The best headphones to buy in 2020: 13 best all-purpose headphones

Looking to mix at home, record in a professional studio or make music on the go? You’ll be hard-pressed to do so without a decent set of ‘phones.

Whether you’re mixing in your home studio, recording in a professional one or making music on the go, having a reliable pair of headphones to work on is vital. But – closed-back? Impedance? Circumaural? What do these terms mean, and how should they factor into your decision when searching for the perfect pair?

Open-back vs closed-back

One of the first decisions you’ll make when picking a set of headphones is whether to go closed- or open-back.

Largely considered to be ideal for mixing, open-back headphones allow air to pass through the ear cups to the driver. Because pressure doesn’t build up, this tends to create a more natural and spacious sound. Plus, open-back headphones are often lighter than their closed-back siblings, making them more comfortable to work with over longer periods.

Advertisement

Closed-back headphones, on the other hand, offer better isolation making them ideal if you’re recording yourself, or if you’re an engineer working in a live environment. The last thing you want is to be recording an intimate vocal and create a feedback loop with your headphones. They also have their place in mixing – particularly if you find yourself working in a noisy environment. Some closed-back headphones such as ADAM Audio’s Studio Pro SP-5 even include technologies that help improve spatial perception for stereo sources for a more natural feel.

Another term you’ll see when selecting headphones is ‘circumaural’, which refers to headphones that surround your ears. In contrast, ‘supra-aural’ are cans that sit on your ears – but you won’t encounter any on this particular list.

Impedance

In a nutshell, the higher the impedance on a set of headphones, the more power you need to make the drivers move and deliver perceivable audio. Consumer-grade audio gear like your smartphone offers weak amplification, and thus, tends to work better with low-impedance headphones.

So if they’re harder to drive, why on earth would you want a high-impedance set of headphones? Well, for one thing, they won’t blow out when you plug into something with more power – which includes, well, a fair amount of pro-audio equipment.

The best all-purpose headphones at a glance:

  • Beyerdynamic DT 1990 PRO
  • ADAM Audio Studio Pro SP-5
  • Audio-Technica ATH-M60x
  • AKG K812
  • Yamaha HPH-MT8
  • AKG K371
  • Shure SRH 1540
  • Sennheiser HD600
  • AKG K702
  • Sony MDR-7506
  • Beyerdynamic DT770
  • Audeze LCD-1
  • Focal Listen Professional

Beyerdynamic DT 1990 PRO

Beyerdynamic 1990DT
Image: Beyerdynamic 1990DT

One of the older entries on this list – sure, but the DT 1990 Pros from Beyerdynamic are far from dated. With their open-back design, these headphones deliver an uncoloured and spacious sound that’s ideal for music-making, mixing and even some mastering.

Advertisement

Each set comes with two pairs of ear pads – one designed for a natural output, and the other, which emphasises bass frequencies. Regardless of which ear pads you choose, both are well-built and comfortable to wear for an extended period. Also, there’s a closed-back version, DT 1700, if you don’t want to disturb anyone.

Read our full review here.

Price: €599 / $599
Type: Open-back circumaural headphones
Drivers: 45mm dynamic Tesla neodymium drivers
Impedance: 250 ohms
Frequency Response: 5Hz – 40kHz
Other features: Two sets of earpads (natural/bass boost)

ADAM Audio Studio Pro SP-5

Adam Audio Studio Pro SP5
Image: Adam Audio

ADAM Audio – best known for its impressive monitor speakers – favour practicality and sound above all else with their Studio Pro SP-5 headphones. These aren’t the cheapest cans you’ll find in the market, nor the most head-turning – but they do deliver if you’re looking for reliable, accurate headphones for mixing.

The Studio Pro SP-5s also feature tech from Ultrasone for extended high-frequency response and other more unusual features that ADAM claims will produce a more natural sound and reduce fatigue during longer sessions.

Read our full review here.

Price: £499/$499
Type: Closed-back circumaural headphones
Drivers: Dynamic 40mm
Impedance: 70 ohms
Frequency Response: 8Hz – 38kHz
Other features: S-LOGIC Plus; ULE-Technology (Ultra Low Emission).

Audio-Technica ATH-M60x

Audio Technica ATH-M60x
Image: Audio Technica

While the closed-back design of Audio Technica’s ATH-M60x may suit the live room better than mixing or mastering tasks, they still perform well enough to be considered an able all-rounder. Particularly if you’re a session player working from a simple home studio, these headphones offer comfort for long hours of play, and won’t break the bank.

On sound quality, these headphones offer a crisp top-end, detailed mids and a tight, balanced low end. There is a noticeably pronounced peak at around 2kHz which can be revealing when making adjustments in the critical mid-frequencies.

Read our full review here.

Price: $200
Type: Closed-back circumaural headphones
Drivers: 45mm
Impedance: 38 ohms
Frequency Response: 15Hz – 28kHz

AKG K812

AKG K812
Image: AKG

There’s no way around it – the K812s from AKG carry a hefty price tag. So why exactly would you need them? In short, it’s you’re working in a suboptimal room – and most of us are – these reference headphones could give you a better impression of tonal balance than working on monitors. Going back to the principle that accurate headphones can reveal sonic details less apparent on full monitors, these offer a wide frequency response and pinpoint stereo imaging, letting you zero in on mix problems effectively.

As for audio quality, we named the K812s one of the best sounding headphones we’ve ever heard in our 2016 review. Mixing on headphones notoriously ‘scrunches’ tracks in a mix, and these just placed everything better, spreading them out to allow mixes to breathe more. They’re expensive, sure, but they’re the best headphones we’ve ever heard.

Read our full review here.

Price: $1,499/£1,099
Type: Open-back circumaural headphones
Drivers: 53mm
Impedance: 36 ohms
Frequency Response: 5Hz – 54kHz

Yamaha HPH-MT8

Yamaha MPH-MT8
Image: Yamaha

With Yamaha’s HPH-MT8 headphones, you get a no-frills pair of headphones that prioritise accuracy over flattery – which is just what you’d want in a pair of mixing headphones. Building on the more affordable HPH-MT5 ‘phones, the HPH-MT8s offer a flatter response with extended bass. Their larger drivers help deliver a wider frequency response and more bass-mid separation for making critical low-end mix decisions. The MT8s also offer a comfortable feel and better build quality, when compared to the MT5s.

Read our full review here.

Price: $199.99 / £170
Type: Closed-back circumaural headphones
Drivers: 45mm
Impedance: 37 ohms
Frequency Response: 15Hz – 28kHz
Other features:

AKG K371

AKG K371
Image: AKG K371

Though the K812s (above) and K371s from AKG both garnered high praise from us in our reviews – they come at vastly different price points. While the K812s are more suited for professionals with access to high-grade monitor speakers, the AKG K371s are much more affordably priced and could be ideal for engineers on a budget.

For the money, the K371s come impressively spec’d, offering a frequency response beyond the upper limit of human hearing (and most dogs), contributing to a flatter response within the audible band. The K371s have also been designed to match AKG’s Reference Response Curve – a theoretical ‘ideal’ frequency response made by aggregating the critical listening preferences of hundreds of testers over five years.

Read our full review here.

Price: $186.25 / £155
Type: Closed-back circumaural headphones
Drivers: 50mm
Impedance: 32 ohms
Frequency Response: 5Hz – 40kHz

Shure SRH1540

Shure SRH1540
Image: Shure

The SRH1540 is the most premium member of Shure’s wide SRH range – which the brand says are ‘for professional and audiophile applications’. Built with aircraft-grade aluminium alloy yokes and carbon fibre enclosures, you would be forgiven for thinking Shure was talking about spaceship design. In reality, these fancy build materials aren’t just a gimmick, as they lend to a much lighter set of ‘phones. Weighing in at just 286g, they’re lighter than your average reference headphones, and this means that mixing over longer periods is much more tolerable.

During our review, we were instantly thrown into the mixes we were listening to – which is always the first sign of a great set of phones. The ability to ‘look around’ the sound field to make adjustments is what you want from mixing headphones, and the SRH1540s deliver on that front. In terms of frequency response, there’s just a (very) slight touch of colour in the low-end, but apart from that, these headphones sound pristine.

Read our full review here.

Price: $624 / £399
Type: Closed-back circumaural headphones
Drivers: 40mm
Impedance: 46 ohms
Frequency Response: 5Hz – 25kHz

Sennheiser HD600

Sennheiser HD600
Image: Sennheiser

Deemed indispensable by a plethora of engineers, including Abbey Road’s Paul Pritchard, the Sennheiser HD600s are great all-rounders that offer a natural and spacious sound, thanks to their open-back design. These headphones make use of what Sennheiser calls computer-optimised magnet systems to reduce distortion and deliver a more transparent sound. Compared to their siblings, the HD650s, which add a small bass and mid-bass boost, these offer a flatter frequency response curve and are ideal for mixing and critical listening.

Price: $399 / £279
Type: Open-back circumaural headphones
Drivers: 40mm
Impedance: 300 ohms
Frequency Response: 12Hz – 39kHz

AKG K702

AKG K702
Image: AKG

The truth hurts, but at least it’s the truth. The same logic applies to the flat response that reference headphones can offer. Having the shortcomings of your mix revealed – muddy midrange, shrill treble and practically non-existent bass – is undoubtedly distressing, it’s also the quickest way to figure out where exactly things went so, so wrong.

The K702s are open-back studio headphones that are lauded for their exceptionally flat sound. Fortunately, they come with some very comfortable ear pads for all the hours you’ll spend fixing your mix.

Price: $349 / £119
Type: Open-back circumaural headphones
Drivers: 45mm
Impedance: 62 ohms
Frequency Response: 10Hz – 39.8kHz

Sony MDR-7506

Sony MDR7605
Image: Sony

The Sony MDR-7506 has built a solid reputation in studios, live rooms, stages and film sets the world over. They’re so ubiquitous that we’ve heard them called the headphone equivalent of the NS-10. Like the black speaker with the white cone, they’re not to everyone’s taste, but tracks mixed on them tend to translate. Their bright sonic character might be more suitable for musicians and voice-over artists who occasionally mix before turning in tracks, rather than full-time mixers. But, their low price makes them ideal for situations where they might get damaged (like location recording), or as a reliable backup.

Price: $130 / £89
Type: Closed-back circumaural headphones
Drivers: 40mm
Impedance: 63 ohms
Frequency Response: 10hz – 20kHz

Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro

AKG DT770 Pro
Image: AKG

The Beyerdynamic 770 Pros are a studio favourite for two main reasons: they’re capable of delivering an even frequency response and are durable as heck. Their closed-back design offers plenty of isolation, which is ideal for when working with musicians that like to record in the same room. Plus, you can buy a pair in the impedance of your choice to match your studio needs. And if you’re a drummer, Beyerdynamic makes a special set called the DT 770 M, which offer even greater sound isolation, plus tweaks to the soundstage and frequency response curve.

Price: $159 / £119
Type: Closed-back circumaural headphones
Drivers: 45mm
Impedance: 16/32/80/250 ohms)
Frequency Response: 5Hz – 35kHz

Audeze LCD-1

Audeze LCD-1
Image: Audeze

Though they sit on the low-end of Audeze’s reference headphone line, the LCD-1s inherit the same technology that makes their vastly more expensive ($1300+) cans ideal for both mixing and mastering.

Planar magnetic technology is one of Audeze’s main driving points. Unlike dynamic headphones, which use cone drivers, planar magnetic headphones use a flat plate-like diaphragm, sandwiched between two planes of magnets to regulate its vibrations. The idea is that with the drivers vibrating in ‘unison’ – as opposed to from the centre like a cone driver – listeners get a much cleaner signal with less distortion and more dynamic range.

This, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg in Audeze’s reasoning for planar magnetic drivers being superior to the more commonly seen dynamic drivers. And the company may have a point – Audeze headphones are a favourite among mastering engineers including Stuart Hawkes (Amy Winehouse, Ed Sheeran), Lewis Hopkin (Coldplay, Dr. Dre) and Tony Cousins (Adele, The Verve).

Price: $399 / £369
Type: Open-back circumaural headphones
Drivers: 90mm planar drivers
Impedance: 16 ohms
Frequency Response: 10Hz – 50kHz

Focal Listen Professional

Focal Listen Pro

With the Listen Professionals, Focal translates its knowledge of building excellent studio monitors (see the Alpha range) into the realm of headphone design. And they are as impressive to look at, as they are to work with.

The Listen Professionals boast exceptional comfort thanks to their light build and a set of ‘memory foam’ ear cushions. They also offer strong isolation, and despite having a closed-back design, a fairly wide soundstage that helps you place mix elements intuitively.

As for frequency response, there’s a very slight colouration which can be perceived. However, this works to the headphones’ advantage; mixing on flat headphones for long periods can be wearing, and these keep a good vibe going.

Read our full review here.

Price: $299 / £179
Type: Closed-back circumaural headphones
Drivers: 40mm Mylar and Titanium
Impedance: 32 ohms
Frequency response: 5Hz-22kHz

For more buyer’s guides, click here.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending

Advertisement