Best Affordable Headphones for Mixing and Mastering

best affordable mixing and mastering headphones - decibel peak

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Mixing and mastering requires semi-open/open back headphones. That usually means you’ll be paying more, but it’s not necessary! That’s why I decided to curate this list of the best affordable headphones for mixing and mastering. Hopefully, you’ll find something that you like and with the money you save, you can invest it somewhere else. Don’t get me wrong though… The headphones on this list don’t compromise quality IN ANY WAY!

Here are the headphones we’ll be looking at today…

AKG K240 Semi-Open Studio Headphones

If you’re wondering which headphones I personally use for mixing and mastering, then you’ll want to check out the AKG K240s. Before using these, I had never experienced music through open/semi-open back headphones.

I definitely heard the difference between these and my Sennheiser HD 280 PROs…

However, I will admit that the AKG K240s don’t feel as sturdy. That being said, they’re much lighter and more comfortable thanks to the self-adjusting headband. Honestly, it feels like you don’t even have them on most of the time…

That’s what I look for in good mixing and mastering headphones; TRANSPARENCY.

The frequency response is also well-balanced, but the highs/lows aren’t as defined as other headphones on this list. If I weren’t also using speaker monitors, I’d still consider another pair to complement these when/if you have the budget.

AKG Pro Audio K240 STUDIO Over-Ear, Semi-Open, Professional Studio Headphones

Specs and useful features

  • Design: Over-Ear, Semi-Open
  • Driver Size: 30 mm
  • Frequency Response: 15 – 25,000 Hz
  • Sound Pressure Level: 104 dB
  • Sound Isolation Level: N/A
  • Nominal Impedance: 55 Ohms
  • Connection Cable: Straight, Detachable (3 meters)
  • Self-Adjusting Headband
  • Replaceable Earpads

User impressions

What I’ve heard from most users is that the AKG K240s are the best mixing and mastering headphones you can get at an affordable price. Despite their flimsy construction, I’ve also heard of some folks owing them for over 30 years (yes, they’re old).

The comfort-level is excellent for long mixing and mastering sessions.

However, most people understand that these aren’t the most precise headphones. For the price, you’ll be capable of mixing and mastering just fine, but I’d still recommend another complementary pair and/or speaker monitors as well.

Either way, the more devices you have to monitor, the better!

The detachable cable is also a top-rated feature of the AKG K240s.

Bottom-line

I’m really happy with my AKG K240s. In terms of sound, they fill an important gap in my toolbelt right between my Sennheiser HD 280 PROs and PreSonus Eris E3.5s.

Just keep in mind that these aren’t 100% open back headphones.

That being said, I think I’ll definitely be looking for another pair to compliment these, but it’s not because they’re not good. I just don’t think they have everything I need.

If you’re on a budget though, the AKG K240s are the best place to start!

PreSonus HD7 Semi-Open Studio Headphones

If you’re skeptical about using PreSonus hardware, DON’T BE!! I keep talking about how impressed I was with my pair of PreSonus Eris E3.5s, so I know for a fact that this company makes high-quality and affordable products.

The PreSonus HD7s follow that lineage and are some of the best affordable mixing and mastering headphones on the market.

The frequency response is well-balanced and the bottom-end is much more powerful than the AKG K240s which could make these an interesting alternative. However, you’ll still be missing the 100% open back design and in this case, the detachable cable as well.

What I like better about the PreSonus HD7s though is the 50mm drivers (vs 30mm).

PreSonus HD7 Professional Monitoring Headphones

Specs and useful features

  • Design: Over-Ear, Semi-Open
  • Driver Size: 50 mm
  • Frequency Response: 10 – 30,000 Hz
  • Sound Pressure Level: 98 dB
  • Sound Isolation Level: N/A
  • Nominal Impedance: 32 Ohms
  • Connection Cable: Straight, Non-Detachable (2.5 meters)
  • Self-Adjusting Headband
  • Replaceable Earpads
  • Foldable/Flexible

User impressions

If you care about looks/aesthetic, you may be embarrassed to wear the PreSonus HD7s. Most people think they don’t look good, but I beg to differ! Either way, they’re not meant to be brought outside the studio, so you’ll be fine.

I also hear that most users end up replacing the earpads which is reasonable.

In terms of sound, everyone says that the soundstage and bass-response is much better than other headphones in this price range. That’s partly because of the semi-open design and also due to the larger driver size.

Other than that, most folks can’t believe how flexible these are. I can’t understand how it’s done, but they can be folded up like a piece of rubber. It’s pretty cool!

Bottom-line

If you’re considering an alternative to the AKG K240s, I think the PreSonus HD7s might be interesting to you. Personally, I would’ve gone with these instead in the past if only I knew of their existence…

The soundstage is the same (because of the semi-open design), but the 50mm drivers in the PreSonus HD7s is what results in enhanced frequency response.

I just don’t like the fact that the cable isn’t detachable.

I also think that their ability to fold up like a towel isn’t necessary, but definitely cool! I wouldn’t use these outside my studio because they don’t isolate sound AT ALL.

Samson SR850 Semi-Open Studio Headphones

Samson is another one of those companies that makes great affordable products. I personally own the Samson CO2s and I expect no less from the Samson SR850s.

However, I believe that the circumaural design (around the ear) makes them better.

In every other respect, these headphones share the same qualities as the PreSonus HD7s with added clarity in the high-end. What’ll surprise you even more is that these are also the MOST affordable mixing and mastering headphones on this list.

In my opinion, they’re also the best in the semi-open category.

Samson Technologies SR850 Semi Open-Back Studio Reference Headphones, Black

Specs and useful features

  • Design: Circumaural, Semi-Open
  • Driver Size: 50 mm
  • Frequency Response: 10 – 30,000 Hz
  • Sound Pressure Level: 98 dB
  • Sound Isolation Level: N/A
  • Nominal Impedance: 32 Ohms
  • Connection Cable: Straight, Non-Detachable (2.5 meters)
  • Self-Adjusting Headband
  • Replaceable Earpads

User impressions

I’ve heard professional mixing and mastering engineers talk about how great these headphones are. The frequency response is truly reliable and accurate.

The self-adjusting headband also makes these incredibly comfortable for extended use.

I guess the price throws most people off, but don’t be fooled! The Samson SR850s are some of the best semi-open headphones out there.

The only downside is the non-detachable cable and non-foldable enclosure.

Bottom-line

I’m honestly considering purchasing a pair of Samson SR850s just to have another pair of mixing and mastering headphones. Considering how affordable they are, I feel like I should’ve gone with these instead of the AKG K240s, but now I’ll have both!

If you’re debating between the PreSonus HD7s and these, then it’ll depend on what you prefer.

I think the only advantage with the HD7s is the ability to fold them up.

Other than that, I think you’ll prefer the highs/mids on the SR850s and the circumaural design also provides additional isolation where it’s needed. Just keep in mind that these are semi-open, so they’re not designed for sound isolation.

Audio-Technica ATH-AD500X Open-Back Studio Headphones

Okay, we’re now getting into some of the lesser (yet still affordable) mixing and mastering headphones. One of the main advantages of the Audio-Technica ATH-AD500Xs is the completely open-back/open-air design for maximum soundstage.

The 53mm drivers also provide enhanced frequency response in all ranges.

The only thing I question about these headphones is the self-adjusting headband. It’s different from all the other headphones we’ve covered thus far and doesn’t provide as much stability.

Other than that, I think you’ll truly benefit from the 100% open-back design and get lots of mileage from these professional mixing and mastering headphones.

Audio-Technica ATH-AD500X Audiophile Open-Air Headphones, Black (AUD ATHAD500X)

Specs and useful features

  • Design: Circumaural, Open-Back
  • Driver Size: 53 mm
  • Frequency Response: 5 – 25,000 Hz
  • Sound Pressure Level: 100 dB
  • Sound Isolation Level: N/A
  • Nominal Impedance: 48 Ohms
  • Connection Cable: Straight, Non-Detachable (3 meters)
  • Self-Adjusting Headband

User impressions

From what I’ve heard, the mid-range on these headphones isn’t as precise as it should be. However, the advantage is that the Audio-Technica ATH-AD500Xs tend to sound punchier in the low-mids compared to other semi-open/open-back headphones.

If we’re talking about bass though, these headphones are definitely one of the best choices.

I also hear great things about the comfort, despite the self-adjusting headband not providing as much stability as other headphones on this list.

Lots of gamers use these headphones, so that should give you an idea of what these headphones will be best suited for (detail and dynamic range).

Bottom-line

Considering that the Audio-Technica ATH-AD500Xs aren’t the most affordable headphones on this list, I expected better. I’m not saying that these aren’t great headphones, but I wouldn’t start here unless you know exactly what you’re looking for.

However, I do recommend them based on the fact they’re one of the most affordable open-back/open-air headphones I’ve studied.

I just wouldn’t expect them to be an all-in-one solution, that’s all.

Also, keep in mind that these types of headphones (along with all the others on this list) have VERY HIGH amounts of sound leak due to the design. They’re not designed for sound recording and/or music production.

If that’s what you’re looking for, I suggest reading this article instead.

Philips Audio Fidelio X2HR Open-Back Studio Headphones

Last but certainly not least, we’ll be looking at the Philips Audio Fidelio X2HRs. These are probably some of the most luxurious headphones I’ve ever looked at, but they’re still one of the most affordable pairs on the market.

If you’re willing to spend a little more, I think you’ll be more than satisfied with these.

Besides the detachable cable, I think these X2HRs outperform the Audio-Technica ATH-AD500Xs in terms of frequency response by a long shot.

The comfort-level is also exceptionally high thanks to the deluxe memory foam earpads and the thick self-adjusting headband.

Philips Audio Fidelio X2HR Over-Ear Open-Air Headphone 50mm Drivers- Black

Specs and useful features

  • Design: Over-Ear, Open-Back
  • Driver Size: 50 mm
  • Frequency Response: 5 – 40,000 Hz
  • Sound Pressure Level: 100 dB
  • Sound Isolation Level: N/A
  • Nominal Impedance: 30 Ohms
  • Connection Cable: Straight, Detachable (3 meters)
  • Self-Adjusting Headband
  • Deluxe Memory Foam Earpads

User impressions

I only hear great things about the Philips Audio Fidelio X2HRs… Mixing and mastering engineers compliment their well-balanced frequency response and punchy lows.

The memory foam velour earpads also get lots of positive remarks!

I’ve also heard lots of people talking about their premium feel and stylish looks. The detachable cable is always appreciated and overall, you’re getting maximum value for what you’re paying.

However, I’ve heard people complain about the portability.

That shouldn’t be an issue though since these are meant to stay in the studio… 

Bottom-line

If you’re looking for ONE pair of headphones to take care of all your mixing and mastering needs, I think you found it! There are ZERO compromises with the Philips Audio Fidelio X2HRs except with portability.

If you want to take these out, I recommend getting yourself a bag/case.

You’ll definitely feel like these cans are worth more than what you paid for, but I just can’t believe how reliable they can be at this price point.

I’ve done lots of research and haven’t found anything that competes with these at this price.

Prioritize mixing and mastering headphones

If you haven’t read my article on the best affordable headphones for music production, I highly recommend doing so. You’ll most likely need one of each because as I mentioned, mixing and mastering headphones have one main flaw…

The semi-open/open-back design leaks sound, so you can’t record with them.

You also can’t use these to listen to music in crowded areas as you’ll hear everything and THEY’LL hear everything.

I keep talking about how going with affordable headphones makes it easier to own more of them (maybe even a collection). In the mixing and mastering field, that’s more ideal than owning one overpriced pair that “does it all”.

I’d personally start with one of each (closed-back and open-back).

However, I encourage you to start collecting semi-open/open-back headphones when you get the budget to do so. The headphones on this list are the ones I personally recommend, but keep searching if you’re adventurous!

Closed-back headphones have their purpose, but the soundstage will never be as good as open-back headphones.

If you have any questions or need clarification on any specific terms I used, feel free to leave a comment. I’m curious though… Which headphones do you use and why? Did I miss anything?

Let us know! Thanks for reading, I hope you found everything you were looking for.

Sources

https://www.akg.com/Headphones/Professional%20Headphones/K240-Studio.html

https://www.presonus.com/products/hd7

http://www.samsontech.com/samson/products/headphones/sr-series/sr850/

https://www.audio-technica.com/en-ca/ath-ad500x

https://www.philips.ca/c-p/X2HR_00/fidelio-fidelio-headphones

6 Responses

  1. Wow! This AKG K240 has really got it all covered up in one product and I must say that I’m very impressed. I got a very small headset at home for some small DJ works on my laptop but the sound quality has really been poor and I wish to order for a much better quality output. Thank you for the review here and for also, the comparison with your former headphone also helps to distinguish its strong points too. Thanks

    1. Hey Ella!

      Are you DJing from home or are you performing at venues? The K240s are actually not the best for DJs especially if you’ll be working in noisy environments.

      Check out the Sennheiser HD280 Pros, they’re perfect for your line of work. They fold and have swivelling earcups (so you can listen with one ear and monitor with the other).

      I hope that helps, thanks for stopping by!

      – Stefan

  2. This is a very nice headphone. I have a brother who loves to do his jockey thing and his birthday is next week. I know something like this will be a very good idea and will definitely blow him off his feet. Your review is very detailed which in my opinion is very good. I’ll go for your recommendation. Thank you for sharing it.

    1. Hey Riley!

      I mentioned in another comment that the K240s are actually not very well suited for DJs. I might just add a section explaining why.

      If your friend is performing at venues, he may have issues with isolation. They should be fine if he DJs from home though. I usually recommend the Sennheiser HD280 Pros to DJs, they’re perfect for that!

      Thanks for stopping by, my best to you and your buddy!

      – Stefan

  3. One doesn’t really have to be a DJ before he or she could lookout for the nest headphones out there, of you are a lover of music then you too will probably wanna get the best of headphones to get the best sound of music you can ever imagine.

    In this article reviewed , you get the best of the k240s headphones for the best mixing and mastering to give out the best of your talent, they have been looked into and highly recommended, so be sure yo get the best one that best suits your work

    1. Hey Evans,

      It’s important to consider what you’ll be doing before purchasing, you’re absolutely right. The K240s are really designed for mixing and mastering engineers.

      I wrote another blog post that can potentially help anyone who is wondering what type of headphones they should get. DJs are better off with closed-back headphones, especially if they are performing in noisy venues!

      Thanks for writing!

      – Stefan

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