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Best Closed-Back Headphones – 2020

The savior of a tracking engineer’s job and the solace of a music producer’s creativity, closed-back headphones are a key component of the music-making process.

Closed-back headphones are the most versatile pair of headphones a producer, artist, or engineer can have. There is no other type of studio headphone on the market that seamlessly works booth to the bustling streets of Brooklyn, and that’s because when you’re wearing a pair of closed-back headphones you are in a world all your own.

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How to choose the best closed-back headphones.

The key to finding the best closed-back headphones is knowing why you’re buying them, as opposed to what you’re buying them for. Though some headphones are made for very specific purposes, it makes no difference if you buy the best headphones on the market if you don’t know what that pair of headphones is doing when you’re listening to them.

If that statement seems vague to you place yourself in this scenario: One day you find yourself in need of a new pair of headphones, not just a replacement for your current pair of headphones, but an alternate option.

Why? Are your current headphones too bass-heavy? Are they wildly colored to a laughable degree? Do they sound perfect, but they are unbearably uncomfortable?

These are the questions you should ask yourself if you are buying a new pair of closed-back headphones, but these are also the questions you should ask when comparing models to one another when buying your first pair of closed-back headphones.

Now that we have your “why” let’s delve further into what you’ll be doing with your new headphones. Are these simply for the benefit of the vocalist or musicians you will be tracking? Will these become your go-to mixing and mastering headphones? Do you need a production headphone that you can wear for hours on end?

These are the questions you have to ask yourself to solidify which headphones will be the best fit for your needs.

Now that we have your “why” let’s delve further into what you’ll be doing with your new headphones. Are these simply for the benefit of the vocalist or musicians you will be tracking? Will these become your go-to mixing and mastering headphones? Do you need a production headphone that you can wear for hours on end?

These are the questions you have to ask yourself to solidify which headphones will be the best fit for your needs.

Best Closed-back Headphones Under $500

Shure SRH1540

Product Specs

  • Price: $399.00
  • Style: Circumaural
  • Impedance: 46 Ω
  • Range: 5 Hz – 25 kHz
    • Highs: Extended highs are a main staple of the SRH series, and what makes them better is that they are not piercing unless you made them that way.
    • Mids: Extremely clear mids showing a full perspective of range.
    • Lows: Warm and consistent regardless of volume level.
  • Listenability: Shure’s SRH1540’s are audiophile quality closed-back headphones which, in saying that alone, speaks to their listenability. The APTIV™ Film improves the reduction of total harmonic distortion for better acoustic performance.
  • Comfort Level: Lightweight yet durable composition made of carbon fiber, aircraft-grade aluminum, and paired with a slow-recovery foam covered in Alcantara (aka fancy suede). On top of the quality build of the headphones, just as all other models in the SRH line, the 1540s includes a dual-frame, padded headband that is fully adjustable.
  • What’s it’s good for? These specific headphones were designed with musicians and engineers in mind with the idea of these being primarily used for mixing and monitoring.
  • What’s it’s bad for? I am always extremely wary of using headphones that are built with ergonomics in mind for live tracking. This has nothing to do with bleed, but more to do with all of the moving parts possibly making a noise of their own if the person wearing them rapidly moves (think vocalist really into a performance, or a violinist playing a fast movement). Also, there is no reason to spend this much money on a headphone just to use it for tracking.

Neumann NDH20

Neumann is one of those top dollar companies that provides products that live up to the name. While the Neumann name is known specifically for mics, you can expect high quality for any sound related products from them. If you would like to learn more from someone who is well versed in the world of Neumann, check out Ryan “Fluff” Bruce’s video here.

Product Specs

  • Price: $499.95
  • Style: Over Ear
  • Impedance: 150 Ω (headphone amp recommended)
  • Range: 5 – 30,000 Hz
  • Listenability: The whole idea behind these headphones was to make a smaller version of the acclaimed Neumann Studio Monitors. Built for detailed frequency response, you cannot underestimate the abilities of these headphones.
  • Comfort Level: The memory foam earpads are great for keeping your ears comfortable by not smashing them against your head. People enjoy wearing these headphones for hours at a time with no complaints.
  • What’s it’s good for? These headphones are great for mixing live and recorded music. With the detailed response it has, you could even trust them for working on mastering your tracks.
  • What’s it’s bad for? You need a lot of power behind them to get the responses you need. So either you have a powerful headphone output on your interface, or you use a headphone amp.

Best Closed-back Headphones Under $300

Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO, 250 ohms

Since the 1980s, New York’s Beyerdynamic has been creating audiophile quality studio headphones that focus on range and comfort in simple packaging. The DT series from Beyerdynamic covers the 3 types of headphones and then gives each headphone from the 770 line, 3 different impedance variations so that they can provide the same quality sound for different applications ranging from mobile listening to studio mastering.

The DT 770 Pro at 250 Ω is the specified mixing and monitoring reference headphone from the 770 line. It is also the most comfortable pair of headphones I have ever owned, but specifically for use in a studio, it’s the most comfortable headphone I’ve ever worn.

Product Specs

  • Price: $159.99
  • Style: Circumaural
  • Impedance: 250 Ω
  • Range: 5 Hz – 35 kHz
    • Highs: At higher levels, the highs can become a bit much.
    • Lows: Improved low-end response with Beyerdynamic’s “bass reflex” technology. One of the best headphones to reference bass.
  • Listenability: The first time I heard the DT 770’s I absolutely hated them because I didn’t understand them. The learning curve of using a headphone that needs the amount of power to drive a sound as dynamic as the 770 is steep. Now that I’ve owned a pair for over seven years, I understand its purpose not only as a tool but as a standard to try to achieve beauty within a mix.
  • Comfort Level: Without spending extraneous amounts of money, these might be the most comfortable headphones you’ll ever wear. They are adjustable, as most studio-quality headphones are, but that’s not where their strength in comfort lies, that would be with its velour earpads!
  • What’s it’s good for? The 250-ohm version of Beyerdynamic’s DT770 Pro is made specifically for mixing in the studio. It’s the sort of headphones that you can hear a pin needle drop on the carpeted floor of an isolation booth. What makes it a real asset for mixing is how comfortable it is with the mix of its large drivers that pick-up an incredible range of sound due to their higher impedance. The DT770 also has an amazing spatial reference for a closed headphone.
  • What’s it’s bad for? This is unequivocally not portable, at all, which in turn makes them not right the right choice for tracking, that is the purpose of the 80-ohm version of the DT770.

Shure SRH840

The SRH840 is my personal go-to headphone. From the moment I bought my first pair, I fell in love with its clarity and true perspective to a mix, but they do take a bit of getting used to.

Product Specs

  • Price: $199.99
  • Style: Circumaural
  • Impedance: 44 Ω
  • Range: 5 Hz – 25 kHz
  • Listenability: Out of the box, the SRH provides a mix quality that is perfect for both monitoring and recording.
  • Comfort Level: What I’ve always loved about the SRH840s is that I know that they’re there. The pads rest gently over-the-ears, but its ergonomic build keeps the earpads somewhat tight, though this can be adjusted, and you can buy a more comfortable earpad if necessary.
  • What’s it’s good for? Once you get to know it, you can do anything with these headphones, other than master. This excels in its studio use, which is heightened with its collapsible structure.
  • What’s it’s bad for? As I said before, I don’t love a headphone that has this many moving parts, but I find that to be less of a problem in this case. My main problem with this is that the earpads don’t block out enough of the sound of the outside world.

Best Closed-back Headphones Under $200

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x

Despite their numerous accolades, Audio-Technica is a company of little fanfare. As a company, they don’t push things too far and in that, they have remained successful. So successful they have been the microphone supplier of choice for the Grammys for over a decade, and US Presidential addresses for over 2 decades. The ATH-M50x is a newer version of Audio Technica’s previous model, the ATH-M50 but lacks none of the former’s audio-fidelity.

Product Specs

  • Price: $149.00
  • Style: Circumaural, though I find them to sit on the edge of supra-aural.
  • Impedance: 38 Ω
  • Range: 15 Hz – 28 kHz
    • Highs: The highs seem to taper nicely.
    • Mids: Vocals were nicely present and not muddy at all.
    • Lows: The bass is nominal, which should be expected when you look at its frequency range.
  • Listenability: The ATH M50x does an amazing job reproducing sound in a well-tuned manner without adding a hint of influence from the gear.
  • Comfort Level: This is a headphone that I have tried over and over again to like, yet every time I can’t get over how stiff it feels. There’s something just a little too bulky and plastic about these headphones for my personal taste, though they are really comfortable.
  • What’s it’s good for? Sonically these are great sounding headphones for the price. They offer some pretty straightforward features like a swivel ear which lends them to DJing and a detachable cable which lends them to tidiness. I would say they could make great tracking headphones BUT
  • What’s it’s bad for? I will never use these headphones for tracking a vocalist performing an uptempo song again unless they are completely still. The M50x’s are some of the best tracking headphones you can buy, but I found myself hearing random squeaks in the control room during a recent session, and after about 3 minutes of me trying to figure out if I was crazy, I found out it was the headphones and quickly had them switched out.

Senal SMH1200

When I initially tried on a pair of the SMH1200 something seemed familiar, then I realized what it was. Meet a stylized upgrade and slightly advanced Sony MDR-7506.

It’s not there’s nothing “new” or “innovative” about Senal’s SMH1200, other than there’s nothing new or innovative about what they’ve done, they just did it correctly. Imagine if Sony had made a step in-between its iconic legacy headphone, the 7506 and its high-fidelity model, the 7509HD, that’s what Senal’s SMH1200 is.

At its core the MRD-7506 is a monitoring headphone, nothing more, nothing less; the SMH1200 is a better sounding monitoring headphone, a little bit more expensive, but still nothing less.

Product Specs

  • Price: $149.99
  • Style: Circumaural
  • Impedance: 58 Ω
  • Range: 10 Hz – 20 kHz
    • Highs: A bit more aggressive than the 7506s, but you are dealing with the exact same frequency range pushed through a higher impedance level. There is great spatial clarity at this end of the frequency range.
    • Mids: The vocals I listened to in every song where very much so “front-and-center,” I did find some of them to push into a nasal territory where others didn’t, but I’m going to crack that up to me driving this with an iPhone rather than an interface or any other real amplification source.
    • Lows: The bass definitely has a better frequency response, it’s pronounced without being overpowering.
  • Listenability: As a pair of monitoring headphones, the SMH1200 would probably be preferred by studio musicians who aren’t specifically brand loyalists. When you’re expecting one thing and you get another it’s hard to take something for what it is, so if you go into it thinking “this is what that sounded like” you may end up being disappointed rather than celebrating all of the things this headphone excels at.
  • Comfort Level: Since I’ve already pigeon-holed this against the 7506, I will say the pad types are far closer to the 7509s, which were far superior to that of the 7506. My only qualm with this was that the SMH1200s felt a little loose.
  • What’s it’s good for? This may be your new favorite monitoring headphone, and with a little more time definitely something I could see myself dipping into some mixing.
  • What’s it’s bad for? I wouldn’t use this for tracking, but I may change my mind on that. If you’re a brand loyalist, I’ve got something for you coming up next.

Best Closed-back Headphones Under $100

Status Audio CB-1

These headphones are some of the sleekest looking monitors you will find. Status Audio is all about clarity and accuracy with all of their products. From the earbuds to their Bluetooth headphones, there is a midrange presence that provides clarity for all sounds.

If you are interested in learning even more about the CB-1, we took an in depth loop at them here.

Product Specs

  • Price: $79.00
  • Style: Supra Aural
  • Impedance: 32 Ω
  • Range: 15 – 30 kHz
  • Listenability: These are a studio standard pair of headphones that many engineers and musicians have fallen in love with. Audiophiles love this company.
  • Comfort Level: The over-stuffed cushions provide maximum comfort while you are listening on them.
  • What’s it’s good for? You can easily track in loud environments and listen back in the studio itself. They make for an excellent pair of reference monitors, especially for the final mixdown of a project.
  • What’s it’s bad for? There can be a bit of noise bleed that comes from them. This makes them not the best choice for recording vocals or anything that requires sensitive detail.

Sennheiser HD 280 Pro

The German audio giant is known for its unparalleled sound quality and durability paired with moderately low price points. Probably the best-known headphone from Sennheiser is the HD 280 Pro, simply because it has been many a producer’s first headphone, I know it was mine. Nearly a decade and a half ago I bought my first pair of HD 280s at the suggestion of my Guitar Center salesman, the rest is a very bassy history.

Product Specs

  • Price: $99.95
  • Style: Circumaural
  • Impedance: 64 Ω
  • Range: 8 Hz – 25 kHz
    • Highs: The highs can become a bit harsh in the HD 280.
    • Mids: The mids on the HD 280 are extremely present, to the point of becoming muddy. Other parts of the mids sound somewhat hollow when it comes to acoustic instruments.
    • Lows: The saving grace of the HD 280 is that the bass unrealistically pumps in a way that makes everything sound a little bit better, which makes the other lacking frequencies really fill out with other false frequencies.
  • Listenability: These headphones are pretty much completely unrealistic when it comes to mixing or monitoring in them, but they can make for a great tracking headphone at normal volumes and could even pass for a monitoring headphone for a home studio setup.
  • Comfort Level: The HD 280 get’s the job done in the comfortability lane. They don’t feel great, but they’re oddly comfortable and once you’ve broken them in you won’t even notice their flaws… until years have passed and you don’t know how these were on your head for hours at a time for at least 3 years straight. One major downfall of the HD 280s is that the earpads will absolutely disintegrate over time if you are always on the go with them, and they definitely need a bag of their own.
  • What’s it’s good for? These are the penultimate starter headphones, if you want to dip your feet in the world of music production these will get you going. I have produced songs for Grammy-winning clients with these headphones readily in my arsenal, yes this was over a decade ago, but it doesn’t change the fact that they can get the job down.
  • What’s it’s bad for? Realistically, these are bad for pretty much anything other than tracking, or starting out and getting your bearings before you decide to jump in the deep-end of audio engineering or music production.

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