Best studio headphones from budget to pro

Get the tools to produce audio - here's our guide to the best studio headphones

Studio headphones

by Seth Walton |

At home or in a studio, to get started with music production you’ll need a decent set of headphones. Whether it be for mixing acid house or prog rock, professional monitors will only carry the production work so far. Eventually, the nuances of minute imperfections can only be addressed with a decent set of over-ears.

What’s the difference between normal headphones and studio headphones?

Studio headphones are manufactured with consideration of crucial audio production necessities, the most important being tone neutrality. Everyday headphones will boost or reduce certain tones to make a song seem bigger, brighter or more vibrant in the ear. During the production phase, the objective is for a neutral balance so tones are heard as they really are.

Tone neutrality will allow producers to pick up on mistakes or fix problems that may not have presented themselves if certain tones or frequencies were boosted. It also affords music to sound good across a number of different mediums including headphones and speakers, rather than forsaking one for the other.

How to spot studio headphones

At first glance, you could mistake one set for the other, but there are a few differences you can look out for when choosing a new pair. For everyday headphones, portability is a principal design factor and so they are often small and foldable; conversely, studio headphones primarily focus on function over form and so are often bigger and clunkier, including large cups which encompass the ear with a seal for optimum noise cancellation.

Studio headphones - commonly manufactured by audio production brands rather than high street tech names - are always wire connected for sound quality, usually plugging into the interface with a quarter-inch ‘jack’ insert.

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Features to look out for

Open versus closed backs - Studio headphones are designed with either an open or a closed-back for different purposes. Closed-back headphones will keep external noise from permeating through and disrupting the listening experience, making them the choice for mixing audio in a noisy or public place.

However, restricting the movement of sound can cause pressure to build up within the headphones, fatiguing ears over an extended period of listening. Open-back headphones will keep the air moving and attenuate this effect, smoothening out very low frequencies and generally aiding the listening experience, though only if in a private mixing space as external noise will seep through.

Frequency response range - Manufacturers will often quote the frequency response range of the headphones in the product detail. This is how far the headphones can be effective across the frequency spectrum, from bass to mids to trebles at the top end.

20 to 20,000 Hz is regarded as the industry standard response range, but some manufacturers will try to better this. Be advised, however, that wider frequency response is not necessarily indicative of better sound quality.

AKG K52

Audio production manufacturer AKG has long been known for their quality and diverse range of products; despite sitting at the bottom of the price range, these studio headphones still pack a great punch.

These K52s are designed with all the constituent features of high-quality studio headphones: adjustable headband for comfort and closed back speakers with leather ear cups for sound isolation and ‘soundscape’, all within a sleek and sturdy package. If you want a set of studio headphones on a budget, this is a great place to start.

Sony MDR-7506/1

This set of studio headphones from Sony offers elite sound quality for professional audio production work, with two 40 mm drivers in large, elongated earcups for optimal enclosure and sound isolation.

Presenting an impressive frequency response range from,10Hz to 20kHz they are a standout choice for the mid-range audio production set-up. They feature a padded, adjustable leather headband for comfort and all within a light, 227-gram package.

AKG K712PRO

This set of over-ears from AKG is at the higher end of the studio headphone market, with an array of additional features to justify the higher price tag. Starting with the build quality, this K712PRO set features a genuine leather headband with velour ear cup padding for superlative comfort and sweat reduction.

The K712PROs offer an impressive frequency response range, from 10Hz - 39800Hz, and a 3db low-end performance increase for one of the best audio responses money can buy through a set of headphones.

Unlike the other headphones on this list, these K712PROs are designed with an open back to allow greater sound movement for low-frequency performance and reduce pressure build-up to attenuate ear fatigue. Be advised, however, that this set will only be effective in an isolated environment - say your own studio set up - as the open backs allow eternal noise to permeate through.

Philips Fidelio X2HR

These headphones from Philips feature double-layered ear shells for the highest quality audio, with a velour-covered memory foam casing to protect and comfort ears during extended use. Like the AKG K712PROs, they are designed with an open back to alleviate air pressure build-up behind the drivers within each cup, allowing free movement of sound and enhancing the high-end frequencies.

These headphones meet the stringent standards of quality for Hi-Resolution Audio - making them the perfect choice for the discerning audio producer wanting to enhance their set-up.

Shure SRH440-BK-EFS

This set of studio headphones from Shure is a great choice for upgrading a home studio set up or getting started with a healthy budget.

The large leather ear cups perfectly encompass two 40mm drivers with an impressive range of 5Hz to 30kHz for professional studio mixing. Straight out of the box, these headphones come with a spare set of ear cups and a quarter-inch adapter for interface compatibility.

What to read next:

The best wired headphones

The best wireless headphones

The best wireless noise cancelling headphones

Seth is a Content Writer for WhatsTheBest, specialising in technology and audio. He also writes for Parkers, CAR and MCN.

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