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Not all headphones are made for recreation. Some are made for producing music, and that means not just any pair of headphones will do. When you are a professional audiophile or creative, the requirements for your studio headphones are a little more discerning than your average pair.
"When it comes to selecting headphones, there are abundant options available, but for professional usage, studio headphones are the best choices," says Sayan Dutta, Co-Founder and Editor of Speaker Scape.
Before you go making an investment, however, it is important to know which studio headphones are best for your needs. I talked to experts in the audio and music industries and scoured the market to find you the very best studio headphones you can buy today.
Also: The best headphones you can buy right now
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x tech specs: Design: Over-ear | Driver size: 45 millimeters | Sensitivity: 98 decibels | Maximum input power: 1600 megawatts | Frequency: 15-28,000 hertz
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Studio Headphones are the overall best studio headphones you can buy today.
Lorenzo Brizzo is a music producer and MusicTech entrepreneur with Bravo & Brave, the first music theory search engine. He endorses this set, explaining, "The product is perfect for studio listening with excellent noise isolation. We value a sound experience that is in between a pro listener (us) and a casual one (our users), and the ATH-M50x is able to provide that."
These over-ear wired headphones come with a set of three different cord lengths, so you can choose the wire that is best for you. With 45mm large-aperture drivers and aluminum wire voice coils, you receive strong bass matched by an expansive frequency range for greater clarity and detail.
Comfortable sound isolation pads mean these are perfect for the studio, blocking out unnecessary noise so you can focus on what is important. When you are done listening, they are easy to store with their 90-degree swiveling, collapsible design.
These studio headphones can easily tolerate hours of use with extra convenience, too, adds Alex Mak, guitarist and graduate of Berklee College of Music. "The M50x is comfortable for long sessions, has a handy detachable cord, and is fairly portable with swivel earcups. If you value a great casual listening experience as well as monitoring, the M50x are my preferred headphones."
Audio-Technica ATH-M20x tech specs: Design: Over-ear | Driver size: 40 millimeters | Sensitivity: 96 decibels | Maximum input power: 700 megawatts | Frequency: 15-20,000 hertz
The Audio-Technica ATH-M20x headphones also comes highly recommended as the best budget studio headphones when you do not want to spend a lot.
"The M20x is Audio Technica's cheapest option," Mak says, introducing the set. "They are quite neutral sounding with some high-frequency boosting. For mixing on a budget in a space where you're unable to have monitor speakers, the M20x is a great option."
They are also fantastic as an entry-level set. The over-ear wired headphones come with a closed back, and the lightweight fit is complimented by carefully-padded cushions for extended wear. Maxing out at 96 decibels, the 40mm drivers are sensitive to lower frequencies for studio tracking and mixing. Built-in sound isolation is incorporated with what Audio-Technica promises is minimal bleed.
Dutta adds, "If you are looking for a more affordable option, the Audio-Technica ATH-M20x is a great alternative. While they do not offer the same level of audio accuracy as their high-end counterparts, these headphones still deliver exceptional sound quality and a comfortable fit.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M20x also come with a carry pouch, making them a convenient option for people who travel frequently.
However, "You cannot detach their cord, and they're less comfortable than their bigger siblings," Mak warns.
Meze Audio Empyrean tech specs: Design: Over-ear | Driver type: Isodynamic Hybrid Array driver | Sensitivity: 100 decibels | Frequency: 4-110,000 hertz
The Meze Audio Empyrean is the best splurge for studio headphones, thanks to an incredibly detailed and impressive design.
ZDNET contributor Andrada Fiscutean wrote in her review of these headphones that, "Empyrean is the brainchild of Romania-based designer Antonio Meze, who wanted to create a product that would be sophisticated yet simple."
The Empyrean are a type of lightweight planar magnetic headphones that are surprisingly lightweight with an aluminum build. With spiraled voice coils, it shines in the mid-range so you can hear individual notes in all their glory.
Read the review: World's best headphones? The Cold War story behind these high-end products
The proprietary Isodynamic Hybrid Array driver is exclusive to Meze Audio and maintains a pronounced focus on direct sound wave frequencies over a 10kHz range. There is also minimal total harmonic distortion (THD), measuring below 0.1% in the frequency range for improved clarity and sound.
The sheer class of the design is matched by its strong performance, offering an experience you can enjoy through and through.
Meze Audio 109 Pro tech specs: Design: Open-back | Sensitivity: 112 decibels | Frequency: 5-30,000 hertz | Impedance: 40 ohms
The Meze Audio 109 Pro studio headphones are bigger than the 99 Classics with a larger design that is built with comfort in mind. These studio headphones have a pronounced focus on value and quality with premium construction that promises durability to last the long haul.
The open-back headphones pack impressive 50mm forward-sounding dynamic drivers with strong bass you can actually feel. In addition to fantastic clarity and detail, this pair is also compatible with Dolby Atmos audio for more pristine audio. It boasts a maximum sensitivity of 112 decibels for louder playback.
Connectivity is great, too. Two detachable wires are included with your purchase, one extra-long and one short, to suit the moment. There is also a quarter-inch adapter available that you can use to connect to other devices.
Oversized open-air ear cups are made of dark walnut wood and housed in a magnesium steel headband, complete with a spring-suspension system for a better fit. Super-soft ear cups are lined with velour for extra comfort and are designed to be oversized for a generous fit.
Sony MDR-7506 tech specs: Design: Over-ear | Driver size: 40 millimeters | Sensitivity: 106 decibels | Maximum input power: 1000 megawatts | Frequency: 10-20,000 hertz
If you are looking for a great buy, the Sony MDR-7506 Studio Headphones pack phenomenal value. Emilio Guarino, a classically trained bass player and current Music Producer and Engineer at Glitch Magic, shares his thoughts. "The Sony MDR, in particular, is a very trusted staple at this point and has been around since the early 90s, so it's a proven design."
Mak agrees. "The MDR-7506 are a common sight in live and studio settings," he says. "They're comfortable, lightweight, and fairly flat-sounding in the midrange."
These large diaphragm headphones are designed for the studio. The neodymium magnet is a complement to the 40mm drivers, which help run the spectrum from highs to lows for stunning clarity. The design is further highlighted by gold connectors and an oxygen-free copper cord for excellent sound with fantastic detail.
There is also built-in external noise reduction to cut down on distracting background noise that can interfere with your overall listening experience.
They feature a closed-ear design with a rugged build that is designed to offer greater durability. The enclosed cord is nearly 10 feet long, allowing for greater movement, and the quarter-inch adapter provides better connectivity. Plus, they are easily foldable when it comes time to put them away.
If you want the best studio headphones on the market today, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Studio Headphones are your pick. They are user-friendly and reliable while providing phenomenal noise isolation so you can focus on the task at hand without any distractions. The fantastic noise isolation is an extra bonus that serves as the icing on the cake.
To see how it compares, this is a look at the best studio headphones.
Best studio headphones
Meze Audio Empyrean
Meze Audio 109 Pro
Before you buy, consider your needs and what you need from a pair of headphones. If you are feeling a little confused as to which studio headphones are best for you, these suggestions can help.
Choose these best studio headphones...
If you want...
Value and affordability, all in one. These studio headphones offer excellent features matched by a reliable performance you can count on.
An affordable pair of studio headphones. You don't have to break the bank to find a fantastic pair of studio headphones.
Meze Audio Empyrean
To splurge. These studio headphones are a top-of-the-line model that is a perfect choice when you have a little more to spend.
Meze Audio 109 Pro
A comfortable set of studio headphones designed to wear for long periods of time. The extra cushioning and thoughtful design mean hours of enjoyable listening.
Excellent value. This pair is a mainstay among the best studio headphones, and they are affordable, too.
When searching for the best studio headphones, I used several factors to formulate my list that may also help with your search.
Type of headphones: There are two main types of headphones: open-back and closed-back. Mak explains the difference. "The vast majority of headphones are closed-back, meaning their ear cups isolate sound in both directions," he says. "Open-back headphones let air pass through their ear cups, preventing low frequencies from building up inside the headphones, theoretically creating a flatter, more natural sound. In monitoring situations where sound isolation is important or in loud environments, open-back headphones are not a great choice."
Purpose: Consider how you plan to use your headphones. Different headphones may work better for specific purposes. For example, experts recommend open-back headphones for mixing, while closed-back headphones shine when used for producing and recording music. Durability is also an important factor should you travel a lot or live an otherwise active life.
Fit: There are both on-ear and over-ear studio headphones, depending on the fit you prefer. On-ear headphones simply fit over your ear, while over-ear studio headphones envelop your whole ear for a tighter fit. While over-ear studio headphones provide better noise isolation, on-ear headphones are generally more compact, making for easier storage.
Price: The cost of studio headphones can range from less than a hundred dollars to more than one thousand. I looked at headphones that suit a variety of budgets, helping to ensure that there is something for everyone.
I also spoke to experts in the music and audio industries who recommend/have used these studio headphones in a professional setting.
Mak said studio headphones are best for professionals working with sound or music.
"In a professional situation, studio headphones are most common for monitoring when a musician listens to sound while they record," explains Mak. "This isolates the sounds being recorded from what the user is listening to, creating cleaner recordings."
He adds that studio headphones can be used for mixing recorded audio and balancing multiple sound sources, but warns, "they generally sound less accurate than monitor speakers, the professional standard."
If you are a musician that mixes or records music, a pair of the best studio headphones can completely transform your process and lead to a better finished product when it's all said and done.
Guarino is familiar with studio headphones as an experienced musician and explains the difference between regular headphones and studio ones.
"The biggest single difference between 'studio' headphones and consumer-focused headphones is how they color the sound. Generally in the studio, we want a neutral representation of what we're hearing."
Of regular headphones, Guarino says, "They're designed to enhance the listening experience of a finished product, not for putting the product together."
While standard headphones are designed to provide easy listening, studio headphones provide extra features like enhanced noise isolation to better serve professionals and creatives.
"The most important thing to know about studio headphones is that they offer a flat frequency response, which means the audio output is absolutely neutral without exaggerating any frequencies," describes Dutta. "This makes them ideal for audio professionals to mix, master, and edit audio tracks without any distortion."
John Harris, Store Manager and Purchaser for Starsound Audio, Inc., adds his own endorsement. "A good pair of studio headphones, such as the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x or the Sony MDR-7506, will give you a much more accurate mix than a pair of consumer headphones."
The best studio headphones truly run the gamut in cost. You can expect to pay anywhere from about $50 to $3,000, depending on the pair you choose. Before you buy, consider your level of experience and whether an advanced pair of studio headphones is necessary for your purposes.
There are plenty of other studio headphones available in a wide variety of brands, price points, and features. While searching for the best studio headphones, I also found these options that may be worth a second look.
These studio headphones ditch the wires and offer better freedom of movement instead.
Improve noise isolation thanks to the high-performance balanced armature drivers that are precision matched to within 1 dB.
These highly-recommended studio headphones from Sennheiser almost made our top picks.
Considering other types of headphones? Check out the best wired headphones, the best wireless headphones, and the best over-ear headphones!