SoundGearLab-Team | Last Updated On September 6th, 2021 | This post may contain affiliate links.
Whether you are a professional sound engineer, musician, or a home recording studio owner, you are going to need a pair of studio headphones. Studio headphones can either be used for recording, tracking, mixing or mastering. Here, we cover some budget studio headphones in the market. This post will review the best studio headphones under $100. You can also check out another post of our best studio headphones.
Design: Closed-Back Impedance: 35 ohms Sensitivity: 98 dB
PROS: For neutral studio monitoring, foldable and portable, detachable cables, a killer for the price CONS: Propetiary cable, uncomfortable after extended use
The Audio Technica ATH-M50x is one of the most popular headphones by Audio Technica. In this review, its younger brother, the ATH-M40x, takes the stage. They are reasonably priced and based on several reviews from other audio enthusiasts, they sound good. Does it match up to the ATH-M50x, or is it even better? Find out below.
The ATH-M40x is closed-back and closely resembles the ATH-M50x. It is built mostly out of plastic, which looks cheaper than the M50x, but feels sturdy. The earcups swivel too much, which can be a problem for some people, but this is a welcome feature for people looking for better portability. The headband is reinforced by a metal band that also allows head size adjustment. The earcups and headband are covered with pleather. The ear cups are removable, and so is the cable, which is good to improve the overall durability. With the package, you also get 2-cables, a coiled and straight one.
The comfort of the ATH-M40x is moderate. The earpads are soft, firm, and lightly padded. They are shallow, and because of the closed-back design, ears do get a little warm. The pads of the ATH-M40x are also not that wide to accommodate the entire ear. This causes discomfort after several hours. We’ve seen recommendations by other users to change the stock pads. However, keep in mind this will change the overall sound, either for the better or worse. The clamping pressure is not too much and does a good job of keeping the headphones stable.
Isolation is above average but not good for a closed-back headphone. They block noise and other sounds, but the volume should also be turned up. If you are not playing music, passive noise isolation is not very good. They also leak sound, but not much. They can be used in a quiet setting without worrying about disturbing those around you.
The Audio Technica ATH-M40x aims for a neutral sound signature with a slightly V-shape sound, which is why they are good for use in a recording studio. The bass is tight and well-controlled. It is slightly emphasized, but blends with the mids which are engaging and very no-fatiguing. The treble is a little boosted but sounds smooth and crisp with being sibilant or bright.
Overall, the sound signature is good and well balanced and neutral sounding. The bass might seem accentuated at times, but it is overall well controlled. The soundstage is not extremely wide, but it is decent for a closed-back headphone. The discomfort of the pads slightly limits the use of these headphones for long hours, but for the price, this is not bad. They are good for studio monitoring, but not so good for casual music listening unless you use an EQ. See our full review of the Samson SR850.
Design: Semi-Open-Back Impedance: 32 ohms Sensitivity: 98 dB
PROS: Comfort, good build for the price, overall sound CONS: Non-removable cable, highs can be a little fatiguing
There have been talks about the SR850 being a clone of the AKG K240 or the Superlux HD668B. They look quite similar, and from other reviews, they also sound similar. The Samson SR850 has also undergone some improvements which make it more comfortable than its cousins, the AKG K240 or the HD668B.
The SR850 is very well built for the price. There is nothing fancy about them, but they look sturdy. The build features plastic in the headphone’s earcups, two metal wires that make up part of the headband, and a floating headband made of vinyl. The earpads are velour, which is an upgrade from the previous protein leather pad cover. The only disadvantage of the SR850 we can point out is the non-removable cable, which in the long term limits its durability.
For comfort and fit, the headband is wide and does a good job of balancing the headphone on the head. The vinyl is hard and does not properly adjust, which might take a few minutes to get a proper fit. The clamp is a bit high, but with frequent use, it becomes less. The headband is self-adjusting and has good adjustment size. For people with larger heads, the fit might not be very good. The earcups are velour covered and envelope the ears for a proper fit. The depth is good, and they are comfortable for use during long sessions.
Isolation of the Samson SR850 is minimal. The SR850 has a semi-open-back design, and while they might not be as open like open-back headphones, they don’t block much either. They also leak, which might not be good to use around people or where silence is required, like a library. These are not for portable use.
As for the sound quality, the Samson SR850 seems to lean more to a bright sound signature. The bass is present and is punchy, tight, and well textured. The bass impact is good and should please most people, except maybe bass heads. The mids are balanced, and while they seemed slightly recessed at first, they are realistic, and vocals sound good. The treble is detailed and quite transparent. While there is no hint of sibilance, a bright source or treble-centric music might come off as harsh or too much at times.
Overall, the Samson SR850 is a good entry-level studio headphone we would recommend. We are not completely pleased with the headphone, and we would have preferred the treble to be a little calmer. However, these are inexpensive yet have so much to offer. They are also excellent for most musical genres and even for gaming and movies. BTW, if you want a closed-0back version of the SR850, try the AD Audio MH310 Closed-Back Studio Headphones. See our indepth review of the Samson SR850.
The AKG K240 series is one of the popular series by AKG and features the Sexlett, Monitor, DF, Studio, and the MKII. The AKG K240 has long been a choice for people looking to get a cheap headphone for studio use. The K240 has stood the test of time and is still a good option because of its price to performance ratio. Let’s see how it performed.
The AKG K240 Studio is built mostly out of plastic. While it has a big design, it feels light but not cheap. While its all plastic, the headphone feels sturdy and should last long. The K240 Studio has a retro-looking style, and while they look awesome, we can understand if they are not good looking to some people. There is another model, the AKG M220 Pro, which might be an alternative option. The K240 comes with a removable cable design and features a mini XLR connector with a locking mechanism.
For comfort and fit, first, we love the self-adjusting headband. No adjustment is needed when putting them on. The spring-loaded adjusting mechanism does all the work. The headphone is also very light and also has less clamp, and this allows for extended use without being uncomfortable. The headband is not padded and features a protein leather strap that sits on top of the head. The earpads are big and fit properly. However, they are not deep and could have benefited from thicker padding.
Isolation is one of the features that lack in this headphone. While they block the tiniest sounds in the environment, most sounds will still enter the earcups. The K240 Studio also leaks sound. For portable use, these are very low on the list. Next up, how does the AKG K240 Studio sound?
The sound quality of the K240 studio thanks to the semi-open design is detailed and overall flat without a huge emphasis on a particular instrument. The bass is present, a little boomy at times, but not emphasized, which is good for studio use. The midrange is a bit forward, clear, and detailed. The treble is present well rolled off, which keeps them from being overly bright and non-fatiguing. Apart from the overall sound, another strong suit is the soundstage. It is wide, plus the imaging has good instrument separation.
Overall, the K240 Studio is good for tracking and critically checking your mixes. The treble is good for spotting noise and other bad details caught up in your mix. They do not isolate and lack a strong bass output. However, if you looking to listen to music without coloration, the AKG K240 Studio is a good choice.
Design: Closed-Back Impedance: 34 ohms Sensitivity: 99 dB
PROS: Lightweight & durable design, portable, removable Cable, good for mobile audio production, decent sound balance CONS: Can get a little uncomfortable
The Beyerdynamic DT 240 Pro is a closed-back headphone with a portable on-ear design designed for use in the studio or out in the field for monitoring and recording purposes. The Beyerdynamic DT series includes some of the most popular headphones for studio use. The DT 240 Pro comes out as an affordable and portable headphone from the DT series. Is it worth your money (costs for home studios can really add up)?
First off, let’s start with the build quality and design. The Dt 240 Pro is very well built, especially at this price point. The earcups are made from metal and also the yokes holding them. The headband and adjustment arms also feature metal and appear to be sturdy. Pleather and plastic also feature in the overall build. The earcups have a 2.5 mm jack, which fits the provided 3.5mm to 2.5mm cable. Overall, the DT 240 Pro is well-built with a minimalistic design.
For the comfort, the DT 240 Pro is first very lightweight. This helps improve overall comfort. The fit of the DT 240 Pro from the design is an on-ear headphone. The size of the earcups is small, so they sit on the ears. The headband is well padded and does a good job of distributing the already light headphone properly without any hotspots. The headband adjustments are good and easily adjustable while the clamp is above average and will get uncomfortable during long sessions. The headband and earcups are covered with pleather, and the earcups tend to cause your ears to get hot. Adjusting the position of the earcups will help you wear them longer without much discomfort.
Isolation of the Beyerdynamic Dt 240 Pro is very good, especially for portable use. It is not good like over-ear closed-back headphones, but they do well in blocking out noise and preventing sound leakage. However, a good fit contributes to the overall isolating properties of the headphone.
In terms of the sound, overall, the Beyerdynamic DT 240 Pro has a warm sound signature with a little emphasis on the bass. First off, the bass is tight but comes off a bit as muddy and uncontrolled. The midrange response is well balanced and without much interference from the bass. Vocals do get a little loud at times, but overall nothing much to worry about. The treble sounds soft, smooth, and is slightly recessed. Even at high volumes, you will find the DT 240 Pro very enjoyable to listen to. The soundstage and imaging are good for an on-ear headphone.
Overall, Beyerdynamic DT 240 Pro has done well for an entry-level headphone. It balances all factors from the build quality, comfort and fit, and the sound quality. The earcups might be a little uncomfortable, but adjusting the headphone will improve their comfort over time. Isolation is also good if you get a good fit. For music genres, the DT 240 Pro sounds enjoyable, especially with rock and pop music.
Design: Closed-Back Impedance: 64 ohms Sensitivity: 105 dB
PROS: Excellent comfort, build quality, non-fatiguing, replaceable cable, soundstage & imaging (for a closed can) CONS: None so far
The Brainwavz HM5 is a very popular headphone. The headphone has a lot of versions that each have a different name. So, if you do not find them under the Brainwavz HM5 name, you can get the headphone rebadged and redesigned as Fischer Audio FA-003, Studiospares M1000, Yoga CD-880, Jaycar Pro Monitor, NVX XPT-100, Lindy HF-100, and many other models.
Let’s start with the design and build of the Brainwavz HM5. The HM5 has an excellent build quality. Everything from the metal and plastic earcups, steel headband, and the cable, nothing feels flimsy. They are big headphones in design, but very light. The headband is lightly padded and feels soft and comfortable, and It has good size adjustments with a click sound. The earcups are huge, well-padded, and cover the ears properly for a good fit.
For comfort and fit, nothing on this list beats the Brainwavz HM5. They are a very comfortable headphone even for long sessions. First, the headphone is very light. The headband is also well-padded and covered with a breathable fabric. We would have liked the headband padding to be a little longer, but it is still good and does not cause any hotspots. The earpads are deep and have wide openings, and should be comfortable for just about any person. Though the clamp is a little strong, the comfort of the earpads does an amazing job of negating this issue. The HM5 also comes with an extra set of earpads that can be user replaced.
Noise isolation is also very good for the Brainwavz HM5. They provide a very good seal around the ears enough to block out a good amount of noise in the background. They are not like IEMs, but they are good enough for a closed-back headphone. They also do not leak out the sound. Apart from a big design, these are great travel headphones. The case provided offers portable security for the cans and you can have them on when you need some quiet time.
The Brainwavz HM5 is marketed as a neutral headphone for studio monitoring purposes, and we cannot disapprove that statement. The bass has a nice extension and is well balanced. It does not feel under or over-done but has a good impact while still being balanced. The mids are also good, but with a slight hint of warmth. They are engaging and vocals come out accurately and organic. The treble is a bit more emphasized and has sufficient details to make it fun, enjoyable, and revealing. The soundstage is about average, but the imaging is impressive.
Everything about the Brainwavz HM5 screams studio monitor. From the build quality, overall design, comfort, down to the overall sound quality, these are one of the cheapest studio monitors you can get for this price. The accessories included are also a huge bonus for the price you pay for the HM5. The Brainwavz HM5 outperforms many headphones at this price and is worthy of being highly recommended.
Closed and open headphones each serve a different purpose in a recording studio. The main and physical differences between these headphone’s designs are in their earcups.
Closed-back headphones are completely sealed at the back of their earcups. Because of this design, they neither leak sound out nor do they leak in any background noise. Closed-back headphones are primarily used in the studio because of this reason. Closed headphones are good for vocalists and musicians to record while simultaneously listening to the guide track. Sound engineers and studio producers can also benefit from a closed-back headphone because of the isolation the design provides.
Audio Technica ATH-M40x
On the flip side, closed-back headphones tend to be bassy or emphasize the low-end. This limits their use to mostly tracking and recording but not for mixing or monitoring. If you are starting your home studio, we would encourage you to pick a closed-back headphone because it can serve different purposes compared to an open or semi-open studio headphone.
Open-back headphones have their earcups vented or perforated and thus do not provide isolation. While this might seem like a bad thing, the design results in natural sound without emphasis on any particular frequency. They also have better imaging and an expansive soundstage and better detail retrieval. Because of these qualities, open-back headphones in the studio are used for mixing and mastering.
The major downside of open-back headphones is sound leakage. In a studio setting where very sensitive microphones are used, open headphones are not good for recording or tracking because the sound might leak into the mics.
Semi-Open-Back headphones are designed to sit between open and closed headphones. They are recommended if you want to enjoy the best of both designs. Semi-Open-Back headphones are partly open, which gives them the benefits of open-back headphones. However, they also bear the disadvantages of open-back headphones as they will leak sound out and also leak in noise.
Samson SR850 headphones
They do not isolate like closed-back headphones, but they are a good compromise. In a recording studio, semi-open-back headphones are used for mixing and mastering. They can also be repurposed for recording because they give the musician a natural sound reproduction.
Over-ear studio headphones have earcups that completely cover the ear for a comfortable fit. They are the most common studio headphone because of the comfort and sound quality. In the studio, over-ear headphones are used mainly because of their sound quality for open-back headphones and the isolation in the case of closed-back headphones.
AKG k240 Studio Headphones
On-ear studio headphones sit on the outside of the ear. The difference between over-ear and on-ear is that on-ear headphones are smaller in size, thus they sit directly on the ear. Over-ear headphones are preferred because of their portability. They are light and compact to be carried around with ease. They are most preferred for live sound monitoring or recording on a stage.
Lastly, we have in-ear headphones. These include IEMs, Earbuds, or CIEMs. In-ear headphones are good, first because they are highly portable, and second because they offer better isolation. For these two reasons, in-ear headphones are a good companion for a sound engineer who is working on the go, or in busy and noisy places.
In a recording studio, long sessions are inevitable. Whether it is recording, mixing, or mastering, a comfortable studio headphone will go a long way in avoiding fatigue. Over-the-ear headphones tend to be the most comfortable of all headphone designs. Apart from the design, the material used on the padding of the headphone also influences the overall comfort of a headphone.
During long sessions, when using an uncomfortable headphone, it is good to take breaks. Breaks help your ears breathe, and being crapped up inside the earcup causes fatigue. Other than earpads, the clamp of the headphone will also affect comfort. A high clamping headphone will press harder on the sides of the head, which during long hours will cause discomfort. If possible, try to lessen the clamp of a headphone by bending the headband.
Impedance and Sensitivity Explained
Impedance and sensitivity are some of the specs that come with headphones. What do they mean, and how useful are they when picking up your next studio headphones?
The impedance of a headphone is the resistance the headphone’s driver creates to the current being pushed through them. Sensitivity, on the other hand, is the measure of how well headphone converts the power supplied. Sensitivity and headphone impedance go hand in hand. Sensitivity becomes important, especially when dealing with high impedance headphones.
First, if your audio interface or studio gear cannot drive your headphones efficiently. However, this is rarely the case because most studio equipments are capable of properly driving even power-hungry headphones. Second, a dedicated power amplifier improves audio quality. If you notice distortion from your at higher volumes or hear noise, a headphone amplifier can help.