When recording vocals and guitars you’ll need headphones that don’t leak sound to keep your tracks free from unwanted signals such as the metronome or backing track. Furthermore, if you’re a drummer, there’s a great chance that you’re exposing yourself to extremely high volume. If that’s the case, it’s best if your headphones can provide isolation that protects your hearing as much as possible.
Whatever you’re recording, having a neutral frequency response helps to hear your actual performance the way it is, without the sound coloration of headphones. Furthermore, if both you and your recording engineer use headphones with flat frequency response, nothing gets lost in translation—you both hear the same sound. Using the SoundID Reference plugin in zero latency mode will help you achieve this.
All headphone models in this list are up to the task. Some are better at minimizing the sound leakage, while others offer more comfort. Here’s our top 9:
1. Monoprice Premium Hi-Fi DJ Headphone 8823
The most affordable closed-back headphones for tracking. These cans deliver where it counts and can be considered a serious monitoring tool once calibrated. The only problem is a comfort during long sessions. A big factor in this discomfort is the high clamping force which makes them a tight fit. On the bright side, this means that you can headbang freely without fear – your headphones will stay put on your head. Read our full headphone review here
2. Audio-Technica ATH-M20x
ATH-M20x’s are one of the most neutral-sounding closed backs out there. These headphones are very affordable and weigh only just 190 grams without the cable. The cable is not detachable, which is common in this price range but the overall build quality gives an impression that they’ll withstand some beating. Sound-wise M20x are also a great choice, especially for tracking sessions with computer-less setups because these are neutral-sounding headphones straight out of the box. The overall value for these headphones is superb and you can read more about that in our full review here
3. Vic Firth SIH2
American drumming specialist Vic Firth created these closed-back headphones to ensure great leakage performance. We would say these are the second best right after beyerdynamic 770 M (more about them further in the article). These are relatively comfortable headphones but the plastic material on the cushions means you will quickly start to sweat during long session work. These headphones are great for hardworking studio musicians as they allow to hear every detail without cracking the volume. For the price the overall sound performance is great and if calibrated, then even the problem with the sub-bass disappears.
4. Beyerdynamic DT 240 Pro
These closed-back headphones provide unrivaled build quality at this price. And from our top 9, we would recommend these as the 3rd best option leakage performance-wise. 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, but for serious studio work, they benefit greatly from calibration. While these headphones are great for transportation, the small size hurts long session comfort. Read our full DT 240 Pro review here
5. Sennheiser HD 280 Pro
These closed-back headphones are very efficient headphones that can be easily pushed to extreme volume even from mobile devices. The build feels very robust and ready to take a beating. The overall manufacturing consistency leaves some space for improvement. One of our pairs had frequencies below 80Hz skewed to the left by 5dB which is a very noticeable and annoying difference, that results in diminished perceived bass response. To increase the passive sound isolation HD 280 Pro uses relatively strong clamping force, yet the excessive force applied to the listener’s head becomes tiring rather sooner than later. With that said, if you get them for tracking and the perceived low-end response proves to be balanced for you, HD 280 Pro’s can come in handy for some production/mixing on the go. Read our full HD 280 review here
6. Audio-Technica ATH-M50x
The M50x has a great fit that doesn’t get in the way of everyday use. Unlike most on-ear headphones, this one doesn’t rely on a strong clamp to achieve a good seal, therefore it is fairly comfy even in longer tracking sessions. No doubt, it’s a great headphone with relatively few shortcomings, but the tuning might be too “fun” to be considered reference grade. Nevertheless, these headphones are a great candidate for calibration due to the low inherent THD and little change in tonality depending on how they’re placed on one’s ears. Another great plus for these headphones is the fact they come with 3 cables that come in handy. Watch the full video review here
7. Direct Sound EX-29
These closed-back headphones feature great isolation and comfort that’s good for long tracking sessions. Engineered with the pro drummer and studio musician in mind, these headphones offer enough isolation to monitor at dangerously loud volumes. Drummers would benefit the most as their monitoring normally has to be exceedingly loud to be heard above the leakage sound from the kit, but anyone playing in a loud band trying to record in a small studio would benefit from having this pair of headphones. For the asking price, the overall build quality feels a bit cheap but the good thing is that these headphones come with many replaceable parts.
8. beyerdynamic DT 770 M
From our top 9, we would say these ensure the best leakage performance. But not only. the overall comfort is what you would be looking for in headphones for long tracking sessions. And if something gets worn out or lost, DT 770 M comes with a lot of replaceable parts. These closed-back headphones reproduce the entire frequency range with good precision and even reproduce low frequencies in punchy detail. The overall build quality feels like they are built to last. The robust spring steel headband ensures a secure fit for the wearer. The single-sided cable allows the headphones to be put on and taken off frequently without cables getting tangled. For the asking price, these headphones offer great value!
9. Sennheiser HD 300 Pro
HD 300 Pros have a solid build, relatively natural sound and great sound isolation, furthermore, they’re easy to drive and easy to transport. The high manufacturing consistency and reliable adaptiveness result in improved accuracy when used with the SoundID Reference model average calibration profile. There’s no question that HD 300 Pro is an upgrade over HD 280 Pro with its better build, sound and adaptiveness. Given strengths of these closed-back headphones, they really excel as great pair for long tracking sessions. Read our full HD 300 Pro review here.
Read the full Headphone Buying Guide with more headphone options here.
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