When it comes to studio headphones, finding the right pair can make a major difference in how your audio turns out. Whether you’re a bedroom musician or a producer working in a studio, the best studio headphones are those that yield the most authentic, true-to-form sounds.
Which studio headphones are best?
Like with any product, you’ll get the most out of your headphones if you first identify how you plan to use them. If you simply want studio headphones because they make audio sound clear, you may have a wide range of studio headphone options available. On the other hand, the serious audiophile or sound engineer will want to be even more specific about what headphone features will best serve their needs.
What to consider when buying studio headphones
Flat frequency response
Studio headphones, sometimes called reference headphones, require a specific kind of audio response. Unlike headphones made for listening, the best studio headphones don’t include audio features like boosted bass or treble, simply because the user should be able to hear all frequencies evenly when mixing or doing any production. For example, if you use bass-boosted headphones to mix a song, the song is likely to sound less bass-heavy through other speakers or headphones, since the original mix was created with the perception of more bass, as created by the headphones — rather than the presence of actual bass.
No headphones are perfect, but most engineers will also avoid headphones that are scooped in certain frequency ranges, meaning that sound is less present in these frequency ranges. Like with the boosted frequency example, headphones that lack volume or clarity in certain frequencies will result in mixes with louder volumes in those frequencies when heard on other speakers or headphones.
At the end of the day, most engineers and audio hobbyists alike prefer studio headphones with a flat-frequency response, meaning that the volume and clarity remain the same across frequencies, from low to high.
Open-back headphones vs. Closed-back headphones
Open-back headphones are often touted by sound engineers since their design helps mitigate subtle echoes or other sounds, which can sometimes be created within a pair of headphones themselves. In essence, headphones that are open back let air pass directly to the outside of the speaker instead of enclosing it with a material barrier. This relieves pressure inside the headphones and produces a more authentic, clear sound.
While open-back headphones are useful for critical listening in quiet environments, they can also be a bit of a nuisance in public, noisy locations, or while performing on stage, due to their design. Because the open back allows air to pass through to the speaker of the headphones, they also let in a lot of ambient sounds that closed-back or semi-closed-back headphones might normally block out. Another downside of open-back headphones is the resultant lack of durability caused by removing the external barrier, which protects from things like moisture and dust reaching the speaker and electronics.
Depending on where you plan to use your studio headphones most, whether at home or at coffee shops, you’ll want to purchase headphones with the corresponding backing to ensure you hear your audio properly.
Headphone amplifier When using studio headphones for production, many also elect to purchase a headphone amplifier or use the built-in ones in their recording interfaces to boost the signal going into the headphones. While using a faulty amplifier could result in off-putting tones coming through in the headphones, they can also make a huge difference for models that have a naturally low signal input.
Best studio headphones
Best of the best studio headphones
AKG Pro Audio K712 Open-Back Studio Headphones: available at Amazon. Our take: Often touted as one of the best sets of open-back studio headphones out there, AKG’s K712 headphones offer a flat sound across frequencies and a comfortable over-ear design.
What we like: Open-back style for improved listening. Comes with a soft carrying case and a mini-XLR to a 3.5-millimeter connector. The flat-wire voice coil produces excellent treble tones. Over-ear cups are very comfortable. Includes leather headband for optimal comfort. What we dislike: More expensive than some other studio headphone models.
Best bang for your buck studio headphones
Sony MDR7507 Large Diaphragm Closed-Back Studio Headphones: available at Amazon. Our take: This is one of Sony’s most common studio headphone models and they offer a clear, crisp frequency response from low to high thanks to their large-diaphragm headphone speakers.
What we like: Very affordable. Flat frequency response. Large-diaphragm headphone speaker. Uses a coiling headphone cable that extends up to 9.8 feet with a 0.25-inch adaptor. Foldable for easy transport in accompanying soft case. Cushioned ear cups with comfortable band tension. Widely used as studio headphones. What we dislike: Not as sturdy as other models without exposed wiring. Casual listeners might be bothered by the long coiling cable which can bunch up and get tangled or drag along.
Best studio headphones for under $200
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