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Best studio headphones 2021: expert picks for music production and mixing

Included in this guide:

The best studio headphones in 2021 for music production and mixing
(Image credit: Future)

When monitoring your latest mixes or recording in the studio, a pair of the best studio headphones, in our opinion, is a must have. Any music producer worth their salt will tell you that they monitor using as many different systems as they can lay their hands on: a pair of studio monitors, a Bluetooth speaker, even a car stereo. And, of course, the best quality studio headphones their budget will stretch to.

A great pair of studio headphones is probably a producer's most used item in their studio. They’re an essential tool for assessing the stereo image, low-end and fine detail within a mix. Just like studio monitors, it’s important to choose the right pair of studio headphones, but it is a very personal choice.

In the studio, the best monitor headphones for you will be the ones that you can mix on and craft the most epic sounding result possible. Perhaps you’re looking for a pair of studio headphones solely for mixing, or something that you can employ for everyday music-listening duties too. If you're looking for a pair of workhorse cans sturdy enough to cope with life on the go, studio headphones can do that too - as they're usually built to a higher standard than most general-listening cans.

To help with your choice, this guide to the best studio headphones includes our top picks. We’ve reviewed every model and have highlighted the strengths, weaknesses and suitability for different musical disciplines below. 

Our price comparison software has also found the best prices on the web right now, so you can be sure you’re grabbing a bargain once you’ve decided on the pair for you. If your budget is smaller, then no worries - take a look at our guide to the best budget studio headphones.

We've included some buying advice at the bottom of this guide, so if you're here to learn more about the best studio headphones, hit the ‘buying advice’ button above. If you'd rather get straight to the products, then keep scrolling. 

Looking for great studio headphones deals? Check out our Black Friday music deals page for all the latest news and the biggest offers.

Best studio headphones: Our top picks

If your budget is on the smaller side, then our pick for the best studio headphones has to be the Sennheiser HD-206. These are pocket-friendly headphones that have been around for ages, but the overall performance that they offer is anything but bargain bucket. These headphones are great for use in the studio, plus they’re supremely light, comfortable and durable for those extra long days of recording and mixing.

Our mid-range pick has to be a pair of the Sony MDR-7506s. They've featured in recording studios, radio stations and DJ booths for the last 35 years, and continue to be regarded as one of the very best. For under £100, it'll be tough to find cans as good as these.

As you move further up the price scale, the decisions get a little more difficult. We’d gladly recommend the Focal Listen Professional as our pick for those with a little more cash to splash, though. They're competitively priced and have an excellent pedigree (Focal is among the most highly-regarded monitor manufacturers out there), and we doubt you’ll find a better pair of headphones for similar money.

Best studio headphones: Product guide

Best studio headphones: Focal Listen Professional

(Image credit: Focal)

The best studio headphones for all music production needs

Specifications
Price: $299/£219/€229
Type: Closed-back, over-ear
Frequency response: 5Hz - 22kHz
Impedance: 32 Ω
Driver type: Mylar/Titanium, 40mm
Connection: Wired
Reasons to buy
+Sturdy and comfortable fit+Solid sound repro at low volumes+Distinctive looks
Reasons to avoid
-Silicon headband attracts sweat

The Focal Listen Professionals are exactly what they say on the tin; ideal for both listening and pro duties. This puts them firmly top of the class in the all-rounder category. Overall, the fit is snug, but not too tight that long periods in the mixing saddle are unbearable. 

In fact far from it, the longest period of time we had them on for was around three hours, with the main issues just being back pain and the lack of blinking. While many engineers and audio specialists might prefer open-backed designs for their lack of fatigue, the closed Listen Pros perform admirably in this regard.

We found the response of these cans to be perfectly balanced, with remarkably neutral, punchy bass with plenty of extension, full, clear mids and sparkling, smooth highs. Complete with a beautiful hard-shell case, we don't think there's a better all-round studio headphone out there at this price.

Read the full Focal Listen Professional review

Best studio headphones: Sennheiser HD-206

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

The best studio headphones for making music for less

Specifications
Price: $59/£35/€42
Type: Closed-back, over-ear
Frequency response: 21Hz - 18kHz
Impedance: 24 Ω
Driver type: Dynamic, closed
Connection: Wired
Reasons to buy
+Balanced response+Great for tracking+Durable yet lightweight
Reasons to avoid
-Cord is a bit long

If you’re in the market for a cheap pair of headphones for everyday studio use, you need to check out the Sennheiser HD-206. Bearing the well-respected Sennheiser name on the headband, the extremely tough and durable HD-206’s are comfortable to wear for extended periods. 

Remarkably accurate for the money, the HD-206’s measure up more than favourably to much pricier peers. The bass response in particular is rich and crisp, with plenty of detail also to be found in the mids and highs - making these potentially some of the best guitar amp headphones.

The hypoallergenic ear pads are more than adequate for blocking out extraneous noise whether in the studio or out on the move, and at this price, you need never fear recklessly throwing these in your laptop bag. Grab a pair before Sennheiser realise how good they are and raise the price.

Read the full Sennheiser HD-206 review

Best studio headphones: Sony MDR-7506

(Image credit: Sony)

Still topping the charts after 35 years

Specifications
Price: $99/£87/€100
Type: Closed-back, over-ear
Frequency response: 10Hz - 20kHz
Impedance: 63 Ω
Driver type: Neodymium, 40mm
Connection: Wired
Reasons to buy
+Workhorse headphones+Comfortable for longer wear+Great-sounding 
Reasons to avoid
-Long coiled cable is quite heavy

The Sony MDR series has been around for years and has a solid studio pedigree, borne out by decades of daily use in the recording and broadcast sectors worldwide. The current incarnation, the MDR-7506 is a brilliant combination of comfort, practicality and value. 

Extremely comfortable to wear for extended periods, these are designed to expose what’s wrong with a recording rather than what’s right. On a par with other cans costing twice as much, the sound is punchy and clear throughout the spectrum (with a moderate boost in the upper mids), while managing not to be overly-flattering. 

So all in all the fact that these workhorse cans are available for well under a hundred quid is not to be sniffed at.

Read the full Sony MDR-7506 review

Best studio headphones: Sennheiser HD-25

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

The best studio headphones if you want a tried-and-tested DJ fave

Specifications
Price: $149/£129/€154
Type: On-ear
Frequency response: 16Hz - 22kHz
Impedance: 70 Ω
Driver type: Dynamic, closed
Connection: Wired
Reasons to buy
+Pro choice+Lightweight+Robust
Reasons to avoid
-Not the most comfy earpads

Another long-standing studio favourite, HD-25’s are acclaimed by pros for their ability to handle high sound pressure levels and deliver excellent sound reproduction. A stalwart of the booth thanks to their split headband, rotatable earpieces and reputation for durability, the HD-25 delivers punchy and accurate sound in a lightweight yet robust package. 

Classified as an on-ear design, because the pads are circular and rest on the outside of the ear rather than enclosing it fully, the HD-25 is currently available in three flavours (Light, Standard and Plus) at three price points, for general studio/DJ duties you really can’t go wrong with a pair of Sennheiser HD-25’s.

Read the full Sennheiser HD 25 review

Best studio headphones: Audio-Technica ATH-M50x

(Image credit: Audio-Technica)

One of the best all-round headphones for music production

Specifications
Price: $149/£159/€179
Type: Closed-back, over-ear
Frequency response: 15Hz - 28kHz
Impedance: 38 Ω
Driver type: Large-aperture w/rare earth magnets, 45mm
Connection: Wired
Reasons to buy
+Affordable+DJ friendly+Comfortable
Reasons to avoid
-Not very detailed high-end

The reissued M50 ('x’ = detachable cable) is a popular model across the audio world, competing directly with Beyerdynamic and AKG. They are comfortable, fold and bend in all the right places, and are relatively light (285g).

The sound quality is good overall, though they do shy away from a detailed, airy HF region. The mids are clear and forward, while the bottom-end extends down without any peaky resonances. As with all the low impedance designs here (these are 38 ohm), they are easily driven beyond our comfort threshold. 

Read our full Audio-Technica ATH-M50x review

Best studio headphones: Audio-Technica ATH-R70x

(Image credit: Audio-Technica )

6. Audio-Technica ATH-R70x

The best studio headphones when you need open-back reference cans

Specifications
Price: $349/£279/€339
Type: Open-back, over-ear
Frequency response: 5Hz - 40kHz
Impedance: 470 Ω
Driver type: Carbon composite resin, 45mm
Connection: Wired
Reasons to buy
+Good stereo separation+Unique headband design+Great clarity and detail 
Reasons to avoid
-No coiled cable available

Open-back designs like the ATH-R70x tend to be favoured for long mix sessions as they’re generally lighter and less fatiguing than closed-back cans, which is good news as this model has been developed especially as a reference headphone for mixing.

At this price and above we've used models with more apparent 'air', but we don't consider this a deficiency – if anything, it means you’re less likely to end up with a dull mix. Down the other end the response is no less smooth with all the extension you need without the slightest hint of boom or false fatness.

Moving up, the low mids continue unwrinkled, free from cheap scooping back (a voicing often employed to mask uneven response) so you can really hear what's going on, for better or for worse. It's all about the mids and low mids for us, and with the R70x all the juice comes through without complications; everything appears clearly delineated and unmuddled, unless the source is otherwise.

It’s a high-impedance model, so you’ll need a suitable headphone amp to connect them to for best results. 

Read our full Audio-Technica ATH-R70x review 

Best studio headphones: Beyerdynamic DT1770 PRO

(Image credit: Beyerdynamic)

Top studio headphones for mixing low-end frequencies

Specifications
Price: $599/£430/€499
Type: Closed-back, over-ear
Frequency response: 5Hz - 40kHz
Impedance: 250 Ω
Driver type: Dynamic Tesla neodymium, 45mm
Connection: Wired
Reasons to buy
+Superb sound quality+Well built+Great low-end detail
Reasons to avoid
-Not cheap

Beyerdynamic is an audio heavyweight, responsible for the ubiquitous DT 100 tracking cans that were everywhere in the 1980’s and 90’s and are still available today. Their current range is huge, but designed specifically for mixing, the DT 1770s are exceedingly well balanced across the audible spectrum. 

The mid range is free from audible phase shift, allowing the clarity essential for professional use. The sound stage projected into your head is as pleasurable as it is revealing. They provide a highly detailed view into your audio, from left to right, front to back, and even into the corners.

Being a high-impedance design, you’ll need to drive them hard, but from discrete reverb tails tucked behind a busy mid range, to tiny distortions and clips, they reproduce whatever your signal chain is capable of supplying. Audio restoration, mixing and tracking all greatly benefit from the quality the DT 1770s offer.

Read our full Beyerdynamic DT1770 PRO review

Best studio headphones: Austrian Audio Hi-X65

(Image credit: Austrian Audio )

8. Austrian Audio Hi-X65

Hi-performance open-backed studio cans from ex-AKG employees

Specifications
Price: $440/£319/€349
Type: Open-back, over-ear
Frequency response: 5Hz - 28kHz
Impedance: 25 Ω
Driver type: 44mm high excursion driver
Connection: Wired
Reasons to buy
+Neutral sonic signature+Very comfortable fit+Excellent detail and separation+Two detachable cables (1.2m / 3m)
Reasons to avoid
-Less well known than Audio Technica, Sennheiser et al

Relative newcomers to the pro headphone market, Austrian Audio fielded their latest studio-centric, open-back design in July of 2021 and have already scored a direct hit with critics and customers alike. Excellent, balanced sound that remains neutral yet highly detailed, coupled with solid build quality, all leads to an enjoyable listening experience whatever the setting.

Foldable construction for added portability, twin detachable cables of different 3-metre and 1.2-metre lengths to suit a variety of tasks and soft, slow-retention memory foam earpads for extended comfort all add to the appeal.

If you’re in the market for a premium pair of headphones that excels for mixing and critical listening, the Hi-X65’s tick a lot of boxes.

Read the full Austrian Audio Hi-X65 review

Best studio headphones: Shure SRH1540

(Image credit: Shure)

9. Shure SRH1540

A firm favourite from a classic name in pro audio

Specifications
Price: $645/£469/€550
Type: Closed-back, over-ear
Frequency response: 5Hz - 25kHz
Impedance: 46 Ω
Driver type: 40mm neodymium driver
Connection: Wired, dual-exit
Reasons to buy
+Exceptional detail and clarity+Light and comfortable fit+Impressive low-end extension+Alcantara ear pads
Reasons to avoid
-Non-foldable

With a pro audio pedigree stretching back decades, Shure is a name you should be able to trust when choosing a set of headphones for your studio. The premium model SRH1540’s do not disappoint, delivering excellent acoustic performance, comfort and durability to professionals and audiophiles alike.

Offering an expansive soundstage and immaculate transient detail across the board, with clear, extended highs and warm bass in a lightweight alloy and carbon fibre architecture, the 1540’s are topped off with swish Alcantara leather earpads for supreme comfort and sound isolation.

Though far from the cheapest option on the list, the performance delivered by the 1540’s undoubtedly proves more than sufficient reward for the investment.

Read the full Shure SRH1540 review

Best studio headphones: Beyerdynamic DT-770

(Image credit: Beyerdynamic )

10. Beyerdynamic DT-770 PRO

A legendary set of studio headphones without breaking the bank

Specifications
Price: $150/£110/€130
Type: Closed-back, over-ear
Frequency response: 5Hz - 40kHz
Impedance: 250 Ω
Driver type: Dynamic Tesla neodymium, 45mm
Connection: Wired
Reasons to buy
+Flat frequency response +Comfortable on your ears 
Reasons to avoid
-No removable cable

Beyerdynamic headphones have been renowned by professionals and amateurs alike, being the to-go studio headphones for producers seeking extremely high build quality and durability. 

Like the DT-1770 models - already featured in this guide - the DT-770s offer a fantastic flat frequency base, allowing you to hear exactly how your mix sounds in intense detail. In addition, the comfortable soft padded headband means you can spend hours labouring over your mix without fatigue, while the rugged design means they are sure to last. 

Coming in at a far more wallet-friendly price point - compared to the DT-1770 - these fantastic headphones offer fantastic value for money and are a great first step into the world of studio headphones. 

Best studio headphones: Pioneer HRM-7

(Image credit: Pioneer)

The best studio headphones for lengthy mixing sessions

Specifications
Price: $239/£169/€149
Type: Closed-back, over-ear
Frequency response: 5Hz - 40kHz
Impedance: 45 Ω
Driver type: Dynamic, 40mm
Connection: Wired
Reasons to buy
+Comfortable+Lightweight+Undistorted dynamic range
Reasons to avoid
-Not for use in the booth

Headphones can be a good way to judge bass when the available monitors don't reach down too far, and in this regard the HRM-7s don't disappoint. There's no hyping, just a clear picture of what's going on down low. The low-mid and mid range are crucial for the real meat in any mix, and it can be easy to make a mess here without decent monitoring. 

The HRM-7s present the detail in this range accurately; no carving out or pushing forward which are often the side effects of bass-hyped or bass light designs (respectively). The airy top, ie 15kHz and up, is all present and correct so you can control the 'twinkle' without second-guessing. The upper mid/early high range (5kHz) is a little overrepresented for our taste, which makes us mix this region too far back.

Read our full Pioneer HRM-7 review

Best studio headphones: Nuraphone by Nura Headphones

(Image credit: Nuraphone)

The best studio headphones for a personalised listening experience

Specifications
Price: $399/£349/€399
Type: Closed-back, over-ear and in-ear
Frequency response: n/a
Impedance: n/a
Driver type: Inova
Connection: Wired and Bluetooth (aptX)
Reasons to buy
+Bespoke hearing profiling+Plenty of cabling options+Immersive sound
Reasons to avoid
-High reliance on app

Nura’s Nuraphone system is unique in that it automatically generates a personalised user profile, then tailors its response to suit your hearing, creating a bespoke listening experience. There’s almost no point in us telling you how good these headphones sound, as they’re going to sound great to you, no matter what. 

The profiling is voiced in a such a way to sound very pleasing, with a crisp and detailed top-end, slightly scooped mids and haptic drivers that deliver more than enough low-end to offer plenty of depth and immersion. Of course how this is achieved differs with each user, but they perform admirably when stacked up against other headphones at a similar price point, so be prepared to find yourself going back over old mixes and making some tweaks. 

Even though the Nuraphones fit firmly into the ‘listening’ category of headphones, the technology is fascinating and they do prove useful as an alternative monitoring source in the studio – perfect for those hasty club mixes if you're missing a sub-woofer in your speaker setup.

Read our full Nuraphone by Nura review

Best studio headphones: Mackie MP-240

(Image credit: Mackie)

High-performance in-ears that dazzle

Specifications
Price: $199/£179/€239
Type: In-ear
Frequency response: 20Hz - 20kHz
Impedance: 32 Ω
Driver type: Hybrid driver design - LF dynamic driver, MF/HF armature driver
Connection: Wired
Reasons to buy
+Hard case+Plenty of fitment options+Hybrid driver design
Reasons to avoid
-None

The MP-240 uses a dynamic driver for bass and a balanced armature for the mids and highs (Mackie call it a dual hybrid design), and although this model isn’t substantially more expensive than the MP-220, we feel it’s streets ahead sonically. First up, the mid range is more defined yet overall feels less prominent, which should be less fatiguing. 

However, it’s the top end where these really win, with clear yet smooth high frequencies delivering excellent articulation. Indeed, switching back over to the MP-220 only goes to hammer home how much better the MP-240 sounds.

Read the full Mackie MP-240 review

Best studio headphones: Audio Technica ATH-E70

(Image credit: Audio Technica)

The best headphones if you prefer in-ear monitor styles

Specifications
Price: $399/£329/€399
Type: In-ear
Frequency response: 20Hz - 19kHz
Impedance: 39 Ω
Driver type: Balanced armature
Connection: Wired
Reasons to buy
+Lightweight+Comfortable+Fantastic sound
Reasons to avoid
-Pricey

It’s hard to imagine even the best in ear monitors delivering a sound you can rely on for production duties, but be it tracking, sound design or mixing, the E70s impress from top to bottom. They don’t quite rival an equally-priced set of headphones, especially in the bass, a region in which physics throws up some serious constraints. 

Subs are audible and there’s no low mid scooping to mask poor phase response; the bass is just less punchy than you’d get with the average studio headphones. 

The mids are clear and free from fatiguing peaks, so the meat of a mix can be tackled with confidence, and even if the high frequency range is slightly soft, subtle adjustments come through clearly enough that you’ll be happy using EQ in this region.

Read our full Audio Technica ATH-E70 review

Best studio headphones: Buying advice

A pair of Audio-Technica ATH M70X headphones on a dark background

(Image credit: Audio-Technica)

What are the main types of studio headphones?

When it comes to studio headphone design, there are three options to consider: Closed-back on-ear, open-back on-ear, and in-ear. Closed-back headphones are best for recording applications as they fully enclose the ears, and the padding around the ear helps to avoid spill; which is unwanted traces of the backing track leaking out and ending up on your recording. The padding also provides an additional layer of comfort.

Spill can be a problem if your performer likes to monitor with some volume, so when recording performers with microphones, this type of headphone is definitely the route to take.

Open-back cans tend to be lighter and are therefore a bit more comfortable to wear for longer periods, but they’re generally not as common. They present a higher risk of audio spill, so are more suitable for programming and mixing duties, rather than recording. They also don’t block out external noise as effectively as closed-back options, so there are definitely some compromises here.

In-ear monitors (aka IEM’s), meanwhile, are usually reserved for on-stage monitoring, unless they’re extremely high quality, in which case they can be suitable for use in a studio environment. In-ears wouldn't be our first choice in this instance, but we’ve recommended a couple of quality pairs in this guide in case you’ll be splitting your time between stage and studio and only have budget for one purchase.

What's the difference between studio headphones and normal headphones?

One question you might be asking is why the distinction between regular and studio headphones - why can’t I just use any old set of cans for music production? Ok, that’s technically two questions, but the answer to both is the same - most headphones that are produced for ordinary everyday listening or gaming have an inherent boost somewhere in the frequency range to enhance the listening experience, usually making things sound better by boosting the bass and treble frequencies. 

In a studio headphone, this isn’t such a good idea, as you want your cans to accurately reflect the music you’re creating, rather than making it sound better than it actually is. For this reason, dedicated studio headphones will generally have been designed to exhibit a flatter frequency response than most regular cans, so that tracks made using them will sound better when played back on a wide range of systems.

Best studio headphones: a folded up pair of Focal Listen Professional headphones

(Image credit: Focal)

Are studio headphones necessary?

Like the name implies, anything branded a studio headphone will have been designed especially for use in a recording studio setting, with particular focus on the tasks of tracking, programming, editing and mixing. The type of headphone you choose will be dependent on which of these tasks you’ll most need them for. An open-backed design is more prone to spill than a closed-back pair, so open-backs tend to be more useful when mixing and editing as opposed to tracking, since any spill can be picked up on microphones. 

Closed-back designs are a bit more versatile as they can usually be applied to all studio-related tasks. Studio headphones also usually have less of a smiley curve response than ordinary hi-fi headphones, which often exhibit enhanced low and high-end response designed to flatter the sound and improve the everyday listening experience - not necessarily what you want from a pair of studio cans.

Do you need an amp for studio headphones?

One key aspect of headphone design that may influence the route you take is impedance. Good ‘impedance matching’ will help your headphones work more effectively, so here you need to consider what type of gear you’ll be plugging them into. Let us explain a little deeper…

High-impedance headphones are designed for studio environments like a band recording setup, where you might find multiple sets of cans plugged into a headphone splitter box that’s receiving a high-level input signal from one source, eg. a professional headphone amplifier. Meanwhile, low-impedance headphones are designed to be plugged directly into a single source, like a hi-fi stereo amp, audio interface or mobile phone, so they’re able to generate sound more efficiently from the lower-level input signal these devices put out.

Most studio headphones on the market today have a low enough impedance that they can happily be plugged into the outputs of regular devices such as mobile phones and laptops. Some models, however, such as the Beyer Dynamic DT770, are available at a variety of impedances; the higher impedance models are intended for use in a studio setting where they’ll need to be driven by a separate headphone amp in order to perform at their best.

Generally, high-impedance headphones require higher signal levels to produce the same output level of low-impedance headphones. So broadly speaking, the higher a headphone’s impedance rating, the more ‘pro’ it was designed to be. We’ve included the impedance rating with our best studio headphones choices in this guide so it’s clear what you’re getting.

How comfortable are studio headphones?

Anything you’re planning on wearing for extended periods of time needs to be comfortable, and the best studio headphones are no exception. Padded ear pads are a must both from a comfort point of view and for acoustic exclusion, to stop outside noise getting in, and, if you’re going to be using them for studio recording, stopping noise from your backing track spilling out into the mics. 

Having the ears comfortably surrounded by padding makes the listening experience profoundly inclusive, enabling you to block out extraneous noise from your surroundings and focus on the fine details of what you’re listening to. 

There’s also the issue of hygiene to consider – people lose body heat through the top of the head, so make sure the headband and ear cups of your chosen headphones aren’t going to make you sweat excessively; studios can be warm and stuffy at times, and the last thing you want is a pair that makes you sweaty, particularly if you’re sharing the cans with other studio users. 

That said, the headband needs to be padded enough that it doesn't dig into your head during longer sessions, otherwise you’ll be forever needing to take them off to give your head a break.

Dave Clews

Dave has been making music with computers since 1988 and his engineering, programming and keyboard-playing has featured on recordings by artists including George Michael, Kylie and Gary Barlow. A music technology writer since 2007, he’s Computer Music’s long-serving songwriting and music theory columnist, iCreate magazine’s resident Logic Pro expert and a regular contributor to MusicRadar and Attack Magazine. He also lectures on synthesis at Leeds Conservatoire of Music and is the author of Avid Pro Tools Basics.