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Best Budget Studio Headphones

Best Budget Studio Headphones: 5 Great Choices

Best Budget Studio Headphones

As producers, artists, musicians, and recordists, a good pair of headphones will always find a special place in our hearts. They can offer us many benefits for our day to day studio activities, and provide us with a new perspective on the way our mix or recording sounds.

And as we all know, there is value in different takes on many things in life. If you’re just starting out, it may be somewhat disheartening to learn that studio gear can be incredibly expensive. But it doesn’t have to be! You can still find excellent gear at an affordable price. In this article, we’ll look at a few things to consider when buying an affordable pair of studio headphones. Then, we’ll present you with a list of some of the best budget studio headphones out there. The goal is to help you make an informed decision that’s right for you and your needs, experience level, and budget. Let’s have a look.

Things to Consider

As with all studio gear, there are fine details in design and function that we need to pay attention to in order to make an effective decision. The fundamental technology behind dynamic headphones hasn’t changed much over the years and remains mostly constant across budget studio headphones. So instead, we’ll focus on 3 main aspects that really do make a difference: frequency response, comfort, and closed-back vs. open-back designs.

Frequency Response

The is a measure that determines how the headphones will interpret and reproduce the input signal. Frequency response data comes in the form of a frequency response curve, where the X-axis is frequency and the Y-axis is decibels, dB. For any given frequency, the curve tells us the gain or loss in dB that the headphones will produce.

The frequency response is very important for those of us using budget studio headphones for mixing and mastering. We want the flattest curve possible, meaning the headphones will change the sound by a very small amount to give us a true, unbiased representation of the audio signal. If you’re using headphones for recording or tracking, then the frequency response is less important.

The Best Budget Studio Headphones Should Be Comfortable

If we’re going to potentially be wearing our studio headphones for multiple hours at a time, there’s no doubt that we want them to be comfortable. Mixing and mastering, or anything that really requires critical thinking, needs our full, undivided attention. Discomfort can be very distracting and takes away from our laser-sharp focus.

Comfort for the best budget studio headphones can be further broken down into two categories: fitment and material. Obviously, we want a pair that fits well, but the challenge with buying online is that we can’t get a feel for the headphones beforehand. To get around this, we can read reviews in forums and on ecommerce sites from people who have used the product.

The choice of materials is also very important. The part of the headphone that materials will play the biggest role is the ear cup. The ear cup experiences the most friction and wear as the user moves around, and the materials must be both soft and durable. Here’s a list of some of the best ear cup materials:

  • Memory foam
  • Leather
  • Velour
  • Alcantara
  • Lambskin

Memory foam is the best choice for the ear cup material. It provides great acoustic isolation between the wearer and surroundings. It’s also soft and moldable, and inexpensive to replace if the ear cups get worn out. The other materials refer to the fabric that surrounds the memory foam.

Leather is soft and durable, but tends to get sticky and uncomfortable if the wear begins to sweat. The best choice for the price is alcantara. This synthetic material is sometimes found in car interiors. It’s very soft and durable, and found in high-end headphones like the Sennheiser HD 800 and some Bose models in the consumer audio market.

Open-back vs. Closed-back

The last thing we’ll talk about, and possibly the most important, is the difference between open-back and closed-back headphones. This is referring to the design of the back of the headphone ear cup. Open-back headphones allow sound to move in and out of the ear cup. Closed-back headphones block all sound from moving in and out, creating greater noise isolation. You may be thinking, “Well why would I ever want to use open-back headphones then?” And the answer to that lies in the superior capability of the open-back headphone to create what’s called “soundstage.

Soundstage is the term used to describe the perception of 3D space as it relates to sound. Some of the best budget studio headphones are those with an expansive soundstage. They give a more natural, spatial feel to the sound. The listener is able to pinpoint where each element in the mix is coming from. Closed-back headphones are simply not as good at this than open-back headphones. This makes open-back headphones the better choice for mixing and mastering.

That being said, closed-back headphones do have a useful time and place, too. Since they are better at noise isolation, they’re much better for recording applications. Vocalists and instrumentalists commonly wear closed-back headphones during a live recording session.

5 of the Best Budget Studio Headphones

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x

The ATH-M50x from Audio-Technica has garnered a cult-like following in recent years. This closed-back pair of studio headphones gives headphones twice it’s price a run for their money, making them some of the best budget studio headphones around. These would be ideal for tracking and recording situations. Some even use them for mixing, although their closed-back design may make them less than optimal in comparison to a open-back headphone. The frequency response curve is mostly flat and balanced, which is a plus for producers.

Features & Specs

◊ 45 mm drivers

◊ Closed-back design

◊ Detachable cables

◊ Frequency response: 15 – 28,000 Hz

◊ Sensitivity: 99 dB

◊ Impedance: 38 Ω

Sony MDR-7506

The MDR-7506 is a timeless classic in the audio production world. This pair of headphones hasn’t changed much in decades. They’re closed-back design and good sound isolation makes them great for recording and tracking work. They can be used for mixing, but the frequency response curve is not the flattest out there. The sibilant sounds in your track will be greatly exaggerated. You’ll need to take this into consideration if you’ll be using these for mixing work. All in all, the price is hard to argue with and these still provide great value for their cost.

Features & Specs

◊ 40 mm drivers

◊ Closed-back design

◊ Foldable

◊ Frequency response: 10 – 20,000 Hz

◊ Sensitivity: 106 dB

◊ Impedance: 63 Ω

Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro

Up next is the DT770 Pro. Another common studio resident, this pair of headphones was built with comfort in mind. Big memory-foam ear cups covered in velour will make wearing these during long studio sessions a breeze. Some users do report that they are a little tight, but this is obviously subjective and depends on how big your head is! They come in three varieties: 32 Ohm, 80 Ohm, and 250 Ohm. The 250 Ohm version will be the best suited for studio use, but will require a separate headphone amp to drive them. Overall, these are some of the best budget studio headphones available.

Features & Specs

◊ 45 mm drivers

◊ Closed-back design

◊ Velour ear cups

◊ Frequency response: 5 – 35,000 Hz

◊ Noise attenuation: 18 dB

◊ Impedance: 32 Ω, 80 Ω, 250 Ω

AKG K240 Studio

AKG is well known for their studio-grade condenser mics, and it’s no surprise that the K240 headphones made it on this list. These are a semi-open back pair of headphones, meaning they let some noise through, but not as much as a true open-back headphone. These headphones are lacking in the bass department, which is actually a good thing if you’re using these for mixing. They provide more of an honest interpretation of the sound.

Features & Specs

◊ 30 mm drivers

◊ Semi-open design

◊ Sensitivity: 104 dB

◊ Frequency response: 15 – 25,000 Hz

◊ Detachable cable

◊ Impedance: 55 Ω

Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro

Last is the DT990 Pro, also from Beyerdynamic. These are the open-back counterparts to the DT770s mentioned earlier. Like the 770s, they also use soft velour over memory foam for the ear cups. Due to their open-back design, these have a better sound stage than the others on this list. This makes these a reputable choice for those of us wanting to use these a second reference to our studio monitors during mixing and mastering stages of production. For the price, these just might be the best budget studio headphones available today. Don’t forget an amplifier!

Features & Specs

◊ 45 mm drivers

◊ Open-back design

◊ Frequency response: 5 – 35,000 Hz

◊ Replaceable cable

◊ Impedance: 250 Ω

Best Budget Studio Headphones: Wrap Up

We covered quite a bit of information in this guide. Let’s recap what we learned here about buying the best budgets studio headphones.

  • Frequency response is the technical data that tells us how the headphones will change the audio signal.
  • For mixing and mastering, we want the flattest frequency response curve possible. It matters less for recording and tracking.
  • Comfort and fitment should be some of your top considerations. Look at other reviews online to see what people are saying about each pair you look at.
  • Open-back headphones provide a 3D sound, and are better for mixing and mastering.
  • Closed-back headphones are great for recording due to their superior sound isolation.

About the Author

Nick Madaffari is a hobbyist music producer and the owner of SynapticSound.com, an informational and educational resource for producers, musicians, and dance music enthusiasts.

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