Image Credit: Forbes
If you’ve been dabbling with music production and using consumer-grade headphones, you’re missing a trick. Headphones for music production are a staple of necessary music gear – especially for home studios. But what headphones do music producers use?
Well, if the time has come to upgrade your studio headphones, you’re in the right place. We understand that you don’t want headphones for music production that will break the bank. But if you’re looking for a decent pair of studio headphones, you’ve got to be prepared to spend over $100 – with one exception. And if you want a serious pair, you’re going to have to cough up at least $200.
Whether you use a laptop or PC, studio headphones present you with a clear image of what your music is doing. But production headphones are more of a reference tool within a professional music studio. This is because studio monitors have bigger drivers and so can create a bigger sound field – giving the producer more to work with. But not all of us can treat our room to a professional standard in order to use studio monitors effectively. As a result, we must rely more heavily on our headphones. After all, good headphones for music production will inform you of little details that a poorly treated room may mask in your studio monitors. That’s why we have included what we think are the best headphones for music-making in home studios – the labs of independent artists and music producers.
So if you’re toiling between getting headphones or speakers for music production, the answer should come down to how acoustically sound your room is. Though having both speakers and headphones is the ideal, that’s just too expensive if your room isn’t acoustically adequate. So we recommend undertaking the clap test to inform your decision. Simply clap once at every possible point in your room and if you hear a subtle yet noticeable reverb, you will most likely be okay with studio monitors. In contrast, if you hear a harsh fluttering of sound bouncing between your walls (known as flutter echo), you should prioritise headphones because your room will taint any sound leaving studio monitors before it reaches your ears.
And if you’re trying to decide whether to get open-back or closed-back headphones, you need to figure out what purpose your headphones are going to serve. We’ve previously written an article to help you do just that.
1. Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro – best open-back headphones for music production
- Coupling: Circumaural
- Weight: 370g
- Frequency response: 5Hz to 40kHz
- Impedance: 250Ω
First, we have a real pair of high-quality headphones for music production. Beyerdynamic headphones such as the DT 770 Pro continue to outshine many competitors at similar price ranges. As a result, the brand is number one in our list of best headphones for music production.
The Beyerdynamic DT 1990 are open-back headphones with a circumaural ear cup design. Therefore they’re built for mixing in a quiet environment rather than monitoring performance. But these are actually the open-back version of the DT 1770 Pro closed-back headphones. So if you’re looking to monitor live recordings in your room, the 1770 Pro headphones will suit your needs far better.
Anyway, the DT 1990 Pro’s have a very strong build that’s been engineered from cutting edge components. The headphones feature a lot of metal in the design, including the earcup forks and open-back driver grills. So not only are they more durable than plastic phones, but they also feel more professional too. Oh, and don’t expect them to feel light!
Furthermore, the driver grills have a silver coloured mesh which breaks up the all-black look. Beyerdynamic made the headband from plush leather which evenly spreads the 370-gram weight across the top of your head. And the earpads are made from memory foam and wrapped in grey velour, so every comfort tick box has been ticked. However, your ears may get a little warm after a while of use because the pad material doesn’t breathe very well.
Coupling the earcup build with the high-flux neodymium drivers, we get a wide frequency response that performs right out of the box with high accuracy audio reproduction. The depth of the soundstage is also something to behold while it provides a realistic representation of your project.
As per Beyerdynamic tradition, the DT 1990 Pro headphones do have a high impedance value. Sitting at 250 ohms, you’ll need an amplifier (such as an audio interface) if you want to hear your music at optimal volume levels. Note that these studio headphones will lose their magic without some sort of amplification.
On the left ear cup, you’ll find a single mini-XLR connection. And Beyerdynamic ships the DT 1990 Pro with two cables: a 3-meter straight cable and a 5-meter coiled cable, both with a 3.5mm mini-jack and a 6.35mm screw-on adapter. Additionally, the DT 1990 Pro headphones come with two sets of earpads in the case. Both an “A” version (which features a neutral frequency response) and a “B” version, which gives any bass a slight boost.
It’s not often we listen to a headphone that impresses us so much that we stay up until 2 am rediscovering my favorite albums. We listened to record after record with the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro to see what unheard details the headphones would reveal.TechRadar
2. Sennheiser HD 400 Pro
- Coupling: Circumaural
- Weight: 240g
- Frequency response: 6 Hz – 38 kHz (-10 dB)
- Impedance: 120Ω
The Sennheiser HD 400 Pro open-back circumaural headphones provide a balanced sound stage for mixing. They also provide a lot of comfort (you will forget you’re wearing them) over long sessions. They feel well-built, despite only weighing in at 240g. You can adjust the headband and flex the ear cups (which are padded in velour) inwards a little to fit the shape of any head. You’ll find they grip your head comfortably and firmly, and won’t cause fatigue over long sessions or overheat your ears. But because of their open-back design, sound does leak at higher volumes so we wouldn’t recommend using them for monitoring. But they’re perfect for mixing and mastering because they provide an accurate and neutral reproduction of your music.
Both music producers and content creators will find the HD 400 Pro headphones useful. They’re lightweight at 240g and come with two detachable cables (3m and a 1.8 m) in addition to a 3.5mm to 6.3mm adapter. The 3m cable is coiled while the 1.8m cable is straight and the connection is on the left ear cup.
The drivers sit at a slight angle inside the cups which emulates the desirable triangular listening position in a studio. With 120ohms of impedance, these headphones also need an amplifier. The HD 400 Pro headphones provide a wide frequency response from 6Hz to 38kHz. And even at really high SPLs distortion isn’t really that noticeable – though we don’t recommend driving any headphones with dangerous SPLs.
You’ll find that they reproduce bass, mids, and treble frequencies accurately with amazing stereo separation. You’ll be able to pinpoint panned sounds, and they reveal the layers of a mix clearly. Finally, the frequency response itself is very evenly balanced. Their bass response is solid with plenty of extensions and no overwhelming boominess.
The HD 400 Pros are beautifully balanced and revealing across the entire soundstage. Bass, in particular, is solid but measured, not booming or overwhelming – the kind of bass response that you need from reference headphones.MusicTech
3. Audio-Technica ATH-R70x
- Audio coupling: Circumaural
- Weight: 210g
- Frequency response: 5Hz – 40kHz
- Impedance: 470Ω
Switching between the Audio-Technica ATH-R70x headphones and studio monitors doesn’t actually present a big jump in reproduction quality. In other words, these are some pretty accurate studio headphones! However, the biggest difference is in the high-end where the R70x headphones don’t deliver as much as others on our list.
But the R70x headphones are pretty light and comfortable to wear over long periods. Unlike other Audio-Technica headphones, they don’t squish your head. My fellow producers with glasses know what I mean! Their open-back circumaural design presents a smooth sounding soundstage with accurate frequency reproduction. There are no bumps or noticeable cuts below the high-end, so you can expect to hear plenty of detail!
You’ll find any unwanted sibilance and messy mix characteristics with the precise frequency response. However, the response does roll off a little suddenly between 10-20 kHz, though this shouldn’t really cause many issues as these are mostly just “air” frequencies. The bass and low mids are even with the right amount of extension and no hint of boominess.
You’ll find the Left-Right decoupling to be fantastic. Coupled with the frequency response, you’ll get an amazing stereo field meaning you can be confident in your panning and depth decisions making.
4. Audio-Technica M70x – best closed-back headphones for music production
- Audio coupling: Circumaural
- Weight: 280g
- Frequency response: 5Hz – 40kHz
- Impedance: 35Ω
The M70x is the flagship model within Audio Technica’s M series, building on the success of the popular M50 headphones (now M50x).
These closed-back headphones are aimed at a wide range of monitoring purposes. In contrast to the solid build of the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro headphones, the Audio Technica M70x swivelling circumaural ear cup design allows for monitoring and listening in noisy environments – in addition to “one-ear-off” usage.
After one listen you’ll notice that these cans are geared towards producing a crisp reproduction of instruments and vocals but lack some low-end. This may not be a problem for some, but it will be for electronic music producers. And the ear cups do have fairly poor isolation compared to other closed-back models too. But the faux leather earpads are comfy to wear for long sessions, they cover the ear, and do provide enough isolation for monitoring – but it won’t block the noise of a busy commute.
For closed-back headphones, the soundstage is pretty impressive. It’s decent enough for monitoring let’s put it that way. But the frequency response seems to produce a stereo image that is a little narrow because of the lack of low-end emphasis. In other words, this lack in the low end reduces the central anchoring effect. It may be easy to over-compensate bass without noticing due to the lack of lows too. But due to the sharp reproduction in the upper-harmonics, you’ll notice any unwanted distortion you may add accidentally. Unwanted mid-range artefacts stick out by a mile! Despite a gradual roll-off, the high-end reproduction is smooth with no over-presence in the sibilant range too.
There’s plenty of power handling available with 2W max input power at 1kHz. And a low impedance value of 35 ohms means you can use these headphones with any device.
5. Sony MDR-7506 – best budget headphones for music production
- Audio coupling: Circumaural
- Weight: 230g
- Frequency response: 10Hz to 20kHz
- Impedance: 63Ω
The Sony MDR-7506 headphones are a staple for some very good reasons. They’re closed-back with a circumaural design that just fits over your ears; they’re lightweight and comfortable to wear for long sessions; and their metal extension sliders have useful graded scales that allow you to adjust the headband on either side easily. You can fold the earcups into the headband for easy transportation, just be wary of the lightweight plastics the cans are made of. You may want to think twice before just throwing them into your bag!
Despite these amazing ergonomic pros, one feature that may be a little off-putting is the cable. It’s present on both sides of the headband and slides down onto the outside of the ear cup before entering the plastic side casing. On the smallest headband adjustment, it creates a weird loop of cable that sticks out from both sides of the unit. While not the most fashionable, this would help you if you need to replace the cable at any time. The cable itself is 3 meters long which is handy while recording instruments with a microphone or performing on a MIDI controller – though it will be easy to tangle!
While maybe not so good for electronic music producers, the Sony MDR-7506 accept their lack of bass and instead focuses on the details in mid and treble ranges. Like the previous headphones, you will notice unwanted artefacts with their revealing soundstage – making them a great reference tool while mixing.
As we mentioned, any lack of bass is made up for in the details these cans provide in higher ranges. However, the bass reproduction is still tight and perfectly audible.
And with only 63ohms of impedance, you can use these headphones on pretty much any source – including your smartphone.