Closed back studio headphones are an essential piece of equipment to have on hand. They provide the best isolation with minor sacrifice to sound quality. But because they isolate the listener from the room, they’re the ideal option to use when tracking. The musician can closely monitor his or her own performance, and the sound from the headphones isn’t bleeding back into the mic(s).
Closed Back vs. Open Back Studio Headphones: What’s The Difference?
In order to pick out the best pair for your needs, it’s important to understand the differences between closed and open back studio headphones.
Closed headphones isolate you from the environment around you. This makes them suitable for recording when you don’t want extraneous sound to bleed into the microphone. They’re also good if you tend to work on-the-go, such as on public transportation, and need the isolation to hear yourself and not allow other people to hear you. Unfortunately, closed headphones are not the greatest for mixing because of the way frequencies build up inside of the ear cups.
Closed back studio headphones are best for tracking, monitoring at lower levels, and in any situation where discretion is a concern.
Open back headphones have vented ear cups. Frequencies coming out of the drivers can move freely and exit the ear cups; this makes open headphones suitable for mixing and mastering because they’re able to naturally reproduce the sound field. They’re the closest thing you’ll get to mixing on monitors with a pair of headphones, at the expense of isolation. You can hear what’s happening around you, and other people can hear what you’re working on as well.
If you plan to mix on headphones you’ll probably want to go with open ones, but you can still get great results on anything as long as you know your equipment.
Best Closed Back Studio Headphones
Sony’s MDR-7506 headphones have been around for ages and are a mainstay in professional audio. The 7506s sport a closed design and a wide frequency response of 10 Hz to 20 kHz. They can also be had for under $100 on a good day, making them an ultra-affordable option to boot. Outside of music production, they’re often seen in broadcast studios.
Despite being closed back, the 7506s are often praised for their mix-worthy sound quality. If having a single “all-around” pair of headphones seems like the best bet, definitely give the Sonys a spin.
Focal is oft-lauded for producing some of the finest pro audio and hi-fi equipment available. It makes sense, then, that their Spirit Professional headphones are a popular choice amongst audio professionals.
The Spirit Pros were designed to “preserve the dynamics of the audio signal and to provide remarkably neutral sound without any distortion. The highly accurate reproduction of bass frequencies will reveal the smallest defects in the mix, while avoiding acoustic constraints of the workspace.” In other words, they’re built to sound fantastic while also isolating users from their environment.
They’re a bit on the pricier side relative to the previously mentioned 7506s, though are still quite affordable in the grand scheme of things!
The DT 770 Pros are sort of a perfect compromise between luxury features and affordability. At $179, they feature a mega-wide frequency response from 5 Hz – 35,000 Hz — so they’re perfect for your dog, too. They also include super cushy ear pads for maximum comfort during long monitoring periods, which are easily replaced if worn out.
Detail, transparency, and comfort have made the DT 770s a benchmark-setter for many years running. Again, another fantastic option to consider when shopping for the perfect pair of studio headphones.
When isolation is strictly the end game, you can’t look past Direct Sound’s EX29 headphones. Designed specifically for “extreme isolation,” the new EX29 Plus cans boast an impressive 36.7 dB of passive attenuation. It’s easy to see that these would be a great choice for drummers, for whom they were initially designed, or any instrument pushing a ton of dB SPL.
Earlier models forgivably looked a little hardware store-esque, though the new design is much more sleek and elegant. If you’re a drummer yourself or track lots of them, these are a smart choice.
Simply put, these are praised for being about as close to reference quality as you can get in a pair of semi-affordable headphones. They’re a popular choice amongst audiophiles for their sound quality, which is described by Shure as “expansive,” with “clear, extended highs and warm bass.” I love a good subjective description of sound quality and “warm bass” takes the cake!
Jokes aside, these are truly a fantastic pair of headphones. Relatively, the SRH1540s are a steal for the quality they offer.
The M50x is a popular pair of closed headphones. They’re known for having exceptional passive isolation to keep you segregated from the environment, whether you’re on stage, in the studio, or anywhere else. The M50x is a go-to choice for many DJs because of the isolation as well as the sound quality.
Sennheiser has a long list of headphones in the HD line, with the open back 600s and 650s being many’s longtime favorites. The much more affordable closed back HD 280 headphones provide similar sound quality detailed enough for critical listening while also offering isolation for recording without bleed.
Neumann may be best known for their microphones, but their studio monitors and headphones exude the same quality as their legendary transducers. Like the aforementioned Sennheisers, the NDH 20s offer exceptional audiophile sound quality with isolation necessary for recording and live mixing.
Now here’s something we haven’t yet seen on the list: A wireless pair of studio-grade headphones with active noise cancellation. The PreSonus Eris monitors are popular for their affordability and sound reproduction, so the headphones naturally take on similar characteristics. While they might not be everyone’s first choice for recording and mixing, these are great for commuting and casual music production on the go.
10. RØDE NTH-100
The NTH-100 closed back headphones are tailor made for streamers, gamers, musicians, and casual listening. They’re built for superior comfort for all-day wear, in addition to a flattering, wide frequency response that sounds its best for every style of music and sound. As Røde’s first headphone design, the company has done a nice job of creating a semi-professional headphone that exudes quality at a price casual users can afford.
11. Sennheiser HD 25
Sennheiser’s HD 25 closed back headphones are best for live sound engineers, DJs, and broadcasters. These ‘phones provide ample isolation for detailed monitoring in noisy environments, such as in the case of a front-of-house engineer checking the nuances of their mix.
The Focal Listen Pros are the successor to the afore-listed Spirits. With universal smartphone compatibility, including a remote and microphone, these pro-sumer headphones offer comfort, quality sound, portability (with a nice case!), and everyday functionality from one of audio’s premier monitoring developers.
For everyday wireless headphones, it doesn’t get much better than these Sonys. Currently, the WH-1000s feature industry-leading noise cancellation technology developed by Sony specifically for everyday listening and commuting. They seamlessly pair with your smartphone for day-to-day use and are among the top wireless headphones out there.
14. ADAM Audio SP-5
Adam SP-5s are excellent mixing headphones. Specifically, they combat one flaw that closed back studio headphones often have: unnatural stereo imaging. Including technology made by Ultrasone, the SP-5s have a pinpoint accurate stereo field. That way mix engineers can make informed choices about panning and placement without the unique coloration of most closed ‘phones.
15. AKG K371-BT
AKG built the K371 with Bluetooth as an all-around headphone for studio work and routine listening. The oversized ear cups provide comfort as well as isolation, so you can put in longer hours with minimal fatigue and without outside distractions. Their battery life is rated for 40 hours, so you can go multiple sessions before needing to recharge.