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The Best Studio Monitor Headphones Under $200

Rolling Stone logo Rolling Stone 3/5/2021 Tim Chan
a man holding a guitar © Amazon

If you want to rock out to big beats and fat guitar licks, there are a ton of great headphones for you to choose from. But to really hear a track the way it was recorded, you’ll want to invest in a pair of studio headphones.

Studio headphones (or monitor headphones) are used by professional audio engineers when they are mixing and mastering their tracks. The reason: unlike regular headphones, which bump up the bass and extend or “sweeten” the sound, the best studio headphones actually deliver flatter sound, so you can hear a track at its purest form. With a wide and flat frequency response, studio headphones deliver smooth, unaltered sound that’s

consistent across all levels (highs, lows, mids) from start to finish. They also deliver a wider spectrum of sound, so you can pick out all the little parts and details in a song that you might not have otherwise heard.

Still, if you want a better listening experience that’s free from distortion or added enhancements, you’ll want to upgrade to a pair of studio headphones. By reproducing sound in its more natural form, without any bells and whistles, you’ll be hearing things a lot differently — and, dare we say, a lot clearer too.

What Are the Best Affordable Studio Monitor Headphones?

There are many factors to consider when choosing the best budget-friendly studio monitor headphones for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.

Wired: Bluetooth headphones are convenient when casually listening to music, but there’s a slight amount of latency (lag) between introduced

Style: All of the studio headphones we’re recommending are over-ear headphones, which means their big ear cups completely cover your ear. This style of headphone provides the best audio quality because there’s enough room to fit large drivers inside. The large earpads will block some outside noise, too.

Weight: Heavy over ear headphones can start to hurt your head and neck during a multi-hour recording session, so we made sure every pair in our guide weighs less than one pound. If you’re particularly sensitive to heavy headphones, we suggest getting a pair that’s about half a pound.

Durability: Since they’re often used for long recording sessions, the best studio headphones are also quite durable. All of the picks on our list are designed with adjustable headbands, ergonomic earpads and solid, well-built materials that last.

Price: Studio monitor headphones can get expensive, but all of our picks cost under $160 — many are under $100.

1. Sony MDR7506

Amazon

Sony’s MDR7506 Professional Headphones have been the workhorse in recording studios worldwide for nearly 30 years. Known for their completely neutral sound, the headphones are well suited for recording any instrument, or mixing music in every genre.

They have a foldable design (Sony includes a bag) for musicians or engineers who are on the go, or want to record live tracks. We’ve used these headphones for ourselves, and understand why professional musicians love them so much. Audio is extremely crisp without any of the manipulation that makes music sound better but less accurate. You’ll hear your instruments and vocals clearly, warts and all.

Their overall design is utilization — no bells or whistles here — which is fine because they’re designed for work, not play. They’re the lightest studio monitor headphones we’re recommending at half a pound, but they have enough padding to feel comfortable. Their earpads are a little less plush than many other over-ear headphones, which is something to keep in mind if you have sensitive ears.

The MDR7506s come with a non-detachable 9.8 foot cable, and a 1/8 to 1/4 inch adapter, so you can plug them directly into an audio interface.

If you’re setting up a home recording studio, or want a pair of headphones to plug into an amp when you play music late at night, Sony’s MDR7506s are the way to go. There’s a reason they haven’t been replaced.

Buy: Sony MDR7506 $97.20

2. Shure SRH440 Professional Studio Headphones

Amazon

Shure’s SRH440s are its latest studio monitor headphones, and they benefit greatly from the company’s experience in the professional audio world.

Designed for musicians and DJs, Shure says the SRH440s are able to highlight frequencies at the high and low end of the spectrum that similar headphones might miss. This is especially important if you’re recording a band with a lot of instruments, which occupy different parts of the frequency spectrum (treble, midrange, bass). Being able to hear all of them clearly will allow you to get a better mix. At .6 pounds, they’re the second lightest headphones in our guide.

Studio monitor headphones are supposed to last a very long time, so Shure designed the SRH440s with a detachable cable and replaceable earpads. If an accident happens, or the headphones start to show wear after several years, you won’t have to replace them. Shure has doubled down on this by including an extra set of earpads and both a straight and coiled cable (both 9.8 feet) in the box. The headphones also come with a 1/8 to 1/4 inch adapter and a carrying case.  .

If you need a pair of studio monitor headphones guaranteed to sound great and designed to last, check out Shure’s SRH440s.

Buy: Shure SRH440 Professional Studio Headphones $99.00

3. Audio-Technica ATH-M50X

They’re a little heavy, but Audio-Technica’s ATH-M50Xs are still a great pair of studio monitor headphones for anyone interested in recording music.

They have 45mm drivers (the part of a speaker or headphone responsible for creating sound), whereas our other recommendations have 40mm drivers. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better because tuning plays a big part in how headphones sound, but it definitely doesn’t hurt. Using a bigger driver did edge the ATH-M50Xs closer to one pound, though.

Audio-Technica’s studio monitor headphones share the same fold-able, collapsible design as Sony’s MDR7506s, but allow you to swap out the cable if it gets frayed like Shure’s SRH440s. It’s a best of both worlds approach that helps justify their larger size and higher price tag. The headphones come with a 9.8 foot coiled cable, 3.9 foot straight cable, and a hard shell carrying case.

By balancing durability, flexibility, and audio performance Audio-Technica’s ATH-M50X are a great pair of studio monitor headphones.

Buy: Audio-Technica ATH-M50X $149.00

4. Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro Studio Headphones

Beyerdynamic

These studio headphones from Beyerdynamic are as rugged as they are sleek, holding up to repeated use and travel without skipping a beat.

Audiophiles love the sound reproduction, which feels wide and spacious across all frequencies (I.e. no muddying here). Bass notes are clearly defined and high frequencies are bright and distinct. Mids are flat, but not muted, making these headphones extremely reliable for mixing and monitoring.

The spring steel headband stays comfortable and secure, while the soft, adjustable earpads stay cool and don’t lose their “puff” even over time. The extra padding improves their overall comfort without making them too heavy; they’re lighter than Audio Technica’s headphones. They don’t have a detachable cable or foldable design though, so they’re a better choice if you need headphones that live in the studio.

The DT 770 PRO 80s come with a 9.8 foot cable that terminates in a 1/4 inch connector, which means you’ll need to get an adapter to plug them into a computer. This isn’t a problem if you’re recording music through an audio interface, which has that type of headphone jack.

If comfort is your second biggest concern (behind audio quality, of course), Beyerdynamic’s DT 770 PRO 80s are the obvious choice.

Buy: Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO 80 $159.00

1. Beats Studio3 Wireless Noise Canceling Over-Ear Headphones

This isn’t a traditional pair of studio cups, per se, but the sleek over ears feature real-time audio calibration that actively works to improve clarity, detail and range. Adaptive noise canceling (ANC) works to keep your music as the main focus — not any outside noise.

Using Apple’s W1 chip, the headphones improve on the Bluetooth connectivity and battery life of previous models. The Beats Studio3 gets up to 22 hours of playback time, which goes up to 40 hours if ANC is turned off. Running short on time? A ten minute charge gets you up to three hours of play.

We like the soft over-ear cushions, which are designed for long-term wear feature ergonomic padding and built-in venting that prevents sweaty temples. The cushions and headband are both adjustable so you can find a comfortable fit.

This set includes the Beats Studio3 wireless headphones, a carrying case, 3.5mm RemoteTalk cable, universal USB charging cable and manual.

PROS: Reliable connectivity and crisp, accurate sound make these a no-brainer to pick up.

CONS: Noise cancellation could be improved as they say outside noise is dampened but still present.

Buy: Beats Studio3 Wireless Noise Canceling Over-Ear Headphones

2. Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT Monitor Headphones

You’ll like the sound isolation of these studio headphones, whose circumaural design may feel a little heavier and cumbersome, but do an excellent job of drowning out external noise. The earcups mold easily and comfortably over your ears so you get deep, immersive sound.

For audio engineers, these headphones work across an extended frequency range with clear, distinct highs, mids and lows. The bass is true to life, so you’re getting more accurate bass, rather than the exaggerated wallop and artificial bass boost some other models deliver.

What we like: the headphones collapse into a compact package to tuck easily into your bag when traveling or commuting.

This set includes the headphones, carrying case, a detachable coiled cable and detachable straight cable.

PROS: Part of Audio-Technica’s popular M-Series line, used by a number of professional sound engineers.

CONS: These are not wireless headphones. Some users say the earpads felt uncomfortable and started to fray after prolonged use, so they switched them out.

Buy: Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT Monitor Headphones

3. Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro Studio Headphones

These studio headphones from Beyerdynamic are as rugged as they are sleek, holding up to repeated use and travel without skipping a beat.

Audiophiles love the sound reproduction, which feels wide and spacious across all frequencies (I.e. no muddying here). Bass notes are clearly defined and high frequencies are bright and distinct. Mids are flat, but not muted, making these headphones extremely reliable for mixing and monitoring.

The spring steel headband stays comfortable and secure, while the soft, adjustable earcups stay cool and don’t lose their “puff” even over time.

What we like: Beyerdynamic’s smartly-designed single-sided cable lets you take the headphones off without getting your face tangled up in the cord.

PROS: Incredibly detailed and accurate reproduction of sound that lets you hear audio in a purer form.

CONS: Some found you need to break in or “burn in” the headphones before the sound quality comes through.

Buy: Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro Studio Headphones
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