The Ultimate Buying Guide For Studio Headphones
Mixing and recording music has become more accessible for everyone thanks to the popularity of top-grade Headphones. These products are used by people across the globe, including high-caliber audio professionals, in order to make and listen to music from any location. In the past, mixing and recording from home was not an option; not only could outside noise interfere with the quality of the track, but the loud nature of the mixing process was sure to disturb family members and neighbors. Today, music makers have a wide array of products to choose from. Whether your focus is mixing tracks or monitoring as you record, there is sure to be an option available to fit your needs. Mixing or recording headphones vary greatly in price, quality, and available features. It is important that you understand the makings of a great pair of headphones before you select a product for purchase. This article will provide information on headphone types, introduce several leading brands, offer general tips to get the most out of your device, and detail some of the best mixing headphones available today.
45 mm aperture drivers
Sony MDR7506 Professional
40 mm drivers
9.8-ft. OFC cord
40 mm drivers
AKG K 240 Semi-Open
semi-open air design
XXL dynamic tranducers
Sennheiser HD 280 Pro
beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro
40 mm drivers
strong mid-range definition
LyxPro HAS-10 Closed Back
leather headband and ear pads
Samson SR850 Professional
32 Ohm impedance
Shure SRH440 Professional
replaceable earcup pads
Different Types Of Headphones
Studio headphones fall under one of three main categories: closed-back, open-back, and semi-open. Each type of product offers a unique range of benefits, as well as a few drawbacks. To select the best option for you, it is important to understand these trade-offs and determine what you believe to be the most important characteristics.
Closed-back headphones are the most common headphone type, and are widely regarded as the best option for recording or monitoring purposes. As the name suggests, the back of the earcups of closed-back headphones are enclosed, preventing sound from escaping. This closed design allows the user complete privacy; no one else can hear what you are listening to. By putting on a pair of closed-back headphones, you can get away from the outside world and focus solely on your music--an experience we all long for at some point or another. Additionally, the enclosed earcups keep outside sound from interfering with the music, allowing for pure, precise audio. This is why closed-back headphones are the best for monitoring purposes during the recording process; it eliminates the risk of unwanted background noise being picked up on the recording.
Closed-back headphones are often considered to have inferior sound quality to open-back or semi-open options. This is because the closed-off earcups make recordings sound more constricted and artificial. Also, it is more dangerous to use closed-back headphones for long periods of time because all of the sound is being projected directly into your ears, increasing your susceptibility to hearing damage.
While not ideal for everyone, closed-back headphones offer attractive benefits to those looking for an independent, isolated listening experience.
Open-back headphones offer an exceptional quality of sound unmatched by other available designs. The earcups of open-back headphones are, as one would imagine, open. Background sound mixes with the music being played, and the result of this is a natural, resonant audio that is akin to sound projected in a traditional recording studio. Also, the risk of hearing damage or ear fatigue is lower with open-backed headphones because not all of the sound is flowing directly into your ear. So, you may be able to work for longer periods of time without discomfort. Open-back headphones are generally preferable for mixing purposes because the authentic sound quality comes across well when played through speakers.
Open-back headphones are not typically used for recording purposes, as background sound can easily end up recorded on the track. Additionally, this variety of headphone doesn’t make for a private listening experience, as any music you play can be heard by those around you.
For anyone looking for a one-of-a-kind sound quality for their mixing projects, a pair of open-backed headphones could be a great choice.
It can be difficult to choose between the respective benefits of open-back and closed-back headphones. Luckily, there are semi-open headphones, which are a cross between the two. If you will be involved in the processes of both mixing and recording on a frequent basis, you should consider a semi-open product. While open-backed headphones allow for all projected sound to escape through the earcups, semi-open headphones only allow for a portion of it to leak out. The result of this design is an added level of privacy, a lessened risk of ear fatigue, and a decreased amount of background noise.
Semi-open headphones offer the combined perks of open and closed-back headphones. However, the listening experience is not completely detached from the outside world as it is with closed-back headphones. And, the sound quality is not as fully authentic and resonant as it is with open-back products. Semi-open headphones are for people looking for a happy medium between the two main headphone varieties.
There are several great manufacturers of top-notch mixing and recording headphones. Below are some brands which are currently producing leading products in the field:
Audio-Technica was established in 1982 in Tokyo, Japan. Its founder, Hidea Matsushita, initiated the company as a maker of phonograph cartridges. Now popular across the globe, this brand produces a wide span of audio products ranging from microphones, turntables, headphones, wireless systems, and mixers. Known for quality and dependability, Audio-Technica microphones are utilized in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and have been chosen for the U.S. presidential debates for over 25 years. Other applications of A-T’s outstanding products include the Super Bowl, the Olympics, and several important music industry events. Audio-Technica has also been recognized for making substantial contributions to the audio industry, having won the Innovations 2010 Design and Engineering Award with their noise-cancelling headphones. While trusted by many major organizations, Audio-Technica also satisfies many individual customers internationally, from everyday music lovers to expert-level musicians.
Audio-Technica headphones make up many of the top-rated, best selling options in the market. Accommodating a range of budgets, A-T headphones may be an attractive option for people of all types.
Known and trusted by consumers in countries all over the world, Sony is one of the leading electronics manufacturers around today. Sony Corporation was founded in May of 1946 in Japan, getting its start in telecommunications and measuring equipment. Sony now spans several product divisions, including Sony Music, Sony Pictures, and Sony Mobile. The range of products that this leading brand offers is enormous, with basics like televisions, cell phones, compact cameras, and headphones, as well as more specialized options like marine audio and digital paper.
Sony Corporation has been recognized with a myriad of awards over its long history, many of which praise their eco-friendly innovations, such as The 3rd Green Society Award, granted just last year in 2015.
Sony products offer sleek, modernized style incorporated with advanced functionality. Additionally, Sony’s excellent reputation among consumers coupled with their far-reaching customer support system make the brand a dependable choice.
Dr. Rudolf Goerike and Ernst Pless founded AKG in 1947, starting out manufacturing microphones by hand with just five workers. Now, AKG is a trusted name in the professional audio field, creating top-quality headphones, microphones, and wireless equipment. AKG products are used for studios, stages, TV stations and more. The company is also a part of Harman International, allowing for the frequent release of new product designs. Several globally recognized recording artists including Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, the Rolling Stones, and Kanye West have used AKG audio products either on tour or in the studio. This Austrian-based company is not just for professionals, however; their products are enjoyed by music lovers of all backgrounds.
AKG headphones are technically advanced and professional-grade, with three new, innovative studio models having just been released. AKG values both style and functionality in their products, making for headphones you’ll be happy to wear, either at home or in the studio.
Sennheiser was founded by Dr. Fritz Sennheiser in Wedemark, Germany in 1945, getting its start with the manufacturing of tube voltmeters. Today, Sennheiser produces an extended selection of products, including headphones, headsets, microphones, wireless systems, and loudspeakers. This company strives to deliver a flawless listening experience for their customers, working to achieve the most innovative audio technology with research laboratories in Germany, California, Denmark, Switzerland, and Singapore. As an independently-run, family-owned business, Sennheiser has continually raised the bar in the audio industry while maintaining ethical, responsible practices. While based in Wedemark, Germany, customers and employees of the brand are present throughout the world, creating a culturally diverse community and image. Sennheiser takes pride in its passion for excellence in sound, and this dedication is clear in each of its progressive products.
Top 5 Mixing And Recording Headphones
Getting your hands on a pair of first-rate recording headphones is simple nowadays, with a supply of wonderful products available for immediate purchase. The below five products exhibit exceptional quality, offer great value for money, and have been thoroughly recommended by consumers.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones
These professional-grade studio monitor headphones from Audio-Technica are the #1 best selling product in the DJ Headphones category on Amazon.com, with an average review of 4.7 out of 5 stars from leading audio professionals and everyday customers alike. The modern design is circumaural for greater sound isolation, and features 90 degree swiveling earcups for convenient storage. The comfortable earpads are built to last, made from durable yet soft material. Additionally, the 45 mm aperture drivers are made to emit a wide range of frequencies and precise bass response for the best possible listening experience.
The ATH-M50x model stands apart from other Audio-Technica headphones for the additional convenience of detachable cables. This product falls into the category of higher-end headphones with a price tag of around $130. Its stellar reputation and range of advanced capabilities make it well worth the money for music enthusiasts or audio professionals.
Sony MDR7506 Professional Large Diaphragm Headphone
The Sony MDR7506 Professional Large Diaphragm Headphones are another popular product on Amazon, with an average rating of 4.6 stars out of five from over 3,400 customer reviews. These expert-level headphones feature impressive neodymium magnets and 40 mm drivers to reproduce an accurate frequency response of 10Hz - 20 kHz. A versatile product, the MDR7506 are great for use in home studios, professional recording studios, film production, radio, video, and more. The closed-ear design offers detachment from noisy environments, and the cushioned headband provides superior comfort. The coiled cord, while not detatchable, is 9.8-feet long, allowing for exceptional ease of use in a multitude of situations. Also, the sleek design includes foldability, making for simple storage.
These headphones from Sony range in price depending on the distributor, but typically sell for under $100 on Amazon.com, making them an affordable option among other competitors.
Audio-Technica ATH-M40x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones
Audio-Technica has delivered another bestseller in the ATH-M40x model, with a 4.5 out of five star average rating among over 1,000 customer reviews. Enjoy convenience and flexibility with the 90 degree swiveling earcups, which allow for one-ear monitoring and compact storage. The circumaural design encloses the ears for clear, accurate audio even in noisy surroundings. Also, the earcups and headband are padded for supreme comfort even during long recording sessions.
These professional-grade headphones include 40 mm drivers for the authentic reproduction of a broad range of frequencies, and a removable cable for additional adaptability. The ATH-M40x headphones typically sell for under $100, making them one of the most economical products in their class.
AKG K 240 Semi-Open Studio Headphones
The AKG K 240 Semi-Open Headphones are a wholly unique product for their one-of-a-kind style and innovative range of capabilities. As one of the most popular pairs of semi-open headphones available, the AKG K 240s boast an average rating of 4.3 stars out of five on Amazon, with nearly 1,000 customer reviews. This model is an updated version of AKG’s K 240 Monitor headphones, offering cutting-edge XXL transducers and circumaural pads to create a standout listening experience. The improved transducers allows for more precise reproduction of frequencies, stronger bass response, and a generally larger, more realistic sound. The striking design of these headphones features a self-adjusting headband and pliant steel frame. This exclusive set-up allows for the best possible fit, a low risk of breakage or ear fatigue, and enough flexibility for single ear listening. These semi-open headphones also feature a detachable input cable, and can be used with low-level output sources without sacrificing powerful sound quality.
The K240 Headphones from AKG are inexpensive when compared to other options in the field, selling for around $60.
Sennheiser HD 280 Pro Headphones
These premium headphones from Sennheiser include all of the makings of a great audio product. The closed-back, circumaural design allows you to enjoy high-quality audio anywhere, with up to 32dB of background sound attenuation. Also, the lengthened frequency response offered by this model allows for rich, authentic audio reproduction. Whether you are monitoring a recording in the studio or listening to music at home, the optimal impedance of these headphones enables ease of use with any device, even cellphones. The classic design of the HD 280s includes comfortable earpads, headband padding, and an audio cord, all of which are replaceable for an extended product lifespan. With collapsible, rotating earpieces and a weight of just one pound, these headphones are ideal for transport.
The Sennheiser HD 280 Pro Headphones have earned an average rating of 4.3 out of five stars with over 2,400 customer reviews. At around $100, this product offers a competitive price among high-caliber headphones.
The Next Best Options
While the above list includes five great pairs of headphones, those products may not be for everyone. If you are looking for another option, consider these notable alternatives:
beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro 80 ohm Studio Headphones
These closed-back, German-made headphones offer advanced bass reflex technology and a comfortable, padded, adjustable headband for extended periods of use. A 2-year manufacturer warranty is included with purchase from an authorized dealer.
Audio-Technica ATH-M30x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones
These collapsible headphones are ideal for mixing, field recording, and studio tracking. A more affordable pick from Audio-Technica, they sell for around $60, but offer similar features to the higher-end AT models.
LyxPro HAS-10 Closed Back Over-Ear Professional Studio Monitor & Mixing Headphones
At under $50, these professional level headphones are a great value, most notably featuring telescoping steel arms with a sizing scale, 180 degree rotatable ear cups, leather earpads and headband, and 45 mm neodymium drivers.
Samson SR850 Professional Studio Reference Headphones
These affordable headphones feature an open-backed design, 50mm drivers, and 10Hz-30kHz frequency response for exceptional sound quality.
Shure SRH440 Professional Studio Headphones
These headphones deliver durability and convenience with replaceable earcup pads, an included carrying bag, a 10-foot detachable coiled cable, and a collapsible, adjustable headband.
The best headphones for mixing and recording include several high-tech features, so it is important to understand how the product will function before you select a pair for purchase. Headphones vary greatly in price. Your budget should reflect the level of use you plan to get out of the headphones, as well as whether your needs are informal or professional. If you are looking for a product to simply listen to your music, there are several great options for well under $100 that will likely suit your needs. Professional musicians should consider making a larger investment in headphones, however, as the product will need to last through long periods of use and deliver expert-level audio.
A good indicator of a product’s sound quality is frequency range. Expressed in Hz, a pair of headphones with a high frequency response will deliver more impressive audio with precise reproduction of bass. Especially for professional mixing and listening, an elongated frequency range will serve you well, and is worth the extra money.
As with all types of headphones, one must consider the risk of hearing damage. For musicians, producers, and other workers in the audio industry, ear fatigue as a result of wearing headphones for hours on end can have long-term ramifications. As previously mentioned, open-backed headphones somewhat lessen this risk. But, no matter what kind of product you use, it is important to take regular breaks during long listening periods.
Along with ear fatigue, general physical discomfort can occur when you wear over-ear headphones for a long time. Consider the design of a product before you buy it. The best options will include both earpads and headband padding to decrease the pressure around your head and ears. Some models even feature an adjustable headband to achieve a more comfortable, personalized fit.
To ensure that you are getting the best value for your money, find a pair of headphones that are built to last. Many products advertise replaceable parts, allowing you to substitute worn out pieces without having to purchase an entirely new pair of headphones. Also, many models are foldable, making for compact storage and decreased risk of damage during travel.
Check out this Youtube video for helpful headphone tips from experienced engineers:
Headphones are a staple product in the audio industry today, used in professional and in-home studios alike. Headphones for mixing and recording come in many forms, varying in style, design, and general functionality, with an array of different companies offering new products each year. The best choice of headphones for you will depend on your personal budget, preferences, and priorities, so it is important to know your unique requirements before going shopping. Luckily, there are so many fantastic products available today that you will likely find many options to suit your lifestyle. With the right pair of studio headphones, working with sound and listening to music will be more enjoyable than ever before.
Product images sourced from Amazon.com
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