Studio headphones are one of the most important tools for a music producer. Whether you're mixing for a full orchestra, producing a pop song, or experimenting with aesthetic songs, it's important that you are hearing it all at its best. Here is our list of the best studio headphones for music production 2021.
We've all seen the pictures of musicians and producers in the studio wearing expensive-looking headphones. I'm sure you've asked yourself what makes some brands better than others, but to understand the real pros and cons of the different headphones out there, it helps to understand a little more about them as a piece of gear. So before we get to the the list of the best studio headphones for music production in 2021 let's dive into the surprisingly interesting history of headphones.
The History of Headphones
The origin of headphones is a bit strange. Headphones technically came onto the scene in the 1920s, when they were just the telephone receiver earpiece. Those receivers were the only way to listen to electrical audio signals. This was back before amplifiers were even developed. Early headphones used moving iron drivers. The moving iron speaker was the earliest type of electric loudspeaker. People still use them today in miniature speakers, only if sound quality is not important.
In early radios, the headphones were actually part of the vacuum tube circuit and carried a dangerous voltage. They were connected directly to the positive high voltage battery terminal. People were actually shocked if they touched the bare headphone connections while adjusting the headset. Back then the headsets were very uncomfortable on account of not having any padding.
For the longest time headphones were only used by the US navy, telephone and radio operators, and other professions in similar industries. No one had even thought to listen to music on them, probably due to the questionable sound quality. In 1958, John C. Koss produced the first stereo headphones. He was an audiophile and jazz musician from Milwaukee. Can you imagine being an audiophile in the 50's... ouch! Well ever since Koss we've been off and running! I'm sure Koss would love to experience today's best studio headphones for music production.
Types of Headphones
While we're at it, let's continue with some basic headphone education. Feel free to just scroll down and check out the list of the best studio headphones for music production 2021. But if you are interested in expanding your knowledge of headphones, you have come to the right place!
Circumaural (Over-ear headphones)
Circumaural headphones cover the entire ear. They have circular earpads that totally encompass the ears. These are the most comfortable headphones in my opinion.
Supra-aural (On-ear headphones)
Supra-aural headphones have pads that press directly against the ear. These headphones are smaller and lighter than circumaural headphones. On-ear headphones can become uncomfortable quickly.
Both over-ear and on-ear headphones can be open or closed back.
There are also headphones that fit in your ears, aka earphones. But they are not very popular in studio settings. So we won't be discussing them in-depth.
Professional studio headphones are not just your run of the mill headphones that you can get at the mall. Studio headphones are designed to have a flat frequency response. This means that you are hearing the most accurate representation of your track. The last thing you need is the bass being artificially boosted by your headphones while you're mixing.
Ok, now the moment you have been waiting for! The best studio headphones for music production 2021. Enjoy!
Coming in at #1 for our list of best studio headphones for music production are these awesome Audio-Technica headphones. At $150 you can't beat these headphones. They are quite comfortable and critically acclaimed for performance and build quality. They have a 15Hz - 28kHz frequency response. They have excellent clarity throughout their frequency range. And the detachable cord is always a plus. I've been using these headphones for the past 10 years and they are still working great. I've taken them around the world (literally) and if they ever break, I will certainly be buying another pair.
I don't really have any complaints about these headphones, thus proving that the old adage is true, "I've tried all different types of headphones and I like the Audio-Technicas the best". Ok, that was a stretch, but I've heard multiple people say that.
Now these are the most comfortable studio headphones I have ever worn! At $150 these headphones are also a very affordable choice. Coming in at #2 the DT 770 reproduce the entire frequency range with great detail. They have a frequency response range of 5Hz - 35kHz. The semi-open design gives you the benefits of both open and closed headphones. They also have an innovative bass reflex system. All of these aspects made them an easy choice for our list of best studio headphones for music production 2021.
You will find these headphones in studios around the world. Coming in at #3 on our list of best studio headphones for music production, at $100 these are the most affordable headphones on the list. Many people love these headphones for their sound quality and price point. Studios usually use these headphones for sessions because they are affordable to replace. With a 10Hz - 20kHz frequency response range the 40 mm drivers deliver deep bass with low distortion.
I'm not a huge fan of these headphones. Probably because I don't own a large studio. To me they feel a bit cheap and they are not very comfortable. Maybe it's just my own personal ear shape but the unpadded part of the headphones press into my Antihelix and my ears become sore after an hour or so.
I'm sure these headphones are durable, but they just don't feel like it. They have an unfortunately flimsy feel to them, which doesn't inspire as much confidence in the product as I know it deserves. But for the price, these are a perfect option for studios that are doing a lot of studio sessions with different musicians (you definitely don't need a bunch of Beyers kicking around your live room). Regardless of my comfort complaints, I still believe these belong on our list of the best studio headphones for music production in 2021.
My first true love. These are the headphones that inspired to compile this list in the first place. I used these headphones regularly for 10 years. I bought them off a guy in a basement apartment in Boston for $60. That guy ended up producing for Chance The Rapper, but I ended up with a great pair of headphones. Soooo... yeah, semi-open headphones. They are fairly comfortable and only $120. These headphones allow you to work for long stretches without getting ear fatigue. With advanced transducers, they are able to deliver a solid low end, accurate mids, and clear highs. They have a 15Hz - 25kHz frequency range. If you end up going with these studio headphones you won't be disappointed (unless you're a future Chance producer, in which case you might be... apparently). The next pair of headphones on our list of the best studio headphones for music production might surprise you.
Coming in at a whopping $10, cheap earbuds are a must-have for any serious music producer. It is vital to reference your beats and mixes on the most popular headphones in the world. Anyone can make music that sounds good on professional studio headphones, but making a track that fits well in the frequency range of cheap earbuds is a whole different beast. I bet you never thought you would find cheap earbuds on a list of best studio headphones for music production, but they belong here.
USE YOUR EARS!
Use your ears, don't rely on frequency response charts. Apple says the frequency response of their ear buds is 5Hz - 21kHz... sure. I'm sure the ear bud speakers do elicit some response at those frequencies. But maybe just put a pair of those headphones in your ears and be the judge of the frequency response.
~End of note~
With the correct amount of harmonic distortion you can make your 808's come through on earbuds, but you have to use the earbuds for reference in order to find that sweet spot.
Just like the pitch of a bell is defined by its overtones, enhancing the harmonic distortion on low bass will help define the pitch. Mixing for headphones is an art, just ask SOPHIE. This song actually hits harder in headphones than live, believe it or not!
So make sure that no matter how high-end your music production headphones are, you reference on the lowest-quality end too, because let's be real - most of your fans will be listening on earbuds.
So those are the best studio headphones for music production in 2021. If you don't want to blindly take my word for it, and you want to shop around, there are many things that should be taken into consideration when looking for your next pair of studio headphones for music production. Here is a list of the main things to keep in mind:
Things to Consider when shopping for headphones:
This very well might be the most important thing to keep in mind. Ok, I know what you are thinking - audio fidelity is way more important. Well, if you are already thinking about this level of headphone, they are actually all very similar. One of the main differences is comfort. You want to be able to work for long periods of time. You do not want to feel like you are wearing headphones. When you are thinking about dropping a couple hundred bucks on headphones, make sure to try them on first. Ideally, it would be great if you could try them for a few days. Then you know what headphones for music production fit your head.
This is important, but what is more important is adjusting to your headphones. By this I mean listen to your favorite songs on your headphones. Listen to how the mixes sound. There are not any perfect speakers or headphones out there.
Every speaker will be coloring your mix!
Even if you find the speakers of destiny and they are completely transparent, guess what... all the people listening to you mix will be listening on other speakers. So it really does not matter how your mix sounds on the super incredible transparent speakers. It's amazing how a great engineer can still out-mix a mediocre engineer even if they only have a pair of earbuds. Trust me, I've heard some pretty solid mixes done on apple earbuds (and some pretty bad ones done on fancy speakers).
Make sure to shop within your budget. There is absolutely no reason to buy the best studio headphones on a credit card. This just makes them even more expensive. Like I said, I've heard good mixes done on earbuds. This is the same way that some grammy award-winning songs have been started on GarageBand. Steve Lacy produced "Pride" for Kendrick Lamar on his iPhone using GarageBand. Who knows what kind of headphones he was using... more like who cares! So please do not go into debt for a pair of studio headphones. Just continue to practice your craft and save up your money.
Ask around, some headphones start to fall apart faster than others. All the headphones listed above have behaved well for me. They do all start to fall apart at some point. Check if there are replacement pads available for the headphones you are interested in. This can end up saving you money in the long run. Also, remember to always take good care of your headphones. Treat them like your baby, you can get them to last for 10 years if you do that. Otherwise, they might not even last a year. No matter how great the headphones are they will not be able to withstand constant abuse. They are not made out of titanium. If you drop them they will start to wear and eventually break. Also, leave them in the studio. Don't take them on the bus with you. Get a pair of proper noise-canceling headphones if you are listening to music on the go!
You paid a lot of money for your studio headphones, and replacement parts are not that cheap. Take care of them. Treat them with love and respect. Maybe someday they will help you get that grammy. Thank you for reading this list of the best studio headphones for music production in 2021, and good luck finding that perfect pair!