A quality pair of studio headphones are an integral part of any studio setup. In tandem with your monitors, you will have access to two reference points. This ensures you can make accurate and confident decisions when working.
These headphones often offer a detailed and rich listening experience that is also fantastic for casual listening. And while, on the surface, many headphones may appear similar, several differences separate the average options from the top-tier choices.
In this guide, we take a detailed look at the various studio headphones categories. We’ll highlight the key features of each so that you can make an informed decision when buying studio headphones. Plus links to our detailed guides on each category if you want further information.
There is a staggering amount of options in the studio headphone market. One of the easiest ways to avoid buying poor headphones is to stick to established brands. Several key manufacturers have an excellent reputation in the space.
High-quality studio headphones are a fantastic addition to any studio setup.
It is also worth assessing what you need from your headphones; understanding what you need is half the battle. From there, you can narrow down your choices based on other criteria that are important to you. Below are the critical features to keep an eye out for when buying studio headphones.
- By far, the most essential element is the sound quality of the headphones. Studio headphones need to offer a wide frequency range that can accurately hit lows and highs. But even more important is how neutral the sound is. You want headphones that provide a flat response that is faithful to what you are listening to.
- The price point is another factor. Studio gear can be expensive, but that doesn’t mean there are no value-for-money options. Generally, having more to spend will give you access to better options. But there are diminishing returns once you get to the ultra-expensive choices.
- It is also worth assessing the inclusions that come with the headphones. Good studio headphones will offer detachable cables and often a choice of cables. Extras like a pouch or hardshell case are also worth keeping an eye out for.
Open Back Headphones
When it comes to studio headphones, the dominant type of headphones is open-back. These headphones allow the passage of air from the driver to the outside. This design often provides a more natural and spacious sound that makes it easier to make accurate decisions in the studio.
Open-back headphones are a popular choice for studio work.
While these are the most popular, they also are not always the right choice. This style of studio headphones doesn’t offer any isolation, and sound will leak. You’ll need to look elsewhere if you work in a noisy environment or don’t want to distract people around you.
- Open-back studio headphones will generally have a broader soundstage than other choices. But even then, there is a lot of variation between various options. A wide soundstage positions elements within the stereo field. This can make casual listening even more enjoyable, but it is equally important when doing studio work.
- High-quality components are also something to watch for. Since the back of the earcups is exposed, you’ll want durable drivers. Dust can find its way in and, over time, cause damage. A quality pouch or case is ideal between studio sessions.
- Another specification to keep in mind is the impedance of the headphones. Many open-back studio headphones will feature a high impedance rating. You’ll need a headphone amp to get the most out of them. If you don’t have one or don’t want to buy one, pick open-back headphones with low impedance.
Closed Back Headphones
The other major group of studio headphones is closed-back. These headphones offer isolation from exterior noise and likewise will leak little to no sound. If you are recording, these are the ideal choice. But they can be equally capable of serious studio work.
Closed-back headphones are great at blocking exterior noise.
Closed-back headphones will have a more cramped soundstage. But they will also often have a more well-rounded and satisfying bass response. Below are the key features to assess when selecting a pair of closed-back studio headphones.
- Strong isolation is the most important feature of closed-back headphones. They should block a good amount of exterior noise. Passive isolation is the most common, but some active noise canceling options are also available.
- Comfort is also crucial. Since closed-back headphones don’t allow the passage of air, there will be heat build-up in your ears. Good ear padding that is comfortable and breathable is ideal for minimizing the impact of this.
- Accurate frequency response is also critical. Since closed-back headphones don’t feature the generous soundstage of open-back options, you’ll want as much accuracy as possible to make correct assessments in the studio.
Budget Studio Headphones
Not everyone can go out and drop hundreds upon hundreds of dollars on premium studio headphones. This is even more of an issue if you are a beginner and you are trying to accumulate a bunch of studio gear at once.
You can save some money when setting up your studio by selecting budget headphones.
Budget headphones will have more shortcomings than top-tier choices. But there is still a range of quality options that won’t break the bank. You’ll need to pay close attention to specific elements more than any other category.
- Just because budget headphones are cheap doesn’t mean they can’t sound great. If your primary goal is to be able to do studio work, the sound quality should trump any of the extra bells and whistles.
- Build quality is another significant feature you’ll need to pay attention to. Cheaper headphones will often not be as robust and often feature a lot of plastic. But not all plastic is the same. Look for thick and tough options that also feature durable components. Otherwise, you may spend more in the long run replacing poor-quality cans.
- Price is an important feature. But you’ll want to stretch your budget as far as possible. Super cheap options will likely not have the sound profile you’ll need for serious studio work.
Budget Open Back Headphones
Continuing with the budget theme, let’s break it down further. Since open-back headphones are the go-to choice for studio headphones, there is a lot of competition in the space for your hard-earned money. As a result, there are several aggressively priced options available.
There are many budget headphones that are great for beginners.
But this competition also leads to a lot of marketing fluff and promises that can often be misleading. These are the crucial features to check if you need open studio headphones that won’t hurt your bank balance.
- Stick to trusted brands that have a reputation for delivering on their promises. It is not hard for a poor-quality brand to claim their headphones are ideal for studio work. But often, this will not be the case. Don’t fall for the marketing fluff, and do your research.
- Replaceable components are another aspect that is ideal for budget headphones. Affordable and easy-to-buy components can extend the lifespan of your headphones. This is especially crucial for ear padding.
- If you are a budget-conscious buyer, you’ll want to maximize the value of your hard-earned money. Look for choices that give you excellent sound quality but also deliver when it comes to construction and component quality.
Budget Closed Back Headphones
The final budget category is for closed-back choices. This can be one of the most challenging segments to scrutinize. There is a staggering amount of closed-back headphones out there. And much like budget open-back headphones, you’ll have to wade through a lot of marketing fluff.
There are several affordable closed-back headphone options available.
If you need closed-back headphones for recording, you can often spend less than you would on your leading open-back studio pair. But that doesn’t mean you should buy the cheapest pair you can get your hands on. Here are a few features to judge before making a decision.
- One of the biggest pitfalls in this category is selecting a pair of headphones that isn’t intended for the studio. Many consumer closed-back headphones will have an unbalanced sound profile. They might be suitable for casual listening or for DJ use, but they won’t be ideal for your studio.
- Closed-back headphones need to prevent sound from leaking. This ensures your recordings are clean. But some budget options will do a better job than others. Look for a secure and firm fit with good padding that provides a tight seal around your ears.
- Cable flexibility is also essential when selecting budget closed-back headphones. Ideally, you want detachable cables. This is important if you are moving around your studio. If your cable hooks on something, it can pull the headphones off your head. Any drop could prove fatal for your headphones. Especially budget headphones that are often not as robust.
Headphones For Music Production
Selecting a quality pair of studio headphones for music production is a significant decision. A solid pair of headphones can be a perfect counterbalance to a pair of studio monitors. Using both in conjunction can ensure you are doing your best work.
You want accurate sound when producing music.
As with any serious bit of studio kit, you need to pay close attention to key features that will make your music production journey smooth and seamless. Below are the top features to factor in.
- Comfort plays a massive role when it comes to music production headphones. You’ll likely be spending hours working on your creations. The last thing you want is uncomfortable headphones that pull you out of your focus zone.
- Accuracy is critical. You’ll be crafting sounds and layering elements. You want those elements to reflect your creative intentions. It also ensures your music will translate well to a variety of systems.
- Often mid-range focused headphones are a solid option for music production. Most of the sounds people will connect with will be within this range. Headphones concentrating on this area will allow you to make the correct decisions when dealing with this critical frequency band.
Headphones For Recording
When looking at headphones for studio recording, they will often share many key features you’d expect from a quality pair of closed-back cans. Supreme sound quality is still important. But you can get away with headphones that are not as balanced as pure production options.
Closed headphones are the ideal choice for recording.
It is also worth determining whether you need these headphones to pull double duty. If you intend on using them for post-recording processes, you’ll have to pay extra attention to how holistic the pair of headphones is.
- Headphones for recording need to offer a tight seal to prevent leakage. The padding should be firm and malleable to adjust to your head shape. Replaceable ear padding is also something to keep an eye out for.
- Long cables are also an important feature to look out for. If you are recording instruments, you’ll want to be able to have freedom of movement so that it doesn’t interfere with your performance.
- A tight and secure fit is ideal for recording headphones. If you are playing an instrument, the last thing you want is your headphones sliding about or falling off your head. Firm clamping force without uncomfortable pressure points is the winning combination.
Headphones For Mixing And Mastering
Serious work demands serious headphones. Mixing and mastering is a critical component across a vast array of fields. Whether that is for music, videos, podcasts, or professional presentations. Your reputation and work depend on you having the right tools to accomplish your goals.
A good pair of headphones can be a game-changer when mixing and mastering.
These headphones, more than any others, need supreme accuracy and detail. Sometimes, they may not be the best for casual listening, but that is not the intended purpose. Leave your biases aside and focus on buying headphones that will do the job.
- Clear and precise audio delivery is integral for mixing and mastering headphones. You want to be able to pick out all the details so you can make appropriate adjustments where required. Sometimes these headphones may seem a little sharp, but it is a worthy tradeoff for accuracy.
- A generous sound stage with good spatial imaging is also paramount. The creative work is already done. Your job is to ensure everything sits harmoniously together in the final piece. An authentic response will ensure you can achieve this.
- Mixing and mastering can be a time-consuming process. And if it is your day job you’ll be working long hours. High comfort levels and a fatigue-free sound profile will make these long sessions more engaging, productive, and pleasurable.
Semi Open Headphones
An often-overlooked category of studio headphones is the semi-open design style. These headphones try to deliver the best of both open and closed-back cans. While often a jack of all trades but master of none, they are an appealing option.
Semi-open headphones can be a good compromise between closed and open-back options.
You’ll enjoy the benefits of some passive isolation while retaining the broader soundstage and breathable ear cups. As these are all-rounders, the overlap in critical features boils down to standard items you would want from a quality pair of studio headphones.
- You’ll want to seek out headphones from high-quality brands. Balancing a sound profile for these combination-style headphones is a tricky task. Established brands will have years of experience crafting the perfect sound that takes advantage of this hybrid design.
- Jack-of-all-trades options like these should also feature flexible cable choices. These adaptable headphones are great for a wide range of tasks, so you want a good selection of cables to go with them.
- Buying a semi-open pair can be a good compromise between buying two separate pairs of headphones. If you can, stretch your budget a little to get the best possible pair you can afford. Remember that you’ll still be spending less than buying two pairs.
Planar Magnetic Headphones
Planar magnetic headphones are one of the most popular choices for audiophiles. But they are not exclusively an option for listening to music. The detailed and precise sound profile makes them a worthy choice for serious studio work.
Planar magnetic headphones offer superb sound quality.
These headphones often feature a higher price point, but considering the advanced technology in use, it isn’t surprising. Below are the pivotal features to watch out for when buying planar magnetic headphones.
- Planar magnetic headphones offer excellent sound quality. But there are variations between models. If you intend on using them in the studio, you’ll want to avoid any pairs that feature a more consumer-friendly sound profile. Neutral delivery is fundamental for studio work.
- Most planar magnetic headphones are a little on the heavier side compared to dynamic driver cans. Due to this increased weight, you’ll need to make sure you select a pair with even weight distribution to provide you with a comfortable fit.
- These audiophile-centric headphones come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The ear cups also tend to be on the larger side. You may need to do a little hunting before finding a pair that suits your style. Especially if you want a somewhat portable pair.
So Many Excellent Choices
There are so many different categories of studio headphones. But they all have one thing in common. To provide you with the best possible sound to accomplish your goals. Every category has something different to offer, and the right one for you will depend on your needs.
No matter which type of headphones you buy, you’ll experience a new world of sound appreciation. If you select a quality pair of studio headphones, you’ll discover new details and intricacies in your favorite music. And for up-and-coming producers or working professionals, a solid pair of studio headphones will make your time in the studio more streamlined and enjoyable.