Best Studio Headphones for Recording/Mixing

| June 23, 2012 | 6 Comments

Welcome, musicians! Finding proper studio gear can be a daunting endeavor. With so many options out there, it can be difficult to properly narrow down the playing field and make the “right” choice. Well our aim is to make the headphone part of that journey as simple and painless as possible. We have broken down all our recommendations into the following categories so you can quickly narrow down your choices based on expected usage type:

  • Recording – Good isolation and negligible sound leakage. Using these for mixing purposes can be difficult.
  • Mixing – Very accurate separation and placement of instruments is the most obvious difference over the “Recording” headphones, however they leak sound due to their open-back design. Loudspeakers are widely accepted as being better suited for this purpose, but in this day and age there are so many musicians who make music on their portable/home rig where headphones are the more practical way to record and mix. Once you “know” your headphones, mixing becomes much easier.
  • Recording/Mixing – Versatile headphones that can be used for both purposes if you are on a tight budget

[Disclaimer: these recommendations are not comprehensive. Instead, we have tried to find something for everyone while keeping the lists short. At the same time, this is a living document so let us know what we’re missing!]

In order of increasing price:

Superlux HD668B / Samson SR850 – $50 (Mixing)

A budget alternative to the much more expensive AKG K701. Soundstage, imaging, and instrument separation are amazing for such an affordable headphone.  The detail is incredible at this price, while the sound signature is cold due to the unemphasized bass. Want to read more? Check out our HD668B quick review. [Buy at Amazon]

 

 

 

Audio Technica ATH-M40FS – $55 (Recording)

The M40 is often overshadowed by its older brother, the M50, but if your needs are solely for a recording headphone there is no reason to jump to the higher model: the M40 does the job handily. The ends of the frequency spectrum are a bit unrefined, and they sound congested at higher volumes but for a $50 headphone these are minor issues. They are light, comfortable, more neutral than the M50, and sound great for the price. The FS stands for field-serviceable which means all the individual parts can be easily replaced including the cable, drivers, and ear pads. [Buy at Amazon]

 

Sony MDR-V6 – $85 (Recording/Mixing)

The V6 has long been the industry standard for affordable do-it-all monitoring headphones. They remain close to neutral but have the slightest of boosts in the bass and treble. Detail retrieval is very good as is expected of a monitoring headphone, but they struggle with instrument positioning compared to most of the other headphones on this list. There is enough layering to do rough mixes, but as always they need to be used in combination with loudspeakers for best results. Make sure to read our quick review of the MDR-V6if you are interested! [Buy at Amazon]

 

KRK KNS-8400 – $150 (Recording/Mixing)

The KNS-8400 stands toe-to-toe with the lauded ATH-M50 and does more than just hold its own. Gone is the bass-boost which makes the 8400 easier to mix with, comfort is slightly improved, and they come with a detachable cable. They do not fold up but have swivel cups for flat-folding portability. The sound may not be as consumer-friendly as the M50, but if you plan on using these for any mixing, the 8400 is the clear choice. An excellent headphone that you will not be disappointed with! [Buy at Amazon]

 

 

Audio Technica ATH-M50 – $150 (Recording)

The M50 has long been accepted as one of the best values in the world of headphones. It is Audio Technica’s flagship DJ headphone but is often used for much more than that: it is also great for recording and casual listening. Their trustworthiness for mixing purposes is where they are under some fire. They have great balance on the whole but from a frequency response perspective they are actually quite coloured. That being said, mixing can be done with these – even Dr. Dre has used them for this purpose. As I mentioned earlier, “knowing your headphones” will make or break their usefulness when used for mixing. Also available in white and limited edition silver/blue. [Buy at Amazon]

 

German Maestro GMP 8.35 D – $250 (Recording)

The 8.35D is my top recommendation for studio or general monitoring headphones. Electronic musicians need not look any further, as they pump out great detail in the bass and clarity in the treble for all types of percussion. They are nearly indestructible, have great isolation, and unlike most studio headphones you may feel compelled to use them as your primary casual listening headphone! They sound great even out of portable devices due to their low impedance. In terms of sound, they share a lot in common with the Sennheiser HD-25-1 and the Beyerdynamic DT 770. Soundstage is lacking a bit, but this is nothing new for a closed-back headphone. Go for the 8.300 D Professional if you only plan on using them in the studio and have proper amplification. [Buy at Amazon]

Beyerdyamic DT 880 – $250 (Mixing)

The DT 880 is a safe choice for mixing purposes. It is very comfortable and has a supremely flat response. If you need a great detail and volume in the bass, the DT 770 is a way to go, but it has a much darker sound and is harder to mix on in general. The DT 990 has a more “fun” sound if you will be using them casual listening as well, but they are not as flat as the 880s. There is a whopping total of six versions of the DT 880 available. Pro and Premium are the two main flavors, with each of them having a 32 Ω, 250 Ω, and 600 Ω version. The 600 Ω Premium is the most highly recommended but it does require some type of amplification. The lower ohm versions are more suited for portable devices. The Pro version has a much stronger clamping force. [Buy at Amazon]

AKG K701, K702, or Q701 – $275 (Mixing)

The kings of detail in the mid-range market. Soundstage and resolution are superb, but many people find them “thin” sounding and they are definitely bass-light. As such, they are highly recommended for any music that does not revolve around bass. All three models are so similar in sound they can be considered one, but there are slight differences. The K701 has the most detail but by the same token has the coldest presentation. They need an amplifier to sound their best. [Buy at Amazon]

 

 

Sennheiser HD 600 – $400 (Mixing)

The HD 600 is Sennheiser’s “bread and butter” full-size headphone. They have been around for close to 20 years now and remain one of the most balanced and detailed headphones on the market. They are the most “lush” sounding of all the headphones on this list. I have seen the HD 650 recommended for mixing purposes but I am not sure why: it was tuned to be a casual listening headphone. Worth noting is that you really need an amp for these to shine. [Buy at Amazon]

 

 

Sennheiser HD 800 – $1,500 (Mixing)

If you have a professional studio or have some extra cash to throw around, you can’t get better than the HD 800 for mixing. It is able to expose your recording for what it is, and perfectionists will find their job gets a bit more difficult when working with the HD 800. Soundstage, imaging, and clarity are all simply incredible. As with all high-end headphones, they are very picky in terms of source matching. [Buy at Amazon]

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Category: Best Headphones

Comments (6)

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  1. Brandon Williams says:

    Hello i wondering if you had any input on the ex-29 extreme isolation headphones for mixing

    • mark says:

      Sorry Brandon, I haven’t tried those before. If sound quality is a major concern, I would stay away though. They appear to be good for extremely noisy environments but I would shoot for a more trusted brand if you don’t need “extreme isolation”.

  2. Tom says:

    Hello,

    Do you also recommend the German Maestro GMP 8.35 D for mixing or is the KRK KNS-8400 better for this? I’m producing electronical music. Thanks in advance for your reply.

    Greetings,

    Tom

    • mark says:

      Hi Tom,
      Sorry for the late response, did you make a decision yet?
      The KNS-8400 are more of a bang/buck headphone, though the German Maestro is a step up in sound and build quality. Can’t really go wrong with either of them. Let me know what you decide!
      Mark

      • Noobu says:

        I know I’m late to this, but I’m very interested in what Tom’s asking, too. But you didn’t quite answer it, he refers very specifically to mixing. The GMP may be more hi-fi sounding, and better built, but is it neutral, accurate enough, does it present enough detail, and has it got good resolution and separation as compared to the KRKs 8400, specifically for MIXING?

        I’m very interested in your answer, as I’m torn between these two.

        Thank you!

        • mark says:

          Noobu,

          Sorry for the late response. I would say the GMP is the better headphone in almost every category. It is neutral, so yes, it is good for mixing. If you have the $$ to reach for it, I would do it.

          If you go with the GMP, it may be worth trying the oval earpads (product id 41-6050), people have reported an improvement in clarity.

          Hope this helps.

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