The 9 Best Studio Headphones for Mixing and Mastering

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I’m sure we’d all love to have access to a state-of-the-art control room with high-end studio monitors that move the air around you. Sadly, we can’t all have a million-dollar studio. Whether you are mixing on the go, or you just don’t have the luxury of being able to make noise, chances are you need a great pair of headphones!

There are a few factors that make or break headphones: frequency range and response, comfort, durability, and price. Treat this list as a guide to the best studio headphones on the market currently. There is a certain degree of subjectivity to this list, but I’ve done my best to review some great options for every budget.

These are all headphones that you can rely on to help you improve your mixing and mastering. They aren’t all the most beautiful sounding headphones, but they all share one aspect: they provide clarity and honesty to your mix. These won’t sugar coat your sound. Instead, they will highlight areas of your mix that need improvement: something that I think is invaluable.

Top 3 high-end studio headphones

There is no better place to start than with the best of the best. These are professional headphones that offer accuracy, comfort, and an excellent audio experience. If you have the budget to spend on one of these, it will be well worth the price. If audio clarity is any incentive, these are for you!

1.) Focal Utopia

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These are some of the best reference headphones on the market. They offer an honest and accurate listening experience that is perfect for a studio setting. They have a frequency range of 5Hz-50kHz without any crossover due to their patent-pending Beryllium “M”-shaped speaker dome. The Utopia reproduces both the room sounds and instruments recorded by your microphones with staggering clarity.

The leather headband offers precise length adjustment allowing a custom fit for any head size. These headphones are perfect for audio production; the honesty and clarity let you mix without the need for a monitor setup.

There is a slight drawback to the Utopia, of course: the price. While you are almost guaranteed an excellent listening experience on these, your wallet will definitely feel the impact.

Pros:

  • Wide frequency range
  • Very comfortable
  • No crossover due to full-range loudspeaker

Cons:

  • Expensive

2.) Hifiman Arya

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These open-back headphones have a stellar sound, and the over-the-ear design provides a comfortable experience. With a frequency range from 8Hz-65kHz, you will hear your music reproduced with stunning clarity. The open-back design allows you to mix with a much more accurate sound field.

The Arya provides a warm and full listening experience that is on par with some studio monitors I’ve used. These are great for audio mastering, allowing you to hear every tweak to your mix. The biggest drawback of the Hifiman Arya is the build quality. They feel somewhat fragile, so handle them with a bit of care.

Pros:

  • Wide frequency range
  • Excellent stereo imaging
  • Fairly lightweight and comfortable

Cons:

  • Build quality issues
  • Bass response could be higher

3.) AKG Pro Audio K812 PRO

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The K812 PRO offers immersive audio reproduction in a durable, open-backed headphone design. These headphones reproduce stellar-sounding bass with a frequency range of 5Hz-54kHz. With a 53mm driver, you can push the volume on these, and they’ll still be just as clear. The sound stage of these headphones is wide, and the open-back design certainly helps that.

These headphones reveal every imperfection in your mixes and masters. They’re on par with the other high-end headphones on this list but are considerably cheaper. That cost difference is seen in their comfort. While the K812 PRO is lightweight and comfortable initially, the headband design does begin to clamp slightly after a while. If you’re mixing for long hours, you’ll want to take a few breaks to let your ears rest.

Pros:

  • Wide frequency range
  • Great quality for the price
  • Brutally honest audio reproduction
  • Durable design

Cons:

  • Uncomfortable for long periods

Top 3 mid-range studio headphones

If you’re a music producer, chances are you don’t have the budget to drop thousands on a pair of headphones. Not to worry, though, there are plenty of professional headphones that you’ll only have to spend a few hundred to have. All of these are great options for mixing and mastering with great frequency responses and open-backed designs.

1.) Sennheiser HD 660 S

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These are in the upper echelon of reference headphones available for the price. These are built with high-quality materials and are meant to last. They have a range from 10Hz-41kHz with clear, articulate bass and crisp, sparkling highs. A clear and flat response is perfect for mixing, letting you clearly hear both the flaws and highlights.

The open design model allows the acoustics of the room you are in to resonate with the audio. The provided cables are durable and make for an excellent user experience. The drivers are efficient and powerful, with an SPL (sound pressure level) of 104dB/mW at 1kHz.

Lightweight and comfortable, the 660 S provides an immersive listening experience. The earpads are soft and fit around most ears with some breathing room. The headband is padded and adjusts easily to most sizes. Only in terms of stereo width does the Sennheiser HD 660 S leave something to be desired.

Pros:

  • Wide frequency range
  • Excellent SPL
  • Comfortable
  • Precise and articulate audio reproduction

Cons:

  • Limited stereo imaging

2.) Beyerdynamic DT 1990

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Beyerdynamic offers a terrific option for reference headphones. The DT 1990 model is made to be used. These headphones have a sturdy, metal construction and have one of the most comfortable designs I’ve worn. The earpads are soft and form-fitting. The headband doesn’t put too much tension on the sides of your head. You may get a little warm after wearing them for a while, though.

As you would expect from good-quality headphones, these have an excellent flat response. Their frequency range is 5Hz-40kHz, and they have exquisite clarity in the mid-range. One great feature of the DT 1990 is the interchangeable velour ear pads. They ship with two sets of earpads (“analytical” and “well-balanced”) that let you choose the sound characteristics for your headphones.

Overall, this is a good choice for a mid-range budget, but the bass response is somewhat conservative. If you choose to use these for mixing and mastering, be careful not to mix the bass higher to compensate.

Pros:

  • Durable construction
  • Soft and comfortable ear pads
  • Wide frequency response

Cons:

  • Weak bass response
  • Warm to wear for long periods

3.) Audio-Technica ATH-R70x

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One of the lightest headphones on this list so far, the R70x will definitely not put too much pressure on you over a long time. With a frequency range of 5Hz-40kHz, these headphones are on par with the others on the list. Their open design provides a natural, accurate sound that is perfect for creating a stunning mix.

While they are lightweight, they lack the comfort that’s present in every model listed to this point. The earpads are not anything special, and the partial headband design feels a bit flimsy.

What they lack in build quality, they more than makeup for with audio quality and price. These won’t break the bank but will give you the studio headphone experience you need to improve your audio production.

Pros:

  • Wide frequency range
  • Lightweight
  • Honest, flat response

Cons:

  • Flimsy build quality
  • Uncomfortable ear pads

Top 3 budget studio headphones 

Everyone needs to start somewhere. Whether you are just starting out with audio production; or are looking for something to take on your commute: these budget headphones are awesome and affordable options. Finding the perfect budget option can be incredibly challenging.

Whereas the more expensive models are all incredible in their own right, a great budget headphone option is hard to come by. The fact is you’ll have to sacrifice something to have an affordable choice. You want something that sounds amazing, that’s comfortable and is durable enough to last more than a week.

I’ve chosen three options that will be an upgrade from your earbuds. First, you might notice that we’re stepping away from most open-back designs. While that is a useful feature for mixing with headphones, it isn’t a necessary feature. Another common trait with the budget option is a decline in the materials used to build them. Essentially, these are going to have a lot more plastic.

These options are affordable, they’re comfortable, and, most importantly, they sound good. So without further ado…

1.) Audio-Technica ATH-M40x

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You may be wondering why I put the M40x on the list rather than the M50x (Audio-Technica ATH-M50x on Amazon). For one, they are cheaper! The M40x model does have slightly smaller drivers (40mm vs. 45mm) and a smaller frequency range (15Hz-24kHz vs. 15Hz-28kHz), but it makes up for those issues by having a flatter response. I’ve used both of these headphones and, truthfully, both are excellent affordable options.

The M40x is a cut above the M50x when it comes to mixing. The smaller drivers and lower response range are actually an advantage while mixing with closed-back headphones. These headphones sound closer to what your audience will be listening to. That means you are hearing the music in the same way the public will. The closed-back design lends itself to solid noise isolation without masking any of the music you hear.

In addition, these are more durable than you would expect. While they have a primarily plastic design, Audio-Technica has done a solid to ensure a surprisingly sturdy product. I still have a pair of these from 6 years ago, and they still work just fine. The earpads heat up fairly quickly due to the material, but as long as you take breaks when needed, they are still comfortable.

Pros:

  • Flat, realistic response
  • Comfortable
  • Durable construction

Cons:

  • Earpads warm up quickly
  • Limited frequency range
  • Closed-back design

2.) Beyerdynamic DT 990

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It wouldn’t be a complete list of budget headphones without mentioning the DT 990. These are the cheapest open-backed headphones that I could recommend. For the price, these feature a wide stereo image and a surprisingly wide frequency range (5Hz-35kHz). They have a comfortable construction with soft ear pads that surround your ears.

These are great for audio production due to their precision and clarity in the mids and highs. They are on the heavier side, though, and you will feel it after a long listening session. So why does this rank lower on the list than the M40x? The DT 990 is more expensive but doesn’t have the same longevity or durability.

Unfortunately, the DT 990 can cause listening fatigue easily due to the loud treble in its frequency response. There is a bump of a few dBs in the mid-high frequencies that can get a bit grating. In addition, this can color your music unrealistically and, if you don’t compensate for it, can mess up your mixes.

Pros:

  • Open-backed
  • Wide stereo image
  • Wide frequency range
  • Comfortable ear pads

Cons:

  • Cause listening fatigue after a while
  • On the heavier side
  • Price
  • Single attached cable

3.) Behringer HPX2000

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This is definitely the surprise choice for the list. The HPX2000 is by far the most budget-friendly option. These beauties have a frequency range from 20Hz-20kHz and a surprisingly flat response. They struggle slightly with the mid-high frequencies, but for the price, they can’t be beaten.

I wish I could say these were flawless, but unfortunately, they suffer considerably in build quality. These aren’t fragile; the design lends itself to taking a bit of wear and tear. The materials themselves, on the other hand, are clearly cheap. The plastic used in their construction feels cheap and isn’t very comfortable. You’ll need to take a few breaks when using these for long periods.

Compared to everything else on this list, the bass on these headphones is lacking, but it is a huge step up from standard earbuds or computer/phone speakers. It would be a challenge to find a pair of headphones comparable at this price point.

Pros:

  • Fairly flat frequency response
  • Durable construction
  • Excellent value

Cons:

  • Cheap materials
  • Limited frequency range
  • Fairly uncomfortable

Closing thoughts

There is an almost endless amount of choice when deciding on studio headphones. Whether these are actually “the best” is really up to you. Whether you are just starting to look for a reliable pair or trying to decide between a few excellent options, this list will be a reference for you.

Finding the right headphones can be difficult because, more often than not, you have to go in blind without the opportunity to try them out. Think of this list as a way to know how the headphones sound and feel before you buy!

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