Headphones are invaluable tools when it comes to professional productions. They are used to monitor the audio levels in live events, recording, broadcasts, and many more. However, not all headphones are suited for professional applications.
Different kinds of headphones have different kinds of sound signatures. Some headphones emphasize the lower frequencies, while other headphones have a more balanced sound. And of course, some headphones may be enjoyable for music listening but are not accurate enough for professional use.
That is why it is extremely important to use the right type of headphones for the job. The type of headphones that are designed for professional applications is called studio monitoring headphones. These headphones usually have a balanced sound signature that helps translate what the end-user is hearing.
In this article, we will be tackling the best monitoring headphones in the market. We have everything from budget options to industry-standard headphones. Our best overall pick on this list is the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro. Our best budget pick, on the other hand, is the Status Audio CB-1.
There are, of course, lots of great options on this list. So make sure to keep on scrolling to learn more about these models.
Best Studio Monitoring Headphones
Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro (80-Ohm) – Best Overall
Starting off this list is the legendary Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro. These are one of the most well-known pair of monitoring headphones and has been a mainstay in professional studios since its inception in 1985.
Compared to the other options on this list, the DT 770 Pro is rocking velour earpads. These are more comfortable and more durable compared to the pleather ear pads that are featured on almost every headphone on this list.
The headband padding is also excellent on the DT 770 Pro. It covers enough of your head and helps with comfort for extended live sessions or recording sessions.
Both the headband and the earpads are removable in case you want to replace them in the future. The headband can be easily removed and replaced once it is worn out. The earpads, on the other hand, are not easily removable due to their mechanism. Luckily, you won’t have to replace them often since the stock ear pads are so durable.
In terms of the build quality, the DT 770 Pro is built like a tank. Most of the frame is made of steel, which gives the DT 770 Pro its durable feel. The ear cups are made of a high-quality plastic material that balances the overall weight.
These headphones can be thrown at any situation and make it out without a scratch. They can be used both in the studio and in live events. These headphones are made to be abused.
One downside in the build is the non-detachable cable. These headphones were released in 1985 and have seen very minimal revisions, which is unfortunate since having a removable cable would have increased the life span of these headphones.
The good news is that the cable is sturdy, and it is highly unlikely for it to break under normal circumstances. It is possible to replace it, but it won’t be as seamless as the other models on this list. The Drop DT 177X Go, which is also featured in this article, fixes some of these issues.
Overall they have that classy look that maintains the professional aesthetic. They won’t stand out, but they are not boring to look at either. This is the design that other brands have tried to replicate over the years.
In terms of the sound signature, the DT 177X Go has Beyerdynamic’s well-known V-shaped house sound. Bass and highs have more emphasis without drowning out the mids. This kind of sound signature is common with studio monitoring headphones.
The bass is punchy and impactful while keeping its realism. Highs are well detailed without being too harsh. Mids are also well detailed and sit well on the mix. As for how this translates to professional use, it means that you will be able to accurately hear your sources and make the necessary adjustments in case there is anything wrong.
It is worth noting that the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro comes in various versions. The difference between each version is the impedance. The higher impedance version, such as the 250-ohm and the 600-ohm, will be harder to drive and will require a dedicated headphone amplifier.
Our goal is to be able to use the DT 770 Pro with as much gear as possible while still maintaining clarity and detail. We also want to minimize the number of extra purchases or gears in our signal chain. Therefore, we highly recommend the lower impedance models, specifically the 80-ohm version.
The 80-ohm DT 770 Pro is superior sounding to the 32-ohm model. And it is able to deliver as much detail as the higher impedance models even without a headphone amplifier. You can plug these into a headphone amplifier down the line when you acquire one or if you want to check your mix with these headphones.
Overall, the DT 770 Pro is an excellent sounding and well-built headphone for the professional user. If you are looking for a well-priced studio monitoring headphone for long term use, then the DR 770 Pro is a strong competitor.
The Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro is one of the most well-known studio monitoring headphones thanks to its rugged build quality and excellent sound quality. These will deliver no matter where they are used.
The Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro, unfortunately, has some outdated features such as the non-detachable cable. Some of these issues are fixed by the DT 177X Go.
Drop DT 177X Go – Best Premium Headphones
If you want to go with something more premium with more modern features, then the Beyerdynamic Drop DT 177X Go is a big setup up from the DT 770 Pro. It is based on the highly acclaimed Beyerdynamic DT 1770 but with some key differences that make it more appealing to fans of the DT 770 Pro 80-ohm.
One of the major differences is the lower power requirement. The original DT 1770 Pro had an impedance of 250-ohm. But unlike the DT 770 Pro, there were no lower impedance versions.
If you wanted to use the DT 1770 Pro, you should have a higher quality source such as a headphone amplifier, DAC/Amp, or an audio interface with a powerful headphone output. Drop’s DT 177X Go, on the other hand, only has an impedance of 30-ohms. This means that it will function with most professional equipment, especially for those that are not designed for high impedance headphones. And unlike DT 770’s low impedance models, Drop has managed to maintain the DT 1770 Pro’s sound quality and technical performance.
In terms of the sound quality, the DT 177X Go is a significant step up compared to the DT 770 Pro. The bass digs deeper and sounds more refined. The highs also have more extension and can extract more detail. The mids are still a bit recessed but still manage to capture an impressive amount of detail.
If you were already satisfied with the DT 770 Pro’s performance, the DT 177X Go is even better as its overall sound quality is more natural than the DT 700 Pro. And it is arguably, more comparable to higher-end headphones but at a lower price point. We will be tackling more about the price shortly.
The sound quality is not the only aspect of the DT 1770 Pro that was preserved in Drop’s version. The DT 177X Go features the same premium build quality featured on the DT 1770 Pro. The frame is still made of steel, with the majority of the build being made of metal.
The ear cups are made of a high-quality plastic material that does not feel out of place compared to the rest of the build. It is similar to the DT 770 Pro’s design language but with an upgraded and more premium feel.
Unlike the DT 770 Pro, the DT 177X Go features a removable cable. You can now choose the appropriate length of the cable for your studio or work environment. You can now also easily replace it if it ever stops functioning properly,
And as mentioned earlier, another significant change in Drop’s version is the price tag. Drop is known not only for the quality of their collaborations but for dropping the price as well. The new price makes the DT 177X Go more appealing to users who want to upgrade from the DT 770 Pro without spending a fortune.
Overall, Drop has managed to capture the magic of the DT 1770 Pro with the DT 177X Go. Despite changing the impedance, there is no loss in sound quality. With its excellent tuning and imaging and soundstage, the DT 177X Go is a very versatile closed-back headphone that can virtually do anything.
The Beyerdynamic DT 177X Go is a true successor to the DT 770 Pro. They improve everything about the original design and make it competitive with modern high-end offerings. It also has a lower power requirement compared to the DT 1770 Pro, which it is based on.
There can be some issues here and there such as its accuracy (it is not as good as the open-back DT 1990 Pro). However, at its significantly lower price point, the DT 177X GO doesn’t have a lot of flaws.
Audio Technica ATH M50X – Best All-Rounder
The Audio Technica ATH M50X is arguably one of the most well-known professional headphones. Since its inception in 2007, the ATH M50 (and later the M50X) has been the go-to headphones for countless musicians, sound engineers, producers, and professionals in different fields. It may not be the best sounding, but it has enough features to make it a worthy investment.
The recommendations of respectable producers/mixing engineers such as Adam “Nolly” Getgood (Periphery, Getgood Drums, producer) further solidifies it as the benchmark for professional headphones.
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.
However, you should take note that Audio Technica’s headphones are notorious for their pleather material. The pleather material found on the headband and earpads is known to harden and display flaking over time. This has happened on my personal pair and has happened on several other users’ pairs as well.
This is not a big deal for the earpads since this happens on every headphone. Audio Technica and other third-party brands offer replacement earpads with alternate materials such as velour. 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 (as seen on the DT 770 Pro), so you may opt for those models if this is a massive deal-breaker. Audio Technica does provide inhouse repairs for worn down headbands/earpads and other cosmetic issues, but this will depend on the supplier in your area.
In terms of the sound signature, the M50X’s V-shaped sound signature has also made it a popular choice. It is leaning on the warmer side, which helps make it great for both professional and casual listening. It is, however, not entirely accurate, which we will be talking about later.
The latest revision, the M50X, further makes improvements by adding a much needed detachable cable. The ability to swap cable makes the M50X fit any type of scenario or setup. It also increases the lifespan of the headphones since the cables are typically the first part of the headphone that breaks.
Despite its popularity, the sound signature of the ATH M50X has received some criticisms. The sound signature is not entirely flat. This is not unheard of as even other studio monitors such as the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro also have a V-shaped sound signature, but the execution here is not as good as the DT 770 Pro.
The mids are a bit recessed, which can be a problem when monitoring vocals. The bass also has too much energy, which may make the low frequencies appear more forward.
However, this inaccurate sound signature is what makes the M50X a versatile pair. Its energetic bass helps make it a great pair for DJing as well. And, its warm sound signature makes it a great pair for casual listening as well.
Overall, the ATH M50X is still a popular choice. It is a tried and tested design that has been used by countless professionals around the world. It isn’t perfect, but it does not have any major drawback that prevents us from recommending this pair. If you are looking for an all-rounder pair that is suitable for both professional and casual use, then the M50X is still a great choice.
The Audio Technica M50X has become a modern classic thanks to its well-executed design and sound quality.
The Audio Technica M50X is not entirely flat. Its recessed mids and energetic bass response may throw off its accuracy. The pleather material also degrades over time.
Audio Technica ATH M40X
One of the downsides of the widely popular ATH M50X is its sound signature. Despite giving enjoyable results, it is not entirely flat. However, there is a model in Audio Technica’s Monitoring lineup. This is non-other than the M50X’s little brother, the Audio Technica ATH M40X
Despite being the lower-tier model, many consider this to be the superior headphone. It is largely due to its flatter and more accurate tuning. The problem with the M50X’s V-shaped tuning is its vocal reproduction. Vocals and other midrange instruments tend to take a backseat. However, thanks to the M40X’s more flat tuning, vocals are better emphasized.
The Audio Technica M40X is able to do this without sacrificing any of the M50X’s core features. The build quality is still top-notch and can withstand the same amount of abuse as the M50X. And it still features a removable cable (a feature that is not seen in the lower-end models such as the ATH M30X).
However, this serves as a double-edged sword as it also inherits the M50X’s design flaws. The pleather material on the headband and earpads are known to harden and display flaking over time. The earpads are replaceable, but the headband is not, so you do have to take better care of it.
It is worth noting that despite its flat sound signature, it still leaning towards a warmer sound signature. It also does not have the same mid and high emphasis seen on other monitoring headphones such as Sony’s MDR V6 and MDR CD900ST.
But overall, if you are happy with the M50X’s design and features but wang a more accurate sounding version of it, then the Audio Technica M40X is your best bet. Apart from the different tuning, the M40X has the same components as the M50X. This means that the M40X is still the same well-built pair of headphones that can be taken to live gigs or any demanding environment that may potentially break the headphones.
If a neutral sound is your priority, then we highly suggest the M40X over the M50X. However, if you want a more versatile option and if you do not necessarily mind the bass bump, then the M50X is the better choice. Either way, you are getting an industry-standard monitoring headphone.
The Audio Technica M40X offers a more balanced sound signature while maintaining the same design elements found on the ATH M50X.
The ATH M40X still displays some of the M50X’s weakness in the build quality, particularly in the pleather material found on the earpads and headband.
Sony MDR V6
Sony is another popular Japanese brand that is well known in the recording industry. Their studio monitoring headphones have achieved legendary status and can be seen in various studios, performances, and media outlets. They have released several models throughout the years, but one of the standout releases is the Sony MDR V6.
The MDR V6 shares a lot of design elements with other popular monitoring headphones like Audio Technica’s ATH Monitoring series and the Shure SRH 840. However, unlike those models, the Sony MDR V6 is a much older design that came out in 1986.
Its vintage status can clearly be seen in the headphone’s design and approach to sound quality. Aesthetically, the MDR V6 has more branding compared to the other headphones on this list.
In terms of the sound signature, the MDR V6 is considerably brighter than most modern offerings. It puts more emphasis on the mids and highs while still maintaining a full sounding low end. Its bass still has presence but has less extension compared to the M50X.
Its emphasis on the mids and highs is most likely influenced by the music genres at the time of its release. However, it still works with today’s standards. It isn’t necessarily the most enjoyably sounding headphone, but for its intended purpose, it is still competitive with today’s modern offerings.
However, like other vintage designs, some features may seem outdated. The plastic ear cups do not rotate 90 degrees like Audio Technica’s offerings, which may affect their fit and comfort for larger heads. The cable is also non-removable, which can compromise the longevity of the headphones if they do manage to break.
Also, the all-plastic build quality does not give the MDR V6 a premium feel. Some of its competition, such as the DT 770 and other newer models such as the ATH M50X/M40X, feel more solid compared to the MDR V6. It is still a solid feeling but is outclassed when it comes to more modern offerings.
Overall, if you want a tried and tested design, then you cannot go wrong with the Sony MDR V6. It may lack a lot of modern features and innovations set by the newer models, and it may not sound as good as the higher-end models on this list, but it is a reliable pair that can adapt to any situation.
The Sony MDR V6 has been a popular pair since the 80s due to its excellent sound quality. Its focus on the mid and high frequencies make it an excellent monitor for vocals, guitars, and other midrange instruments.
Its build quality and non-detachable cable are no longer up to par with modern offerings. It is durable, but there have been several advances and innovations in terms of build.
Sony MDR CD900ST – Best Reference
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 also 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 revealing pair. However, they will also be revealing more flaws in your sources, so if you are going to be using these pairs for 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.
The Sony MDR CD900ST is one of the most detailed and most revealing pairs on this list. If you want a better sounding MDR V6, this is the pair to get.
The Sony MDR CD900ST has the same design flaws (by today’s standards) with the Sony MDR V6. Also, its flat and revealing sound can make it less versatile outside of monitoring.
Status Audio CB-1 – Best Budget
Monitoring headphones can be expensive. The Audio Technica M40X and M50X have been considered the proper entry-level options. However, for beginners and home studio owners, this can be very expensive.
Luckily, some brands have been stepping up to rival these models. If you are willing to go with a lesser-known brand, then the Status Audio-CB1 presents a lot of value. Its top-notch design and sound quality have made it the “budget M50X”.
It features the same swiveling earcups, detachable cable, and foldable design that are mostly seen on higher-end models like the ATH-M50X. The sound quality of the CB-1 is excellent and is a step above the Audio Technica ATH M30X. It features a tighter bass response and can extract more detail compared to the similarly priced ATH M30X.
There are some things that you must consider when purchasing from a less reputable brand. The build quality is good, but its durability has not been proven to withstand the abuse typically given to studio monitoring headphones. Warranty and replaceability of parts may also be an issue when something inside the headphone breaks.
This is where something like the ATH M30X makes more sense. It may have fewer features and an inferior sound, but at least you have some sort of confidence that it won’t suddenly break while you are using them, especially in a live scenario.
But if you do not have a problem with those minor issues, then the CB1 is an excellent choice for monitoring. If you want the best features and best sound quality for the lowest price possible, then the Status Audio CB 1 is one of the best choices that you have on this list.
The Status Audio CB 1 manages to bring the features of the sound quality of higher-end models in a budget price point.
The Status Audio CB 1’s build is well built for its price, but it isn’t on par with the more expensive models.
Takstar Pro 82
The Takstar Pro 82 is another budget alternative to the ATH M40X and M50X. Unlike the Status Audio CB1, the Takstar Pro 82 looks closer to the ATH models. It also has a lot of extra accessories that make it a great purchase.
Like most of the modern offerings on this list, the Takstar Pro 82 also features a removable cable. This is a great feature since the cable is usually the first thing that breaks in most headphones. It also means that you can change the cable to a longer or shorter size, depending on your needs.
One unique accessory that comes with the Takstar Pro 82 is the metal flight case. Headphones that are twice or thrice its price do not even come with a hard case, so it is good to see a product that gives a lot of value with its included accessories.
In terms of the build quality, the Takstar Pro 82 is well built for its price. It is utilizing a plastic construction with some metal reinforcement on the hinges. It is, of course, not as rugged as higher-end models, so do not just throw these around and expect them to survive.
In terms of the sound quality, the Takstar Pro 82 is mostly leaning in the flat and neutral side. It is more accurate than the similarly priced Audio Technica ATH M30X and is a lot more similar to the M40X. It does not extract as much detail as the higher-end models but is passable enough for monitoring.
The Pro 82 also features a bass dial that can color the sound for music listening. This is may, however, ruin the sound signature, but it is a nice extra feature to play around with.
Overall, if you are looking for a budget monitoring pair with lots of included accessories, then the Takstar Pro 82 is a great choice.
The Takstar Pro 82 comes with a lot of accessories, which is surprising for a budget pair of headphones. It checks all the right boxes for a good pair of studio monitoring headphones.
The sound quality isn’t as refined as the more expensive Audio Technica M40X and M50X.
Stephen is a musician, cinematographer, and headphone enthusiast who is passionate about reviewing audio equipment. He has been playing guitar for at least a decade, which introduced him to professional recording equipment such as headphones and in-ear monitors. With the help of reviews and online content, he was able to learn the ins and outs of the hobby. His goal is to give back to the community by providing quality content to help others enjoy the beautiful (and expensive) world of audio.
Favorite Headphones: Sennheiser HD660s