What Are Reference Headphones? 4 Affordable Models

To understand what are reference headphones, let’s look at the problem with regular headphones. Most headphone manufacturers alter the sound of their products to make them more appealing for consumers. It can be heard in the form of bass boosts or treble boosts. This type of sound may sound exciting to the ear, but they’re not an accurate representation of how the production sounds in the studio, or even on various other headphones and speakers.

Think of it like salt on a steak. Sure it makes the food taste better, but it can also mask the taste of the meat, potentially making a slice of poor quality meat taste better than it actually is!

what are reference headphones

What are Reference Headphones & Who Should Use Them?

If you are working in music production, you’ll want to hear how your music is going to sound across a vast range of headphones and speakers. That’s when reference headphones are the best choice. By providing accuracy in your mixes as they have flat frequency response and no bass boost.

When comparing reference headphones with a consumer model, it might actually sound “worse”! But that’s by design, as they are not made to sound good, but neutral and transparent. For example, a music producer would want a more accurate representation of how their music will sound on a vast range of devices once it’s released to the world!

Best Reference Headphones for a Home Studio

I started Home Studio Equipment to make it easy for aspiring musicians & artists to pick the best gear for their home studios and get the most out of their budget. That way, they can focus more on the music production side of things. I have used many reference headphones throughout the years and researched many more. All the following models have been tested by audio engineers who work professionally in studios or people who mix music at home on a daily basis. For this reason, my list is made up only of products that will help you get better results when mixing or monitoring your tracks.

Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro

These popular headphones by Beyerdynamic are open back, meaning they are perfect for mixing in the studio. Whether you’re trying to figure out how best to place guitars, vocals, or any other instrument, they’ll do the job like no other. Your ears deserve it!

Best for Mixing

best reference headphones for mixing
4.7/5

Beyerdynamic DT-770 Pro

This is the closed-back variant of the popular headphone model which makes it great for listening to yourself while recording your instruments or vocals. It also keeps the sound of the headphones from escaping, which would bleed over into other tracks.

Best for Recording

beyerdynamic dt 770 studio headphones
4.5/5

AKG K240

A legendary workhorse of professional studios, this widely acclaimed AKG headphone is affordable and widely used in the music industry. These semi-open design headphones are ideal for objective listening when monitoring or mixing in both large studio settings or smaller home environments.

Best Value

akg k240 studio headphones
4/5

Beyerdynamic DT 1990

The Beyerdynamic DT 1990 is a top-of-the-line studio headset and it works perfectly for long studio sessions. These are your solution to getting crisp highs without distortion, clear vocals without muddiness, deep bass with nothing but a clean bottom end. These are the most professional option on my list thanks to the sound quality they deliver, while still being comfortable enough not to cause sweat or sore ears after hours of intense sessions in the studio.

Best Premium

beyerdynamic dt 1990 pro studio headphones
4.8/5

Should You Buy Reference Headphones?

Reference headphones are a must-have for the serious audio engineer, but they’re also useful to have around if you enjoy music on your own time or want an accurate reference point when recording. These types of headphones can be used in home studios or at professional recording studios. They allow you to hear all aspects of your music with an accurate representation of what it would sound like live without any distortion or coloration. If that sounds like you, then go for it. But if you’re not into producing music and just want something to listen with, then go for standard consumer headphones.