All upcoming hip-hop artist should know the power of good studio headphones for their home recording studio. Headphones put you in a bubble with just you and the music – an essential part of being in the studio. The market for headphones is huge and with the entry of so many brands trying to be the trendiest, it can be difficult to find professional models for your studio. Today we’re talking true studio headphones, instead of the kind you’ll find at Walmart.
What Are Studio Headphones?
Studio headphones are the mother of all headphones. Just like professional studio monitors, they’re built for professional use, rather than recreational use. They’re built with comfort and strength in mind to take into account the long hours spent wearing them and they should be able to isolate external sound (Closed back headphones).
Why Are Studio Headphones Important?
Unlike regular headphones where the bass and other frequencies are increased to please your ears, studio headphones keep the music sounding exactly as it sound without effects. You need this when you’re recording or mixing so that the you’re producing the most authentic and accurate sound for your music possible. They don’t replace a studio monitor, they just do different things. For instance, studio headphones are really helpful when you’re listening to smaller details in a mix.
What Studio Headphones Should I Buy?
Firstly, let’s figure out what you want to use the headphones for:
Mixing – Open back headphones allow for a more natural sound by letting some outside noise in and not letting the bass frequency build up.
Recording – Closed back headphones are better for recording because they do the exact opposite. They don’t let external noise in so it completely isolates what you’re hearing. These are the type of headphones we’ll be covering in this article (with the exception of one hybrid).
Tips For Buying Studio Headphones
Once you’ve decided what kind of headphones you need, you’ll be looking at headphones with different sound quality, durability and comfort. There will be headphones with extra features that may seem appealing but I would recommend sticking to just the most important features.
Then you need to decide on a budget and what you’d be willing to compromise on – can you forego a bit of comfort for better sound quality? Or do you just want a good all-rounder?
This will help you work through my product recommendations below to narrow down the style you like.
1. Audio Technica ATH – M50x
Why buy the ATH – M50x?
- Great price in its class
- Bass sound is second to none
- Good stereo imaging
- Super comfortable – they may not be sleek and stylish but they make up for it in plenty of cushioning and large ear pads to spread the pressure
Why not buy the ATH – M50x?
- Bass is also a con, it can get a little overbearing
- Isolation is not as good as it could be
Additional information about the ATH – M50x?
- Proprietary 45 mm large-aperture drivers with rare earth magnets and copper-clad aluminum wire voice coils
- Exceptional clarity throughout an extended frequency range, with deep, accurate bass response
- Circumaural design contours around the ears for excellent sound isolation in loud environments
- 90° swiveling earcups for easy, one-ear monitoring, professional-grade earpad and headband material delivers more durability and comfort. Detachable cable
The sound quality overall on this updated model from Audio Technica, is excellent. If an all-rounder is what you’re after, this is it. They’re not the most stylish headphones on the market, but they don’t pretend to be – they’re unashamedly plastic and proud of it. Their only fault lies in isolation, an unusual issue for such a large pair of over-ear headphones.
Where to buy the ATH – M50x?
2. Sennheiser HD280 Pro
Why buy the Sennheiser HD280 Pro?
- Quality construction, these are built to last
- Produce a flat, accurate sound
- Secure and comfortable fit for long periods of time
Why not buy the Sennheiser HD280 Pro?
- Cable isn’t detachable
- Not the best looking headphones on the market
Additional information about the Sennheiser HD280 Pro?
- Dynamic, closed-ear headphones with up to 32 dB attenuation of outside sound
- Lightweight and comfortable, ergonomic design, Cord Length – 3.3 – 9.8 feet Coiled
- Extended frequency response and warm, natural sound reproduction
- Around-the-ear design with padded earcups
- Earpads, headband padding, and audio cord are easily replaceable, ensuring long life
- Dynamic, closed-ear headphones with up to 32 dB attenuation of outside sound
- Lightweight and comfortable, ergonomic design
When the only cons are about looks and a cable, you know I’m finding it hard to find fault with these headphones. The number one reason to purchase these headphones – you can rely on them for accurate sound. If things start to distort, it usually means you need to adjust your mix, not your headphones. So basically they do their job. Really well.
Where to buy the Sennheiser HD280 Pro?
3. Sony MDR7506
Why buy the Sony MDR7506?
- Super cheap and built to last the distance
- Great design – light but sturdy
- Fantastic sound quality and isolation
Why not buy the Sony MDR7506?
- Non-detachable cable
- Not uncomfortable but not as padded as others in the same price range
Additional information about the Sony MDR7506?
- Neodymium magnets and 40mm drivers for powerful, detailed sound
- Closed-ear design provides comfort and outstanding reduction of external noises
- 9.8-foot cord ends in gold-plated plug; 1/4-inch adapter included
- Folds up for storage or travel in provided soft case
- Frequency Response: 10Hz – 20 kHz
- 9.8-foot coiled cord and it is not detachable
You won’t find any extra bells and whistles with the Sony MDR7506, but nor will you find the higher price tag that tends to go with these. This pair is all about value for money – great sound quality and great price. A good go-to to kick things off before you move onto a pair with all of the mod-cons.
Where to buy the Sony MDR7506?
4. Beyerdynamic DT880
Why buy the Beyerdynamic DT880?
- A cut above in this league, a truly dynamic, first class set of headphones
- Semi-open design – combines attributes of closed and open headphones
- Professional look and feel
- Very well-built for comfort and durability
Why not buy the Beyerdynamic DT880?
- Not that great for recording due to being semi-open (but there’s a hack below to somewhat solve this)
Additional information about the Beyerdynamic DT880?
- High-end semi-open headphones with true sound definition and phenomenal bass response
- Reproduces immersive three-dimensional acoustics with 5 Hz to 35 kHz frequency response
- Combines best of open and closed technologies to reproduce complete sound spectrum
- Single-sided cable, replaceable soft ear pads, and padded headband for comfort
- 1/8-Inch gold-plated stereo mini jack and 1/4-inch adapter
The pros and cons list sums it up – this comes down to a question of budget. Almost twice as expensive as some of the other models in this list, you have to weigh up if the extra quality features are sufficiently worth the money, particularly when some of the cheaper models still do a great job for what you want in the studio. The main reason these headphones were placed on this list was because of a hack that allows you to have the best of both worlds (both open and closed headphones). When recording vocals, you should tape the ‘open’ part of the headphones. This will reduce the amount of audio leakage. It won’t make it perfectly quiet, but it will help. Then, when it’s time for you to start mixing said recording, remove the tape and enjoy the quality that comes from open-back headphones.
Where to buy the Beyerdynamic DT880?
Skill > Equipment
Bear in mind that these options are all great headphones and you can’t go wrong with any of them. They produce sound quality that is good for recording, equalizing, and mixing and they don’t compromise too much on other features like comfort and durability. None of them are kitted out with state of the art extra features, but then they don’t need to be. My suggestion is, invest in one of these picks and put the extra money you’ve saved into more pieces for your studio, such as a professional studio microphone or professional audio interface.