Being huge headphones nerds ourselves, the amount of reading and research we’ve done on the subject is something we wouldn’t really like to admit. Due to our expanded knowledge however, we wanted to continue our series of top 10’s on the popular headphone makes in the market. In this article, we have the best closed-back headphone models to compare and contrast. Within the main consumer market, they are the most prominent designs by far. You see all of the popular Beats by Dre and Bose stuff (check out that article and you’ll see some shady rumors out there), but what about the lesser-known, more professional-quality pairs of cans that don’t flood us with commercials everyday? Let’s check it out.
The difference between closed-back and open-back headphones
Well, first and foremost, both of them are studio headphones in it’s rawest form. However, when we start to narrow it down in terms of actual use and the setting you’ll be wearing them in is when we start to get nit-picky with the make. In sum, open-back headphones are best for mixing and mastering because the open-design allows space in between your ears and the cups. In result, this allows some sound to leak out which prevents extra build up of certain frequencies (typically the lower-end) which at times skews the accuracy of the mix.
Closed-back headphones on the other hand, and what we’re focusing on today, are best for sound isolation. Sound isolation is perfect for recording artists because it keeps most of the sound the artist is hearing inside of the headphones, disallowing pretty much all of the sound from leaking out to be picked up by the microphone and getting in the way of the track being recorded. We also prefer closed-back headphones for leisurely listening, working out, or merely any other activity where you need some privacy and don’t want others to hear what you have blasting. Although in the end, either make will work for leisure listening (we’ve even heard of some saying open-back are more comfortable and better quality, but that’s when we get into personal preference so we’re not going to get into that).
If you are indeed interested in checking out some models from the other side, be sure to read our best open-back headphones article and see if any suit your needs.
For more elaboration on this topic and the overall differences, we like this post on Head-Fi about closed-back vs open-back headphones.
How to choose your closed-back headphones
- Your budget. As always, how much cash you have at hand is going to be your main deciding factor. Do you want to drop a few bills? Maybe keep it under $100? Even more? Most high-quality will stop there, so keep in mind that if you want something that’s going to differentiate how things sound as opposed to the after-market or stock headphones, you’ll need to spend at least a bill or more.
- Preferred brand. You’d be surprised at how many audiophiles stick to only one brand. This may be your preference to do, it may not be. We tried to include a vast array of brands for choices.
- Interchangeable cables? A few of our favorites, such as Audio-Technica’s ATH-M50x offer the interchangeable cable feature. It isn’t necessarily a must, but it’s a pretty uprising trend at the moment, especially if you’ll be switching uses of your headphones (longer cable to reach your bed for movies, shorter for your smartphone, etc).
- Additional parts\gear you may need. Some come with a case, others with extra cables, some with replaceable ear pads, etc. You get the idea. We’re travelers at times, so a case is usually a must for us, but it may not be for you.
- Color\aesthetics? Unfortunately, a lot of popular studio headphones only come in black. However, there are a few that offer some decent color options. We’ll let you know which closed-back models come with some choices.
The top 10 best closed-back headphones
The following is our list of top 10 best closed-back headphones in the market today. We did a lot of hefty research and are always open to criticism, so please let us know if you have some personal experience with certain models or pairs of cans that we didn’t mention you feel should be taken a look at. If you need a headphone amplifier or audio interface to power these up, feel free to check out those guides after.
We’re going with a pair of Sennheiser‘s to start our list off as the best closed-back headphones out right now. This particular model is arguably one of Sennys most popular pairs of cans ever. Their entire HD line of headphones are worth looking at, so we feel a bit weird just mentioning just one but we stuck with these since they’re rated so highly and are also closed-back. With the 280’s, you get a clear, warm sound that’s flat among all frequencies. They’re also collapsible and have rotating earcups for convenience. In terms of comfort, you’re good to go for long periods of listening and the entire build is very rugged and won’t break on you easily. If you want a quick and simple answer for a pair of closed-back headphones to get, grab this and don’t look back. PCMag’s Sennheiser HD 280 review was rated very high as well.
What can we really say about this pair of headphones? Audio-Technica is here to stay with their gear and for a long time at that. We’re actually rocking a pair of these right now as we like to use them for work since they’re so dang comfortable. The audio quality is also amazing and we have zero complaints when it comes to distribution of frequencies as well as overall clarity. What’s also nice is it has an interchangeable cable (comes with three options in the box), you get a long option, short, and coiled for whatever use you may need. Adjustable headband, rotating earcups and they’re also collapsible. The question for these is what doesn’t it have? There’s a new ATH-M70x you may want to look at for a step up, but the price is significantly higher. These are one of the best pairs of closed-back headphones out there and will be for a long time.
AKG is an extremely popular headphone brand out there — we actually love their mics, too. This particular closed-back model is rated very highly among audiophiles. The K550’s are lightweight and very comfortable, have 50mm drivers (bigger isn’t always better, but it doesn’t hurt), and a very clear sound to them. They fold for convenience, isolate sound well and aren’t too hefty when it comes to price — they usually float around the point of the M50x’s, but double check the sites they’re selling on to make sure. These won’t disappoint either if you end up grabbing them — audiophiles love AKG for a reason.
If you’ve ever read some of our microphone reviews, you’d see Shure‘s brand name everywhere. Their headphones are solid as well and we know many people who swear by this pair of headphones when it comes to closed-back models. It’s by far our top pick for best budget-friendly pair of open-back cans — it’s usually seen for a Benjamin or less on certain websites. You get a comfortable fit, adjustable headband, detachable cable, collapsible construction, and comes with a carrying bag\quarter inch adapter. The clarity with these are great and if you really want to power them up, a headphone amplifier will always help. They’re not comparable to the higher-end models in terms of quality but they get the job done. Regardless, this is another one of the best closed-back headphones for a super affordable price as compared to most studio quality models out there.
Here’s another budget-friendly pick that rivals with the Shure spoken about above. They’re rated highly for the overall solid build, have great mid-range performance and great sounding bass. Even though the audiophiles like to critique the highs having a pronounced peak, it’s still a solid pair of headphones for a decent price if you want an evenly distributed sound. The cable isn’t detachable so if you want to get critical you can, but overall these are very solid. If you’re debating on these or the Shure, we would go with whichever is cheaper at the moment — we still have our MDR’s lying around here in the office and trust us, they’ve definitely stood the test of time now (almost 10 years we’ve had ours). Double check the sites to compare. Here’s a cool video review of the MDR7506 if you want some more info and they also made it into our best headphones under $200 guide.
V-MODA Crossfade M-100
Now these things are slick. V-Moda may not be a brand you’ll see around the local gym, but they’re one of the most prestige and high-end headphone creators out there. They have quite a few models out there, but we chose this one in particular due to the high quality and popular reviews on them. You first and foremost have some of the coolest looking headphones out there (in our opinion), a choice of color options, super comfortable foam cushions, 50mm drivers, high-quality material build, deep bass and an overall wide, clear sound. They’re definitely up in there in terms of price vs. the others in here, but you’re getting what you pay for: one of the nicest sounding, feeling and made pair of cans out there at the moment. CNet’s V-Moda Crossfade M-100 review called them beautiful. If you have the cash, these are definitely one of the best closed-back headphones in the world.
How can we have an article on headphones and not mention Beyerdynamic at least once? They’re pretty well known for their open-back headphones, but this particular closed-back model is solid as well. It’s typically seen within the middle price-point and offers a lightweight, low-profile design with a detachable cable. The sound is very balanced and headband rests well with it’s soft padding. What’s cool about Beyer is most of their headphones come with exchangeable parts — cables, earcups and more. Although it depends on the person, BT is another brand many will say to grab or it’s not worth it. Check this pair of closed-back headphones it if you want something in the middle price-point that still offers a high reputation when it comes to quality and build.
Ultrasone PRO 550
Now these are quality closed-back headphones! A huge range of sound at 10 to 22 kHz, a detachable cable (comes with two, a 3m and .8m for options), 50mm driver size and an extremely comfortable build. It’s a bit up there in terms of price, usually around the same as V-Moda’s M-100 (double check as it may change) so depending on how you want to compare them, it can go either way. Sound isolation works as intended here, the frequency balance is stated to be as advertised and their “S-Logic” patented technology is explained to help with sound pressure reduction and decrease with hearing damage\fatigue. Why not?
Here’s Yamaha’s claim in the best closed-back headphones debate and we think this one is worth it depending on how it’s priced and where you look. If you can get it for a middle price-point as compared to the M50x, we’d say grab it. You get a very accurate sound, copper clad aluminum wiring, wide frequency range and solid build. Although most headphones in here have similar features such as this, it’s a top 10 list for a reason: sometimes pricing is what differentiates one model from the other since they’re all professional studio-quality cans. Other standouts of Yamaha’s model include the extremely soft, memory foam cushions on the ear pads as well as 3D pivoting earcups for shaping to your head quite well. Here’s a helpful MT220 video review.
Last but not least, we have the old-school Koss brand logo presented with these. They’re a bit lower in price as compared to the past few models. They fold flat, have a detachable cable, come with a carrying case and fit very comfortably. Nothing too crazy in terms of a “standout” feature but what this really gives us is just a simple, solid pair of headphones for a pretty affordable price. If you want something that’s cheaper than most but with still suitable quality above the typical mainstream headphones, grab this pair.