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  • Ben Gildersleve

The 2021 Studio Headphones Guide

Updated: Aug 13

In the market for new studio headphones? Read this first.



Buying new studio gear can be very daunting with lots of brands, models, tech-specs and jargon to complicate the process. Buying studio headphones is no exception.


Check out what we believe are the most important aspects to consider before buying a new set of studio headphones so you get it right the first time.



Open or Closed-back?


One of the most crucial decisions we make when choosing our next set of cans is whether they have open or closed-backs to the driver housing.


There’s no right or wrong answer here as it depends on our individual needs. Let’s dive in!



1. Open-back Headphones


Headphones with an open-backed enclosure are known for their massive sound space, flat frequency response and excellent clarity, especially in the low-end. This is because air is allowed to pass through the enclosure from behind the speaker driver; preventing low-frequency build-up and resonances. Sounds good (literally!).

If we’re looking to mix or master our next track in headphones, then these are the ones.

Naturally, high-quality sound comes at a cost, and get ready to dig deep. Open-back headphones leak sound into our surroundings, so not only can everyone in the cafe hear us auditioning reverbs on that pad section but we get to hear them complain about it.


They are also usually much more expensive and fragile than closed-back headphones. Imagine you’re travelling to your next gig and your backpack ends up at the bottom of a suitcase pile-up. Snap! Better to leave them at home.


Check out the headphones here: https://sennheiser.com


Sennheiser HD650 (Sennheiser, 2021)
Sennheiser HD650 (Sennheiser, 2021)

Pros and Cons


+ Highly accurate

+ Massive sound space

+ Perfect for mixing/mastering


- Leak sound

- More Expensive

- Can be fragile


Notable Models


  1. Sennheiser HD 650

  2. OLLO S4X

  3. Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro



2. Closed-back Headphones


Aeroplanes, cafes, rooms shared with sleeping partners. We definitely want to keep the sound leak down in these environments, and closed-backs are our friend here.

Recording to a click? Closed backs are the go-to for recording live instruments or vocals without leaking sound into the mic.


Unlike their open-back counterparts, the average price of closed-back headphones is also much cheaper than open-back models.

Money in the bank, right? Well, the bass frequencies on these models can sound heavy and weighty, and it’s advisable not to rely on them to provide an accurate representation of your track’s low end. They can also make the wearer feel uncomfortable if used for long periods of time.


Check out the headphones here: https://audio-technica.com


Audio-Technica ATH-M50X (Audio Technica, 2021)
Audio-Technica ATH-M50X (Audio Technica, 2021)

Pros and Cons


+ Great sound isolation

+ Ideal for recording sessions

+ Much cheaper


- Unreliable low-end

- Not good for mixing

- Can be uncomfortable


Notable Models


  1. Sennheiser HD 280 Pro

  2. Audio-Technica ATH-M50X

  3. Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro


Resistance


Let’s geek out quickly. It’s worth taking note of the ‘Nominal Impedance’ of each model, which will typically range from around 25 to a massive 300Ω.

Basically, headphones with a higher nominal impedance will require more power to deliver high audio levels.

Closed-back headphones tend to sit between 25 and 100Ω, whereas open-back models require much more power with an impedance between 100 and 300Ω. This means closed-back headphones will sound great plugged straight into our laptops but open-back headphones will be on the quiet side unless we use an external headphone amplifier.


Your audio interface probably has high powered outputs capable of driving high impedance headphones with no issues, but it can’t hurt to check the specifications of your interface before purchasing.



Frequency Response


We already know that we’re going for as flat and honest a frequence response as possible.


A quick search on Google for the model followed by ‘frequency response chart’ will reveal if they’ve got hyped bass/treble or if they’re relatively flat.


But can’t we have it even flatter? Yes. Yes we can.

Enter Correction software such as Sonarworks. They’ve measured many of the top brands and models of headphones into calibration files that will dramatically improve your listening experience.


Just remember, you can’t polish a turd (though you can roll it in glitter) and some brands of headphones you’d be better off avoiding. Especially if they’re endorsed by celebrities. You know the ones we mean.