Are you looking for the best home studio headphones for recording or mixing? Then you have come to the right place.
Clearly, for music production, having a good headset is almost essential. It is, quite simply, part of the standard equipment to have in your studio or home studio.
The problem is, there are a lot of different models on the market.
Some are good, and some are not.
Likewise, depending on whether you are looking for headphones for computer music in general, headphones for beat-making, headphones for recording, or even headphones for mixing and mastering, you are not going to orient yourself towards the same model.
Also, to guide you in your choice, we offer you through this article a selection of 10 of the best home studio headphones, with all the necessary advice to avoid a bad choice.
|Home Studio Headphones||Model||Expert Rating||Price|
|AKG K240 MKII|
|Beyerdynamic DT 770|
Pro 80 Ohms
HD 280 PRO
DT 880 250 Ohms
|Sony MDR 7506|
Uses of Studio / Monitoring Headphones
Of course, headphones are used to listen to the sound.
The sound is generated by two drivers, which are installed in each ear cup of the headset.
So far, nothing exceptional: a (home) studio headphone, in its operating principle, is similar to a standard headphone.
However, in order to be able to choose the right monitoring headphones, it is important to ask the question of use: indeed, in a studio/home studio context, headphones can be used for various purposes.
Headphones for mixing and mastering
The first possible use of headphones in the studio is for mixing and mastering.
As a complement, for example, to monitoring speakers, because good speakers can be quite expensive and therefore be a real investment that must be planned.
Indeed, contrary to what we sometimes read, it is completely possible to use headphones to mix a song. Of course, this is not ideal, but it is a possibility.
Overall, there are two different cases.
The basic case is the studio headphones which are used to mix the entire song. In this case, we will tend to look for a fairly flat headset, which honestly reproduces all the frequencies as well as the stereo image.
The other case is the bass mix. Often, especially in a home studio setting, the lack of acoustic treatment in a room makes bass a difficult element to control with speakers.
In this case, monitoring headphones can help process these low frequencies by overcoming the acoustic constraints of the room. It may then be interesting for a homestudist or a sound engineer to have a headset dedicated to bass work.
Headphones for studio recording
For everything that is recording and sound recording, we are, on the other hand, on a completely different use, therefore with very different needs.
Imagine you want to record a singer.
You are going to give him a headset, in which they will be able to hear the backing song to sing over.
However, in this case, and unlike use for mixing, the frequency response of the headphones will be less important. Not insignificant, but generally, it is not necessary to have something very specific.
On the other hand, you will probably need monitoring headphones that are well insulated from the outside to prevent the sound of the backing track from leaking and being transplanted by the microphone (s) present in the room…
The Main Criteria for Choosing a Home Studio Headphone
As always in the world of music production, there are many models of home studio headphones.
Some are very good, and some are very bad.
The problem is, it’s a bit difficult to compare them – especially when the comments on the net diverge from one forum to another.
Also, we offer you a selection of concrete criteria that will help you choose your next monitoring headphones, whether you need them for computer music, for recording, or for mixing.
Open-back or closed-back headphones?
There are basically two types of studio headphones: so-called “open-back” headphones and so-called “closed-back” headphones.
For me, this choice of open or closed headphones is essential: it’s the first criterion to consider when buying home studio headphones since it will allow you to eliminate some models immediately from your list.
The mechanical difference between open-back headphones and closed-back headphones:
The terms “open-back headphones” and “closed-back headphones” refer above all to a manufacturing specificity that is easy to identify, namely whether the outer shell of the ear cups is closed or not.
Physically, this usually results in:
- either by a plastic cover for closed headphones;
- either by a metal or plastic grid for open headphones.
The first difference between these two types of headphones is, therefore, visual, as you can see in the image below:
Note: to make things a bit more complex, there are also so-called “semi-open” headphones, which should generally be compared to “open” headphones.
The difference in sound between open and closed headphones:
Of course, the fact that there are open and closed home studio headphones is not just a design story – it strongly impacts the sonic properties of headphones, with all kinds of advantages and disadvantages associated with them.
By construction, closed-back headphones are very well insulated from outside noise – which, I grant you, is quite logical.
This, therefore, allows you to stay immersed in the sound, often with a “bonus” (appreciable or not) of more marked bass since the closed construction will tend to create resonances in the space between your ears and the driver of each headset.
On the other hand, closed headphones are often associated with a smaller stereo image, that is to say, a narrower and potentially less precise perception of the instruments in space.
For open headphones, it’s the opposite.
As the driver is exposed at the back of the ear cups, the sound leakage will be important, and in both directions:
- the people around you will hear what you are listening to;
- you will hear everything that is going on around you, which can make it difficult to focus on the sound.
On the other hand, the sound is generally better in the audiophile sense of the term, especially in terms of the stereo image, which will be larger and more qualitative (you will be able to more easily “hear” the position of the various instruments in space).
In the same way, there is often better restitution of the transients and a little less saturation.
In terms of frequencies, open headphones will generally be flatter, more neutral – but to the detriment of bass that is often underrepresented (which will probably bother some beatmakers…).
Which headphones for which use?
You guessed it: depending on your use, you will sometimes need open monitoring headphones and sometimes closed monitoring headphones.
Closed-back headphones are less prone to sound leakage due to their superior insulation, so they make great recording headphones.
For example, to listen to an accompaniment when you record your voice.
Indeed, there will be less bleed of sound from the headphones into the microphone.
And then, in this type of use, the precision of the stereo image or of the frequencies is still much less important.
On the other hand, open headsets are generally to be avoided for recording since sound leaks could be transplanted by the microphone with which you are recording, especially if it is susceptible.
On the other hand, their excellent stereo image and their relative neutrality in terms of frequency response make them very good headphones for mixing and mastering.
Ideally, you will therefore have at least two headphones in your home studio: the first one for recording and a second one for mixing.
However, especially for budgetary reasons, this type of configuration is not always possible – in this case, it can be, for example, interesting:
- to take an open headset as a priority because it will have a more transparent sound, which will be essential when mixing. For the recording and monitoring phases, you can always use basic in-ear headphones at first;
- or to take very good closed headphones, which can be used both for mixing and recording.
The frequency response
If you look at the specifications of commercially available headphones – whether or not they are home studio headphones, for that matter – you’ll find that manufacturers always indicate a range of frequencies, often referred to as “bandwidth.”
For example : Bandwidth: 10 – 32,000 Hz.
It is simply the range of frequencies over which the headphones are able to emit sound.
Humans, on average, can hear sounds ranging from 20 to 20,000 Hz. From where the fact that it is the interval of frequencies on which one works to mix. Hence the fact that CDs have a sampling frequency of 44100 Hz.
The problem is, most manufacturers advertise bandwidths for their headphones above this 20 to 20,000 Hz range.
Here are some examples:
In other words, the information is completely useless: headphones that can generate sound over a wider range of frequencies are not guaranteed quality.
As proof, the Focal headphones, which have the lowest bandwidth, are in fact 8 to 60 times more expensive than the other headphones on the list.
On the other hand, I find that it is much more interesting to look at the frequency curve of the headphones.
Because indeed, no headphones are completely flat: depending on the frequency, the signal is never reproduced at the same volume, even on professional headphones.
There is no such thing as a perfect headphone.
And as you can see in the following graph, from one headphone to another, the variations can be significant:
Looking at this type of curve can therefore give you an idea of the behavior of the headphone.
You will be able to identify if the bass will be well represented in the headphones you want to buy or not.
Likewise, if you are looking for home studio headphones for mixing, you are probably going to go for headphones with a relatively flat frequency curve. For example, on the graph, the blue curve of the AKG K240 MkII is pretty good.
However, keep in mind that the frequency curve is not everything: it does not give you information about the distortion of the signal or the clarity with which the signal is reproduced.
In other words, it allows you to identify certain peculiarities of the headset, but it does not tell you if it sounds good.
Note: since the manufacturer rarely publishes the frequency curves of monitoring headphones, it is however possible to access measurements made by different sites.
I recommend, in particular, the Reference Audio Analyzer site, which allows you to compare the curves on a graph easily.
Headphone impedance and sensitivity
On the technical data sheets of home studio headphones, we usually find impedance and sensitivity values.
Impedance is an electrical parameter that materializes the way in which the headphones will oppose the flow of current. It is measured in ohms (Ω).
On the other hand, sensitivity is a measure of the volume emitted by a headset for a specific power level. It is measured in dB SPL / mW or dB SPL / V.
These two parameters are important because, together, they will influence both the output level of the monitoring headphones and their frequency response.
The concern is that again; the manufacturers are not always very clear on these two figures:
- the impedance always vary according to the frequency of the signal; the value in Ohms displayed on the technical sheets is always an average;
- the unit is not always indicated for the sensitivity;
- sensitivity is sometimes simply omitted from the datasheet;
So what to do?
Here’s how to choose your headphone based on these two parameters:
Choosing the impedance of your home studio headphones
We already agree: there is no right or wrong impedance value.
For example, a good headphone can have a high impedance as well as a low impedance.
On the other hand, what is important to understand is that depending on the equipment to which you are going to connect your headphones, the impedance can notably play a crucial role in the maximum volume that it can provide.
For example, it is very unlikely that a 600 Ohm headset can be used under good conditions if you plug it into a USB-powered interface or into a phone: most likely, the volume will be (very) low.
With a 32 ohm headset, on the other hand, no problem at all …
But then, which impedance to choose?
Here is a table that summarizes, in a simplified way, the impedance that you should aim for according to your use.
Choosing the sensitivity of your home studio headphones
Sensitivity is a bit more complicated subject, especially since (as I said a little above) the manufacturers are not always clear on the values they indicate.
As long as you are looking for home studio headphones and not audiophile headphones paired with a specific headphone amp, the easiest way is not to waste too much time looking at this parameter.
Indeed, if you correctly choose the impedance of your monitoring headphones and that the latter is part of the standard studio models (typically, the headphones of my selection a little further down in the article) – then you will not encounter any problem.
The comfort of the headphone
If you buy headphones to mix or record in your home studio, you are likely going to carry them on for extended periods of time.
It is therefore important to identify whether the headphone is comfortable. So pay attention to comments and reviews on this aspect to avoid ending up with a headphone that squeezes your head too tightly or keeps you too warm.
Especially if you wear glasses.
Then, beyond the question of comfort when the monitoring headphones are worn on the head, the practicality of use must also be taken into account.
For example :
- some headsets have a detachable cable, and some don’t;
- some headphones have a very long and straight cable, while others offer shorter but spiral cables;
Note that some headphones contain accessories to customize the experience: choice of several cables, additional pads in a different material…
It is, of course, important to pay attention to the connections available on the headset.
To connect your headphones to your home studio equipment, such as an interface or certain guitar amps, you will need a 6.35 mm jack connector (1/4 ″ jack). This is the strongest connection; that’s what it’s used for.
On the other hand, if you want to connect your headphones to devices such as smartphones, it will be useful also to have access to a 3.5mm jack connector (mini-jack).
Usually, most headphones are supplied with adapters, which greatly simplifies the choice.
By the way, if you buy one of the headphones that I recommend in this article, you shouldn’t have any particular problem: they all have this kind of adapter.
On the other hand, pay attention to this “connection” aspect if you orient yourself towards other models to avoid unpleasant surprises.
The price of home studio headphones
Necessarily, the price is always a criterion of choice.
However, I wanted to draw your attention to the fact that there is no absolute relationship between the price and quality of headphones.
At least, nothing allows you to say a priori that a headphone at $120 is better than a headphone at $80.
On the other hand, avoid the low end unless you really have no choice.
Of course, there are some headphones like the K240 mkII from AKG that allow you to mix in good conditions at a low price, but rather to have a good professional studio headphone, you should generally aim for at least the $80 – $150.
Above $150, on the other hand, I find that we tend to use really high-end studio headphones or audiophile headphones.
Sure, they can deliver outstanding sound quality – but let’s not forget that headphones are never perfect. So unless you really have a big budget, don’t hesitate to stick to more standard prices, which will already give you access to excellent recording or mixing headphones.
The Best Studio and Home Studio Headphones
To help you with your search, here is a selection of 10 of the best professional home studio headphones.
Of course, there are other good headsets out there, but these are, for me, some of the reliable references that will undoubtedly satisfy you.
Bandwidth: 15 – 25,000 Hz
Impedance: 55 Ohms
My main recommendation for people on a budget but looking for a good headphone to mix.
The K240 MKII from AKG is flexible and quite comfortable with a nice and recognizable design: it does not tighten your head too much, even if you wear glasses.
It comes with extra velour pads, which you can mount as a replacement for the already installed faux leather pads to maximize user comfort (at least, I did on mine).
In terms of sound: necessarily, considering the price, it can’t be perfect. That said, the AKG K240 MKII offers sound with good definition and, above all, well balanced.
As a result, it may seem a bit boring as it doesn’t seek to improve the sound it plays, which is good for headphones dedicated to mixing and mastering.
The bass is there but not put forward either, which makes them difficult to adjust for my taste: we feel that we are not on closed headphones.
On the other hand, the stereo image is very good and very wide: a real pleasure, even if it lacks a little precision in the mids.
In the end, a good open studio headset, especially for beginners.
Bandwidth: 5 – 35,000 Hz
Impedance: 80 Ohms
The DT 770 is a classic among classics when it comes to pro home studio headphones.
The construction is solid and reinforced by a good quality metal frame.
The design, which is also recognizable, is pleasant and aesthetic: the headset exudes seriousness.
By default, the DT 770 comes with velour pads which are particularly comfortable: it is, therefore, comfortable to wear, although it may tighten the head slightly in the long run. Nothing unbearable, though.
I find it truly magnificent in terms of sound: hard to find fault with such detailed sound.
Admittedly, the stereo image is tighter than what you would get with open headphones, but the DT 770 allows critical listening without any problem.
Its bass reproduction, clean and without saturation, allows you to check and effectively mix the lower part of the frequency spectrum of your mix.
It also isolates very well from outside sounds, which makes it particularly useful for recording. However, it is one of the closed headphones that I will have every confidence in when approaching a mix.
And if you want a good home studio headphone for music production or for non-studio use, the DT 770 from Beyerdynamic will also find its place in your home (for the record, I even bought one for my wife…).
Brand: Audio Technica
Bandwidth: 15 – 28,000 Hz
Impedance: 38 Ohms
Another headphone commonly used in studio and home studio, and which is a bit of an alternative to the DT 770 discussed above.
Evolution of the M50, it has a frame with certainly a lot of plastic parts, but very solid (unless you mistreat it, of course).
The pads are made of leatherette, and they can get a little hot over time – without being untenable, though.
The headset surrounds the ear well without tightening too much and offers good insulation making it easy to focus on the sound.
Finally, to finish on the physical aspect, it comes with two cables: one is straight, and the other is twisted, which will allow you to choose the one that suits you best.
Sound level, the rather very low impedance, allows the M50X to adapt it to most systems: audio interfaces, PCs, smartphones, etc.
The sound is pleasant and lively, with bass certainly a little highlighted but very clean: no unwanted saturation. Note that this increase in bass makes them very good headphones for recording in the studio since they help the person recording to feel the beat.
The average stereo image, as well as a slight dip in the mids, means that I do not find it, from a theoretical point of view, perfect for mixing – that said, the mixes made on this headset tend to render well on other listening systems.
That’s why I find this M50X rather versatile, in the end.
Bandwidth: 8 – 25,000 Hz
Impedance: 64 Ohms
Headphones widely used in the studio and very interesting for recording, despite a few flaws.
In terms of manufacturing quality, the Sennheiser HD 280 PRO ticks the boxes: it is certainly made of plastic, but it lasts over time.
It comes with a twisted cable, which is nice despite the fact that it is unfortunately not detachable.
The attenuation is very good (32 dB), which is ideal for avoiding the re-flow of the headphones into the microphones when miking.
The HD 280 PRO is really good for recording but clearly not my first choice for everything mixing in terms of sound.
It is indeed not quite balanced, with a slight increase in the bass on some models but especially treble that is underrepresented from 7 or 8,000 Hz.
As a result, the mids tend to come out, which may bother some people but is useful for hearing the sound well when recording in a slightly noisy context (drum recording, for example).
Considering the reasonable price, though, the HD 280 Pro is, for me, a good investment if you are looking for headphones for recording.
Bandwidth: 5 – 35,000 Hz
Impedance: 250 Ohms
A quality headphone – a bit of a counterpart to the DT 770 mentioned above, but in a semi-open configuration.
Unsurprisingly, we find the characteristic velour pads that prevent the headphones from getting too hot when worn for a long time and the same solid metal frame that gives you a lot of confidence.
Everything is made in Germany, and it shows.
Beyond being comfortable, however, the DT 880 offers a pleasant and very detailed sound, like many other DTs from the same brand.
Neutral in the bass and mids, it has, on the other hand, a peak of presence in the treble, between 4 and 10 kHz, which makes it a little bright.
But on the other hand, it is possible to hear a lot of detail in the sound, and its open design, therefore, makes it an excellent headphone for mixing and mastering.
However, be careful with the impedance of 250 Ohms, which is a little high, and which will therefore be limited for interfaces powered by USB or for use on a smartphone.
Bandwidth: 10 – 41,000 Hz
Impedance: 300 Ohms
While a bit expensive, the Sennheiser HD 650 is nevertheless one of the benchmark headphones.
The construction is reliable, strong, and the headphone is generally comfortable and light, with velour pads.
The cable is detachable but has a rather special connection (headphone side, of course – on the other side, it is a standard jack).
Necessarily, as the HD 650 is a completely open headphone, there is a lot of replay: almost impossible to use for recording.
To mix or master a song, on the other hand, is a very good choice because it allows you to work with a lot of precision.
The sound is very neutral, well balanced. The mids and highs are natural; the bass is present but perhaps not sufficiently highlighted.
The stereo image, on the other hand, is excellent.
Overall, the HD 650 delivers crisp sound, and it will allow you to hear a lot of things that you probably wouldn’t pay attention to on other headphones – making them a good audiophile headset as well.
Beware of the high impedance, however, which will not work on all sound cards…
Bandwidth: 10 – 39,800 Hz
Impedance: 62 Ohms
Another nice headset from the AKG brand, made in Austria.
The K702 is particularly comfortable, even if you keep the headphone on for a long time or if it is hot.
We especially appreciate the detachable cable and the velour pads installed by default.
In addition, to be able to enjoy the sound of these headphones, it is important to have a good headphone amplifier.
Therefore, and at least to my liking, interfaces powered via USB – even if the volume seems okay, the sound quality will not be maximum.
If, on the other hand, you have a good headphone amplifier, the sound provided by the K702 is of very good quality, with a wide stereo image and a lot of definition.
In particular, its reproduction of the depth of the sounds is very good: it is easily possible to make the difference between a “near” sound and a “far” sound.
Necessarily, the bass is less present than it would be on closed headphones, but listening to a lot of detail comes out, which is ideal for managing the balance of instruments in a mixing context.
In other words, a good home studio headphone for mixing and mastering.
Brand: Audio Technica
Bandwidth: 5 – 40,000 Hz
Impedance: 470 Ohms
A rather high-end studio headphones from Audio Technica, with a rather high price point but which remains relatively accessible.
The design is modern but particular, especially at the level of the arch: not everyone will like it.
The headset is comfortable, and the cable is removable, just like on the ATH-M50X we talked about previously.
Be careful, though, if you buy this headset: the impedance is very high (470 Ω) – which will prevent it from being used in good conditions with smartphones or interfaces powered via USB.
Competitor in my opinion of the Sennheiser HD 650, the sound is precise, qualitative.
The entire frequency spectrum is balanced, with excellent reproduction of dynamics and detail, allowing you to approach mixing and mastering with confidence.
Bandwidth: 10 – 20,000 Hz
Impedance: 63 Ohms
An alternative to the HD 280 Pro for recording, although I would give the latter a little advantage.
Common in the studio, the design is quite basic: we are on a functional headphone above all.
As it is closed, there is not too much sound leakage to the outside. I say “not too much” because there is a bit of it all the same.
Clearly, the MDR 7506 is not made for mixing at all, but it is often used for recording. The sound is focused on the midrange/treble, which can quickly become aggressive.
But at the same time, thanks to this excess of somewhat bright frequencies, the MDR 7506 fulfills its role of recording headphones well since it helps to hear the mix over the artistic performance.
Moreover, it is also very convenient to detect some issues while editing.
A benchmark headset, therefore, but with flaws that you should be aware of before getting it.
Bandwidth: 5 – 25,000 Hz
Impedance: 44 Ohms
Finally, the last option on this list, a nice headphone from Shure.
Admittedly, the design is not really original, but the headphone is comfortable and rather solidly built. The detachable cable is a plus, by the way.
In terms of sound, the SRH840 is quite flat overall, allowing it to be analytical and easily point out certain flaws. It does, however, have a small bump around 100 Hz and in the high-mids – nothing annoying, though.
As these are closed monitoring headphones, they are necessarily part of my recommendations for recording. However, it is completely possible to use it to work on a mix, as it provides interesting information.
Home Studio Headphones FAQ
Beyond the studio headphone recommendations above, here are some answers to common home studio headphone questions.
Do you absolutely have to have two headphones, one open and one closed?
You can very well record a mixer, for example, with an Audio Technica M50X, which is a closed headphone.
However, I think that in a home studio looking to have a little “professional,” a little serious approach, it makes a lot of sense to have both closed headphones dedicated to miking and open headphones. Dedicated to mixing and mastering thanks to its greater neutrality and a wider stereo image.
Can we use a Bluetooth headset?
For the recording, why not, even if that risks adding a latency.
It is important to have a high-quality conversion stage for mixing and mastering to avoid damaging the signal. On this point, I would, therefore, rather trust the converters of your audio interface…
Can I use Beats/Bose/ [non-studio-oriented brand of headphones]?
99% of the time, it’s a bad idea.
If you have no choice, no budget, already have Beats headphones, and want to play music, of course: use it.
But in principle, it is better to avoid: headphones on the market rather dedicated to listening to music mainly aim to make music as pleasant as possible.
In particular, by artificially boosting the bass.
So avoid these headphones, especially for mixing and mastering, and instead opt for real professional studio headphones.
Is there a break-in phase for new studio headphones?
Much like new speakers or a new car, some headphones need a break-in period.
That is to say that before delivering maximum performance, they require time to adapt.
The best way to do this is to leave the headphones plugged in on their own, with music playing in a loop and/or pink noise. There is no “standard” duration, but you can assume that at least during the first 20-50 hours of listening, it will not be at its maximum quality level.
Do not hesitate to do this break-in in successive volume steps, rather than subjecting it from the start to high volumes, which could have a negative effect.
Can I use closed studio headphones for mixing and mastering?
Ideally, for this type of application, it is ideal to use open-back studio headphones.
As I said earlier in the article, they allow for a wider stereo image. They are generally flatter over the entire frequency spectrum (to the detriment of bass that is often a little less present).
However, if your budget, for example, does not allow it, you can very well imagine mixing with closed studio headphones.
Be careful, however, on the model you choose to avoid running into something that may not be suitable.
In the selection of closed headphones in this article, I indicate those that can also be used for mixing.
Can I use home studio headphones to listen to music?
Yes, you can use your home studio headphones very well to listen to music, whether in an audiophile setting or just in transport when you go to work.
Typically, I regularly use my M50X when taking the train or when making Skype calls from my PC.
Depending on the headset, it is, however, possible that the experience is not perfect: indeed, studio headsets tend to be quite neutral, while some headsets more geared towards occasional listening will be more colorful, which will have an ameliorative effect on the music.
Can I use headphones with active noise reduction?
No, for me, this type of headphone should be avoided in the studio.
Indeed, since this type of headset influences the frequency response and quite simply the emitted sound content, it is not recommended to use them in the studio or in a home studio.
Are there home studio headphones with microphones?
No, to my knowledge, there is no (good) headphone dedicated to studio use and having at the same time a microphone.
There you have it. You now have all the information you need to choose your next pro home studio headphones, whether for MAO, beat-making, recording, or mixing-oriented use.