Best Monitor Headphones for Live Mixing


There are like million questions on what, how, where, why you should use monitor speakers or headphones for live mixing in church, concerts or mixing in the studio. The amount of detail that headphones produce can offer sound quality which monitor speakers can’t. But, on the other hand, with headphones, for example, you will never be able to decide how much bass, reverb, delay, etc is enough. Both have some of advantages and downsides which depend on many things, and that leads to infinite discussion. We will skip that for now and stick with closed-back headphones.

Why closed-back headphones? The answer is so obvious and very simple – isolation. Closed-back headphones are magnificent for rejecting environmental sounds, and because of that, they offer you complete privacy and mix control even in very noisy conditions. Nothing will distract you while achieving your perfect mix.

What to look for before buying monitoring headphones

Comfort

We don’t know what to point out first, with sealed monitor headphones, everything is important. Since we assume, you are going to wear them for many hours, you should pay attention to its material around the ear and are they comfortable enough. Over-ear headphones are much more comfortable than on-ear and in-ear models, so that will be a good start. Do not let design and looks sway you to get another, less comfortable pair of headphones. When it comes to material, you should stop for a minute and think about it. The material is one of the main factors when choosing the right pair for you, and they are usually made from leather, vinyl, or cloth. There are some serious upsides and downsides for each material. For example, if you are going to use leather for an extended time, your ears might get sweaty and you will feel like they are burning. Also, after some time, like a couple of months, small pieces of leather may start to fall off the cover. Also, do not ignore headphones weight, for obvious reasons.

Frequency response and sound quality

Another very important thing and maybe the first one on the list is frequency response. That may be one of the first things we look at when we check the specifications of certain headphones. You need to make sure that the one you choose doesn’t favor certain frequencies. They need to be “accurate” as much as possible. You don’t want a colored sound. You don’t need that sweet bass and treble since it will provide you with the wrong audio picture. All you need for proper mix is a flat sound. Since every human being hears differently there is a question on what is accurate. Take a listen to your favorite music, the music you know the best. With accurate headphones, you’ll be able to hear everything and even some details you didn’t notice before.

Connectivity, durability and replaceable parts

We will also not disregard these three significant details. You need a long enough quality cable and quality connector. If you tend to spend some big money on your monitor headphones you may want them to last long, right? Make sure the cable is solid and flexible, and that circle which goes around the head (headband) is made of strong and reliable material. Replaceable material which goes around ears is a must whether it is made of leather, vinyl or cloth! After few years, and many hours of usage, your headphones can be in very bad condition. You will be grateful if the manufacturer of your headphones offers replacement parts for your model.

Impedance (Ω) and sensitivity

Stereo headphone impedance is measured in ohms (Ω). It tells you how much power they require to achieve a good listening volume. In other words, if you buy headphones with larger number of ohms, you’ll probably need a headphone amp to power them. But, no worries, that is just for 100< ohms headphones. On the other hand, that means that you may want to be able to use it on your smartphone for example. Why impedance is matters? Higher impedance number on headphones means that they can handle electrical signals which makes them produce the sound with more accuracy and clarity. Sensitivity is somehow related to impedance. It is a measure, in dB (decibels), of how loud particular headphones can produce the sound at a given power level. You can also notice that sensitivity is mentioned as Efficiency, or (SPL) Sound Pressure Level.

Best Headphones for Mixing and Mastering

Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO


Two words for this pair of fabulous studio monitor headphones. Studio legend! They’ve been around since the 80s. New “version” is released 2004. The studio that doesn’t have a pair of these isn’t the real studio. No offense, but ask any sound designer, audio, mixing, mastering engineer. They will tell you the same thing. For the reasonable price, you’ll get an amazingly rich, accurate, crystal clear sound. They are well built and made to last for a long time. DT 770 Pro is indeed suitable to use even for an extended period. Good thing is that the ear-pads don’t press your ears since they are large enough to go around your ears.

Also, most of the parts of it are replaceable. Except one very crucial thing – the cable. Believe it or not, its cable can’t be replaced. That would be a major downside of these amazing pair of studio legends. They come in three impedance variations 30, 80, 250 ohms and they are not “muddy” headphones. At first sound check, we noticed higher detail accent in range of 3,5khz to 9khz. In that range, cymbals, vocals, hi hats are taking over the place. So, you will be provided with better high frequency control. Isolation is good and because of that bass frequencies are pretty warm but powerful. If you are a music producer or doing live mixing and you have a need for high-quality headphones, these will be the first choice and are among the best mixing headphones around.

Impedance – 32, 80, 250 (Ω)

Frequency Response – 5 – 35.000 Hz

Sound Pressure Level (SPL) – 96 dB

Weight – 270 g

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AKG Pro Audio K271 MKII


These AKG headphones are the perfect choice for studio or stage. With these professional closed-back cans you will be provided with supreme ambient noise rejection which also reduces headphone’s bleeding. In simple words, its isolation is great and rank up with the best closed headphones! What about comfort? These can’s are equipped with leather (eco-leather) and cloth (velvet) set of ear pads. The leather one will give you the ultimate comfort, but when comes to sweat, cloth ones would be a much better choice. AKG also included two detachable cables, straight (3m) and coiled (5m). You will not feel the lack of mobility while wearing them.

The additional mechanism installed on these headphones is actually a switch which turns the headphones on and off when you put them on or remove from your head. Same as on the most professional headphones, almost all the parts on them are replaceable. The only thing that worried us a bit is a bit of lack of bass frequencies. It is just thin. But, on the other hand, the mid and high frequencies are indeed some of the greatest you will ever hear. But anyway, forget about that bass, you’ll definitely enjoy the exceptional sound you get from AKG K271 MKII.

Impedance – 55 (Ω)

Frequency Response – 16 – 28000 Hz

Sound Pressure Level (SPL) – 104 dB

Weight – 240 g

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Sony MDR 7506


The Sony MDR-7506 mixing headphones are comfortable, lightweight and they have a simple design. The only downside of their design is that they have some kind of very thin metal frame and because of that they seem very cheap. Same as DT770, no detachable cable gives the impression that they don’t look and feel professional. On the other side, DMR-7506 are an excellent sounding pair of closed-back cans which goes over-ear. They will give you good, and punchy bass, exceptional mids, and crystal clear highs.

Generally speaking, they are quite versatile headphones and suitable for mixing any genre. Anything, from rock to EDM will sound good. But, they do seem to be a bit “colored”. For more neutral, accurate sound, we suggest you reach out for Beyerdynamic DT770 or Audio Technica M50x, which we are going to present in next lines. All in all, if you are not a too demanding user, these pretty affordable headphones will do the job.

Impedance – 63 (Ω)

Frequency Response – 10 – 20000 Hz

Sound Pressure Level (SPL) – 106 dB

Weight – 230 g

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Sennheiser HD280PRO


The HD 280 Pro are quite affordable, good looking and great sounding headphones for mixning. Their isolation is just amazing. The HD 280 Pro are a good fit on your head and because of that, their ear pads can provide a really good seal around ears. But, also, that feature has a downside. Your ears will get very sweaty after a relatively short period of wearing since there is no airflow. Besides that, professional build quality, heavy-duty design, and replaceable cable are all that we looked for. Even though theses parts are made mostly from plastic, they still look really cool.

These cans will provide you with deep, punchy but not too heavy bass, good mids, and well-balanced highs. We can say that they are a good allrounder, suitable for any genre of music. The overall sound quality is good and it won’t disappoint you, but it certainly isn’t Sennheiser’s top model. They are however more affordable than many other models from Sennheiser and are definately one of the best studio headphones for mixing.

Impedance – 64 (Ω)

Frequency Response – 8 – 25000 Hz

Sound Pressure Level (SPL) – 113 dB

Weight – 285 g

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AKG Pro Audio K77


Akg K77 is an extremely lightweight (190g only) and inexpensive pair of studio or live stage monitoring headphones. If you are on a tight budget, these semi-open cans could be a good choice and are among the best cheap studio monitor headphones. At least, if that encourages you, you’ll have a warranty for 2 years. That means that you will have written guarantee promising to repair or replace them if necessary in that period.  People that need a neutral headphone with enough detail and defined bass should be reasonably satisfied with a pair of these. Why did we say reasonably? If you are looking for top quality sound, you may want to consider other models first, but at more cost.

Also, the build quality of the AKG K77 headphones is one of the weakest points. You can feel the cheap plastic, however not many users mention them breaking very often. Its ear-pad covers are made out of a cheap nylon-like (really fake leather) material which doesn’t offer the best noise cancelling. For a more professional, accurate sound and well-built headphones, you’ll have to be prepared to spend more money, however, for the price the AKG Pro Audio K77s  are not bad.

Impedance – 32 (Ω)

Frequency Response – 18 – 20000 Hz

Sound Pressure Level (SPL) – 112 dB

Weight – 190 g

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Shure SRH840


Shure’s history of making remarkable microphones and audio electronics began back in 1925 and they are superior, for sure! SRH840 looks like a hi-tech product but still has a very elegant line. Noise isolation is just perfect and if you’re looking for well-built headphones which produce a detailed, rich and warm sound, look no further. Thanks to its wide frequency range, they are crisp but have a warm tone and reasonably rich bass. Also, very comfortable to wear for hours and made of quality materials. Comes with detachable coiled cable (3m). Included are also additional ear pads since they are replaceable as in every pro headphones.

Whether you are an amateur enthusiast listener or professional audio engineer or mixing live, you will be pretty satisfied with these. Two words – top quality. The only thing which can be downside is their weight. There is one more thing we can count as a downside – the wires around the headphones. They could be easily broken if you don’t take care of it and use properly. Besides that, with an accurate and balanced sound, rich dynamics, reliable construction, SRH840 is a great choice of headphones for mixing.

Impedance – 44 (Ω)

Frequency Response – 5 – 25000 Hz

Sound Pressure Level (SPL) – 102 dB

Weight – 318 g

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Focal Spirit One S Closed back headphones

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Focal is a French company which offers these futuristically designed headphones, Spirit One S. These cyborg looking pair of cans will provide you with amazing isolation and controlled sound in loud environments. Leather ear-pads work hard to block noises from outside and maximize bass punch. Also, they have one attractive feature, the detachable oxygen-free copper cable with a microphone/remote for answering calls, changing tracks, and the volume is especially helpful. Weight is a bit more than average headphones with a similar performance and specifications.

These are pretty affordable headphones and for the price, you’ll get a nicely designed case with it and carrying bag too.  The overall sound is good, maybe not perfect for mixing but you’ll definitely enjoy listening to your favorite music with these. It may not be your first choice, but we suggest you try it, you have nothing to lose. Focal also make more expensive models which are worth considering, if you like the design but want a higher spec.

Impedance – 32 (Ω)

Frequency Response – 5 – 22000 Hz

Sound Pressure Level (SPL) – 100 dB

Weight – 280 g

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Sennheiser HD598 CS Closed back


Sennheiser is another legendary company in the audio world which makes consumer headphones and professional microphones with more than 70 ears of experience. HD 598 CS is a high-quality product of this manufacturer. Don’t let the plastic parts of these headphones fool you since their luxury finish makes them extremely comfortable. With these ear pads in combination with closed-back design, you’ll be provided with good ambient isolation. The overall sound is good, but HD 598 CS has the tendency to express the mid-range frequencies. That is ok in some way since vocals receive the most attention. Audio enthusiasts and sound engineers who are in need of comfortable headphones that provide a nearly flat frequency response may find these pair interesting. Although their price is a little bit higher when compared with other makes of a similar spec, but then you are paying for a quality brand.

Impedance – 23 (Ω)

Frequency Response – 10 – 28000 Hz

Sound Pressure Level (SPL) – 115 dB

Weight – 260 g

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Audio-Technica ATH-M50x


This is a pair of headphones that is more than worth mentioning. The Audio Technica ATH-M50x is promoted as monitor headphones, yet ATH M50x is a perfect allrounder, excellent for many applications. They are especially good for live monitoring because due to the nice design that enables the ear cups to be rotated 90-degrees, which allows you single-ear monitoring. With Neodymium drivers, which provide extended frequency response they are excellent for studio mixing too. The over-ear design with leather ear pads offers outstanding isolation for live mixing in a concert hall of church auditorium. They look pretty good too and leave a positive impression at first glance.

Their weight is just right, not too heavy, not too light. On these headphones, you’ll be able to detachable the cable. Provided with the headphones are a 3m coiled cable, a 3m and 1.2m straight cable, alle included in the price. Also, you’ll get a soft carrying pouch which is useful for when you’re traveling. We can say that they have a pretty good neutral frequency reproduction, but with a slight emphasis on bass frequencies that you probably wouldn’t on more high-end studio headphones. However, these are still a great buy.

Impedance – 38 (Ω)

Frequency Response – 15 – 24000 Hz

Sound Pressure Level (SPL) – 98 dB

Weight – 240 g

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You may be interested in some other posts on my blog –

How to use aux return on a mixing soundboard

Best wireless in ear monitors

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