Top 5 Best Headphones For Sound Engineers Under $500

Headphones are a necessity for any producer. Especially if you have a poorly treated or untreated room and weak monitors.

They provide a level of detail that you can’t get for the same price when it comes to monitors.

Headphones are handy for producing on the road too. When I was starting out I had a 2-hour commute by train to work and back every day. And I used that time to practice writing tunes, work on sound design, or listen to tutorials.  In fact, I have a song I named after this very practice!

best headphones for audio engineers
My poor abused ATH M50x’s

My favourite headphones are the Audio Technica M50X. As you can see by the image, they have been used and abused every day for over 3 years. I eventually had to replace the cushions because they fell apart!

It can be hard to find the right set of headphones which is why I’ve made a neat little list of my top 5 favourites. Before we get into the details of each, it’s important to consider a few things.

Open Back vs Closed Back Headphones

The difference lies in the design of the cup surrounding your ear. With open back headphones there is no cover behind the speaker. This allows air to move freely around the driver and creates a more natural, detailed sound. 

With closed back headphones there’s a cover on the back which is useful for blocking out sound but creates reflections inside the headphones and allows for a pressure buildup. 

If you are primarily in a quiet room then open back headphones are ideal as you will get a clearer sound. If you spend a lot of time producing on the move and in noisy places, or you plan on tracking vocals and are worried about headphone bleed, then you should opt for closed back headphones.

Open back headphones are good for:

  • Mixing & Mastering
  • Working in quiet spaces

Closed back headphones are good for:

  • Working in noisy spaces
  • Tracking vocals and other instruments
  • Casual listening

Do your headphones need an amp?

An amplifier has one job, to provide additional voltage to whatever you connect to it. In the case of headphones, some high-end ones will require that additional power to perform optimally. If you have an audio interface, chances are it is able to deliver enough power to your headphones but make sure to check the power requirements before you buy headphones.

Weight & Comfort

The comfort of your headphones play a huge role in the selection process. If you’re sitting for 5+ hours with headphones on you don’t want something that’s going to squash your ears or make them sweat. I’ve been through this and I ended up buying new headphones after 2 days. Luckily all the headphones on this list are comfy enough for extended listening periods.


Here are the top 5 best headphones for audio engineers:
  1. Audio Technica ATH-M50X
  2. AKG 712 Pro
  3. Beyerdynamic DT880 PRO
  4. Shure SRH1840
  5. Sennheiser HD280 Pro

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Audio Technica ATH-M50X

Probably the most popular model in the entry-level ATH range. These headphones are light-weight and comfy to wear for extended periods. They have a somewhat slightly scooped sound which tends to emphasize the highs and lows. The build is mostly plastic with a metallic ring on the cup for aesthetics. It comes in 2 colours, black, white. In hindsight I wish I had gone for the black as the white tends to get dirty pretty quickly.

  • Closed back
  •  45mm driver diameter
  • 99 dB sensitivity
  • 38 ohms impedance
  •  15-28,000 Hz frequency response
  •  1,600 mW at 1 kHz Max input power
  • Comes with 3 interchangeable cables: 1.2m – 3.0m coiled cable, 3.0m straight cable and 1.2 m  straight cable
  • Weight: 285g
  • Replaceable earpads 

A great sounding, comfy fitting, and long lasting pair of headphones. If your budget sits in the 100-200 dollar range then I would suggest picking these.


AKG K712 Pro

Having first tested the AKG 701s and loving them I knew I was in for a treat with the K712 Pros. They come with a much needed 3dB low-end performance boost which really helps as I found the AKG 701s to be slightly lacking in the low end. They are super comfortable to wear for extended periods and the black and orange colour scheme looks awesome!

  • Open back
  •  40mm driver diameter
  • 105 dB sensitivity
  • 62 Ohms impedance
  •  10-39,800 Hz frequency response
  •  200 mW max input power
  • Weight: 235g
  • Detachable cable
  • Replaceable earpads 

Great choice of headphones in the 200-300 dollar range. They look awesome, and are super comfy. Some corrective EQ might be beneficial as some users report. Check out the K702s if these are slightly out of your price range.


Beyerdynamic DT880 Pro

The best of both worlds. the DT880 Pros are semi-open so they take strengths from both open and closed back headphones, blocking out a little more of the outside noise while still having a clear, flat and natural sound.

  • Semi-open back
  •  45mm driver diameter
  • 96 dB sensitivity
  • 250 Ohms impedance
  •  5-35,000 Hz frequency response
  •  100 mW max input power
  • Weight: 284g
  • All parts replaceable

Another great choice in the 200-300 dollar range. Personally I prefer the sound of the K712s as the highend on these tends to feel a tiny bit harsh. 


Shure SRH1840

The SRH1840 is built for analytical listening. With these open back beauties, you will easily hear all the details and imperfections of any mix. The design is stylish and they are extremely comfortable to wear for long studio sessions. If these are in your price range its a no-brainer.

  • Open back
  •  40mm driver diameter
  • 96 dB sensitivity
  • 65 Ohms impedance
  •  10-30,000 Hz frequency response
  •  1000 mW max input power
  • Light weight
  • Detachable cable

The price on the SRH1840s reflects the audio quality. You get a impressive balanced and natural sound. Definitely my pick in the 400-500 dollar range.


Sennheiser HD280 Pro

Probably the most common set of headphones you will find in any recording studio. The HD280s are perfect perfect for tracking vocals and instruments. They are closed back and therefore prevent headphone bleed. And while I wouldn’t recommend them for mixing and mastering they are still affordable enough to be a great asset to any audio engineer’s studio.

  • Closed back
  • 96 dB sensitivity
  • 64 Ohms impedance
  •  8-25,000 Hz frequency response
  •  500 mW max input power
  • 222g weight

Great for recording and tracking. At under $100 these headphones are well worth the small investment for any serious studio.


Frequently Asked Questions

What headphones do sound engineers use?

A few common choices are:

  • Audio Technica ATH-M50X.
  • AKG 712 Pro.
  • Beyerdynamic DT880 PRO.
  • Shure SRH1840.
  • Sennheiser HD280 Pro.

What are the best headphones for music production?

There are many great choices. However, in our opinion, the best headphones for music production are the Audio Technica M50X. This is due to the high quality and low cost of them.

Should you mix on headphones?

Good studio monitors in a well-treated room are always a better option. However, if you have a poorly treated room or lack of studio monitors, good headphones with a flat response are your best option.

What are open-back headphones?

With open-back headphones, there is no cover behind the speaker. This allows air to move freely around the driver and creates a more natural, detailed sound. Open-back headphones are best for mixing and mastering.

Are Beats By Dre good for music production?

Beats are generally considered consumer-grade headphones. They are a poor choice for music production, mixing and mastering as they are designed to give the listener a great experience with their boosted low end and reduced high end instead of giving a flat, detailed, and true representation of the mix.


Conclusion

Choosing the right set of headphones is really dependent on your budget if you are sitting in the 100-200 range I’d definitely go for the ATH M50x. For the 200-300 range the AKG K712 Pros are the way to go and if you’re lucky enough to afford the Shure SRH1840 at just under $500 then it’s a no-brainer in my opinion.

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