It’s true that it is generally recommended to mix on studio monitors, but headphones certainly have their place. The most obvious benefit being that if you don’t have a well-treated room, or an area where you can listen to music loudly without disturbing others, then professional mixing headphones are perfect.
Thankfully, modern day headphones have come along way technically speaking. Plus, mixing on headphones allow you to listen to your tracks with precise detail. You can easily hear subtle little changes in volume and EQ, that can be difficult to hear on monitors. Unless of course, you have the luxury of mixing in a professional studio, but let’s face it, not many of us do.
So, how do you pick a reliable pair of mixing headphones? There is no right choice but it’s certainly not easy to make a decision. Unless you can go into an audio shop and try numerous types, the only thing you can rely on is reviews online. Luckily for you, I’ve done the hard work for you to establish the best headphones for mixing, according to my own experience and the wealth of knowledge I’ve found online. First though, you need to know about the two main types of headphones.
Open Back vs Closed Back Headphones
Open back headphones are intentionally designed so that sound can escape out of the headphones. But why? What would even be the point in that. Excellent question. Unfortunately, the more isolation headphones have, the more the audio quality suffers. As open back headphones allow audio and air to escape, this helps to prevent pesky resonances and low frequencies from building up, which often create a muddy mess! Therefore, open back headphones have a much clearer, more accurate, and natural sound than closed back headphones. Perfect for mixing then, when you need to listen to music as precisely as possible.
Closed back headphones do the opposite to open back headphones. They are primarily designed to prevent sound from leaking out. Meaning when you where them, others can’t really hear what you’re listening to. The main reason for this design is to isolate sound. This is critically important for recording. Imagine you’re recording a vocal take and the microphone is not only picking up the singer’s voice, but also the sound of the music bleeding out from the headphones. This is a sound engineer’s worst nightmare and will result in an unusable take. Closed back headphones reduce or entirely stop this from happening altogether, depending on how well they’re designed.
How to Choose the Right Type for You
Before committing to purchase either closed back, or open back headphones, you should think about the following. Do you need headphones for recording with microphones? If so, then you’ll want closed back headphones that don’t bleed any audio.
When you’ll be using your headphones, will you be close to anybody else? If you’re going to be mixing in a room with other people, they probably won’t be too keen on listening to your mix too. Especially as you’ll most likely be listening to it hundreds of times. We’ve all been there… If that’s the case, then I doubt they’ll appreciate open back headphones that are effectively like little speakers. So, again closed back headphones may be better for you.
Do you want to use your headphones for the best listening experience and do you need headphones solely for mixing purposes? Great, so open back headphones it is and trust me you won’t be disappointed. The last thing to consider is budget. So, my list is ordered from the lowest to highest price. Let’s start with closed back headphones, if you want open back headphones be sure to skip ahead.
The Best Closed Back Headphones for Mixing
Sennheiser are a brand you’ve most likely heard of. Why? Because they’re one of the companies at the forefront of audio tech and have been for years. The Sennheiser HD280PROs are everything you want in an affordable and reliable pair of headphones, which have been labelled as an industry standard by many experts.
First off, the isolation of these headphones is superb. When wearing these headphones, you won’t hear a thing going on outside and practically no audio bleeds out from them. This does come at a bit of cost though. Some people complained that the earpads fit a little too tightly, which can cause your ears to get quite hot. Something to consider if you’ll be using these for a long period of time.
In terms of sound quality, for the price point, you should have realistic expectations. For recording the Sennheiser HD280s are ideal, but for mixing, not so much. They sound good, but they don’t have as much clarity as others on the list. If you want a budget pair of headphones for recording that isolate sound well, then these should be your top choice.
Sony are one of the most famous technology companies in the world. Based in Japan, they are widely known for their electronic products, a lot of which relate to audio. The Sony MDR506 headphones are another pair that are considered an industry standard. They’re used and favoured by engineers, producers, and musicians due to their flat sound.
They deliver a very even spread of bass, mids, and highs consistently, making these headphones great for mixing as well as recording. Although, despite having a very flat response, it’s not as easy to pick out little details and nuances, unlike other headphones with a higher price tag.
The build quality could be a little better, with the materials feeling a little on the cheap side, but remember they are a budget pair of headphones. Despite that, they are comfortable to wear, even for long periods of time. If you’re on a budget and want a pair of headphones that get the job done well, provide a flat response and isolate sound efficiently, then the Sony MDR7506s are an excellent choice.
The Audio-Technica are the best sellers on both Sweetwater and Amazon, but why? I think a lot of it comes down to the styling and design. They have 90° swivelling earcups, meaning they can collapse into themselves, efficiently reducing the headphones to half the size. Perfect if you like you’re a musician or producer on the move. The swivelling earcup design also makes it possible to listen to only one earphone at a time.
The ATH-M50Xs provide excellent isolation. The leather earpads feel comfortable and seem well-made. However, some have complained that they feel a little tight on their heads, plus the earpads can start to make your ears feel quite hot after a while. The rest of the headphones are built well. The stylish design looks modern and feel and sturdy to the touch.
In terms of sound, they stand up well. There is plenty of clarity throughout the lows, mids, and highs, although the bass tends to become more dominant at times, overshadowing the mids. This isn’t really a huge issue though. Billie Eilish’s brother Finneas, who’s regarded as a modern ground-breaking producer loves these headphones. So, if they’re good enough for him, then I’m sure they good enough for you.
Beyerdynamic DT 770
Which country has a superb reputation for making products that last? Germany, and Beyerdynamic are indeed a German company. If you’re looking for a robustly built pair of headphones, look no further than the Beyerdynamic DT770.
Not only are they built well, but they offer extremely good sound separation. Meaning you can hear every instrument very clearly and the position of them in your mix. The cushioned earpads also offer a great amount of comfort and remain so for long periods of time. Plus, the isolation is also effective for minimising bleed.
In terms of mixing, the bass is not as pronounced of others on this list and the highs can sometimes be a little too sharp. But once you get used to the sound of them, the DT770s could serve you well for both recording and mixing. For the price point, you can’t really go wrong with these headphones.
Neumann microphones are known and used by top sound engineers around the world. They are premium, robustly built, sought after microphones, which have exceptional sound quality and they’re not cheap. The same could be said about these headphones. They’re pricey, but I thought it would be good for you see a high-end option to compare with budget headphones.
The NDH20s certainly live up to Neumann reputation. They’re solidly constructed, made from stunning aluminium that looks sleek and stylish. The whole design not only looks classy, but it feels smooth and sturdily built. But for this price and the fact these are made by Neumann, I wouldn’t expect anything less.
They also have superb isolation eliminating background noise effectively, whilst those around you can’t hear what you’re listening to. How about the sound quality? Well, as you’d expect from Neumann, they delivery professional sounding audio. The sound is very flat, natural, and accurate, which is just what you need for mixing.
These headphones are so good, that they come close to mixing on studio monitors. If you can afford these, sure, why not splash out? But if you’re new to audio production, you really don’t need these at this stage. It’s nice to dream though, am I right?
The Best Open Back Headphones
AKG make some incredible microphones and headphones that are used by studios all over the world. The AKG K702s have a wide sound stage, allowing you to hear excellent separation between instruments. They have a very flat response, but lack a little bass response, which can tend to get a little lost at times.
In terms of appearance, I think these look very stylish and slick. However, the actual build quality is a little flimsy. The plastic feels quite cheap but the earpads are extremely comfortable. You won’t notice headphones on your head, even during long mixing sessions. They have a self-adjusting design, meaning when you put them on, they adjust to your head size and shape.
For a budget pair of open back headphones, the AKG K702s are a great choice. The sound quality and comfort of these headphones will keep you content for hours. These are the cheapest open back on this list, so if you can afford to stretch your budget further then keep reading.
The Sennheiser HD650s have become a notorious pair of mixing and general listening headphones for total audio immersion. They audio quality is incredibly balanced, natural, and accurate. You can really hear every subtle volume change little nuance, and tweak that you make in your mix.
These are also one of the comfiest pair of headphones on this list due to their design. They have large ovule shaped earpads that sit over yours ears. You won’t notice these headphones at all when long mixing sessions are needed. I would say though, that for the price, the build quality could be a little better. The plastic doesn’t feel as well built as the headphones to follow.
Overall, if you’re looking for an open back pair of headphones that will allow you to improve your mixes, then these are for you. The sound alone is what made the Sennheiser HD650s so famous. They provide an immersive, accurate audio listening experience that won’t let you down.
The Shure SRH1840 have a very wide sound. This means you’re going to hear the placement of sounds and instruments from left to right very distinctively. Individual sounds really stand out, which is what you want for mixing. Although, the wide separation can almost be distracting, as you get so absorbed in the sound field. Apart from sounding wide, they also deliver a consistent response throughout the lows, mids, and highs.
These headphones have an ovule earpad design similar to the Sennheiser 650s, which makes them exceptionally comfortable. The build quality feels high-end and durable. They also have a sleek and stylish appearance, with their all-black design. One thing I don’t like, is that there is a cable for each headphone, meaning you have two. These can be a little bit annoying as they get in the way more than just one cable. Not a deal breaker though.
Shure are a company you can trust in and their SRH1840s are a really quality pair of headphones. If you can stretch your budget out a little more, then give these ones some serious thought. For a sound field that is full of separation and a superior build quality, then these are a great choice.
Now we can to the most expensive headphones on the list, the Beyerdyanmic DT1990. These are by far my favourite in terms of appearance, I just love the way they look. Their grey and black unique mesh headphone design looks modern, professional, and streamlined. They would look great in any studio.
How about the build quality? For the price and since they’re made by Beyerdynamic, you wouldn’t expect anything less than premium materials and they don’t disappoint. The metal and plastic combination feels handmade, tightly constructed, and incredibly robust. They’re very comfortable, although I have to say that the ovule design of the others still comes out on top.
The sound is classic a Beyerdynamic experience. The audio quality is precise, detailed, and full of depth. The clarity just leaps out of the earpad, enabling you to perfect your mixes to a professional level. The bass remains clear and pure, giving you full insight to what your music is doing and needs. If you can push your budget to the max, then these headphones will be your best friend for years to come.
There is No Wrong Choice
Phew, that was a long list! There you have it, the best headphones for mixing. I hope that I’ve given you some brilliant options to consider. Think about your budget and whether you want to use headphones primarily for recording, mixing, or a combination of both. That should help you to narrow down your choice between open and closed back headphones. All of the headphones above are made by notoriously reliable audio companies, that have been tried and tested by sound engineers, producers, and musicians from all over the globe. Remember there is no wrong choice. Whatever pair of headphones you choose, you’ll get used to their unique sound. Just remember to have fun exploring your mixes so that you can keep improving and learning.
Which is your favourite from the list? Let me know in the comments.