How to choose the best studio headphones?

Countless times have our clients asked us what headphones to buy, therefore we’ve compiled an infograph for your convenience. The headphones you’ll see there have been chosen mostly for their neutral sound. We also made sure to actually try them out to see if they make sense ergonomically and won’t fall apart right before a critical session.

 

Closed or not?

Much ink has been spilled regarding the best in studio headphones, however there’s hardly something like the best cans for everything. First thing you need to find out is whether you need isolation. Do you work in a noisy environment? Will sound leakage from your cans bother the folks around you? If so – you need sealed headphones.

If the room is all yours, then generally it’s a no brainer to go for open or semi open backed headphones. 9 times out of 10 they will sound better than closed back headphones. One exception would be monitoring bass heavy music – sealed cans keep the air from escaping, so more bass is possible.

 

Horses for courses

When choosing what to buy, try to imagine how you plan to use your future headphones. Sound quality is extremely important, but long hours in studio can be made easier if your headgear is comfy. Expect to be on the road much? It’s best if your cans can fold and have multiple cables.

Then there’s the topic of drivability. The rule of thumb is that lower impedance headphones are more fit for portable devices and higher impedance drivers will love the voltage your audio interface can supply. Nowadays there aren’t really that many hard-to-drive headphones.

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22 Responses to “How to choose the best studio headphones?”

  1. The Dude

    HD25’s outranking dt 770’s for studio use. Not even the slightest bit true…. Fail list.

    Reply
    • Karl

      The list is arranged by price, so HD25-II won’t outrank the DT770 regarding neutral sound. Both of them are coloured, but for studio I’d certainly recommend the DT770. Leave the HD25-II for drummers and on-the-go guys.

      Reply
  2. David Gillaspey

    If you wear glasses, as I do, the Beyerdynamic DT770 is a good choice for headphones. These headphones are comfortable to use even when wearing glasses, and they do not interfere with your vision.

    This was not true of my previous headphones, AKG model K240, which would shift my glasses around on my head, affecting my vision.

    Reply
    • Karl

      Glasses are a good topic. Unfortunately most headphones will lose bass response because your glasses can disrupt the pad seal. Some also push them into your temples and will give a nasty headache. The HD25-II is very uncomfortable for bespectacled folks.

      Reply
  3. Fuzzy

    Thanks for the graphic! A couple of questions come to mind:

    1) Given that the ATH-MT40x appears on this list but is stated to be “far from tonally neutral,” does that mean other headphones that are supported by Reference 3 but are not on this list — like the HD-280 pro, the MDR-7506 or the ATH-MT50x — are even further from tonally neutral?

    2) If one is starting from scratch, might it make sense to just get the PM-3 and be done with it (that is, not bother with softward headphone correction at all)? I’m not trying to undermine your sales, but your results kind of beg the question … 🙂

    Reply
    • Karl

      Thanks! Here are the best answers I can give –

      1) We listed the best headphones in the respective price brackets. The ATH-M40x is very coloured, but for the asked price they’re okay. Build quality is acceptable and they have a replaceable cable. All of the other cans you listed are roughly as coloured as the M40x.

      2) We’ll try to get a PM-3 curve out, so you can see if it pays to get them calibrated. Maybe you or someone else will be able to get away with no calibration.

      Reply
  4. Stefan Wessel

    Not one AKG Model here? How come? Maybe because the K812 is so neutral it doesn’t need any correction?

    Reply
  5. Morten Lind Jakobsen

    Are you planning support for Sennheiser HD800S anytime soon?

    Reply
    • Karl

      Once we get enough samples through the lab. It seems that Sennheiser has actually made them more listenable, because no one has asked us to calibrate them.

      Reply
  6. FelixB

    hello
    there are 2 different Beyerdynamic DT770 pro (the 80 and the 250 ohm), according to you which one is better for “mixing on headphone” ?
    setup : avid HD Omni

    Reply
    • Karl

      Hey!

      If you can, get the DT770 250Ohm, the difference is subtle, but it’s a little bit better.

      Reply
  7. Tom

    Great infographic Karl. I absolutely love it. I used AudioTechnica ATH-M40x. It’s good for the buck. Good sound staging experience.

    I found this post useful.

    Thanks.

    Reply
  8. Gorkem

    Is it really worth to get HD 800 for film & tv commercial mixing or would HD 650 be enough to do the job?

    Reply
    • Karl

      That really depends on you. The HD650 will be more versatile as the sound is pretty okay even when uncalibrated. The HD800 is unlistenable, unless calibrated.

      Reply
  9. Eric

    I’m interested to know your ranking for headphones after calibration. I did read in one of your reviews that the ATH M50x does calibrate well. Thanks.

    Reply

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