BUYER’S GUIDE: The Best Studio Headphones Under $400

What are the best studio headphones you can buy on a budget? Performer takes a look at some of our most recent favorites under $400 in our annual studio headphone roundup.

Blue Microphone’s Sadie Headphones

Blue Sadie

 

Like their previous headphones, the Blue Microphone’s Sadie utilizes Blue’s floating suspension design that is fully adjustable and comfortable. The over-the-ear design has plenty of padding on the ear cups, as well as the head band, and the cans are relatively lightweight, meaning no long-term fatigue or discomfort.

Inside the left ear cup is a USB connection for charging the battery that runs the onboard amplifier. They will work when the battery is dead, but the volume drops and the EQ response is fairly flat. There are two powered modes, a normal and a bass-boosted version, which is adjustable at the detachable cable’s end point.

They’re optimally designed and intended for listening to music through tablets, smartphones and laptops. Considering the fact that most of these devices don’t have a lot of tonal adjustments for listening, a set of these can easily make any sound source more enjoyable. Even mp3’s on a smartphone sound brilliant through a set of Sadies. There’s plenty of top-end clarity, even with the bass-boost function engaged. The bass-boost setting works nicely but it’s quite subtle, not overpowering things (like other brands) and completely changing the whole audio spectrum into a muddy mess.

With a pair of Sadies, there’s plenty of isolation from the outside world, but there’s an air of room ish-ness, where the sound doesn’t feel piped in. For a serious listener, these could be the first steps into a larger world. The $399 street price is slightly pricey, but play a single track, and they quickly show their value. Beats beware.

PRICE: $399

 

 

 

Yamaha HPH-MT8 Studio Monitor Headphones

At $199, the Yamaha HPHMT8 studio headphones are a fairly affordable studio option that users who want a bump up in quality but who don’t want to dish out a grand for a pair of cans, can easily swallow.

yamaha HPH-MT8 headphones

For starters, there’s an inherent richness and fullness that, while not lacking on Yamaha’s lower-priced MT5’s, is much more readily apparent in the 8’s. Full-bodied bass comes through during listening (our test cuts are usually Eric B. & Rakim tracks that even the most badass stylus has difficulty tracking) and even more so during recording. We mixed with each pair of headphones on a variety of material, including deep bass and rhythm tracks using the MONTAGE6 synthesizer Yamaha was also kind enough to loan us. Again, the MT5’s were no slouch, but the 8’s definitely outperformed them.

Did they outperform them by $100? Well, that’s debatable. To be honest, if you could only afford the 5’s, you’d be much better off than a lot of home studio users even 5-10 years ago. They’re just that good. Maybe Yamaha made them a little too good…But the 8’s are clearly awesome, there’s no denying that. The 45mm driver is larger than the 40mm version on the 5’s, which certainly accounts for some of the added fidelity. Frequency response on the 8’s is 15Hz-28kHz, which is insanely impressive, even if the average human ear can’t resolve all that information. Comfort level is about the same, which means it comes down to specs and what you want to spend, at the end of the day.

Here’s our advice: if you can only afford a hundred bucks for studio headphones, the MT5’s are a killer bargain. If you’ve got the extra cash, and you want to invest in a pair of studio cans that offers more accuracy and better frequency response, you owe it to yourself to spend the extra few bucks on the 8’s. Either choice is a good one, trust us.

PRICE: $199

 

 

 

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Headphones

Finding the right pair of mixing headphones is a critical part of any home studio build. And hot damn, the new ATH-M50x cans from Audio-Technica may be the finest pair we’ve ever auditioned in this price range.

Our tests ran the gamut from hardcore punk to hip-hop to smooth jazz, and in each case the highs were crisp without being overly bright or tinny, the midrange was smooth and present, and the bass was well-rounded, defined, and in no way muddy or boomy (a common problem with so-called “professional” grade headphones). We also tested a few rough demo mixes and listener fatigue was a virtual non-issue, even after hours at the computer/DAW. Not only were our ears pleased, but our head felt great, too (did we mention the incredibly comfortable, cushy headband?) We even tested them out in a DJ capacity, and the swivel-cup one-ear monitoring was perfect for beat-matching and mixing on-the-fly.

The headphones also come packaged with a beautiful carrying pouch, an assortment of straight and coiled cables of varying lengths, a gold-plated 1/4-inch adapter and they even fold up nicely for easy transport. For our money, we’re hard pressed to come up with another recommendation for under $200 (street) for a pair of headphones that can tackle audio production as well as audiophile listening.

PRICE: $149

 

 

 

AKG K182 Headphones

With a street price of $99, features like a detachable cable & replaceable ear pads are usually a luxury, but they’re standard here on the new AKG K182 closed-back studio monitor headphones. With all the adjustable pivot points they fit any size head, they fold up nicely, and don’t take up a lot of space in a messenger bag. Consider these a nice step up from the K92s.

AKG K182 headphones folded

AKG K182 headphones folded

With a closed-back and over ear design, unwanted noise is kept out, while each ear has a 50mm speaker. There is plenty of dynamic range with a 10Hz-28 KHz frequency response, and the sound quality lives up to AKG’s reputation, and doesn’t disappoint in any way. After long listening sessions there’s no ear fatigue, and with no strange noise cancelling/boost/EQ adjustment, they’re great for reference: what you hear is what you get, no extra “coloring” of the sound.

AKG highlights the best applications for these as electronic drums, keyboards, studio monitoring and home recording. A set of these work great in these applications, sure, but they’re good enough to track pretty much anything. They’re ultra-comfortable, fairly lightweight, and have excellent clarity and plenty of low-end (more than the K92s).

PRICE: appx $80

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BUYER'S GUIDE: The Best Studio Headphones
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BUYER'S GUIDE: The Best Studio Headphones
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What are the best studio headphones you can buy on a budget? Performer takes a look at some of our most recent favorites in our annual studio headphone roundup.
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