Five Best Headphones for Music Production on a Budget

Want to produce good music but constantly hit by not being able to monitor accurately? When I first started out I had two main setbacks.

  1. I was mixing & producing music in an untreated room. (My bedroom to be exact)
  2. I couldn’t afford good studio monitors

With these two setbacks I had early on, I focused on using whatever my budget allowed me to. The answer to that was to monitor and mix on headphones, instead of studio monitors. Monitoring on headphones allows me to bypass the untreated room I was in and best of all, I could afford entry level monitor headphones.

The Problem With Headphones

There lies a few problems though when mixing on headphones.

First, your ears are closer to the speakers. This can make your music sound a little less natural as you have the sound blasted directly into your ears. While you can hear more accurately and pinpoint mistakes in your mix, headphones can make music sound ‘too near’. There is no space between you and the sound source thus the ‘too near’ effect.

Secondly, you’ll get a stereo image biasness when you monitor with headphones. You won’t get that nice wide stereo image you get when you listen to a pair a monitor speakers. You’ll hear the left channel on your left ear and the right channel on your right ear so you lose that stereo image and get a much narrower stereo image. Any hard panned track would sound very unnatural and while some producers get used to this after awhile, this can still cause misjudgment when doing panning in your mixes.

Thirdly, you are more prone to getting ear fatigue faster than you will if you were to monitor on speakers. Monitoring on headphones too loudly can cause headache and eventually hearing damage if done too frequently. The trick here is to take frequent breaks to rest your ears and get your listening perception correct again while keeping your ears in great condition.

In an ideal scenario, if you are producing music, you will have multiple pairs of headphones available. This way you can try out a multitude of different things to ensure that your sound is perfect, the same way producers usually cross reference their mix on different playback systems.

Not all of us have the budget to buy multiple pairs of headphones though. This means that you are, most likely, going to have a pretty tight budget when it comes to headphones. On this post, we are going to take a little look at some of the best headphones around for those who are working to a budget when it comes to music production.

 

1 – Audio Technica ATH-M40x

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These are actually pretty good quality headphones despite the low price. Obviously, you can’t expect something close to the more expensive models or other headphones on the market, but these are pretty good for those just getting started in the world of music production. The build quality is pretty decent and the sound is fairly precise. One of the things I love about these headphones is the removable cable, something which you tend not to get on headphones in this price range, so, that helps to extend the life of them a little.

We are done with having headphones such as Beats Headphones breaking on us have we?

The con about this headphones is that the cups do not rotate 180 degrees. This might be a turnoff if you’re an aspiring DJ hoping to monitor with one side when performing in the club.

Buy the inexpensive Audio Technica ATH-M40X ($99)

2 – Grado SR80e

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This are not marketed as studio headphones but take them for a spin though. If you are looking for entry level hi-fi headphones, this is the way to go. However, do bear in mind that hi-fi headphones are not going to be as good as production quality headphones.

The little problem with hi-fi headphones is that it can be a little less detail while being built with sound enhancing in them, which can make professional level music production difficult. However, if you are producing music in the comfort of your own home, they should be fine for you. Learn how to understand the sound of the headphones and you’ll be good to take on any mixing job that comes your way. These are incredibly versatile headphones for those who may want something just for the general listening of music and a little bit of mixing.

Also, they are semi-open headphones. These means they are designed to sound more natural and airy, due to the semi open cups it has built. This means you will get a little noise spill from the headphones if you plan to use them for recording. Still, they work. Put some time into cross referencing your work on different playback devices and you’ll be fine.

Check the Grado SR80 out ($99)

3 – AKG K240 mkll

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This is the second first semi-open design headphones on this list. The result of them being semi-open means that the sound is a bit more precise which is ideal for music production, as it sounds more natural. Besides having noise spill when recording, another he downside is that you can get outside sounds come into the headphones so, if you are going to use these, you absolutely must make sure that the area surrounding you is quiet otherwise you will find it difficult to produce your music.

50mm drivers gives you more sound depth and you’ll notice that the headphone also comes with a metal band that is really quite hard to snap. If you’ve used headphones with plastic headbands before, you’ll know what I mean. The excessive wearing and taking off we do in the studio, would shorten the headband’s lifespan really fast.

The AKG K240 MK II also comes with over ear cups which cup over your ears so you can go on listening for a longer time without feeling that pinch on your ears. They are incredibly comfortable headphones too, which is ideal for those who will be spending a lot of time working in their studio.

Check out the AKG K240 MK II ($130)

4 – Sony MDR-7510

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Sony headphones have always been good for music production and you will find them in many studios around the globe. They can get pretty expensive, so I am going to introduce you to the budget option here. Don’t be fooled by the low price, however, the sound is pretty accurate and they should be ideal for beginner music production.

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The Sony MDR 7510 is also a closed back headphone which makes it ideal for recording in the studio. If you have people coming to your studio for recording, consider a few units of this headphones (they’re not too expensive), so you’ll have enough headphones for everyone when you need them.

The downside to this headphones is that they can get a little uncomfortable. Having them on my ears for a while, near to 45 minutes, I began feeling a little uncomfortable and had to take the headphones off, taking a break.

A few units for tracking would be perfect Sony MDR 7510 ($109)

5 – AIAIAI TMA-1 Studio

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This headphones looks great and definitely is an eye catcher. They also come with interchanging ear pads where you can change from the normal pads to isolation pads, which can deem very useful for DJ’s who mixes in noisy places or if you’re a producer who travels a lot.

The sound on this headphones are surprising good for it’s price. The sound from the headphone are pretty flat which makes it good for mixing and some occasional mastering check. However I’d be extra careful when using the the TMA-1 studio headphones as the headband is indeed made of plastic and having that on a headphone can mean easy snapping with extensive use.

A queer looking one. Great for listening, check out the AIAIAI TMA-1 Studio ($149)

I assume you don’t need the model that comes with a mic, do you? You can always use your studio microphones if you do podcasts or video calls from your studio.

 


The Good News. Monitoring On Headphones Makes A Lot Of Sense

People might tell you that you’ll be missing out on details when you monitor on cheaper headphones. However, the fact is there is nothing wrong in using budget headphones for making music. If fact, most of your listeners will be most probably auditioning your music on a pair of headphones. So if your music does not sound good on headphones, you can be pretty sure that your listeners/fans are going to be disappointed.

If I’m on a budget, I’ll focus on polishing my skills and utilizing the tools that are available to me at that current time. The secret sauce here is to cross check your mixes on both studio speakers and headphones in order to be able to correctly judge a good mix.

Heck, check your mixes in your car stereo system if you have to! All you really need to do when starting out small is to put in some extra effort.

Which budget headphones are you using in the studio and finding lots of success with? Share your experience about them below.

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Comments

  • Kyle Ravv

    Hi there, good job on this article. I’m sure plenty of beginners have and will find this truly helpful. My list of the best studio monitoring headphones differs from yours, however, since my top 5 are 5 of the ones found on this other list of the best mixing headphones. I have never tried the Audio Technica ATH-M40x monitoring headphones but I do have the M50x and I am a great fan. Other mixing headphones on my list of the best include the Sony MDR 7506, Sennheiser HD 280, Beyerdynamic D 990, and V-MODA Crossfade M-100.