Top 5 Studio monitor headphones
The importance of headphones
When I first started learning music ( electric and acoustic guitar) my teacher asked me what was the most important piece of equipment to our studies. I screamed Guitar of course and send him an odd look as if he was asking a dumb question, however to the surprise of that 13 year old student the right answer was “ your ears- before you learn how to be a guitar player you must learn how to be a musician". Throughout the years this statement become more true than ever: you must first learn how and what you are listening to before you can compose or start writing your own songs or melodies.
In this context headphones are a very important part of this process as a good set will not only transmit you the most reliable and accurate sound but also protect your most precious tool: your ears.
Before I get into the reviews let me first warn you about the quality of the sound you listening. Nowadays with the vast amount of sources to get your tunes from, bitrates and Kpbs are more important than ever for you to have a good quality sound. As a good rule of thumb the sound quality improves with an increase of the bitrate of your MP3s and you must keep in mind than anything less than 192 Kbps is just too low, lacking the desired clarity needed to benefit the most from your headphones.
Its no use to have the most expensive set while your player is reproducing a low quality sound recording, much like having a Ferrari riding on cheap second hand tires. The format you rip your cds is also important and WAV or FLAC tend to be the best as these avoid hi-frequency distortion issues.
Lets get down to business and check the best headphones you can buy for under $200, and unless you are an audio engineer working at a high end studio, are more than enough for you to start producing your sound, rehearsing with your band or simply listening to your favorite music.
1-Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones
With its crisp highs and punchy bass the M50x from Audio technical are a real contender and one of the favorites among amazon`s customers ( they currently hold the number one spot for best selling studio headphones at Amazon).
The first impressions when you get your hands on them is a sense of a very well crafted piece of equipment that feels and looks much more expensive than its price tag suggests.
Inside the M50x box you`ll find three proprietary detachable cables : one long straight unit, one short straight unit as well as a medium sized coiled cable. A great thing about these cables is they use an insert-and-turn mechanism that secures the cable to the left cup and if you intend to use them with your phone/tablet device rest assured because the step-down plug makes it work right out of the box.
As for comfort they are top notch: nice ergonomics, very soft ear pads and a non-intrusive headband that is resistant without being too harsh on your head.
Despite the complaints from previous versions users reporting headaches and discomfort after some hours of continuing use that lead to a gripped /suffocated head feeling , this new version addressed this and you may rest assured they feel and stay comfortable for hours.
In the noise isolation department they also perform well. Despite not being equipped with active noise cancelling technology they do a very decent job keeping external sounds at bay so you can listen to your favorite tunes/work on your mixes without being constantly interrupted by external noise ( airplanes, traffic, trains, etc).
However I must say not everything is perfect with these headphones. Their punchy bass and raw sound may not be for everyone`s ears -more geared towards seasoned musicians and producers that want to hear nothing but an honest raw version of the recording, but since we are talking about studio headphones this is actually a good feature of the M50x.
Also if you intend to take them with you a lot you should look somewhere else because they are not light and far from great to use with portable music players.
If a true raw sound without any kind of modulation is what you`re after you should put the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x in your short list as you`ll hardly find a better value for money option at this price range.
-very balanced sound quality amongst all ranges ( mid/bass/treble)
-3 detachable cables
-very comfortable to wear
- a bit heavy (10 oz) : not that good to take outside with you
-not that multipurpose: very music production specific
-high range too punchy may not be for everyone`s taste
-frequency response: 15-28,000hz
-ma input power:1600mW
2-Audio-Technica ATH-M30x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones
Scaling down the price a little we have the Audio Technica ATH-M30x , and honestly I must say these are some excellent sounding headphones in the sub $100 range.
One of the first impressions we have with these is they look a lot like their elder brother the M50x.The thick rubber coated audio cables is something that grabs our attention immediately as they were cleverly designed to reduce the amount of tangling.
In terms of performance these babies truly excel in the way the mids and highs sound with crisp clean clarity, something common to all Audiotechnica headphones range these days. However the bass may be a liitle too much for more sensible ears or non electronic music audiophiles.
Despite a big difference in price, the M30x from Audiotechnica act pretty much like the ATH-M50x only registering lower values for sensitivity , impedance, and a higher maximum input power.
OK now in English..
This basically means they are a little less louder, and cannot handle as much power before clipping so they are more geared towards the common everyday use than for studio monitoring or musicians playing loud instruments.
Also the 40mm drivers of this model produce a bit less of bass compared to the m50 that comes with 45mm drivers. Despite this the M30x outputs a rich and clean sound with enough bass to satisfy 99% of us.
Comfort wise we are playing at the same league as the x50`s here: comfortable ear cups and headband as well as a nice sound isolation from external noise.
All in all these are very well made headphones very hard to beat at this price point.
-best bang for your buck specially at the $100 segment
-Impressive rich sound
- Comfortable to wear and light weight
- nice collapsible design for portability.
-Great for using with smartphones and mp3 players
- pleather padding is quite nice and soft
-after one hour of use your ears tend to heat
-fell a bit tight around your neck when you bring them down
- tight bass can be unappealing to those who enjoy a deeper stronger punch
-frequency response: 15-22,000hz
-ma input power:1300mW
3-Sony MDRV6 Studio Monitor Headphones with CCAW Voice Coil
The Sony`s MDRV6 are truly an industry classic and considered by music pros one of the most reliable set of headphones ever made. Visit 100 studios around the globe and chances are you will find the MDRV6 in 90% of them, that’s because their reliability plus their classic flat neutral sound made them a no-sense choice among pros and audiophiles alike.
At first they seem a bit over sized and outdated if you compare them with all the minimalist gear you see for sale these days and clearly these were not made for travelling.
Comfort wise the ear cups surround your ears nicely tight without too much pressure and the headband is unobtrusive and well built.
In terms of performance they sound like all studio headphones should sound: flat, natural,with pristine clarity,not coloring the sound of the record you are listening to in any way.
With this in mind you should consider the Sony MDRV6 only if you intend to use them for music production or rehearsing with your band as you`ll listen nothing but the true music spectrum reflected on your ears.
If you are not that used to this type of sound at first all songs and recordings will sound strange and a bit odd like food without your favorite ingredient: bass heads will definitely want to skip the MDRV6.
Many users complain about the burn in time it takes to really enjoy these headphones. While this is true for all headphones in general it gets particularly important with these as their uncolored flat response will sound truly odd for those who regularly use more popular sets like skullcandys or beats.
If you`re after an industry legend and want nothing but the true raw sound from your recordings you'd be hard pressed to find a better price/performance/comfort balance than the V6's
- every detail shines through: you ear exactly the sounds as they where recorded
-at this price range this is the best you your money can buy
- non-detachable cord makes them bulky to carry around
- ear pads tend to flake leaving black pleather on your ears
-high frequencies can “pierce” less experienced ears at first
- 40mm drivers for powerful, detailed sound
-Over-ear design for comfort
-10-foot oxygen free copper cord with 3.5mm plug( 1/4-inch adapter included)
-frequency response of 5 Hz - 30 kHz
4-Sennheiser HD 380
Sennheiser is an established brand on this space that has created great headphones over the years with a clear vision of delivering top products at reasonable prices. The HD 380 is a middle of the range model that was made specifically for audio monitoring purposes, however it still keeps some qualities that makes it a good choice for casual listeners.
In the comfort department things look good here as the ear-pads sit at an angle to the headband therefore they cover the ears completely while still making the band to rest comfortably at our head. A small detail that can make a huge difference for your comfort is the way the pad on the inside of the cup does not touch your ear: the headphones stay snug without overheating and tiring you after an hour.
In terms of sound the Sennheiser HD 380 produces a nice surround with a “spicy” bass that is there in the right amount for most listeners. However the brand has adopted a V-shaped equalization that is usually favored by rock and pop fans so he bass gets a little more felt than usual for headphone monitors which can be not the best idea for studio monitoring.
One major flaw I think the Sennheiser have is the the awful twisty coil cord. Not only it's heavy, bulky as it is very obtrusive adding dragging weight to these headphones.
With the HD 380 Sennheiser has tried to put two worlds inside the same product: a good quality studio monitor headphones combined with a nice set for casual listeners. At first this seemed a good idea however I think the brand didn`t reach the sweet spot here as its clearly trying to be a jack of all trades but truly mastering none.
-best noise isolation headphones you can get for under $300
-very handy design to travel
-one of the most comfortable headphones you can buy
- amplified bass lovers better skip this one
-high frequencies are not great and sound too high
-you feel like paying a bit too much for what you get
-build quality a little on the cheap side
-Carrying case included
-Easily replaceable parts for long service life.
-2 year warranty
-passive attenuation of ambient noise (up to 32 dB)
If your budget is really tight the Panasonic HF600 is probably the answer for your needs as you`ll hardly find anything this good for under sixty dollars.
Comfort is never top notch at these prices however these headphones rank well with the cups fitting nicely all over your ears- don`t forget this also means that they are not that breathable heating your head faster than expected.The pad is soft and thick enough for you to stay comfortable,and they are also very light
As for sound isolation these headphones are not great and unless you are listening to music at a very high level ( which you should not to preserve your ears) external sounds will be easily come in-this is mainly a result of their semi-open profile
Performance wise they sound clear with a smooth, dynamic, open sound .The mids are not that noticed whereas the bass is ok not being too intrusive but still too much for flat neutral studio headphones. However after some “break in” hours of usage you will testify an impressive transformation: no more of that hollow bass and sizzling highs. Everything will be in perfect harmony with strong bass and balanced highs marking the tone. Definitely bass heads will want to check the RP-HTF600.
The less achieved aspect of these headphones is basically a design option that makes them swing outward instead of folding in, which means they are not great for carrying around.
In the end the Panasonic RP-HTF600 is a hidden gem: costing less than $60 they compare in many areas with models costing 4 or 5 times more.
-for less than $60 you get good headphones
- nice round sound that pleases everyone
-stong bass ideal for electronic music fans
-build quality is weak
-weak sound isolation: they leak too much sound
-poor fit: very hard to adjust to your head
- quick-fit mechanism
-Single-side monitoring system
-Large diameter driver units 50mm