Best Semi-open Back Studio Headphones on the Market

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The preferred headphones of mastering engineers and the perfect compromise for artists and tracking engineers, semi-open-back headphones allow for critical listening with minimal bleed.

Typically seen as the headphone of compromise for tracking engineers, or a slightly more isolated choice for mixing and mastering engineers, semi-open headphones are the halfway point between open and closed headphones. Due to them being the best of both worlds, they have far fewer options than their open or closed counterparts.

How to choose the best semi-open-back headphones.

With fewer options, finding the perfect semi-open headphone for your personal taste may take more time than you have, but we’re to give you a good starting point. There are 2 major companies that create semi-open-back headphones specifically for studio use, Beyerdynamic, and AKG. Though other brands seem to focus on semi-open headphones for audiophiles in a consumer facing direction, AKG has specifically cornered the market as the go to semi-open brand with their iconic K 240, but don’t leave out the other brands in this category, because you might find something that fits your needs a little more specifically.

Beyerdynamic DT-880 Pro, 250 ohm [$177.58]

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Though Beyerdynamic’s 250-ohm DT 770 Pro are already made to mix in, Beyerdynamic’s semi-open DT 880 Pro headphones are made specifically for mixing, mastering, and reference monitoring. Expanding on the possibilities of an already extremely versatile line of headphones is exactly what Beyerdynamics does when you get to the DT 880 Pro, which only comes at one impedance level.

If you read what I had to say about the DT 770s, not much changes from model to model in this series with the exception that the DT 880s are just a little more luxe with their leatherette headband. Of course, these are probably the world’s most comfortable, yet affordable, semi-open-back headphones on the market, but let’s jump back to the specs, though they may seem familiar.

  • Style: Circumaural, though I find them to sit on the edge of supra-aural.
  • Impedance: 250 Ω
  • Range: 5 Hz – 35 kHz
    • Highs: The semi-open style of the headphones make the highs less harsh than that of its closed counterpart.
    • Mids: Transparent and honest representation of the sounds recorded.
    • Lows: Expansive sound, slightly wider than the aforementioned DT 770 Pros with Beyerdynamic’s “bass reflex” technology being absent due to the fact it is unneeded within a semi-open headphone.
  • Listenability: These headphones are made for long term exposure, everything sits.
  • Comfort Level: See my DT 770 Pro write-up but if you’re having a TL;DR moment, here is a general rundown. The same comfort level is available in all of the DT PRO models, with the bonus of a leatherette band at the top. Cashmere plus leather[tte] equals better than any of ther pair of studio headphones you will probably find affordable.
  • What’s it’s good for?
  • What’s it’s bad for? Nothing, I wouldn’t say this is the only line of headphones in its class, but it is the only range of headphones I would recommend for any studio application. They are isolated enough to record behind a mic but open enough to mix a live band and give true perspective. That being said you will never be able to use these with your mobile phone unless it’s packing a serious amplification power source for no reason other than audiophilia.

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AKG K 240 Studio [$58.93]

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Though Beyerdynamic’s 250-ohm DT 770 Pro are already made to mix in, Beyerdynamic’s semi-open DT 880 Pro headphones are made specifically for mixing, mastering, and reference monitoring. Expanding on the possibilities of an already extremely versatile line of headphones is exactly what Beyerdynamics does when you get to the DT 880 Pro, which only comes at one impedance level.

If you read what I had to say about the DT 770s, not much changes from model to model in this series with the exception that the DT 880s are just a little more luxe with their leatherette headband. Of course, these are probably the world’s most comfortable, yet affordable, semi-open-back headphones on the market, but let’s jump back to the specs, though they may seem familiar.

  • Style: Circumaural, though I have always found the earpads a bit on the small size verging on supra-aural.
  • Impedance: 55 Ω
  • Range: 15 Hz – 25 kHz
    • Highs: Clear precision.
    • Mids: This is my main problem with the K240s, the mids absolutely outshine the Highs and Lows even if they are true, they are absolutely prevalent.
    • Lows: Solid presence without distortion.
  • Listenability: The great thing about the K 240s is the way they translate a mix in an extremely transparent fashion. With AKGs patented Varimotion technology the company has been allowed the added perk of custom tuning the diaphragm of its drivers for specific purposes. The highs are light and “airy,” the bass has a solid presence without distorting, the downfall comes with its mids which may have a bit too much of a presence.

    On a personal note: I’ve always found that the K 240s sound somewhat hollow to me, just food for thought.

  • Comfort Level: When it comes to studio headphones, Beyerdynamic is the standard to which I will always compare comfort levels to. That being said, for a pair of headphones under $100, the K 240’s are a perfectly fine pair of semi-open-headphones. They are comfortable enough for long listening sessions, but the earpads are a bit of contention for me with their plastic covering and the flimsy headband doesn’t help.
  • What’s it’s good for? Even though the K240s are touted as mixing and mastering headphones, I would recommend these as great studio reference headphones that are insanely affordable. In regards to mixing, it’s not that the frequency response is too varied, it’s that I wouldn’t suggest wearing these for hours on in with the mids maybe becoming a bit too much for you.
  • What’s it’s bad for? I wouldn’t suggest using these headphones for tracking in closely mic’d applications simply because depending on how close your vocalist is to the mic, there may be some unwanted bleed, but hey Brandy did it.

    In the terms of standard day to day wear, these are a pretty stylish, but you can always pick up the now discontinued K99, AKG’s failed semi-open counterpart.

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And that’s it, really, that’s the end of my “list.” Sure there are many other new options out there, these are your affordable standards that have been getting the job done since well before I was born.