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Looking for a good pair of studio headphones but aren't sure where to start? Well here are the best budget headphones under $100, $200 and $300. The higher price point headphones will generally work better for a wider range of uses, but you can still get some good quality ones under $100.
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Best Studio Headphones Under $100
There are plenty of recognizable brands with great headphones for under $100 – Sennheiser, Sony, Shure, Koss, Audio-Technica and Superlux, among others. These are all worth a look, because hardware continues to come down in price.
Now, we do need to keep in mind the two basic types of headphones as we go down this list. They are:
- Open back and semi-open headphones. These are generally used for mixing and mastering in conjunction with a good pair of studio monitors (and sometimes other outputs). They have decent sound isolation, but certainly not compared to closed back headphones.
- Closed back headphones. Closed back headphones are typically used for tracking and recording and aren’t used as much for mixing and mastering. This is because they tend to be less accurate. But they offer great sound isolation, which means there’s less risk of bleed.
This isn’t to suggest open and semi-open headphones can’t be used for tracking and closed back headphones can’t be used for mixing and mastering. But this is a good general guideline to keep in mind.
So, with that, let’s begin by looking at the best studio headphones for under $100.
Status Audio CB-1 Closed Back Studio Monitor Headphones
I’ve had the opportunity to play with these bad boys for a while, and I must say I’m positively impressed.
I’ve been using a pair of AKG K141 headphones for as long as I can remember. If I’m not mistaken, these headphones have been discontinued. That’s how long I’ve been using them! So, you could say this is the gold standard against which I’ve been measuring all other headphones.
Granted, it seems headphones have come a long way. We now live in an age in which you can order custom headphones with various color, decal, and engraving options to choose from.
But I’m digressing a bit so let me get to the point.
Here are the key things you should know about the Status Audio CB-1 headphones:
- The audio quality is amazing – easily better than my AKGs.
- You’ll hear more detail in your audio using these headphones (unless you happen to be using better quality headphones already).
- You’ll find these headphones quite comfortable even for longer sessions. I have a big melon and they still work for me just fine.
- I tried recording voice and guitar while using these cans and experienced no bleed.
Bottom line – the Status Audio cans may not look fancy, but they are amazing value.
AKG K240STUDIO Semi-Open Studio Headphones
I’ve already shared a little bit about AKG, so you know I think they are good value.
The K240STUDIO headphones may not be anything fancy but are near-perfect for studio use. They offer great sound accuracy, even in the low end. You would expect to sacrifice some of the mids with low-end headphones, but not so with the AKGs. Lows, mids, and highs are all well-articulated.
According to reviews and customers, these headphones are quite comfortable, though I can’t confirm or deny this statement. Comfort is an important factor when using headphones, especially for longer sessions, so that’s a good quality to look out for.
These AKG headphones are a solid choice. You need to be reasonable in your expectations, as these are still essentially beginner studio headphones, but they are good bang for buck.
Best Studio Headphones Under $200
When you think “under $200”, you might still be inclined to think “cheap” or “affordable”. That may be true, but as you cross that $100 mark, you’ll begin to see the market widen. There are many brands with great headphones in this price range, making it challenging to choose just a couple.
Nevertheless, here are two headphones in this price range you should look at.
Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro
The DT 770 Pro pair may not be without its problems. Even then, they’re still worth mentioning.
These closed over-ear headphones are ideal for professional mixing, the ear pads ensure that you’re comfortable while wearing them, and they come with a two-year warranty, which is good news.
The Beyerdynamic cans offer a great sound, though the highs aren’t exactly neutral. Much of your mixing work will likely be done on proper studio monitors anyway, but this is still good to be aware of when you’re listening to multiple sources.
These are great headphones, though some customers have noted that they can distort at high levels, and unfortunately these can be slightly fragile headphones. If you take good care of them, you should encounter relatively few issues and enjoy extended mixing sessions.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Professional Headphones
Read any article on the topic of how to start your home studio on a budget, and you’ll likely see recommendations for a pair of Audio-Technica ATH phones. But do they live up to the hype? The short answer is “yes”.
The ATH-M50x offer great bass response and a good frequency range. They are durable and comfortable.
But some have noted the mids aren’t exactly to their liking. The lower mid-range has been described as “muddy”, while the upper mid-range seems notably absent.
Most customers do rave about the Audio-Technica phones, though some have noted the cups tend to be a little small. That could certainly affect comfort.
But these are easily some of the best headphones in their category, making them a must-have.
Best Studio Headphones Under $300
As we move up to the over $200 mark, you’ll see the market bottleneck a bit. This is because there’s a jump in price and quality that happens after this price range. There’s no denying you can get a great pair of headphones in the $100 to $200 range. But you can easily pay $500 or more (you can even pay thousands of dollars) as you move into pro level gear.
Still, there are a few products worth looking at in this price range.
Sennheiser HD 600 Open Back Professional Headphone
The HD 600 headphones are great value. If I’m being honest, they’re a bit of a bargain. Whether its sound or comfort, you will find these cans measure up to most criteria you would hold up as being important for a pair of studio phones.
The Sennheiser comes with lightweight aluminum voice coils for better transient response, neodymium ferrous magnets for sensitivity and dynamics, high-quality open metal-mesh earpiece covers, and a detachable Kevlar-reinforced oxygen-free copper cable.
Customer sentiment is near perfect for these. Some reviewers have had issues with the cable breaking, and some say they aren’t great for bigger heads. But in pretty much every other regard, you’ll find the HD600s competitive in this price range.
Shure SRH1440 Professional Open Back Headphones
Shure is another company that offers great products at every price range. Perhaps more known for their microphones than headphones, they still make good quality cans, and the SRH1440 is proof positive of this fact.
These come with 40 mm neodymium drivers, a padded headband with steel frame and oxygen-free copper cable with Kevlar reinforced jacket.
The audio quality is natural, transparent, wide and deep. And, while they might look a little curious, they’re still quite comfortable.
The Shure headphones have a good rating on Amazon. Some note the highs are a little harsh, but overall there isn’t anything wrong with these on a substantive level. Worth a try.
What Should I Look For In A Pair Of Budget Studio Headphones?
If you’re still undecided as to which headphones to buy, here are several criteria you should consider:
Good Sound Quality
Sound quality is probably the most important factor when it comes to headphones. If you’re listening to music or tracking a part, it’s okay if they offer a more “colored” sound. That’s not okay when you’re trying to mix a track.
It’s worth assessing the sound spectrum, from highs to lows, to get a good sense of the quality of sound the headphones offer. If you’re still new to sound design, then it may prove challenging to identify issues, but as you continue to work with sound, it’s something you will become better at.
Even for tracking and recording parts, a good pair of headphones is important, because you want you (or musicians in your studio) to be able to hear what’s going on in the mix as they record their part.
The problem with many headphones is they do not offer much comfort. They can rub against your ears (resulting in pain), cause you to sweat, or not fit properly. Not such a big deal if you’re only using them for a few minutes here and there, right? But this becomes more problematic when you’re using them for extended periods of time.
So, as you look for the right fit, don’t forget about comfort.
You shouldn’t be tossing around your headphones on a concrete floor or placing heavy gear on top of them. You should also be aware of the cable length, because you could end up breaking it if you pull away from your desk without thinking or just turn your head the wrong way.
Still, you want your headphones to last. Replacing components often isn’t worth it, though it’s not unusual for headphone users to replace broken cables as needed.
My recommendation would be to hunt online reviews and see what you can learn about the pair of headphones you’re thinking about purchasing. That will give you a good idea of whether there are any issues you should look out for.
A minor consideration in the grand scheme of things, esthetics can still affect your attitude towards your headphones. If they look cheap, you might be more inclined to throw them around, even if they aren’t cheap. And, you want to feel like a total pro when you’re putting your cans on.
I wouldn’t obsess over looks myself. All I’m saying is you’re probably going to enjoy your headphones more and get more use out of them if you like how they look and feel.
Do I Need Both Open Back/Semi-Open & Closed Back Headphones?
Again, for mixing and mastering, headphones can offer a secondary reference. Most mixing should be done on studio monitors, but it’s also important to hear the sound through multiple sources so you can get a good sense of what your listeners are going to hear on different speakers, sound systems, headphones, and so forth. So if you want to use them for this purpose, check out some of the best studio headphones for mixing and mastering here.
These days, it’s more common for people to be listening to music on earbuds than anything else, and engineers know this. Still, they mix for every source possible. A good pair of open back/semi-open headphones can be helpful during the mixing and/or mastering process.
For tracking and recording purposes, you should absolutely have closed back headphones. Unless you’re recording everything direct – and this is a remote possibility if you’re recording acoustic instruments or voice in any capacity – sound isolation is key to getting a clean mix.
So, in most instances, I would say you need both types of headphones. But you can get away without having open back/semi-open headphones, especially if you have no plans of mixing with a pair of headphones.
Best Budget Studio Headphones Under $100, $200 & $300 Conclusion
There’s scarcely been a better time to be in the market for a pair of cheap studio headphones for producers, because technology continues to improve, and studio hardware is more affordable than it ever was.
Though you may not use your headphones all the time in the studio, they are still essential. Mixing and mastering should mostly be done on a good pair of studio monitors, though headphones can also assist in the process and can offer a different reference point.
Where headphones are most useful is typically during the tracking and recording process, where sound isolation if of great importance. If you’re using microphones to record anything, it’s essential for musicians to be using headphones while recording their parts to avoid bleed.
Throughout this guide, I’ve reinforced the fact that mixing is mostly done on studio monitors. This is true, but there are engineers who’ve mixed entire releases on headphones and achieved great results. Ultimately, this just comes down to how well you know your gear, and if you’re well-acquainted with the eccentricities of your headphones, there’s nothing saying you couldn’t mix and master on them.