A decent set of headphones is essential to one’s arsenal whether you’re a musician, producer, engineer or DJ. You need to know them intimately and trust them with your life. Ok granted, that might be a smidge melodramatic but they are one of the few pieces of gear that need to give you the most accurate detail possible, wherever you are, be that in the studio recording, mixing or live on stage. We’re going to look at 5 pairs that have caught our attention, some newer contenders and others tried and true veterans. And fear not those on a modest budget, we’re covering a wide price range with this one. Spec rundown of each is listed below.
At the entry-level end of the spectrum, we have the AKG K52 headphones. Considered an industry standard at their price point and incredibly popular for fitting out school music tech labs, for example, they are by no means cheap or nasty in quality and their sound is pretty darn amazing for a pair of headphones this affordable.
Featuring some of the standard AKG Pro features such as their patented self-adjusting headband to fit any head size big or small, replacement ear pads and thumping 40mm drivers delivering solid frequency response. The closed-back design offers good isolation for tracking and reduces spill to the outside world.
If you’re on a tight budget but don’t want to sacrifice on quality, then look no further than these, you won’t be disappointed.
What we liked: Easy, comfortable fit, quality sound for the price
Beyer Dynamic DT 990 PRO
Possibly some of the most comfortable headphones around, Beyer Dynamic certainly know how to make your head and ears feel like they’re wrapped in a cosy blanket. But comfort aside, the DT 900 PRO headphones are a solid open back model for those wanting to step into the next tear of headphones for mixing without breaking the bank.
Their impressive 5Hz – 35kHz frequency response and wide soundstage are wonderful for mixing, and being open back give accurate and critical information of the stereo image — not really a pair to be used for tracking though (unless you particularly enjoy the battle of headphone spill in your mics). With an impedance of 250-ohms, these cans need a bit more grunt than the average pair to drive, so you may find a phone or laptop headphone port a bit quiet but a mixer or interface headphone output should be peppy enough.
Their comfort, detail and open sound make the DT 990 PRO an ever-popular choice for those looking for a dedicated set of mixing (or general listening) headphones. They sound lovely and you’ll probably want to wear them to bed in winter.
What we liked: Snug as bug, wide soundstage, non-fatiguing
AIAIAI TMA-2 – Studio Preset
With a rather unique design, the AIAIAI range of headphones is a modular system allowing pretty much every part of the headphone to be swapped out and changed around for a truly customizable bit of kit.
We’re looking at the TMA-2 Studio Preset model which offers a well-balanced response with a nice extension in the bottom end. The low-end response will suit DJ’s who require a bit of extra oomph when in the booth, but perhaps might be a little overpowering for those wanting to use these for mixing. Their great isolation and 117dB SPL sensitivity rating are great for studio tracking and coupled with their snug fit reassure they won’t be going walkabout on particularly enthusiastic performers.
The flexibility of their modular design opens up a lot of options for those who need it. The AIAIAI TMA-2 Studio Preset headphones are a tight, rock-solid headphone, which will suit those who love a bit of extra kick in the lows.
What we liked: Modular design, the carry case, right-angled cable
Just released this year and featured for review in the Noisegate lab early in the year, the AKG K371 certainly cut through the noise of the already crowded mid-priced headphone market.
Probably some of the most open sounding closed-back headphones we’ve heard, these headphones tick a lot of boxes and offer great features for those looking for versatility, high-quality design and superb response. A whopping 5Hz – 40kHz frequency response gives massive detail where you want it and is very even across the spectrum, making them ideal for making critical mix decisions at low or high volumes. Being closed back they are fantastic for tracking and are well isolated, are super comfortable and their foldable design make them ideal for travel. Three different cables are included in both straight and coiled varieties depending on your preference.
The K371 are a very impressive headphone for the price and their elegant, slick and full-featured design will appeal to many. A most solid all-rounder.
What we liked: Versatility, detailed imaging, foldable design
Neumann NDH 20
We couldn’t do a headphone list without including something a little fancy and that’s easily done with anything that encompasses the Neumann name. Their first bout into the headphone world, the NDH 20 are an incredibly stylish, rugged and beautiful sounding headphone.
Certainly reflected in their price, the NDH 20’s sit in the upper mid-high price range and are designed for both track and mixing, a true reference monitor headphone. They offer a full range response of 5Hz – 30kHz and their smooth, linear response make them perfectly suited for critical mixing, with lots of detail without hype. The memory foam earpads offer maximum comfort isolation both from spill and the outside world but don’t ever sound boxy or fatiguing. To top it off their foldable design allows them to be transported easily and used on the go.
An A-class design, sound and feature set coupled with their rugged construction clearly designed to last, the Neumann NDH 20’s are going to be worth a look for those looking at a significant upgrade or just going straight to the top. A stunning set of headphones from one of the most prestigious names in audio.
What we liked: Rugged, high-end meticulously detailed sound, overall slick package
Take Your Pick
Whether it’s your first pair or you’re an experienced user and looking for something fresh, there’s something for everyone. From tracking to mixing, to the DJ on stage you’ll be hard-pressed to find a headphone here that won’t spark your creativity and have you listening for hours on end, no matter what your application or budget. For us – the versatility, comfort, detailed sound and outstanding spec for their price make the AKG K371 our pick of the bunch.
|DT 990 PRO
|18Hz – 20kHz
|5Hz – 35kHz
|20Hz – 20kHz
|5Hz – 40kHz
|5Hz – 30kHz
|3m coiled, 1.2m, 3m straight
|1x 1-3m spiralled, 1x 3m straight