Are you an audio professional or enthusiast that’s looking for the best reference headphones? Then you’ll be happy with the industry leading options in this buyer’s guide. We have searched the marketplace to find the best reference headphones across 3 price categories. Therefore, you’ll be able to select the option that best matches your requirements.

We have added a buying factors section to help those of you that have never bought reference headphones before. Here you’ll find a number of factors that must be considered before pulling the trigger on the purchase, which includes audio quality, comfort, brand, durability, and advantages of an open back design.

Reference headphones focus on delivering a flat and accurate sound that is considered to be accurate audio reproduction. You won’t find added features such as extra bass or surround sound that can make audio sound different than it actually should.

We had a great time creating this buyer’s guide and hope you have just as much fun reading. You’ll come across the best options, which will make finding a pair easier. Don’t forget to take the time to read the buying consideration section to fully learn about what’s important when buying the best reference headphones.

Budget
best-budget-references-headphones
Beyerdynamic DT 990
4.8/5.0
Weight: 11 Ounces
Frequency Response: 5-35,000 Hz
Has 3 versions offering different ohm sizes and a competitive price.
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Best Value
best-value-references-headphones
AKG Q 701
4.9/5.0
Weight: 1.7 Ounces
Frequency Response: 10-39,800 Hz
Wide frequency response and comfortable with gimbal design.
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Top Pick
top-value-references-headphones
Sennheiser HD 800
5.0/5.0
Weight: 11.5 Ounces
Frequency Response: 4-51,000 Hz
Has excellent audio drivers and wide frequency range.
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Buying factors to consider

Items by price:

Reference Headphones Comparison Table

Make and ModelWeightFrequency ResponsePrice
Beyerdynamic DT 99011 Ounces5-35,000 HzCheck Price
Sony MDR75068.1 Ounces10-20,000 HzCheck Price
Samson SR85016.8 Ounces10-30,000 HzCheck Price
AKG Q 7011.7 Ounces10-39,800 HzCheck Price
Sennheiser HD 6509.1 Ounces10-39,500 HzCheck Price
Audio-Technica ATH-R70x7.4 Ounces5-40,000 HzCheck Price
Grado SR325e12.6 Ounces18-24,000 HzCheck Price
Sennheiser HD 80011.5 Ounces4-51,000 HzCheck Price
Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro13.05 Ounces5-40,000 HzCheck Price
Shure SRH154013.5 Ounces5-25,000 HzCheck Price

Best Reference Headphones Under $200

Do you need reference grade headphones but you’re on a budget? Then consider investing in the 3 options we present in this price category. You’ll enjoy the value for money, great fit, and solid audio quality.

However, if you’re a professional that needs the very best of what the marketplace has to offer then you should take a look at the pricier categories to find more suitable headphones.

1. Beyerdynamic DT 990

Beyerdynamic DT 990View on Amazon

Editor’s Rating: 4.8/5

The Beyerdynamic DT 990 are highly rated headphones that offer excellent value for money. At the affordable price you can get reference quality that is comparable to significantly higher priced headphones in this buyers guide. Take the time to take a closer look at the features to figure out if there is enough quality here to meet your needs.

This 600 ohm version is ideal for users that want to combine them with a Hi-Fi system that has a strong output and plenty of bass. However, you can also downgrade to 250 ohms for home based systems and the 32 ohm version for smartphones/tablets.

The frequency range of 5 Hz – 35,000 Hz provides great bass and detailed highs that are a pleasure to listen to across all music genres. You’ll also find the bass and treble strong so music genres like rock, rap, and hip-hop will be brought to life.

The large circular earcups are comfortable to wear for extended periods of time and the headband has plenty of padding on the underside. Therefore, they can be used to comfortably work with for the entire day throughout the week.

Before adding the Beyerdynamic DT 990 to the shopping cart consider some of the drawbacks. Firstly, the headband may result in a tight fit that takes time getting used to. You’ll also need to be careful when handling them as the build quality doesn’t lead to long lasting durability.

Overall, the Beyerdynamic DT 990 headphones are a good choice for the professional that also wants an option for the home. The comfortable fit and excellent audio fidelity means you can enjoy accurate audio reproduction that will not be compromised at higher volume levels.

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Tech Specs
Weight: 11 ounces
Frequency response: 5-35,000 Hz
Decibels: 96 Db
The Pros
3 versions offering different ohm sizes
Competitive price
Strong bass
The Cons
Bulky
Tight on the head

2. Sony MDR7506

Sony MDR7506View on Amazon

Editor’s Rating: 4.6/5

The Sony MDR7506 is a budget friendly option that is ideal for amateurs and studio professionals on a budget. These can be used to hear accurate audio reproduction from all types of music genres. Take the time to take a careful look at the features offered to figure out if the Sony MDR7506 headphones will meet your needs.

The 9.8 foot cable provides excellent length that allows you to sit back and enjoy audio at a distance. It’s a coiled cable, which means at close range it will have the feeling of being short, but can extend when needed.

The closed back design contributes to lower ambient noise, which is great when at home. However, the closed back design doesn’t allow for a wide soundstage, which means the audio will have the feeling of being in the earcups rather than all around you.

The 40mm Neodymium magnets allow for powerful and detailed sound that is highly competitive at this price bracket. However, the frequency response of 10-20KHz isn’t the best in this buyer’s guide. For the audiophiles among you that require high-grade performance might feel that this is somewhat of a deal breaker.

The large earpads are soft and comfortable to wear for multiple hours at a time. The headband doesn’t have a lot of padding, but it’s large enough to fit buyers of all head sizes. Also, a storage case is added that allows you to store the Sony MDR7506 headphones while traveling.

Before parting with your hard earned money take into account a few of the negatives. Firstly, the bass isn’t strong here so your music might sound flatter than you’d like. Also the length of the 9.8 cable might be too long for those that want more practicality. Finally, the build is on the plastic side so you’ll need to be careful with them in order to avoid damage.

To summarize, the Sony MDR7506 headphones is a great choice for budget conscious consumers that want an entry level reference grade product. They are comfortable and provide great audio production at a price point that will not put a big dent in your wallet.

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Tech Specs
Weight: 8.1 ounces
Frequency response: 10-20,000 Hz
Decibels: 106 Db
The Pros
Low price
Comfortable
9.8 foot coiled cable
The Cons
Durability
Frequency range is limited

3. Samson SR850

Samson SR850View on Amazon

Editor’s Rating: 4.4/5

The Samson SR850 is ideal for buyers that are on a budget, but want reference grade headphones. These headphones come in the on-ear and over-ear format, but the latter is better if you need better audio quality. The value for money here is excellent since you’re getting excellent audio quality without having to pay a premium price.

The frequency range of 10Hz-30kHz is respectable but not comparable to the top offerings in this buyer’s guide. Each note is delivered via the 50mm audio drivers that have exceptional reproduction and a wide soundstage. This combination enables you to enjoy all your music tracks in a way like never before. Reference grade headphones, even at the budget end, allow you to hear sounds you might have missed before.

The self-adjusting headband provides a comfortable and secure fit, which means you can move your head without fear that the headphones will come loose. The circular earcups are large enough to fit the majority of ear sizes, however those with extra-large ears might feel a bit of pressure from the edges.

It’s a good idea to consider some of the negatives of the Samson SR850 headphones before coming to a conclusion. The overall audio quality will not be comparable to the higher priced categories in this buyer’s guide. Therefore, these are more suited for amateurs rather than studio professionals that require industry leading performance. Also the materials used aren’t the best, which means durability can become an issue sooner than you’d like.

To summarize, the Samson SR850 headphones are a great choice for buyer’s on a budget that want to enjoy reference grade audio. They are bulky so taking them with you on your travels is not ideal. It’s a competitive option because the value offered at this low price is hard to beat.

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Tech Specs
Weight: 16.8 ounces
Frequency response: 10-30,000 Hz
Decibels: 96 Db
The Pros
Affordable
Choice between on-ear and over-ear
Comfortable fit
The Cons
Durability

Best Reference Headphones Under $400

This price category offers good value when you take into account the amount of features offered. You can use these headphones for professional use or if you need to upgrade as an enthusiast. Here you’ll find headphones that have a wide frequency range, a comfortable fit, and a durable build from the top audio brands in the world.

4. AKG Q 701

AKG Q 701View on Amazon

Editor’s Rating: 4.9/5

These green reference headphones look stylish and deliver awesome audio performance. They match up well with the competition around them in this price bracket. However, you need to decide if the features offered here justify the cost.

They come with an open back design that makes use of revolutionary flat-wire technology. This wire format creates a stronger and more uniform magnetic field, which results in significantly lower impedance. The end result is clean audio and accurate reproduction that will blow your mind if you’ve never used reference headphones before.

The 3D form earpads are comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. They are large in size to ensure comfort, but it adds to the overall bulk. Also the headband is on the large size so you’ll need to get used to the fit. However, such headphones are not designed to be portable – audio quality and comfort are the key ingredients here.

The audio drivers make use of the patented AKG Varimotion ultra precision two-layered diaphragm. They have been finely tuned to provide an out of the box experience that is a joy to listen to regardless of the music genre.

Before making the big investment into these AKG headphones consider some of the drawbacks. The large bulk means they might not be comfortable to handle and convenient to wear around the neck. Also, there are a lot of competitors in this space that might provide a more refined end product.

To summarize, the AKG Q 701 headphones offer a nice blend of style and audio quality. You’ll enjoy the patented audio driver technology and revolutionary flat coil design. However, you’ll need to get over the bulk in order to get used to handling them.

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Tech Specs
Weight: 1.7 ounces
Frequency response: 10-39,800 Hz
Decibels: 105 Db
The Pros
Wide frequency response
Comfortable with gimbal design
Revolutionary flat coil implementation
The Cons
Bulky
Lots of competition

5. Sennheiser HD 650

Sennheiser HD 650View on Amazon

Editor’s Rating: 4.9/5

Sennheiser is a well-respected audio brand that is an expert in the audio industry. The HD 650 is one of their best headphones for audio professionals and enthusiasts that require audio reproduction above all else. Delve deeper into the features implemented here to figure out if the asking price is justified.

The frequency range is an amazing 10-39,500 Hz, which means you can expect deep bass, accurate mids, and stable highs. The neodymium ferrous magnet systems ensure that audio is stable at louder volume levels and the build quality means they will stand the test of time.

The headphones feel premium in-hand due to the excellent choice of materials. You’ll also love the bulky oval over-ear earcups that are comfortable to wear. You can be engaged in a multiple hour listening session without feeling the need to take a break. Don’t be fooled by the bulky size – they are light due to the use of aluminum throughout the framework.

It’s an open back design so you can enjoy a wide soundstage that gives you the feeling of audio all around you. It’s as close to being in a concert in-person without actually being there. However, the negatives of the open back design means you’ll have to deal with ambient noise and sound leakage.

Ample wattage and a good amplifier is required in order to enjoy these headphones properly. The lack of a plug and play setup might put off the users among you that are not familiar with audio based equipment.

To summarize, the Sennheiser HD 650 is a great choice for audio professionals that are looking for decent value. These reference headphones rival some of the more expensive options in this buyer’s guide. However, there is a lack of extra features such as a mic so you’ll only be buying these for the accurate audio reproduction.

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Tech Specs
Weight: 9.1 ounces
Frequency response: 10-39,500 Hz
Decibels: 97 Db
The Pros
Wide frequency response
Comfortable light fit
Trusted audio brand
The Cons
Bulky

6. Audio-Technica ATH-R70x

Audio-Technica ATH-R70xView on Amazon

Editor’s Rating: 4.8/5

The Audio-Technica ATH-R70x headphones are a solid choice for music enthusiasts and professionals that need studio grade quality. The execution of these headphones gives you a lot of food for thought. Delve deeper into the features to figure out in more detail what you can expect when investing in these Audio-Technica ATH-R70x headphones.

The high-efficiency magnets of the audio drivers contribute to awesome professional grade audio that brings out the best of the 5-40,000 Hz frequency response. This level of detail means that mixing and mastering will be a joy with these headphones.

The feather light weight of about 7.4 ounces means you’ll enjoy wearing these on a daily basis for extended hours. The large and spacious headband can be adjusted to fit any head size in a way that’s secure. Therefore, you can move your head about comfortably without fear that the headphones will come loose.

The aluminum honeycomb-mesh protects the earcups so that the audio drivers are not damaged during impact. The open back design of these earcups contributes to ventilation of moisture and heat allowing your ears to feel comfortable for longer.

There are plenty of positives to the Audio-Technica ATH-R70x headphones, but it makes sense to consider a few drawbacks before proceeding. The bulky size of the headband might seem a bit too much for those that are used to a minimalist design. Also there is a lot of competition at this price so you need to consider the benefits here against the other options.

To conclude, the Audio-Technica ATH-R70x offers a lot for the premium price. The highly comfortable fit means you’ll love wearing these for hours and the audio quality is very competitive. You’ll love these headphones if you’re looking for a lightweight unit that’s also durable.

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Tech Specs
Weight: 7.4 ounces
Frequency response: 5-40,000 Hz
Decibels: 99 dB
The Pros
Light
Durable
Wide frequency range
The Cons
Bulky

7. Grado SR325e

Grado SR325eView on Amazon

Editor’s Rating: 4.7/5

Grado manufacture consistently highly rated headphones and the SR325e is one of their best offerings. The mix of the solid build, amazing audio quality, and comfort means you’ll love using these on a daily basis. These are suitable for professionals that require excellent audio fidelity for their work.

The 8 conductor cable delivers a good quality signal that brings out the best of the 18 – 24,000 Hz frequency range. They are open back headphones, which means you can expect a full soundstage. Just be prepared to deal with ambient noise and sound leakage – they are natural drawbacks of open back headphones.

The materials used make these Grado headphones feel premium and durability levels are great too. The circular earcups have soft padding but the size isn’t big. This means those with large ears might struggle with the limited space. However, the smaller earcups means the bulk of the headphones is reduced. Just keep in mind that the metal used doesn’t contribute to a lightweight feel, but metal is beneficial as it reduces the transient distortions.

Before adding these headphones to the shopping basket take the time to consider some of the disadvantages. Firstly, the headband does not have a lot of padding on the underside and there are no extra features such as a carrying case that can come in handy while traveling.

To summarize, the Grado SR325e headphones offer good value for money due to the amazing audio fidelity and wide frequency range. You’ll also find the durability and premium feel reassuring given the sizeable investment that must be made.

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Tech Specs
Weight: 12.6 ounces
Frequency response: 18-24,000 Hz
Decibels: 99.8 dB
The Pros
Durable
Premium use of materials
Ultra-smooth top end
The Cons
Small earcups

Best Reference Headphones Under $1,200

In this price category you’ll find the best of the best in the reference headphone marketplace. The frequency ranges here are amazing and the audio drivers are made from pioneering technologies. Audio professionals that have a lot of money to invest and want the best of what’s out there should strongly consider the offerings here – especially the Sennheiser HD 800.

However, due to the steep prices take the time to figure out if you actually need the quality and features offered here.

8. Sennheiser HD 800

Sennheiser HD 800View on Amazon

Editor’s Rating: 5/5

The Sennheiser HD 800 packs a powerful audio punch at a steep price, but if you’re a demanding audio professional then these are just too good to pass up on. They are designed to be used in the studio to craft industry leading music with long lasting comfort. These headphones are the culmination of years of Sennheiser excellence as the best of their technologies are packed into this beast. However, since the price is steep you need to take a close look at the features to determine if what’s offered here is a good match for your needs.

The industry leading frequency range of 6-51,000KHz is delivered via the 42 millimeter magnet structure in a breathtaking manner. You’ll hear new sounds from your favorite tracks that you didn’t notice before.

The luxurious ear cushions provide all day comfort that will not be cumbersome for the ears. Also the open back design ventilates the heat and moisture build up within the earcups. Lightweight material is used with titanium strength and a stainless steel mesh, which protects the audio drivers. Therefore, these headphones can take a beating without sacrificing audio quality. The metal headband is sandwiched between several layers of resonance dampening polymers to eliminate unwanted vibrations.

The Sennheiser HD 800 is handcrafted in Germany using state of the art electronics and testing equipment. Therefore, you can expect each unit to be crafted to the specifications mentioned on the product page.

The steep price means you need to carefully scrutinize the Sennheiser HD 800 headphones before pulling the trigger on the purchase. Visually the headphones might look odd to some that usually opt for a minimalist design. Also there are some Grado alternatives that can deliver better overall audio at this price bracket.

To conclude, the Sennheiser HD 800 headphones are a solid choice for the audio professional that wants the very best of what’s available in the reference headphone category. The combination of the extremely wide frequency range, amazing comfort, and well-implemented audio drivers means you’ll love using these for work at the studio.

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Tech Specs
Weight: 11.6 ounces
Frequency response: 4-51,000 Hz
Decibels: 102 dB
The Pros
Excellent audio drivers
Wide frequency range
Very comfortable
The Cons
Bulky
Pricey

9. Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro

Beyerdynamic DT 1990 ProView on Amazon

Editor’s Rating: 4.9/5

The DT 1990 Pro is one of the best headphones from Beyerdynamic, but it comes at a steep price so you’ll need to decide if the value offered is enough. These headphones are perfect for professionals that require clean and accurate audio reproduction for their work. You’ll be able to create masterpieces in the studio with the audio quality that’s offered here.

The 45 mm dynamic Tesla neodymium drivers are finely tuned to deliver accurate notes across the 5-40,000 Hz frequency range. The nominal sound pressure is 102 decibels, which hits the sweet spot because anything higher can damage the ears.

The fit is very comfortable as this product is based on years of trial and error. The large soft earcups provide a nice fit for the ears that causes no strain. The headband fits nicely on the head with the right amount of grip. You’ll feel like wearing these on a daily basis at the studio is not a problem. The materials used also contribute to a premium feel in-hand that is expected at this price.

A balanced soundstage is delivered via this open back design that is perfect for studio professionals. However, using these headphones around others can be problematic since there is a decent amount of sound leakage and ambient noise interference by design.

The Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro has plenty of attractive features, but it must also be heavily scrutinized due to the steep price. The headphones require amp to run so you’ll need to invest in extra equipment and they are bulky. Those of you that are transitioning from a minimalist design might find that bulk overwhelming.

To conclude, the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro headphones is one of the best options in this buyer’s guide. The combination of the high performance audio drivers and very wide frequency range means even the audiophiles among you will be impressed with the execution here.

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Tech Specs
Weight: 13.05 ounces
Frequency response: 5-40,000 Hz
Decibels: 102 dB
The Pros
Excellent audio drivers
Wide frequency range
Very comfortable
The Cons
Bulky
Pricey

10. Shure SRH1540

Shure SRH1540View on Amazon

Editor’s Rating: 4.8/5

Shure is a respectable audio brand that consistently manufactures highly rated headphones and the SRH1540 is one of those offerings. These reference grade headphones offer a very comfortable design that provides sophisticated audio for the professionals among you. However, the price is steep so take the time to figure out if the features on offer match your requirements.

It’s a closed back design, but the 40mm audio drivers manage to deliver a reasonably wide soundstage with extended highs and clear bass. Therefore, you get the best of both worlds, noise isolation from a closed back design and the full soundstage that’s typically only available in open back headphones.

The frequency range of 5-25KHz offers great bass, but is limited at the upper frequency levels. Therefore, the highs might not sound as good as some of the other headphones in this price bracket.

A lightweight construction is offered that features aluminum aircraft grade materials and carbon fiber for added durability. Therefore, you can expect these headphones to stand the test of time for your peace of mind. Also oxygen-free copper is used in the cables to ensure the signal quality remains consistent. A Kevlar reinforced jacket is used around the cable that contributes to durability. Furthermore, the cable is detachable, which means you can opt for varying lengths and replace the cable once it has worn out.

To summarize, the Shure SRH1540 headphones is a compelling package that delivers exceptional audio and long lasting comfort. The craftsmanship and use of materials is of industry leading quality that cannot be scrutinized. Therefore, you’ll feel your money is well spent once you hold the headphones in-hand.

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Tech Specs
Weight: 13.05 ounces
Frequency response: 5-25,000 Hz
Decibels: 99 dB
The Pros
Excellent craftsmanship
Detachable cable
Superb use of materials
The Cons
Frequency range could be wider
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