Your Questions About Mixing & Mastering Headphones Answered:
Good studio headphones are a must-have tool for anybody working with audio. When accuracy is key, you need headphones with a transparent, natural sound, to be able to get that studio-quality sound.
Choosing the right pair of headphones can be daunting, but fear not! We'll explain what to look out for, and give our thoughts on the best studio headphones on the market!
In our picks we included a range of headphones from ultra-budget to high-end so, no matter what, you should be able to find something that fits your needs!
Should I Be Mixing & Mastering on Headphones?
While you can mix and master on headphones, it's not ideal and shouldn't be done if it can be avoided. Headphones don't properly reproduce an acoustic listening environment and can be biased in certain frequency ranges. This can hamper your ability to make informed decisions and, as a result, reduce your mix & master quality.
There are tools like SoundID reference & CLA NX, which help to emulate room environments and flatten frequency response curves of headphones, but nothing can beat a good studio monitor set-up with a properly treated room.
Mixing and mastering on headphones is something that grammy-winning engineers do, so it can be done if you know your headphones properly and are able to listen to the mix or master on multiple systems.
So don't worry, if you don't have access to a fancy studio, you can get professional sounding masters on headphones. They won't sound as good as if they were done in a properly treated studio, but they will pass against chart-toppers.
What Are Closed Back & Open Back Headphones & Why Does it Matter?
Open-back headphones let air pass through the ear cups, stopping sound reflections and resonance build-up. This makes them sound clear and natural. Closed-back headphones are sealed and do not allow air through, or sound to leak out. This helps in noisy environments but can cause resonance and amplification in bass/mid frequencies.
Open-Back headphones have advantages and disadvantages, just like closed-back headphones.
With Open-Back headphones, you'll get a much wider and full soundstage, as well as a more natural listening experience. In addition to this, open-backs are usually less susceptible to ear fatigue due to a lack of backpressure. However, sound leaking and isolation is very much a drawback to open-back headphones though, so you won't be using open-backs out and about, or in noisy places.
Closed-back headphones are much less susceptible to outside interference, and sound bleed. The isolation makes for a more intimate soundstage, often with more energy in the lower frequencies. The back pressure of closed-back headphones can also be a cause of ear fatigue over prolonged periods of use.
Which Are The Best Mixing and Mastering Headphones for Beginners?
As a beginner, it's hard to free up the budget necessary for high-quality studio headphones, which can range from $50 to $1000+. If it's within your means, you're obviously going to be better off with high-end, high-quality headphones, but not everyone can afford those and you need to start somewhere.
Here's a short list of the best mixing and mastering headphones for beginners:
All 3 of these headphones can be picked up for relatively cheap and will provide good enough sound quality for you to start mixing right away. Mastering could be a bit more problematic with cheap headphones, but there's plenty of software, such as SoundID reference, that can help you with sound accuracy!
Which Headphones Are The Best for Mixing & Mastering?
Here's the complete list of the best headphones for mixing and mastering:
- Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro
- Sennheiser HD-600
- Focal Listen Profesional
- Audio Technica ATH-M50X
- Sony MDR-7506
- Sennheiser HD-206
1. Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro
- Open Back
- Impedance: 250 Ohm
- Frequency response: 5 Hz – 35 kHz
- Weight: 364g
✅ Transparent and spacious sound
✅ Extremely comfortable
✅ High-Quality Build
❌ Open back so not good in loud environments
The Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro mixing and mastering headphones are easily our favourite studio headphones. They offer an impressively clean and transparent sound, perfect for mixing and mastering purposes. The open-back design means that you'll also be getting a wide and lush soundstage with these.
The DT 990 Pros additionally have a very flat and natural sound, which is perfect for mixing & mastering as you don't want any EQ colouration to affect your decisions. This may make them sound worse compared to your usual listening headphones, but this is due to your everyday headphones having a hefty EQ curve to improve your listening experience.
When first using flat EQ curve headphones we initially though they were worse, however the flatter they sound, the more accuracy you'll get.
A lot of headphones in this price range tend to over-accentuate the low end, which isn't the case with the DT 990 Pros.
While more bass will probably sound better for consuming music, having a more accurate and balanced low-end is perfect for getting well-translated mixes and masters.
All of this also comes at an extremely approachable price point. Most big engineers and producers have either used DT 990 Pro's in the past, or are still using them to this day.
Comfort & Build
The Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro headphones are one of the most comfortable headphones you'll ever use. The replaceable velour earpads are super soft, and there is little to no issue with using these for hours on end. The headband is also well padded with soft foam, as well as fully adjustable
We personally have a pair and using them has never felt uncomfortable, the fabric on the earcups feels like velvet and is much better than those sweaty leather earcups.
However, in hot environments, you can sweat a lot and the fabric will absorb it – you'll get that with most over-ear headphones anyway and leather just sucks.
In addition to the headphones themselves, you'll also get a great 3m coiled 3.5mm cable and a 1/4″ adapter to use with your Beyerdynamic headphones. Coiled cables are a godsend in a studio environment, and if your headphones aren't on a coiled cable, you're missing out!
So when it comes to choosing the Beyerdynamics, you're not limited to only the DT990 Pros. Some environments are just not suited for open-back headphones, so you might want to have the same quality, but in a closed-back design.
The Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro are also a really good option, come in a closed-back design, with the same incredible drivers, and even 3 different impedance ratings.
If you don't mind splurging a little, you might want to take a look at the new and improved DT 900 Pro X mixing headphones. These come with a lower impedance, are more comfortable than the DT 990 Pros in addition to being made from sustainable materials.
With a frequency response of 5-35,000 Hz, 96dB of sensitivity and a 250-ohm impedance, the DT990 Pro's sound incredible, with round and punchy bass and clear highs. The overall package of impressive comfort, thorough functionality, great sound and reasonable price make the Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro our favourite headphones for mixing and mastering!
At $130 these are a steal!
2. Sennheiser HD-600
- Open Back
- Impedance: 300 Ohm
- Frequency response: 12 Hz – 40.5 kHz
- Weight: 260g
✅ Detailed and Natural Sound
✅ Great ear cups and headband
✅ Very Light and comfortable
✅ Easy to repair
❌ Marbled plastic feels outdated
❌ High price tag, but worth the money
When it comes to the world of audiophile purity, the Sennheiser HD600s are a staple name. The best thing about the HD600s is the “natural” and effortless sound reproduction. In addition, the open back design provide a very pleasant and wide soundstage, as well as a flat response from the bass to the high frequencies.
The one thing that maybe isn't a strong point of the HD600s is the bass extension, which doesn't feel as thumpy and low as some other headphones. But great big bass isn't what these are made for – detail, balance and transparency is what the HD600s focus on, and they nail it in every aspect.
When it comes to price, compared to the other options on this list, the HD600s are the most expensive. They are definitely worth their price tag, but if you're looking for value for money and great sound, the DT990 Pros are a better choice.
With some of the best and most detailed sound out there, the HD600s are legendary and will remain so for years to come!
Comfort & Build
This is pretty much a general consensus, that, along with the Beyerdynamics, the Sennheiser HD600s are at the peak of comfortability. With large, replaceable velour cups, that fit very nice and cosy around your ears, in addition to a very light 260g weight, you will never have issues with long listening sessions.
The headband is also well padded with 4 soft and thick pieces of foam. That being said, both the velour pads and the foam pieces are subject to wearing down and losing their springiness over time.
Thankfully, these headphones have been around for so long that there are replacements available for literally every part, and replacing them is easy as well.
If the HD600s are not what you're looking for, Sennheiser offers quite a few good alternatives. The HD650s are another awesome set of headphones, but these can be a bit too sweet for mixing purposes. A step up from the 600's are the HD660S, which are a more expensive, more premium version of the 600's.
That being said, the HD600s are the standard for audio quality. More expensive headphones will sound better, but the differences at this point becomes minuscule.
The Sennheiser HD600s are quite easily one of the best headphones ever made for mixing, mastering. These are not entry-level headphones, and neither are they cheap. They will provide incredible sound quality and frequency response, but at almost $400 they are only worth it for professionals.
This is the reason we've placed them at 2nd on the list. The sound quality is incredible, the frequency response second to none and they are perfect for making quick decisions in a mix scenario, but you'll get a similar result with the DT990's if you know them well.
3. Focal Listen Professional
- Impedance: 32 Ohm
- Frequency response: 5Hz – 22kHz
- Weight: 280g
✅ Best All-rounder headphones
✅ Memory Foam ear cups
✅ Super Light and Durable
❌ Can get sweaty after a few hours of use
When it comes to professional closed-back headphones, one of our favourites used to be the awesome Focal Spirit Pros. If not for the less-than-stellar fit and finish, they could've been close to our favourite headphones ever.
The Focal Listen Professional mixing headphones are a worthy successor to the Spirit Pro's, offering improved sound quality as well as more comfort.
The Listen Professional are probably the best all-rounder headphone on this list. They're equally as good at pro work, as they are with just listening and enjoying music.
With more bass than the other headphones on our list, the Focals have a more pleasant sound for just listening to music. However, they do this spectacularly, without ruining the balance and transparency of the sound. Therefore making them a solid pick for mixing and mastering.
That being said, they are maybe not as accurate as the HD600s or DT 990 Pros, so we'd suggest using SoundID to make up for this difference.
If you're looking for the perfect all-rounder, check out the Focal Listen Professionals.
Comfort & Build
When comparing these to the Focal Spirit Pros, The Listen Professionals are heaps more comfortable. The memory foam pads are removable and are soft, making them comfortable for extended use.
That being said, the cup material can insulate very well, so you might get some sweat build up after a while. The silicon headband can get sweaty as well, but it stays comfortable even after hours of use.
The Focal Listen Professionals are also foldable, so they're great to take out and about with you. They don't weigh too much either, so if you're looking for headphones you can take out and about, as well as use for mixng, these will be for you!
The Listen Pros are very transparent and honest in the way they reproduce sound. The memory foam pads are also designed to bring more clarity out to the sound of the Listen Professionals. When it comes to Closed-Back headphones that you could take out and about, the closest competitor would the Audio Technica ATH-M50X.
Both the M50X's and the Listen Pros are very portable, foldable, have a great sound and tons of isolation. That being said, what sets the Listen Pros apart is the transparency of their sound, as well as the nice bass extension.
The M50X's are awesome mixing headphones, but the Listen Pros just have a more natural sound, that's easier to mix with.
If you're looking for headphones you can use in the studio, or walking about, the Focal Listen Professionals are one of your best options. With great sound quality, tons of transparency and clarity, the Listen Pros are an awesome choice. However, they are on the higher end, coming in at $300.
While you will probably get a more honest sound reproduction with the HD600s, or the DT 990 Pros, the Focal's really stand up to the competition and do something in their own way!
4. Audio Technica ATH-M50X
- Impedance: 38 Ohm
- Frequency response: 15Hz – 28kHz
- Weight: 285g
✅ Portable and Versatile
✅ Comes with 3 replaceable cables
✅ Awesome Bass reproduction
✅ Great Isolation
❌ TIght Fit can get tiring
❌ Ear Cup material wears down over time
Even though they land at 4th on our list, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50X studio headphones are an absolute workhorse. The supper rugged, yet light and portable build make the M50X's a staple of modern recording studios.
The M50X's come with 3 Detachable cables, one of which is coiled, so you could choose the best fit for you.
The sound quality is also remarkable, offering a very transparent and pleasant sound, as well as powerful bass and plenty of energy. That being said, the bass can feel overbearing sometimes. Especially since these are closed-back headphones, the bass creates more back pressure, so you'll really feel the low-end.
While it's perfect for listening to music and enjoying the energy, the bass extension might not be the best for creating accurate mixes and masters, so using software like SoundID will be very helpful!
Additionally, because they're so popular around the world, there are tons of accessories, replacement parts, earcups, etcetera!
Comfort & Build
So the comfort is maybe one avenue that the M50X's could be improved in. While the leather-like earcups are comfortable, they aren't very breathable and can be prone to sweat buildup after a while.
The same goes for the headband and coupled with the quite tight fit, you'll be sure to notice some perspiration on your head after a few hours.
The earcups are also susceptible to wearing down and cracking after a while because of the materials used. You'll probably have to replace your cups at some point down the line!
The portability and durability very much help the M50X's though, offering a super rugged, yet versatile build. We probably wouldn't be mixing for hours with these, but the M50X's are the perfect workhorse headphone for tracking, performing and more!
If you don't have $150 to spend on the M50X's, Audio Technica has a whole range of headphones in the M range. The sound quality on all of the M series headphones is very similar, the only real difference being in the build quality.
So you could realistically pick up the Audio Technica ATH-M20X headphones for under $50 and have some of the best sound for mixing you can get! That being said, if you're looking purely for mixing and mastering headphones, the Beyerdynamic range will be much better for you.
In pretty much every way other than ruggedness and portability, the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pros win by a large margin.
With multiple cable options, super rugged design and portability, the ATH-M50X's are a great lower price range pick for producers that want a closed-back headphone cup. Perfect for tracking, performing, and listening, the M50X's are deserving of their legend status.
However, if you want transparency with the closed-back experience, the DT 770 Pro are a better choice for Mixing and mastering.
5. Sony MDR-7506
- Impedance: 63 Ohm
- Frequency response: 10Hz – 20kHz
- Weight: 230 g
✅ Transparent and balanced sound
✅ Awesome Coiled cable
✅ Durable and Versatile
✅ Easy to repair
❌ Cheap materials
❌ Average sound quality
❌ Ear cups prone to cracking
The Sony MDR-7506 headphones are pretty much everywhere in modern music studios. Released back in 1991, the Sony MDR-7506s are still going strong today, with no signs of being replaced or upgraded.
The Sony MDR-7506s are flat and transparent as well as lightweight and well balanced, so it's no wonder that they're beloved by engineers around the world!
They seem to have have an emphasis on the mid and high frequencies, so you'll be able to get your top end details just perfect with these. This means that the low-end will be a little bit lacking, so if you're mixing on these, make sure you're not adding too much low-end. Just like we mentioned earlier in this article, SoundID (or similar software) is going to help a lot with mixing on the Sony MDR-7506s.
Coming in at under $100, the MDR-7506 are the perfect cheap headphones to get you doing some professional-level audio work.
Comfort & Build
The comfort and build of the MDR-7506s aren't anything to boast about, they're pretty middle of the road no matter how you look at them.
The ear cups are made of fake leather material, that gets sweaty and wears down over time. They are however quite light, only coming in at 230 g without the cable, so you probably won't have any issues mixing with these for hours at a time.
The non-removable cable and relatively flimsy build, mean that you'll probably only use these in the studio. That being said, the MDR-7506s are built to last. The headphones are made to repair, not replace, so everything can be easily removed, unscrewed and replaced.
Replacement parts are also extremely easy to come by, being over 30 years old and all.
The Sony MDR-7506 represent quite a saturated point in the market. They're over-ear, closed-back studio headphones with a flat, but unremarkable sound. The $100 price range is also not even as much of an advantage either.
However, with 30 years of development, headphones like the Audio-Technica ATH-M40X hit the same boxes as the MDR-7506s with some extras and improvements. Sometimes you can even find the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pros around for $100, in which case, get the Beyerdynamics, no question!
We found ours on eBay, never used and still boxed for £80, which is about $100.
So if other headphones cost the same and are generally better, why bother with the MDR-7506s anymore?
The Sony MDR-7506 headphones are dependable, easy to mix and master with, featuring great sound and tons of repairability. At $100 you won't find better workhorse studio headphones than the MDR-7506s. They work great for artists recording in the live room too as they're rugged and provide a great sound.
To be truthful, there are many headphones I'd rather buy than the MDR-7506s, but in a pinch, these can be the difference between an awesome mix and nothing at all!
6. Sennheiser HD-206
- Impedance: 24 Ohm
- Frequency response: 21Hz – 18kHz
- Weight: 215 g
✅ Extremely Cheap
✅ Very light and comfortable
✅ Transparent Sound
❌ Cheap build
❌ Low-Quality Cable
Right out of the gate, we‘re saying it, the Sennheiser HD206s are easily the best budget studio headphones out there! While neither the sound quality nor the build quality is anything to shout about, these certainly punch above their $30 price tag.
We won't pull the wool over your eyes and say that these are better than everything else, but when you actually hear the HD206s, you find it hard to believe that they are a $30 pair of studio headphones.
The sound quality is surprisingly decent for $30 and is quite comparable to the ATH-M20X's, except with less clarity and a messier top end. The great thing about the HD206's is the bass reproduction, which is really precise and clean, if a bit weak at times.
SoundID will be a big help with the 206's especially if you're planning to mix with these.
The HD-206's won't win any awards for sound quality, and when comparing to something like the DT 990 Pros, the 206's sound mediocre at best. That being said, at this price point, you won't find anything as transparent and great for mixing as the Sennheiser HD206s
While the HD206s are not peak-comfort, they are very light, at 215g, so they're comfortable for longer mixing sessions.
The ear cups are made of cheap leather imitation, they're shallow, but not uncomfortable. The headband has some nice padding but is the same material as the earcups and you'll notice some wear after a while.
The HD206s have a 3m long non-removable cable, that can be a bit of a pain, especially if you're not moving around that much. Cable length is all about preference, but one thing is for certain, you won't go jogging with these soon!
The build in general feels quite cheap, but it's about what you'd expect with $30 headphones marketed toward professional studio work.
When it comes to alternatives for the HD206s, there's very little. Probably their closest competitor would be the Audio Technica ATH-M20Xs, but at $30 vs $55, they're almost double the HD206s. The M20X is a step-up from the HD206s in both sound quality and build quality, but it's not a massive difference.
If you already have these, which is quite possible, given the extreme popularity of the HD206s, you might want an upgrade. In this case, we would again suggest the Beyerdynamic DT770 Pros which you can find at around $100 on sale or used.
If you're just starting and are on a shoe-string budget, there's no better option for you, than to get the Sennheiser HD206s. It's rare to see high-end professional audio brands cover the ultra-budget range for professional studio headphones, but it's great to see that good sound quality is not a premium anymore!
The Sennheiser HD206s aren't the best studio headphones, but they sure win the award for the best budget headphones out there!
A good pair of studio headphones will be one of your most-used tools in the studio, so it's important to get the right ones! Whether you have hundreds to spare, or just 30$, why not get into professional audio, when it's so easy to get started!
Here's the complete list of the 6 best headphones for mixing and mastering:
- Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro
- Sennheiser HD-600
- Focal Listen Profesional
- Audio Technica ATH-M50X
- Sony MDR-7506
- Sennheiser HD-206
Toms is a music producer & DJ, born and raised in Post Soviet Latvia. Currently based in Brighton, Toms has had over 6 years of experience with all things production and in that time, he's done a tonne of cool stuff! He's played multiple festivals, had experience in the field with mixing & mastering and even become a freelance journalist in the music industry.
Toms currently creates music under the alias Sovereign. Producing music that's intimate and subtle, while full of edge and energy, the young producer combines the artistic sounds of Trip Hop artists like Massive Attack, with the energy and youthfulness of producers like Flume, Jamie XX and Yaeji. You can check his stuff on Soundcloud.