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Turn on and Tune in: These are the best headphones for music production

Turn on and Tune in: These are the best headphones for music production

Being a successful independent artist is arguably easier these days, given the technology and resources available at our disposal. Setting up a home recording studio and recording, producing, releasing, and promoting music from the comfort of your own bedroom or living room is something that couldn’t be done a few decades ago. During the Covid19 lockdown, technology again came to the rescue, with livestreams allowing artists and their fans to stay connected. 

Whether you’re a music lover or an artist, there is one thing that can’t be missing from your toolkit. We’re talking about headphones. Only musicians and true audiophiles will recognize the importance of owning a solid pair of headphones. But it’s even more crucial for independent artists who are looking to produce and mix their own music. Besides having a good ear for music, having a good pair of quality headphones is essential when producing music, so of course, we’re here to recommend our top picks. These headphones are tried-and-true, recommended by music industry professionals, so you can’t really go wrong with any of the contenders on our list. Check them out, pick your favorite, and take your music production skills to the next level. 

1. Focal Listen Professional Studio

There’s a reason why the Focal Listen Professional Studio headphones are being recommended left and right. They’re a top pick for studio headphones as they can basically do it all. They’re comfortable on the ears, boast a competitive price, they’re made by a reputable brand with weight in the industry, and they provide excellent audio quality. These are great headphones for both mixing and mastering, as well as casual listening, so that you don’t have to own different pairs for different needs. The build quality is sturdy, the sound is well-balanced, and they look good. What more could you ask for?

2. Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO-80

Another heavyweight contender on our list of the top headphones for music production is the Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO-80. These headphones have been around for a while, and they’re a staple in any audiophile’s gear collection. Why? They’re closed-back, dynamic driver headphones that offer great bang for your buck, and amazing sound quality paired with a cool design. They’re also incredibly sturdy in case you pull a Toto Wolff and start throwing your headphones around in a moment of frustration. Some might even say that the DT770 is built like a tank, but we haven’t really tried to put this to the test, we like the headphones too much for that. Despite the rugged, tough build, they’re super comfortable to wear, so you’ll be able to really immerse yourself in the music and forget they’re even on your head. The downside is that the cable is not detachable, and they might feel a little bit outdated compared to other items on this list. But hey, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

3. Beyerdynamic DT 900 PRO X

For the open-back headphones lovers, there is another solid Beyerdynamic contender worth investing in, namely the DT 900 PRO X. the PRO X series offers a few upgrades, like a removable XLR cable, a new driver, better build quality, and better sensitivity, so you can go even more detailed with your music production tasks. It’s still a super sturdy design, so you can grab these headphones and throw them in your bag on your way to the music studio or a gig without worry. And they’re also slimmer and more modern looking, so they won’t take up as much space. Finally, the level of comfort is way out of this world, so you can focus on your work without getting those annoying ear aches or headaches that some headphones tend to trigger.

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4. Sennheiser HD 280 Pro

This pair of Sennheisers is a long-time favorite among independent producers and musicians looking for good value and quality at a competitive price. They offer fairly neutral mids, they’re great for mixing, they’re comfortable on the ears, not too expensive - all in all, a solid all-rounder. Sure, many other higher-end headphones have hit the market since the 280 Pros have been around, but many producers and artists continue to swear by them. They might not be the best-looking or the best-in-bass (see what we did there?) compared to other contenders on the list, but they’re in the hall of fame of headphones for a reason. If you’re on a tight budget and need something reliable and solid, you might want to give these a try. 

5. Sennheiser HD 800S

If you want a little more value for your money but you’re loyal to the Sennheiser name, you should also check out the Sennheiser HD 800S. They’re good quality, even though they’re mostly plastic, they’re lightweight, comfortable, they look good, and most importantly, they sound good. They’re good for super-technical, detailed production work, even if the bass is a little bit muddy and could use some refinement. The sound is well-balanced and allows the listener to really tune in and hear all the dynamic ranges of a song. If you’re thinking about getting really serious about music production, this is a great starting point. 

6. AKG K371

A lot of people describe the AKG K371s as ‘close to perfect,’ and we have to agree with that description. These are super-high-quality at a reasonable price point that won’t break the bank, which is obviously a top priority for beginner producers or independent musicians putting together a home recording studio. They might not have that design wow factor that other headphones on this list might have, but don’t be fooled. These AKGs pack a big punch, and they offer a solid, balanced sound that works great for all genres. They sound pretty natural, similar to what Sennheiser brings, in a way, but individual preferences will also have a say here. We think these are some of the best headphones money can buy right now, and something that every serious music producer should have in their arsenal. 

7. Audio-Technica ATH-M50x 

Ah, the ATH-M50x are true veterans when it comes to studio headphones fit for musicians, sound engineers, producers, and audiophiles. They’ve been around for a while, but they have not lost their charm just yet. From incredible comfort and a stellar, elegant design, to the high fidelity sound they provide, it’s easy to understand why these headphones have reached legendary status. The bass is powerful, the sound is crystal clear without being screechy, everything is so well-balanced that it’ll be hard to convince you to put these headphones away once you’ve discovered their magic. 

8. Sony MDR-7506 

We’ve got another veteran on our list, this time from the almighty Sony. The MDR-7506s have garnered a top spot on the list of legendary headphones for musicians, audiophiles, engineers, producers, and everyone in between. Sure, in terms of style and design, they might seem a bit dated or not as refined as other headphones that have come out since, but they’re still unmatched when it comes to value versus money. They won’t break the bank, but they will get the job done, through incredible sound fidelity and dynamic, energetic range. Unfortunately, the cable attached to these headphones is just as impressive, and also not detachable. But that’s really the only real downside we could find. 

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9. Shure SRH1540

Another iconic brand for sound engineers and producers, Shure is..well, a sure bet, some might say. The SRH1540 might not look like the most intricate or most stylish set of headphones on the market right now, but don’t let appearances sway you. These headphones are high quality, well-built, and great-sounding, all in a decently-priced package. They are super comfortable compared to other closed-back headphones, they don’t leak sound, they have a full, potent bass, clear mids and lows, ticking all the right boxes for both music fans and professionals. 

10. Røde NTH-100

Last but certainly not least, we’ve got the Røde NTH-100s. You might associate this brand with top-quality microphones, but they’ve also entered the headphones market with the NTH-100s, and it was a really good try. They’re well made, boasting a sort of ‘rugged handsomeness,’ if you will. This is to say that it’s not the most visually appealing design, but that’s not really the most important thing here. The sound quality is great, revealing, clear, neutral, so if great detail is what you’re looking for, they’re worth a try. The downside is that they’re not very comfortable and can overheat a little bit if worn for hours at a time. 

Frequently asked questions

Which headphones are best for music production?

The best headphones for music production often prioritize accuracy, clarity, and a flat frequency response to ensure a faithful representation of audio. Sennheiser HD 650 and Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro are widely regarded for their balanced sound reproduction and comfortable design, making them popular choices among music producers. Audio-Technica ATH-M50x is another solid option, known for its exceptional clarity and durability. However, individual preferences may vary, and it's crucial for producers to test and select headphones that align with their specific needs, considering factors such as comfort during extended use, closed or open-back design, and budget constraints.

How to choose the best headphones as a music producer 

When selecting headphones as a music producer, consider factors such as frequency response, accuracy, and comfort. Opt for headphones with a neutral or flat frequency response to ensure accurate representation of your music without exaggerated bass or treble. Closed-back headphones are suitable for isolating sound in noisy environments, while open-back designs offer a more natural and spacious soundstage. Comfort during extended use is crucial, so choose headphones with well-padded ear cups and an adjustable headband. Testing headphones in person, if possible, allows you to assess their sonic characteristics firsthand. Additionally, take into account your budget and the specific requirements of your music production workflow to find the headphones that best suit your needs.

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Gregory Walfish
Co-founder of Xposure Music, Gregory Walfish stands at the intersection of music, tech, and culture. With a software engineering background, he's passionate about artist development and technology.

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