Over the last 3 months or so I have spent many many hours researching headphones (and amps… and dacs… ) and while I have learned many things, one of the things I have noticed the most is the lack of closed back headphones that are even considered by the main reviewers.
Don’t get me wrong, there are closed backs out there, but they are certainly not regarded as being high quality (except for a few) and are definitely not on the recommended list unless there is no other option than closed back, even then it seems that people struggle to recommend them.
Well, I fall into the category of those that are “forced” to use closed back headphones, both at work and a lot of the time at home. Unfortunately I also live in an area where the only possibility to try headphones is to buy online and return them if you don’t like them but I am not a fan of doing that.
So, if we could share the closed back headphones we have had chance to try, or even those that we have heard/read/seen good things (or bad things) about, it would be a great reference for those that are limited in their choice like myself.
I do not have an extensive experience with many sets of closed backs but I will share what I have tried so far and also post those that I manage to get my hands on going forwards. Any recommendations are greatly appreciated.
It has been a long time since I have heard these. They were my first over-ear headphones that I bought as soon as I had a job that allowed me to (with a bunch of other audio gear). At the time I was DJing and performing live, so all I really understood was “loud”. I seem to remember that those around me with “better and more experienced ears” liked the quality of the sound, but I really couldn’t vouch for it.
These were my first headphones purchased for my “home studio”. This was nearly 20 years ago now and I still have them in a studio space I share with a friend.
I found them very clean and easy to work with, although I would not choose them for listening to music. I have since moved on but I still pick them up now and again to compare.
These were purchased as a cheap option to use in the early hours of the morning when I couldn’t really use my monitors.
The sound was far from great and they became my “experimental” headphones once I moved on. I have made various mods to them and they are very listenable, but still very cheap headphones.
Beats by Dr.Dre (not sure of the model name, but the first ones)
I tried these in a department store after hearing all the hype about them. I only listened to them for about 5 minutes and got the impression that they were muddy and everything sounded like an MP3 with an artificial bass boost added.
Audio Technica M50X
I needed a set of headphones to practice bass through at home and these were actually available (along with the M40X) in a local store. I didn’t get to try bass through them as I never took them home. I tried them in the store using my phone as a source and while I found that they were much better than the Beats I mentioned above, I did not feel they were accurate at all.
I have since seen many reviews saying they are great headphones for mixing but I would only consider mixing on them if I was planning on the track being played back on a bluetooth speaker.
Obviously eveyone has their own tastes and opinions but I would not choose to use these for mixing or music listening.
Audio Technica M40X
I suppose I could say that these headphones are the ones that got me more serious about listening through headphones.
I came across these when trying out the M50X and not liking them. I decided to try these as I needed a set of headphones for practice and the store didn’t have much choice.
These did feel a lot more accurate to my ears and did not seem to have that artificial bass sound that I found in the M50X. I decided to buy them and take them home to give them a real run.
After using them for a week or so, I found that they were not very comfortable and went on a search for replacement pads, where I came across Zeos for the first time. I sort of followed his advice and ordered the Brainwavz angled pads (not quite what he recommended, but close enough) and was really happy with the result.
I found them more than adecuate for bass practice. I also found (find) them very easy to mix on and also quite enjoyable for listening to music. I think it was the first time that I actually sat and listened for hours and hours through headphones.
I have since heard other headphones that are clearer sounding, but I still like the M40X and use them daily. They are still my preferred headphone for mixing and recording as I find them very easy to read (probably because I am used to them). I like them so much that I have ended up with 3 pairs!
Beyerdynamic Custom Studio
These are my current headphones at work and my preferred (closed back) headphone so far.
They are 80Ohm headphones and while not difficult to drive, they do react well to amplification.
The bass selector works very well and the change in bass level between 1 to 4 is tremendous. I like to keep it on 2 as it seems to be the most balanced, although I do sometimes drop it to one on songs that are too bass heavy, or bump it up to 4 when I want some rumble.
The mids are very well defined and the treble I do not find harsh on these headphones at all (and I am a little treble sensitive).
The soundstage is not ultra-wide but it does seem to provide decent imaging (I will probably be able to add more input when I have heard others with better imaging).
The only thing I have found with these is that they do not like being converted to balanced. They had all kinds of strange resonance and reverb happening when I converted them and ran them balanced on the P20. It sounded like they were out of phase and that everything was happening in slow motion. I tried various cables, connectors and even soldered straight through, but the issue remained. I am not sure what caused that.
(Edit: I forgot to mention that the sound from the Custom Studios never seems to be coming from in front of you, the sides and behind work great but you never seem to be looking at the stage, if that makes any sense. That is definitely one point they could use some improvement on)
Audio Technica M60X
Zeos raved about these recently so I thought I would check them out. They are not bad but I find the very similar to the M40X with slightly less bass and the inconvenience of being on ear and not foldable. I only tried them at the store as I prefer what I have already.
Audio Technica MSR7
I tried these also at the store and only for around 5 minutes. I found them to be a little harsh in the treble for my liking and much prefer the sound signature of the Beyerdynamics Custom Studio’s. The bass is ok but the Custom Studio also has much more on tap when needed.
I will probably give the new balanced version a try when they are available around here (they only stock ATH and not many models) as I hear the are supposed to follow the sound signature of the limited edition MSR7’s which sounded a little better (so I have read).
I think that is all I can really comment on for now. I have owned a bunch of cheapish DJ headphones over the years but I couldn’t rememer models nevermind sound signatures. I could probably check my Thomann history and tell you which were loudest, but that is about it.
As said earlier, any input and/or recommendations on closed-backs would be greatly appreciated!