Headphones are an essential tool for recording musicians, but there are a lot of choices out there - and some of them are very expensive. We recently asked you about your favorite headphones, and this article wraps up your answers. Just in time for Christmas, it summarizes the “hive mind” of Audiotuts+ readers on the best brands and models for studio use and listening for pleasure.
Issues to Consider When Choosing Headphones
In your comments, you raised some important issues that need to be considered when purchasing headphones. Here they are:
- What is the purpose of the headphones? Listening for pleasure or studio use?
- Will you be listening to music in loud environments where noise canceling headphones are an asset?
- Will singers or musicians be wearing the headphones near a microphone when tracking, which will mean you want as little bleed as possible?
- If you are using the headphones for mixing or mastering, a flat frequency response is important.
- Will the headphones be used in an environment where they will be stepped on and mistreated, meaning you want inexpensive headphones that are easy to replace, but still sound reasonably good?
- Are you looking for the ultimate headphones that you’ll be wearing for years, and see them as an investment worth spending good money on?
- Do you regularly jam cables in doors and drawers, meaning you should consider a replaceable cord?
- Do you intend on wearing the headphones for hours at a time, meaning you want comfortable headphones? They’ll also need to be kind to your ears.
- Is a wide stereo field important to you?
Keep these issues in mind when you read about the headphone models below.
You mentioned lots of brands in the comments, but five brands stood out from the rest. The comments for some brands focused on just one or two models, while other brands had much broader interest. Here are the Top 5 brands:
The most significant mentions came for the top three listed here - and especially the top headphones - the AGK K 240.
1. AKG K 240
Price at Amazon: $144.95
This was the most mentioned model by far. They have a nice flat frequency response, making it an excellent choice for mixing. In fact, it’s so flat some commenters find it boring. Several people mentioned that it is a little weak in the bass.
Here are some comments:
- “Gotta be the AKG K240s. Bass is not amazing, but it doesn’t matter because everything else about them is.” (Jamie D)
- “The AKGs are perfect for monitoring and listening, but the sound is “boring” since it is so flat.” (Robert Stjärnström)
- “I’ve had my pair for years but I confess that when I bought them I did so because a friend got a deal for me. For recording, I like the 240s for both their sound (natural, clear, smooth, warm) and their comfort (seriously, I have never tried on a more comfortable pair of headphones). Ditto for listening, but since they’re bulky, I never travel with them. For that I use cheap ‘buds because I loose them all the time!” (Jeff Shattuck)
- “These always seemed accurate, but weak.” (West Latta)
- “AKG K-240 for pretty much everything, as mentioned many times before in this thread, they are good in every aspect exept the bass being a little weak, but still – best semi-open hp’s out there in my book.” (Moe)
2. beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO
Price at Amazon: $249.00
These closed architecture headphones have little spill, making them ideal for tracking and monitoring.
Here are some comments:
- “My favorite for monitoring…. DT770.” (Corey Scott)
- “Beyerdynamic DT-770 Pro for tracking and as the headphone for the musicians and singers. Closed architecture so minimal spill into mics even at high volumes. Also good for checking the bass, i know – still headphones, but they even tend to overemphasize down there.” (Moe)
3. Sony MDR-7506
Price at Amazon: $95.00
These are the cheapest headphones by far in the Top 3, but still quite good.
Here are some comments:
- “MDR 7506 sony… standard.” (Luis Bernal)
- “I’ve been using a pair of Sony MDR-7506 for the last six or seven years. I like them but I really want to try Shure’s new SRH440 headphones.” (Jesse Peckham)
- “Sony MDR 7506. Very standard but very good. And cheap.” (Deems)
- “I’ve used the Sony 7506 (as noted, a standard, but not my favorites).” (West Latta)
The following eight models were mentioned a couple of times by commenters:
4. AKG K 271 MK II
Price at Amazon:$193.95
- “AKG K271 at home for anything. Funny thing, I usually need 30 seconds to get accustomed to the sound (coming from my monitors).” (LC)
- “AKG K 271 MK II – again fabulous sound for the live room. Sure a little expensive but amazing cans and will last a long while so a great investment.
Closed back circumaural. – always prefer circumaural as I don’t like my ears being crushed with smaller ones (supra-aural) .. makes my ears tired.” (Steve Currington)
5. AKG K 414p
Price at Amazon: unavailable
- “Best for bass and track making…. AKG K414p.” (Corey Scott)
- “AKG K414P/K26P are great quick and dirty headphones. I tend to use them for all external/outside listening and they’re superb for listening to music on the bus (they’ve got great isolation for their size). They’re especially good if I need to listen to something quick in less-than-ideal conditions, with a particularly rich and tight bass response.” (Chopper Hotdogg)
6. Audio-Technica ATH-M50
Price at Amazon: $135.00
- “My favourite are Audio Technica ATH-M50..Really impressive sound..Those are my main monitoring headphones now..” (Milan K)
- “But I’m with Milan on this – most recently the Audio Technica ATH-M50, which are my current favorites. Extremely comfortable, clear and flat response, but still ‘feel’ powerful (especially in the low end) without coloring the mix.” (West Latta)
7. beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO
Price at Amazon: $259.00
- “DT 990 PRO is one of the best IMHO” (Archie)
- “Open cans.” (Nino)
8. Sennheiser CX 300
Price at Amazon: $24.49
- “For my iPod: Sennheiser CX 300, the cord is somewhat inflexible, but sounds and fits great!” (Lennard)
- “I love those CX300s. For what they are, they sound really good.” (Tapeleg)
9. Sennheiser HD 25-1
Price at Amazon: $199.00
- “Studio/live sound: Sennheiser HD25-1, simply perfect!” (Lennard)
- “HD25-1 II are finest pair of headphones i’ve ever used, bith for studio work and DJ… They beat every other product in their price band, and are seriously robust and can take a real pounding…” (Algy Strutt)
10. Sennheiser HD 280
Price at Amazon: $95.00
- “Great environmental isolation (not a fan of the hype term “noise-canceling”). Wish there was some better bass response, but hey, they’re headphones. Good flat frequency response. Find em for as low as $70+shipping online.
“I don’t find myself listening to music on headphones very often, cause I don’t own a portable music player, but when I do (after hours at the house, generally), I can rock these guys for hours comfortably. They fold up well, and travel easily. I’ve used them for production, as well, and although you can’t do a complete project with them, they are a great reference tool.
“Can’t really wear them out in public too much, cause the isolate too much noise. I like to be pretty aware of my surroundings. However, when I did have an ipod, i would put the headphones upside down in the hood of my sweatshirt, so they were essentially sitting in a pouch right below the back of my neck. crank the ipod volume up and you can take a walk with your friend and listen to tunes together. that’s pretty sweet.” (Chris)
- “Best for studio booth tracking…. Direct Sound EX29 or Senn HD280.” (Corey Scott)
11. Sennheiser HD 650
Price at Amazon: $343.88
- “Sennheiser HD650s … I can’t say enough great things about these cans.
“Comfortable to wear for hours at a time (very necessary when working at all hours of the night). They have some bleed to them, so they’re not ideal for tracking, but I use them all the time and never really have any problems.
“Frequency response is superb – totally even throughout the spectrum. Worth every penny spent on them, and then some!” (Rolando Gori)
- “HD650′S ! Had to put in my vote.. These cans made it possible to make music without my monitors. (bad living situation). Most headphones would of made me deaf by now. I am so glad I listened to the other 650 owners and dropped the $400. Best purchase I have ever made.. If you do alot of headphone work buy open backs! Your ears will thank you.” (W Brewer)
And the remaining 27 models were mentioned just once each:
- AKG K 171
- AKG K 26p
- AKG K 601
- AKG K 702
- Audio-Technica ATH-M30
- Audio-Technica ATH-PRO700 SV
- Audio-Technica ATHD40FS
- AudioChi W Series
- Beats By Dre headphones
- beyerdynamic DT 250
- Bose in-ear headphones
- Bose Noise cancelling hps
- Direct Sound EX29
- JVC HA-FXC50
- Koss Porta Pro
- M-Audio IE-40
- Sennheiser HD 215
- Sennheiser HD 25
- Sennheiser HD 555
- Sennheiser MX 51
- Shure SE 310
- Shure SRH 440
- Sony MDR-7509HD
- Sony MDR-J10
- Sony MDR-V6
- Ultimate Ears Super.fi 5 EB
- Ultrasone HFI-55
What are your favorite headphones? Were they mentioned? Why do you love them?
Keep Your Ears Safe
Listening to music using headphones for extended periods can cause damage to your hearing - especially at high volumes. Here are some resources that give you some great tips and guidelines about protecting your hearing:
- Headphoneinfo.com have some great tips about keeping your ears safe while you use headphones, as well as some useful extended headphone reviews. I recommend you check it out before you buy your next headphones, or even before you use your current ones.
- More headphone use leading to hearing loss is an article on MSNBC Health which explains the dangers of using headphones at high volumes.
- How to Protect Your Ears is a helpful Audiotuts article by Björgvin Benediktsson. It deals with the dangers of excessive volume, but more broadly than just headphones.
- How Musicians Should Look After Their Hearing is an article where I talk about my frustration with tinnitus, some tips for using headphones safely, and some hints for tinnitus sufferers.
Are you concerned with the danger of hearing loss through using headphones incorrectly? What are you doing to protect yourself?