HomeThe Bestthe BEST studio headphones for mixing | SERIOUS options for SERIOUS people
May 11, 2015
the BEST studio headphones for mixing | SERIOUS options for SERIOUS people
Hi friend and Welcome!
Today I’ll be charging hard at you once again with a great post on the best studio headphones for mixing!! These 3 models I’m about to talk about are some of the most highly regarded in existence for mixing and reference.
Do you want my top recommendation right now? Check out my Sennheiser HD 600 Review! A more detailed description and link to the review can also be found at the bottom.
Otherwise sit back and watch as the Shootout happens 😀
Before we get started, grab a snack, sit back and relax because..
You’ve come to the right place!!
What I will bring you in this review
of each headphone
Who these headphones benefit?
All of these options are ‘open back’, which are far more conducive to mixing. Why? Because with closed back cans, the sound gets sort of “trapped” inside your head, with no room to breathe, thus muddying the sound and leaving you confused and annoyed. The open back lets some sound escape in order to keep the mix airy and fresh, sort of like Febreeze, Lol.
material: metal grilles, carbon fiber, velour ear pads
color: speckled blue finish, black
What more can be said about these? Well I’ll tell you! For starters, they may be the best reference headphone that you can buy. This is across the board pretty much a consensus among-st audiophiles. I will never forget the first time I read this review on amazon. The reviewer claimed that buying the HD 600 would revolutionize not only the music you may listen to in the future, but also what you already own! It’s a very powerful concept that stuck with me. Being able to re-discover old sounds is something that is truly priceless and timeless. Everyone loves music. Imagine if the feeling you got from an old album was like hearing it for the first time again, only better and completely amazing?
That’s what these headphones provide. They provide the subtlety and details you’ve never heard before in recordings. They also reveal quite a bit of flaws in a mix/master, so be weary that these headphones were made for good quality recordings from good sources. Also make sure to purchase a decent enough amp to power these correctly. At 300 Ohms, it is pretty much mandatory. I will get into amps more a little later!
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What they are good for/with
jazz and classical
They sound good with just about every type of music, and have been called a genre master..
What they aren’t good for:
they are really honest and will reveal flaws in your everyday recordings. This reviewer mentioned that he was tempted to throw away all of his old badly mastered recordings. Make sure your source is of good quality!
these aren’t really good for bass-heads
office and portable use, etc. They will bleed sound and aren’t really made for on the go situations or where there’s the potential for disturbing others.
These are going to need a good amp to deliver optimal sound quality and volume. I have done a bit of research and a few great options are:
These across the board are considered the go to options in regards to quality and convenience. Of course, you will encounter really high end amplifiers if you look hard enough, but for your first foray into the world of audiophiles, any of these will more than suffice. The Magni/Modi combo in particular is quite popular and of amazing quality!
Perhaps the most transparent and honest set of cans you will find. The bass is clear and precise, but doesn’t really hit as hard as some would like. Just be aware of your sound source before passing judgement on the headphones themselves. Also a good amp is highly beneficial, if not mandatory to bring out the best in these.
A quick note: the DT880 Pro’s have a coiled cable and a tighter fit. The DT880 Premiums have a straight cable and a looser, arguably more comfy fit. There’s also roughly a $100 difference.
Based in Germany, these things are as rock solid as it gets really. This super reviewer, and owner of basically every headphone in existence, gives only 4 headphones in his collection an A+ value rating.
They will bleed sound and people will be able to hear what you’re listening to. Ideal for isolated studio sessions. They aren’t particularly exciting, but rather honest. They are flat and neutral, and aren’t really for “enjoying” music so much as critiquing it. These would do extremely well as your primary mixing headphone. Don’t expect to be blown away by the low end, but the high end has a bit of extra sparkle. Coming from Beyer, you know you will get crazy comfort with those velour ear pads, and extreme durability. They sometimes lack a deep bass extension, but with a proper amp the bass signature overall really shines. This model also does well with all genres of music.
Extremely Accurate, “Surgical.”
May be the best investment you’ll make regarding flagship audiophile headphones. Simply an amazing value at this price point.
One of the best (if not the best) for mixing/reference.
Very comfortable (perhaps THE most comfortable headphone).
Clear mid-range, bass response enhanced with a good amp.
Casual listeners and producers alike will enjoy and appreciate the sound.
Superb build quality (standard for the DT line).
Replaceable ear-pads (or ear muffs, as some reviewers like to call them :D)
High end may be a bit exaggerated to some.
Clamp force can be a bit tight at first.
While the sound-stage is wide, it lacks somewhat in the imaging dept. Basically this means that some clarity and detail is lost.
It is important to know that for 250 Ohm and up, an amp is highly recommended. You may be able to get away with not using one for 250 Ohm impedance, but then again you’d be doing yourself a disservice by purchasing a headphone of this caliber.
That said, there are some good options out there that won’t break the bank. Keep in mind, if it’s not an amp/dac combo (all in one), then your set up would look something like:
Computer/laptop —> DAC —> Amp —> Headphone.
This is a relatively simply way of illustrating it. Most amps need a digital to analog converter so that your brain can make sense out of the numbers. It functions much like an audio interface. The sound is a jumbled mess until it is converted to a signal that we can process. This signal is meant to be of a much higher quality than your standard built in DAC that comes with your laptop or CPU.
A great affordable combo would be the Schiit Magni + Modi, as well as:
Schiit Vali (entry level, but amazing) + Modi
Schiit Asgard 2 + Modi
Schiit Modi (entry level, affordable)
Schiit Bifrost (a bit more expensive) and can also be paired with the amp of your choosing.
O2 DAC:(a great option that sounds pretty amazing)
Check out this sweet video review!
Who this Headphone benefits?
I’ve heard from a very reliable source that it fares strong with nearly every genre of music, and is 1 out of only 3 other headphones (out of the 58 on his site) that received an A+ price to performance rating. Amazon reviewers have noted these qualities as well. For a list:
classical listeners (nice wide sound-stage)
audio engineers and producers who need a great mix down.
people who need an open and airy sound, and don’t want to be fatigued wearing headphones for long periods of time.
Metal head bros
Pop Pamelas (lol)
Hip Hop Henry
Am I going overboard?
An extremely accurate, neutral set of mixing cans that gives a slight nudge in the treble department. Sound-stage is wide, but some detail may be lost. The low end is clean, but lacking to some.
These headphones are considered one of the go to cans for mixing. They are comfy, durable, and give you a neutral sound conducive to mixing. If you’re a producer, or a casual listener who appreciates honest sound.. they are definitely for you..
material: leather head band, plastic, velour padding
These babies are pretty sweet, and are particularly good for mixing, as they provide you with a neutral and flat sound. The bass is somewhat lacking, but the mid range is really it’s strong suit. The sound-stage on them is exceptionally wide, but some say so wide that they may start to sound a bit unnatural. They are very even sounding across the spectrum, with no frequencies overpowering each-other.
They will require a good amp, and are really power hungry. They aren’t really plug and play type headphones, even at a modest 62 Ohm impedance. They also won’t sound too good playing back low quality crap, being that they are so honest. The sound is pleasant from your mobile devices, albeit a bit on the weak side.
Be forewarned though, AKG has recently changed it’s headquarters from Austria to China, and many people aren’t too happy about it. Why? Because the quality has gone down somewhat. That being said, these headphones are still among the best mixing cans available for this price range on the market. They are still getting really good reviews and still have a reputation for being one of the best.
very comfortable (ear pads are circumaural and are made of velour)
headband is made of leather, self adjust to the size of any melon, big or small 😛
very even sounding across the spectrum
particularly great mid range
good body, airiness, and clarity
does a good job of handling sibilance
great for mixing down tracks
extremely wide sound stage
bass is a tad light
slight pressure from the head band after many hours of wear (there are little dots on them that reviewers have complained dig into their dome).
sound may have “tinny” quality until they are burned in for a certain amount of hours (upwards of 100)
sound may be a bit cold, dry, and TOO analytical for some
Check out the video review!
Even at low impedance, these will need to be driven by some sort of amp. The Woo Audio A5 will do the trick, and is highly recommended. If you are looking for a more affordable solution:
Fiio E09K (can be paired with the E17 or used as stand alone)
This amp has been known to pair well with the 701’s.
Who these headphones benefit?
If you’re looking for a wide, expansive sound-stage, these will do very well. They are also pretty darn good for mixing, and will give you a flat, even response. The mid-range on these is particularly good as well, as they render acoustic instrumentation with a startling realism.
The K701 excels in flat, even sound conducive to mixing, but some may find that they will have to overcompensate due to lack of bass impact. Has a wide sound-stage, great mid-range, as well as good clarity and instrument separation. It lacks comfort as far as the bumpy quality of the headband. These also may be a bit awkward sounding, since they will expose tiny human flaws in musicianship that other headphones gloss over.
It’s a really close call between the DT 880 and HD 600. I’ve gone back and forth seemingly forever on this issue, because I’ve been debating long and hard about it for months now. My goal here at home studio basics is the same goal that I hope to arrive at when doing my own research: To find as much information as possible about the product, and then come to a decision on which option better suits me. I want to do the same thing for you!
If you’re going for a headphone with more detailed highs, the DT 880 is your best bet. It has a wider but more 2-d sound stage. With the 880, you are more aware that you’re wearing headphones.
If you’re looking for that amazing mid-range, and a sound-stage that feels more natural than the 880, go with the HD 600. It’s more 3-dimensional, and feels like surround sound speakers rather than headphones. The HD 600’s definitely give off more of a laid back, smooth vibe. It’s overall more of a purely enjoyable listen.
Update as of 1/30/2016:
Well friend, I’ve finally come to a decision on the best mixing/reference headphone in it’s class or otherwise. I would go with the Sennheiser HD 600 above all. It’s been called the gold standard, with a price to performance ratio that is through the roof. As you know, I debated a long time over the 880 and the 600. The reason the latter gets the nod is because of the treble range. While the DT 880 is a remarkable headphone, it’s high end suffers from that sibilance factor. It can be pretty harsh, and very “bright” at times. What does sibilant mean? Conversely, the 600 has been called “veiled” on many occasions, and the debate is longstanding. Veiled is simply that it lacks some air and harmonic content in the high end. Overall though, it has become what producers go to when they need the absolute most honest and flat sound across the entire frequency spectrum. With a mid-range that is just a hare forward, these babies render vocals and acoustics with crazy clarity and startling realism. In that regard, they are something to get excited about, and have been called the Genre master as well.
Well that’s about it for today! I really hope you learned something during this long winded article on the best studio headphones for mixing! If you have any further specific questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below, or Contact me!
Which of these headphones sounds like the best mixing headphone?? Let me know!!
Stu is determined to provide the truth about all things audio, and strives to deliver excellent content to you the reader! In his spare time, he likes to fish, paint, play guitar, attend church, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His attention to detail and perfectionist attitude are what allow him to excel, but it can be both a blessing and a hindrance at times.