The Best Studio Headphones for Music Production, Mixing and Critical Listening

The Best Studio Headphones for Music Production, Mixing and Critical Listening. (toc) #title=(TOC)

High-quality studio headphones are an essential tool for any music producer, mixer or audio engineer. Choosing the right pair of headphones can greatly impact your ability to hear intricate details in your mixes and make critical listening decisions. With so many options on the market, it can be overwhelming trying to determine which studio headphones are the best for your needs and budget.

This comprehensive guide breaks down the key factors to consider when shopping for studio headphones. We’ll overview the different headphone technologies, component types, key specifications to look for, and provide specific studio headphone recommendations across various price points. By the end, you’ll have all the information you need to select the ideal headphones to upgrade your music production, mixing and critical listening capabilities.

Headphone Technologies and Component Types

There are a few main headphone technologies and component types to be aware of when evaluating studio headphones:

Open-Back vs Closed-Back

  • Open-back: The rear side of each ear cup is open, allowing sound to freely pass in and out. Provides a spacious, natural soundstage. Sound leaks out, so best for quiet environments.
  • Closed-back: The rear side is closed off. Provides isolation from external noises. Bass frequencies are enhanced due to lack of leakage. Sound does not leak out. Better for recording applications.

Dynamic vs Planar Magnetic Drivers

The driver type impacts the headphone's sound reproduction:

  • Dynamic drivers: Use a magnet and voice coil to produce sound. Most common type. Affordable, overall balanced sound.
  • Planar magnetic drivers: Utilize a thin diaphragm suspended between magnets. More accurate, improved transient response. Found on high-end models.

Wired vs Wireless

  • Wired: Uses a cable to connect to audio source. No batteries required. Unlimited connectivity range.
  • Wireless: Connects wirelessly via Bluetooth. Portable with no cables. Limited connectivity range. Requires charging. Latency may be an issue.

Additional Components

  • Ear pads: Made of materials like velour, leather, microfiber. Impact comfort and sound isolation.
  • Headband: Should be padded and adjustable for maximum comfort during long mixing sessions.
  • Replaceable cables: Allow cables to be switched out if damaged, sometimes enabling balanced connections.

Key Specifications

These technical specifications impact audio quality and should be evaluated:

  • Frequency response: The range of bass, mids, and treble the headphones can reproduce, measured in Hz. Wider is better.
  • Impedance: Electrical resistance measured in ohms. Higher impedance requires more amplifier power. Look for 32-300 ohms for studio use.
  • Sensitivity: How efficiently the headphones convert electrical signals into sound, measured in dB. Higher sensitivity means louder volume from less amplifier power.
  • Driver size: Larger drivers (40mm+) handle more power and reproduce stronger bass.
  • Max input power: The highest audio signal level the drivers can handle without distortion. Look for >500mW.

Top Studio Headphone Recommendations

With the key factors and terminology covered, here are our top picks for the best studio headphones across various price tiers:

Under $100:

  • Audio-Technica ATH-M20x - Excellent entry-level open-back headphones with a very neutral sound profile.
    • Frequency Response: 15 - 20,000 Hz
    • Impedance: 47 ohms
    • Sensitivity: 96 dB
    • Driver Size: 40 mm
  • AKG K240 - Semi-open over-ear design with adjustable headband. Crisp mids and highs.
    • Frequency Response: 15 - 25,000 Hz
    • Impedance: 55 ohms
    • Sensitivity: 104 dB
    • Driver Size: 40 mm

$100 - $200:

  • Sennheiser HD 280 Pro - Closed-back monitoring headphones with excellent isolation. Strong bass and durability.
    • Frequency Response: 8 - 25,000 Hz
    • Impedance: 64 ohms
    • Sensitivity: 113 dB
    • Driver Size: 40 mm
  • Audio-Technica ATH-M50x - Extremely popular closed-back headphones with enhanced lows and detailed highs.
    • Frequency Response: 15 - 28,000 Hz
    • Impedance: 38 ohms
    • Sensitivity: 99 dB
    • Driver Size: 45 mm

$200 - $500:

  • Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro - Comfortable closed-back headphones with soft velour earpads. Great sound isolation.
    • Frequency Response: 5 - 35,000 Hz
    • Impedance: 80 ohms
    • Sensitivity: 96 dB
    • Driver Size: 45 mm
  • Sennheiser HD 600 - Open-back audiophile headphones with highly natural, accurate sound.
    • Frequency Response: 12 - 39,500 Hz
    • Impedance: 300 ohms
    • Sensitivity: 97 dB
    • Driver Size: 40 mm


  • Audeze LCD-1 - Planar magnetic open-back headphones with stunningly clear mids and treble.
    • Frequency Response: 10 - 50,000 Hz
    • Impedance: 16 ohms
    • Sensitivity: 100 dB
    • Driver Size: 106 mm
  • Focal Stellia - Closed-back design with Focal’s signature rich, detailed sound. Extremely comfortable.
    • Frequency Response: 5 - 40,000 Hz
    • Impedance: 35 ohms
    • Sensitivity: 106 dB
    • Driver Size: 40 mm

Key Considerations When Choosing Studio Headphones

Finding the right studio headphones involves prioritizing certain factors and deciding what tradeoffs you're willing to make. Use this checklist of key considerations when making your selection:

  • Intended use (mixing, mastering, tracking, etc)
  • Budget constraints
  • Preferred sound signature and frequency response
  • Open vs closed-back design needs
  • Wired vs wireless requirements
  • Comfort level wearing for long sessions
  • Aesthetic and style preferences
  • Additional components needed (replaceable cables, etc)
  • Ability to be driven by your available headphone amp
  • Brand reputation and product reviews

FAQ About Studio Headphones

Still have some lingering questions about choosing the best studio headphones? This FAQ has you covered:

Should I get open-back or closed-back headphones?

If you'll primarily mix and master in a quiet environment, open-back headphones allow for a more natural, spacious sound. Closed-back are better for tracking or if you need sound isolation and don't want audio leakage.

How much do I need to spend for decent studio headphones?

You can get very capable closed-back studio headphones like the AKG K240 or Audio Technica ATH-M40x for around $100. For open-back models, plan to spend $200+ for quality audiophile-level sound.

Do I need an external DAC/amp to drive studio headphones?

While not absolutely necessary, using an external DAC (digital-to-analog converter) and headphone amp provides cleaner gain staging and improved volume/dynamics.

Can I use studio headphones for regular music listening?

Absolutely! The accurate frequency response of studio headphones makes them great for critical music listening. Just keep in mind they may lack some extra bass compared to mainstream consumer headphones.

Should I buy new or used studio headphones?

Since headphones can wear out over time, buying new helps ensure you get their full lifecycle. However, you can find great deals on used studio headphones that may just need new earpads. Evaluate condition carefully if going used.

How do I know which brands to trust?

Stick with established audio brands like Sennheiser, AKG, Audio-Technica, Beyerdynamic, Shure, Sony and others with a proven reputation in studio headphones. Read reviews to assess quality.


The key to finding the best studio headphones is identifying your budget, intended uses, and the right balance of sound isolation, frequency response, comfort and durability. Use this guide's headphone recommendations, component overview and buying considerations to narrow down the perfect pair of headphones for music production, mixing and critical listening. Equipping yourself with quality studio headphones will take your audio work to the next level.

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