If you’re setting up a home studio to get creative during this “stay-at-home” new norm, one of the most important things you’ll need is a decent pair of studio headphones. Whilst most consumer-grade headphones are tuned for good listening, for example, the Beats Solos, and bring boosted bass and treble, these are terrible reference headphones as you won’t be able to tune your production to accurately match the “average” or “flat” frequency responses of reference monitors.
That’s where “balanced” studio headphones come in. They’re made with a flat frequency response so that you can hear exactly what was recorded, good or bad. But, there are still hundreds of studio headphones on the market, and it can be quite difficult to choose which ones to splash out your cash on. That’s why we at TechEngage have put together this list of the best headphones for home studio use on Amazon for 2021.
Best headphones for home studio
- 1. Superlux HD 681 Semi-Open Headphones
- 2. AKG Pro Audio K240 Studio Over-Ear Headphones
- 3. Philips SHP9500 HiFi Precision Stereo Over-Ear Headphones
- 4. Audio-Technica ATH-M40x
- 5. Sony MDR7506 Professional Studio Headphones
- 6. Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO
- 7. Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro Open-back Studio Headphones
- 8. Sennheiser HD 600 Open Back Professional Headphones
- 9. Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro Open Studio Headphones
- Great, flat sound response
- Open-backed, great sound imaging
- Open-back, so not suitable for mic booths
- Stock earpads are uncomfortable
First up is a fantastic value offering from Superlux. Rocking in at $35, don’t let its modest price tag fool you; these headphones knock a serious punch. From OEM Superlux, the HD 681 is billed at the budget studio headphones to beat headphones up to 5 or 6 times its price.
Powered by two great big 50mm neodymium drivers, these provide a great punch of a sound, with its open-back design bringing a stellar soundstage and surprisingly accurate sound imaging for the price. You can pin-point where instruments are in a mix, perfect if you’re an avid listener of music, but it also helps you replicate the intricacies of stereo imaging on your tracks.
Though there are downsides to having open-back headphones, and that is sound leaking. As the drivers are semi-open (basically with holes in the housing), sound leaks out. If you’re listening in a room with people, everyone’s going to be able to hear exactly what you’re listening to. This becomes more of a problem in a mic-booth as anything your talent is monitoring in their ears will come out on your recording and ruin a “clean take.” These headphones are for mixing by yourself, not recording, as the microphone will pick the sound.
Compared to more expensive pairs of headphones like the Sennheiser HD58x, Beyerdynamics DT 990 Pro, and Phillips SHP9500, these headphones still absolutely hold their own, bolstered by their incredible bass response. They are bright sounding at the high end, so if you’re particularly sensitive to treble like me, it may be a tad painful. The earcups are also terrible; they’re horrible faux leather and should be swopped out immediately for some super comfortable velour/velvet earpads. Replacements for the AKG K240 should fit. Once you change out the pads, these headphones are amazingly comfortable.
Priced at $67.77, these headphones are insanely affordable, and with that ringing, some amazing performance. If you’re in the market for some real quality pair of budget studio headphones, the Superlux’s are amazing.
- Great, balanced sound signature
- Open-back, great sound imaging
- Open back, so sound leaks
- Average build quality
The AKG K240 is essentially what the Superluxes are a no-brand clone of. So, what do you get if you go for the original article? These are the direct descendants of the original AKG K240, debuted back in the 1970s and still hold the same iconic design whilst updating the sound quality to match the 2020s.
One of the biggest strengths of the K240s is its fantastic neutral vocal response, a feature that is essential when it comes to vocal mixing. When mastering a podcast, the last thing you want are headphones that don’t accurately monitor your voice recordings, as you may over or under equalize your recordings, ruining your mix.
The bass response on these headphones is less pronounced and accentuated. If you’re coming from headphones like Raycons or Beats, you might think it’s non-existent. The Superluxes have punchier bass if you want good listening headphones as well as studio cans, but in the mixing booth, these overall flatter headphones may be more useful to you.
Priced at $65.00, these headphones are still surprisingly affordable for a known-brand pair of iconic studio headphones. If you don’t have a lot to spend but need something a little more well-built than the Superlux, the AKG K240 is a great way to go.
- Great sound quality
- Stellar soundstage
- Less pronounced bass for listeners
- Less detail than more expensive cans
The Philips SHP9500s are more of a listeners’ pair of headphones than a through-and-through studio pair, but these do provide one of the best open-back soundstage experiences under $200.
Powered by two big and bright 50mm neodymium drivers, these headphones deliver a full spectrum of sound. The sound profile is still balanced enough for use in the studio; although bass can be, someone leans for anyone looking for an extra punch.
The musical presentation is completely transparent, and they reveal everything as it was intended to sound. They do not fool you into coloring the music. The sound of these headphones is focused well on the mids, and the vocal performance in these cans is truly phenomenal. When mixing your track or mastering a recording, these are great for accurately reproducing your music, giving the confidence to critically tweak your tracks.
The Philips SHP9500 has a low impedance of 32 ohms. We’re not in a territory where we need external amps or DACs, and these will sound great, plugged directly into your computer without any problem. These are still open-back, so they are a no-go in a recording booth.
For $74.00, these headphones try to trade blows with the infinitely more expensive Sennheiser HD600, and for the price, these do through some serious punches to ol’ mate Senny.
- Flat sound signature
- Closed-back, good for recording booth
- High clamping force
Next up on our list today are finally some closed-back headphones, this time from Audio-Technica. As the younger brother to the consumer “mid-fi” darling, the ATH-M50X, the M40Xs are much more geared towards studio work and reference headphones. They benefit from an overall flatter sound signature, perfect for studio use.
Driven by two big 40mm rare-earth drivers, circumaural design earcups contours around the ears for excellent sound isolation in loud environments. Tuned flat for incredibly accurate sound monitoring across the entire frequency range, these are great for critical listening.
With an impendence of 35ohms, these headphones are incredibly easy to drive. As we creep further up the price ladder, we’ll start to see headphones that are significantly more difficult to run. The higher the ohms, the harder it’ll be to run, and you’ll start to need external headphones, amps, or DACs. The ATH-40X’s, however, will easily sound great plugged into your motherboard or straight into your laptop’s weak DAC.
These are closed-back, so you’ll have a significantly smaller sound leakage problem. You can use these comfortably in a microphone booth, or perhaps you want to use these in a radio studio or a live streaming setup. You’ll be good to go with these cans.
Priced at $99.00, these are creeping up to the expensive side, and I’ll tell you what, they used to be cheaper. But, if you can grab these on a sale, they’re still great value. If you’re looking for a pair of closed-back headphones that still have a decent soundstage, you’ll be well impressed by the ATH M40X.
- Great, accurate sound
- Iconic design
- On-ear, not over-ear, can get uncomfortable after long sessions
- Cable is non-removable.
These Sony studio cans are an absolute classic in the studio world. First released in the grand old year of 1991, the 2020 version of these industry-standard headphones are virtually identical to the headphones Sony rocked on the scene at the start of the 90s.
Powered by Sony’s expertly tuned 40mm drivers, these are king when it comes to a flat sound signature, allowing it to accurately reproduce the frequencies you need for critical audio work.
For bass heads, these headphones are not. Whilst most of these headphones should be shunned by anyone who loves thumping bass (personally not my style), these especially lack the low-end punch of “high end” consumer listening headphones. The sound signature of the Sony’s is bright and trebly.
The mostly plastic build is not going to wow anyone with a hard-on for build quality, but these look the real deal and feel so at home in any studio. They’re fairly small, especially compared to all the over-ear headphones on this list so far, so perfect for small heads. These headphones are on-ear, so whilst this does wonders for portability, after long mixing sessions, you’re going to feel those pads pressing on your ears.
Priced at $99.99, these are fairly affordable studio headphones absolutely adored by the professionals. If you’re in the market for some compact and great-sounding reference studio headphones, the Sony MDR7506 is a good, retro way to go.
- Comfortable velour earpads
- Stellar, accurate sound
- Great soundstage for closed-back
- Really pricey in the US.
Another absolute icon in the studio headphones world is the absolutely stellar Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pros. These pair of closed-back headphones are lauded as one of the most “open-sounding” and detailed closed cans in the land. Blessed with an enormous soundstage thanks to its recessed earcups adding distance between its 50mm drivers and your ears, you get all the benefits of an open-backed studio pair of headphones without the pesky sound leakage and the super-sharp treble open-backs are notorious for.
The DT 770 PRO headphones remain the top choice for music producers, sound technicians, and broadcast users and are a firmly established piece of equipment in studios worldwide. The flat sound profile is great for sound critical work, but the punchy and directed bass response makes these headphones great for hi-fi listening and everyday use. They don’t “color” the sound, whereas a lot of consumer headphones allow the bass to muddy the mids and highs.
These headphones are gloriously comfortable, with these lovely velour earpads making it a dream to keep these cans strapped to your head for hours on end. The clamping force isn’t too high, so these rest on your ears whilst also isolating noise quite well.
There are few versions of these headphones corresponding to how difficult each of them is to drive. The two most popular variants are the 80-ohm model and the 250-ohm model. As the rule states, the higher the impendence, the more powerful the amp you’ll need to run it. The differences between the 80 ohm and the 250-ohm variants in sound quality are minute, and you’re better off benefiting from the added convenience of the 80s. Even at 80 ohms, though, the get the most out of these headphones; you’ll need an external amp. A good interface or mixer like the Focusrite Scarlett will do, but if you want to use this with your phone, explore whether you can get a Fiio headphone amp.
Beyerdynamic is a German company, and so for Europeans, these headphones are far easier to get your hands on. At $156.00, these headphones are on the expensive side thanks to low supply, but if you can get it on a good deal, the DT 770s are as legendary as they’re made out to be.
- Great soundstage
- Punchy, accentuated bass and detailed high ends
- Accurate flat response
- Really difficult to find in the US
The open-backed cousin to the previous entry on this list needs no introduction. For years, Beyerdynamic has been the darling of the hi-fi audiophile world for one reason, and one reason only: the DT 990s kick absolute ass.
For reference and studio work, the stereo imaging on these is fantastic, allowing you to accurately mix and pan the elements on your track with pin-point precision. Although punchy enough to give a decent sub-bass experience, if you’re looking for headphones to shatter your eyelids listening to a sub drop or constant drill, these headphones are not for you (neither are any on this list, but hey, it’s still important to point out. Go buy Beats you bass heads).
If you’re listening for personal enjoyment, these headphones really clean up with a little EQ. Boosting bass and highs creating that coveted “V” shape, these headphones come alive for personal enjoyment. Audiophiles have tweaked these cans to death, and a quick Google search will find you some decent EQ presets. Although, fiddle around with the settings yourself, and you’ll find what you like.
Comfort is virtually identical to the DT 770s, with the same great velour pads. You’ve got the same impendence variations, although the 80 ohms being the most popular makes them very difficult to find in the US.
Priced at $149.00 for the 250-ohm variant, these settle in a good balance of price to performance. At prices higher than these, you do hit a point of diminishing returns, and whilst headphones do get better than these, you are paying more for every incremental improvement.
- Iconic design
- Great build quality
- Reference, accurate and rich sound
- Uh, expensive, dude.
Some call these headphones a work of art. Some laud them as the father to their children, and I’m sure there are HD 600 cults out there. DankPods on YouTube calls these the Hur-Dur-Six-Hundos from Ol’ Mate Senny (if you Google it, these will come up, trust me). An icon in the audiophile and professional audio community, and for a good reason, if you want the best top-of-the-line open-back reference headphones, the Sennheiser HD 600 is a legendary choice.
These headphones are engineered for the true audiophile. Thanks to an open circumaural design, computer-optimized magnets, and aluminum voice coils, you won’t find cleaner, crisper stereo sound anywhere. The open mesh in that classic Sennheiser oval delivers the rich and wide soundstage that open-backs are loved for.
The HD 600 is the benchmark reference headphone for evaluating, mixes, masters, and even other audio components. Many reviewers use these as the benchmark to test all other headphones. Leveraging Sennheiser’s progressive production techniques and computer-based transducer optimization, it perfectly fuses the art of sound with the science of it.
These are also incredibly good-looking. The standard HD 600 looks great, but with the marble finish, these look even better. Despite being built almost entirely out of plastic, the HD 600-series’ design is one of the most reliable and durable out there.
With a nominal impendence of 300 ohms, these headphones are a really expensive paperweight without the right headphone amp. Getting an amp like a Fiio or using a good mixer or audio interface allows you to get the most of these amazing headphones.
Priced at $373.00, the HD 600s are not by any means cheap. These are for the people who want the most premium and expensive audiophile in the last. If you have the money to spare, get the HD 600 and send me a postcard explaining how much you love it. They’re that good, and you won’t be able to resist.
- Great premium metal build
- Semi-open, great soundstage
- Infectiously premium
- Really, really, really expensive
- Probably not worth it
If you have basically unlimited money, for example, if you’re the son or daughter of an oil tycoon (or if you’re an oil tycoon yourself, I’m not judging. If you are, invest in solar and wind power, my guy), then you’re going to want the most expensive headphones you can get, right?
These are not status symbols. No-one outside of the audiophile world knows who Beyerdynamics is. But you’ll know who they are, and you’ll know why your headphones sound like they were made by Zeus himself.
Bass? Punchy, direct, and accentuated. Mids? Detailed with great instrument separation. Highs? Sparkling and bright. These headphones sound absolutely fantastic no matter what sort of music you’re listening to.
These headphones are built like an absolute tank with the metal enclosure feeling great in hand. The plush leather headband sits comfortably on your head. The earpads are memory foam and wrapped in a grey velour that makes them super comfortable for long periods of use.
The Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro feature a single mini-XLR connection on the left earcup. Beyerdynamic ships the DT 1990 Pro with two cables: one 3-meter straight cable and one 5-meter coiled cable.
The DT 1990s are an exceptional pair of professional cans that any child of an oil tycoon will enjoy. In the studio, they’re not the most flat, neutral sounding and suffer from slightly recessed mids, so keep that in mind if you’re doing supercritical audio work.
Priced at $579.00, these are expensive, like really expensive. Are these $250-300 better than the HD 600s? No, not by a long shot. These are not for value; these are for the sheer fun of them. If you’ve got money that needs to go… for totally legitimate tax reasons… these are the expenses that you need to make. Get a DT 1990, and with the link below, please.
At this point in the list, I would round up all of my picks and give you truly which headphones are better than all the rest. But, in this case, they’re all great choices.
If you’re on a budget, the Superlux’s are great value and sound awesome. If you’ve got a little bit extra to spend, the Philips SHP9500 is brilliant and has a wicked soundstage. If you need closed-back headphones but still want the great stereo imaging of an open-backed pair, the DT 770 is a brilliant pick. If you have enough money to spend on headphones to afford the HD 600s, buy the HD600s, you’ll thank me later.
If you’re going to buy DT 1990 Pro, hello, Michael Bloomberg. Please use the affiliate link. Thanks.
But, as I said, if you need a pair of studio headphones, all of the picks have great neutral sound signatures, and you’ll be impressed by all of them.
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