Headphones come in many varieties and it can be difficult to choose a good headphone from the list of countless options that are available. If you are a music producer or a mixing artist, the quality of your work can be greatly affected by the type of headphones you use to do your work.
For recording artists and music producers, there is no alternative to a good quality studio headphone. In this article, we will discuss what makes studio headphones different from consumer headphones, things to consider when choosing a studio headphone, and review some of the best studio headphones for different purposes.
Characteristics of Studio Headphones
Most high-end consumer headphones are made for casual listeners and audiophiles that like to listen to a specific genre of music. Such headphones are tuned to boost certain frequency ranges like the bass or treble to enhance the music quality in order to suit the preferences of the listener. Studio headphones are different from consumer headphones and serve a different purpose. The 2 main characteristics of a studio headphone are:
1. Flat Frequency Response – Studio headphones are used for professional work and critical listening purposes to spot errors in sound quality and music composition. They are designed to maintain a flat frequency response in order to reproduce audio or music that is faithful to the original composition and sound signature. Thus, a good studio headphone will have a neutral sound signature and won’t color the sound in any way.
2. Focus on Noise Isolation – Another factor that separates studio headphones from high-end consumer headphones is the focus on noise isolation. Music producers need to record vocals and various types of instruments as cleanly as possible without the interference of any additional sound. However, even if you work in a quiet environment, sound can leak into the mic if the seal around your ear is not good. Studio headphones are designed to create a tight seal around your ear to create excellent isolation and prevent sound leakage. Plus, it also allows them to work in a noisy environment.
In this regard, over-ear studio headphones are better because they offer better noise isolation capability compared to on-ear or open-back studio headphones.
Considerations for recording and creating vs mixing and mastering music
When purchasing a studio headphone for the first time, many people cannot decide between an open-back versus a closed-back headphone. The primary purpose of using a studio headphone is to either produce music by recording vocals and recording acoustic instruments or use it to mix and master music. It is much better to use closed-back headphones for a recording session as using open-back headphones can create significant sound bleed into the mix. The same is the case if you work in a noisy environment where it is not possible to listen to every detail using an open-back headphone.
Open-back headphones are the ideal choice for mixing and mastering music as they offer a significant bump in music quality and allows the mixing artist to notice details or spot mistakes better. It is also a good choice for recording electric instruments such as electric guitars, keyboards, or drum kits that don’t require a microphone for recording.
Best headphones for recording vocals and acoustic instruments
For recording vocals or acoustic instruments such as guitars, harps, violins, etc. you have to choose a closed-back studio headphone that excels in noise isolation and preventing sound leakage.
Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO
|Features||Innovative bass-reflex system|
|Impedance||32, 80, 250 ohms|
The Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro is one of the best for producing electronic music due to it’s even sound signature from sub-bass to upper mids. The overall sound signature can seem a little punchy and warm and the highs can feel a little bright. However, the source material can affect the sound signature. These are a great pair of cans for casual listening as well due to their comfortable fit and sufficient noise isolation.
The velour earpads are light on the head and allow the user to wear them for long listening sessions. Although the headphones don’t look as stylish as many other products, they have a good build quality and are very durable. In fact, a single pair can last you for years if you don’t abuse them unnecessarily. For the price, the 80-ohm version is a great value for money and would sound phenomenal with any good amp. However, if you can afford to spend a bit more money, you can purchase the 250-ohm version to unleash the full potential of the product.
- Good build quality and durability
- Even sound response from sub-bass to upper mids
- Comfortable fit
- A little inclination towards the bass
- Noise isolation could be slightly better
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x is a piece of eye-candy in this price segment. The visual contrast generated by the brushed aluminum workings with the matte black looks modern. Although these headphones are made of plastic, the build quality is quite nice. These headphones are comfortable to wear due to the soft and cushioned earpads. However, they can start to feel uncomfortable after an extended recording session.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x is excellent for recording guitars, and tracking vocals as well as producing hip-hop or electronic music. They offer a solid bass response that is pleasing to the ears. However, they shine the most in the mid-range by being able to reproduce sound in astonishing detail. The treble is also good enough to get the job done.
You can sport these pair of cans in public to rock your style while enjoying a casual music listening session. These headphones are the best value-for-money product you can get on this list.
- Best price-to-performance ratio
- Extremely details mids
- Amazing design
- Comfort could be better
- Durability is not the best due to the plastic design
Best headphones for mixing and mastering music
Using an Open-back studio headphone in a quiet studio or environment is the best way to mix and master music. They allow you to experience sound more naturally and detect every instrument and details separately.
Sennheiser HD 650
|Features||Detachable cables, Optimized for minimum Harmonic distortion|
The Sennheiser HD 650 is a pair of premium open-back studio headphones that reeks of style and looks very attractive. The build quality is what you would expect from a premium headphone manufacturer – top notch. The design looks phenomenal due to the mix of plastic and metal color schemes that gives it a pretty gunmetal gray look.
The open-back nature of the product along with soft ear padding makes them more breathable and easy to listen to even after hours of listening. Plus, they are lightweight as the weight is distributed evenly.
The main question is whether their sound quality justifies their steep price. The answer is – absolutely. You will not get a better studio headphone for mixing and mastering music in this price segment. The entire spectrum of their sound signature is warm and neutral. The bass is not as strong as closed-back headphones but they are punchy and very detailed. The mids and highs are incredibly crisp and extremely detailed as well. Plus, you can listen to every instrument in a mix distinctly and accurately judge their position. The only downside is that they are not recommended for use in a noisy environment but that is to be expected.
- Unbelievable soundstage
- A fantastic sound signature that is neutral
- Requires a powerful amp to work
Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO
|Features||Coiled cable, 3-D Sound|
The Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO is visually similar to the DT 770 PRO except for the open-back design with the grille on the exterior of the earcups. The build quality and durability don’t disappoint with the metal frame and quality of construction. However, the style and design language are not that attractive. On the upside, the plush velour earpads and the even distribution of weight make these pairs of cans very comfortable to wear even for hours on end.
When it comes to open-back studio headphones, these offer the best value for money and a favorite of many audiophiles and mixing artists. These headphones have been the gold standard in the budget range as they have a great stereo separation, respectable soundstage, and are balanced really well.
Due to their open-back nature, the product suffers a little in the sub-bass region. However, high and mid-bass sound great which makes them a good device for composing bass-heavy genres. The highs spike is around 8 kHz but that doesn’t present a problem in the real world. The mids are reproduced faithfully and are very flat.
- The best value-for-money open-back headphone
- Good for producing bass-heavy genres
- Requires a good amp to function
- The soundstage can be better
Best headphones for podcasting
When choosing a headphone for podcasting, you must choose a product that offers superb noise isolation, extremely low sound leakage, is comfortable to wear and easy to carry when traveling.
Sennheiser HD280 Pro
|Features||32 dBA ambient noise reduction|
The Sennheiser HD280 PRO is the go-to choice for podcasters worldwide. They faithfully reproduce sound frequency over the whole spectrum and sound amazing for the price. The bass is tight and very punchy, the mids are perfectly balanced and clear, and the treble is presented well. Plus, they offer good noise isolation and prevent sound leakage, both of which are extremely important for recording long hours of audio.
The soundstage is not that wide which is to be expected of a closed-back headphone. However, the synths, percussion, drum kicks, and vocals are appropriately distinguishable in the mid-range and quite present.
The design of these headphones is not that great but they don’t look bad either. These pairs of cans are quite comfortable to wear and only suffer when you have to use them for long hours during an extended period of recording session. For casual listeners, the HD280 PRO can be a good choice if they live in a busy environment as the noise isolation and minimal sound leakage help a lot. Overall, these are the best choice under the sub $100 range.
- Good noise isolation
- Prevents sound leakage
- Exceptional sound for the price
- Can start to feel uncomfortable when using for several hours
Using different headphones for testing music quality
Music producers who specialize in producing music in a particular genre often review their mixes in headphones that have a sound signature suited for that genre. By reviewing their mixes on popular genre-specific headphones, they are able to understand how their music would sound to their fans. This step is not compulsory and can even be costly for budding music producers. However, it enables you to achieve greater insight into the art of creating music.
1. The Best Headphones for Jazz – The AKG K702 would be the best choice for most people that want to listen to jazz music. The headphone offers a dynamic width and has a good soundstage. The bass is tight and clean but doesn’t overpower the instruments which are an important factor when listening to jazz music.
2. The Best Headphones for Classical – For enjoying classical music, you want a headphone that has a neutral and flat response with lean bass and good clarity in the mid-range. The AKG K712 ticks all the necessary features that a good classical headphone should have.
3. The Best Headphones for Rock – A good rock headphone will have a bright and revealing mid-range along with a crisp treble. The bass response should be moderate but lean. If cost is not an issue, the HIFIMAN Ananda is the ideal headphone for listening to rock music. Otherwise, the Sennheiser HD25 can get the job done.
4. The Best Headphones for Metal – The taste in metal music can vary a lot but generally, you want a headphone that offers good instrument separation, and exciting treble, flat/balanced mid-range, and a lean bass response. The Sennheiser HD25 is a good choice as it fulfills all the criteria stated above.
5. The Best Headphones for Pop – Pop music works well with various types of headphones. However, to have the best listening experience you want a headphone that has a balanced mid-range, sharp treble, and good bass response. The Philips SHP9500 is a great budget headphone that is ideal for listening to pop music.
6. The Best Headphones for Hip-Hop – Headphones for listening to hip-hop music should have an incredible bass response and a good but clean mid-range that allows the listener to discern micro-details of instruments and vocals. The HIFIMAN HE400i is one of the best headphones for listening to hip-hop music as these have a great bass response even though these are open-back headphones.
7. The Best Headphones for EDM – To have a blast while listening to EDM, you must put on headphones that offer superb instrument separation to listen to every beat, effect, and sound filter in a clean bass. The bass should be satisfying without being overbearing and the midrange and treble should be sharp but pleasing to the ears. The crowd favorite for listening to EDM songs is the V-MODA Crossfade M-100 which offers a great balance between sound quality, comfort, and budget.
Having the correct type of studio headphones can help a lot during a recording or mixing session. However, they won’t magically make your work better. Generally, to produce or record great music, you have to be more creative whereas mixing and mastering tracks are a lot more skill-oriented where you have to develop a good ear by going through many critical listening sessions. Ultimately, you require skill, technical expertise as well as a high-quality studio headphone to create good music.
One thing to note is that when purchasing a studio headphone, choosing a more expensive one may not be the correct solution for your intended purpose. As explained earlier in this earlier, closed-back headphones are ideal for recording vocals and instruments as they offer superior noise isolation and prevent sound leakage. The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x is the best overall choice for most producers in this case.
Open-back headphones excel when used to mix tracks or master them as they don’t over exaggerate the frequencies in the lower end of the spectrum and enables the listener to experience music in a much wider soundstage that sounds more natural and makes it easier to spot problems. Ideally, you want the best open-back headphone that you can afford for this purpose. However, the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO will get the job perfectly done in most cases.