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
First and foremost, both of them are over-ear headphones as well as studio headphones in its 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 headphone type 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.
- Headphone features? A few of our favorites offer the ability to fold, interchangeable cables, leather and wood builds, special internal magnets, other “technology” built-in, and more. These aren’t necessarily musts with a pair of closed-back headphones, but will start to justify price as you get into the higher-end models. Which are important to you?
- 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.
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.
Sennheiser HD 280
We’re going with a pair of Sennheiser’s to start our list off as the best closed-back headphones out right now. The Sennheiser HD 280 in particular 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.
Let’s talk heavy hitters. The Beyerdynamic T5p are insane if you have a super high budget, and these blow many pairs out of the water if high-end is a priority for you. They’re known by audiophiles as one of the best since they combine something called “Tesla technology”. They coin this as “delivering maximum efficiency and crystal-clear sound”, but since that’s a bit broad and unspecific, let’s see why. What’s built inside of these things is a high-tech compound material that starts to pay attention to the smaller details other headphones (at lower costs, of course) do not — less vibrations, better tuned harmonic sounds, tilted systems for more space inside to ultimately create a warm and precise sound. Take a look at this beast if your wallet nods it’s head.
What can we really say about this pair of headphones? A-T is here to stay with their gear and for a long time at that. We’re actually rocking a pair of Audio-Technica ATH-M50x 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 AKG K550 are another one of the best closed-back headphones in the market, and they come in as lightweight, very comfortable, 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 fit or 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. The Shure SRH440 are by far our top pick for best budget-friendly pair of closed-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.
The Audeze LCD-XC is another monstrous closed-back pair of studio headphones. Should we start with the actual Bubinga wood and premium leather for the build (manufactured in the USA if that matters to anybody)? Or perhaps why they’re almost 2 grand? For one, they’re attention to detail is unmatched. Starting with the internal planar magnetic technology matched with transducers to help with an overall surreal sound quality and accurate listening, there are also internal soundwaves called “Patented Fazor Elements” that help rid resonance only audiophiles can notice or even know exist. There are also double-sided magnet rays that work together to rid distortion, and combined with the super-thin diaphragms that quicken response times, this thing brings a combination of internal organs that justify that price-point if you want something above and beyond.
Here’s another budget-friendly pick that rivals with the Shure spoken about above. The Sony MDR7506 are quite famous (we still have our pair after 10 years or so) and have stood the test of time. 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 the Crossfade M-100 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 the Beyer DT-250 in 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! The Ultrasone PRO 550 have a huge range of sound at 10 to 22 kHz, a detachable cable (comes with two, a 3m and .8m for options), 50 mm 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?