Closed-back back headphones compose the majority of headphone offerings in the market thanks to their versatility and great sound reproduction. These are the headphones that you will see in professional video and music studios.
Closed-back headphones also offer a different flavor from open-back headphones. If you are not familiar with open-back headphones, you can read our open-back vs. closed-back article.
But to put it simply, closed-back headphones produce more bass and have more isolation, which is very important in professional settings.
But whether you are a professional or just a casual listener who is looking to upgrade from entry-level headphones or gaming headsets, then this list is perfect for you. We will be discussing some of the industry standards as well as wireless pairs that are great for casual listening.
(Please note, at the time of publishing, all these were selling for $300 USD or less. Prices may have fluctuated since then, possibly pushing them over the original budget.)
Best Closed-back Headphones Under $300
Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro – Professional Standard
One of the most recommended headphones for professionals and casual users is the legendary Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro.
It has now achieved legendary status and has been in production since 1985. It is also widely used in other fields, such as professional gaming. This pair is famous for being the primary gaming headset of Ninja.
What separates the DT 770 Pro from the rest of the closed-back options is its superior imaging and soundstage. While it may not sound as wide or as open as the DT 990 Pro, the DT 770 Pro easily outperforms most closed-back headphones. This allows the DT 770 Pro to be a versatile pair that can work for different applications and genres of music.
As for the sound signature of the DT 770 Pro, it is leaning towards a V-shaped sound signature. The bass is punchy and is easily one of the most satisfying in its price range. The mids are slightly recessed, but they still maintain their clarity and detail.
Highs are reasonably extended. They are well controlled and easily avoid any harsh peaks.
Another highlight of the DT 770 Pro is the signature Beyerdynamic build quality. The DT 770 Pro is predominantly made of high-quality plastic on most of the body with metal reinforcements on the headband and hinges. It is built to take any kind of abuse in any kind of situation.
However, take note that the cable is non-removable, and the headphones are non-foldable. The cable is sturdy, but it would have been nice to have the option to swap it out for third-party cables or replace it in case it gets broken.
Unlike other headphones for tracking, the DT 770 Pro comes in different impedances. You can read our dedicated headphone impedance article for those who are not familiar with the term impedance. But this basically refers to the power requirement of the headphones.
The DT 770 Pro comes in 32-ohm, 80-ohm, 250-ohm, and 600-ohm versions. The 32 and 80-ohm versions are perfect for tracking, especially if you are using a digital/analog mixer or audio interface that does not have a lot of power in the headphone output. But you can also opt for the higher-impedance versions if you have a good quality headphone amplifier and plan on using the DT 770 Pro on your mixing desk as a secondary reference or plan on using it for mixing.
Overall, if you need a reliable pair that can handle any task that you throw at it, then the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro is one of the best closed-back headphones that you can buy at the sub 300 USD price point.
Audio Technica ATH M50X
Another well-known closed-back headphone is the Audio Technica ATH M50X. Its popularity extends beyond the audiophile community and can be spotted being used by gamers, content creators, and even casual users.
Its popularity stems from its excellent build and sound quality. The high-quality all-plastic build with metal hinges has made it a rugged pair capable of taking abuse inside the studio. You can throw these around, and it won’t even show any signs of wear.
Additionally, these headphones fold into a smaller form factor. This allows them to be carried around to different places. The removable cable is also a plus since it is one of the first things that break with headphones.
In terms of the sound signature, the M50X’s warm and rather safe V-shaped sound signature has appealed to the mainstream audience. Its detailed sound has made it a reliable monitor making it one of the industry standards when it comes to monitoring headphones.
Additionally, the M50X is available as a wireless Bluetooth pair in the form of the ATH M50XBT. This is basically a wireless Bluetooth version of the M50X that also has the ability to become wired if you wish to use it with professional equipment.
It is, however, not the best on this list due to some issues in the sound signature. Unlike other professional monitoring headphones, the sound signature is not entirely flat. The M50X has a noticeably large bass hump and recession in the mids.
The detail retrieval may also not be up to par with more modern models. Of course, this should not discourage you from purchasing this model. Professionals such as Adam “Nolly” Getgood (Periphery, Getgood Drums, producer) and Marques Brownley (MKBHD) have recommended this model. But you should know that there are better-sounding closed-back headphones in the market.
A great alternative is the Audio Technica ATH M40X. It has nearly the same features as the M50X but has a more flat sound signature.
Additionally, there are known issues in the M50X’s build. Audio Technica’s headphones are known to have issues with the pleather material used on the earpads and headband. My personal pair has displayed flaking after about two years of heavy use. We have also seen reports from other users as well.
Audio Technica and other third-party brands offer replacement earpads with alternate materials such as velour, so the earpads shouldn’t be a big deal. However, the headband is not easily replaceable.
Headband protectors can be purchased to fix this issue, but it would have been nice to see official support from Audio Technica. Other brands like Beyerdynamic implement an easily replaceable headband (such as on the DT 770 Pro), so you may opt for those models if this is a big concern for you. Audio Technica does provide in-house repairs for worn-down headbands/ear pads and other cosmetic issues, but this will depend on the supplier in your area.
Overall, if you are looking for an industry-standard monitoring headphone with a reliable build but not necessarily the best sound quality, the ATH M50X easily fits the bill.
Sony MDR CD900ST
The MDR V6 has been Sony’s main offering for the global market. However, there is another revered pair that was hidden in the Land of the Rising Sun. This headphone is the MDR CD900ST.
The MDR CD900ST was first produced in the 80s and shares a lot of design elements with the MDR V6. It was manufactured in 1987, one year after the V6. There are some differences, such as the non-folding design, different pads, straight cable, and different build, but overall, they mostly look the same. However, the real difference is found in the sound quality.
The MDR CD900ST is considered to be the more detailed and more revealing pair. Like the V6, they also have a bright signature with more emphasis on the mids and highs. However, the quality of the mids and highs are a considerable upgrade compared to the MDR V6.
Due to the better mids and highs, these headphones are considered to be the more analytical and a more revealing pair. However, they will also be showing more flaws in your sources. So if you are going to be using these for casual music listening, then you might not have a great time when listening to lower quality music files.
Like the V6, the bass on the CD900ST is not overemphasized. It does its job in completing the sound, but it does not try to compete with the mids.
There are, of course, downsides since it shares a lot of design elements with the MDR V6. But unlike the MDR V6, some differences indicate that the CD900ST was designed to primarily stay inside the studio. The long straight cable, for instance, is non-detachable. The headphones also do not feature a non-folding design, which can make transporting these headphones a bit harder.
However, having the vintage design and imperfections are part of the appeal of these older Sony products. These cons have not stopped professionals from using and recommending these legendary headphones.
These headphones can be seen in various professional productions such as the Japanese YouTube Channel, The First Take. Overall, if you are a fan of Sony’s vintage design and want an even better-sounding version of the Sony MDR V6, then the Sony CD900ST is a good fit.
Modhouse Fostex T50RP Mk3 Argon – Best Value
The Fostex T50RP series is a well-loved headphone in the audiophile community. The main reason for its popularity is its customizable nature. It has even given birth to companies such as ZMF and MrSpeakers (now known as Dan Clark Audio), whose first products were T50RP modified headphones.
But out of the many mods that the T50 has seen throughout the years, the most popular is arguable Modhouse’s Argon Mod. And with the release of the new Fostex T50RP MK3, Modhouse has released their own version. This is the Argon Mk3.
In terms of the build quality, the stock T50RP Mk3 didn’t have the best build. Unfortunately, the Argon Mod doesn’t do much to improve this. These headphones are not fragile, but they aren’t on the same level as the other offerings on this list.
It is mostly made of plastic and utilizes faux leather on the headband and earpads. It also uses metal sliders for the headband adjustment, similar to the ones found on Grado headphones.
As for the sound quality, the unmodded version with stock pads wasn’t anything special. It has a tight soundstage with no real emphasis on any specific frequency. They sounded decent but weren’t anything special, even in their price range.
However, the Argon Mk3 completely transforms the T50RP MK3. After the mod, the Argons MK3 becomes a detail monster with a very wide soundstage. Its soundstage alone is easily the best in this price range and even rivals mid-fi open-back headphones.
The sound signature isn’t the most reference or neutral. However, they provide a fun signature that effortlessly renders anything you throw at it.
Additionally, you can utilize different kinds of earpads to alter the signature of the Argon Mk3. Depending on what earpads you choose, you can extend the bass response and smoothen out the highs or reduce the bass response and make the highs more forward. This gives the user lots of choices depending on what you want to use the Argons for.
Overall, if you are looking for a great value pair of headphones, then these should be on the top of your list. For its price, its bass and treble performance and soundstage are incredibly hard to beat.
Sony WH1000XM4 – Best ANC Wireless Pair
The Sony WH1000XM3 has been a crowd favorite thanks to its great sound quality and industry-leading Active Noise Canceling (ANC) technology. But Sony doesn’t seem to be satisfied because they are back with the long-awaited sequel, the Sony WH1000XM4.
There aren’t too many differences at first glance. But that is mostly because of how good the XM3’s design is. Most of the revisions can be found in the tech inside the headphones.
The first major revision is the multiple device support. The XM4 now allows you to seamlessly connect and switch from one device to another. You can connect to your smartphone to answer calls, then switch back to your laptop/tablet to continue where you left off.
The ANC is also improved in the XM4. The differences aren’t big, but the improved ANC cancels out more noise and is noticeably better than the last iteration. Sony just increases the gap between its headphones and its competitors.
There is also a proximity sensor located inside the ear cups that automatically pauses the music/video when the headphones are taken off. This was a neat feature that was found on Sony’s WF1000XM3 and is a welcome addition to the XM4.
The mics on the XM4 have also been improved. The five microphones help cancel out noise during calls making your voice easier to stand out and to be understood by the person on the other end of the call.
Sony has also improved features that were already present in the XM3. Placing your hand on the right ear cup will allow you to listen to your surroundings. The headphones will automatically turn ANC off, turn the volume of the music down, and it will amplify the sound of your surroundings.
You can also configure the headphones to stop music playback when you start talking. This works quite well in avoiding accidental pauses when you are simply trying to sing along. Both of these features can be fine-tuned in the included Sony app.
Overall, if you are looking for the best ANC wireless headphones for casual listening, then the Sony WH1000XM4 is very hard to beat in this price range.
V Moda Crossfade M100
The V Moda Crossfade M100 has been one of the most popular headphones in the past decade.
The M100 is similar to the ATH M50X in a lot of ways. Their sound signatures are similar, and both appeal to the casual market. They are also both great pairs for DJing.
And in terms of the build, both models are also similar. The M100 has a foldable design, has a removable cable, and a lightweight design. But unlike the M50X, the M100 is on the smaller side. This gives them a low-profile look that looks better in public compared to the M50X.
The M100 is mostly built of metal, with a few parts being built out of plastic. The unique aspect of the M100 is the customizability of the faceplates. This allows you to customize the style of the headphones to fit your taste or to integrate your branding.
You don’t see this feature in a lot of headphones anymore. One of the last ones that employed a similar feature was the Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro.
Despite the customization that it provides, you can’t replace any part of the headphone, such as the drivers or the hinges, if they break in the future. Build quality is excellent, but having the ability to swap out different parts gives you peace of mind.
In terms of its sound, it’s a lot more bass-heavy than the M50X, but it is more balanced compared to traditional DJ headphones such as the Sennheiser HD25. It has enough detail retrieval but maintains a smooth and inoffensive high-end. This makes it perfect for bass-heavy genres as well as more mellow sounding genres.
Overall, if you are looking for a small and lightweight pair with good customization and sound quality that is on par with the established favorites, then the M100 is a great choice.