9 Best Headphones for Sound Engineers – Updated 2021

Here’s our list of the best studio headphones in 2021:

  1. Sennheiser HD-206 Studio Headphones
  2. Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro
  3. Sony MDR-7506
  4. Audio Technica ATH M50X
  5. Focal Listen Professional
  6. Sennheiser HD-600
  7. Beyerdynamic DT-1770 Pro
  8. Ultrasone Performance 880
  9. Sennheiser Hd-800 S

Whether you’re a beatmaker, a singer songwriter or a mixing engineer – a quality pair of headphones for music production are a necessary piece of your kit.

A good set of cans can serve as the best reference for stereo image as well as low-end and fine detail in your mix.

With a world of options, it can get tiresome, drudging through all the crap products, to get to the ones that are great.

That being said, we’ll try to make that process easier, by listing our picks for the best studio headphones available for producers on a budget & producers where money is no object.

Best Budget Headphones for Audio Engineers (<$100)

Here’s our list of the best budget headphones on the market in 2021.

Sennheiser HD-206 Studio Headphones – The super budget option

sennheiser hd 206 studio headphones
credit: rtings

Listen, we’ve been there, you’re just starting out with producing, and don’t have hundreds to spend on reference headphones.

If you’re looking for the absolute best pair of headphones you can get under $50, the Sennheiser HD-206 studio headphones are for you.

They’re a Closed-back, over-ear headphone, with a frequency response of 21Hz – 18kHz and a 24 Ω impedence.

Bearing the well respected Sennheiser name, the extremely tough and durable HD-206’s are comfortable to wear for extended periods. 

You won’t find a more accurate pair of headphones in this price range. These easily stand up to some $150 headphones.

The bass response is rich and detailed, without muddying up the rest of the frequency spectrum.

Additionally (while already durable) the price of these headphones means you won’t be scared to recklessly chuck them in your bag.

The closest competitor to the HD-206’s would be the Audio Technica M20X’s, however the Sennheiser HD-206 cans are much more comfortable during longer sessions.

Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro – Best All Round

beyerdynamic dt990 pro studio headphones

If you’re looking to spend less than $100 and you want the absolute best headphones for making music, look no further than the legendary DT-990 Pro’s.

With an Open Back On Ear style, these are great for mixing and detailed stereo work.

They’re also extremely comfortable, with an incredible suede like finish on the ear-cups, and a solid metal headband, these are great for longer sessions.

With a 5 Hz – 35 kHz Frequency Response and a 250 Ohm impedence, these are proper workhorse studio Headphones, that can stand up in any professional environment.

The 250 Ohm impedence however means that you’re going to need an interface or a headphone amp to plug these puppies into.

But you’re probably not going to be taking these on a run any time soon.

The DT-990 Pro’s come with a great coiled 3.5mm stereo cable, with a 1/4″ screwable adapter as well as a nice carrying bag

Overall these are extremely precise headphones for this price range, the frequency response across the spectrum is even and clean.

Some users have felt that they can be quite sharp at the top-end at times, however, we could not say this was the case.

Their high quality sound, massive soundstage and large frequency response makes them our Nr.1 pick for budget headphones.

Beyerdynamic DT-770 Pro

As a side note, beyerdynamic dt series of studio headphones usually come in open back and closed back options.

The beyerdynamic dt 770 pro headphone is the closed back alternative to the DT 990 Pro’s.

Every great quality about the dt 990s is present on the dt 770 pro.

If open back headphones vs closed back studio headphones make no difference to you, the most noticeable difference between these great headphones is the stereo imaging.

The DT 990 pro’s have an incredibly accurate stereo image, partly due to their open-back build.

So if you’re looking for better soundstaging, the dt990s are for you.

If you’d rather have a more versatile headphone, the Beyerdynamic DT-770 Pro’s are the pair for you.

Sony MDR-7506 – The Workhorse

sony mdr 7506 music production headphones

There’s a reason the Sony MDR 7506 has been around since the early 1990’s

They’ve all but become the industry standard for professionals working with audio.

At under $100 thousands of studio engineers, radio producers and location sound recordists have been using them for over 30 years.

They’re made entirely out of plastic, which means, that while being much lighter than ones made of metal, these don’t tend to be the most durable.

They can be folded up for taking them out for field recording, while being accurate enough to make these perfect for the studio.

This makes them undoubtedly the ultimate workhorse of the studio headphone world.

Sony’s MDR 7506’s sound great for what they are. If you’re looking for headphones with a strong bass response, these aren’t for you.

They’re designed to expose what’s wrong with a recording rather than what’s right.

Whether you’re making beats in your bedroom or recording sound for a movie, these will do a great job at anything that’s thrown at them.

That being said, the only drawback for the sony MDR 7506 would be the cable.

The cable is coiled, which is great, however it’s quite long and can be noticeably heavy.

Paired with the fact that you can’t remove and replace the cables, this might be something to consider.

Best Mid-Range Headphones for Sound Engineers ($100-$350)

Here you’ll find our picks of the best mid-range music production headphones.

Audio Technica ATH M50X – Versatility King

audio technica ath m50x music production headphones

For a list of the best studio headphones, not including the Audio Technica ATH M50X would be a travesty.

Long recognized by amateurs and professionals alike as the baseline for good headphones, the M50X’s are probably the headphones for you.

Featuring a great foldable design, as well as a removable cable, they’re very portable and extremely comfortable.

The earcups have been made so they are comfortable to wear for extended periods of time, and they have a really sturdy, solid make-up.

Also, professional studio monitor headphones for music production or studio sessions need to have as little spill as possible. And, due to the secure fit of the M50X design, coupled with it’s low distortion and great frequency response, you can be sure the M50X is among some of the best headphones for engineering.

The M50X’s come with 3 different cables, a long, short and a coiled cable, and the sound of the M50X’s is great overall, although they shy away from a detailed high frequencies range.

In general, the frequency response is very flat, without any distortion or unwanted resonance in the low-end.

As with most low impedance headphone designs (38 ohms), these can easily be driven to the point of discomfort.

If your budget isn’t that high, you can try some of the other affordable models: ATH-M20x, M30x and M40x.

The drawbacks for the more affordable models are in the build quality and not sound quality, but the extra money does not go to waste when purchasing the M50X’s.

The overall build quality, comfort and versatility of these studio headphones makes these

Focal Listen Professional

focal list professional music production headphones

The Focal Listen Professionals are exactly what they say on the tin.

They’re ideal for both casual listening and pro duties.

This puts them safely in the running for some of the best mid-range headphones you can possibly get.

The balanced sound of these headphones are designed with remarkably neutral, but punchy bass, full, clear mids and, smooth high frequency range.

Where these Focal Listen Professionals stand out however is at lower volumes.

A lot of more budget monitor headphones tend to use an all-or-nothing kind of approach, where you’ll be listening at higher volumes to get the best sound.

That’s where the Focal Listens come in, Even at super low volumes, the definition and frequency response is exactly the same as higher volumes.

For prolonged use however, these might not be the best for you.

The fit of the Focals is quite snug and can tend to get heavy after a couple of hours

Additionally it’s got a silicon headband, that’s like a magnet for sweat, so you’ll be finding yourself looking for a break every couple of hours.

That being said, for the price, there aren’t many other headphones that compete with the way these sound.

Sennheiser HD-600

sennheiser hd-600 studio headphones

You’ll probably recognize the Sennheiser HD-600’s from being one of the most popular headphones of the past 20 years.

Unlike the Focal Listen Professionals however, the HD-600’s are for a more niche market.

Where the latter focuses on an all-rounder approach, the Sennheiser HD-600’s are best suited for critical listening as well as mixing.

The Sennheiser HD-600’s have one of the most transparent and natural sound presentations that we’ve ever come across.

While the HD-600’s are an open-back headphone, they sound surprisingly frontal, when compared to other similar headphones, like the DT880’s

In general, whether used in a professional studio or for personal listening, the HD-600 is one of the best monitor headphones.

The only drawback to the sound of these is the quality of the bass.

For more bass-centric music, these will sound absolutely stunning, but for music that’s less low-end focused, they can start to feel a bit bass-light.

The incredibly accurate mids of these well balanced headphones also deserve a mention.

These are a 300 ohm impedance headphone, which means you’ll probably want some quality amplification for these.

With a proper setup, the listening experience you get from these open design music production headphones is sublime

When plugged into a smartphone however, the bass will be very loose and the dynamics more compressed than usual, making them sound a bit dull.

Best High End Headphones for Audio Engineering ($350+)

Beyerdynamic DT-1770 Pro – Best Closed Back Studio Headphones

beyerdynamic dt1170 pro studio headphones

Take the incredible Beyerdynamic Dt 770 Pro’s and add a detachable cable, high-end drivers and even more features, and you’ll get the incredible DT 1770 Pro’s

Ask any professional mixing engineer and they’ll gush on about how much they love the beyerdynamic dt range of headphones, the dt 1770 pros are no exception

Using high-end Tesla neodymium drivers, these headphones have extremely low distortion at high volumes.

The Beyerdynamic DT1770 pros sound is a perfect contrast between being musical and analytical.

It is engaging and fun, yet it doesn’t spare any details.

The build quality is insane on the DT1170 pros, and coming from German manufacturers, that’s what you’d expect. The materials used are exceptionally high quality, which means that you can trust these to last.

The comfort of these cannot be underestimated either. The beyerdynamic 1770 Pros come with 2 sets of ear pads.

The Black velour ear pads provide an open and wide soundstage, that will be perfect for mixing and mastering.

The Leatherette pads however are less open, but more closely suited to monitoring needs.

If closed back studio headphones aren’t your jam, beyerdynamic offer the DT 1990 Pro’s.

The same incredible build quality and comfortable fit in an open back package, what’s not to love.

Ultrasone Performance 880 – Best Value

ultrasone 800 music production headphones

Ultrasone are a relatively new player in the professional headphone market, compared to the classics of Audio technica and beyerdynamic.

That being said, the Performance 880’s are an incredibly great sounding pair of headphones, built for critical listening, with mixing and mastering in mind.

The 880 is part of Ultrasone’s Performance lineup, and as such, is tuned for reference and professional uses.

Given how “flat” and neutral the 880’s are, the expressiveness of the treble is surprising.

The sibilant qualities that tend to come with cheaper treble heavy headphones is nowhere to be seen on the 880’s

The treble’s dynamic and full nature makes it excel at setting the spatial staging and providing a sense of air and distance between instruments.

Ultrasone have gone the extra step to make the 880’s be super comfortable for long periods listening sessons.

However, as comfortable as these are, we do have gripes about it’s design.

The 880’s are made entirely out of plastic, largely due to saving weight for comfort

Compared to other studio headphones at this price range, the build quality leaves a lot to be desired.

A cheap looking chrome finish does nothing to help the already cheap looking materials.

At first look, we wouldn’t have said that these were a $500 headphone, much less that they would sound as awesome as they do.

The 880’s are a marvel of modern audio engineering.

Clarity that you’d usually end up paying $1000 for is available here for half the price.

In the box with these you’ll find a couple of cables, a 3.5mm and 1/4″ one, as well as extra felt ear cups and a nice carrying case.

Additionally Ultrasone also sell a bluetooth adapter for these that costs around 170$, for those of you that hate cables a lot.

If you don’t mind the cheap build, these cans are absolutely incredible.

Sennheiser Hd-800 S – Luxury Listening

sennheiser hd-800 mixing & mastering headphones

As the last entry on our best headphones list, we’re going all out with a pair of cans that cost almost 3 times more than anything else on this list. Sennheiser will jump at the first opportunity, to try and sell you on their flagship $36,000 Orpheus system, which is so good it makes people cry.

The closest thing that comes to the immensity of the Orpheus however is the HD-800 S. The HD-800 S’s are not the most comfortable, versatile nor they are portable in any sense of the word.

What you do get however are probably the best sounding neutral response reference headphones that exist today.

The word “perfection” gets thrown around a lot when talking about the HD-800 S, and while that does overstate things a tad, they are no less than incredible.

To even hear the full potential of these headphones, you’ll need a pretty bangin’ amplification setup.

Sennheiser do sell their own matching amplifier, the HDVD 800.

So if you’re looking to get the best possible sound out of the HD-800 S’s, be prepared to spend around $3000 setting up.

Listening to these headphones with proper amplification however, well, let’s just say we’ve never heard anything as good as this.

Since the HD-800 S’s are at their core a reference headphone, the sound quality is more on the analytical sound.

That being said, the transparency with which they reproduce anything thrown at them is nothing short of magical.

We were absolutely struck by how transparent they sounded, as well as the absolute fidelity with which they reproduced anything we played on them. People tend to have doubts about spending so much money on a pair of headphones.

If sound quality is your main priority, then nothing comes close to these.

Reproducing a similar sound quality with speakers will cost you 10x as much, assuming you already have a perfect listening environment.

The HD 800 S is, without a doubt, a spectacular headphone that feels right at home on a list of the best studio headphones.

What Type of Headphones Do I Need for Audio Engineering?

music production headphones
credit: wired

There’s three main types of headphones you’ll encounter: Closed back, Open Back and In-Ear monitors.

A Closed Back design are perfect for recording purposes.

They fully enclose the ears, and the padding around the ear helps to avoid unwanted traces of audio leaking out and ending up on your recording. 

Open Back headphones however, are the best in a mixing / producing environment.

They’re altogether lighter that closed-back headphones, so extended use is also not an issue during those long mixing sessions.

The sound of open back headphones is noticeably more open than a closed back style, however, this means that they don’t block out external noise quite as well.

In-ear monitors, are for stage use only. But sometimes, if they are high enough quality, you’ll be able to use them in your studio. We wouldn’t recommend it over a pair of closed back or open back headphones though.

Audio Engineer’s Headphone Buying Guide

A more informed decision is always the better one.

That being said, we’ll run you through the main things to look for when shopping for headphones.

Impedence

When it comes to specs for the best studio headphones, we see values measured in ohms. These values are the impedance of studio headphones.

The more energy you need to drive the headphones, the higher the ohm value will be.

A lower impedence (Below 50 ohms) rating means you’ll be able to use your headphones with most electronics with an audio output. (Phone, Laptop)

A higher impedence rating means you’ll need a separate amplification setup, to properly drive your headphones.

Sensitivity

People prefer studio headphones for music production with higher sensitivity so that they can concentrate and edit the smallest details.

Sensitivity is measured in decibel level per volt. (105 dB/V)

Sensitivity shows how loud the headphones will produce sound with a given electrical drive level.

The sensitivity rating should never be above 120 dB/V.

Higher sensitivity can be better for mixing, but can result in damaging your ears. For longer listening sessions, a sensitivity of around 85 dB/V is preferrable

Drivers

A driver is the element that converts an electrical signal into sound. Essentially, the bigger the driver unit, the bigger a sound it produces.

For instance, a 45mm driver unit will produce a louder sound than a 30mm driver unit. A larger driver size does not mean a better sound however, the difference in sound comes down to the materials and the type of driver.

The most common type of Driver is a Dynamic driver, these are most often seen in low to mid range headphones.

Planar drivers are less common, but sound much better.

You’ll find this driver in most of the mid-range headphones we have listed here. If you have the money it’s well worth getting Planar drivers – so keep a look out for them.

Electrostatic drivers are a less common type of driver; they’re mostly found in the best studio headphones.

To drive these, you’ll need a special amplifier, that’s designed for Electrostatic drivers.

Electrostatic drivers however incredibly accurate and distortion-less when compared to other driver types.

Conclusion

To recap, here’s our list of the best studio headphones in 2021:

  1. Sennheiser HD-206 Studio Headphones
  2. Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro
  3. Sony MDR-7506
  4. Audio Technica ATH M50X
  5. Focal Listen Professional
  6. Sennheiser HD-600
  7. Beyerdynamic DT-1770 Pro
  8. Ultrasone Performance 880
  9. Sennheiser Hd-800 S

A good pair of studio headphones are a necessity for anybody who works with music production.

While not the case 30 years ago, nowadays, you can get incredible headphones for under 100 bucks.

Whether you’re willing to spend the absolute minimum or want the absolute best of the best, there exist a perfect set of headphones just for you.

Want to read another one of our helpful buyers guides? Check out or Best Midi Keyboards article!

Want to learn more about producing music? Read our guide on How To Start Producing Music