Those of us who are into studio equipment already know you can’t just go with any pair of headphones when it comes to mixing and mastering.
Mixing and mastering are time-consuming processes and require numerous hours with your headphones on, therefore comfort is critical for a pair of studio headphones.
Although some people might prefer to mix and master on a pair of good studio monitors, which would be a solution to the issue itself, this might not always be an option. High price and volume levels are just a few of the reasons behind that.
Sound requirements are specific too. A clear, crisp, flat and accurate sound is required, so you can hear every detail.
What to consider
A pair of good studio headphones with an over-ear design would be most suitable for our use case. As we noted already, comfort is a must for your mixing headphones, so the over-ear design will allow you to wear the headphones for prolonged periods of time without any pain or discomfort. On-ear and in-ear headphones are not recommended for these purposes.
A closed-back design could often create build-ups especially in the low ends, which could lose some of the accuracies which we require for mixing and mastering our tracks. Therefore, it is best to consider an open-back pair. This will also give the sound transparency, space, and a more natural feel.
When it comes to the sound itself, we need it to be as accurate as possible with no distortions or muddiness, along with a good frequency range. Having that in mind, your studio headphones would likely be a total opposite of the ones used with your music player or phone.
Now, if you are wondering whether it is better to do your mixing and mastering using headphones or with monitor speakers, the answer is plain and simple BOTH! This was you will have an even more realistic and accurate idea of the mix.
I would actually recommend trying as many sound sources as possible before finalizing the mix. In any case, a good pair of studio headphones is a must if you are into mixing.
Samson SR850 – Amazing balanced and clear sound
The SR850 Studio Reference Headphones from Samson are more than a surprise. They are comfortable to wear for hours on end, produce a great, accurate and clear sound way above others in their price class. The good build quality and resembling AKGs, the SR850s only contribute to their overall appeal.
At around 50 bucks, the SR850 is nothing less than awesome.
Construction and Design
The Samson SR850 Professional studio reference headphones have a semi-open design for an enhanced ambient listening environment. Their 50mm drivers deliver exceptional reproduction and a wide dynamic range.
The frequency response is 10 Hz – 30 kHz. With human hearing ranging from 20Hz to 20kHz, the SR850s cover the full hearing spectrum. The impedance 32 Ohms makes them perfect even when playing on mobile devices, although this is not really relevant to our current discussion.
The secure and comfortable fit is assured by the self-adjusting headband. The cable is 2,5 meters long and comes with 1/8 to 1/4 gold plated adapter in the box.
And here comes the best part – SR850’s sound. The output is flat which is one of the main requirements for the best mixing headphones. The low end is nothing short of impressive without being exaggerated and extends linearly right down 20Hz. The bass is tight, fast and natural which is complimentary when using the headphones for mixing.
Nevertheless, the 850s respond well to EQ, so with a little touch, the low end becomes a monster banger.
The clear, smooth mids are amongst the best out there. They contribute to the transparency of the sound making it quite realistic. Vocals do sound awesome on those headphones.
And we can repeat the above for the high-frequency range. Well balanced with the rest of the frequencies you can hear every detail in every sound.
Along with the semi-open design which provides an amazing airy and transparent, and the clarity and precision of the sound, the Samson SR850 Reference Headphones are a great choice for either your studio or your home.
With hardly anything more to wish for in the Samson SR850 headphones, apart from probably somewhat better materials and a budget price of around $50 it is hard to argue with this choice.
They deliver a high level of comfort over the long hours of mixing and mastering, a long cable to be able to move around the studio and an amazing balanced and clear sound comparing to headphones twice their price, the SR850 Studio Reference Headphones by Samson are a must-try option.
- Amazing clear sound
- Comfortable design
- Affordable price
- Somewhat cheap-looking plastic
Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro – Deliver an excellent frequency response
The DT990 Pro are yet another legend created by the Titans at Beyerdynamic. They might not be as cheap as the SR850s we’ve just talked about but at a price of around $200 the DT990s are still quite affordable. And I can tell you, even if you don’t consider those the prettiest amongst headphones, they are heaven itself when it comes to comfort.
The build is excellent as expected from Beyerdynamic and the open-back design provides detailed, clear soundstage.
Construction & Design
When it comes to the DT990 Pros and their construction, you might notice it is not the toughest stuff out there, however, it is the most comfortable. With it velour-covered memory foam pads, the Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro headphones are likely the fluffiest studio headphones. It feels like home for your ears.
The headband is completely made out of metal and has a stylish and detachable padding cover.
The open-back design is classic for Beyerdynamic and it does look great in my opinion.
The cord is a 3-meter coiled one, which should suffice for comfortable studio work.
Having the above in mind, as well as the relatively heavy weight of 364 grams, the DT990s are not the most suitable for use on-the-go. But this would take nothing away from an awesome studio experience with the DTs.
You might be able to recall reference headphones which sound better than the Beyerdynamic DT990 Pros. This is, however, only until you remember the price tag.
The sound is well balanced with the exception of a really light low boost and the headphones deliver an excellent frequency response. The bass is exceptional for an open-back pair of headphone and mid-range and highs are next to perfect either.
The sound is clear and there is no distortion, while the open back grants the necessary soundstage and air in the sound. The same reason stays behind its lack of noise isolation, as we would expect but once again this is not relevant to the current use case.
The Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro are excellent critical listing headphones. They deliver a lot of detail in high-resolution audio and have a clear and crisp sound quality with a spacious soundstage. They may sound somewhat sharp occasionally, but all frequencies are well-balanced and reproduced with little to no distortion at all. There is not much we can say here.
The DT990 Pro headphones from Beyerdynamic are always a good choice for your mixes and they come at a fine price.
- Clear and crisp sound
- Wide detailed soundstage
- No distortion
- Very comfortable
- Not suited for on-the-go usage
- No sound isolation whatsoever
- Mostly made of plastic
Shure SRH1540 – Crystal-clear midrange and sparkly highs
These full-sized, over-ear, closed-back SRH1540s may be pricey, but they are not super expensive. Designed specifically for studio use these Shures get a deserved place in our selection of the best headphones for studio mixing.
The SHR1540 headphones by Shure are large, closed-back headphones that would grant you the pleasure of supreme comfort, tight lows, natural airy midrange and resonant highs, combined to deliver an amazing level of detail necessary for the perfect mix.
Construction & Design
The first thing you will probably notice is the size of the 1540s. They are indeed big and there is a point to it. The SRH1540 studio headphones were made with studio usage in mind. With that said, you can already guess portability is not the main asset of these. Still, they do come with a pretty convenient zippered case. You also get two identical cables, an adapter as well as a pair of replacement pads.
The build is light but tough. The use of carbon fiber inlays and aircraft-grade aluminum contributes greatly to the overall sense of quality.
The headband is padded and wrapped in leatherette that contributes greatly to the comfort level.
The ear cups are not just padded with memory foam but covered with perforated velvet-like cloth which just hardens the overall luxury feel.
Although the SRH1540s are closed cans, they aren’t too good at isolating sound.
Still, the stuff we are interested in is no less than impressive which is probably to be expected by a company that designed some of the most iconic microphones. Shure definitely made a statement with these headphones as they can easily shame almost any other pair of full-size headphones under $1000.
With the 40 mm neodymium drivers these cans excel in all departments. The low end is strong but not out of line. It is well balanced with the crystal-clear midrange and sparkly highs which, needless to say, sums up to a great pair of studio headphones.
The Shure SRH1540 headphones are nearly perfect in any aspect. The design and materials used are great, the comfort level is luxurious and the sound is clear and open. Although as expensive as 500 bucks, these headphones easily beat pretty much any other studio headphones under $1000.
So look at it this way you get a pair of 1000-dollar studio monitor headphones at half the price.
- Supreme comfort
- Powerful, balanced, open and clear sound
- Amazing detail level
- High price
- Big size
AKG K701 – For spending long hours mixing and mastering
Back to the open-backs and another legend. AKG’s K701 Reference Studio Headphones are another great option for spending long hours mixing and mastering. Not only they are amongst the most comfortable headphones out there, but the sound is superb too.
The price is a contender too around $200. But don’t be fooled. Their accuracy and spacious soundstage compete with those of four-figure headphones.
Construction & Design
At a glance, the K701s don’t differ greatly from most other over-ear headphone designs. They are made almost entirely out of plastic, so they are really light. The velour-coverer earpads are really soft and fit the listener perfectly.
Overall, these headphones are a thing of beauty. However, they are, once again, intended primarily for indoor use.As with most of the headphones we are considering today, these are open-backs and have a three-meter cable so you can move around freely.
The sound is well balanced, although probably a bit less flat than expected. It is clean, punchy with nice soundstage and a high detail level. The ultimate accuracy is also guaranteed by the revolutionary flat wound coils.
The AKG K 701 Reference Studio Headphones provide basically everything you need to create a perfect mix and the price is quite awesome for headphones comparable to thousand-dollar pairs.
The proprietary ‘VariMotion’ diaphragm is designed to provide better pistonic motion, firm acoustic control, as well as an amazing frequency range of 10Hz to 39800 Hz.
To recap, the AKG K701 are a piece of fine engineering at a price which is more than reasonable for what they have to offer. The Australians have paid attention to every detail, thus delivering a pair of reference studio headphones that are comparable to others which are three-four times more expensive.
- Top-level comfort
- Top-level build
- Impressive analytical sound
- Not portable
- Not suitable for use on-the-go
Sennheiser HD 650 – Work equally well for mixing and mastering
The Sennheiser HD650s are not to be missed. A part of Sennheiser’s luxury class, these headphones are easily noticeable. The finish is stylish titanium-silver and the earpads and headband are thickly padded.
Construction & Design
The headphone drivers are hand-picked, ensuring matching tolerances and have an optimized neodymium magnet system, aiming to minimize distortion. The lightweight aluminum voice coils ensure accuracy and fast transient response.
The guys at Sennheiser have also thought of these headphones long life, so the 3-meter cable is replaceable.
The open-back construction is great for mixing. The sound is pretty accurate and detailed and none of the frequencies are exaggerated. This is why the HD650s are a favorite of classical music audiophiles and they work equally well for mixing and mastering.
Although those can be used with laptops and mobile devices and provide a pretty decent result, in order to gain most out of your Sennheiser HD 650s we would recommend using amplification.
The open-back design leaves any sound isolation out of the question.
With a great, wide soundstage and their perfect tuning, the Sennheiser HD 650 are perfect for long hours of mixing. The luxurious comfort level and stylish Sennheiser design would only make the experience better for you.
- Luxurios level of comfort
- Premium sound quality
- Beautiful design
- High price
- Not suited of on-the-go use
- Not suitable for mobile devices
I have covered some ground starting with the surprisingly good budget SR850 to the $500 Shures and Sennheisers.
No matter the price, any of the headphones discussed would do a great job in the studio and surely will bring improvement to your mixes.
Each of our nominees would provide an amazing sound quality with great frequency range, overall natural and flat sound with amazing detail, so you can hear every sound in the mix realistically.
At fifty bucks (and even less), however, the Samson SR850 Headphones take the first place. It is hard enough to get a good pair of monitor headphones even at 400 bucks, and with these, you hardly have to make any compromise soundwise or otherwise.
With their clear, detailed sound and high level of comfort, these headphones are a must-have for any studio, even if they would not be used as a primary sound source. It is a pleasure to spend a day in the studio with those on.
- Professional studio Reference semi-open headphones designed for tracking, mixing, mastering and playback.
- Proprietary large 50mm drivers with rare earth magnets deliver an extended frequency response and great dynamic range
- Circumaural, over-ear, design with velour cushioning provides outstanding comfort for long listening sessions
As impossible as it might sometimes seem it is possible to find an awesome pair of headphones for mixing and mastering, without having to spend an awful lot of money and without making the need of compromise to your sound or comfort.
Doesn’t matter if you choose our grand prize winner, the Samson SR850, the legendary DT990, Shure’s monsters – the SRH1540, AKG’s head-SPA the K701 or Sennheiser’s limo the HD650, you can’t go wrong.
These are all high-quality reference headphones which could contribute to your mixing and mastering, just as much as they could do when watching movies at home or listen to your favorite music on your HI-FI.However, the headphones I’ve tested and listed above will give you great sound four your next DJ-Session.