Here are the best music production headphones in 2021:
Best Budget Headphones - Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro
Best Midrange Headphones - Sennheiser HD 660 S
Best Top-Of-The-Range - Audeza LCD-MX4
Are monitors or headphones better for music production?
Ideally you want to have both. Monitors are best for environments with favourable acoustics, whereas headphones are best for situations where this is not the case. Headphones are also great for checking and correcting specific issues within your mix.
In most cases, a good pair of studio monitors are the preferred choice for music production. Monitors are able to reproduce sounds more accurately than headphones, however the sound you will hear is highly dependant upon your listening environment. Monitor speakers do not interact with your ears directly, so specifics of your surroundings such as the size of the room, the location of walls, height of your ceiling and furnishings etc, can all make a huge difference to the sound you hear. If you don't have good sound treatment, or your speakers are setup incorrectly, then this could adversely affect your mixes.
Headphones do not rely upon your surroundings, so are a great option for producers who do not have the space or budget to properly sound treat their production space. Even if you have a good setup however, headphones are really useful for providing a more enclosed, distraction-free environment in which to listen in detail to your mixes and rectify issues.
What is the difference between open-back and closed-back headphones?
The difference between open-back and closed-back headphones is that closed-back headphones seal off the ear from all external noise. Open-back headphones have small openings that allow air through, giving a listening experience that more closely approximates studio monitors.
Open-back headphones are a great, budget friendly alternative to using studio monitors. They are better are getting an overall feel for the levels in your mix, and can be less fatiguing for your ears when listening for extended periods of time.
Closed-back headphones are better at honing in on specific issues with your mix, and for more detailed track analysis.
So, if you don't already have a decent monitor and room setup, my advice would be to go for open-back headphones. If you are looking at getting headphones to supplement your existing setup, then go for the closed-back option.
What does headphone impedance mean?
Impedance defines electrical resistance, and therefore dictates the power required to drive your headphones. The output impedance of your device needs to match the impedance of your headphones. Higher impedance headphones have better sound quality but may not work with all devices.
Use the following as a quick and dirty rule of thumb for suitable headphone impedances:
Battery powered mobile devices: 16-50 Ohms;
General production use: 60 Ohms or more;
High-end critical listening: 80 Ohms or more.
Now that we understand the basic differences in headphone design and usage, let's take a look at the definitive list of best music production headphones available in 2021:
Best Budget Headphones
The MDR7506 headphones from Sony are considered industry standard headphones by many. They are an absolute classic, and have been a very popular choice for music producers for many years. They have a compact, extremely durable design that will survive being chucked in bags and taking a beating whilst on the road. The neutral sound response means that they are great for mixing, but not the best for casual listening. The best thing about these headphones though is their price. The fact that Sony can sell these beauties for under $100 is quite staggering, and for this point alone they should be a serious contender for the best budget headphones.
Sensitivity: 106 dB SPL
Freq Response: 10 - 20,000 Hz
Impedance: 63 Ohms
Weight: 230g (without cable)
Cable: Non detachable coiled 1.2m cable
Accessories: Supplied soft case. 1/4” adapter
The ATH-M50x headphones from Audio-Technica are the company's bestselling headphones, and it's very easy to see why. Their stylish design and rock-solid construction gives them a premium feel. Their closed-back ear cups fit snugly around your ears, allowing for extended use in comfort, and most importantly, they sound absolutely fantastic. They are also competitively priced at under $150. A solid contender.
Sensitivity: 99 dB SPL
Freq Response: 15 - 28,000 Hz
Impedance: 38 Ohms
Weight: 285g (without cable)
Cable: Detachable (1.2m-3m coiled, 3m straight, 1.2m straight cables)
Accessories: Screw-on 1/4” adapter, pouch
Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO
The DT 770 PRO closed-back headphones from Beyerdynamic come in 3 different impedance ratings: 32 Ohms for mobile devices, 80 Ohms for general studio usage, and a 250 Ohm version for professional high-end devices. I actually own and use the 80 Ohm version and can honestly say I think I made a great choice. The velour padded ear cups are super comfortable, and the headphones are so rugged that they've lasted many trips abroad and general misuse for a number of years. In terms of sound quality, they are simply excellent. Many reviews talk of them giving a rather flat response; however this is exactly what you want if you're going to be using them for mixing. They retail for around $160.
Sensitivity: 96 dB SPL
Freq Response: 5 - 35,000 Hz
Impedance: 32/80/250 Ohms
Weight: 270g (without cable)
Cable: Non detachable straight cable (length varies for each impedance version)
Accessories: 1/4” adapter, drawstring bag
Best Midrange Headphones
Beyerdynamic DT 1770 PRO
The Beyerdynamic DT 1770 PRO is a closed-back studio reference pair of headphones designed specifically for monitoring, mixing and mastering. They use "Tesla" driver technology which enables "precise and distortion-free sound to be achieved even at high output levels." The frequency response and overall sound profile from these headphones is just amazing given the price point. The construction is also solid including a sturdy headband comprised of spring steel, as well as a choice of interchangeable ear cups (leatherette & velour), and two lengths of cable. The DT 1770 PRO from Beyerdynamic retail at around $500.
Sensitivity: 102 dB SPL
Freq Response: 5 - 40,000 Hz
Impedance: 250 Ohms
Cable: 3m straight cable, 5m coiled cable
Accessories: 1/4” adapter, premium carrying case, two ear cushion sets
Sennheiser HD 660S
The HD 660S are open-back dynamic headphones from the renown audio company Sennheiser. Although not specifically targeted at music producers, the low impedance means that these headphones can be used both in the studio, and also with some mobile players, making them incredibly versatile. They have superb sound quality, and a comfortable, durable design. Included in the box are two 3m long cables, one with a 1/4" terminator, and the other a 4.4mm balanced connector. The HD 660S from Sennheiser will set you back around $500.
Sensitivity: 104 dB SPL
Freq Response: 10 - 41,000 Hz
Impedance: 150 Ohms
Cable: Detachable 2x 3m cables
Accessories: Screw-on 1/4” adapter, storage box
Best Top-Of-The-Range Headphones
AKG Pro Audio K812 PRO
The K812 from AKG are award winning reference headphones that offer the "most pure and natural sound possible". The result of an intensive five-year research and development program, these headphones are specifically designed with music producers in mind. They excel at giving an accurate balanced soundstage with a real sense of space and clarity. As you would expect in this price bracket, the build quality is superb, and the open mesh headband and memory foam earpads ensure a comfortable fit. The K812s retail at around $1500.
Sensitivity: 110 dB SPL
Freq Response: 5 - 54,000 Hz
Impedance: 36 Ohms
Cable: Detachable 3m cable
Accessories: Screw-on 1/4” adapter
If money is no object, then the LCD-MX4 headphones from Audeze are the absolute pinnacle of sonic perfection. Designed for "top producers, mastering engineers, and audiophiles alike", these open-back headphones are designed to simulate the sound you'd get in a recording studio. You don't need a high-powered headphone amp to power them either, as they can be driven through laptops or standard home studio equipment. They look and sound incredible, with a lightweight carbon fibre headband, magnesium cups, and memory foam ear pads. This quality comes at a price however, as they will set you back around $2000.
Sensitivity: 105 dB SPL
Freq Response: 10 - 50,000 Hz
Impedance: 20 Ohms
Cable: Detachable 1.9m to dual 4-pin mini XLR cable
Accessories: Professional travel case
I hope this article has helped you make up your mind which headphones are right for you. Remember that the type of headphones you choose should be based primarily on what you plan on using them for, as well as other factors such as comfort, durability, and of course your budget.
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Have a great day, and Happy Producing!