It can be tough sifting through the avalanche of headphones on the market when trying to find the best studio headphones. In this article, we unpack the 10 best studio headphones of 2019 as well as some tips and tricks to consider when purchasing. We’ve tried to make this article as comprehensive as possible, with options in the budget range as well as high-end studio headphones.
Closed over-ear headphones for professional Studio Mixing
The DT 770 PRO are comfortable and sound exceptional. As a 250-ohm studio headphone, they produce a detailed and clear sound capable of producing high SPL with zero distortion.
Studio Headphone Features to Consider
Before we get into the best studio headphones of 2019, it’s important to understand the metrics we have considered when making our decision. There are some key factors and features you need to take into consideration so you don’t end up with a pair of headphones which could have a detrimental impact on your final mix.
Essentially, finding a studio headphone is actually pretty simple. You want a headphone which produces a non-biased, flat response. What does this mean exactly?
The biggest headphone frequency bias is bass boost made popular by brands like Sony and Beats. While these might be great for listening (if you’re a bass head), they aren’t acceptable for studio mixing. Even if the music is bass heavy like urban or dance genres. For the studio, you’re after a flat sounding headphone. Why? Because you need to hear an accurate representation of the track you’re tracking or mixing. If you decide to mix on bass-heavy headphones, you’ll have so much bass you’ll likely reduce the bass EQ on the mix. If you attenuate the bass to match bass-heavy headphones, when you switch to normal headphones or speakers the bass will more than likely be lower in the mix.
Mixing on a flat headphone will allow you to EQ and balance each track appropriately so that, when switching to any playback device (speakers, stereo system, car or headphones), the mix will sound balanced. Having said that, there’s no harm in having a pair of bass bias headphones in the studio as a listening reference.
Primary Build Material
Unlike standard headphones, where you’re after a listening device and perhaps even a fashion accessory, studio headphones should not be purchased on whether they’re plastic or metal. This is of very little to no importance. The majority of studio headphones are built with plastic so more of the budget can be allocated to the internal electronics. Sound quality is far more important than what the headphones look like.
For example, the Beats Pro is possibly one of the best-built studio headphones we feature in this article. However, the headphones are bass heavy and not the top choice for studio mixing. In contrast, the Sony MDR-7506 are made of PU leather and plastic. The headphone has been around for decades and considered an industry standard by many live and studio engineers.
Headphone impedance is another important point to consider when selecting your studio headphones. Impedance is a form of electrical resistance. This is determined by the headphone voice coil within the speaker. Low impedance headphones can be driven by just about any device and high impedance headphones require a headphone amp or sound card.
Mobile devices work well with low impedance headphones. Generally speaking, this will be from around 8 – 32 ohms, however, your mobile device can work somewhat efficiently with headphones up to around 60 ohms before they start to battle against the headphone resistance.
32 – 100 ohms is a bit of a gray area but these headphones will work well with guitar amps, keyboards, budget sound cards, and some PCs. From 100 ohms to 600 ohms is where most professional studio headphones reside, however, many of the popular studio headphones sit between 40 – 60 ohms.
So, what will happen if you mismatch your impedance? If you have a high impedance headphone, like the Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO 250 Ohm and you plug it into your mobile device you’ll likely not hear much, even if you turn the volume up full. In simple terms, the high impedance of the headphones is too much resistance against the mobile device’s low powered output.
If you plug a low impedance headphone into a high powered output (like a headphone amplifier or professional audio interface), you’re likely to overdrive the headphones thus causing distortion which could result in damaging the headphones permanently.
The benefit of using a high impedance headphone with the correct high powered output (also called impedance matching) typically drives a better bandwidth of frequencies and thus a more detailed, clearer sound. This clarity and detail is what you want when mixing audio tracks to get an accurate soundstage.
You can still use a 40 – 100-ohm headphones on these high powered outputs but you’d want to avoid overdriving. Anything under 40 ohms is not recommended at all.
Open-Back vs Closed-Back Headphones
The most common type of headphones is the closed back. For most applications, including studio mixing, closed-back headphones are more than adequate. Open-back headphones offer a more superior spatial sound image. But why?
Bass is omnidirectional. This means the bass doesn’t just travel out the front of the speaker but the rear and sides too. In closed-back headphones, this causes some reflection off the back of the ear cup which colors the sound. This coloration is so fine that most of us won’t even notice, however, some mixing requires perfect clarity and detail with as little coloration as possible. Open-back headphones allow the frequencies to travel freely resulting in less coloration and a more accurate sound image.
This is why high-end audiophile headphones are open-back. The sound produced is said to be pure and accurate. Closed back headphones produce some coloration but the bass will often sound tighter and more punchy as the back acts as a speaker enclosure. Open-back headphones can be good and bad for the studio. To get an initial mix, you may want to use a pair of open-back headphones. Mixing with open back will allow you to pick out detail, EQ and compress extremely accurately. The downside is that most people don’t listen on headphones or speakers with this sort of detail, so when you switch to closed-back or regular speakers, the mix will sound completely different. For this reason, some professional engineers will use a couple pairs of headphones (open and closed) to get a more balanced mix or, only use closed back headphones.
If you were to use an open-back headphone in the studio, you would only ever want them for mixing. With the open-back, the headphones bleed a lot of sound. Using these while recording will bleed into the microphone and color the sound. For this reason, you only want to use a closed-back headphone with as much passive isolation as possible when recording.
Should I Use Wireless Headphones in the Studio?
The short answer – NO! Copper cable over wireless headphones every time. The wireless technology in headphones incorporates compression which effects frequency range, tone, and ultimately sound quality. If you EQ a mix on a pair of wireless headphones and then switch you cable headphones, you’ll find you have had to compensate for missing frequencies resulting in a messy final mix. NEVER use wireless headphones in the studio.