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The 12 Best Studio Headphones for Recording

12/02/2024

Studio headphones are an interesting topic, and while many articles may start to sound like a broken record, the key is knowing where and how to use them.

If you’re looking for a pair specifically for recording, there are a few things to look out for. The main two are a closed-back design and a flat, neutral frequency response.

So with that in mind, we’re going to explore the best studio headphones for recording on the market today, covering their key features, what exactly you should consider, and what separates recording headphones from mixing headphones.

In a hurry?

Here are some of our favourite studio headphones for recording:

Shure SRH1540High-end closed-back headphones with a comfortable design and detailed sound for recording and mixing alike.Check the current price
SubZero HFH100Detailed and affordable closed-backs that avoid spill.Check the current price
Neumann NDH 20Pristine, flat, and accurate closed-backs for tracking, mixing, and mastering.Check the current price

The best studio headphones for recording

1. Shure SRH1540

Shure SRH1540 Premium Closed Back HeadphonesKey features

  • Type: Closed-back, Circumaural
  • Frequency Range: 5 Hz – 25 kHz
  • Transducer Type: Dynamic, Neodymium magnet

Pros

  • Detailed professional headphones designed for studio use and casual listening
  • Premium drivers for a full, detailed sound and good transient response
  • Incredibly comfortable memory foam earpads

Cons

  • Lack of swivel on earcups

The Shure SRH1540 are their more premium headphones. Built for incredible comfort, the SRH1540 have Alcantara-covered memory foam earcups which have the perfect level of resistance and softness for your ears to rest within. Their ultra-flat frequency response and extended low and high-frequency extension means every sonic detail is replicated perfectly and without harshness.

The SRH1540 include a 6.5 mm adapter and a hard-shell travel case for easy portability. Their sound is flattering without excluding any information, and whilst they may look more like open-backs visually, their closed-back design offers the same benefits that make them perfect for tracking.


2. SubZero SZ-MH200

SubZero SZ-MH200 Monitoring HeadphonesKey features

  • Driver Size: 53 mm
  • Sensitivity: 94 ± 3 dB
  • Frequency Range: 20 Hz – 20 kHz

Pros

  • Closed-back headphones with a non-slip headband
  • Broad dynamic range and frequency response deliver quality sound
  • Includes a 6.3 mm adapter for easy connectivity

Cons

  • Lacks advanced features

The SubZero SZ-MH200 Monitoring Headphones offer an exceptional audio experience for musicians and audio engineers. These headphones come with a broad frequency response, ranging from 20 Hz to 20 kHz, enabling accurate representation of both high and low notes. This feature is essential for those seeking an immersive listening experience during the fine-tuning of recordings or mixing of tracks.

Another key feature of the SZ-MH200 is its impressive sound isolation. This not only allows you to focus on your audio without external disturbances but also ensures that sound does not leak from the drivers. This is particularly beneficial during recording sessions, adding a layer of precision and eliminating potential disruptions.


3. Rode NTH-100

Rode NTH-100 Professional Studio HeadphonesKey features

  • Transducer Size: 40 mm
  • Transducer Type: Dynamic
  • Frequency Response: 5 Hz – 35 kHz

Pros

  • Closed-back headphones suited to recording, mixing, and mastering
  • Extreme comfort from Alcantara earcups and CoolTech gel
  • Broad and accurate frequency response

Cons

  • Non-folding design requires more storage space

The Rode NTH-100 are an innovative set of headphones that blend the best of open-back headphones with a closed-back design. This means that they deliver an extremely accurate and light frequency response that brings all of the natural, open sound that isn’t fatiguing on the ears while still isolating you from external noise and preventing spill.

The Alcantara cushioning on the earcups is incredibly comfortable, and they’re filled with CoolTech gel to prevent your ears from overheating while you wear them. Plus, the contour of the headband is custom-shaped to fit the human head and the slightly triangular earcup opening is designed to better fit your ears.

An incredibly wide and detailed frequency response makes these a no-brainer for studio monitoring for pretty much any application, and they’re naturally great for tracking.


4. AKG K72

AKG K72 Closed-Back HeadphonesKey features

  • Headphone Type: Closed-back
  • Frequency Response: 16 Hz – 20 kHz
  • Sensitivity: 112 dB SPL/V

Pros

  • Comfortable and affordable headphones
  • Large ear cups and closed-back design provide great sound isolation
  • Full frequency response ideal for tracking and mixing

Cons

  • Mid-focused sound isn’t completely accurate for mixing or mastering

Austrian brand AKG have been pioneers in headphone design from their inception. Having invented open-back headphones in 1959, AKG went on to also develop the world’s first hybrid dynamic and electrostatic headphones, binaural headphones, and wireless headphones throughout the 1970s and ’80s.

For such a historic brand, the K72s should be no surprise, but these closed-backs deliver the performance and feature-set of headphones more than double the price.

AKG worked to get the best performance they could get for the price, and these closed-backs are certainly an inviting choice for studio recording. While they won’t sound as convincing as some more premium models, they definitely leave all the sounds you want on the table.


5. Sennheiser HD 280 Pro II

Sennheiser HD 280 PRO II Closed Back HeadphonesKey features

  • Transducer Type: Dynamic, Closed
  • Frequency Response: 8 Hz – 25 kHz
  • Sound Pressure Level: 113 dB SPL

Pros

  • Closed-back headphones with excellent ambient noise attenuation
  • Accurate and linear frequency response
  • Powerful drivers allow up to 113 dB of sound output, suitable for loud environments

Cons

  • Neutral sound may feel unexciting on first listen

Sennheiser are another historic audio brand that initially found their place in microphone design before releasing their first headphones in 1968, the HD 414, which remain the best-selling full-size headphones ever made. Their headphones are frequently high-end and suited to DJs and audio professionals alike, with a range of dynamic, electrostatic, open-back, and closed-back headphones.

The HD 280 Pro II are a studio mainstay. Building off the previous model which was famed in its own right, these closed-back headphones excel at blocking external noise with their earcup design. Their sound is totally revealing, making them excellent at everything from tracking to mastering – it’s this kind of sound that’s perfect for studio use.


6. beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro, 80 Ohm

beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro Headphones, 80 OhmKey features

  • Transducer Type: Dynamic
  • Headphone Design: Closed
  • Frequency Response: 5 Hz to 35 kHz

Pros

  • Clear, articulate sound with a closed-back design for isolation
  • Natural and accurate frequency response covers the entire audible spectrum
  • Comfortable padded headband and soft velour earcups

Cons

  • Quite bulky, with no fold-down design

The beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro are an excellent set of studio headphones. Designed for neutrality, balance, and extreme comfort, these headphones offer fantastic audio fidelity that makes them great for both monitoring and recording. Their frequency response is extremely flat, and with an 80-ohm impedance, they’re ideal for the studio.

Thanks to proprietary bass reflex technology and impulse response, these headphones produce all those low-end frequencies powerfully whilst the high-end remains extremely articulate. And with high sound pressure level capabilities, you can turn the volume up without ever suffering distortion.

Better still, the DT 770 Pro are comfortable to wear, with soft velour earpads and an adjustable headband that make those long recording sessions a breeze. There’s also a 3m cable, meaning you can move around the mic as much as you like.


7. Audio Technica ATH-M50x

Audio Technica ATH-M50x Headphones, BlackKey features

  • Headphone Type: Closed-back
  • Driver Diameter: 45 mm
  • Frequency Response: 15 Hz – 28 kHz

Pros

  • Crisp and clear sound with clear bass
  • Closed-back design for excellent sound isolation
  • Durable and portable foldable design and removable cable

Cons

  • Proprietary cable connector reduces connectivity or replacement options

The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x are a set of headphones that found popularity with DJs and studio engineers alike. Audio-Technica’s roots have spanned back to headphone design for a very long time, giving them pedigree and experience that provides great sound. Their large 45 mm dynamic drivers are larger than most, giving them more energy and low-end power, without bringing bloated or muddy bass.

Extremely comfortable for long listening sessions, these headphones are the ones that sit on my head as I’m writing this very article! Completely foldable, and with swivelling earcups, they’re ideal for long listening sessions and have a very smooth sound that doesn’t bring out any unwanted frequencies.

Versatile and suitable for everything from casual listening to DJ sets to tracking and mixing, these headphones are a veritable studio workhorse.


8. SubZero HFH100

SubZero HFH100 Hi-Fi Headphones With Detachable CableKey features

  • Driver Size: 40 mm
  • Frequency Range: 10 Hz – 24 kHz
  • Sensitivity: 98 dB (±3 dB)

Pros

  • Hi-Fi headphones for both critical and casual listening
  • Soft headband and earcups for comfort over long listening sessions
  • Includes detachable cable and 1/4” adapter

Cons

  • Lacks some advanced features

The SubZero HFH100 Hi-Fi Headphones have a frequency response of 10 Hz to 24 kHz, excellent sound isolation, and great, neutral sound quality.

They ensure that all high and low notes are represented accurately – vital in fine-tuning your recordings or mixing tracks. There’s no sound leakage, everything is nice and precise, and the audio across the whole spectrum is optimised.

What’s more, these headphones boast a padded headband, rotating earcups, and a removable jack cable.


9. Sony MDR-7506/1

Sony MDR-7506/1 Professional Stereo HeadphonesKey features

  • Headphone Type: Dynamic, Closed Back
  • Driver Size: 40 mm
  • Frequency Response: 10 Hz – 20 kHz

Pros

  • Tried and true design unchanged since 1991
  • Ideal for all kinds of monitoring, from tracking to mixing
  • Foldable for easy portability

Cons

  • Heavy-duty cable can be a little long

The Sony MDR-7506/1 are a tried and tested design that has remained on the market totally unchanged for the past 33 years. Released in 1991, these headphones have a comfortable fit and a very smooth, neutral sound that lets details shine. As closed-backs, these headphones attenuate external noise and prevent spill, making them great for tracking, too.

These headphones are pretty hardy, given their metal construction, and their foldable design makes them very easy to transport. The MDR-7506s may not be a premium set with a lot of unique features but they cut through the market with a simple, accessible, and effective design that reproduces any sound you’re monitoring accurately.

Anything that’s held up completely unchanged as long as these headphones have is naturally going to be an excellent choice!


10. Neumann NDH 20

Neumann NDH 20 Closed Back HeadphonesKey features

  • Driver Type: Dynamic
  • Driver Diameter: 38 mm (1.5”)
  • Frequency Response: 5 Hz – 30 kHz

Pros

  • Flat Neumann studio monitoring in closed-back headphone format
  • Extremely linear and full frequency response
  • Isolating closed-back design with padded earcups

Cons

  • Not the most comfortable fit

Neumann are famed for their microphone design, but they’ve designed far more than that over the years. Recently branching out into some very acclaimed studio monitors, Neumann then sought to take the sound of their speakers into a headphone format. The NDH 20 are designed to be as flat and revealing as their monitors, making them incredibly reliable for recording, mixing, and even mastering.

The NDH 20 also offer an incredibly low level of Total Harmonic Distortion, even at maximum volumes, and a frequency range from 5 Hz to 35 kHz. With a removable cable and included screw-on adapter, these headphones are easy to connect to any equipment.

Their sound is incredibly detailed and balanced set, and while the price of the headphones may be high, they’re close to having a professional studio monitoring experience on your ears, which makes them a worthwhile purchase for musicians and engineers who find themselves travelling often.


11. Shure SRH440A

Shure SRH440A Professional HeadphonesKey features

  • Driver Type: Dynamic, Neodymium magnets
  • Driver Size: 40 mm
  • Frequency Range: 10 Hz – 22 kHz

Pros

  • Closed-back design prevents spill
  • Dynamic drivers provide powerful sound even in loud live rooms
  • Comfortable cushioned earpads and lightweight headband

Cons

  • Not fully foldable

The Shure SRH440A are a set of closed-back headphones that are a great all-rounder set for studios. Coming in at an extremely inviting price, these headphones sound great with a wide frequency range and balanced, neutral frequency response.

These are great for sound isolation, reducing background noise to let you focus on your monitoring mix. The closed earcups prevent any spill, so playback won’t be re-captured by the mic, keeping your recording clean – precisely what you need in the studio.

Powered by 40 mm neodymium drivers, the SRH440A have plenty of low-end power for bassists and drummers. These headphones may not be exceptionally exciting-sounding but they have the exact neutrality that you need for studio use.


12. Avantone Pro MP1

Avantone Pro MP1 Mixphones HeadphonesKey features

  • Frequency Response: 18 Hz – 25 kHz
  • Driver Size: Large Format 50 mm
  • SPL: 113 dB

Pros

  • Closed-back headphones with three voicing modes
  • Broad frequency response for accuracy across all voicings
  • Padded earcups help isolate while feeling comfortable

Cons

  • Bulky and non-collapsible design

The Avantone Pro MP1 are a unique set of closed-back headphones that still offer everything you’d expect in a pair of studio headphones. However, they have a big twist up their sleeve: they have three different voicing modes. This makes them even more versatile in studio settings, letting you check mixes in mono, stereo, and with a mid-range boost that replicates Avantone’s MixCube studio monitors.

This mid boost is especially important for accuracy, however, it’s often an overlooked aspect of headphone response as even many studio-focused closed-backs have a slight dip in the midrange.

In addition to their punchy sound, the MP1 have a pretty unique ‘50s-style design and an extremely comfortable fit with great isolation. The MP1 offers both coiled and straight removable cables and a carrying bag.

What are the different types of studio headphones?

There are three main kinds of headphones you might find in the studio. Closed-back headphones have covered earcups that keep their sound contained, which helps create some passive noise cancellation whilst preventing sound leakage. This makes them great for recording.

Sound leakage can mean that the audio you’re listening to is also audible to the people around you. This isn’t always a problem, but it can be a big issue when recording, as mics will pick up this spill from monitor mixes while you track vocals, for example.

Open-back headphones do suffer from spill, but they’re great at mixing and mastering as their open-back design is more natural and detailed-sounding. This helps your ears with stereo placement and means your audio is less fatiguing to listen to over long periods of time.

In-ear monitors are smaller designs that use a similar form factor to typical earbuds but tend to use the same – or even more – high-quality drivers that you’ll see in studio headphones.

They’re often used in live situations, letting performers listen back to instruments and possibly click tracks when on stage. However, it’s not unheard of to see these in studios too, since their high-quality drivers and small form factor can make them really good for tracking, mixing, and mastering.

Should I get open or closed-back headphones?

Generally, it’s best to use closed-back headphones for recording. This prevents sound from ‘bleeding’ out of the headphones and into microphones, meaning that any monitoring mix you’re sending to your performers won’t be re-recorded by the microphones. Open-back headphones do this by design to achieve their more open sound, but we want to avoid this when tracking.

Closed-backs also have the advantage of reducing noise, isolating your ears from external sounds while performing, making the monitor mix clear for the people listening to them. This is very important to getting a good performance – everyone wants to hear what they’re playing clearly!

Shure SRH440A headphones

Studio headphones vs. casual listening headphones

How do you distinguish studio headphones from casual listening headphones? We’re naturally drawn to what sounds pleasing to us, which is often a more hyped and boosted sound – especially in the low and high frequencies. This will always sound impressive when we’re trying on headphones and may convince us to buy these headphones for monitoring.

The problem is that it’s not accurate at all. Whether you’re tracking, mixing, or mastering, we want to be able to hear everything, and the response of casual listening headphones doesn’t give us that. It might emphasise things we don’t want to hear, or mask problems we don’t know are there because we can’t hear them.

When recording, we want to get as close to the source as possible, and not have to fix things after. To this end, we need a flat, accurate response that captures everything equally. Then, if something sounds wrong, we can identify what it is, and how to fix it to prevent the mistake from revealing itself in the mixing stage.

This may not sound as immediately exciting as the boosts in casual headphones when we listen to them in person, but the truth is that accuracy doesn’t always sound good!

Will I need an amp for my studio headphones?

A headphone amp is a really good utility to have in most studios, but it may not be an absolute necessity, depending on the headphones you have.

To find out whether your headphones need an amp, check their listed impedance in the specifications. If they have a low impedance, they can be powered by things like your phone and won’t need an amp. If they have high impedance, they’ll need an amp stage to boost them to audible levels.

PreSonus headphone amp with PreSonus studio headphones

Things to consider when buying studio headphones for recording

Frequency range and response

The frequency range of headphones can give us an idea of how they sound… but it’s not the full picture. Ideally, we want the range to be as broad as possible to get clarity and all of the information we can. The frequency response, on the other hand, tells us more specifically about the headphones’ sound, showing us where the peaks and dips are in their response.

In an ideal world, the frequency response will be a totally flat line, but the reality of acoustics means that this simply isn’t possible. So, we’ll usually see a drop-off in low frequencies where the response is too weak to reproduce, and the same in the high frequencies.

The midrange should be our focus here. It won’t be completely flat, but it should only fluctuate a small amount. If any of the bumps and dips are too large, the sound will be less accurate.


Brand

A tried and tested brand is always a good form of assurance in quality. A brand that’s experienced or specialised in headphones, or has a long history of headphone – and specifically audio product – design is an encouraging sign. Even if the price and specs seem good, if the company doesn’t usually produce electronics or audio equipment, you might be looking at a more casual brand that won’t fit your needs.

Brands on our list like Shure, Sony, Neumann, AKG, Sennheiser, and Audio Technica are all good reliable choices for their long and storied history in either specifically headphones or more broadly audio design. If you want a little more historical information, check out our coverage of the best headphone brands.


Budget

Products cost money, and we can only get things that fit our price bracket. It’s as simple as that. However, it’s always worth trying to get the most out of your purchase.

A pricier product will usually deliver better value overall through its sound quality and more comfortable materials. Having said this, you can find some really smart designs without the hefty price tag, and brands have been getting increasingly competitive with cheaper products – but there are always going to be elements that are adjusted to reach that point.

It’s a balancing act between the features you really need to be at their best and the ones you’re less concerned with.


Wired over wireless

We all love wireless headphones at home. However, it’s not feasible to use these in the studio for tracking. The reason for this is latency. Latency causes a delay between the signal being sent and when it’s heard. This will always be a factor in audio monitoring, but it’s usually so fast we can’t perceive it. Wireless headphones just tip over that threshold since there’s an extra conversion stage required.

When it’s audible, the delay in playback will make the performance you’re recording go off-time from the rest of the track. So, stick to wired headphones in the studio for all applications if possible.


Your studio setup

Your studio setup can dictate a lot about what headphones you need. Do you already have studio monitors? Headphones can be a good backup that gives you a closer look at some of the sonic details in a mix. If you don’t, headphones can be a cheaper and space-saving way of studio monitoring if you’re pushed for space or budget.

Headphones are also the best method of monitoring while tracking in most compact home studios. You won’t want sound coming from speaker monitors if you only have one room to work with, as the mic could pick up the signal from them and start facing feedback.

It’s also worth considering your audio interface. Does it have enough outputs to let everybody in the studio listen back to what they need to with headphones? If not, a headphone amp may be worthwhile to let up to four or eight people listen back at once.

A female guitarist using the Rode NTH-100 headphones whilst playing acoustic guitar into a microphone

FAQs

What headphones do pro studios use?

Professional studios tend to use the following headphones:

  • Shure SRH440A
  • AKG K72
  • Sennheiser HD 250 Pro II
  • beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro
  • Rode NTH-100
  • Audio-Technica ATH-M50x
  • Sony MDR-7506/1
  • Neumann NDH 20
  • Shure SRH1540
  • Avantone Pro MP1

Do headphones matter when recording?

The kind of headphones you use when recording and tracking in the studio is really important. Primarily, performers respond to what they can hear, so making sure they can hear their backing track clearly and on time is key to getting a good performance when recording.


Is it better to record with headphones or speakers?

When recording, it’s best to use headphones rather than speakers. Headphones can help prevent feedback if your speakers are in the same room as your microphones, making for a cleaner recording. They’re also better at reproducing bass than studio monitors, since their drivers are physically closer to your ears, so a good set of headphones can help you hear performances or identify issues with mic positioning.

Final thoughts

There’s a lot to consider when deciding what headphones you want for recording. Do you want dedicated tracking headphones or all-rounders for other stages of music production? Do you need advanced features? Portability? What materials and designs feel most comfortable to you? We’ve offered some choices that should answer these questions for any budget and needs.

Ultimately, the main thing to look out for is a good, neutral sound that you can rely on. While the best headphones for recording may not always be the same as what you’d look to for mixing and mastering, many of them can hold up to all three.

 

Content Writer - Live Sound

Callum is a former audio and music technology student who has a love of punk, rock, metal, and electronic music. In his spare time, he produces music, and DJs occasionally. He's also a freelance engineer when possible, helping local bands make their noise even noisier.

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