The Best Headphones for Recording / Tracking - Closed Back

The Highest Rated Closed Back Headphones

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During tracking, the last thing you want on your vocals are the backing tracks leaking into them. This happens when the headphones do not provide adequate isolation to prevent sound leakage. Thanks to their ability to prevent sound from spilling into microphones, closed back headphones continue to be essential for any recording setup.

In additional to being used for recording tracks (tracking) closed back headphones can also be used for mixing and there are some headphones in this list that perform well in this role too. Although open back headphones are most commonly used for this purpose, closed-backs can have some advantages. The closed chamber design can be particularly useful to check your mixes for low frequency balance. This is because a closed chamber, especially well-engineered ones, can be tuned to resonate at a specific low frequency.

Closed back designs also allow you to mix in private since the sound leaking from them will be minimal; perfect for producers working on the road or away from the studio. Finally if you only want to use one pair of headphones for the whole process due to portability or budget then closed back is your best bet because their versatility.

In this January 2021 edition, we see a few headphones have their ratings increase. The number of sources also increased significantly from last year, indicating more people have newly bought these products the previous editions of this guide. This gave us more data to analyze to gain a great snapshot of current market sentiment.

These picks are all circumaural (they cover your ears completely) and are designed specifically for use in studio situations rather than for standard consumer applications, although audiophiles have been noted as fans of some of these models.

The Best Closed Back Headphones for Recording

Author & Contributors

Raphael PulgarRaphael Pulgar

An audio engineer of 20 years who specializes in rock and metal recordings, he also plays guitar and produces original music for his band and other content creators.

Under $50 Budget Options

Yamaha HPH-50

89
GEARANK

89 out of 100. Incorporating 475+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$30
Yamaha HPH-50 Closed-back Headphones

The Yamaha HPH-50 is positioned as a studio headphone for the more frugal engineer. This doesn't mean it skimps on quality or performance. 38mm Neodymium drivers provide crisp sound for accurate monitoring during tracking sessions.

Swivelling earcups add to the comfort and portability of the HPH-50. This lends itself well to some singers that prefer to have one ear out to hear themselves.

For plugging in, it comes with a 1/8" plug and a 1/4" adapter.

Features:

  • Driver Size: 38 mm
  • Magnet Type: Neodymium
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kH
  • Impedance: 35 Ohms
  • Sensitivity:103 dB
  • Max Input Power: 1000 mW
  • Weight:4.64 oz
  • Connectivity:6.5' cable

Pros

Users and reviewers point out its strong price to performance value. Given that this is on the "budget side" of headphones, the HPH-50 was noted to outperform and outlast other headphones some users had in their possession. This is a good trait to have for recording studio gear as you want your gear to be durable and if ever, easily and affordably replaceable.

Cons

There are some who feel that the Yamaha HPH-50 is a little too quiet for their taste, while a few users outright complain about the sound being thin.

Overall

If you want a pair (or more!) of headphones for studio use, the Yamaha HPH-50 is a great affordable pick.

Audio-Technica ATH-M20x

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 10350+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$49
Audio-Technica ATH-M20x Closed-Back Studio Headphones

At publication time these were the Highest Rated Closed-Back Headphones Under $50.

The ATH-M20x is the most affordable pair of headphones on Audio-Technica's M-series.

It sports a similar aesthetic with its more expensive siblings and is primarily designed for tracking and monitoring with minimal sound leakage.

Features:

  • Driver Size: 40 mm
  • Magnet Type: Neodymium
  • Frequency Response: 15 - 20,000 Hz
  • Impedance: 47 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 96 dB
  • Max Input Power: 700 mW at 1 kHz
  • Weight:190 g
  • Connectivity:3.0 m (9.8'), straight, left-side exit

Pros

Many users praise the ATH-M20x as an affordable alternative to the more expensive M50x that sees a lot of use as a client-side pair of cans in studios. The clamping pressure allows the headphones to stay on even the most energetic of drummers while the price point keeps breakage anxiety at bay since the headphones are relatively affordable and available. For the price, the sound quality is said to be good and neutral. There were no instances of bass or mid range peaking reported. They have have reasonable passive isolation, allowing for minimal sound leakage while monitoring. Many reviewers commended their durable build and sturdy cable. They are easily adjustable and moderately comfortable.

Cons

Sound quality is good but compared to its more expensive siblings, it still lacks some of the liveliness and clarity of more expensive headphones. Some long term comfort issues were raised by some users.

Overall

While being the "baby brother" of the more popular ATH-M50x, it still shares the same DNA with it's build and sound signature. It is adequate for general purpose studio applications like tracking and some mixing. Get it if you want to get into the Audio-Technica brand sound for mixing. Be wary though: you might end up hooked on the sound!

Best Closed Headphones Under $100

Audio-Technica ATH-M30x

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 6500+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

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

At publication time these were the Equal Highest Rated Closed-Back Headphones Between $50 and $100 along with the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x and Sennheiser HD 280 Pro.

The ATH - M30x are positioned at the mid tier of the famed ATH series. Like its siblings, the M30x features a circumaural design that provides great isolation. The collapsible design is also carried over to the M30x, making it very portable for mobile sessions.

The M30x has a midrange focused sound signature that helps singers sing in tune by hearing themselves better while tracking.

Features:

  • Driver Size: 40 mm
  • Magnet Type: Neodymium
  • Frequency Response: 15 - 22,000 Hz
  • Impedance: 47 Ohms
  • Sensitivity: 96 dB
  • Max Input Power: 700 mW at 1 kHz
  • Weight: 7.8 oz
  • Connectivity:3.0 m (9.8'), straight, left-side exit

Pros

Users note how the sound quality is better than most offerings at this price range. The closed back design and signature ATH house sound are present with a bit more forward midrange. They also note great build quality and materials despite being positioned in the middle of the line. Clamping force was secure without being uncomfortable, making them great studio tracking headphones for drummers. The included pouch, paired with the headphone's folding design gets points for portability.

Cons

The low and low mids, while beneficial for tracking, felt too colored for users who wanted to use the pair for mixing.

Overall

For tracking, having a forward midrange is key for pitch accuracy for singers. Having a good mid forward sound is also a benefit for instrumentalists who need to hear the metronome. With a good clamping force, comfortable earcups and sturdy build quality, the ATH-M30x is sure to survive even the most energetic of drummers.

Audio-Technica ATH-M40x

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 9350+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

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

At publication time these were the Equal Highest Rated Closed-Back Headphones Between $50 and $100 along with the Audio-Technica ATH-M30x and Sennheiser HD 280 Pro.

The middle child: the one that often gets ignored for the more dutiful bigger siblings and the younger, more fun little ones. But don't let the ATH-M40x and its middle child status throw you off. If anything, it offers more than the middle should suggest.

It shares most of the tech and sound signature perks of it's bigger brother the ATH-M50x. Despite sporting a smaller 40mm driver compared to the ATH-M50x, the ATH-M40x still has enough muscle to handle most audio engineering chores while being affordable for people on tighter budgets.

Features:

  • 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. Users sometimes prefer this over the ATH-M50x because of its tighter and clearer bass response.

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

If you're in the market for a good pair of monitoring headphones at an agreeable price point, the ATH-M40x is a great pick especially if you've tried the ATH-M50x and feel the bass could be more relaxed. Rest assured, you're not cutting corners too much from it's bigger sibling.

Sennheiser HD 280 Pro

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 7950+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$100
Sennheiser HD 280 Pro Studio Headphones

At publication time these were the Equal Highest Rated Closed-Back Headphones Between $50 and $100 along with the Audio-Technica ATH-M30x and Audio-Technica ATH-M40x.

Introduced in 2003, the Sennheiser HD280 Pro continues to be well-loved by studio and home recording enthusiasts alike. It also gained a following from audiophiles.

The HD 280 Pro's robust construction, great isolation, and frequency response has made it a favorite in many studios. It also features swiveling and rotating earcups for portability or for singers that prefer to monitor from one ear only.

Features:

  • Driver Size: 40mm
  • 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

Durability is the most often repeated comment among users and expert reviews. A lot of favorable comparisons to the industry standard Sony MDR-7506 were made with the HD 280 Pro inching it over with cleaner sound and less shrill high frequencies. For monitoring and tracking, the isolation enables the wearer to focus in on the playback with minimal leakage to the mic even when the volume is turned up.

Cons

A few concerns of fit were brought up by some users. Some say the headphone clamps too tight, others felt like it was too big for them. This speaks to the limited headband adjustment range of the headphones.

Overall

With almost two decades of being in the market, The HD 280 Pro shows no sign of stopping in 2021 as it gets high marks for reliability and sound quality.

Best Closed Headphones Under $200

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 17700+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$149
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Professional Monitor Headphones

At publication time these were the Equal Highest Rated Closed Back Headphones Under $200 along with the Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO 250 Ohm and Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro (80 Ohm).

Yet another appearance of Audio-Technica in our closed-back headphone guide - a testament to the high regard this brand's headphones have. A darling for many studio engineers, the ATH-M50x is a staple for large, small and mobile studios for it's unmistakable sound signature that is neutral enough to make critical mix decisions on.

The ATH-M50x has 45mm drivers and these help with providing a solid bass response without it being out of proportion to the mids and highs.

Features:

  • 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 neutral and revealing 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. These qualities earn it praise in several discussion forums and groups and is always recommended without hesitation.

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

Being able to score high marks with the huge amount of sources is an impressive feat. The ATH-M50x manages to rake in thousands of user ratings and reviews that are overwhelmingly positive. Hit albums have been produced and mixed with these headphones. If budget permits, there is absolutely no reason not to get these for recording.

Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO 250 Ohm

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 7300+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$159
Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO Closed-Back Headphones

At publication time these were the Equal Highest Rated Closed Back Headphones Under $200 along with the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x and Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro (80 Ohm).

The DT 770 Pro 250 Ohm differs from it's brethren in that it needs an audio interface or amplifier with enough power to drive it. Most Audio interfaces are rated to drive up to 300 Ohms. The reward for higher resistance headphones is allowing the amplifier or interface to work more optimally at a higher output. This gives more dynamic range, punch and overall clarity to the listening experience.

The headband is made of the same, high grade spring steel with removable padding as its siblings.

The DT770 Pro was designed to be very serviceable with basic tools so if a part breaks down, Beyerdynamic dealers often have spare parts for sale and offer repairs.

Features:

  • Driver Size: 45mm
  • Magnet Type: Not Specified
  • Frequency Response: 5 - 35,000 Hz
  • Impedance: 250 Ohms
  • Sensitivity: 96 dB
  • Max Input Power: Not Specified
  • Weight:9.52 oz.
  • Connectivity:9.8 ft. coiled cable Connection, 1/8" Gold plated stereo jack plug and 1/4" adapter (6.35 mm)

Pros

The number one most mentioned positive is comfort. Many users that mix for long hours adore the comfort of the DT 770 PRO series and the 250 Ohm is no exception. With better dynamic range, the signature frequency response of the 770 Series is augmented with deeper low frequencies that don't interfere with the reproduction of the mids and highs. One user mentioned that he uses the DT 770 Pro 250 Ohm to fix minuscule details, such as boosting or cutting certain frequencies. This makes them a great complementary tool for monitors, especially when checking reverb and delay levels in the mix.

Cons

The primary complaint would be the portability; the headphones are larger than most designs and don't fold up.

Overall

With plush padding and an even more luxurious sound, the DT770 250 Ohm punches well above its weight with top tier sonics. If you have an audio interface capable of driving it, you will be handsomely rewarded with great transient response, supreme clarity and tight low bass.

Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro (80 Ohm)

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 9450+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$159
Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro 80 Ohm Closed Back Headphones

At publication time these were the Equal Highest Rated Closed Back Headphones Under $200 along with the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x and Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO 250 Ohm.

The DT 770 Pro series comes in 3 options: 32 Ohms (Amazon link) for consumer use, 80 Ohms designed specifically for tracking and mixing in recording studios and a 250 Ohms (Amazon link) version designed specifically for use with high power amplifiers.

For many home studios, 80 Ohms is the sweet spot for dynamic range and amplification requirement. Some audio interfaces may have trouble driving a 250 Ohm pair of headphones which is why we often recommend getting the 80 Ohm version.

Features:

  • Driver Size: 45 mm
  • Frequency Response: 5 Hz to 35 kHz
  • Impedance: 80 Ohms
  • Sensitivity: 96 dB
  • Max Input Power: 100 mW
  • Weight: 270g without cable (0.55 lbs)
  • Connectivity: 3m coiled cable with a gold plated 1/8" plug and 1/4" adapter.

Pros

Many professional audio engineers say these are surprisingly good as mixing headphones, 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 gets many positive comments.

Cons

A few people complained about the fact the cord is not detachable, however the cord doesn't often need 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

The Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro is a headphone with a track record for being comfortable and mostly neutral favoring the lower frequencies. If you need a tracking and mixing headphone to keep track of the low frequencies such as on bass or keyboards, the DT 770 Pro is a good pick.

Best Closed Headphones Under $500

Closed- back Headphones in this price range are more geared towards mixing and referencing though they can still be used for tracking especially when top-notch sound quality is desired. Most in this category trade off isolation for a more "airy" feel while having the stronger low frequency impact of the closed-back design. This makes them great for checking low frequency balance on your instrument or mixes.

Neumann NDH20

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 125+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$500
Neumann NDH20 Closed-back Studio Headphones

At publication time these were the Highest Rated Closed Back Headphones Between $200 and $500.

The Neumann NDH20 is a closed-back headphone engineered to eliminate the disadvantages of closed-back designs. Being a closed-back design, isolation from outside noise and leakage is a given. But where other headphones sacrifice soundstage and frequency response, the NDH20 shines with an expansive soundstage, balanced frequency response and great resolution thanks to its high-gauss neodymium magnet drivers.

The earcups are made of machined lightweight aluminum while being able to fold into a compact form factor allows it to be transported with the included carrying pouch.

Features:

  • Driver Size: 38mm
  • Magnet Type: high-gauss neodymium
  • Frequency Response: 5Hz-30kHz
  • Impedance: 150 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 114 dB SPL
  • Max Input Power: 1000 mW
  • Weight:390 g (13 3/4 oz)
  • Connectivity:3.5 mm (1/8") TRS jack plug (straight), adapter for 6.3 mm (1/4")

Pros

These headphones are a godsend to producers on the go, with several user reviews are from touring EDM producers working on laptops and audio interfaces. For studio use, vocalists loved the detail and realistic sound the headphones project, enabling them to sing better and in tune. Other sentiments include praise for the build quality, long term durability and portability.

Cons

Cord noise was a problem for a few as the design and materials used made cord movement noises more noticeable. Others found the cord being on the right side to be awkward.

Overall

If you're looking for a top of the line headphone for tracking, mixing and mastering but want one that provides you great isolation, the NDH20 is a great pick. The sound quality, sound stage and resolution rivals many open-backed designs without the leakage.

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

    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.

  • 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

    This has become a bit of a controversial topic. Many professional headphones are said by some audio engineers and audiophiles that they don't sound their best when you first take them out of the box, and say you generally need to run them for 12 to 24 hours for the drivers to 'loosen up' to their optimum level for use. They say if you don't do this then you might find they sound a bit harsh during their first few hours of use. But some people completely disagree and others have a slightly more nuanced opinion. Our advice is to do it if you want to but it doesn't seem essential anymore - in any case they will become 'broken in' after using them for a while.

Best Closed Back Headphones Selection Methodology

The first edition was published in 2016 and the latest edition was published on January 16, 2021.

For this 2021 update, we looked at the most current ratings and customer feedback for 42 sets of closed-back headphones. The sources we gathered reached over 116,500 -- all of which were then processed via the Gearank Algorithm to produce the rating scores out of 100 you see above. We used the resulting ratings to narrow down the list to just the best of the best in each of the price brackets above. For more information about our methods see How Gearank Works.

About the Author and Contributors

Here are the key people and sources involved in this guide's production - click on linked names for information about their music industry backgrounds.

Lead Author & Researcher

Raphael PulgarRaphael Pulgar

An audio engineer of 20 years who specializes in rock and metal recordings, he also plays guitar and produces original music for his band and other content creators.

Aside from endlessly window shopping and watching hours of gear reviews for leisure, he enjoys playing competitive FPS games, MMORPGs and caring for his 5 cats. He is primarily influenced by guitarists like Kurt Ballou and Paul Gilbert. His favorite pieces of gear are his Ibanez RG550RFR, Orange Brent Hinds Terror amplifier and EQD Acapulco Gold fuzz.

Contributors

Denise Azucena: Supplemental writing.
Alexander Briones: Supplemental writing.
Jason Horton: Supplemental writing, Editing and Illustrating.

Media

Main/Top Image: By Gearank.com using photographs of the Neumann NDH20, Audio-Technica ATH-M50x and Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO 250 Ohm headphones.

The individual product images were sourced from websites, promotional materials or supporting documentation provided by their respective manufacturers.

Comments

I still recommend Sony MDR

I still recommend Sony MDR 7506. Over 35 years, it's still and always will be the best basic and standard monitor headphones in the whole wide world music industry.

The following set of

The following set of headphones came off the recommended list above when we updated this guide in February 2020: KRK KNS 8400.

Biggest issue for recording

Biggest issue for recording headphones are the small 1/8 in jack. The 1/4 in jacks work much better without the adapters.

Hey,

Hey,

I was under the impression mixing headphones need to be open-back headphones thus I am confused why you would even mention mixing here? Im not tryna be a d*** or anything, but I am actually trying to understand if there's something that I am msising or do not know yet.

We discussed this in the

We discussed this in the 'Things to Consider' section above, but I'll add a little to that.

The best solution for mixing is using Studio Monitors.

Next best is open-back headphones and we'll have a new guide covering this topic very soon.

Then you have the option of using closed-back headphones which is an acceptable way to go if you're working on a limited budget because you can also use them for recording tracks. You generally shouldn't record tracks with open-back headphones due to the monitor mix spilling into the new tracks. You might also want closed-back if you're in an environment where you have to keep the noise down for others.

Don't forget that technology moves forward - what may have been a 'hard rule' a few years ago is becoming a 'rule of thumb', and new developments might make it a non-issue in the future.

Yo thanks for sharing your

Yo thanks for sharing your best closed-back studio monitoring headphones. The best closed-back mixing headphones for me are the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro because they perform incredibly well for their very cheap price tag.

But if I have to make an unbiased choice, it would be the V-MODA Crossfade M-100. They don't have an online presence as strong as the Audio Technica ATH-50X or Sony MDR 7506, but these mixing headphones are impressive. I think they should be more popular than they are now.

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.