Budget headphones can be a great investment for beginners who want to start making music without breaking the bank. They’re a discrete, mobile, and relatively inexpensive solution for mixing in situations where using studio monitors is too expensive or inconvenient.
To assist you, we’ve selected some of the best budget headphones for home recording and music production. So we’ll cover the different types available and why to choose one over another.
How to choose budget headphones?
Most of the best budget headphones you’ll find have a low impedance rating. This means you can easily use them with any device without requiring a dedicated headphones amplifier.
Anything over 150 Ohms starts entering preamp territory, so be sure to check the specs on your audio interface (link to audio interfaces post) to see if it’s capable of driving the headphones you’re looking at.
Better headphones preamps provide a superior dynamic range, and you’re more likely to get a frequency response curve closer to the one intended by the manufacturer.
Open-back vs. closed-back headphones
When buying budget headphones, another consideration is open-back vs. closed-back design. The choice will largely depend on your preferred music production environment (studio, cafe, library, etc.).
Below, we will cover the differences between open-back and closed-back headphones in more detail. For now, it’s important to know that open-backs provide a more natural stereo image but less isolation, whereas closed-backs isolate external sounds but offer a less realistic stereo image.
Some people will find open-backs more comfortable than closed-back models because there is less pressure on their ears, which means that they can be used for longer periods of time.
Best Budget Headphones in 2022
Now that we covered the basics, it’s time to choose a pair of affordable headphones that fits your budget. If you’re looking for an cheap option with great sound quality, then you should consider the models listed below.
These are the best studio headphones for music production in 2022:
- Closed-back headphones:
- Sony MDR-7506
- Audio Technica ATH-M50x
- Semi-open and open-back headphones:
- AKG K240 MKII
- Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro
- Sennheiser HD 400 Pro
If you’re in an airport, on a flight, or at your local library, closed-back headphones are an easy choice. They allow you to cut out the background noise and focus on the task at hand. In addition, the ample isolation also reduces spill, which makes them ideal for monitoring while tracking vocals or instruments at home.
The term closed-back refers to the fact that the earcups are closed on the rear. Although this design can offer an extended low-end response in some cases, it is also more likely to introduce the proximity effect. For this reason, closed-back headphones are not always preferred for long hours spent mixing.
Since its introduction in the 90s, the Sony MDR-7506 soon became the industry standard in the US. They may appear flimsy at first, but they are perfectly stable when worn.
All the cables and connectors remain intact, even after years of use, and the coiled cord gives you plenty of length. Over time, however, the coating on the stock earpads gradually flakes away, so it’s worth investing in some additional earpads from Dekoni.
More info: Sony MDR-7506
Audio Technica ATH-M50x
The ATH-M50x are extremely popular budget headphones in both studios and home recording setups alike. The build quality is excellent overall, and the slightly larger 45mm drivers provide decent dynamics and low-end response.
You have a choice of either black or white, and they come with a set of three detachable cables to make them suitable for different monitoring situations. This makes the ATH-M50x a great value choice for the price.
More info: Audio Technica ATH-M50x
Semi-open and open-back headphones
Headphones are classified according to the volume both in front of and behind the driver. Open-back headphones are ported, which relies on a different acoustic design that allows sound to exit the rear side of either driver.
The result is generally flatter, more neutral-sounding headphones with less risk of ear fatigue when used. They might not offer the same degree of isolation as closed-back headphones, but you’re aiming to mix rather than monitor with these.
Semi-open headphones might use acoustically transparent earpads with a closed-back design or the opposite with a closed-front and open-back design.
AKG K240 MKII
First introduced in 1974, the K240 is a legend in recorded music. With the semi-open design, the overall comfort makes them favorable for those long hours of mixing, regardless of the type of audio you’re working with.
The K240 MKII studio headphones come with two cables, one coiled and one straight. What’s more, you get an additional set of velvet earpads. Overall, it’s a package that’s hard to beat from a company renowned for high-quality audio products.
More info: AKG K240 MKII
Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro
For those who don’t know, Beyerdynamic actually invented the first dynamic headphones all the way back in 1937. The DT 990 Pro effortlessly carries on this legacy as one of the best budget headphones available today.
The open-back design produces a neutral but wide stereo image, making them applicable in any mixing situation. Just keep in mind that these are 250 Ohms headphones and might not perform at optimal from the audio-jack output of your laptop or mobile device.
More info: Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro
Sennheiser HD 400 Pro
The HD 400 Pro is a relatively recent pair of budget headphones launched by Sennheiser at the end of 2021. Built for mixing, editing, and mastering applications, it offers comfort, and the angled open-back headphone design simulates the stereo field projected by studio monitors.
Apart from the great level of sonic detail, you get two cables with them which is useful. A little pricier, perhaps, but certainly the best choice if you’re looking for a current-day approach to headphones.
More info: Sennheiser HD 400 Pro
So there you go, the best affordable headphones for music production on a budget. Have you used any of these? What are your cans of choice for mixing?
We’re looking forward to reading your suggestions and tips in the comments section below.