Now, this is a subject that is going to be open to a lot of debate. After all, the very best headphones that the pros use are not like the phones you might use at home. They have different sound priorities. The sound for those mixing and mastering has to be very neutral; you might describe it as flat with little or no emphasis on any frequency range.
Finding the Best Headphones for Mixing and Mastering is not going to be easy.
There are a couple of things that are important…
Comfort is one. Durability another. It could well be that you are wearing them for quite a few hours every day; therefore, they have to be comfortable. But they also have to be able to take the wear and tear of everyday use.
There are some design differences, as well. Do you use the open back or closed back?
Closed-back phones can experience some low-end pressure problems. Open-back headphones do not have that problem, and many engineers prefer them. They will usually give you a better and very natural listening experience. It is a very personal thing, and sometimes the differences seem small and the margins fine.
Normally we would say closed back for recording. Open back is for mixing and mastering, and most of the time, they are used in that way. But there are design differences, and that is what makes some better than others. So, let’s take a look and find the Best Mixing and Mastering Headphones and find the perfect pair for you…
Top 8 Best Headphones for Mixing and Mastering On The Market Reviews
1 Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO open Studio Headphone – Best Value for the Money Headphones for Mixing and Mastering
We start with something that we do not expect to see too many times with these reviews. The DT990 are headphones that must be considered a budget offering from Beyer. When you are considering headphones for mixing and mastering, you do not expect professional studio headphones to be cheap.
We wouldn’t call this cheap. But compared to some, they are very cost-effective from a quality manufacturer.
These have an excellent sound platform with the bass brought down a little. They have also made the higher frequencies quite soft to avoid any harshness. Both are audible, of course, but not prominent — a very neutral sound.
The 990 is an open back, over-ear design with a frequency response of 5-35,000Hz. It has a three-dimensional, wide sound platform that creates a spacious feel. This makes them ideal for studio work. The open backs, as we said in our opening, giving the headphones a very natural sound. They do not create that feeling of being isolated that some closed backs can do.
Beyer is known for creating functional headphones designed to work. But they are also known for producing a good comfort level. So it is with the 990. When you are using them for hours on end, they need to have a decent comfort level. The ear cups and headband are nicely padded. The headband has an inner sprung steel design.
Lightweight and comfortable…
This design is not only strong, but it also means you can get a comfortable fit. The spring strength is quite gentle, so you don’t get too much pressure applied to the head. At only eight ounces, they are quite light and not going to feel unduly heavy even after a long day. The cable is attached to one ear cup, and it is coiled. We have to say we are not fans of coiled cables.
At the price point, some might think that these phones are for the home use consumer. That is not really the case, and they are very much reference headphones for work in the studio. We cannot say they are close to being the best that Beyer produces. But for the studio engineer on a budget, they are a good buy.
If you want to know even more, check out our in-depth review of the Beyerdynamic DT 990.
- A wide and spacious, three-dimensional sound.
- Very comfortable, and don’t grip the head too tightly.
- Cost-effective price point.
- We don’t like the coiled cable and are sure others won’t either.
2 Sennheiser HD 600 Open Back Professional Headphone – Best Premium Headphones for Mixing and Mastering
For professional audio engineers Sennheiser are one of the brands that need no introduction. German excellence at its very best. The exacting standards of design and performance ensure the finest possible performance. Founded in 1945, it is still a family-owned business. They produce audio equipment that people do more than like. They admire it.
The 600 is an over-ear open-back design that has a frequency response of 12Hz-39kHz. They have a total harmonic distortion equal to or less than 0.1%.
Wear them for hours…
The padding on the earpieces is comfortable as it is for the headband. The headband has a firm but not tight grip, which will adjust to your own head size. They are mostly of good quality plastic construction. This keeps them lightweight, and they weigh only .57lbs. There will be no fatigue problems during long sessions wearing these.
They have an open mesh metal earpiece that produces a very transparent sound. They have neodymium magnets which are computer-optimized to lower any harmonic distortion, and an excellent transient response is achieved using lightweight voice coils made from aluminum.
As well as that, the design of the diaphragm removes any standing waves. This produces a very clean sound that is not cluttered by acoustic disturbances. And the Kevlar oxygen-free copper cable is detachable. There is a ⅛ inch stereo mini-jack with an adapter to ¼ inch jack.
These phones are renowned for their natural, spacious sound. This makes them ideally suited to mixing and mastering classical music, which demands accuracy. The sound is recognized by many engineers at being at the top of the game. We, therefore, have no doubt they will be considered as one of the Best Premium Mixing and Mastering Headphones.
Quality comes at a cost…
These are not fashionable or headphones that have been designed for looks or luxury. These are built for critical listening. They might appear to be expensive when you consider the price point. But when you get the real quality, you have to pay for it. In reality, they are not expensive at all. These phones are designed in Germany and built in Ireland.
- Excellent design with features that produce a pure and natural sound.
- Lightweight and suitable for long sessions.
3 Audio-Technica Professional Open-Back Reference Headphones
Audio-Technica will forgive me, I am sure. But they appear to be one of the unsung heroes of quality headphone manufacture. I only say that because they compete in the marketplace against some very respected brands. Maybe at times, they don’t get the credit they deserve and are overlooked for a recognized ‘bigger’ name.
They are, of course, Japanese. Set up in the 60s, they have created a sound base in the manufacture of a variety of audio products. One of the areas they are respected for is their headphones. Their’M’Their’M’ range brought them a lot of success and respect. The ‘R’ versions move them another step forward in quality. The ATH-R70X that we will look at here being one of their flagship models.
Let’s design an open-backed headphone…
This headphone design was different from their previous products. Audio-Technica was known for its closed-back designs. The R70X was their first open-back design headphone. It is interesting because they had produced nothing like it before.
The design steps away from what some call usual by having earpieces connected by a metal frame. This is semi-circular and sits above the headband. It is the headband that touches your head.
Some like it hot, but not us…
The ear cups are made from very soft, breathable material. This ensures comfort by not allowing your ears to get too hot during a long session. The headband is lined with similar material. The main structural material is carbon composite resin. This is a strong, long-lasting material.
At .46 lbs, it does mean that they are a very lightweight option. The earpieces have an external mesh made from aluminum to create an open back sound experience.
The ‘M’The’M’ range was known and sometimes criticized for being very high-frequency heavy. Not the case with the R70X, they have a very mellow top. The reduction in high-frequency presence allows the mids to have more clarity and definition.
A very good choice as a set of reference headphones with a strong build.
- Strong lightweight and comfortable design.
- Prominent mids and a mellow top end produce a nice sound balance.
- Some may not like the headband design.
4 Sennheiser HD 650 Open Back Professional Headphone – Best Hyped Headphones for Mixing and Mastering
You have produced a set of headphones with the quality of the Sennheiser HD 600. It might be a hard act to follow to produce another or something even better. However, sometimes, it doesn’t work out quite as you hoped.
So what’s the difference?
There is an ongoing discussion about the difference between the 600 and the 650. In a nutshell, there is actually very little difference. The 600 is neutral. It adds nothing to make the experience of the sound better. Engineers like that. The 650, on the other hand, adds a little bit of top and a little bit of bottom.
That makes it great for the listener. But maybe not so good in a studio environment. A lot, but not all, of mixing and mastering, is done through headphones. It is important the sound is right.
The Sennheiser HD 650’s are a great set of headphones. Of that, there is no doubt. They look basic, as you might expect. They are not here to win design awards. A good quality plastic is the main ingredient, and it has a springy steel band inside the headband.
On the earpieces, a mesh that is made of metal to form an outer grille. They have a comfortable and soft foam to the ear cups and headbands that ensures they will be easy to wear. They are a basic over-ear, open back design.
All the quality you would expect…
All the design elements to get a great sound that Sennheiser employs are included. High-power neodymium magnets with matched elements. The magnets are computer-optimized to produce a minimum of harmonic distortion.
Completing the picture are lightweight voice coils made from aluminum, giving a very quick transient response. They have a frequency range of 10 to 41000 Hz.
We aren’t going to say they are the most elegant of headphones. But Sennheiser may not have been too interested in how they look, as long as they are efficient and sound good.
Let’s return briefly to the sound…
To the layman’s ears, there might not be that much difference. There is a little extra presence, and the bass is a little more prominent. However, the mids are excellent, which most will argue is no bad thing.
It will be a personal thing. Some will like that little extra, while some will prefer a totally neutral sound. However, they are still a great set of headphones. However, they are quite expensive.
- Well-made with nice soft padding to ear cups and headband.
- Excellent build quality.
- Some may not like the slight additions to the sound.
5 Shure SRH1840 Professional Open Back Headphones
Another big name in the world of the recording studio. Shure are not strangers to producing quality.
These are built not only to give a great sound but also to be worn for lengthy periods of time. They are an over-ear open-back design. The earpads are filled with high-density foam and covered with velour with an imitation leather surround. The headband is not so thickly padded and has a flexible steel band with an aluminum alloy yoke. It is fully adjustable.
Concise and clear…
The use of these materials ensures they will be lightweight and comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. We need to clear up one anomaly. These headphones do not weigh just over two pounds as is represented on some websites – they are nine and a half ounces.
These headphones have 40mm neodymium drivers giving plenty of high-end frequencies and a concise and clear bass. The frequency response is 10 – 30000 Hz. They have oxygen-free dual detachable cables and a ⅛ inch gold-plated stereo mini-jack.
One of the nice things about these phones is the overall sound they produce. The bass is nicely and well-defined. Not too loud in the mix, but a solid sound might be the best way to describe it. The high-frequency extension is efficient but is not overstated, leaving the mids to be balanced and present.
The build quality you can only appreciate. They are comfortable yet very strong. Shure has a reputation for building things that last. Usually, it is microphones. It seems that idea spills over to headphones as well.
Great for transients…
If we want to find fault with them, we are not over enamored with a dual exit cable, which can be prone to tangling.
However, there can be few complaints, and these headphones are built to a high standard. And if you’re looking for headphones with a fast transient response, then these could be the ones. They are set at a similar price range to most of the others in this review.
- Good strong but lightweight build with a high comfort level.
- They produce a good sound and have a fast transient response.
- Some won’t like the dual cables.
6 Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro Open Studio Headphones – Most Accurate Headphones for Mixing and Mastering
We certainly move up the price range within this set of reference headphones from Beyer. Designed and made for those demanding a very balanced sound. They are suitable for studio people for mixing and mastering.
They are an over-ear open-backed design that offers two separate listening options and offer a well-balanced sound or a more analytical style. What you choose will depend on what you are using them for. The options are changed by using different earpads that are supplied.
Hear exactly what the mix sounds like…
However, the sound has space and a natural feel to it. As reference phones, they are ideal for critical listening.
They have 45m neodymium drivers that produce a crisp sound. The frequency range is a very good 5-40,000 Hz. and they have an SPL of 102dB. The sound, as we have said, is crisp and bright. But it also provides a very detailed and articulated bass. One big plus is the mids that are detailed and full. Important for the area where the snare and vocals are mostly located.
Choice of cables…
The cable is detachable and connects on one side of the headphones. Thoughtfully, Beyer provides both curly and straight cables so you can have your choice.
The supplied ear pads and the headband are filled with good quality foam. They are covered with a quality textile, and so will ensure limited fatigue in long sessions. As there is a variety of sounds available, you can alternate ear pads and headband during working hours as needed.
These are headphones designed for the pros. They are probably not going to suit the ordinary consumer. The attention to detail in the sound is impressive, and these come right at the top of the pile. This makes them a contender as one of the Most Accurate Mixing and Mastering Headphones you can buy.
Professionals will happily pay…
They come at quite a high price point. But engineers will recognize their quality and will expect not much less.
These are an excellent example of what is available for working in studios. With a stunning sound stage, they perform. You will find it difficult to find much that is better. They come with a hard case.
- Real quality in sound production and options.
- Comfortable with a good build quality.
- Some may find them too expensive.
7 AKG K 701 Ultra Reference Class Stereo Headphone Level 1 – Best Headphones for Mixing and Mastering Low Frequencies
Normally when you are talking about equipment for recording studios, and you hear the brand AKG you say, ‘enough said.’ This AKG K 701 Ultra Reference Class Stereo Headphone has been around for more than a decade. That speaks volumes about its quality.
Visually they are somewhat different. AKG has made no effort to impress with the design or to try to make them look chic. These headphones are for work.
Functional and practical…
When you first see them, they are not what you might call attractive. The suspended headband underneath two arches resembles a ride from Disney. The headband is real leather and self-adjusting with little padding and the earpieces quite large.
They are made mostly of plastic despite looking like some parts might be metal. Plastic is much lighter. That makes them lightweight and much better for a long day of use.
But despite what some might feel are negative comments, these have stood the test of time. Because they are good at what they do, so, forget the glitz and glamour and marketing hype some brands insist on – these do the job.
Comfortable for any session…
Despite looking oversized, they are very comfortable to wear with their soft foam ear pads covered in velour. They are an open-backed, over-ear design, and have AKG’s flat-wire voice coil design. There is a frequency response of 10-39000 Hz. They come with a ¼ inch to 1/8 inch stereo adapter.
The sound is where they excel, which is why you buy them. Despite not having any extra prominence deliberately applied, the bottom end is stunning with its clarity. They will pick up every little thing that either should or should not be there.
If you are considering a new set of headphones, don’t buy any until you’ve heard these. They really are that good!
- Great sounds with clarity and a great tip and bottom end.
- Well made with plenty of comfort built-in.
- Some may not like the styling.
8 Focal Listen Pro Closed-Back Reference Studio Headphones – Most Versatile Headphones for Mixing and Mastering
Just to change the emphasis a little, we have a set of headphones from Focal that are quite different from the others we have looked at. These are the follow-up to a successful range of headphones called the Spirit Pros. These are an over design but closed back instead of an open back.
They are nicely made, but we suspect they were made more for the consumer than the studio engineer. The earcups are very comfortable and soft. They have high-density foam ear cups that are heat sensitive with a fiber lining. And give a nice fit, and being closed back, exclude virtually all external noise.
Not much padding…
The headband may not be so comfortable. It is a rather hard plastic with a silicone lining that is flexible, but it has very little in the way of padding. It has a very useful and well made foldable design, and come with an excellent case.
They have 40mm drivers made from Mylar and titanium that have a frequency range of 5Hz–22kHz. They come with two detachable oxygen-free cables – one straight and one curly. The straight cable has a remote control, as well as a microphone and smartphone capability. It is a 32-ohm low impedance and so works well with laptops and mobile devices.
Good sound for a closed-back design…
The sound reproduction is quite good, but being closed back, we think that most engineers will prefer an open back design.
It is more of a consumer headphone than a mixing and mastering tool. However, if you are on a budget and only want one set of headphones for mixing and for general use, these are a superb choice. They are well made and foldable and with a nice hard case. Mid-range price point.
- Stylish design that is foldable with a nice case.
- Some extra communication features and is compatible with your phone.
- Not the best for mixing and mastering, but great for versatile use.
Best Headphones for Mixing and Mastering Buyers Guide
Getting the track prepared
The tracking is done, and now it’s time to put it all together and make it sound good. Not an easy task at all, but it will be harder with the wrong set of phones.
We have looked at variety, but most are open-backed. These are considered the best design by most engineers for mixing and mastering.
But comfort is also an issue, and they mustn’t be too heavy. They must preferably not get too hot, and they need to sit comfortably on your head and not be too tight.
With most of the headphones we looked at, they had a very neutral sound, with no extra bottom or extra top added. For mixing, adding frequencies isn’t a good idea. It needs to be heard in its natural state to allow you to work with it and make it translate onto all systems.
The price will not surprise you if you want quality. They are going to cost quite a bit, and there is no way around that.
Looking for more fantastic headphones for specific purposes?
However, if you need a pair for something else, then how about the Best Waterproof Headphones, the Most Comfortable Headphones, the Best Headphones under 100 dollars, the Best Waterproof Bluetooth Headphones, the Best Headphones with Microphone, or the Best Headphones and Earbuds for Sleeping on the market.
So, what are the Best Headphones for Mixing and Mastering?
There are a number of headphones that stand out. They are all excellent. But for us, we would choose…
Absolute quality from a manufacturer with a big reputation. They are expensive, but you pay for the quality and the results these deliver. They will ensure that your mix or master is as good as it can be. Therefore, they are easily our choice for the Best Headphones for Mixing and Mastering you can buy.
Happy mixing and mastering.