9 Best Studio Monitor Headphones Reviewed [2020]

Professional Studio Monitor Headphones

Because I teach and work professionally with music production, mixing, and mastering, I have used and tested many different studio headphones over the years.

One of the most common questions I get from people is:

“What are the best studio headphones?”

And frankly, it’s a tough nut to crack – because every producer has different needs and budget.

Still, we’re going to get to the bottom of this question today, and I’ll show you the 9 pairs of studio monitor headphones that I consider to be the best for every budget.

Ready? Let’s get started…

9 Best Studio Monitor Headphones Reviewed

Best Studio Monitor Headphones Buyers Guide

What to look for when buying studio monitor headphones.

Studio Headphones vs. Regular Headphones

Why even go for studio headphones in the first place? Well, it’s all about the accurate representation of sound.

Normal headphones & DJ headphones have a sound that is a bit exaggerated – or ‘colored’ in audio terms. They have a punchier sound, more upfront bass, and a boost in the high frequencies. That is why they also work well in loud environments, like when you’re DJ-ing in a club, for instance.

Professional studio monitor headphones have what’s known as a flat sound or natural accurate response across the whole frequency spectrum. This makes them great for audio production because you can hear the sound accurately – without any exaggeration or extra bass.

Studio headphone types

There are different types of headphones on the market; in-ear, Bluetooth, on-ear,  and over-ear. If you have very specific needs the first 3 might work for you, but in general studio headphones for mixing, music production and critical listening need to be over-ear (circumaural), though the area covered can vary.

Here’s what makes a good pair of studio headphones: 

Fit for Application

If you like bass-heavy music you might prefer a model that has a flat response so you get a true impression of the low-end. On the other hand, if you are mixing for an end format where devices have a hyped bass response, something that mimics that could be useful. 

In relation to this is whether or not your main or nearfield monitors have an extended bass response. Smaller nearfield monitors, often found in bedroom studios are lacking in this area, so headphones can help extend your critical listening in this area. 

If you do most of your critical adjustments based on what your speakers are telling you, you might only use your headphones to get another impression of the mix, so a more budget pair of headphones might be enough for your needs.

What role do you play

Most of us only have one set of headphones which we use for music production. But we also might be a vocalist, musician, or DJ. If you will also be performing and recording yourself, you can pick a headphone that functions well in that environment as well as the control room. Close-back headphones work best here as they offer the most isolation.

Versatility 

There is nothing wrong with compromising your choice in order to get something that works for multiple applications. Every pair of headphones has pros and cons. 

What’s important is to get to know the sound of your headphones after purchase to understand their particular character. 

This is true of any monitoring system, even more so for speakers, especially when you move rooms. Room change is not an issue with headphones though!

The right perspective

Headphones offer details and a perspective not possible with speakers. When you are using speakers you also experience environmental sound, equipment noise, and of course music. 

With headphones, the sound intake is more direct. As such, they are a great help in picking out low-level unwanted sounds, equipment noise, various hums, and buzzes that can sneak into a recording and can often be a headache to fix.

What works for you

Beyond all that, choosing the best set of headphones is a personal choice, that’s why there are so many on the market, with many occupying similar price ranges. There can be subtle or big differences in options within these ranges so I hope this article is useful in shedding light on some of these differences. 

Open versus Closed-Back?

Although there are only 2 open-backed headphones being discussed here the overall topic is more contentious. The 2 types have a very different sound and while on paper open-backed are better for critical listening, though people’s requirements are very subjective and some just prefer a certain “sound”. In an ideal world, every producer would have different near-field monitoring setups and a number of headphones to choose from. For most this is not the case so it’s usually a budget consideration. So make sure to test both types and see which you prefer.

Impedance

Headphones come with an impedance rating, which can be anything from 16 ohms up to 250 ohms. Usually, you are plugging your headphones into a source with its own powerful amplifier; soundcard or mixing console. 

Headphones with higher impedance require more amplification to drive them and are generally made of better materials and as such produce better results. That being said, any decent headphones with impedance above 32 will be more than adequate for most studio applications.

If you did need a headphone to work with a consumer-level device or mobile phone headphones with less the 32 ohms would be desirable.

Comfort

This might seem obvious, but some headphones are more comfortable than others. If you mostly use your nearfield monitors in your studio and only occasionally use headphones to get a second opinion on something comfort is less of an issue. But if you plan to work for hours on headphones a poorly designed headset can give you a headache and distract you from critically listening. You also need to consider the overall fit. Ears and heads come in different sizes so it’s worth checking the fit when possible.

Construction

If your headphones never leave the studio they are less prone to getting damaged. But if you move around studios, do location recording, use your studio headphones for DJing build quality is important. This is the ear-pads, the headphone cable, how the earphones connect to the headband. All these elements are prone to wear and tear and damage and can be expensive to replace.

FAQ

Are Beats by Dre good studio headphones?

Beats by Dre are a consumer-oriented product, not a pro audio product. They color the sound, boosting the lows and highs which make them inappropriate for critical listening. 

They can be enjoyable for listening to music but, you will be disappointed when listening to your beats on another system if you reference with these.

Are studio headphones good for listening to music?

Absolutely! Ideally, they are designed to present music in a very true way. Yes, some color the sound in different subtle ways, and that can be a personal taste as to why you prefer one model over another. 

Also, listening to music on your studio headphones is essential to getting to know their every nuance.

What headphones do professional audio engineers use?

The same headphones you use if you can afford them. When critical listening is your business, you need some pro-level tools that are rugged and will last a long time. If you spend money investing in your studio, and music you should have something at the end of the chain that gives respect to that and presents it in the best possible way.

Conclusion and Takeaway

We’ve all been there, you save up for a piece of equipment, you know what you want, you finally get the cash and then you get overwhelmed by all the other choices on offer. So here’s a quick recap of your choices:

If you’re on a budget, take a look at Sony’s MDR-7506. They are suitable for many different genres and provide a solid 2nd opinion on what your monitoring speakers are telling you. They are also comfortable and rugged enough for daily use.

If you’re looking for something better, check out Beyerdynamic’s DT 770 Pro. Comfortable and rugged like the Sony ones. They have a wider frequency response, a punchy low end with excellent isolation and a good stereo image.

The best studio headphones for most people are Sennheiser’s HD 650 if you can stretch your budget. For producing, mixing, and even as excellent support when mastering they are excellent. 

Chances are you already have some budget headphones and have a good idea of what you need. There are some amazing value models out there so whatever your requirements, you’ll find something perfect.