Once you cross over from the mid range, say a good pair of $300 headphones, there’s pretty much no limit. Even so, most producers will tell you that spending around $500 for a pair of good cans is the happy medium. Today we are going to show you our top 5 picks for this price range and talk about what to expect when investing this kind of money.
Table Of Contents
|Image||Studio Headphones / Rating||Summary||Check Price|
|+ -|| Shure SRH1840 |
Total of 4.88/5
One of the absolute best open back headphones out there right now.
|+ -|| Sony MDR 7520 |
Total of 4.80/5
A professional set that has proven its worth numerous times by now.
|+ -|| Shure SRH1540 |
Total of 4.88/5
Closed back member of a very successful series of professional studio headphones.
|+ -|| Focal Spirit Professional |
Total of 4.83/5
A somewhat different but ultimately refreshing take on high end studio monitoring.
|+ -|| Ultrasone Performance 880 |
Total of 4.80/5
Advanced features and solid hardware make these among the more capable ones.
Shure's main forte were always microphones. At least that is what most people know them for. As it turns out, their line of high end studio headphones is about as impressive.
Shure SRH1840 are open back set that offers one of the best performances out there at the moment. The amount of definition, transparency and clinical spatial clarity is nothing short of amazing. On a closer look, it becomes apparent that Shure didn't skimp out on anything.
Build quality is rock solid with a frame made of aircraft grade aluminum. You also have velour ear pads and a headband that is sleek but highly comfortable. Overall, a highly refined model that pretty much checks all of the right check boxes.
When it comes to professional studio headphones, Sony is one of the few brands that is capable of delivering solutions that meet the current requirements. Their MDR 7520 is one of the best examples you can find.
These headphones are simple, rugged and optimized for performance above anything else. With that said, the comfort is impressive despite them using pleather instead of some more popular materials often seen in the high end segment of the market.
If you look closely, you will notice that just about every component and element of MDR 7520 is engineered to perfection. That is exactly the type of attention to detail that you want to have in a set of professional, high end studio headphones.
Shure's SRH series of headphones has caught some by surprise. SRH 1540 is the flagship closed back model in the series, making one of the most competitive sets of headphones of its type on the market.
These pack two very well balanced 40mm drivers with plenty of range and even more definition. However, Shure SRH 1540 is much more than that. Frame design, padding, aluminum forks, all come together to form a very enticing package for any professional.
Despite being rather bulky, Shure has managed to design a suspension system that makes them almost unnoticeable. Needless to say, SRH 1540 is a perfect companion for long days where comfort is an absolute necessity. Overall, an awesome set of studio headphones.
Focal's track record is pretty great when it comes to studio monitoring equipment. Even though that mostly applies to their speakers, Focal's headphones department is nothing to joke about either. The model we are looking at here, Focal Spirit Professional, is actually one of the best in its class.
Everything revolves around its awesome drivers that bring a very refreshing performance to the table. When you add a low profile design with efficiently laid out padding, you pretty much have a package that is worthy of any professional studio.
The main question is how do these fare against their direct competition. As it turns out, Focal Spirit Professional is easily up there with the best there are at the moment.
Ultrasone has taken a different approach at building professional studio headphones. While other brands often times implement proprietary tech, Ultrasone is one of the rare ones which have really commuted to the idea.
Performance 880 brings very solid hardware, both in terms of drivers and actual hardware. On top of that, you get an interestingly unique frame design with that looks awesome but also offers lots of versatility. Last aspect that really ties the whole thing down is comfort.
Ultrasone has managed to find a good balance between padding and aesthetics where you get the necessary comfort without covering the entire headband with padding. In essence, these might have a rather deceptive appearance but make no mistake, they're highly capable.
In all honesty, there are two ways to answer this question, which don’t necessarily have a lot to do with each other. The very first thing you need to figure out is if you need a set of studio headphones on this level. That is not the same as asking if you are capable of recognizing what these headphones offer in terms of performance. Even though there are many people out there suggesting to start with something cheaper, there’s another side to that coin. When it comes to anything related to audio gear, a general rule of thumb is to get the very best your money can buy. Because of that, getting the very best studio headphones on the market makes a lot of sense.
Learning to mix with a $100 set of studio headphones or a $500 one won’t be too different in early stages. As you grow your experience and expand your knowledge base, you will start to really appreciate the high end set of headphones you have.
The second question that is often asked is whether the hardware and performance of $500 headphones is worth it. The answer here is an strong yes. While it might not be immediately apparent, there is actually a reason why these headphones are as expensive as they are. You are looking at better hardware, better designs and much better build quality. Let’s break these down into individual sections.
The hardware difference between cheaper headphones and more high end ones is obvious from a distance. Where most affordable models pack a set of pretty ordinary drivers, investing a bit more money will get you individually matched, custom voiced drivers with advanced membrane designs. Then we have voice coils and the way they are made. All of these things have a significant impact on the performance of your headphones. Moving on to the cable, most high end models come with double ended cables, each going into one driver. These are usually quality made, oxygen-free copper core cables that prevent all kinds of interference.
The actual sub frame of the headphones is falls under hardware as well. There are too many headphones out there with actual potential, which are ruined by weak frames and structure in general. When you have high quality aluminum spanning through the entire headband and forks, you just know that those headphones are made to last. Does that mean that composite materials are unacceptable? Not at all, but there is a difference between high end ABS and that brittle, cheap plastics.
Here’s where we get to really interesting stuff. In lower segments of the market, brands rely on the drivers alone to deliver the performance. Stepping into the major leagues changes that to a point. Once you are paying big money for your headphones, you will often find that brands include a number of proprietary technologies in order to compliment or boost the performance of their hardware. Exactly what type of tech you will run into depends on the brand you go with and the specific model of headphones. In most cases, the effects of these features will be overwhelmingly positive.
Moving on to less significant features, we have backup ear pads, protective cases or bags and similar. It is only normal to expect this type of stuff when you are spending this t ype of money. With that said, any additional features shouldn’t really be the deciding factor in your choice. Most of these things can be acquired for just about any pair of headphones out there. Still, those are all things that are cool to have.
As always, performance is what it’s all about at the end of the day. With high end studio headphones, you have a choice. You can either go with high impedance models that will reach their peak performance only when plugged into a good amplifier, or a low impedance set. Each of these has their pros and cons which should be factored in your decision making process. For example, if you are someone who travels often and has to work on the go, low impedance headphones might be a much better solution for you. On the other hand, if you are mainly working from your studio, having that high impedance could be the right way to go.
When it comes to transparency, things get a bit more difficult. Before we get any further, let’s just say that almost all headphones in this segment of the market will be flat enough for mixing as well as recording music. There will, however be some differences based on your choice of headphones. Closed back headphones are usually more transparent than open back ones. On a similar note, open back headphones sacrifice some of that transparency on account of spatial definition and clarity.
After all, having a well defined sound stage is imperative for certain genres of music. As overwhelming as all of this sounds, having the option to fine tune these preferences is exactly what makes high end headphones so attractive.
High end studio headphones are tools before anything else. What kind of tool you will need is something only you know. We have shown you what we consider to be the absolute best choices for this price range. With that said, it’s fairly safe to say that any of the headphones we’ve mentioned today, will work well no matter what. Making the leap into these waters can be intimidating, but as long as you know it is a tool you are purchasing, the decision should be too hard. Investing in what you are passionate about is always a good idea.