certain budget that cannot exceed the threshold of what these headphones are currently going for on the market, then buy them now.
Regardless of which headphone you choose on our list of best studio headphones, rest assured that you are receiving a high-quality, highly sought after device that will absolutely deliver. Any statements made that indicated the desire for greater ratings or specifications were made within the context of the best of the best. In comparison to the typical offering on the market, all of these devices are excellent to have and will serve any professional or aspiring recording artist well for many years to come if kept in good condition.
This list is somewhat unique in that our #1 item is not the most expensive on our list. Personally, if there were any item I recommend you buy it would be our #1 – the Sony MDR7520. They are absolutely astounding in quality, and we were shocked to find an offering at such a low price that we had to do a double-take when we initially came across the entry.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and tell us if you decided to take the plunge and get one of these fantastic devices off of our best studio headphones list!