The Best Closed-Back Headphones for Recording

The best closed back headphones for recording

Closed headphones are essential for any recording setup to prevent spill into live microphones while tracking. The following list of recommended headphones are all circumaural (they cover your ears completely) and are designed specifically for use in recording rather than for standard consumer applications, although audiophiles will appreciate their high level of performance.

Methodology

I looked at customer feedback for over 30 sets of closed-back headphones then selected the 16 most promising options to process in detail for Gearank scores. I then selected the ones to recommend which have the highest Gearank scores in each of the price brackets below. For more information see How Gearank Works.

Things to Consider When Buying Headphones For Recording

  • Tracking

    When it comes to tracking, that is recording a new track while listening to a mix in your headphones, the best option is to go for closed-back headphones because they have the best sound isolation and prevent the mix you're listening to from spilling over into the live microphones you're recording with.

  • Mixing / Mastering

    Although most experts agree that open-back headphones are best for monitoring and mixing in cases where you don't want to use studio monitors, advances in headphone technology in recent years means that some closed-back headphones can also perform reasonably well in this role meaning that getting a single set of closed-back headphones to use for both tracking and monitoring is a viable option if you're on a limited budget.

  • Comfort

    This is a very subjective topic. If you are only going to be using your headphones for less than an hour at a time then you don't have to worry too much, but if you'll be using them for many hours continuously then you'll need to consider how comfortable a set of headphones are likely to be for you. In some cases manufacturers supply data on how much force the ear cups are pushed towards each other with, but the resulting pressure will be different on different heads and ears because pressure is a function of both the force and the resulting surface area of the cups on your head. Different weights also have different perceptions of comfort with different people. If there's a particular brand or design that's worked well for you in the past then choose something similar, otherwise read what other's have to say, or if possible try actually wearing a particular set before you buy them.

  • Breaking In

    Many professional headphones don't sound at their best when you first take them out of the box, you generally need to run them for 12 to 24 hours for the drivers to 'loosen up' to their optimum level for use. If you don't do this then you might find they sound a bit harsh during their first few hours of use.

  • Budget

    You can jump straight to the price bracket that suits your budget:

Best Closed Headphones Under $100

The following closed-back headphones are the ones with the highest Gearank scores which are designed for use in recording and range in price from $69 to $99.99. If you're looking for something less expensive then the best alternative is the Sennheiser HD 202 II with a street price which is usually under $35.

Audio-Technica ATH-M40x

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 1200+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$99
Audio-Technica ATH-M40x Professional Closed-Back Headphones

The Audio-Technica M series of headphones are designed for monitoring and also work well for tracking.

The ear cups swivel allowing for one ear monitoring.

Specifications:

  • Driver Size: 40mm
  • Magnet Type: Neodymium
  • Frequency Response: 15 Hz to 20 kHz
  • Impedance: 35 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 98 dB
  • Max Input Power: 1,600 mW
  • Weight: 240g (8.5 oz) without cable and connector
  • Connectivity: Two detachable cables - coiled 1.2m to 3.0m (3.9' - 9.8') and straight 3.0m + 6.3 mm (1/4") screw-on adapter

Pros

Many owners say that these headphones produce a relatively flat response making them quite good for mixing as well as tracking. Several also report that they can wear them for several hours without getting sore ears.

Cons

A few people reported that they broke more easily than expected - this appears to be a problem if you twist the cups in the wrong direction.

Overall

In general customers report that these are excellent value for the price.

If the price of these headphones is a little too high for you then check out the slightly lower spec'd but cheaper Audio-Technica ATH-M30x below.

Sony MDR-7506

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 5050+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$100
Sony MDR-7506 Closed-Back Headphones

These have long been Sony's most popular budget headphones for both professional tracking and mixing and can be found in many home and professional recording studios.

They're designed to be foldable and come with a soft case.

Specifications:

  • Driver Size: 40mm
  • Magnet Type: Neodymium
  • Frequency Response: 10 Hz to 20 kHz
  • Impedance: 63 Ohms
  • Sensitivity: 106 dB
  • Max Input Power: 1,000 mW
  • Weight: 8.1 oz
  • Connectivity: 9.8 ft cable with 1/4" and 1/8" plugs

Pros

The positive reviews are consistent in saying that they have a great flat response and produce a level high clarity when used for monitoring. They also report that they're a durable set of headphones.

Cons

There were a few people who complained that the coiled cable can get tangled with itself into a knot which is hard to untangle.

Overall

These have been the industry standard in this price range for many years so you can't really go wrong getting them for home or pro studio use.

Audio-Technica ATH-M30x

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 950+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$69
Audio-Technica ATH-M30x Closed-Back Headphones

These are Audio-Technica's cheaper alternative to the ATH-M40x above, and are also designed for both tracking and mixing, but if you are going to be doing a lot of mixing with headphones only then I'd suggest going with the ATH-M40x above.

Specifications:

  • Driver Size:40 mm
  • Magnet Type: Neodymium
  • Frequency Response: 15 Hz to 22 kHz
  • Impedance: 47 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 96 dB
  • Max Input Power: 1,300 mW
  • Weight: 220 g (7.8 oz), without cable and connector
  • Connectivity: 3.0 m (9.8') straight cable with 1/8" plug and 1/4" screw on adapter plug as well.

Pros

Most reviewers who had upgraded from cheaper headphones were very impressed with the sound of these. Many home recording studio owners say these are excellent for tracking and are also good for mixing demos.

Cons

A few owners say that the frequency response is not flat enough for professional mixing.

Overall

At this price the Audio-Technica ATH-M30x is the best set of closed-back headphones to use for tracking and even mixing demos.

Sennheiser HD 280 Pro

89
GEARANK

89 out of 100. Incorporating 3850+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$100
Sennheiser HD 280 Pro Studio Headphones

These have been Sennheiser's most popular headphones with home recording enthusiasts for years and they continue to sell well at most online music gear stores..

They are designed to be collapsible and have swivel ear cups.

Specifications:

  • Magnet Type: Neodymium
  • Frequency Response: 8 Hz to 25 kHz
  • Impedance: 64 Ohms
  • Sensitivity: 102 dB
  • Max Input Power: 500 mW
  • Weight: 7.8 oz (220g) without cable
  • Connectivity: 9.8' cable with 1/8" plug and 1/4" adapter

Pros

Customer reviews center around the quality of the audio and the durability of the product. In fact many reviewers compared the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro favorably with the industry standard Sony MDR-7506 (above) often stating that the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro has a clearer sound. They are well liked for both monitoring and tracking.

Cons

Some owners complained that these feel 'tight' on their heads. Some also complained that they are heavy, however they are lighter than many of the headphones in this price range.

Overall

These have been popular home recording headphones for a long time because of their versatility in terms of both monitoring and tracking.

Best Closed Headphones Under $200

In the price range between $100 and $200 there are two outstanding options and both of them are presented below. There were two other options which had a Gearank score of 89: the Shure SRH840, and the KNS 8400 from KRK which they manufacture to sound similar to their studio monitors.

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 3650+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$169
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Professional Monitor Headphones

This is Audio-Technica's third appearance in our closed-back headphone guide - a testament to the high regard this brand's headphones have.

The ATH-M50x model has larger drivers than the models we've looked at so far and these help with providing a solid bass response without it being out of proportion to the mids and highs.

Specifications:

  • Driver Size: 45 mm
  • Magnet Type: Neodymium
  • Frequency Response: 15 Hz to 28 kHz
  • Impedance: 38 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 99 dB
  • Max Input Power: 1,600 mW
  • Weight: 10 oz (285 g) without cable and connector
  • Connectivity: 3 cables in total - Detachable 9.8' (3 m) straight and coiled cables + a single 3.9' (1.2 m) straight cable all with 1/8" plugs + a 1/4" screw-on adapter.

Pros

Expert reviewers, audio engineers, and regular home recording enthusiasts all praise the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x for sound quality and durability. Customer reviews also talk about them having a tight bass sound while having a realistic response for the mids and highs.

Cons

A few people complained about the ear cups having fake leather, however this was also a feature that appealed to vegans. Some complained about the proprietary cord locking connector - this means you can't use a generic replacement cord.

Overall

These are used for tracking and reference monitoring in professional studios and for complete monitoring and mastering and tracking in home studios. As you can see from the large number of rating sources we found, these are a very popular choice.

Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro - 250 Ohms

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 2200+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$199
Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO Closed-Back Headphones

The DT 770 Pro series comes in 3 options: 32 Ohms for consumer use, 80 Ohms designed specifically for tracking in recording studios, and this 250 Ohms version designed specifically for mixing in recording studios.

These are also used for tracking in addition to mixing and mastering, however if you're only going to use them for tracking then the slightly cheaper 80 Ohms version is a better choice.

Specifications:

  • Driver Size: 45 mm
  • Frequency Response: 5 Hz to 35 kHz
  • Impedance: 250 Ohms
  • Sensitivity: 96 dB
  • Max Input Power: 100 mW
  • Weight: 270g without cable (0.55 lbs)
  • Connectivity: 3 m coiled cable with a gold plated 1/8" plug and 1/4" adapter.

Pros

Many professional audio engineers say these are the best mixing headphones they've used, a claim supported by many home recording enthusiasts as well. Many customer reviews also say these are very comfortable with no ear fatigue after hours of continuous use. The sound accuracy and flat frequency response also get many positive comments.

Cons

A few people complained about the fact the cord is not detachable, however few people said the cord needs replacing. Most of the complaints came from people identifying as consumers rather than recording enthusiasts and their complaints primarily centered around the lack of additional bass - this is something that is actually desired from a mixing point of view.

Overall

These are one of the most popular set of headphones for mixing that I found when doing research for this gear guide.

Best Closed Headphones Under $300

There weren't any headphones that received high enough Gearank scores in this price range for me to recommend them - the highest score was for Audio-Technica ATH-M70x which usually have a street price of $299.

Best Closed Headphones Under $500

There was only 1 set of headphones in this price range that could be recommended based on Gearank scores, however an honorable mention goes to the cheaper Focal Spirit which usually sells for under $350.

Shure SRH1540

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 90+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$499
Shure SRH1540 Mastering & Studio Headphones - Closed-Back

Usually we find that the highest price options in our gear guides have slightly lower Gearank scores than the less expensive options - usually because more expensive music gear is held to a higher standard by reviewers. The Shure SRH1540 closed back headphones are a notable exception and it is an impressive achievement that they have scored higher than all the cheaper options. .

Shure designed these specifically for audio engineers and musicians and they used carbon fiber and aluminum alloy in their construction. Shure have also included a pair of spare ear pads and a spare cable.

Specifications:

  • Driver Size: 40 mm
  • Magnet Type: Neodymium
  • Frequency Response: 5 Hz to 25 kHz
  • Impedance: 46 Ohms
  • Sensitivity: 99 dB
  • Max Input Power: 1000 mW
  • Weight: 10.1 oz (286g)
  • Connectivity: 2 detachable cables with a threaded 1/8" gold-plated plug and 1/4" adapter.

Pros

Expert reviews and customer reviews are consistent in saying these are very comfortable to wear, produce sound with exceptional clarity, and have an excellent bass response. The build quality also gets positively mentioned many times in reviews.

Cons

As you'd expect with such a high Gearank score, there weren't many consistent complaints other than the high price tag.

Overall

These are high-end premium headphones that will be too expensive for many home recording studios, but to quote Robbie Stamp from Future Music who gave them a 5 star rating, "It is often the case that you can't imagine better sound quality until you hear it, and the 1540s opened our ears to the possibilities".

If money is no object then these are the headphones for you.

Final Note

Some of you may be wondering why Beats by Dr. Dre are not included above despite the fact they have a version called Beats Studio. Simply put, many recording experts and musicians feel they are over-priced and over-hyped by a huge marketing campaign and not ideal for recording use despite their name.

Comments

We haven't analyzed open

We haven't analyzed open backed headphones yet, but we will do so in a future gear guide and we'll provide a link at the top of this page when it's done.

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