Beginner Guide to the Best Studio Headphones

best studio headphones

What are the best studio headphones for beginners? When starting up your first home recording studio, one of the more essential aspects is to get a good pair of professional studio headphones. Usually, these are what you will do your recording, mixing, and mastering on when you first start out.

Professional studio headphones are completely different from typical in ear headphones or earphones. It’s also good to avoid any headphones that are noise cancelling. This is because noise cancellation cancels out ambient noise and frequencies outside your headset, it will also cancel the same noises and frequencies inside. This can lead to you know actually hearing the totality of your mix.

There are some things that you should consider when purchasing your first pair of professional studio headphones.

  • How much they cost/your budget

If you’re looking for the best studio headphones, then you should look at spending a good amount on them. Your headphones are your interface between you and your recordings and mixes. If you buy a cheap, bad quality pair of headphones, then chances are your tracks will reflect that. Of course, you don’t need to break the bank! You can get a good pair for under $100 if you know where to look.

  • What you’ll use them for

It’s important to understand why you want a set of studio headphones and what you’ll be using them for. Are you only recording? Or are you also mixing and mastering? Are you even recording at all? Answer this question to understand what the best choice of headphone will be.

  • How comfy do you need them to be?

It is absolutely important that you purchase a pair of studio headphones that you find comfy.You might be wearing these headphones for hours at a time. If you can only bear to wear them for 30 minutes, then no matter how good they are, they are no use to you. I can give some recommendations on what I find comfy, but it is mostly a personal thing.

Below are some of things you should know and should consider before buying your first set.

Professional Studio Headphones VS Consumer Headphones

In the recording studio world, there is a big difference between a good set of professional studio headphones, and a set of consumer headphones. The price of a set of Dr Dre Beats might be comparable to a set of AKG’s, but they are not the same. The main thing to remember is that professional studio headphones is designed to provide a flat, neutral frequency response. Whereas a set of consumer headphones, such as beats, are designed to provide a more pleasing sound to the user by altering the frequency response of the audio. This means that consumer headphones won’t provide an accurate representation of the music that you’re listening to. Beats headphones tend to boost the lows and the highs.

Huffington Post took apart a set of Beats by Dr Dre and put together an estimate of what it the bill of materials would cost. Shockingly, for a set of headphones that retails for $199, the estimate bill of materials cost was $16.89! So why does a pair of Beats cost so much? One answer. Marketing. Dr Dre and Jimmy Iovine have managed to create a brand that has completely permeated pop culture.

With professional studio headphones, a lot more money goes into research and development to ensure that the user hears a true sound and a flat frequency response.

Frequency Response

As already said, the main goal of a set of professional studio headphones is to produce a flat frequency response. A flat frequency response allows you to hear the true sound of what you’re recording or mixing, without any added frequency boosts or cuts.

Consumer headphones don’t care about having a flat response. In fact, they are actively designed to change the frequency response in order to change how your music sounds. The method by which this is done is to produce what is known as a ‘scoop’ or a ‘smile curve’. This is implemented by boosting the low and high frequencies, and slightly cutting the mid frequencies. This type of frequency response sounds pleasing to lots of people, but can actually ruin the mix and production that many bands and producers have worked hard to create.

You really start to appreciate the music you love even more when you listen to it how it was meant to be.

A lot of studio headphones will also implement a slight bass boost to their frequency response. This is because the speakers of the headphones are quite small, so need the extra help to produce accurate bass frequencies. To your ear, it will sound flat and neutral.

Open Back vs Closed Back

When looking for your first pair of studio monitor headphones, you’ll probably come across these two phrases; ‘open back headphones’ and ‘closed back headphones’. So what’s the difference between the two? What one should you go for?

The terms closed back and open back refer to the ear cup of the headphone. Closed back means the cup is sealed, closed off. This isolates the sound, meaning nothing but sound from the headphone will get in, and no sound will get out. Open back means that the cup is open, usually covered by an open grill. This means that sound is able to leave the cup, as well as get in through the cup.

There are advantages to both closed back and open back, depending on the scenario which they are used.

Closed back headphones are great for recording, both as a producer and an artist. The closed cup means that when recording, you only hear the track. Also, as no sound can leave the cup, you’ll get no audio bleed on the recording. The great advantage of closed back headphones is how isolating they are.

Open back headphones are great for mixing and mastering. The open cup gives the impression of a wide soundstage, and you get a more realistic listening experience. A wider soundstage can help you listen to all parts of the track and pick out where each element sits. For a lot of genres, this just makes everything sound better.

Of course, open back headphones are only really effective if you’re in a relatively quiet environment, as you don’t want the outside world to interfere with your mix.

My personal preference currently is closed back headphones. I prefer the isolation when recording, and with a good pair i can still pick out all the details of the track.

Check out our article ‘What Are Open Back Headphones’ to find out more!

Best Studio Headphones Under 100

Considering everything above, these are what I would consider the two best pairs of studio headphones for under $100. I’ve given you the option of going either open back or closed back, so as to suit your needs. It really is amazing the quality of professional studio headphones you can get for under $100!

Sony MDR 7506 Professional Large Diaphragm Headphone

sony mdr 7506

First up, is the Sony MDR 7506 Professional Large Diaphragm Headphone.

Most people’s first set of headphones is a pair of Sennheiser HD’s. It’s personal choice, and I prefer the Sony MDR 7506.

This set of studio headphones is considered an industry standard in the music tech world. Nearly every studio I’ve seen has a pair of these around, and for good reason! They are:

  • Extremely affordably, which is great if you need multiple pairs of headphones
  • Compact and lightweight
  • Comfy to wear
  • Great at sound isolation
  • Reliable
  • Packaged with a 3.5mm to ¼ inch adapter

The Sony MDR 7506 headphones provide the listener a clean, quality sound. The frequency response is flat and uncolored, meaning you hear natural sound as intended.

There are a couple downsides to this set of headphones however.

  • The ear pads aren’t as long-lasting as others
  • The cable is not able to be disconnected from the headphones

These points in no way detract from how good these headphones are. The ear pads can be replaced cheaply and easily, and there aren’t many headphones with a detachable cable anyway! For me it’s just a personal preference as I travel with my headphones and like to be able to pack them. For the price, these are some of the best headphones you can get!

Check them out here, I promise you won’t regret it!

Grado SR80e Prestige Series Headphones

grado sr80e

Now, the Grado SR80e prestige series headphones hold a special place in my heart. My first pair of professional studio headphones was a set of Grado headphones.

Grado is a relatively unknown headphone company, but they make awesome headphones! Each model of headphone gets glowing reviews, and the SR80e is no exception. The SR80e’s:

  • Deliver clean, clear, crisp sound
  • Have a wide soundstage
  • Minimal sound bleed
  • Light-weight
  • Reliable, solid construction
  • Also come packaged with a 3.5mm to ¼ inch adapter

It needs to be said again, the Grado SR80e studio headphones really do have a clean, clear, and crisp sound. The bass response is bill as ‘enhanced’, but some might still find it a bit weak.

The only real downside to these headphones is this:

  • Not comfy for long sessions of wear

This is due to the fact that the ear cup isn’t really a cup, but a pad. It rests flat against your ear. However, this may not be a problem for you, but it was for me. It wasn’t something that made me want to get a different pair of headphones, but after an hour or so I really started to notice.

If I hadn’t lost my pair through an unfortunate incident, I would definitely still have them today, and I would happily use them every single day. While they don’t look much, they are solid, lightweight, and well built. The audio cable they come with isn’t removable, BUT, it is thick and looks like it is ready to do business and won’t ever let you down. I also really like that both these headphones that come with a 3.5mm to ¼ inch adapter.

Check them out here. If you want an open back pair of headphones and don’t want to break $100, then look no further.

Best Studio Headphones Under 200

For the majority of people, I recommend you stop reading here and pick up one of the two models of headphones above. The closed back Sony MDR 7506 headphones are a great entry set of studio headphones and will probably last you for years to come. The Grado SR80e headphones are a fantastic set of open back headphones that will look after you when mixing and mastering your tracks.

However, if you want something a bit more, take a look at the following two pairs…

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Studio Monitor Headphones

audio technica ath mx50x studio monitor headphones

The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x studio monitor headphones are regarded by audiophiles as one of the best pairs of headphones at this – and higher – price point on the market. These were the headphones that replaced my lost pair of Grado’s, and I have no regrets. The positive points about these headphones are:

  • Clean, detailed sound
  • Accurate frequency response
  • Comfy for long sessions
  • Solid build and relatively light
  • Exceptional sound isolation
  • Detachable cable!

As an audiophile, I really like this set of headphones for both making music and listening to music. The frequency response is nice and flat, it feels very even across the board. The amount of detail that can be picked out with these headphones is amazing, and perfect for what you’ll use them for.

They are extremely comfy to wear for long periods, as the cup doesn’t press on your ears at all, and I personally don’t even notice the headband. They fold up into a nice form, come with a carry case, and multiple cables. For the price, I really can’t say anything negative.

Check them out here. These are a personal favourite of mine and a highly rated set of studio headphones.

Beyerdynamic DT-990-Pro-250 Professional Acoustically Open Headphones

 beyerdynamic dt990 pro professional studio headphones

Last on our list, and our choice for a pair of open back headphones under $200 is the Beyerdynamic DT-990-Pro-250 headphones. With their reference class sound quality and balanced frequency response, they are an ideal buy. Some of the winning factors for these headphones are:

  • Comfy usage
  • Balanced, natural frequency response
  • Long, coiled cable
  • Wide frequency response (5Hz – 35KHz)
  • Detailed, even sound

These headphones are many people’s pick for a professional home recording studio as they deliver an amazing sound quality at a medium range price point. There are a few things to note however. The impedance of these headphones are quite high, so you really want to pair these up with a decent audio amp. A PC with a decent sound card, or a high end laptop should be fine, but to really drive them as they were meant to be, you ought to have a proper amp. Also, while I’ve not experienced this myself, some people have reported that the head band gets a little uncomfy after extended listening sessions; just something to bear in mind.

Check out the Beyerdynamic DT-990-Pro’s here.