Audio has become the fastest-growing segment of consumer electronics. People on average are spending 9 hours per day listening to audio – music, TV, podcasts, audiobooks, and more. And because people are consuming more audio than ever, also the production is growing faster with over 3 billion audio products being shipped globally every year. For creators, it means even more possibilities to expand on their creative efforts and reach wider audiences. While for listeners it opens new opportunities to enjoy higher quality audio across different platforms and devices. Does it mean we need more devices? Not really. Most likely you as a creator already have a good pair of headphones that fit well for recreational listening. And if you are someone who just enjoys listening to music and are looking for your next purchase, this article is for you. Going for a great pair of PRO studio headphones is a good choice because who knows – maybe that will inspire you to join 43M other music lovers who are also creating music.

40% of music listeners create or are interested in creating music. 
Music creation and interest in music creation, US 2021.

Top 10 headphones 

Here is our TOP 10 list of PRO studio headphones that are great for recreational listening. We have order the headphones based on the value score – indicates the price-performance ratio of the given headphones and how they stack up against the competition. A high score means that you won’t find more neutral-sounding alternatives for the price.

1. Fostex TH900 mk2 

Rating of Fostex TH900 mk2 Studio Headphone

This is a headphone for people who appreciate headphones and the workmanship that goes into making such a pair.  The sound is very open but they really come alive when calibrated – the sound is among the best for closed-back headphones. Out of the box, there’s a very noticeable boost in the higher frequencies – about 9 dB from 6 kHz onwards, this boost paired with the dip in the high-mid range results in a bright-sounding overall impression. The bass boost is relatively conservative, reaching 6 dB at peak, but the low-end presence is intensified by the reduced low-mid region. Overall, this is a quality set of headphones built with impressive attention to detail. However, the gains over other great closed cans that cost less than a third of what Fostex is asking, are negligible if any. Read our full review here.

2. Focal Elear Studio Headphone

Rating for Focal Elear Studio Headphone

Elear looks and feels like a proper 1000$ headphone. The presentation box is impeccable and so is the build quality of the headphone. The channel balance is really great as is the bass response. The overall tuning is rather mid-centric, but not annoyingly so. The slight peaking in the highs does color them, but not enough to make overtones too accentuated. These headphones are not light-weighted but the overall comfort is great. Both the ear pads and the headband are microfiber and don’t get hot even after prolonged use. You can read the full review here.

3. Mackie MC-450 Studio Headphone

Rating for Mackie MC-450 Studio Headphone

The whole package of these headphones brings quite a lot of value. At this price point, no other open back comes with a selection of 3 cables and a protective case. None of the closest rivals match that, both the more affordable ones and those that are more costly. The manufacturing consistency seems to be held to a high standard and is among the best we’ve seen. At first, they may feel heavy and a bit tight, yet with time they no longer feel that way and can be worn for very long periods without issues. Besides the plush ear pads, balanced clamping force and comfortable headband design, one factor contributing to this may be the headband adjustment mechanism that offers very fine adjustment with 23 clicks on each side, so everyone can dial in the fit just right. Regarding the sound, these are some of the brightest studio open backs that you’ll find. Nevertheless, all these issues can be dealt with using SoundID Reference, MC-450 can handle the calibration beautifully! Read the full headphone review here.

4. Sennheiser HD 560S Studio Headphone

Rating for Sennheiser HD 560S Studio Headphone

These open-back headphones are targeted at the audiophile crowd and are the best headphones yet in Sennheiser’s HD 500 series. The overall manufacturing consistency seems to be held to a very high standard – while the plastic build isn’t impressive, the drivers are high quality. Regarding the sound, these headphones exhibit a rather bright sound. The low-end extension isn’t great but the mids are nearly flat. From 4kHz upwards though, HD 560S sees a bright-sounding increase that introduces quite a substantial coloring. Sometimes a smooth shape boost in highs can still sound relatively natural, but this isn’t the case as the boost starts abruptly and the dip at about 7kHz certainly doesn’t help. But once calibrated, these headphones offer a very accurate sound that’s good even for serious production and mixing. Read the full review here.

5. Audio-Technica ATH-R70x Studio Headphone

Rating for Audio-Technica ATH-R70x Studio Headphone

These are among our favorite headphones and are among the best studio open-back headphones ever made. These headphones are very comfy and can be worn for hours. ATH-R70x has a unique look that not only looks great but also pursues low weight and comfort. But on the other hand, the build feels far from robust and seems to require some care when handling. Maybe it’s deceptive, but these don’t feel like headphones you can just throw in a backpack along with other stuff and expect them to be in the same condition afterward. Regarding the sound, this is one of the most impressive headphone perceived acoustic power frequency response graphs you’ll ever see and very few headphones can compete. An incredibly vast range of 50 – 6000 Hz is almost contained within in +/-1dB span, meaning that the upper bass and whole midrange will sound spectacular, very close to perfectly flat even before calibration.  Read our full review here.

6. Shure SRH1540 Studio Headphone

Rating for Shure SRH1540 Studio Headphone

When it comes to closed backs with flat frequency response, these Shures are second to none, yet as an overall package, sadly, they’re still not perfect. The value score is dragged down by the relatively poor THD performance and comfort that’s less universally loved than some of its rivals. But these are very comfortable headphones – the memory foam ear pads, wrapped in gentle Alcantara, make them a very pleasant pair to wear. These headphones also sound very good out of the box. Apart from the bump at 100 Hz, there’s relatively little correction needed. The response deviates only +/- 3dB in an exceptionally wide range, from about 170 Hz all the way up to about 17 kHz. The overall value is good if you are looking for a good pair of headphones to travel around – the spare ear pads and cable are a great inclusion and the extra sturdy transport case has a dedicated pocket or compartment for each of the accessories so it’s easy to take them with you along with the headphones, so you won’t get stranded with a broken cable. There are some additional cons to this pair of headphones so we recommend reading our full review here.

7. Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pro Studio Headphone

Rating for Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pro Studio Headphone

There are no more affordable headphones that can match their build and bass performance. These premium-build headphones offer low THD and deliver consistent frequency response. The overall comfort is very good due to the well-designed contact points and the roomy volume inside the ear pads. Even larger pinnas will be accommodated without putting pressure on them, thus helping users to wear the headphones for longer. Regarding the sound, they sure sound fun and complement many genres. The overall shape of the frequency response curve follows the ever-popular “smiley face” pattern with boosted lows and highs, but the low-mid dip at 200Hz further highlights the bass and the dip in high-mids reduces harshness. Read the full review here 

8. AKG K612 Pro Studio Headphone

Rating for AKG K612 Pro Studio Headphone

These open-back headphones deliver nearly everything one might look for, yet manages to keep the cost down. High comfort, natural sound, low THD, and great adaptiveness make these headphones a really good choice. Out of the box, these AKG’s are pristine with no distortion throughout the spectrum. There aren’t many headphones out there that can compete in flatness with the K612 Pro. The 100 Hz to 3 kHz stays within 2dB, and the increase in higher frequencies reaches only a relatively moderate 5dB. The mid-range will sound very natural with only negligible coloring and the high-end boost will not translate to overly harsh sound. Regarding the overall comfort, they are great which is rare in its price class. None of our testers found any obstacles to wearing them for hours. Read the full review here 

9. Sony WH-1000XM3 Headphone

Rating for Sony WH-1000XM3 Headphone

These are probably the best and the most comfortable noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones in the game. They are not neutral sounding out of the box, but the coloration they add is not unpleasant. And with the calibration, these headphones sound very good and could even be considered for something more than just recreational listening. Like other noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones, the WH-1000XM3 can be used in different modes. The noise canceling mode has a bit of an exaggerated bass response that might be a bit too overwhelming. When the headphones are turned off, the high mid dip becomes even deeper crossing the 10 dB mark and becoming uncomfortable. The bass is less exaggerated though. But overall, if you’re willing to spend somewhat 300-400 USD for a pair of noise-canceling headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM3 is your best bang for the buck. Read our full review here.

10. Beyerdynamic DT 240 Pro Studio Headphone

Rating for Beyerdynamic DT 240 Pro Studio Headphone

These are the best over/on-ear headphones that €70 can buy, as long as comfort is not an issue. The overall sound signature is bright, with noticeably elevated bass. The mid-range is close to perfectly neutral, very few closed-back headphones can achieve that. Overall sound coloration introduced by DT 240 Pro will appeal to many for recreational listening. The build is way more substantial than one might expect at this price point. Ear cups and yokes are metal, and most of the other parts are robust plastic. They sure feel like they’re built to last! The only problem was that some testers found them really uncomfortable due to the increased clamping force and people who wear glasses found them especially bad. But if you are looking for great-sounding compact headphones – this is the best value for money you can find. Read our full review here  

What else matters? 

Does listening on our selected headphones guarantee perfect listening experience? Well, not always because it also depends on other factors, like the streaming platform you have chosen. Each streaming service may lower the quality of audio that is delivered to a specific device. Most companies only mention this in their fine print, but streaming quality depends on many factors, including network speed and the specific streaming/playback device. That’s why it is important to have some basic understanding of the audio qualities and anomalies to expect from each file type. More about that you can read in this article

How to listen to music? 

This might seem like a simple question but to get the most out of your headphones and the enjoyment of listening to music, there are a few things you should remember. These little triggers can help to immerse yourself in music that moves you and refreshes your soul. 

  • First, you need to eliminate distractions. Put on some comfy headphones; park your car in a shady spot; turn down the lights in your home theater; turn off the ringer on your phone! 
  • Next, you need to turn off your internal distractions. Fortunately, listening to music will probably push internal conversations out of the way.
  • Find a time of day where you can dedicate 20 or 30 minutes to this experience. Choose a time when you won’t be disturbed or feel pressure to cut your time short; to focus yourself before work or to relax after a tough session.
  • Choose music that forces you to engage. EDM and techno are popular choices because the music actively engages you. It is physically impactful as much as it is mentally stimulating. Dance music and bass-heavy music exudes confidence and alertness, elements that surround a sense of Flow. There is no procrastination when listening to music—it propels you through the experience.
  • Get out of your own way and let yourself be immersed and carried away by the soundwaves. Lyrics may be distracting to some, while they may be an adventure to others, so figure out which helps transport your mind into the Flow.

We hope this article inspired you to explore something new. Comment below what else would you like to learn about and continue reading our other headphone reviews here.