You’ll likely be amazed open and spacious presentation, but what exactly makes it great for mixing and production?
When I think about being able to find flaws in a mix quickly, many headphones come to mind. But the one I always think of first is the CB-1.
Why do you ask?
BECAUSE I SAID SO!
Haha, just kidding (running joke on the blog and channel).
It’s because I’ve heard things with the CB-1 that even the producers and engineers may not have even wanted me to hear. You can imagine then how well this translates to a mix when you’re really trying to clean it up.
The CB-1 picks up sounds that I never thought I’d hear in a million years.
It’s just that revealing.
This kind of kicks to the curb the notion that bright treble = more detail and an easier time finding said flaws.
That’s not to say that those types of headphones aren’t good for mixing. They are.
It’s just that the CB-1 may actually be better because you’re given the absolute naked truth.
If I could recommend one headphone to take with me on a deserted island to mix a bunch of tracks, the CB-1 would certainly be in the top 3.
It’s balanced for the most part, easy to wear for long listening sessions due to its great comfort and lack of treble bite, and it’s also incredibly revealing as mentioned.
A perfect solution!
What you won’t like
Its sound can sometimes come across as rather light and feathery/papery sounding.
The cable can be a bit of a pain to pull out.
Note: The above-pictured V6 has been discontinued, but just act like it’s the 7506 lol.
Shoutout to RTINGS for the graph! This is RTINGS’ graph. There are many like it, but this one is theirs. 😂
Hearing one was actually my very first foray into the hobby. It was the first time I had ever heard anything better than your typical drug store dog food headphones, and to say I was hooked into the audiophile world would be an understatement. What is an Audiophile?
I talk about the Audiophile Rabbit Hole quite a bit with subscribers, followers, and friends alike, and 2010 was my rabbit hole year.
It was a moment that changed my entire perception of music forever.
I had always naively thought that those drug store headphones were as good as it got.
When I first listened to a 7506, all of that was completely shattered and I found out that I was in fact missing a good chunk of, well, everything.
These types of headphones almost literally fill in the gaps of information previously unheard of or thought about. In reality, you really actually didn’t have any idea what you were missing.
It’s like when people talk about some food that you’ve been predisposed to hate without ever actually tasting it.
“Mm.. you don’t know what you’re missing!”
And then you’re like “Yeah ew. Gross” but have never actually tried it.
That’s what the audiophile hobby is like only no one ever walks around with good headphones saying that to people who have never heard them.
LOL. Just imagine some snob like Resolve Reviews prancing around with a Utopia on his head like “HAHA! You don’t even know what you’re missing!”
Anyways, I got off track. No pun intended.
The 7506 is great for reference because it’s mostly neutral and incredibly revealing. The treble is bright which is why it can’t get top honors, but this is a studio standard and has been for over 3 decades now dating back to 1991.
There’s a reason it’s still recommended to this day. It’s just good. It’s right. You can hear everything. It’s the type of headphones you’ll likely reach for by default when you want to analyze a mix and see how it really sounds.
What you won’t like
Treble can become hot and essy at times.
Pads flake and peel over time.
The cup itself can become dislodged from the headphone. This happened to me with hard daily use. Your mileage will vary depending on how often you use them.
The coiled cable is absolutely a pain in the ass and will start to tangle itself. Be advised.
Like the CB-1, the K553 variants sound incredibly open and spacious. I’ll never forget the first time I demoed one at Guitar Center.
I looked to the sales rep and said “I can’t believe how open these headphones are. It sounds like an open back.”
The sound signature here is incredibly neutral for the most part, with a flat bass response and sparkling treble.
I didn’t get the impression that it was overdone or essy, and this likely could have been due to the fact that the bass doesn’t roll off, but instead digs deep, and sounds really good. From graphs, you may notice a rise around 10kHz.
While it looks kind of threatening on paper, the headphone itself doesn’t really sound artificial or metallic like an M40x.
The treble sounds right to me, but the mid-range is the 550/553’s is what makes it great for mixing. It’s incredibly revealing and the tonality of instruments and vocals sounds more true to life than other headphones. This is in large part why the experience of listening to it still sticks out in my mind since I first heard it back in 2016.
What you won’t like
It’s notoriously hard for getting a good seal and sits loose. This will affect the bass until you get a good fit.
Note: Some of you may be wondering about the newer K371. I wouldn’t personally mix on that because o the bass shelf, but it’s a great headphone otherwise. I still think the 550 variants perform better production-wise. Here is the official review if you’re interested.
While there aren’t many closed-backs I would seriously consider for mixing duties, open-backs are a different story.
The KPH30i for me was one of the most highly anticipated headphones ever, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The hype surrounding these things cannot be overstated, but it’s absolutely warranted.
I was skeptical if they were going to sound as good as people claim, but I can tell you right now that the sound of the 30i is something 99% of people in the hobby will agree on.
It’s simply a perfect headphone, and for $30 it’s embarrassing how well it performs vs. other higher-priced gear.
If you’re just getting started in production, a 30i may be all you’d ever need. The bass is perfectly done, the mid-range is perfectly done, and there’s loads of clarity and detail here. For a headphone this cheap, the tonality is pretty incredible.
The treble may not be as bright as some people prefer, but I personally believe it’s just fine.
The other aspect of the 30i that makes it stand out is its sense of openness and detail – a common theme in good mixing headphones. The Soundstage isn’t quite as good as a CB-1, but it’s getting there and you will be able to hear quite a lot going on.
What you won’t like
Comfort on this bad boy is hit and miss, and you will be making some adjustments.
The treble may come across a tad relaxed for some.
The K240 Studio has been around in some form or fashion for many years dating back to the ’70s. For more on that do check out the official review.
What makes the K240 stand out for mixing is its insane levels of detail – almost as if the instruments are under a microscope. Because the bass is mostly out of the way, you’re really able to hear instruments and voices in an incredibly lifelike way.
The realistic nature of how the K240 presents music is almost alarming at times. I remember listening to Motown thinking and feeling like I was hearing it for the first time.
These were songs I grew up with that sounded completely fresh and new, with layers of detail previously unaware of. This is something common in audiophile-type headphones, but the 240 is certainly one of the most unique sound signatures I’ve ever come across.
Its Soundstage is nice and wide, but you’ll be able to pinpoint loads of small nuance similar to the way you will with a CB-1.
For this reason, it’s a huge asset in the studio, but far from perfect. Be prepared to compensate a bit on the bass as it does roll off considerably below 100Hz. Still, this is a fantastic solution for mixing and should definitely be considered at or near the top of an open backlist of considerations.
What you won’t like
Comfort on the K240 has always been sub-par to downright bad. Because the cups are incredibly shallow, your ears will touch the drivers over top of the cloth material and it starts to hurt after about 30-45 minutes.
The SHP9500 follows in the footsteps of the clear, robust, sometimes essy, but always revealing type of sound that most people love.
Like the K240, the 9500 opts to roll off the bass in favor of greater precision and nuance, sometimes so much so that you’ll sit back and wonder if it’s really worth it to try and achieve better sound.
A moment I’ll never forget is falling asleep to the 9500 while listening to Spotify. No Amp, no DAC, nothing. Just the sweet sound of headphones and my phone.
The sense of detail and instrument Timbre was so profound that my heart dropped into my stomach.
“Surely it doesn’t get much better than this.”
That sparked a 9500 part II video in which I also discuss my experience with Oppo’s now discontinued HA-2 – one of my all-time favorite Amp/DAC combos for a wide variety of headphones.
The 9500 turns the audiophile concept on its head by presenting you with a headphone that competes with a lot of big-time gear while at the same time being a fraction of the cost.
There’s a reason it’s been so hyped up over the last few years; it just sounds right.
What you won’t like
The lack of bass will inevitably bother some people, but being a former bass head I’ve come to appreciate its subtle texture and nuance.
The treble can get a bit hot and hissy at times, but it’s in no way “grainy” as some people have claimed.
The Sennheiser HD600 has long since been a staple in the audiophile diet, but it’s also great for mixing.
The sound signature is almost completely neutral save for some mid-range emphasis around 3kHz, and it’s easy to listen to for hours while you’re working on a track because of the fantastic comfort level.
I recently just got back into beat making and the HD600 is definitely one of my go-to headphones, the other being the 702 which we’ll discuss in a bit.
The great thing about the HD600 is that it gives you a blank stare. It’s a very raw and honest representation of exactly what you’re hearing. I would almost describe it as an empty paint palette if I could use an analogy.
You’re the one who colors the sound to your liking, but it translates well because there aren’t any overhyped frequencies.
The mid-range can sound a tad forward so do prepare accordingly, but other than that this is an almost perfect headphone for production. The bass has just the right amount of roll-off in that you can mix it quickly and easily without having to do a lot of guesswork.
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?
Now translate that to your mixes. You’ll really get a sense of how a mix actually sounds vs. the way you think it sounds in your head. If you can get it to sound good on an HD600, it will likely sound good on many sources.
What you won’t like
The Soundstage is pretty narrow and boxed in. Instrument separation is there, but the image can feel claustrophobic at times and a tad slow. It ain’t the swiftest headphone around.
Some call the treble veiled, which has been a point of contention for what seems like an eternity. I did a thought-provoking video on that here. The great part about the treble is that while it can sometimes sound a bit relaxed, it’s absolutely never going to sound grainy, harsh, or sibilant. What does Sibilant mean?
The DT880 is just about the most neutral out of the entire bunch; even more so than an HD600.
Unlike the HD600, the 880 opts to raise the treble up a bit around 6kHz, but everything else is almost ruler flat.
David Mahler out of Brooklyn, NY gave only 4 headphones an A+ value rating back in 2012, and both the DT880 and HD600 comprised 2 out of the 4. The other 2 being the AD900 and HE-500.
I can understand why.
The 880’s bass has plenty of extension and digs down fairly deep; something you’re not going to get with a lot of headphones in this price range or otherwise that tend to boost the mid-bass at the expense of the sub-bass.
The mid-range is neither too forward nor recessed which makes it almost perfect for dissecting music in a completely honest way without any added color. This is something I can’t say for the HD600 or K702; both of which opt for a rise around 3kHz and 2kHz respectively.
What you won’t like
The treble may be a bit hot for some, but by and large, this is a mostly perfect signature.
Ah, the AKG K702, one of the most talked-about and misunderstood headphones of all time.
I bought one of these in 2019 and haven’t since looked back. It’s become my daily driver now, almost replacing the HD600 for everyday duties entirely.
The reason being is that its Soundstage, Timbre, and decay are all a bit better to my ears than the HD600. Soundstage is most certainly an obviously better trait, but Timbre and decay are a bit more complicated to discuss.
The K702 to me almost sounds as good as a planar magnetic headphone which is one of the main reasons I listen to and love it so much.
The DEVA’s Timbre, attack, sustain, and decay all will sound better than a 702, but not by much.
Listening with a 702 is almost like being in a studio space with the right recordings: Acoustic, Jazz, Classical, and lighter genres all sound so delicately beautiful that it becomes hard to describe.
I almost feel as though I could reach out and touch the instruments in listening to certain recordings; an example being Sufjan Stevens. His voice feels so immediate and present with you that the sounds take on a new dimension.
It’s great for mixing because of all of these same qualities. Like the CB-1, the K702 will help to reveal even more going on beneath the surface because of its propensity to space things out better while also adding an element of depth that may be missing in other headphones.
Some say this can make it sound a bit unnatural, and I can understand the sentiment, but it’s almost an afterthought to me and something I care little about when I’m mixing down a track, watching a film, gaming, or listening to music.
It’s really a jack of all trades type of headphone and thus why I enjoy using it so often.
The sound signature is almost completely flat outside of 2kHz, which gives instruments and vocals some extra flair. And NO I’M NOT TALKIN’ ABOUT RIC!!
Now you may be wondering, “What’s up with the price jump?” Aren’t there any mid-fi HIFIMAN headphones good for mixing?”
HOLD YOUR HORSES, ALRIGHT GOSH!!
Absolutely there are. But I don’t think we need to be concerned with them because the Ananda is a perfect mixing headphone. It’s absolutely the one to get if you can’t afford the next headphone on this list.
It’s crisp, detailed, and bright without being sibilant – a rare feat for any headphone. The value of the Ananda almost pays for itself when considering the entire sound spectrum as a whole and how effortlessly it’s portrayed.
The other reason I’m suggesting bypassing the Sundara/400i, etc. is that the Ananda has recently come down in price.
It used to sit around $1000 which was still a pretty decent deal, but at its asking price of around $600-700, I think it’s a relatively easy purchase – especially considering it’s highly efficient and can technically run off of a phone at 25 Ohm Impedance and 101dB/mW Sensitivity.
Yes, the Ananda will be an end-game type of headphone for most people and is perhaps the most revealing product on this list alongside the DT880.
If the DEVA and K702 put a microscope over or zoomed in on some of those aforementioned details, the Ananda is like focusing your camera or binoculars after zooming in and really understanding what those sounds may actually look like (at least in your head).
I’ve likened the Ananda to skiing down a mountain in January while chewing winter fresh gum, and many people have come back and told me the analogy was perfect.
It’s breezy, crisp, clean, refreshing, minty, etc. Easy breezy beautiful color girl.
It’s like giving yourself the cold water splash in the morning after a night of heavy drinking (SHAME ON YOU!)
NOW WAKE THE F UP AND SMELL THE ROSES!!!!
With the Ananda, there’s little guesswork. The bass is almost completely flat and digs down incredibly deep, the mid-range is clear and present, and the treble sparkles without getting out of line.
What you won’t like
Nothing, really. The treble can get ever, ever so slightly hissy at times, but it’s a minor nitpick and certainly improved upon from HIFIMAN’s mid-fi offerings.
The other noticeable improvement in more expensive headphones like the Ananda is tonality, attack, sustain, decay, and Timbre.
While the differences in Amps & DACS are somewhat marginal in the grand scope of things, the differences in headphones do become apparent when jumping up in price range. I think the jump to the Ananda represents one of the most noticeable changes in that respect. Read:The Law of Diminishing Returns
Instruments and voices are fully fleshed out and trail off more realistically than something in the entry-level or mid-fi category.
I suppose for mixing and production this is kind of a cherry on top, but it’s a fat ass cherry nonetheless.
Needs Amplification: Technically no, but I personally wouldn’t purchase a headphone of this caliber and not pair it with something.
Suggested Pairing: NAIM DAC V-1, Bryston BHA-1
Rounding out the list is the absolute best dynamic headphone on the planet in my opinion, and is certainly the best headphone I’ve heard thus far.
The Focal Utopia takes everything we’ve talked about and packages it up into an absolutely pitch-perfect product.
Yes, you may be able to hear God with these, which is good if your mix is terrible. He’d be able to steer you in the right direction. 😛
If the Ananda is the most revealing headphone on this list, the Utopia is certainly double that. It’s everything you could want or ask for in a headphone.
The price tag? Yeah, it’s steep, but I’ve told many people that this headphone is truly life-changing from a purely musical standpoint.
It almost transcends the music itself and delves into spiritual territory. At that point, it’s more about you and your relationship with the world, why you are the way you are, etc. vs. simply hearing sounds through a device and analyzing how music sounds.
The Utopia could quite literally bring you to tears under the right circumstances.
It’s not something you can really describe with words, but just know it’s perfect for mixing and sits on your head better than any headphones I’ve tried.
Before we wrap this up, let’s give the entire list a set of rankings based on criteria.
Truth be told, I tried to include mostly comfortable headphones but couldn’t leave out some of the options on this list because of their mixing abilities. The top 7 or so from the Utopia to about the CB-1 are all incredibly comfortable for the most part. The differences between them are subtle but noticeable over longer periods.
1. Focal Utopia.
This is probably in a tie with the 880. It’s a headphone you will rarely (if ever) make an adjustment with. Perfect all around.
2. Beyerdynamic DT880.
The 880 is similar to the Utopia. Almost no adjustments and they’ve got the velour padding that almost literally feels like pillows against your ears. Clamping force is also near perfect with both the Utopia and 880.
3. Philips SHP9500.
The 9500 is incredibly comfortable as well but sits a bit differently. It kind of feels like air to be honest. The clamping force is really light which may pose a bit of an issue if you move around a lot, but it’s a minor nitpick. This headphone can quite literally be worn for hours without a single adjustment.
4. HIFIMAN Ananda.
The only drawback to the otherwise perfect comfort of the ANanda is its large and in charge oval-shaped cups which kind of tend to dig into that ridge behind your ear where the bone lies. Other than that, the Ananda is super comfortable if a bit awkward. It almost feels like you’re wearing a football helmet or something.
5. AKG K702
The 702 is incredibly comfortable and sits just right on your head. Not too tight, not too loose. The only minor nitpick I have is that the cups are a bit more stiff and rigid than that of the K712’s. Not a huge deal but something to keep in mind.
6. Sennheiser HD600.
What more can be said? The clamping force is going to feel like a vice grip at first, but this one opens up over time and feels snug like a bug in a rug.
I always use the analogy of it feeling like a warm hug from an old friend. I love the way the HD600 feels on my head and it requires minimal adjustments over time.
7. Status Audio CB-1.
Comfortable, but starting to delve into average territory.
The CB-1’s strengths are that it doesn’t clamp hard and feels good on your melon for long sessions. The padding is dummy thicc and feels soft and plush on the sides of your head without intruding on your ears much.
Do keep in mind the opening is a bit smaller than average so your ears may touch various parts of the pad. Still an above-average experience comfort-wise.
8. AKG K553.
Good fit and comfort level, but finding the right placement on your head and getting a good seal is important.
9. Shure SRH440.
About average to slightly above average in comfort. They feel decent enough on your head but it always feels like you’re wearing something due to the bulk of the headphones and how large they are.
10. Koss KPH30i.
Average to below average. The on-ear nature of the 30i means it’s going to dig fairly hard into your ear lobes after a while. Still not awful, but getting into the meh territory.
11. Sony MDR-7506.
Below average but tolerable. This is a hard one to describe because it feels great at first and then starts to dig into your lobes after about 45 min. to an hour of use.
Even despite being marketed as a Circumaural headphone, I have always considered the 7506 to be a hybrid On-Ear/Around-Ear.
It doesn’t fit either of those criteria exclusively and really doesn’t fit the mold of a Circumaural headphone unless you have ears the size of a squirrel. LOL.
12. AKG K240
Likely the least comfortable on this list. Sits well and clamps fine, but the pads are so shallow that the drivers will almost immediately start to dig into your ears. I can tolerate this one in short bursts, but be prepared to start getting antsy after about 30 minutes.
Absolutely the best-built product I’ve ever experienced. Again, a perfect headphone all around.
Like the Utopia, the 880 has an impeccable build.
You’d be surprised just how great this headphone is constructed. I bought the 9500 in 2017 and after hard use, it still functions flawlessly without a single issue; likely due to its metal headband and ruggedly durable plastic.
The 3.5mm cable is also detachable and can be used for gaming with a Boom Pro.
The fact that all parts are replaceable on this one surely adds to its value long-term, but the headphone itself is super durable as it is. I’ve been using one almost daily since 2016 and it can take quite a beating.
I’ve dropped it countless times without so much as a scratch, and I’ve also run over the cable with my computer chair at least a thousand times + at this point. Takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’!
The Ananda was built very well but had some cabling issues in its infancy. HIFIMAN has since rectified those AFAIK, and the headphone remains a pretty safe purchase to this day.
The K702 gets kind of a bad rep from internet tough guys but is right there with the HD600 in terms of the overall build.
The hammock style adjustment has been known to sort of get “stuck” after some years of heavy use, meaning it doesn’t move as fluidly as when you first purchased it, but I haven’t had any problems yet after buying one in 2019.
The headphone itself is rather light, but still feels (and in fact can) withstand some relatively heavy abuse.
Status Audio CB-1.
Another deceptively durable headphone, the CB-1 can really stretch with the best of them even despite feeling kind of plasticky in your hands. I had no issues whatsoever when I owned one.
The 240 may feel like a toy, but it holds up rather remarkably all things considered.
If you think about the fact that my K240M 600 Ohm originated in the ’70s, it almost feels like a crime to talk bad about it. I’ve seen “poor build quality” claims more times than I can count over the years on various forums and articles, but after owning 3 separate pairs of these I think that notion was a bit unwarranted.
A flimsy, lightweight headphone but I haven’t had any issues with it. The cable is not detachable.
Even despite my love affair with this headphone over the years, I had to place it pretty close to last due to its cup issues and coiled cable (discussed previously).
The rest of the headphone is built really well and has metal headband adjustments, but the aforementioned issues will manifest sooner or later.
I have never owned one of these (only demoed), but read a lot of people having issues. It’s a headphone notorious for breaking down rather easily, so buyers be warned.
So with that, what do I recommend?
I think your best bet is either a DT880 Pro or HIFIMAN Ananda, with honorable mentions being the CB-1 and MDR-7506.
If you’re just starting out, you may just skip the CB-1/7506 and go straight for an 880. Then you can decide if you want to make the jump up to an Ananda or Utopia.
I place the 880 above the HD600 because its treble is a bit better represented and the bass digs down deeper with almost no roll-off.
Remember that you can technically mix on any headphone if you understand the frequency spectrum and have enough experience with how different sound signatures portray themselves in practice.
As far as being able to quickly and easily find flaws, I think the CB-1, DT880, and Ananda are best as far as a 1 2 3 punch in each price bracket. If you have the money to spend, the Utopia is the best headphone I’ve ever heard hands down. For the purposes of keeping it realistic:
Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this monster article on the best studio headphones for mixing, master, and production, and came away with some valuable insight.
Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please let me know down below or Contact me!!
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Which of these headphones tickles YOUR pickle? Have you had any experience mixing with headphones? Are there any headphones you would add or take away? I would love to hear your thoughts. Until next time…
Stu is determined to help you make sound decisions, and strives to deliver the best and most in depth content on the internet! In his spare time, he likes to fish, paint, play guitar, pray, rap, make beats, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His sense of humour, coupled with a knack for excellence and strict attention to detail are what allow him to stand out in an crowded industry.