anyone who edits sound recordings professionally or in their free time needs really good headphones with a clear picture instead of excessive bass riots. We show what distinguishes the professional models and why hi-fi connoisseurs also rely on studio headphones in the living room.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s podcast production, mixing and mastering of music recordings or video editing: Many areas of application require high-quality sound reproduction – because something that doesn’t sound good in the original can’t sound good on different end devices with different users, each with their own ideas, after it has been distributed . It doesn’t matter whether you use your home computer, a mobile device such as a tablet or a full-fledged audio workstation (DAW). Basically, there is no way around the headphones. They promise the best possible sound quality at an affordable price, take up less space than comparatively bulky and much more expensive monitor boxes and are therefore the first choice for recording work for many hobby musicians as well as for experienced producers.
But what distinguishes genuine studio headphones from a hi-fi model? Strictly speaking, only the purpose: every headphone that is used permanently in a production environment is proven to be suitable for the studio. On closer inspection, however, certain features and properties can be identified that set real monitor headphones apart from the competition.
Construction principle: Open and closed headphones
Connoisseurs distinguish between two fundamentally different types of headphones: open and closed. Closed headphones shield the audience from the outside world and emit little noise to the environment. This makes them particularly useful in a production environment for simultaneous recordings with one microphone, such as vocals or speech. Because in such an application scenario, every noise that penetrates the microphone from the ear cups would be devastating. This phenomenon is known as crosstalk. However, some closed headphones are rather uncomfortable to wear over a longer period of time because it gets hot and stuffy underneath. Many models sometimes sound a bit muffled.
Open-back headphones , on the other hand, are usually more comfortable to wear and have a finer sound resolution, but are more recommended for editing suites and comparable areas of application where the sound emitted to the outside has no negative consequences. Finally, with semi-open headphones, there is a third, hybrid design principle that is intended to combine the advantages of open and closed designs – but in fact often only combines the disadvantages. In-ear earphones, i.e. the space-saving “earplugs” for the ear canal, actually only play an important role in audio production during live performances, where they serve as stage monitors for musicians. If the focus is on mobile use, they are worth considering – but you pay a hefty surcharge for the space saving.
It doesn’t matter whether they are open or closed, on-ear or circumaural, in-ear or on-ear: it is important that the headphones fit well and are light and comfortable to wear over a long period of time – it’s best to try them out!
Impedance: Low impedance and high impedance headphones
Another important feature of headphones is impedance. To put it very simply, this indicates how much power the device can tolerate or require. Models for use on the go, which are operated directly on the smartphone or on an MP3 player, usually have a low impedance of up to around 80 ohmson. That’s a relatively small resistance because the amplifiers built into mobile phones aren’t particularly powerful. Studio headphones are often designed for stationary use with a dedicated headphone amplifier and therefore have a rather high impedance, often 150, 250 or even 600 ohms. But be careful: If no headphone amp is used, but the sound converter is connected directly to the jack output of the desktop computer or laptop, a low-impedance model is preferable – otherwise the maximum output volume remains very low. That one depends on the size of the jack plug(3.5 millimeters or 6.3 millimeters) whether you are dealing with a high-impedance or low-impedance model is a rumor. There are definitely models with a large plug but a small resistance and vice versa.
Why choose a high-impedance model at all ? Because the “big boomers” tend to sound better and can draw on larger dynamic reserves. But to reiterate, without a costly headphone amp, a low-impedance model is preferable. By the way, many devices like the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro are available in different versions with different impedances.
True Wireless – Wireless headphones
Wireless headphones and earphones are becoming increasingly popular for use on the go, especially true wireless headphones (top 10) with Bluetooth radio, which you wear almost unnoticed in your ear canal. In professional applications, however, the wireless ear plugs hardly play a role because the price-performance ratio cannot compete with that of traditional wired headband headphones. Mainly the sound quality often leaves a lot to be desired with the cheaper representatives of the wireless guild – among other things, because in wireless transmission lossy algorithms are almost always used to compress the data stream and on top of that sometimes special circuits such as active noise suppression ( active noise cancelling, ANC) mess in between.
However, studio headphones should reproduce recordings of any kind as faithfully and authentically as possible, without compression artifacts or falsifying “tuning”, i.e. intentional boosting or attenuation of certain frequency ranges. Example: The infamous “bathtub effect” with exaggerated bass and treble attributed to some British and American manufacturers. Unfortunately, the technical data does not show how neutrally and honestly headphones (or loudspeakers) play. The widest possible frequency spectrum that corresponds to the ideal human hearing ability of 20 to 22,000 Hertz is desirable. However, this information does not say anything about how loud and even the different tones are reproduced in this volume – here too, the only thing that ultimately helps is to put it to the test.
Studio headphones: an insider tip for music fans?
Even for people who just like listening to music, a sound image that is as true to the original and unadulterated as possible is an important selection criterion when buying headphones. This is why professional devices are often regarded as insider tips in insider circles because they are often cheaper than their siblings from the hi-fi market. The chance to enjoy your favorite songs with exactly the same equipment that they were mixed with in the recording studio has a non-negligible attraction.
However, you often have to make small compromises in terms of equipment and optics: The Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro, for example, simply doesn’t look quite as elegant as its somewhat higher-quality brother without the studio label. For those who are not bothered by this and can cope with the tendency towards higher impedance, the Pro versions are a recommended alternative, especially since they are by no means inferior to their HiFi rivals in terms of build quality and durability. On the contrary: Good studio headphones have to endure a lot of hardships over many years as a work tool. This is one of the reasons why wearing parts such as the temple and ear pads or the connection cable are often interchangeable and the models are produced unchanged for many years.
Studio headphones: the editors’ recommendations
After such a long preface, we naturally also have a few specific recommendations for good studio headphones, from inexpensive entry-level devices to real luxury headphones that inspire musicians, producers and fans. In any case, the following five models have proven themselves in professional production environments over many years and are all characterized by relatively good sound, solid manufacturing quality and high wearing comfort, with the latter in particular being subjective, as mentioned. If you are looking for a reliable companion for your daily work that should last for a long time, you should not shy away from ordering two candidates from Amazon & Co. to compare or asking your local specialist shop for an audio sample.
Entry level monitor headphones: Sony MDR-7506
The Sony MDR-7506was long considered an absolute insider tip among music fans and hobby producers. Probably also because in Germany it was often only available as an overseas import. You can now easily find the entry-level model on Amazon and Ebay. Anyone who expects miracles for a retail price of around 100 Euros will be a bit sobered: In the listening test, the Sony MDR-7506 is a bit too fond of the mids, with a slight emphasis on the upper bass range and muffled highs, but is still convincing in the end. For the price, we particularly like the impeccable workmanship, right down to the extra-long coiled cable. It is also easy to find replacements for temples, ear pads and other small parts. Thanks to the low impedance of 63 ohms, the Sony MDR-7506 does not need a separate amplifier and can also be operated directly on the smartphone without any problems (as long as it still has a jack socket). However, the wearing comfort is not particularly high: the on-ear hearing shells cause hot ears relatively quickly. Nevertheless, the Sony MDR-7506 is our price tip – if you want more, you have to dig a little deeper into your pocket.
If it can be a little more: Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro
The Beyerdynamic DT 770 Prois available in three impedance versions with 32, 80 or 250 ohms. Thanks to the relatively large ear cups, the thick, replaceable Niki pads and the adjustable headband, the closed headphones are very comfortable to wear even during longer sessions, even if they are relatively large and heavy. We like the robust construction and the replaceable wearing parts. The powerful, deep bass reproduction is immediately noticeable in the listening test – in fact, deep tones sound a bit too powerful and crisp. At the same time, the DT 770 Pro from Beyerdynamic seems to emphasize the highs a bit. So the playback picture is not completely neutral, but it really knows how to please, especially when listening to music. If the DT 770 Pro weren’t quite so big, the 32-ohm version would even be an alternative for use on the go.
Open, airy and light: AKG K702
The K702 and its slightly more conspicuous brother, the K701, are true classic headphones that feel just as at home in the studio as they do on the stereo system. Despite its nominal weight of 235 grams, you can feel the AKG K702Hardly any in everyday use, thanks to the generous padding and the clever double temple design. The large, open ear shells complement the pleasantly airy wearing comfort. With an impedance of 62 ohms, the K702 also creates a lot of (sound) pressure directly on the laptop or desktop computer, without having to rely on a separate headphone amplifier. AKG has a similar but high-impedance model in its range with the K612 Pro. When auditioning, the K702 shines with amazing dynamics and outstanding resolution. In fact, the sound panorama may seem a bit exaggerated in the high ranges, while the basses recede into the background. Apart from these small drawbacks, the monitor headphones from AKG are acoustically commendably neutral and casual and are therefore recommended as a particularly honest monitoring solution.
Open reference headphones: Audio-Technica ATH-R70X
With a bit of luck you can pick up the ATH-R70X from Audio-Technica for less than 300 euros – and in this price range the open studio and hi-fi headphones are considered an acoustic reference. It reproduces recordings of all kinds with exemplary authenticity – without overemphasizing or dampening any frequency range. Whether filigree chamber music or brutal metal, the ATH-R70X always sounds wonderfully relaxed and effortless. The monitor headphones from Audio-Technica are also surprisingly light and very comfortable to wear for their considerable size – in fact, they might even be a little too loose. That and the poor supply of spare parts are the only two criticisms of this otherwise really phenomenal studio instrument. Danger: With an impedance of 470 ohms, the ATH-R70X relies on a powerful amplifier to fully exploit its sound potential. Audio-Technica offers the closed ATH-M70x as a low-impedance alternative.
Silver Arrow with great sound: Shure SRH940
The Shure SRH940 initially catches the eye with its somewhat idiosyncratic color scheme: the silver housing sets it apart from the typically black competition, but on closer inspection it doesn’t look particularly valuable. The SRH940 is very solidly made – in particular the folding and folding mechanism for the two enclosing ear shells is exemplary robust. With a weight of 322 grams, the Shure SRH-940 is not the lightest headphone in the test field. At first it is quite comfortable, but the comfort decreases as you wear it. We would like to praise the generous scope of delivery, including a transport bag and two connection cables (one in a spiral shape and one straight). The impedance is quite low at 42 ohms, which makes the Shure SRH-940 a universal talent. In terms of sound, the Shure SRH-940 is slightly above the level of the two candidates from AKG and Beyerdynamic. It plays a little more neutrally and clearly, but with a slightly restrained bass. If it weren’t for the somewhat cheap-looking housing, the SRH940 would be worth an unreserved recommendation. But beauty is known to be in the eye of the beholder.
In-ear headphones are in – and studio headphones sound better. If you can live with the larger format and plan to use it in the living room, home office or on the train anyway, rather than commuting short distances or on the beach, you will get an unrivaled terrific sound for a fair price.
It is important to pay attention to the intended use when purchasing. If you want to use your studio headphones like normal headphones, you should get low-impedance headphones. We show other alternatives in the test winner guides: These headphones are the best in their class as well as true wireless, over-ear, ANC, AptX & Co. from 30 euros .