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

1. Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones, Black

We definitely have to start with the most recommended and best selling professional studio monitor headphone, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x.

The M50x is closed-back, has a detachable cable, 90° swiveling earcups for easy, one-ear monitoring and the headband material is strong, yet comfortable.

These have a good frequency range, with deep and accurate bass response, 15Hz – 28kHz. The high frequencies also sound crisp and accurate.

The only problem that you might have with these headphones is the mid-range. The lower mid-range can sound a little too muddy, and there is a slight hole in the upper mid-range. But as with everything, it’s up to preference – you might not even notice the mid-range issues that I’ve heard. 

The overall sound of these headphones is good, producing results that are really worth the price. 

Pros:

  • Good Value
  • Deep Bass response
  • Detachable cable

Cons:

  • Mid-range could be better
  • Bass response might not be to everyone’s taste

2. Sony MDR-7506 Professional Large Diaphragm Headphones – Budget Pick

Sony MDR7506 Professional Large Diaphragm Headphone

The Sony MDR-7506 is a popular pair of closed-back over-ear studio headphones. Although Sony is not known for their recording studio tech, their research into headphone technology is on show here.

The overall sound is really natural with clean bass, mids and crisp highs. In particular, the mid- and upper-mid ranges stand out, with great clarity & definition. This allows you to get professional results at an affordable price

Because of their soundscape, these headphones are more suitable for recording & mixing engineers who prefer less pronounced bass and a more prominently enhanced mid and upper mid-range tonal balance.

The frequency response of 10Hz – 20kHz is more than adequate but not as wide as you might have on other headphones.

The headphones are folding, which makes them more fragile than the more premium picks. But on the other hand they’re comfortable to carry around and rugged enough for daily use. 

In summary, Sony MDR-7506 are a good pair of “bang for the buck” studio headphones, and our recommendation for you if you’re on a limited budget.

Pros:

  • Very good sound quality for the price
  • Flat frequency response

Cons:

  • Could be bass light for some
  • Folding design

3. KRK KNS8400 Studio Headphones

KRK KNS 8400 On-Ear Closed Back Circumaural Studio Monitor Headphones with Volume Control

The KRK KNS8400 are one of the most underrated professional studio headphones. These headphones remain true to the character of KRK’s class leading studio monitors.

These use the latest in acoustic memory foam technology that ensures excellent performance in both reproduction and isolation.

They have an accurate, natural and wide frequency response, 5Hz – 23kHz

They’re also comfortable to wear (speaking from personal experience), come with a detachable cable, have very low distortion, rotating ear cups for travel & easy storage, replaceable head and head cushions.

Don’t expect a big bass sound from these, they have a neutral bass response, but good mid and high-frequency detail.

But remember, these are for mixing & recording so an over emphasized bass response could lead to the headphones producing a muddy low-end.

This is what most pro audiophiles prefer. So basically you get a flat frequency response that is not hyped. These are good value and are solid headphones for mixing audio and recording as well. If you are a fan of KRK’s studio monitor range, these could be to your taste.

Pros:

  • Flat frequency response
  • Wide Frequency range

Cons:

  • Bass could punch more for certain genres
  • Narrow stereo image

4. Shure SRH840 Professional Monitoring Headphones (Black)

Shure SRH840 Professional Monitoring Headphones - Black

The Shure SRH840 is a well-constructed headphone. They have a good frequency response that delivers rich bass, clear mid-range, and extended highs. These have a closed-back, circumaural (over-ear) design for superior isolation in noisy environments.

You’re guaranteed the legendary Shure durability when you buy these and they also have replaceable ear-cup pads to ensure long product life.

The sound is well balanced and neutral which I like, and that’s what I expect from a monitoring headphone. So these can be great for both recording music and mixing as well.

Materials used are durable and they don’t get damaged too easily. 

As for the downsides, some people complain about the comfort – especially when wearing the headphones for more than one hour. But I haven’t noticed that myself.

Overall, Shure SRH840 headphones sound good and and are worth the price. 

Pros:

  • Solid construction
  • Clear mid-range

Cons:

  • Could be more comfortable
  • Bass could have more punch

5. AKG Pro Audio K271 MKII Channel Studio Headphones

AKG Pro Audio K271 MKII, Black (2470X00190)

AKG Pro Audio K271 MKII are well-designed professional studio headphones with a sealed design for lowest signal bleeding when recording vocals or instruments.

These use a closed-back design for high noise insulation and good sound reproduction.

The K271 MKIIs feature a switch in the headband that mutes the audio as soon as the headphones are taken off. This is a really handy feature in a live or studio environment.

The sound of these headphones is really great and flat, but the construction could be better. For some the size of cups and headband could be an issue, and if they’re the wrong size for you, it could be harder to mix bass sounds or get a good balance on the low-end of a piano, for example.

But the high frequencies (including high-mid) sound really sparkly and bright. I still recommend them because if they are well adjusted on the head they can produce a great sound. You’ll just need some time getting used to them and how they feel, especially if you have a small head. 

Pros:

  • Good isolation
  • Detailed sound

Cons:

  • Cheap Construction
  • Size might not suit everyone
  • Bulky

6. Sennheiser HD 650 Open Back – Premium Pick

Sennheiser HD 650 Open Back Professional Headphone

As one of Sennheiser’s more expensive models, the HD650 will satisfy the audiophile’s requirements for an uncompromising sound. Their sound, along with the overall comfort of the headphones allows for long listening sessions without ear fatigue or headaches.

The materials and build quality are excellent. They produce very little distortion, regardless of the listening volume and always maintain a rich sound. The headphones are light, but feel sturdy. The headphone cable is detachable and is made of a material that produces very low handling noise.

The open-back design produces exceptional stereo imaging and with a frequency response from 10Hz-41kHz, it’s a perfect complement to your near-field monitors for help you make accurate mix decisions. Their elliptical shape perfectly matches the ear and produces a very uniform sound.

If your goal is to have an excellent reference headphone with audiophile quality results a listen to the HD650’s is recommended. They provide the opportunity for critical listening when used in a controlled environment. 

They are not perfect for every application. Their open-back design limits their use to control-room listening, but what a listening experience, my Premium Pick!

Pros

  • Sound quality
  • Comfort and build quality

Cons

  • Open-back design not suitable for every application
  • Not as rugged as some competitors

7. Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro – Best Professional Studio Headphones For Most People

beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO 80 Ohm Over-Ear Studio Headphones in black. Enclosed design, wired for professional recording and monitoring

The DT770 Pro is a closed and diffuse-field studio headphone. The headphone has bass reflex technology for improved bass response. 

The soft velour earpads and adjustable, sliding, earpieces together with a single-sided connecting cable ensure listening comfort during extended periods of use

A versatile headphone that offers the listener accuracy, depth, and precision. This makes it a great option for long recording and mixing sessions. 

In terms of sound, they have a wide frequency response, 5Hz-35kHz. Due to the design, the bass is clear and tight and the closed-back design allows good isolation. 

Some describe the mids and highs as being less pronounced than other headphones, but I did not find strong evidence of this. Perhaps as the bass is very tight compared to other headphones it affects peoples’ perception in the short term.

Sound quality combined with comfort and build quality makes these a strong competitor to the throne of the best overall studio headphones.

Pros:

  • Great isolation
  • Very comfortable
  • Suit different types of music

Cons:

  • Bulky
  • Hyped high frequencies

8. Sennheiser HD280PRO Headphones

Sennheiser HD280PRO Headphone (new model)

The Sennheiser HD280PRO is a closed-back professional studio headphone that is built strong and comes with a 2 Year Warranty.

They provide good isolation and are lightweight and comfortable which is great for extended listening.

They provide reduced comb filter effects and distortion due to E.A.R. (Ergonomic Acoustic Refinement) and Duofol diaphragms.

In terms of sound quality, they have an issue in the upper mid-range, this becomes more audible when you listen to a vocal and guitar recording in solo or listening to rich orchestral tracks.

These are also not 100% neutral audiophile headphones, I can hear a bit of coloration in the top end.

Overall, they are good headphones for mixing and recording. The sub-bass, bass and lower mid-range sound good. The upper-mids sound hollow, like I already said, and the top end just sounds a bit colored instead of sounding natural.

They have a good price and a decent sound, with some time it’s still possible for you to get used to how they sound and produce great sounding audio mixes. 

Pros:

  • Good value for money
  • Lightweight and comfortable

Cons:

  • Issues with the upper mid-range
  • Slightly colored high end

9. Beyerdynamic DT-1990 Pro 250 Ohms

beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro Open Studio Headphones

The DT-1990 Pro headphones are perfect for all control room based listening. They feature many innovations that allow them to be used for mixing and mastering. They are very comfortable and feature 2 sets of velour ear-pads which you can change depending on your requirements.

The ear-pads give the option of 2 listening modes; well-balanced or deliberately analytical.

High-resolution Tesla drivers boast a wide, dynamic and extremely natural stereo image. They have a very detailed sound and with a frequency response of 5Hz-40kHz, they capture rogue artifacts some monitors even miss.

As with a product of this price it comes with some nice accessories. Both coiled and straight headphone cables, 1/8″, 1/4″ adapter, and a hard carry case.

Like the Sennheiser HD650’s these are also open-backed headphones, and as such, they are more for listening applications than recording or working in noisy environments. 

You will notice by now that closed-back tend to be popular. A large part of this is that they are more versatile. But there is always a need for high-end reference headphones and the DT-1990 Pro’s fit that description and produce the goods.

Pros:

  • Accessories
  • Sound quality
  • Interchangeable ear-pads

Cons:

  • Over detailed high-end

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.

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