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Best headphones for musicians 2022: These studio cans hit the right note

Fine tune your tone with our guide to the best studio headphones for musicians and music producers

If you’re an engineer, home producer, or artist, you simply won’t get by without a pair of decent studio-spec over-ear headphones (or cans as they’re more commonly known in the industry). Studio headphones are vital when recording overdubs – whether additional instruments or vocal tracks – as without them you won’t be able to hear the existing backing track to sing to or play along with. They are an equally invaluable asset when mixing music. Yes, the majority of your mixing will be done on your studio monitors, but you will also need headphones on hand to zone in on certain areas of the soundstage, or when working at night, in silence, after everyone else has gone to bed.

We’ve put together a guide of what to look for when buying a set of studio cans, and gathered a fine quintet of budget and high-end studio-spec headphones and rated them in order of preference. Read on for the lowdown.

How to choose the best headphones for musicians

What’s the difference between studio and consumer-grade headphones?

Studio headphones behave very differently to consumer-grade headphones. They’re designed to reproduce recorded music in a flat, analytical, and very detailed way so that the recording artist or engineer can hear the individual instruments and voices in the mix. Like studio monitors, studio-spec headphones are not designed to flatter – they are designed to deliver the unbiased goods, warts and all.

In most cases, studio cans lack the bottom end thump of consumer-grade headphones. In fact, the average listener may find them bland and uninspiring to listen to, but that’s exactly what you want when recording and mixing music – a flat overall sound signature with naturalistic lows. By contrast, the sound frequencies on consumer-grade cans are often tweaked towards higher trebles, lower mid-range, and much heavier bass response so the listener is enveloped in a rich, deep soundstage that makes the act of listening to music a more pleasurable experience.

READ NEXT: The best microphone to buy

How to choose the best studio cans

Studio headphones are always of the over-ear variety, and there are two main types for your consideration: closed-back and open-back. Closed-back cans are essential for the process of recording overdubs, especially closely-mic’d vocals. This is because they contain the sound of the backing track by design, so none of it leaks out and into the microphone. Closed-back headphones are also great for mixing, but the concentrated sound they produce can become quite wearing on the ears after a few hours of use.

Open-backed headphones let the music you’re listening to escape to some degree, so they sound much more airy and spacious than the closed-back variety. For this reason, they are easier to use for longer periods, and are perfect for mixing and monitoring, provided there isn’t too much external noise in the room. However, open-backed headphones are no good for recording in the vicinity of a sensitive microphone, as the sound will leak through the cans and into the mic. You’ll rue the day you used a pair of open-backs to record vocals when you solo the recorded track only to hear an irritating “tsk-tsk-tsk” sound in the background.

Another thing to consider is impedance – a type of electrical resistance that’s expressed in units of Ohms. Most consumer-grade headphones have lower impedance – around 20 to 30 Ohms – which means they will produce more than enough volume when plugged into a laptop or phone. Conversely, studio cans usually have a much higher impedance (between 50 and 600 Ohms) which is why some models often seem a bit too quiet when plugged into a laptop. Thankfully, most desktop music interfaces – the connection between the analogue world of musical instruments and the digital world of computers – have headphone amps built in, so this is rarely likely to be an issue. But we should point out that most of the headphones in this roundup are capable of playing pretty loudly when connected directly to a laptop.

Finally, if you’re a bit clumsy, go for a set with replaceable cables – especially as musicians are known to simply walk off with them still on their head, pulling out, and often breaking, the cables in the process. Some higher-end models go even further, allowing spare ear cups to be fitted, ensuring their longevity.

READ NEXT: The best earbuds for every budget

The best studio headphones you can buy in 2022

1. Audio-Technica ATH-M70x: Best studio headphones for recording and monitoring

Price: £219 | Buy now from Amazon

If you don’t want to spend too much time researching studio headphones, you can stop right here because these are among the very best studio-spec models you can find for both recording and mixing.

Pop these comfy cans on your bonce and you’ll hear every nuance in the track, replete with excellent instrument separation. Yes, the top end is quite bright, but that can be a good thing because it’ll encourage you to roll off the treble EQ so that it’ll sound just right on a hi-fi system or via a Spotify playlist.

Some studio headphones can be very light in the bass department, but this model’s 45mm large-aperture drivers produce an excellent level of low-end grunt that doesn’t cloud the soundstage. And, because they are low impedance (only 35 Ohms), they’re capable of going really loud, which makes them ideal for occasional leisure listening.

The Audio-Technica ATH-M70x comes with an excellent hard case and three detachable cables – a short (1.2m) one for desktop use, a long (3m), straight cable, and an extra curly cable for mixing desk use. It also ships with a soft case for the cables and a 6.3 mm headphone adapter.

Granted these aren’t the cheapest in this guide, but they deliver oodles of detail without being hard on the ear. Highly recommended.

Key specs – Style: Closed back; Impedance: 35 Ohms; Frequency range: 5 to 40,000 Hz

2. Sennheiser HD 400 PRO: The best studio-spec cans for mixing and leisure use

Price: £198 | Buy now from Thomann

These open-backed over-ear headphones are excellent for both mixing and leisure listening through a hi-fi system. However, because their impedance is fairly high (120 Ohms), you may find they don’t go loud enough when plugged directly into the headphone input of a desktop computer. For this reason, they are best suited to being used with a mixing desk, or a music interface with built-in headphone amp, for extra headroom.

Since these headphones are open-backed, they will not be suitable for recording vocals – or any instruments where the headphones will be within range of the microphone – as the sound bleeds through the side grills a lot, especially if the volume is cranked.

However, when it comes to spending long hours at the mixing desk, you might not find a more comfortable pair for the money. The great thing about these open-backed headphones is that they let the music breathe, and the bass to escape, which makes them much easier on the ear, especially when it’s a long session. But open-backed headphones let as much sound in as they do out, so you need to ensure your mixing area is well insulated from ambient noise, as you will hear it.

These headphones provide an expansive, airy soundstage that is both analytical and highly defined, with a naturalistic bass response and crisp trebles that rarely sound harsh. You can quite literally hear every instrument in the track, making it easy to adjust relative volume levels.

The package includes a 1.5m cable with 3.5mm jack plug, a 3m coiled cable with 3.5mm jack plug, and a 6.3 mm adapter. Although this model doesn’t come with a storage case, it’s still a top buy for mixing duties, and engineering when the recording mics are in a separate booth.

Key specs – Style: Open back; Impedance: 120 Ohms; Frequency range: 6 to 38, 000 Hz

Buy now from Thomann

3. Austrian Audio Hi-X 60: The best high-end studio headphones

Price: £319 | Buy now from Andertons

Austrian Audio comprises a team of former AKG engineers, and their products are taking the world by storm – especially their microphones, one of which recently featured in our Best Microphones 2022 roundup.

With regard to soundstage, definition, and frequency response, these closed-back reference headphones are in a league of their own. Vocals are clearly defined, it’s easy to locate all instruments in the song, and the bass end is gloriously rich, smooth and at just the right level in the mix. The soundstage is as wide as the Grand Canyon, which makes it easy to place panned instruments exactly where you want them. And, since they have such low impedance, they will easily go loud enough plugged directly into the input jack of a laptop or phone.

The Hi-X 60’s replaceable memory foam ear cups feel soft against the skull, and they provide just the right amount of pressure to ensure superior isolation while still being comfortable to wear for long periods. And, just in case you didn’t know that all headphones have the cable attached to the left ear, this model comes with L and R writ large inside the ear cups.

The Hi-X 60 ships with two cables – 3m and 1.2m – but sadly no case to store it all in. Never mind, because everything else about these cans screams quality. Yes, they’re quite pricey, but you do get a lot of bang for your bucks.

Key specs – Style: Closed back; Impedance: 25 Ohms; Frequency range: 5 to 28,000Hz

Buy now from Andertons

4. Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro: The best budget cans for home studios and podcasters

Price: £109 | Buy now from Amazon

This writer can still clearly remember the prevalence of Beyerdynamic headphones in every studio visited during the 80s. And small wonder – while the company’s white DT100s never sounded that great, they were as tough as boots and went really LOUD, which was a good thing if you were a drummer. Skip forward a few decades and the brand is still going strong, and still producing durable studio headphones that are just as reliable – like the DT 770 Pro model we’re looking at here.

The brilliant thing about these headphones is that they’re available in three different impedances – 32, 80 and 250 Ohms. If you planning to use them for recording and casual listening on a phone, tablet, or laptop, opt for the 32 Ohms variant, which will go nice and loud. But if you’re planning on using them solely for studio recording purposes, we recommend going for the 250 Ohms model, which provides better sensitivity when used with an audio interface. Just be sure to click on the right model at checkout.

The DT 770 Pros produce a very detailed soundscape, though they aren’t as flat sounding as some others on this page – the EQ curve is a little more V-shaped, so they develop higher highs and bigger lows with not as much in the midrange. While this can make the initial analysis of the track during monitoring or mix down a little more complex, you soon get used to the frequency signature.

For the low price, these cans are the perfect entry-level model for recording, monitoring, mixing, and podcasting. They’re robust too, which is important because most musicians will trip over everything in the studio.

Key specs – Style: Closed back; Impedance: 32/80/250 Ohms; Frequency range: 5 to 35,000Hz

5. AKG K712 Pro: The best studio-spec open-backed cans for comfort

Price: £166 | Buy now from Amazon

These are the largest studio-spec headphones in the guide. In fact, they’re huge. And they don’t fold, so they may not travel well. On the plus side, they have ear cups big enough to fit a baby elephant’s ears, and an orange 3.5m cable that will be easy to spot among the piles of black cables that litter every studio.

Listening to these open-backed cans is like sitting in a room with a pair of top-quality studio monitors on each ear. There are acres of space in the soundstage, and everything sounds gloriously lush and airy, no matter what genre of music you work in or listen to.

Although there’s nothing harsh in the mix, the frequency signature does err on the lighter side of things. Bass response is quite subdued – even on an exceedingly bass-laden track like Little Feat’s ‘Long Distance Love’ – and trebles are quite pronounced, though not uncomfortably so.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the larger-than-average circular ear cups, these are among the most comfortable mixing cans we tried – so snug you may forget you’re wearing them.

Key specs – Style: Open back; Impedance: 62 Ohms; Frequency range: 10 to 39,800Hz

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