The Best Studio Headphones: Under $200 -> $500

The Highest Rated Studio Headphones

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As you become more experienced in the studio, you will become more attuned to the smallest of details in your projects. Small mistakes are not always easily detectable when using studio monitors especially when your room adds to the resonance and skews your perception. The solution is to do referencing on studio headphones. The best studio headphones let you listen critically to your mixes or your tracking sessions and get a better sense of what could be done better during mixing or performance.

There are a multitude of headphones out on the market today and choosing the best one can become confusing because of all the reviews, ratings, and marketing surrounding each of them. Everyone has a subjective sense of hearing too because not all of us have the same sensitivity per frequency range. This is why you see a lot of conflicting reviews for this style of product; no one hears exactly the same as anyone else.

So how can we choose the best headphones in the middle of all this information and avoid paralysis by analysis?

We approached this guide by doing extensive research on various Studio Headphones in both open-back and closed-back configurations. We limited our search to a maximum price of $500 since most home studios use headphones under this amount. The headphones below are all over $100, so if you're looking for cheaper options then go over to our guide for Studio Headphones Under $100.

Over 65,400 rating sources were taken into account - more information this process can be read here: Best Studio Headphones Selection Methodology.

You may see that there are no closed-back and open-back categories; this is because the more advanced you become, you more you get to see beyond the rules of "Closed-back for tracking, Open-back for mixing". In the higher price ranges, many of the products have better engineering that addresses the inherent weaknesses of each design. Some of the best open back designs in this guide have managed to alleviate the problem of sound leakage and some of the best closed-back designs have addressed bass build-up in the chamber with well-engineered earcup designs.

Because of these advancements in tech, as well as personal advancements in the craft, we decided to assemble the best of the best, regardless of design.

With this data-driven approach, look no further as we present to you The Best Studio Headphones: Under $200 and Under $500.

The Best Studio Headphones

Author & Contributors

Raphael PulgarRaphael Pulgar

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

Best Studio Headphones Under $200 - Max 250 ohm

NB: If you're looking for more affordable options then take a look at our guide to Studio Headphones Under $100.

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

The ATH-M50x Improves upon its predecessor with a detachable cable as an extra feature.

Like its predecessor the ATH-M50, theATH-M50x is known for it's deep and engaging sound, good isolation and portability.

Specifications:

  • Type: Closed-back
  • 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

Many seasoned users note that mixes done with the ATH-M50x translate very well across different systems. This is a plus for people who like mixing on the go with laptops or iPads. EDM producers also adore the tight bass and clear mids. Pair this with portability and isolation and you have a pair of headphones that can let you mix comfortably wherever you are.

Cons

The faux leather earcups turned off a few looking for higher quality materials, 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. Some users with big heads find the clamping force a bit tight. A few found the headphones heavy. Isolation may be an issue if the volume is increased to more than 50%.

Overall

Scoring high on reviews with tens of thousands of rating sources is an amazing feat for any product. The ATH-M50x manages to get overwhelmingly positive reviews consistently since its introduction. Hit albums have been produced and mixed with these headphones. Get it if you want a good pair of headphones for both recording and mixing in the studio or on the go.

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

The DT 770 Pro is a set of reference level headphones from Beyerdynamic.

From low to high range frequencies, these are designed reproduce sound with precision in situations where you play back or monitor recordings.

They also have a robust spring steel, soft padded and adjustable headband built for sturdiness.

These are the 250 Ohm version which is best suited to use with higher end pro audio gear and the manufacturer also recommends this version for mixing. There are also 32 and 80 Ohm versions which are more suited to mobile devices and home studio / listening respectively.

Specifications

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

Pros

Comfortable was one aspect mentioned by most users. Their comfortable cushion earpads and lightweight build were factors that made these headphones capable of letting users wear these headphones and listen for long hours. Sound quality also plays a huge part with a clean and crisp frequency response from basses to high dynamic ranges. One user mentioned that he used them to fix minuscule details, such as boosting or cutting certain frequencies, which makes them a complementary tool for monitors especially when checking reverb and delay levels in the mix.

Cons

Even with the comfort factor, some users found these not to be portable enough since they don't fold and their cable isn't detachable.

Overall

Much like most options in the Beyerdynamic "house sound", the DT 770 PROs have a balanced and smooth frequency response extending towards the low frequencies. Couple this with supreme comfort and you have a luxurious pair of headphones for your mixing and mastering needs.

Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 8550+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$159
Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro Open-Back Studio Headphones

The Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro is an open-back set of headphones designed with extended low frequency projection. Open-back headphones usually trade low frequency punch with an airy high end and transparent mids.

The DT 990 was tuned to bring back some low frequency power to give better perception of the low end while maintaining a clear and airy high end. For mixing, this means having a larger soundstage and better perception of pan positions.

A soft padded headband and plush earcups provide comfort over long listening periods.

Specifications

  • Type: Open-back
  • Driver Size: 45 mm
  • Magnet Type: Not Specified
  • Frequency Response: 5 - 35,000 Hz
  • Maximum Input Power: 100 mW
  • Sensitivity: 96 dB
  • Impedance: 250 Ohms
  • Weight: 8.82 oz
  • Cable and Connectivity: 9.8 ft. coiled cable, 1/8" Gold plated stereo jack plug and 1/4" adapter

Pros

Clarity across the spectrum is the number one mentioned comment by users. Aside from confirming the airy high end as advertised, the low frequency felt good to some users. While not as tight as closed back designs, the DT 990 doesn't suffer the bass buildup apparent on many closed back designs. Comfort was also seen as a plus.

Cons

Some users felt that the headphones tilted more towards the hi-fi, scooped mids sound.

Overall

If you're more used to mixing with a hi-fi sounding pair of headphones or monitors, the DT 990 Pro is a great pick.

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

The DT 770 Pro 80 ohm version shares the majority of features and sound signature of it's 250 Ohm Sibling.

For most home studios, 80 Ohms is the sweet spot for dynamic range and amplification requirements. Some audio interfaces may have trouble driving a 250 Ohm pair of headphones while 32 Ohms may not maximize the dynamic range that a higher end audio interface can provide.

Sitting at this comfortable middle ground, It has just the right amount of dynamic range and efficiency so you can listen properly on your studio setup and on a mobile device for mix checking / referencing.

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

With a relatively flat midrange and a smooth low frequency bump that extends further than other headphones, the DT 770 Pro 80 Ohm puts you front and center to a virtual hi-fi sounding studio monitor setup. Mixes done on these headphones are said to be easily translatable; particularly the low frequencies.

Cons

Its fixed cord was a concern for some. The unit however, is durable enough to last a while before a re-cabling is necessary. Most of the complaints came from people identifying as consumers complaining about the lack of bass "slam". While the DT 770 Pro 80 Ohm has more than enough tight low frequency information for mixing. Some might be thrown off by the difference of low frequency extension (into the sub bass) versus a pair tuned for more low frequency impact (boosted low frequencies for enjoyment).

Overall

If you want a pair of headphones that can give you all the information you need to balance out your low frequencies without a sub, while maintaining a tight response and being efficient enough to be used with most mobile devices, the DT 770 Pro 80 Ohm is your best bet.

Best Studio Headphones Under $500

Beyerdynamic DT 880 PRO

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 550+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$249
Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro Semi-open Studio Headphones

The Beyerdynamic DT 880 aims to combine the advantages of open-back headphones with those of closed-back studio headphones.

The moderate level of isolation prevents major sound leakage while providing a more open-sounding monitoring experience; useful for singers that want to track while hearing their voice.

The newly designed headband for the DT 880 PRO grants better wearing comfort, especially during long studio sessions.

Specifications

  • Type: Semi-Open back
  • Driver Size: 45mm
  • Magnet Type: Not Specified
  • Frequency Response: 5 - 35.000 Hz
  • Maximum Input Power: 100 mW
  • Sensitivity: 96 dB
  • Impedance: 250 Ohms
  • Weight: 9.52 oz.
  • Cable and Connectivity: 3 m Coiled connecting cable with mini-jack plug (3.5 mm) & ¼“ adapter (6.35 mm)
  • Best For: Mixing, Mastering

Pros

Aside from the excellent sound quality, the one thing most mentioned by users is the comfort. Some were able to wear theirs for hours on end with no discomfort. Many note that the sound signature has a smooth low midrange to low frequency curve without any narrow spikes in frequencies at that register. This enables critical mix decisions to translate better when balancing lower frequencies.

Cons

High frequencies shift with headphone positioning over the ears as a few have reported. The solution was to find a good neutral position for the ideal balance of frequencies. While careful engineering was put into making isolation better, there will still be some sound leakage.

Overall

Although open-back by design, the DT 880 Pro is a spectacular performer for mixing and mastering duties. Singers who prefer open back headphones for monitoring will be comfortable with the pair. While there will still be some leakage, it's nothing a good noise gate cant handle during mixing if it means capturing a better performance from a singer that prefers to hear themselves.

Audio-Technica ATH-R70x

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 325+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$349
Audio-Technica ATH-R70x Professional Open-Back Headphones

The ATH-R70x showcases transparent aluminum honeycomb-mesh housings engineered to provide a chamber free from standing waves and resonance with an open-back design.

Magnet selection and design are carefully done to reduce distortion to ensure the best quality reproduction.

Their light-weight yet robust construction, fabric earpads and improved wing support provides comfort for long hours of listening.

Specifications

  • Type: Open-back
  • Driver Size: 45 mm
  • Magnet Type: Neodymium
  • Frequency Response: 5 - 40,000 Hz
  • Maximum Input Power: 1,000 mW
  • Sensitivity: 99 dB
  • Impedance: 470 Ohms
  • Weight: 7.4 oz
  • Cable and Connectivity: Dual-sided detachable cable
  • Best For: Mixing, Mastering

Pros

Audio-Technica have been producing professional studio quality headphones for years. The wing and paddle mechanism for the headband provides convenience and comfort for users with narrow heads. Many users mentioned they felt lightweight. With the sound quality, the soundstage gives an open, spacious and airy sound with great width and depth. Many users were impressed that they could hear even the tiniest of details of each instrument in the mix. The bass response extends accurately down to even the lowest frequencies. The mids and highs are also balanced without coloration. In his Sound on Sound review, Sam Inglis described the high frequencies to have "a definite high–frequency lift, but on most material it manifests itself much more subtly as a soft, airy, understated presence rather than a brash treble boost". He goes on to say "The bass is excellent: deep, clear and even, and slightly forward without ever sounding unbalanced or overpowering. The mid–range, meanwhile, seems pure and uncolored, albeit slightly recessed and soft."

Cons

With an impedance of 470 Ohms these going to shine the best with a higher level of output so pro studio gear or a dedicated headphone amplifier is recommended. Some users have reported they sound good even on mobile devices but this is not the intended use.

Overall

If you're looking to invest heavily on headphones for mixing, the ATH-R70x is head and shoulders above many. Transparency is the name of its game. There is not much to say about the amazing sound quality they have that hasn't been said in other reviews for other products. What these excel at is disappearing from your perception and letting you hear the music without paying too much attention to what you're wearing. Surely a top-of-the-line feeling.

Sennheiser HD 600

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 1650+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$299
Sennheiser HD 600 Open-Back Professional Headphones

These are designed for professional studio engineers and audiophiles alike.

A recording community favorite that features a circumaural design with open metal mesh earpieces that deliver a more natural, spatial and accurate sound.

They also have optimized magnets for dynamic and wide frequency response, and for the purpose of minimizing distortion.

Specifications

  • Type: Open-back dynamic
  • Driver Size: 40 mm
  • Magnet Type: Neodymium-ferrous
  • Frequency Response: 12 – 40,500 Hz
  • Maximum Input Power: 200 mW>
  • Sensitivity: 97 dB
  • Impedance: 300 Ohms
  • Weight: 9.17 oz
  • Cable and Connectivity: 9.8 ft oxygen-free copper cable
  • Best For: Mixing, Mastering

Pros

Audiophiles, professional sound engineers, and enthusiasts gave feedback on how clean and neutral sounding these headphones were when it comes to sound quality. From smooth highs to clear lows, a lot of them were pleased with the accurate and transparent frequency response. Some also mentioned the mid-range response and stereo imaging were also exceptional. While Sennheiser's higher tier offerings are geared towards audiophiles, the HD 600 was tuned with critical listening in mind. This doesn't take away from the experience that these are also very fun to mix with according to expert reviews.

Cons

Despite the sturdy construction of the overall headset, there were a few people that found the cable to be thin and fragile. Replacing it with a sturdier cable was no problem though. Some of them recommended its best to use a headphone amp since they require a lot of power to get louder volumes. Some reviewers found the initial clamping force and pads were stiff at first but they became comfortable over time. Little to no isolation to begin with so no chance using these for tracking vocals.

Overall

Sennheiser has hit a home run with the HD 600. They are a well-engineered marvel that has stood the test of time with the quintessential Sennheiser house sound tuned towards more critical listening. While their pedigree and lineage owe more to audiophile ears, details are not lost with the HD 600 and they do not flatter mixes like say, the HD 800.

Things To Consider When Buying Studio Headphones

  • Open vs Closed Back: A Case of Isolation and Frequency Response

    As mentioned previously, closed back headphones are ideal for recording and monitoring because they prevent any sound leakage and block out external noise. They are also a better choice for listening to guitar amp mic positions. Open-back headphones are suited to mixing and mastering as they have a more natural sound and even frequency response. However they allow a lot more sound to leak out and in so you may have to be more conscious of how the sound might get picked up by microphones in proximity. With better engineered headphones however, the compromises between both blur: Closed back headphones can be used during mixing to check the low frequency balance for transients like kick drums versus sustained lows like bass. Open-back headphones can be used for tracking to some extent where the artist is in the control room while an amplifier is in the live room. This gives them a more natural sensation of their amp compared to monitoring with closed back headphones.

  • Frequency Response and Transient Response

    Manufacturers build headphones that have an extended range below and beyond the average levels of human hearing, which is from 20 Hz to 20 000 Hz. It's highly suggested to look for headphones that provide as close as possible to a balanced and neutral frequency response, especially for mixing and mastering. For monitoring, this isn't as crucial as the performer usually isn't hearing a complete mix but it is still desirable to have the best sound possible.

    Transient response refers to how fast the diaphragm returns to the neutral position after a sound is played. This affects clarity and bass tightness. Faster transient response enables you to perceive impacting sounds better and more accurately set compressor attack settings to squeeze out more percussive sounds from drums and slapped bass.

  • Comfort and Durability

    Comfort is one of the essential features when looking for a pair of headphones, especially when you plan to use them for producing music or casual listening for long hours. All the studio headphones in our list are circumaural which means they fit around the ear. This is the most comfortable style for listening over longer periods of time.

    If possible, you should be able to place the ear cups around your ears with the right amount of space for them to fit nicely. Ideally you shouldn't need to be at the end of the range of any adjustments allowed by the headphones. The earpad cushioning material should be soft enough for comfort and ideally allow some breathability. The weight of the headphones and headband can also have an impact after long hours of listening. Finally, another factor is having the right amount of clamping force so they sit comfortably and securely on your head without too much pressure.

    Most quality headphones are made with durable materials that can last you a lifetime. But sometimes various parts such as the earpads can wear out over time. It's best to check if there are replacement parts available for the headphones you invest in and also check the manufacturer's warranty.

  • Cable Connectivity

    Most headphones have a single sided cable attached to one ear cup. It's recommended to avoid really long cables since they can tend to get tangled. Also, having coiled cables provides useful flexibility. Some headphones have detachable cables which offer greater flexibility as they can be replaced with whatever length or type you need. They're also less prone to damage and can allow easier storage.

  • Impedance

    Impedance is how much resistance the headphones provide to the source. Higher output amplifiers or interfaces are generally best for higher impedance headphones while lower impedance would be easily driven by most interfaces and mobile devices. Running a low impedance headphone with a high output interface or amplifier is fine if you control your volume. However, matching a high impedance headphone with a low output sound source like cheaper interfaces or mobile sources may result in the driver being underdriven. Cranking low output sound sources may result in output stage distortion and may affect your perception of the mix.

    In this edition, we decided to limit our Under $200 selections to headphones below 250 Ohms. Anything beyond 250 Ohms won't be optimal unless you use separate amplification. In our research, 250 Ohms seems to be the upper limit for many audio interfaces.

Best Studio Headphones Selection Methodology

The first edition was published on February 22, 2018 and the latest edition was published on January 6, 2021.

We looked all studio headphones below $500 designed for studio use available from major music gear retailers in the USA and entered them into our music gear database - we had a total of 29 sets on our short-list for closer examination. We then gathered over 64,100 ratings, reviews and forum posts by users and experts. Processing this enormous amount of data would be time consuming to analyze manually, hence all gathered data was processed with the Gearank Algorithm to produce the rating scores out of 100 you see above. Our selections reflect the best of the best according to all these sources. 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 nearly 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.
Jason Horton: Supplemental research, Editing and Illustrating.

Media

Main/Top Image: Created by Gearank.com using photographs of the Shure SRH1840, Audio-Technica ATH-R70x and Beyerdynamic DT 880 PRO headphones.

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

Comments

Why is the DT 880 priced

Why is the DT 880 priced higher than the 770 and 990? Is it better quality? Like maybe the drivers are better matched or the grills or damping in it is better in some way?

Hi Matthew,

Hi Matthew,

As far as I know, the number isn't meant to denote any tier or quality difference though historically, the DT880 was the flagship headphone for Beyerdynamic for a long time before being superseded by the T1. So maybe it has more to do with the engineering behind them.

Judging by the specifications:
DT770 = closed
DT880 = semi-open
DT990 = open

There is also the distinction between the "Edition" and "Pro" versions of these headphones with the "Pro" versions directed towards the studio market segment with higher Ohm ratings, reportedly harder clamping force and coiled cables. The "Edition" models are more geared towards the audiophile/prosumer market and are generally priced higher. The two versions are tuned slightly different from my limited testing experience.

As for driver matching, I can't say much about Beyerdynamic's manufacturing process but to my knowledge, they are all Made in Germany with different enclosures and maybe different driver spec for each.

I own a DT770 Pro and it's the pair I use to check my low frequency balance. I just placed an order for a DT880 Pro and DT990 Pro after writing this guide too (side effect of doing a lot of research!)

Anyway, I hope that helped!

-Raphael