In the studio, headphones are crucial for three primary purposes:
- Isolated monitoring for performers during recording.
- Isolated monitoring for critical microphone placement.
- Mixing without disturbing your surroundings.
In this particular article, we will be exploring what we believe to be some of the best studio headphones under $50. And to maximize the quality of headphones examined, we will be looking specifically at Closed-back Over-Ear Headphones.
- 1 Why Closed Back?
- 2 What Should I Expect For The Price?
- 3 Jargon Buster!
- 4 Our Top Picks Under $50
- 5 Canning It
Why Closed Back?
Closed-back headphones offer better isolation due to their construction. Isolated audio is better for critical listening, making closed back headphones the ideal choice for recording engineers placing microphones, and mixing engineers working mobile or in acoustically unsound areas.
Isolated audio results in less spill, making them a perfect choice for recording artists as the recording engineer can focus on what is being captured without worrying about unwanted leakage.
What Should I Expect For The Price?
We understand that we all have to work to a budget. If you’re just setting up your studio, you don’t want to be investing hundreds of dollars in headphones before you’ve got the clients! Because of this, we figured we’d give you a generalized understanding of what to expect from particular price ranges.
This price range is likely to be a complete crapshoot.
Think about it. Manufacturing costs so much. Businesses need to make a profit. If a pair of headphones costs less than $30, corners are being cut somewhere.
You can expect sub-par materials that deteriorate quickly, distortion, an uneven balance between the bass, mids, and treble (known more commonly as the frequency response), and a pair of headphones that feel cheap.
Between $30 and $40
This range will yield much better results than the above.
Though still flawed, you will find this range to handle loudness (also referred to as sensitivity) better, and less likely to distort at higher amplitudes. You’ll also find a much-improved balance from bass to treble.
However, it is likely the headphones will still feel cheap.
Up to $50
We always recommend investing as much $$$ as you can afford at the time - there is a good reason better gear is more expensive.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that with the $50 Range you’re going to experience better quality, comfort, a pleasurable listening experience, adequate loudness without distortion, better isolation and longevity.
You may have noticed many critical technical terms repeating themselves when browsing different pairs of headphones. The specific areas to focus your attention are Frequency Response and Sensitivity.
That doesn’t mean you should exclude other technical terms such as Impedance, Weight or the Connector Type; it just means we won’t be focusing on these details as much when we talk about the products.
With the above in mind, let’s explore the best studio headphones available on the market today, for less than $50.
Our Top Picks Under $50
We had no idea either. Akai is one of the biggest brand names in studio equipment and pro audio, so as soon as we discovered they were in the headphone market, we were dying to try a pair.
The first thing we noticed is that they look remarkably like the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x which are triple the price and that Akai red protecting the drivers looks lovely.
These over-ear, closed back headphones have a truly staggering level of isolation. It’s almost anechoic.
The frequency response is by far the most impressive of all the headphones reviewed in this article too, boasting a frequency response of 10 Hz to 30 kHz. That’s 10 Hz below the human hearing range and 10 kHz above the human hearing range. As discussed with the MDR-XD150s above, this extended range means the audible range is likely to be much more accurate. They sound incredible - true studio monitoring headphones not bass heavy hyped headphones!
Regarding loudness, these can be amplified to 114dB without distortion, which is incredible given the price. Coupled with the super comfy design and isolation, these headphones are ideal for long tracking sessions, regardless of musician! They’re loud enough to provide a headphone mix to your deaf drummer and detailed enough to make your pop princess vocalist feel like a superstar.
The Bottom Line:
We’re truly blown away by the Project 50x. Headphones this good shouldn’t be this cheap.
- The design allows the headphones to be warn all day without any discomfort.
- The isolation makes them perfect for isolating during tracking and also for mixing in acoustically unsound environments.
- The frequency response allows the headphones to be used by a tracking engineer to place microphones without second-guessing.
- We don’t know what voodoo the people over of Akai have done to make a pair of headphones this good for less than $50, all we know is they are a pair of headphones you would be mad to pass up.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M20x professional monitoring headphones are a fantastic introduction to the well-regarded Audio-Technica M-series line of headphones.
The design and construction have resulted in uncompromising quality, both in comfort and performance.
Comfort cannot be overstated. Comfortable headphones allow you to work better for longer, as you aren’t distracted by how they feel. The ear cups offer a tight seal, resulting in minimal bleed with superb isolation.
The ATH-M20x boast an impressive frequency response of 15 Hz – 20 kHz, and though the frequency response is not flat, it is designed to accentuate what you’ll want them to produce. With monitoring loudspeakers, frequencies have time to develop between the driver and your ear. Due to the proximity of headphone drivers, this isn’t the same. Therefore, a boost in the bass allows kick drums and bass guitar fundamental frequencies to be correctly reproduced.
The deviation in treble prevents the headphones from being too fatiguing. Essential for prolonged listening experiences.
Regarding sensitivity, these headphones can be amplified by up to 96dB. Though prolonged exposure to 96dB of sound more than 30 minutes is likely to damage hearing, closed back headphones can attenuate external sound by as much as 30dB, meaning the headphones shouldn’t need to be amplified as loud! 96dB + 30dB of external sound = 136dB which is as loud as an aircraft carrier deck. With that in mind, the Audio-Technica ATH-M20x should be loud enough to monitor audio through for any performer, even if it’s taking place in an aircraft carrier deck!
The Bottom Line:
- The Audio-Technica M-Series has a reputation for providing outstanding quality headphones, which makes the ATH-M20x such an exciting prospect.
- Although these are at the top end of the budget for this article, they really stand up against more expensive headphones!
- The frequency response of the headphones makes them ideal for mixing audio on the move, as well as providing quality sonic detail when tracking.
- The frequency response coupled with the sensitivity and comfort make them a brilliant contender for anybody looking for a pair of studio headphones under $50.
The Behringer HPX2000 Headphones have been designed with the DJ in mind! Due to this, the cups are rotatable and reversible, making them an excellent choice for performers who prefer to work with only one cup.
The ultra-rugged headband and cups are comfortable, yet durable upon initial testing. However, after multiple usages the headband and cups, although still comfortable, began to peel away slightly.
The HPX2000 claims to have a frequency response ranging from 20 Hz to 20 kHz, which is great on paper, as this represents the range of human hearing. However, the headphones do appear to be very heavy in the low end. Very representative of what a DJ may want in a club and could work for artists that enjoy a lot of low end; I’m looking at you, hip-hop heads! This makes the headphones less ideal for any critical listening tasks and may not be suitable headphone monitoring for all clients.
Regarding sensitivity, the Behringer HPX2000 boasts an ear-splitting 110dB. Again, you can sympathize with the specification as it’s clearly tailored toward DJ’s more so than studios; though the two do interconnect.
As much as 110dB worth of amplitude could be useful; but dangerous, it became clear that due to the low-end weighting of the frequency response, it was very easy to distort the headphones. Very few applications where this would be seen as a positive!
- The Behringer HPX2000 are the cheapest headphones in this article, and the quality reflects that. If you refer back to the “what to expect from cheap studio headphones under $30” you’ll see parallels with the HPX2000.
- These headphones are ideal for DJ’s and enthusiasts on a budget, looking for loud, bassy headphones.
- From asking around, it seems to be a roll of the dice to secure a pair that isn’t going to wear down easily, so be wary.
- If you want a pair of closed back headphones that you can drive loud, with minimal cost, these will do a job. If you’re looking for a pair of headphones for critical listening, durability, and good quality, you will benefit looking elsewhere.
The MDR-XD150s are an entry pair of headphones from Sony. Although Sony isn’t synonymous with recording studios, they are synonymous with being a quality brand. That’s what makes this set of cans so interesting.
The headphones are incredibly light, weighing only 160g! Which means you forget you even have them on. Very comfortable!
The weight comes from the materials the headphones are made out of. Plastic. The light plastic rattles a bit when picking the headphones up, but once they’re on your head, you soon forget about it!
The Sony MDR-XD150s have a frequency response of 12 Hz – 20 kHz. As discussed previously, the human hearing range is 20 Hz – 20 kHz. It is very uncommon for a driver to faithfully represent its lowest frequency at 0dB. Typically, the driver will reach 0dB an octave or so later. With the frequency response being as low as 12 Hz, this allows the amplitude of 20 Hz to be much closer to 0dB than a set of headphones that start at 20 Hz. We found the XD150s to sound a touch brittle in the top end, with clarity issues at times in the low end and low midrange.
The MDR-XD150s have a sensitivity measurement of 100dB. Although you can drive the headphones to levels of 100dB with minimal distortion, the vibration of the headphones plastic soon becomes apparent and quite distracting, so these may not be the ideal choice for working at louder levels.
The MDR-XD150s do have angled drivers, however, a feature more commonplace in headphones significantly more expensive than these. Angled drivers provide a more comfortable fit as it doesn’t feel as though the audio is penetrating directly. The audio is also perceived a little wider than the competition.
The Bottom Line:
- The Sony MDR-XD150s are a perfectly good pair of headphones for the cost, boasting an impressive frequency response, sensitivity, and driver design.
- However, due to the construct of the headphones, they can feel quite cheap and flimsy. Typical of headphones within this price range. If working with particularly clumsy artists, or you are a bit of a kloot yourself, you may find yourself going through multiple pairs!
- Ideal for working at lower levels for longer and sounding impressive on a budget.
- However, the harder you amplify the headphones, the more rattily they become.
- If the issues from the cheap construct don’t phase you, the MDR-XD150s are an good sounding pair of headphones.
Sennheiser has made a reputation for themselves over the years. A very well-deserved reputation as a reliable, high-quality headphone producer. The Sennheiser HD201s show no signs of damaging that reputation, either.
The rugged construction of headband and ear cups ensure a comfortable and isolating listening experience, time and time again. However, upon picking up the headphones, they do feel cheap, with the lightness of the plastic resembling that of Walkman headphones! The HD201s also come with the longest cable of any of the headphones reviewed in this article, boasting 3m in length!
With a frequency response of 21 Hz to 18 kHz, the Sennheiser HD201s surprised us by being rock bottom for frequency range. Although limited in comparison to other brands in this article, the headphones performing surprisingly well, offering balance across the whole frequency range and sufficient detail for the cost.
The HD 201s can be amplified by up to 108dB, a staggeringly high level! Though despite the closed-back design, the headphones aren’t the most isolated pair we’ve reviewed. As a result, you may find bleed to be a problem, both from the headphones themselves and the environment they’re used in.
The Bottom Line
- The Sennheiser reputation still stands strong, though you must remain realistic when considering the cost point.
- For the price these headphones are well balanced across the frequency spectrum, as well as comfy making them a useful asset for tracking engineers and performers!
- However, the lack of isolation makes them less than ideal for louder headphone monitoring.
To conclude – the best way to determine which pair of studio headphones is the best for you is to track down these headphones and listen to your favorite music through them.
This is a tried and tested way of checking playback mediums as you know how your favorite tracks should sound. The higher the audio quality, the better the flaws will easily be exposed.
If you’re looking for excellent isolation and detail for mixing audio, the Audio-Technica ATH-M20x are ideal. We recommend these headphones as the entire human hearing range is well represented, with the design of the headphones ensuring anechoic like isolation.
If you’re looking for an all-rounder – loud, well represented and rugged – the Akai Professional Project 50x are perfect. We recommend these due to the accuracy of the frequency response, the sensitivity, and the construction. The extended frequency response ensures the headphones are ideal for studio monitoring, as opposed to their bass-heavy, more expensive competitors.
Although there are cheaper options discussed above, the Audio-Technica and Akai headphones feel high quality and will last without having to treat them like they’re made of glass.
We appreciate both pairs hover around $50, but the quality difference is well worth the extra cost in comparison to the other headphones explored.
Only through listening and experiencing different pairs of studio headphones amplifiers on the market today will you be able to choose which is right for you. Use our article as a starting point and go search for your perfect pair of cans!