Studio headphones are essential tools for musicians and other professionals in the audio and professional industry. The accurate sound of these headphones allows you to hear the small details in your tracks that would be otherwise inaudible in consumer headphones, earbuds, and speakers.
But just like any product, not all studio headphones are fit for the job. Some are not as well-engineered as others in terms of their sound quality, build quality, and form factor. That is why we have made a dedicated article that will help you get the best studio headphones for your money.
In this article, we will be discussing industry-standard headphones that have been used by legendary engineers. We will also be going through lesser-known headphones that are just as good as the popular picks.
Our top closed-back pick is the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro, and our top open-back pick is the Sennheiser HD560S. However, there are lots of other options and alternatives here. So if you are interested, keep on scrolling to learn more.
Please note: At the time of publishing, all recommended products were selling for $200 or less but prices can fluctuate.
Best Studio Headphones Under $200
Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro – Top Pick
The first model that we will be tackling is the legendary Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro. This model has been in production since 1985 and has been widely considered as one of the industry standards when it comes to professional headphones.
What separates the DT 770 Pro from the other studio headphones is its sound quality. The DT 770 Pro has great sound quality across the board and has great bass response without throwing off the overall accuracy.
Its imaging and soundstage also rival open-back headphones. Its open sound helps these headphones sound a lot closer to studio monitors, making them great for mixing. It won’t outperform its open-back counterpart, the DT 990 Pro, in terms of the soundstage. However, the DT 990 Pro isn’t as versatile as the DT 770 Pro, so that is a fair tradeoff.
Aside from its sound quality, the DT 770 Pro also offers robust build quality. These headphones are 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However, take note that there are some outdated design elements with these headphones. These include the non-removable cable and non-foldable design. The cable is sturdy, but it would have been nice to have the option to swap it out for third-party cables, swap it for a balanced cable, or replace it in case it gets damaged.
The non-foldable design can be a deal-breaker for those who are looking to transport the DT 770 Pro. But for people who will mostly use them inside the studio, it shouldn’t be a big deal. After all, having foldable hinges adds a point of failure to these headphones.
Unlike other studio headphones, 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 headphone impedance is basically one of the factors that determine the power requirements of a headphone.
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 instruments.
They can be directly connected to your mixing console, digital mixer, or audio interface since they do not need a lot of amplification. The 250-ohm and 600-ohm version is perfect for those who already own a headphone amplifier and plan on using the DT 770 Pro for mixing and mastering.
Overall, the versatility and reliability of the DT 770 Pro make it our top pick.
Audio Technica ATH M50X/M40X
A great alternative to the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro is the Audio Technica ATH M50X and ATH M40X. These headphones are arguably some of the most well-known headphones in the industry. The fact that you see them in a lot of professional studios, productions, and YouTube videos just shows how popular these headphones are. If you are considering these, take a look at our ATH M50X vs M40X comparison here.
However, these headphones aren’t popular because they sound great or are built extremely well, like the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro. They are popular because they have all the essential elements of a great studio headphone and also a top pick for video editing and production.
They are built well and will survive almost any type of accident or abuse that is thrown at them. The high-quality plastic that is used also helps make these headphones comfortable for long listening sessions.
Additionally, these headphones fold into a smaller form factor allowing them to be more portable. The cable is also removable, allowing you to easily replace it with a shorter cable, a longer cable, a balanced cable, or simply with a new cable if the old one ever gets damaged.
In terms of sound quality, both of these headphones aren’t the best in the industry. However, they are good enough for whatever task is thrown at them. They are accurate enough and will help you pinpoint any issues that you have in your recording chain or in your recorded tracks.
There are some key differences between the ATH M50X and M40X in terms of their sound signature. The M50X has more bass and recessed vocals, making them less accurate compared to the M40X. The M40X is, of course, more neutral sounding but less exciting compared to the M50X.
Both headphones are good choices. The one that best suits you will entirely depend on whether or not you will need the extra lows provided by the M50X.
Regardless of which model you choose, both models should serve you well since they are both utilizing the same design and build quality. These headphones have been recommended by countless respected musicians/producers such as Adam “Nolly” Getgood (Periphery, Getgood Drums, producer).
Overall, the M40X and M50X are not the best sounding headphones. However, they are the best all-rounders on this list. They are the only ones that perfectly combine portability, design and build quality, and sound quality. If you are looking for a safe choice for your studio, then the M40X and M50X are great options.
Sony MDR CD900ST
The next model on this list is possibly the oldest model that is still considered an industry standard. This is none other than the Japan-exclusive Sony MDR CD900ST.
The MDR CD900ST was first manufactured in 1987, one year after the Sony MDR V6. It shares a lot of similarities with the V6 but has some major differences. The headphones now have a non-folding design, the ear pads are different, and the cable is straight instead of coiled. However, the real difference is found in the sound quality.
The MDR CD900ST is considered to be better in almost all areas. 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 the more analytical and revealing pair. They will also naturally reveal any flaws, which is always good as you can already determine any imperfections before the mixing process.
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. They respond well to EQ if you ever need to emphasize the lower frequencies more than the mid and high frequencies.
Overall, if you are looking for a flat sounding and accurate pair, then the Sony MDR CD900ST is worth a look.
If you are looking for a budget alternative to the M50X and M40X, then the Shure SRH 440 is the next best model that you can buy. This headphone shares a lot of similarities to the M50X and M40X in terms of design. But one key difference is that these are flat sounding, making them more optimized for studio use.
Just like the M40X and M50X, the SRH440 features a foldable design and a removable cable, making them very easy to transport and easily repairable in the long run.
However, the build quality isn’t up to par with the other models on this list. It is still decent as it is made of high-quality plastic. However, the hinges are more prone to snapping since there are no metal reinforcements. The overall quality of the plastic and leather used is also a step below its competitors.
But the main highlight of these headphones is the sound quality. Its flat sound signature means there are no specific frequencies highlighted. This means that the sound that you get from these headphones is exactly how your sources should sound like.
However, given its lower price, the detail retrieval won’t be on par with the M40X or DT 770 Pro. But for its price, it should be good enough with monitoring whatever you throw at it.
Overall, if you are willing to sacrifice sound quality and build quality, then the Shure SRH440 is still a great and reliable alternative.
If you are looking for a reference sounding headphone for mixing and mastering for under 200 USD, then there is no better option than the Sennheiser HD560s. These headphones serve as a revival to Sennheiser’s 500 series and exceed all expectations when it comes to sound quality.
The HD 560s shares the same design elements with the rest of the HD500 lineup. It has a plastic construction with smaller ear cups compared to the Sennheiser HD600 series.
The grills do not have large holes making the drivers harder to see compared to the HD600 series. The HD560S features a detachable cable, but it is only located on one side instead of the two earcups.
There are also some notable changes that make the HD560s a modern-looking headphone. The headphones are now rocking an all-black color scheme similar to the latest version of the HD 600 and the HD 660s. The headband and the grills also resemble the ones found on the HD 650 and HD 660s.
But the biggest change here is the new drivers, which offer better sound quality than the rest of the HD 5XX headphones. This new tuning is even regarded as an improved version of the Sennheiser HD6XX series. It solves several key issues of the HD 600 series, such as the intimate soundstage, while adding more quantity and detail to the highs.
Its analytical sound signature is very detailed and can capture a lot of the small nuances in tracks. The HD600 series still beats it in some areas, but the HD560s comes very close. This is very surprising given the HD560s has a lower position in Sennheiser’s headphone lineup.
Overall, if you are looking for an accurate sounding headphone for mixing and mastering for under 200 USD, then the Sennheiser HD560S is very tough to beat.
Sennheiser x Drop HD58X
The Sennheiser HD560S is one of the best headphones for its price range. However, it may not be the best all-rounder, given how neutral its sound is. If you are looking for a more well-rounded pair with technicalities that are on par or even better than the HD560S, then the Sennheiser x Drop HD58X Jubilee is a great alternative.
This headphone is a revival of the classic HD580, the headphone that started the HD6XX series. It is updated to meet modern standards and is a lot closer to the rest of the Sennheiser HD6XX series headphones.
It has a lot of qualities that make it punch way above its price point and allows it to compete with headphones twice or even thrice its price. It has the same form factor and build-quality as the Sennheiser HD6XX with a few distinctions.
The biggest differentiating factors include a different color scheme and grill design. The different grill design is due to the modified driver that is being used here. It now has an impedance of 150-ohms, which allows it to be used even without a headphone amplifier.
The sound signature is also a bit different compared to the Drop x Sennheiser HD6XX. There is a slight mid-bass bump in this model that makes it a more energetic and fun sounding headphone. Aside from the low end and a few differences in the high-end, it mostly sounds similar to the HD6XX.
In some ways, it could be considered a less accurate and less analytical version of the HD6XX. It does not mean it is a worse headphone. It just has a different flavor from the famous HD600 series sound signature.
Imaging and soundstage are mostly the same as the HD6XX. This means that the soundstage is intimate but realistic, and imaging is fairly accurate. The overall sound will be less bright compared to the HD560S and will have more focus on the mid-bass and low mids.
Overall, if you are looking for a versatile open-back headphone for your studio needs, then the HD58X is hard to beat. It has the form factor and technical capability of Sennheiser’s HD600 lineup without the high price tag.
Drop x AKG K7XX
One of the main criticisms of the Sennheiser HD6XX series (HD600, HD58X, HD6XX, HD660S) is their intimate soundstage. While they are fairly accurate in the presentation of the soundstage, they do not sound as wide as studio monitoring speakers; hence they aren’t always the best alternatives for mixing and mastering.
If you are one of those that want a wider sounding headphone, then one of the best alternatives at this price range is the AKG x Drop K7XX. Like the Sennheiser HD6XX, the K7XX is a legendary professional open-back headphone that has been used in countless studios. It is based on the K702 65th Anniversary Edition.
There are key differences between the HD6XX series and the K7XX. The HD6XX is a more intimate sounding open-back headphone with a mid-forward sound and great imaging. The K7XX, on the other hand, has a wide soundstage and more neutral sound but slightly less accurate imaging.
This makes the K7XX sound a lot closer to studio monitoring speakers. However, the tradeoff is that pinpointing various elements in the mix isn’t as seamless compared to the HD6XX series.
Another difference is that the K7XX has a more neutral sound signature compared to the HD6XX models. This makes the K7XX an excellent reference pair for audio productions and for critical listening. It is, after all, based on a headphone that retails for twice the price of the Drop K7XX.
Overall, if you need a wide sounding and versatile open-back headphone that can be used with different applications, the K7XX is a solid option. It is also based on a tried and tested design, so you won’t be disappointed with its performance.