Purchasing a pair of studio headphones may seem like a simple task, but I can assure you it’s not. We’re now spoilt for choice when it comes down to the selection process. So how do you know which pair of studio headphones will be the best match for your music production needs?
Studio monitoring headphones are specifically designed for professional work. They’re best suited for music production applications and primarily focus on recording, mixing and mastering. This way you can focus on your beat making and producing in the best way possible.
Open back and closed back headphones are the two main types of studio headphones you’ll come across. Open back headphones allow the sound to pass through the back of their ear cups, whereas closed back do not. Closed back headphones are more versatile in studio applications for two main reasons:
Open back headphones allow for longer exposure to loud music. The main drawback with closed back headphones, is they have a very small enclosed environment. While this is by no means a deal breaker, it does mean your mixes could translate poorly to other sound systems.
For that reason, open back headphones are the answer. They allow air to pass through their ear cups, meaning pressure can’t build up and affect your decisions. The end result is a much more natural and clear sound.
Purchasing a set of studio headphones should be well researched and carefully tailored to your exact needs. If you’re someone who spends a great deal of time recording, commuting and listening in public environments – you’ll definitely want to opt for closed back headphones. However, if critical listening and long exposure to sound is more important, then you’re more than likely leaning toward purchasing open back headphones.
The three most important factors when it comes to open and closed-back headphones are; comfort, sound performance and build quality.
In any situation, you must be happy with the comfort of your headphones. If this is an instant problem you’re not going to perform well when using the headphones. It could affect your recording, mixing and even listening experience. Make sure you try lots of different headphones and compare how they feel. Whether you have a huge or tiny head, there’s a pair of headphones for everybody.
The sound of each pair of headphones is determined by their unique EQ curve. EQ means equalisation, or equaliser. EQ has four main ranges: low frequencies, low middle, high middle and high frequencies. No pair of studio headphones are the same. Some people may love a pair of headphones, whereas others may hate them. So remember, try before you buy. Go in-store, ask a friend or even buy some on a 30-day return policy. You’ll not regret it!
Lastly, durability is key. Imagine you’ve found a really comfortable pair of studio headphones. They sound great and your music production skills have only gotten better since buying them. But within months, they’re falling to pieces. Pay attention to the types of materials used for the headphone’s construction.
Look for things like: Are they flexible, can you replace the ear cushions, is the cable’s connection solid and not flimsy, do they have any metal reinforcement or are they completely made of plastic? These are all things you should check before taking the plunge, and splashing that hard-earned cash!
You might be wondering, why can’t you just use any normal headphones? Why do they have to be ‘studio monitoring headphones’? Can’t I use my Sony, Apple or Beats headphones? The answer here is – you can use whatever you like.
No one is stopping you from creating great music on a laptop, with a pair of normal headphones. However, studio monitoring headphones can benefit you in a number of very important ways.
General purpose headphones are not designed for mixing. Instead, they try to make the listening experience more pleasant by boosting the bass and high frequencies. Studio headphones tailored for music production offer a flat and balanced frequency response. If you use normal headphones for mixing, the sound is essentially lying to you.
Certain EQ points will be overwhelming. You’ll start to try and carve out the nasty frequencies, and balance the tonality with compression and other forms of processing. This will start to cause fatigue to your ears, as you’re constantly battling with hyped frequencies. The sound being reproduced isn’t an accurate representation of your songs production.
This is very similar to mixing on speakers in a box shaped room, with no tuning or acoustic treatment. The room itself has a frequency response, just like headphones do. Think of studio monitoring headphones like an acoustically treated room. It’s a much more accurate environment for mixing. Your ears won’t suffer fatigue, and your mix will translate so much better in comparison to an untreated room.
Brands such as Sony and Apple have become famous for their noise cancelling and wireless features. Wireless headphones are supported via Bluetooth. Bluetooth connectivity relies on compression to work, which means it cuts certain parts of the audio signal that aren’t essential.
Noise cancellation technology is not 100% accurate all the time and is known to create errors. Most units will also diffuse a high-frequency hissing sound. Most importantly when mixing professionally, you need to hear the sound in the room. This is why open back design headphones are best suited for mixing, as they let the room sound pass through the headphones.
Impedance is often overlooked when it comes to the tech specs of headphones. Essentially, impedance allows headphones to match an amplifiers signal. Usually higher impedance headphones will sound better, but only if they’re paired with a high-quality amplifier. Low-impedance headphones (under 50 ohm) are more suited to use with smartphones.
High-impedance studio headphones are much better suited to home environments, as they perform best when in use with pro audio equipment. Beyerdynamic and Sennheiser studio headphones come in a range with high-impedance, with up to 600 ohm-rated designs.
Avoid general purpose headphones, and avoid wireless/noise cancelling headphones for music production if you’re taking your craft seriously. Your primary focus is to find studio headphones that are comfortable, sound great and are made of solid construction for long durability. If you can, definitely try headphones out before you buy them.
When you do this, bring a handful of tracks you know like the back of your hand. These could be your own songs, or client’s songs that you’ve worked on. Or even music that you know really well, and by that I mean how they sound in regards to mixing and mastering choices.
The headphones that reference your songs the best, will be a good starting point for narrowing down your choices. Once you’ve found a pair that tick all these boxes, then take a look at what comes with the headphones. Carry cases, varying cables with different lengths and jack plugs could sway you to purchasing one brand over another.
So, without further ado, here’s our list of the best studio monitoring headphones for every budget in 2020.
A great entry level option, these might be the best budget studio headphones. The AmazonBasics offer an over-ear monitoring system which will prove highly versatile when recording and mixing. As well as delivering decent sound, the AmazonBasics also feature a collapsible design making them great for commuting.
They have a detachable cable which is perfect for future proofing any unwanted accidents, should they occur. If you’re someone who is often commuting and needs good isolation, a price tag that won’t leave you worrying and a compact and durable design, maybe the AmazonBasics is for you?
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Second on our list is the AKG K240 MK II. These AKG studio headphones are classed as ‘semi open’ over ear studio headphones. This means they have good isolation, but still allow air in to reduce sound pressure. For that very reason these headphones could prove to be a great all-rounder for commuting, recording and mixing.
However, the design is bulky meaning they could be difficult for travelling with, but they do still benefit from a detachable cable. The semi-closed back design allows for an impressive frequency response from 15Hz-25,000Hz, resulting in powerful and accurate low end.
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Third on our list is the KRK KNS 6400. Similar in design to the AmazonBasics, but with improved bass frequency definition allowing you to make critical mixing decisions. Even though they’re closed back headphones they offer great imaging. This ensures a great sense of depth and space, without having to sacrifice isolation to the outside world.
A great option if you want to mix while in un-ideal environments, but still deliver great and accurate results. A lovely added bonus is the replaceable cable, carry case and even ear cushions to ensure long life.
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The DT-770 has been a studio staple for years now. Most professional studios have a pair and for a good reason. They sound great, they’re built like a tank and are super comfortable. Entering this higher price bracket brings a lot more to the table. The DT-770 range is now available in four different headphones variations.
The DT-770 Pro is the highest impedance model (250 ohm) in the range. The high impedance of this model results in an increased dynamic frequency response and perfectly suits closed back mixing in the studio. While these headphones offer phenomenal build quality, they don’t however offer a removable cable or carry case.
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Although not at the very top of the list, I can say from experience that these headphones are absolutely fantastic. I have owned a pair for almost 6 years now and they have never let me down, and still perform solid to this day. Extremely comfortable, fantastic sound and stellar build quality.
You’ll really struggle to beat the Audio Technica headphones when it comes to value. They’re considered a modern classic in many professional and home recording studios. You can even see world-famous artists such as John Mayer using them when recording.
As well as the key specs, they come with a truckload of accessories for every application (three different length cables and a very durable padded case).
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And finally, the godfather of the list. By no means a cheap set of studio headphones, but certainly a serious investment. The 660 is the successor of the legendary 650. The 660 has improved performance over the 650, after lowering the impedance to 150 ohms.
This means these music studio headphones are a high-end solution for every application. These are truly the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever worn, with the most stunning build quality. The remarkable frequency response of the 660 delivers very low harmonic distortion, and spectacular imaging of stereo spatial characteristics.
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At the end of the day, it’s completely up to you what pair of headphones you go for. However, if money is an issue or you’re just starting out, the best budget headphones for music production are probably the Amazon Basics studio headphones.
Remember, the most important thing when it comes to purchasing studio headphones for music production is your budget. Decide whether you want open or closed back, depending on where and for how long you’ll be using them. Sound, comfort and durability are the most important factors to consider when you make your final decision. Finally, ensure you try the headphones before you purchase them. Good luck!
We hope you enjoyed our review of the best studio headphones for music production in 2020!
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