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The Top 10 Headphones On The Market In 2021

Headphones come in many shapes and sizes, but, crucially, they have many different functions. Studio and DJ headphones are most frequently used in music production and performance – but one set of headphones has completely different advantages to another.

We’ve chosen the best studio and DJ headphones on the market in 2021. By the end of our article, you’ll have a clear idea of which types of headphones are best suited to your needs and the key features to look out for.

Table of contents

  1. Types of headphones
  2. What to look for in studio headphones
  3. The 5 best studio headphones on the market
  4. What to look for in DJ headphones
  5. The 5 best DJ headphones on the market

Types of headphones

Before jumping into a purchase, you need to identify what you’re looking for and how you intend to use your headphones. With that in mind, it’s important to know that headphones usually come in one of three forms: closed back, semi-open back, and open back.

Closed-back headphones

Closed-back headphones insulate sound, so they’re best suited to monitoring a track while recording to it. These headphones don’t allow for any sound leakage, so whatever is playing through them won’t be picked up by the microphones you’re recording with.

These sound insulation properties are one of the reasons DJs often use closed-back headphones. They prevent sound from getting both in and out, so DJs can still hear the track they’re queuing while in a noisy environment like a club.

However, closed-back headphones tend not to produce as high-quality sound as open-back headphones because the sound is reflected within the headphone.

Open-back headphones

Open-back models produce the best sound quality available, as the sound can escape from the headphone itself.

This capability allows you to hear the signal clearly as nothing affects your interpretation of the sound when you listen back to it. It also makes open-back headphones ideal for mixing pre-recorded audio or producing music, as you need to hear the sound accurately to make a judgment on how to produce, mix, or master it.

The downside to open-back headphones is that they offer very little sound insulation and are therefore unsuitable for performers who need to monitor music as they record.

In a studio, the sound engineer wears open-back headphones to listen to what’s being recorded outside the recording booth. The performer, meanwhile,  wears closed-back headphones to play or sing along to the track from inside the booth.

Semi-open back headphones

As their title suggests, semi-open back headphones are a middle ground between open and closed-back headphones. They provide better sound insulation than fully open-back headphones, yet they can avoid much of the sound reflection that closed-back headphones suffer from.

A semi-open back headphone is a good choice if you’re looking for versatility and broader general application in your equipment. You might also choose a semi-open back headphone if you tend to mix on studio monitors rather than headphones, making them more of a back-up.

What to look for in studio headphones

best headphones 2021

If you’re in the market for headphones to mix and produce your music with, the key features to look out for are:

Open-back

As discussed above, open-back headphones will help ensure the sound you hear isn’t impeded by the headphone’s mechanical design.

Wide frequency range

Frequency range is the extent to which your headphones can produce high and low sounds. If a pair of headphones have a frequency range of 5Hz – 40,000Hz, you won’t hear anything below 5Hz or over 40,000Hz because your headphones can’t reproduce those sounds. This limitation is audibly noticeable with cheap earbuds, as most of them have a very narrow frequency range.

Impedance

This is a form of electrical resistance which is measured in ohms. Low impedance headphones (typically under 50 ohms) require very little power to produce high amplification, while moderate to high-impedance headphones (around 75 ohms or higher) the opposite. High-impedance headphones tend to produce clearer audio, though very high-impedance headphones may require the use of a preamp – which you probably have if you’re producing music anyway. You can read more about impedance here.

Flat frequency response

Frequency response is a measure of the range of frequencies that a pair of headphones can produce. A flat frequency response is sought-after because it means that the input and output are produced equally, and the overall sound is, therefore, more accurate.

In essence, it’s more important that your studio headphones give you an accurate, rather than attractive, sound. Many consumer headphones boost certain frequencies to make the audio sound more pleasing, but anybody intending to mix their music using headphones should steer clear of them.

Imagine you’ve recorded a guitar section, and you’re playing with effects and EQ-ing the recording. If you use hi-fi or consumer headphones, you could boost the bass or mids to make the guitar section sound fuller. As a result, you could get an inaccurate representation of what your recording sounds like.

Studio headphones have a flat frequency response (as explained above), so you can listen objectively to the sound you’ve produced. This objectivity allows you to make reliable mixing judgments.

Now, let’s get into the headphones!

The 5 best studio headphones on the market

Audio Technica ATH-R70x

The ATH-R70x is Audio Technica’s first pair of open-back studio reference headphones. These headphones appeal to a broad range of users and have fast become a favourite of audiophiles and producers alike. Given their broader appeal, they give a generally flat frequency response, but with a little more detail in the lows and highs. Flat frequency responses can often produce dull sound, but here that’s somehow avoided.

For this reason, the R70x headphones are perhaps best used to supplement studio monitors. Knowing that there’s a little more in the lows and highs means you can use these headphones to focus on details in those ranges that might be overlooked on monitors alone. Just keep the mix in mind between devices.

Key features

  • Open-back
  • 5 – 40,000Hz frequency range
  • Impedance of 470 ohms (suited for use with a preamp)
  • Detachable cord
  • Dual corded to ensure proper stereo orientation
  • Technical construction designed to reduce headphone noise and ensure accuracy

User review

My mixes improved drastically through using these headphones. The fact that they’re open-back means I get loads of deep and warm natural sounds. The clarity is incredible, and I love the deep bass which makes sure I get it right in my mix. Japanese excellence. (Amazon)

AKG K702

AKG’s K702 studio reference headphones are designed for studio mixing and mastering. In 74 years of producing audio equipment, AKG has earned over one thousand patents. One of these is its Varimotion two-layer diaphragm, which has been implemented in these very headphones.

Therefore, the material that vibrates to produce audio in the K702 headphones has been developed specifically by AKG to remove the resonance caused by other inferior materials. This feature prevents interference with the quality of the sound produced and gives you a flatter frequency response than many rival headphones.

Beyond this, the K702s are comfortable and individually tested and serial-numbered to guarantee quality and peace of mind for the consumer.

Key features

  • Open-back
  • 10 – 39,800Hz frequency range
  • Impedance of 62 ohms (suitable for most devices)
  • Detachable cable
  • Patented diaphragm technology

User review

Large but lightweight. Very detailed and revealing performance. Very flat frequency response. Well-matched transducers, professional levels of sound quality. Fantastic stereo sound-stage. Comfortable to wear. (Amazon)

Sennheiser HD 800 S

To give you some idea of how Sennheiser justifies these headphones’ price, the company pioneered technology to eliminate a phenomenon known as the ‘masking effect’. This is when the human ear struggles to hear certain frequencies when louder lower frequencies are playing.

Whilst we might not even be aware of this feature of our hearing, it nevertheless impacts our sense of a good mix. This is the kind of access to your music Sennheiser is presenting here – scientific and granular and unprecedented.

If you’re really after the best in class, this is it.

Key features

  • Open back
  • 4 – 51,000Hz frequency range
  • Impedance of 300 ohms (suited for use with a preamp)
  • Elite class of headphone
  • Unrivalled sound reproduction technology
  • Handcrafted ear pads, made of high-quality microfiber fabric
  • Two-year warranty
  • Biggest transducers ever used in headphones

User review

I’ve had the Sennheiser HD800 S headphones for a few months, and I continue to fall in love with them like it was my first day. The sense of realism and musical space and depth is just unmatched. They are truly phenomenal headphones. (Head-fi.org forum)

Sony MDR-7506

The Sony MDR-7506s are classic workhorse headphones found in studios the world over. They’ve been in production for over 20 years at the time of writing, and with good reason. Their price point and time-tested reliability are their main advantages – they can competently pick up almost any job, whether it’s tweaking a mix, monitoring audio, or DJing.

As with legendary devices like the Roland SP-404 and Akai MPC2500 samplers or the Roland RE-201 Space Echo delay unit, the MDR-7506 headphones have a distinct sound.

This distinct sound is of harsher mids and highs, which is incredibly useful to anybody producing music. This emphasis on mids and highs will highlight problematic frequencies that other devices might hide, giving you the opportunity to fix them.

Key features

  • Closed-back
  • 10 – 20,000Hz frequency range
  • Impedance of 63 ohms (suitable for most devices)
  • Affordable
  • Trusted and time-honoured

User review

Putting them on, I was struck by the quiet – there’s no hiss. The sound has definition, in particular the bass. It has punch, and I can tell the difference between kick drums and bass notes. It’s particularly good for drum n bass, where you have sub-bass, bassline, and kick drums moving up in frequency in order. £90 is incredible value. (Amazon)

Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro

The DT 1990 Pro headphones are handcrafted in Germany, so you know you’re getting the best in technical construction when you buy these.  

Thanks to the high-tech textiles which mould to your ear, you forget you’re wearing headphones altogether. What’s more, Beyerdynamic has been around since 1924 and is still held in high regard, so you can trust in the company’s attention to detail.

As Beyerdynamic claims itself, power and precision are critical requirements when it comes to sound reproduction. As such, the DT 1990 Pros include Tesla driver technology to produce a wide and flat frequency range which creates a natural listening experience. This flat frequency range is backed by their high-power output, resulting in both loud and detailed playback.

Key features

  • Open-back
  • 5 – 40,000Hz frequency range
  • Impedance of 250 ohms (suited for use with a preamp)
  • Detachable cord
  • Implements proprietary headphone technology

User review

I use these for professional audio recording and production. Beyerdynamic is a leader in the field, and these are a comfortable, honest, and reasonably accurate set of headphones. Long-term use, even for hours at a time, is comfortable. They aren’t tiring to listen to either, unlike a lot of budget headphones. (Amazon)

Let’s now turn our attention to DJ headphones.

What to look for in DJ headphones

best headphones 2021

If you’re looking for headphones to DJ with and use in club environments, these are the main features to look out for:

Durability

Odds are, you’ll throw these headphones in your bag and transport them from gig to gig. Even when you use them, you won’t gently pop them on or off your head. You’ll quickly pull them up to your ear or twist and jam them against your head and shoulder to hear the track come in. You need to make sure your DJ headphones can take a beating.

Noise cancellation

At the higher end, noise cancellation can mean the headphones detect background noise frequency and generate a neutralising frequency to totally isolate the audio output. Most of the time, though, noise cancellation means the headphones are well soundproofed, which is vital when you’re trying to DJ at a noisy club or event.

Single cord

As a rule of thumb, headphones with a cord coming from each ear pad aren’t DJ headphones. These headphones come with a single cord most of the time to prevent tangling in the booth. Detachable cords are a plus, too.

Enhanced frequencies

Unlike studio headphones, DJ headphones don’t have to reproduce the audio you hear perfectly or objectively. It’s much more important that the key frequencies are audible against background noise and the tune you’re beatmatching to. Most of all, you need to be able to hear the kicks (40 – 100Hz), snares (900 – 2,000Hz), and hi-hats (300 – 3,000Hz or 10,000 – 17,000Hz for sparkly hi-hats).

Impedance level

This is more relevant to DJs than producers as low impedance headphones are prone to blowing out on high-powered DJ equipment, whereas moderate to high-impedance headphones are generally protected from this. If your headphones have unusually high impedance (75 ohms or more), you may need a preamp to use them with your DJ equipment.

Without further ado, here are the best DJ headphones on the market in 2021.

The 5 best DJ headphones on the market

AIAIAI TMA-2 DJ

Price: £180

The TMA-2 DJ headphones are designed specifically for DJs and feature a modular construction system. This feature allows you to build headphones that suit your needs instead of trying to find a pair of headphones that work for you. These headphones have 22 different components to choose from, including four speakers, four headbands, seven ear pads, and seven cables.

If that wasn’t enough, your favourite DJ probably uses the TMA-2 DJs headphones. They’re frequently spotted hanging around the necks of Bonobo, Richie Hawtin, Kaytranada, Holly Herndon, and Skream.

They’ve also received favourable press coverage from numerous DJ publications and websites such as Resident Advisor, XLR8R, and DJMag.

Key features

  • Closed-back
  • 20 – 20,000Hz frequency range
  • Impedance of 32 ohms (suitable for most devices)
  • Modular and customisable design
  • Two-year warranty

User review

I’ve owned a lot of headphones over the years, and they all break fairly quickly, aren’t all that comfortable, and don’t sound great. These are the antithesis of almost all other headphones. They sound amazing, they’re very comfortable, and I can’t overstate how durable they are. Living in London, I sometimes see other people with a pair of AIAIAIs, and they’re always very wellworn but still going strong. You won’t regret buying them – they are amazing and definitely the best headphones on the market. (Amazon)

Sennheiser HD25

Price: £109

The origin story of these headphones is quite unique. They were originally handed out to passengers of Concorde planes to counteract the loud engine noise. We know some Berlin clubs’ PA systems can get pretty loud – but Concord-engine loud? If this story isn’t a testament to the HD25s’ noise cancellation capabilities, we don’t know what is.

These are solid, no-nonsense DJ headphones you won’t regret buying. They’re a bit rough around the edges, but you need this in a DJ headphone – something rugged and durable.

Key features

  • Closed-back
  • 16 – 22,000Hz frequency range
  • Impedance of 70 ohms (suitable for most devices)
  • Modular and customisable design
  • Detachable, single-sided cord
  • Rotatable right ear cup

User review

These punch well above their weight. These are very comfy, and after 50 hours of usage, they really come to life. I would describe them as being very neutral, and the bass is also fantastic, plus they block out noise seriously well. I love how you can crank up the volume, and these things do not go all floppy on you at all. It is very apparent why many top DJs use them. All parts are replaceable, and they are very comfy and super light. (Amazon)

V-MODA Crossfade M-100 Master

With a 50mm driver (the part that makes sound), the M-100 Master headphones are Hi-Res Audio certified by the Japan Audio Society (JAS). This certification, along with a wide frequency range, means you’re getting quite a lot of clarity for a pair of DJ headphones. The over-ear closed design does well to keep external noise out, too.

These headphones are also collapsible, making them suitable for transport, and, better still, they come with their own hardcase to prevent damage.

V-MODA also understands that one of the best parts of DJing is the spectacle, so you can customise the M-100s’ colour, and laser engrave the earcups when ordering from the V-MODA website.

Key features

  • Closed-back
  • 5 – 40,000Hz frequency range
  • Impedance of 32 ohms (suitable for most devices)
  • Foldable
  • Detachable, single-sided cable for easy transport (with three lengths included)
  • Carry case included
  • Two-year warranty

User review

The sound is great, as is the build quality. I was a little hesitant buying them because £200 is quite a lot of money for me, but I’ve wanted a quality set of headphones for a while, so I treated myself. They are very sturdy, and they come with a two-year warranty from the manufacturer if you sign up for it on the V-MODA website. I would recommend these headphones to anyone considering them. (Amazon)

Pioneer HDJ-X7

The HDJ-X7 headphones are part of a new series of products created by Pioneer to provide unprecedented monitoring capabilities. They’re based on Pioneer’s classic HDJ-2000MK2 headphones but come with some additional benefits.

The first of these is the frequency range these headphones are able to support – a large 5 – 30kHz range and the new 50mm driver. With these innovations, you’ll be able to hear deep kicks, basslines, and hats and snares cut through the mix so you can blend tunes in nuanced ways.

As durability is top of the priority list for DJ headphones, the HDJ-X7s are also made from metals that have undergone – and passed – military testing for strength. So, if they find their way to the bottom of your bag, you know they’ll still come out intact.

Key features

  • Closed-back
  • 5 – 30,000Hz frequency range
  • Impedance of 36 ohms (suitable for most devices)
  • Carry pouch included
  • Extremely durable

User review

The step up from the HDJ-X5s is worth the money, dependant on use. If you’re big on sound quality, these are definitely worth it. They have a great build, too. They will no doubt last a long time. (Amazon)

Audio Technica ATH-M50X

The ATH-M50X headphones are the most critically acclaimed in Audio Technica’s M-Series line and feature in roundups of the top DJ headphones year after year. The closed-back construction is ideal for DJing as it helps keep background noise out and your audio output in.

Though the M50Xs are touted as studio headphones by Audio Technica, there are clear DJ headphone design elements present here. For example, the single and detachable cord, swivelling earcups, and the focus on comfort and prolonged usage.

This crossover appeal actually works with the M50X as DJ headphones as they produce higher clarity in the audio, which some DJs have found allows you to produce really tight, live EQing while mixing tracks.

Key features

  • Closed-back
  • 15 – 28,000Hz frequency range
  • Impedance of 38 ohms (suited for use with most devices)
  • Detachable, single-sided cable for easy transport (with three lengths included)
  • 90-degree swivelling ear-cups and collapsible construction

User review

These headphones have the finest sound quality I’ve ever heard. The frequency coverage is also impressive, from deepest sub-bass to the highest piercing synth – the clarity and separation between instruments is unparalleled. I cannot stress enough just how good these headphones are. If you’re looking to listen to music as it is supposed to sound, with beautiful clarity and full tabbed frequency, then the M50Xs are for you! (Amazon)

Specialist DJ insurance from Insure4Music

Whether you spend £100 or £1,000 on headphones, they’re responsible for how you experience music and ply your craft. Whether you’re a DJ or producer, you don’t want to see them broken, lose them or have them stolen, so you need to make sure they’re protected.

At Insure4Music, we offer specialist DJ and sound equipment insurance so that, if the worst happens, you’ll never bear the financial burden of replacing or fixing your music gear.

We know no two producers or DJs are the same, so our cover is fully customisable based on what equipment you own, and where and how you intend to use this equipment.

Click the above link for more information, or get an instant online quote and see how we can protect your equipment.

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