Headphones to the DJ are like the horse to the jockey. Even the absolute best horse rider in the world is nothing without an excellent steed to ride upon. The same can be said about headphones for professional musicians. AirPods are great, but they don’t provide the frequency response and accuracy that you can get from a professional set of studio-grade headphones.
An important distinction is that this article refers to studio headphones, not headphones for live performances. For more information on that, check out: Best DJ Headphones 2019.
What Constitutes a Good Pair of Studio Headphones?
Studio headphones are vastly different from consumer headphones. While most people look for a pair of wireless and noise-canceling headphones, these are not the qualities you should seek when monitoring your audio professionally. Often you have to make sacrifices in portability and wirelessness for more impressive sound quality.
Open vs. Closed Back
One of the essential qualities of a professional headphone to consider is whether the headphone is open-backed or closed-backed. These terms refer to the actual structure of the headphone. Closed backs are essentially the headphones that most of us are accustomed to, with solid material covering the driver and providing isolation for the listener. Open-back headphones have holes instead of solid material over the driver, allowing the music to escape, which provides a more open sound signature.
Closed-back headphones increase user noise isolation, making them more suitable for situations requiring decent quality audio playback in noisy environments. They’re great for singers recording their tracks or for DJ’s live performances. Still, when it comes to professional music production and track editing, their closed-off design causes the audio to echo within the headphone. This echo leads to a less accurate sound.
On the other hand, open-backed headphones do the opposite. Their structure provides airflow in and out of the headphones. This airflow allows for much higher accuracy sound and a severe lack of noise isolation due to the lack of solid walls around the drivers. The superior sound makes them far better for audio manipulation in a studio than closed-back versions. For this reason, nearly all of the headphones on our list are open-backed.
Now our top picks for studio-grade headphones are as follows:
Best Overall: Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro
The Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro headphones are pretty much the perfect mid-range headphones. Their pleasant and balanced bass response, coupled with their excellent frequency response (5 – 35,000 Hz), make them an excellent choice. However, what separates these headphones from their counterparts the most is their exceptional comfort when wearing them for long periods of time. As E-Home Recording Studio says, “Nothing is worse than uncomfortable headphones… but these are about as comfortable as they get.”
At $149.99, these headphones are an absolute steal for anyone looking for a solid mid-range pair of headphones at a reasonable price. You can find them on Amazon here.
Runner Up: HiFiMan Sundara 2020 Version
The HiFiMan Sundara is one of the best pairs of headphones at its price range. It features a beautiful design with an even higher frequency response than the DT 990s (6 – 75,000 Hz). Furthermore, this is one of the few headphones that rivals the Beyerdynamics in comfort for high-fidelity headphones. These are a fantastic choice for the DJ that favors design in addition to high-quality functionality.
However, these headphones cost $349.99, a nearly 150% leap in price compared to the DT 990 Pros. If you can afford them, they are also an excellent choice for hi-fi headphones. You can buy them here at Amazon.
Best Budget: Philips SHP9500
At only $74.99 on Amazon, these are some of the best-priced high-fidelity headphones that you can purchase. They have a decent frequency response at 6 – 32,000 Hz, allowing for a relatively accurate sound stage. In addition, their excellent industrial design makes them one of the best-looking headphones on this list. But their comfort over long periods of time is where this specific pair of headphones dominate the rest. These are, without a doubt, the best headphones for a DJ on a budget.
Purchase them from Amazon here for only $74.99.
Best Luxury: Sennheiser HD 650
These are a personal favorite of many audiophile circles, with thousands of positive reviews from professionals and enthusiasts alike. Their elliptical design and deep cushions make them feel as if they are “floating on your ears,” as E-Home Recording Studio puts it. These deep comfortable ear cushions, coupled with their superb frequency response (10 – 39,500 Hz) and reputation for accurate audio playback, make them a no-brainer if you can afford them.
This brings us to the price, at $499.99 on Amazon. These are not cheap, but few headphones offer the same experience these do. You can find them here.
Best Closed-Back: V-MODA Crossfade M-100 Master
If acoustic isolation is essential to your specific use case and you need to get a pair of closed-back headphones, these are a solid option. Their relatively warm sound signature coupled with a decent bass response make them a formidable contender.V-MODA’s build quality and comfort are also solid for the price, and their frequency response is especially good for a closed-back pair of headphones coming in at 5 – 40,000 Hz. The sleek and sharp design mixed with decent audio quality makes them hard to beat, especially in the closed-back headphone world.
The price for these is also solid. Coming in at just under $250, these headphones are practically a steal for a professional audio mixer.
Runner-Up Closed-Back: Pioneer Pro HDJ-X10-K
In addition to the Crossfades, a couple of closed-back headphones deserve to be on this list, and the Pioneer Pro HDJ-X10-K’s are one of them. These headphones are phenomenal for the environmentally conscious DJ with a beautiful design and a sustainable vegan leather composition. Their reviews are also fabulous, with 88% of positive ratings on Amazon. Overall these are also a solid pick for a home studio.
The only reason these are a runner-up compared to the V-MODA’s is that their price is about $100 higher at around $349.99. You can get them here on Amazon.
Best Ultra Luxury: Sennheiser HD 800s
When it comes to accuracy, frequency response, clarity, and pretty much anything else pertaining to professional high fidelity headphones, no headphone is even close in quality to Sennheiser HD 800s. These are basically the perfect headphones with near-perfect accuracy in their audio. Most reviewers who upgraded from the HD 650s agreed overwhelmingly that the HD 800s blew them out of the water in all aspects.
However, the excellent quality of these headphones comes at a price of $1399.99. While unlikely to be an option for the average consumer, some people can afford them. If you want the best of the best and are willing to pay the price, you can find them here.
“The 7 Best Studio Headphones For Mixing And Recording – Fall 2021”. RTINGS.Com, 2021, https://www.rtings.com/headphones/reviews/best/studio.
“Best Studio Headphones: The Ultimate Musician’s Guide.” E-Home Recording Studio, 2021, https://ehomerecordingstudio.com/best-recording-studio-headphones/.
“10 Best Studio Headphones for Recording in 2021”. Music Critic, 2021, https://musiccritic.com/equipment/headphones/best-studio-headphones-for-recording/