The Highest Rated Headphone Brands - The Musician Perspective
If you're new to using headphones for music production, or if you'd like to know which brands of headphones musicians use even if you're not a musician, then this is for you.
Note that this selection of the top headphone brands isn't based upon a single opinion, instead it's based on the opinions expressed in the 57,800+ ratings and reviews we analyzed - you can read more about that in the Methodology section below.
The Top 7 Headphone Brands
AKG began when a physicist and an engineer, who had been supplying equipment to movie theaters together since 1945 in Austria, incorporated under the name Akustische und Kino-Geräte Gesellschaft m.b.H. in 1949. It was bought out by Harman in 1994 which was in turn taken over by Samsung in 2017 who remain the ultimate owners today.
They began making headphones in 1949 and at that time their market was primarily professionals making AKG one of the longest standing professional headphone brands. Along the way they also invented the dynamic cardioid microphone in 1953.
These days they are still known for their high-end headphones in addition to being one of the leading microphone brands for music and pro audio production. Some notable artists and producers that use AKG headphonese are Bootsy Collins, Steve Pageot, Sweet Sweet Moon and Ghost Capsules.
A good example of their entry-level headphones is the AKG K240 semi-open model which is good for for mixing.
Compared to AKG, the American company Samson Technologies is a relative newcomer having been founded in 1980 at which time they began by making microphones for professional use.
They expanded into other pro audio products in the 1990's to include mixers, amplifiers and signal processors and eventually began producing USB mics and headphones.
These days their headphones are used by both professionals and consumers with some of the notable artists using Samson headphones including Anvil, Constantine Maroulis, Rich Redmond (drummer for Jason Aldean), Rami Beatz, Producer Big Duke, Dead Poet Society, Mark Mendoza, Sarah Packiam and Pablo Stennett (bassist for Ziggy Marley).
One of their highly rated but affordable options is their semi-open-back Samson SR850.
5. KRK Systems
At the time of publication, KRK Systems was owned by Gibson Brands, however that could change at some point due to Gibson's May 2018 bankruptcy.
KRK are famous for their incredibly successful lines of studio monitors (here's a list of some of their more notable studio monitor users), and they have leveraged that expertise into making studio headphones.
Their most highly rated option currently available is the KRK KNS 8400 which have been designed to be used in place of studio monitors when you need to work in silence.
Sennheiser, originally named Laboratorium Wennebostel, was founded by Fritz Sennheiser just after the war ended in 1945 in the town of Wedemark, Hanover, Lower Saxony, Germany. Sennheiser is different from many other music gear manufacturers in that it hasn't sold to another company and is still owned by the Sennheiser family and is still located in its original home town today.
Although they were originally known for their microphones, they became leaders in headphones when they introduced the world's first commercially available open-back headphones back in 1968.
Sennheiser continues to be a leading brand in both microphones and headphones, and a perfect example of their success in the music business are their open-back HD 600 headphones which are highly regarded for their transparency and wide soundstage making them excellent for use in studios.
Audio-Technica was founded in Tokyo in 1962 by Hideo Matsushita where the company initially made a name for itself producing phonograph cartridges - better known as record player pickups today.
It wasn't until 1974 that they got into producing headphones when they debuted their AT-700 series.
Some of the award winning producers, engineers and artists that have use Audio-Technica headphones includes David Cole, Ian Moore, George Massenburg and Ed Cherney just to name a few.
Audio-Technica has continued to innovate in the area of studio equipment, including microphones as well as headphones, and in 2015 they introduced the very successful ATH-R70x reference headphones which are used in studios up to this day.
Sony currently makes a range of professional headphones that can be found in both home and professional recording studios.
Sony is best described as a conglomerate rather than a company and are active across a wide range of industries and product lines. They were founded in Tokyo in 1946 and have had a history too detailed to summarize here, so if you're interested you can read about their past on their official history page.
Some of their headphone innovations include the first in-ear headphones in 1982, the first to use bio-cellulose diaphragms in 1988, the first neckband headphones.in 1997 and the first digital noise canceling headphones in 2008.
A great example of their current headphones is their closed back MDR-7506 which are used by musicians, recording professionals and also by consumers who want the kind of sound quality trained ears expect.
Beyerdynamic was founded in 1924 in Berlin and lays claim to being the oldest audio equipment manufacturer in business today - in fact they are still owned by the Beyer family that founded it.
They started out making speakers for use in cinema theaters and branched out into making dynamic headphones with their DT48 model in 1937, a model which they kept in production, largely unchanged, until 2013. There are very few music products that have enjoyed such a long life which tells you something about the company's product quality.
Their first studio microphone was the M19 which went into production in 1939. Since that time (not counting a pause in production during World War 2) Beyerdynamic has been one of the leading brands for professional microphones and headphones and have been used by artists including The Beatles, Abba, Bob Dylan, Joe Bonamassa and Iron Maiden's Nicko McBrain.
At the time of publication, their highest rated set of professional headphones was the open back DT 1990 Pro premium model which is used for mixing and mastering.
Commonly found in home studios are their more affordable DT 770 PRO closed back models which at time of publication included the 250 ohm version that was the highest rated set of closed back headphones for recording.
Headphone Brand Analysis & Ranking Methodology
This process was designed to weed out the options that are not typically used by musicians and identify and rate those headphone brands which are highly regarded within the home studio enthusiast and audio engineering communities.
- Eligibility Criteria: Each brand had to have headphones sold online by an American retailer with a significant Pro Audio or Music Equipment department, and each set of headphones had to have been eligible for one of the following musician focused headphone guides whether or not we recommended them in any of our Music Gear Guides:
- Short-listed: 65 sets of headphones from these brands: AKG - Audio-Technica - Avantone Pro - Behringer - Beyerdynamic - CAD Audio - Direct Sound - Focal - KRK Systems - LyxPro - Marantz Professional - PreSonus - Roland - Samson - Sennheiser - Shure - Sony - Status Audio - Tascam - Yamaha.
- Rating & Review Sources: 57,800+ This included 5 star ratings, written reviews, forum discussions, video and magazine reviews by musicians, home recording enthusiasts & music producers as well as professional audio recording engineers.
- The Process: Ratings and reviews were researched and analyzed by 3 members of our team, with the resulting data processed using the Gearank Algorthm to produce a rating score out of 100 for each set of headphones - you can see most of those individual ratings in the Music Gear Database. The individual ratings were grouped by brand and used to produce an overall weighted average rating for each brand which was then modified by a success factor derived from the number of recommendations each brand has received in our heaphone guides as a result of their high individual product ratings (this excluded any special selections or recommendations made by us). Finally, the short-list of brands was sorted by overall brand ratings and the results published above. For more information about our methods please read How Gearank Works.
Whether or not you're a musician, you won't go wrong choosing one of the brands or models we have mentioned above. If you have any questions or suggestions about using headphones from a musician perspective then please feel free to comment below.