After writing about the best DJ headphones last month, I received several questions about which headphones would be best for studio work. After a long day of being the World’s most annoying customer at the local JB Hifi shop and several hours of research, I’ve come to some conclusions as to what I think are the best studio headphones. Of course, there isn’t a single ‘best pair of headphones’ as like many things, it all comes down to personal preference, but here are some of my picks that I felt really stood out.
First of all, there are a few things you need to consider when buying a pair of studio headphones, which will account for some ‘personal preference differences’ in what people think are the best studio headphones. I’ve included a more in-depth overview of these differences at the bottom of the post, but the general things to bare in mind when buying studio headphones are: tone neutrality, closed-back design, comfort, and durability.
When it comes to buying studio headphones, there is a definite correlation between price & quality. At the very high end (e.g. the Sennheiser HD800s – £899) you really do notice the perfection in the sound, design, and comfort. Headphones on the cheaper end of the scale tended to feel cheap and sound very forceful (not great when you’re going to be wearing them for full days at a time). Here are a a few of my favourite picks
The Best Overall Studio Headphone
|Despite being the ‘industry standard’, Beyerdynamic’s DT100, DT150, and DT250 models were surprisingly disappointing. While I have to admit that they’re built like tanks, it seemed hard to get a comfortable fit, and the sound was just very ‘meh’. All in all, I’d say they’re good but not worth the price tag.
Their big brother, the DT880s on the other hand are a different story. Despite being semi open-backed, these headphones sound great and were very well isolated. The ear cups and headband are incredible comfortable and they also feel very durable. Out of all of the headphones I tried, these were probably my favourite overall studio headphones.
Audio Technica ATH M50
The best budget headphone for tracking
If you’re looking for headphones to use whilst tracking, these are about as good as things get at a low price. The ATH M50’s have a closed-design to prevent bleed into the microphones. They’re very comfy, durable, and sound great. It’s worth pointing out that the frequency response for the ATH M50’s isn’t completely flat, so I wouldn’t rush to recommend these as a pair of mixing headphones, but for tracking they’re great.
Sennheiser HD650 & Sennheiser HD600
The best headphones for mixing
I’m a big fan of Sennheiser’s headphone range, and while some of their supposedly studio-designed headphones were a bit disappointing, I did really like the Sennheiser HD650 and the HD600. Both of these headphones are open back designs, which allows for a far more natural sound particularly around the higher frequencies. Both headphones were incredibly comfy, had a flat frequency response, and a durable design.
Closed vs. Open Studio Headphones
When it comes to recording, you have no real option but to use closed-back headphones, as the closed design prevents monitoring spill being picked up by the microphones. Traditionally, closed headphones tended to sound unnatural, so while they were a good choice for tracking, they weren’t great for mix-downs.
However, technology has caught up and closed-back headphones are usually quite neutral sounding these days, so you can certainly get away with using them for mixing, although many producers still prefer the ‘airiness’ an neutrality of open-back studio headphones.
Many people prioritise sound quality over comfort when buying headphones, which has its wisdom, but sound isn’t the be all and end all. If you’re working in a professional recording environment, you and your clients are likely to be wearing these headphones for hours at a time, which is a long time to be wearing something that isn’t comfortable.
Your studio headphones will naturally go through a lot. It’s out of your power to prevent headphones falling on the floor and being on the receiving end of usual studio wear and tear. It’s therefore a good investment to buy a pair of studio headphones that can stand a knock or two.
At very least, ensure that the headphones you’re buying have easily replaceable parts and come with a warranty.
Flat frequency range
One of the key distinctions between studio headphones and DJ / standard headphones is the frequency response. DJ headphones are designed to emphasise specific low frequencies to help DJs hear the kick drum in a noisy club, whereas studio headphones are designed to be flat and have very little emphasis anywhere along the frequency response. This helps producers hear exactly what the raw audio they’re listening to sounds like,
Image Credit: Sebastian Cielen