Are studio headphones an essential companion in the recording studio?
The answer is yes … or no, depending on who you talk to.
The popular debate among audiophiles about whether or not you should mix and master using headphones has split people down the middle between monitors and headphones.
Some claim you shouldn’t use headphones when recording and mixing, while others believe they complement the process as a cross-reference. But if your budget isn’t accommodating the proper treatment of your room, a set of studio headphones is going to be better than a pair of monitors or speakers in an untreated room.
With the range of available headphones differing in size, design, material, frequency response, impedance, sensitivity and much more, it can be hard to navigate the waters.
Lucky for you, we’ve saved you hours of research and browsing time. That’s right! We went ahead and checked out the best in your budget range. Here are our choices for the best studio headphones under $200.
Our Top Choice!
Up next is a pair of studio headphones that shook the audio industry and skyrocketed Audio Technica in the headphone market. We present to you Audio Technica’s pride and joy, the ATH-M50x, which has proven time and time again you can get fantastic bang for your buck in terms of performance!
Diving right into the aesthetics of the ATH-M50x, they share what most Audio Technica models have in common: the design. The M50x is a functional and attractive looking set of headphones, and they come in a range of colors, including black, all-white, blue, red, and gunmetal.
They offer a well-built construction with a moderately solid frame. While they might be the heaviest headphones in the M series, they are lighter than most other competitors in the market. They not only look comfortable but also feel incredible around the head, with ample vinyl padding in all the right areas.
So Audio Technica has won our hearts over with the design of the M50x, but what about performance-wise? When these cans are plugged in, the initial thing you notice is the detail. Considering their price tag, the definition and detailing is remarkable. They provide a frequency range that goes from 15Hz up to 28kHz at an impedance of 38 Ohms. They are also packed with plenty of transparency as well as a signal that is flat enough for studio use. Unlike the Beyerdynamic, you can experience the entire range without any bias, even with the mild EQ curve—everything stays nice and tight.
The M50x comes with not one but three different detachable cables: a 4-10 ft. long coiled one, a 10 ft. straight one, and lastly a shorter 4 ft. straight one, which all terminate to a 3.5mm jack. These recording headphones also include a protective carrying pouch as well as a 6.3 mm adapter for added connectivity.
- Superb, balanced sonic performance
- Great design and robust build
- Lightweight and extremely comfortable
- Slightly bulky
Bottom Line: Audio Technica’s entire M series is proof that you can get excellent sonic performance and superior comfort in an affordable range; the M50x is no exception. These cans offer great value and absolute bang for your buck!
We’re certain Shure fans will give us props for presenting these cans on our list. After all, Shure has built an impeccable reputation when it comes to their audio gear. Our first selection isn’t one of Shure’s flagship models; however, it proves to be one of the best studio headphones on the market for under $200.
Right out of the box, the SRH840’s aren’t exactly the most attractive set of cans we’ve seen on the market. The design is relatively bland, dull, and wouldn’t really stand out aesthetically in a room full of headphones. While they might be lacking in the looks department, they are built relatively well. The SRH840s are sturdy and stiff and fit comfortably snug around the head. The only detail we found on them concerning looks was the noticeable logo on the earcaps. If an attractive design is important to you, you might want to move on to the other options on this list.
As for their comfortability, we can safely say these are like cushions on your head. While they may come off a little big at first, you’ll come to realize it’s all about the comfort factor. The earcups feature synthetic leather with a plush cushion, and instead of using small padding along the headband like most headphones, Shure went ahead and padded the whole thing.
If you’re able to look past their overall look, you’ll find that Shure has balanced the scales with these cans regarding performance. With a 5Hz to 25 kHz frequency response range, these headphones provide a very refined response with minimal bias and plenty of transparency. They also give you a little more insight into your mix with excellent clarity. With a soft EQ line, you’ll find it easy to catch and correct all those flaws and blemishes in your mix.
The SRH840 come with a detachable, 10 foot long, tightly-coiled cable with a twist-and-lock mechanism to prevent any accidental pulls. The end of the cable features a 3.5 mm jack for compatibility with different devices, including laptops, MP3 players, and smartphones. They also come with a gold-plated 3.5mm-to-6.5mm adapter, a carrying bag, and replacement ear pads.
- Excellent clarity, refined response, and transparent
- Superb comfort
- Relatively large and a bit on the heavy side
- Some design quirks
Bottom Line: The SRH840 offer great value at an affordable price. If your primary concern is functionality and you can look past the design, these cans are a great choice.
Next on our list are Beyerdynamic’s DT990 Pro studio headphones. This option has received a lot of praise from industry critics and audiophiles, and for good reason.
At first glance, the DT990 looks a lot like its younger sister, the DT770, only they feature grilles on the back. While aesthetically they look pretty good, there is a drawback in terms of the design. The whole build of these headphones is made entirely out of ABS plastic, which can come across as rather flimsy and cheap.
However, the fact of the matter is that the DT990s have a relatively robust and durable construction. Beyerdynamic also decided to switch it up by adding light gray velour pads to the earcups, giving it a bolder and more exciting look.
When it comes to actual performance, these headphones proved to be surprisingly good. While they are sometimes referred to as ‘near reference’ due to the slight bias in the treble and low-end, they still bring plenty of transparency to the table. Beyerdynamic decided to add a slight bias to the EQ curve to give them clarity and spatial definition.
With a frequency range of 5Hz - 35 kHz, these cans present an almost spotless midrange as well as a balanced treble. They also have an excellent and well-extended bass range, considering the fact that these are open-back headphones. Another benefit to the open-back design is that they have a wider and more spacious soundstage, but there are some loud leakages.
The DT990 comes with a 9.8-foot detachable cable, which terminates at a gold vaporized stereo 3.5 mm jack. The cans also come with a 6.5mm adapter for added versatility with audio gear as well as a carry case and a two-year manufacturer warranty.
- Robust and durable construction
- Great open sound
- Well-padded with comfortable velour pads
- Loud sound leakage
- Lack of isolation
Bottom Line: Beyerdynamic did a great job with the DT990 Pro! While they may not be as versatile as others on the list, they certainly do tick all the boxes in terms of what they are meant to do. The velour padding not only makes it look nice but also sets them apart from competitors in the comfort segment.
Considering AKG’s rising reputation in the audio gear industry, it’s no surprise that the K271 MKII made its way onto our list.
In terms of aesthetics, AKG opted for a relatively simple and minimalistic design with the K271. There’s nothing eccentric or aggressive about these cans. While the design may be a little plain, AKG did a good job of choosing the right colors and materials to make them a good looking pair of headphones.
The headband is a simple piece of leather that is placed with external metal rails, which means it can comfortably fit any head size and shape.
The earcups feature the industry standard vinyl earpads, which are pretty snug and comfortable around the ear. They also have some additional color with small silver and white details, giving it that extra charm.
With regards to how the K271s sound, we can safely say they deliver one of the most balanced responses we’ve seen in this price range. With a frequency response range of 16 Hz to 28 kHz, they have a lot of transparency and detail. One noteworthy factor we noticed was that unlike many monitor headphones in the market, these manage to devoid the brightness in the treble. With their closed-back design, they provide not only low signal leakage but also maximum sound isolation.
They come with two detachable cables: a 10ft. straight cable and a 16ft. coiled cable. These headphones also come with a ¼-inch 6.3 mm adaptor and replaceable velvet earpads.
- Great noise isolation
- Attractive minimalistic design
- Lacking in low-end range
- A little large and bulky
Bottom Line: AKG really hit the nail on the head with the K271, providing a balance of great sonic performance, comfort, and build quality. We also like the noise cancellation and mute option.
In the world of studio monitors and speakers, KRK has earned a respectable reputation and has become a household name. Now with the KNS series, they have introduced their first dive into headphone manufacturing. Our last, but certainly not least, pick for this list is KRK’s affordable and underrated KNS 8400.
While KRK hasn’t put a tremendous amount of effort into the aesthetics of these cans, don’t mistake that for lousy quality. In fact, they are pretty tough considering they’re made of plastic. The KNS 8400 offer supreme comfort with soft memory foam padded around the headphones, promising a perfect fit for any head shape or size. They have also been designed with a 90-degree swivel rotation for portability and packing.
Regarding sound quality, these headphones have reportedly been designed to imitate the listening experience of studio monitors (specifically KRK monitors) as much as possible. To a certain extent, these claims are valid. These cans do mimic the tonal quality of some of the industry’s studio monitors with a powerful upper‑mid range as well as an evidently present low bass and extreme treble.
The KNS 8400 comes with a detachable 8.2 ft. cable, which defaults to a 3.5 mm jack. They also come with a soft protective pouch as well as a 6.3 mm adapter to link up to additional audio gear.
- Superb comfort with memory foam padding
- Good reproduction of audio
- Lightweight and foldable
- Poor noise isolation
- Slight jump in the frequencies
Bottom Line: For their first attempt at penetrating the studio headphone market, KRK have done pretty well with the KNS 8400, offering supreme comfort and a great sonic reproduction. These are fantastic entry level headphones presenting great value at an affordable price.
So by now, you should have a good idea of what you should be looking for in your studio headphones. People put varying degrees of importance on factors like size, padding material, clamp pressure, etc. But every audio enthusiast/audiophile can agree that a pair of cans that can deliver a great sonic performance and precise reproduction of your audio are ultimately going to be your go-to set.
While all the headphones we listed above do a fantastic job, there will always be a pair that tops the list. We found that the Audio Technica M50x was the obvious winner.
Why? They ticked all our boxes.
For starters, the M50x is built exceptionally well with a solid frame. Their lightweight design (an added bonus) is functional and attractive, and we love that you have several color choices to choose from.
As for comfort, the M50x provides absolute supreme comfort with all-around vinyl padding, promising you hours of listening time. Last but not least, the sonic performance of these cans was phenomenal for their price range. The attention to detail and definition of these headphones is spectacular. You also get plenty of transparency and a flat enough signal to warrant the M50x a valid purchase for recording and mixing headphones.
Audio Technica’s M50x is solid proof that you don’t have to go out and spend a fortune on excellent monitoring gear for your studio. These cans offer great value for your money if you want to stick below the $200 price range!