The best guitar amp headphones do two crucial jobs for the playing guitarist. They let you play whenever inspiration strikes, whether it’s in the morning before work or school, or late at night when everyone’s asleep. Sometimes that great melody in your head just won’t wait and if you don’t get it out right away, it’ll be gone the moment the next distraction arrives. Secondly, it allows you to develop your style and technique away from prying ears. Maybe you’re just getting started, or maybe you don’t want your partner/housemates/family members to hear you almost hit that two-tone bend again.
Of course, no pair of headphones will ever supplant the feeling of cranking an amp and letting rip, but that’s not what we’re here for today. What a great pair of guitar amp headphones will do is allow you to practice anytime, and in some cases, anywhere.
Perhaps you need to drown out the rest of the world so you can practice your three-note per string legato runs. Or maybe you want to repeat the solo section of your newest song over and over to find the right note. With a set of the best guitar amp headphones, nothing will stand in the way of improving your playing ability.
The majority of the headphones on this list aren’t solely for guitar either, they’ll do a great job monitoring in the studio or just listening to your music on the go. Whether you’re just listening for enjoyment or you’re trying to emulate your guitar heroes, a great pair of headphones really is essential buying for any musician.
We’ve included some expert buying advice at the end of this buyer’s guide, so if you’d like to read some more about the best guitar amp headphones scroll down to the bottom of the page. If you’re already armed with the knowledge, then keep going - you’re nearly there.
Best guitar amp headphones: Our top picks
Wearable tech just isn’t for your wrist you know! Boss Waza-Air headphones are an amplifier you can wear around your ears. These cans really need to be heard to be believed. The spatial settings are uncanny and they’re wireless too, so you can dance around like a maniac while you unleash your favourite riffs.
Another great choice would be the Shure SE535 Pro in-ear monitors. IEMs (as they’re known in the industry) are small, lightweight, and leave you with the feeling that you’re wearing nothing at all. As well as great isolation characteristics they sound brilliant too, especially when paired with a headphone amp for a rig you can take anywhere.
Best guitar amp headphones: Product guide
Wow, we’re living through incredible times. Iron Man-style jet suits, superfast self-driving electric cars, digital money, apple-pie-flavoured Baileys... Every few months, a tantalising futuristic fantasy product is suddenly here, just a mouse-click away from the joys of ownership.
The Boss Waza-Air headphones are exactly this type of product, the kind that feels like it’s arrived suddenly and unexpectedly from the future to change our lives forever. The idea is simple enough – stuff some modelling technology into a pair of cans – but the execution is way cooler than that.
This product just wouldn’t be the same if it looked like a couple of oversized techy carbuncles growing out of your head. Fortunately, the headphones are relatively sleek, lightweight and good-looking in a retro-postmodern, authentically faux Japanese kinda way. To be frank, they just look like an unassuming pair of squared-off headphones with some shiny steel detailing. The boffins at Boss clearly know their stuff when it comes to miniaturisation.
Once powered-up, the Waza-Airs gives you access to five great-sounding amps derived from the Katana stage amplifier series, together with more than 50 effects from the Boss Tone Studio app. They’re totally wireless, too – just plug the tidy transmitter into your guitar’s output jack and you’ll be free to rock 'n’ roll. We’re already sold, but we haven’t got to the really clever bit yet.
The Waza-Airs also pack spatial technology and a gyroscope that elevates the player experience to another level. When playing a guitar through a standard amp, a big part of your adventure depends on where that amp sits in the room. Most likely, it’ll be behind you or in front of you, but it could be anywhere in a 360-degree circle. These headphones can replicate this, enabling you to place a virtual amp wherever you want it.
Incredibly, you can also set the amp to maintain its position regardless of where you turn your head. In other words, place your virtual amp near the window of your real room, and even if you turn to face the opposite wall it will still sound as if the amp is placed by the window. It’s a surreal yet seductive playing experience.
If that’s not enough, you can jam to tunes streamed over Bluetooth, too. Impressively, this ‘virtual band’ can also be placed next to your amp for uncanny realism.
The Waza-Airs are so good, we wonder if they render small practice amps obsolete. At last, a product that makes us glad to be alive!
Vox’s VGH series of headphones take the manufacturer’s micro-amp amPlug 2 technology a step further. Now, instead of having to hook up an amPlug 2 to your guitar before plugging your headphones into it, you just have to plug a pair of VGH headphones into your axe and start playing.
Essentially, the modelling doodads from the amPlug micro-amps have been transplanted into a set of headphones, removing a bit of clutter and making it both easier and faster to get up and running.
The headphones are solid quality for the price. Vox has sensibly relied upon partner Audio-Technica to provide a pair of 40mm drivers that sound full and rich with a pleasing clarity in the top end. Flick the power switch off and the cans revert to a regular set of wired headphones with an aux-in for MP3 players and so on.
Rightly or wrongly, instead of including switchable modelling within one pair of cans, Vox has decided to market three versions with distinct sonic characters. The AC30 set are based on the manufacturer’s iconic AC30, the Rock pair are based on high-gain stacks of the ’80s and ’90s, and the Bass headphones are voiced for bass guitar.
No doubt this has lowered the price for each iteration, but if you’re a bassist who also likes to play a bit of ’60s blues with the occasional foray into hair metal, then investing in all three models becomes prohibitively expensive. Then again, if you just live to leap about in spandex while playing Poison’s pièce de résistance ‘Talk Dirty To Me’, you’ll be quids in with just the Rock headphones. We know you’re out there…
All three versions feature built-in effects, such as reverb, chorus and compression, but the beauty of these headphones lies in their simplicity. Just plug and play.
If you like headphones with flashing LEDs, touch-sensitive pads and lots of other bells and whistles, then the DT 770 Pros may not be for you. On the other hand, if you primarily care about sound quality and don’t want to compromise on comfort and durability, then prepare to fall in love.
The DT 770 Pros are reference-quality headphones specifically designed for studio monitoring purposes. If that sounds a bit intimidating, don’t worry. Think about it. Even if you’ve never stepped inside a recording studio, every time you plug your guitar into your amp you’re monitoring the sound that it emits. When you play through headphones, you want a similar experience – the most honest, authentic sound possible.
Outwardly, there’s nothing special about these headphones. They look smart, comfy and functional, but that’s about it. Stick them on and it’s a whole different story. An exceptional frequency response of 5Hz – 35KHz delivers a character that’s highly transparent, detailed and with ultra-low bass response. They provide a neutral listening environment that’s perfect for monitoring nuanced picking, chugging rhythm or screaming lead.
They’re handmade in Germany, too, and designed to be worn for hours at a time. All the critical parts are replaceable, so these could be the only pair of headphones you ever buy.
Read the full Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro review
The AKG K240s are studio classics, favoured for decades by producers and performers across the world. They’re another good example of how less is more – it’s striking how pro cans tend to come with far fewer ‘features’ than their consumer counterparts, even though they see many more hours of use. In the studio, sound quality is king.
These headphones come in two flavours – Studio and MKII. The MKII set feature some basic cosmetic upgrades, but the technical specification is identical for both. On this basis, we’d recommend opting for the cheaper Studio cans that, for the quality, are very cheap indeed.
With their gold trim, elegant logo and self-adjusting headband, the K240 Studios appear enchantingly retro. The circular ports cut into ear cups may look aesthetic, but they are in fact functional. The cans sport a semi-open design, which means that they sound more natural, airy and balanced than a fully closed design, but to the detriment of sound leakage.
This makes these headphones an excellent choice for occasions when sound isolation isn’t hugely important. They leak less than fully open headphones, but they’re still best avoided in noisy environments or where you could prove a nuisance to people sitting close to you.
If you can tuck yourself away somewhere quiet, though, you’ll be rewarded with a sound that’s impressively accurate, with extremely clear highs, an even mid-range and a solid bass response.
The padded cups are very comfortable and they feel robust enough to serve you well for years.
Not only are these best-sellers for Audio-Technica, they’re among the best-selling headphones on the market, period. Most brands differentiate their professional catalogue from their consumer products, but not Audio-Technica with its ATH-M50x cans. It markets them as studio, gaming and everyday headphones for all.
They certainly look the part, with their wide, soft headband, generously cushioned earcups, shot-peened-look plastic parts and brushed stainless-steel detailing. We had to double-check to make sure we hadn’t been sent a more premium model by mistake. There are some neat user-friendly design touches, such as the way they collapse down into a manageable package that’s easy to stuff into a travel bag, and how the earcups rotate through 90 degrees so that you can wear them comfortably against your neck when not in use.
How do they sound? What’s immediately apparent is the bass response, which is muscular but balanced, a characteristic of the two large 45mm drivers that feature neodymium magnets and a voice coil that’s wound with copper-clad aluminium wire. There’s clarity and mid-range definition aplenty here, too, along with an integrity that’ll stay loyal to your original sound.
There’s no Bluetooth or active noise cancelling, but the plush earcup cushions do a great job of keeping the outside world out and your guitar playing in sharp focus.
Read the full Audio-Technica ATH-M50x review
Focal is one of those intriguing brands that sit just outside the mainstream. It manages to balance what appears to be a cult following with a very popular, and a recently expanded, mid-range consumer product line. Its original top-end ‘Made in France’ series – speakers for audiophiles and studio monitors – has won numerous awards and the greatest respect, but tests the pockets of even the wealthiest.
A decade ago, when Focal merged with British hi-fi expert Naim, it started to introduce Focal-branded products that were designed in France but manufactured elsewhere to keep costs manageable. The Focal Listen Professionals are part of that evolution; they may boast a cheaper ticket price and lack a ‘Made in France’ sticker, but the quality is not to be sniffed at.
Focal’s goal with the Listen Professionals was to maintain dynamics and accurate detail across the whole audio spectrum, so it blessed them with brand-new custom drivers. In order to extend frequency response in the upper ranges, the manufacturer has suspended each 40mm speaker driver in Mylar, and composed the central domes from a Mylar-titanium alloy. The result is a driver that’s light, rigid and capable of bringing clarity and transparency to the very high end. The bass and sub-bass are excellent, too, with almost no distortion.
The thick, opulent ear cushions, resplendent in claret-coloured microfibre cloth, certainly look comfy – but even they have been developed with enhanced acoustic properties in mind. Focal claims that microfibre provides a more linear bass response than plastic or leather, and the volume of the cushions has been precisely calculated to achieve greater tonal balance. Apparently, the cups are the ideal acoustic environment. Could we tell? Perhaps that’s missing the point. What we do know is that these cans are beautifully comfortable for extended listening periods, and make guitar sound terrific provided you’re after a very natural, honest tone.
They’re more expensive than many of the products featured here, but bear in mind that the next model up in Focal’s studio line, the Clear MG Professionals, cost around four times as much, making these seem remarkably good value. They’re also the only closed-back headphones that Focal manufactures, making them the most viable choice for guitarists that this brand offers.
Read the full Focal Listen Professional review
Sennheiser is a huge name in the pro audio game and its headphones are used in studios all across the world. The HD 600s are an extremely popular choice for musicians everywhere, as they balance audiophile-level sound quality with a reasonable price.
These headphones provide a beautifully balanced sound that’s even, from bass right the way through to treble. They don’t quite hit the region of sub-bass due to their 12Hz cut-off, but you’re not likely to get near that unless you’re playing a 5-string bass guitar. For the money the detail in these headphones is astounding and if you run a rig with a lot of effects, you’ll be blown away by the clarity.
The build quality is superb as well. They’re made of plastic but feel very rugged, and there’s a metal band that runs over the headband assembly to keep things feeling nice and solid. The ear pads are made from high-quality velour and will be kind to your ears during those long playing sessions.
If you’re not yet a convert to in-ear monitoring (IEM) when gigging, the versatility of these ’phones from Shure will make you want to reconsider. Forget any bad experiences you’ve had with the tinny, ill-fitting earbuds that came with your phone – these IEMs are on a different level altogether.
IEMs rely on a snug fit to exclude ambient sound – the experience is a bit like sticking your fingers in your ears, but more musical. Get it right and they’re on a par, if not better, than a good set of well-isolated over-ear headphones, but without the weight or discomfort. To this end, Shure includes eight pairs of different-sized sleeves and tips to ensure a good fit and fantastic isolation.
The sound quality is superb. The SE535s employ three micro-drivers – two woofers and a tweeter – for clear, sparkly highs and smooth, mighty bass. They’re just at home on stage as they are plugged into a laptop or practice amp, and an optional Bluetooth cable is available for streaming music from your phone.
Wearing these IEMs is discreet to the point of being almost invisible. Factor in the lightweight comfort, isolation and sound quality, and the experience becomes completely immersive.
For a handy, barely-there-at-all practice rig, why not pack them in your guitar case together with a micro-amp such as the Fender Mustang Micro? Wherever your guitar goes, your practice rig goes too…
Best guitar amp headphones: Buying advice
What to look for in a pair of guitar amp headphones
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Choosing a pair of guitar amp headphones is an important decision. You want something that truly captures the sound of your instrument, not something that sounds like an angry wasp trying to get out of your living room. So before you take the plunge, here’s some sound advice to make certain you make the right purchase.
Generally speaking, in-ear headphones aren’t usually the best for playing with guitar amps. They tend to excel as monitors for the stage thanks to their lightweight or on the go for listening to music on your phone. The issue here is that the size determines the power of the headphones. The bigger the cans are, the larger the drivers and thus the better quality sound you’re likely to get. If you’re looking for something to improve what you can hear on stage, then check out the best in-ear monitors, if you want to listen to your guitar at home or in the studio with the best audio quality, then carry on!
Fitment is one of the most important aspects of any headphone purchase. You want to be sure that they’re comfortable enough that you can wear them for lengthy play sessions. The last thing you want is to have to stop your practice regimen because they’re making the top of your head or your ears hurt. The majority of headphones come with an adjustable band so you can find the right size for you. Cushion sizes tend to be fairly standardised, you’re not likely to find headphones with different sets of cushions. But if you’re really finding them uncomfortable, with some headphones you can purchase third-party cushions to help improve the comfort level.
There are two types of cup or cushion you can get with guitar amp headphones, over-ear or on-ear. As you’d imagine, over-ears go over your ears whereas on-ears are usually smaller cups that press down on the outer ear to help create a soundproof seal. Whilst on ears help reduce the noise around you, they’re often uncomfortable for longer playing sessions so not always the best choice for guitar players. Over ears create less of a seal but generally are much more comfortable to wear for larger amounts of time.
When dealing with over-ear cans, there are two types available, closed back and open back. Depending on what you want to use them for dictates the type you’ll need. For quiet practice and recording, we recommend closed-back headphones, as these prevent the sound from leaking outwards. If your goal is pure audio fidelity, then open-back headphones will have the best sound. This is because the design allows air to flow outwards, resulting in a more natural sound. However, this also means that others can hear what you’re listening to at high volumes and that works the other way too, as you’ll be able to hear what others in the room are doing too.
Do I need noise cancelling guitar amp headphones?
Active noise cancellation features small microphones that ‘listen’ to the outside world. A tiny amplifier then generates sound waves that are precisely the opposite – out of phase – of any ambient noise, thus cancelling it out. It’s a bit like adding +2 to -2 to arrive at zero, but more expensive. That said, although it’s true that this technology was once the preserve of top-end headphones, it’s now much more affordable and definitely worth seeking out if you need to play and listen to quiet passages where outside noise would be an issue.
Studio headphones vs normal headphones
A lot of the choices in this guide are ‘studio-grade’ headphones rather than consumer-grade. This is because consumer-grade headphones (think Beats or Skull Candy) tend to hype certain frequencies to give you that super low 808 on your hip-hop tracks or add clarity to vocals on pop and dance tunes. If you’re just enjoying some of your favourite music that’s great, but for us guitarists who painstakingly sculpt our guitar tones, it’s the last thing you want. Studio-grade headphones deliver what’s called a ‘flat’ EQ curve. That means no hype, just your guitar tone, pure and unadulterated.
Do I want Bluetooth guitar amp headphones?
Bluetooth is ubiquitous on electronic goods, so, unsurprisingly, a few of our recommended products feature it. However, it’s not always up to scratch if you fancy connecting your guitar to a Bluetooth transmitter in the hope that it’ll communicate with your headphones wirelessly. It will work, but there can be so much latency that playing becomes unbearable – some we’ve tried even gave us time to drink a flat white between plucking a note and hearing it. Play it safe and make sure that Bluetooth headphones come complete with a detachable or fixed audio lead. In theory, you’ll enjoy better-quality audio when you wire up anyway, but let’s not go down that rabbit hole!
Finally, regardless of cost, the very best guitar amp headphones are those that you forget you’re wearing because they’re so darned comfortable. Over-ear headphones should be fully adjustable for width and height, and should hug your bonce like a favourite loved-one rather than clamp it with vice-like enthusiasm. The headband should be wide and supportive, and the earcups should have more padding than the comfiest pillows on the pillow menu at the New York Plaza.
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