Whether you’re live in the recording booth or mixing tracks in the studio, headphones designed with studio use in mind can help elevate your production to the next level. Closed-back headphones are preferable for studio recording when you need to be able to monitor the live recording without having the sound leakage from the headphones bleed into the mic. When it comes to mixing, many sound engineers prefer the more spacious, immersive qualities of open-back headphones, and also find them less fatiguing to wear during long hours at the studio.
Latency is also important, and while some wireless headphones can respond quickly enough to be alright for mixing or mastering, for recording purposes, you'll need something with a wired connection. The best studio headphones even come with a coiled cable to give you enough range when moving around in your studio without any latency issues. So, with all the choices out there, how do you know what to pick?
We've tested over 400 headphones, and below you'll find our recommendations for the best studio headphones to buy in 2020. See also our recommendations for the best DJ headphones, the best headphones for music, the best wired headphones, and the best audiophile headphones.
The best studio headphones we've tested so far are the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x. They provide excellent value for the price thanks to their versatile closed-back design and faithful audio reproduction. They have a durable, comfortable design with large ear cups and a padded headband, which makes them perfect for long studio sessions.
They reproduce audio very accurately without too much leakage, so they're a great choice whether you're recording, mixing, or mastering. They also come with three detachable cable options, one of which is coiled and can stretch up to 10 feet to help you move around with ease between mixing tables or recording stations. You also won't have to worry about needing to replace the headphones entirely if the cable ever breaks, which is great.
While they don't leak too much sound, if your recording setup is particularly noise sensitive, you might find yourself recording some of their leakage at higher volumes. This shouldn't be a problem if you're monitoring a performance in a separate room, but if you're recording yourself it can be an issue. That said, these headphones are still the best we've seen to date for mixed studio usage overall.
The best headphones for recording we've tested so far are the AKG K371. They leak far less than most over-ears we've tested, even at pretty loud volumes, which makes them a better choice for more noise-sensitive live recording sessions. They're fairly comfortable, come with a couple of different detachable cable options, and are pretty reasonably priced, too.
These headphones have a very neutral sound profile that, if you get a good fit and seal, can faithfully reproduce what's being recorded. They isolate more noise than most studio headphones, which is helpful if you're trying to monitor a noisy performance but don't want to raise the volume too much. Even then, these headphones can get quite loud without leaking too much, either, so they're suitable for a wide range of recording environments.
While most people should find these headphones reproduce audio quite accurately, you might find that they pack more, or less, bass than someone else depending on how well they seal on your head. This shouldn't be too much of a problem when recording, but you'll want to switch to something with a more consistent frequency response once you start mixing.
If your studio recording setup is particularly noise-sensitive and you’re looking for in-ear monitors that leak even less sound, get the TIN Audio T3. Their earplug-like design makes them less comfortable for long recording sessions than the AKG K371, but if the noise floor of your recording studio is very low, then they're better for monitoring your performance with less leakage. They're also very durable thanks to their replaceable cables and sturdy metal earbuds. The Etymotic ER4XR isolate even better, which can help you concentrate on your recording, but they're a lot more expensive so the price difference might not be worth it.
Get the AKG if you find over-ears more comfortable, but if you need to keep leakage to an absolute minimum, you'll want to go with the TIN Audio.
The best headphones for mixing we've tested so far are the Sennheiser HD 800 S. While leakage needs to be kept to a strict minimum when recording, many producers find open-back headphones less fatiguing during long mixing sessions and prefer the more immersive, spacious soundstage they provide. And when it comes to soundstage, these headphones are hard to beat.
These headphones have an expertly-tuned sound signature that's remarkably well-balanced throughout the mid and treble ranges. Like most open-back headphones, they lack a bit of bass, but with a good EQ you can boost their bass just enough to avoid overcompensating for it in your mixes.
While these headphones provide an unparalleled listening experience, they come at a very steep price. You also need to make sure you have a powerful amplifier to drive them as well. The HiFiMan Ananda also have an exceptional soundstage and are a lot less expensive, but there have been reports of quality control issues with the brand. If cost isn't an issue and you have the right equipment to power them, they're among the very best headphones for mixing that money can buy.
If you tend to host musicians in your studio and need a couple of different pairs of headphones so everyone can listen in at the same time, then get the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO. They don't have the same wide, spacious soundstage of the Sennheiser HD 800 S, but they're a lot more affordable. They're a common sight in many studios thanks to their sturdy, durable build, and accurate audio reproduction. They can fit a bit tight though, so they might cause a bit of fatigue if your listening session runs for hours. That said, if you've got several people who need to listen to your mix at the same time, they provide value that's hard to beat.
Go for the Sennheiser if you're buying something just for yourself and don't mind investing a significant sum, but if you need something more affordable, then you'll want to go for the Beyerdynamic.
The best wireless studio headphones we've reviewed so far are the SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless. While most wireless headphones generally have too much latency to be suitable for use in the studio, these have a dedicated wireless transmitter to help them respond more quickly. You can also connect them via Bluetooth at the same time, so you can take calls from clients on your phone without having to reconnect to your computer, making multi-tasking a breeze.
These headphones have a very well-balanced sound straight out-of-the-box. They tend to sound a bit different to different people, but their wireless transmitter has an onboard EQ so you can tweak the way they sound to get a more neutral audio reproduction if you need it. Their 15-hour battery life isn't the longest we've seen, but they come with two removable batteries that charge directly in their base transmitter, so you can always keep one battery charging while the other is in use.
While 50 ms of latency shouldn't be an issue for mixing or mastering, a trained ear will notice the lag while recording instruments or vocals. Their bulky build can also feel rather cumbersome in the studio, especially near the end of a long, busy day. They're still comfortable but are designed with gamers in mind, not professional musicians or audio engineers. That said, if you're dead-set on a wireless design, the Arctis Pro Wireless remain the best wireless studio headphones we've seen to date.
The best budget studio headphones we've tested so far are the Superlux HD 681. They might not feel as premium as our top picks, but they reproduce audio remarkably accurately for the price. They also have a very lightweight design that isn't too fatiguing, which is important during long days at the studio.
They have a very well-balanced sound with virtually flawless bass and a very flat and even mid-range. Their mid-range is slightly underemphasized, nudging vocals and lead instruments to the back of the mix, but this effect is very subtle and most people won't hear it. Their treble performance is reasonable, but some may find these headphones sound a bit sibilant. That said, they have a surprisingly decent soundstage thanks to their semi-open design, which can be helpful while mixing.
Unfortunately, they feel very cheaply made. They feel a bit more durable than some cheaper headphones we've reviewed, but their build quality still doesn’t inspire much confidence. The Philips SHP9500 are a lot better-built if you don't mind spending spend a bit more, but for the price, it's hard to beat the Superlux.
03/13/2020: Verification for accuracy and small text updates.
02/12/2020: Complete article overhaul to better pinpoint the differences in studio headphones.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best studio headphones to buy for most people in each price range. We factor in the price (cheaper headphones win over pricier ones if the difference isn't worth it), feedback from our visitors, and availability (no headphones that are difficult to find or almost out of stock everywhere).
If you would like to choose for yourself, here is the list of all our reviews for headphones. Be careful not to get caught up in the details. There are no perfect headphones. Personal taste, preference, and listening habits will matter more in your selection.