Parent article: Best Studio Headphones
Updated by Sadie
Recently Updated: March 12th, 2021
Removed Sennheiser HD 599 and replaced them with the HD 600 open back headphones. Also updated ratings for the HD 600 series, Audio-Technica and moved the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT into the number one spot with updated features and ratings.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT (wired or wireless)
Top Pick & Summary
One of the most popular studio headphone sets now supports a wireless Bluetooth connection, in addition to the reliability of a wired aux cable. For the price, the ATH-M50xBT is extremely difficult to beat.
I'm digging up the best headphones for guitar practice.
Whether you want the fullness of the over-ear design or you simply need to quiet things down for low-key playing, guitar amp headphones are a wonderful luxury.
Headphones tend to be a breathe of financial fresh air for guitar players, because to get a good set, you don't have to spend as big as you might think. In fact, you might not have to spend much at all.
We'll look at the headphones first, then chat more about pricing.
Best Headphones for Guitar Amps: Top Picks
1. Audio-Technica ATH-M50x (BT) Wireless Headphones (+5)
One thing that I've really fallen in love with when it comes to headphones is having a detachable cable. With other headphones I've had cables that would break or tear, which meant I'd have to toss the entire set in the trash. A detachable cable would have saved me the heartache and wasted money. While plenty of headphones have this feature, it's nice that the ATH-M50xBT (which is a fantastic set of headphones in so many other capacities) has it as well.
Audio Technica recently added Bluetooth wireless compatibility to the ATH-M50x, making it the M50xBT. This adds a ton of flexibility, especillay those monitoring through a computer or laptop that's compatible with Bluetooth.
We bumped the feature rating up three point and the value rating up two.
The purchase includes three cables; one coiled and two straight that are different lengths. You could even buy a longer cable, which is what I did with my set, since it gives you more leash when you're playing guitar.
I forget which one I got, but this HOSA CMM-115 is similar and gives you an extra 15 feet.
How does the bass response compare?
As a guitar player, I tend to favor a lot of bass in my EQ, which is part of the reason I found the ATH-M50x so ideal.
Its bass response is one of the best I've heard in this price range, pushing all your guitar's low end through the mix without sounding muddy or overly thick. This means they'll also make good headphones for bass players. With impedance at 38 ohms, you're set to handle some decently high volume levels from a preamp, and you won't have to worry about blowing the phones.
This puts the ATH-M50x in the DJ headphone range, which is typically between 25 and 70 ohms. In other words, it's designed to handle a wider range of audio equipment without incurring unwanted distortion.
Are they noise-cancelling?
While they do a good job of covering your ear and "dimming" outside noise, these are not technically a noise-cancelling set of headphones. However, this should not be considered a significant deterrent. Noise-cancelling technology isn't necessary or always helpful for those who intend to use their headphones on a guitar rig.
Because, with such a wide frequency range (15 - 28,000 Hz) you're going to be hearing every detail of your guitar's signal. Noise-cancelling isn't going to make that better or worse.
Can they double as iPhone/iPod headphones?
Any set in this list, provided they have an eighth inch input jack (or an adapter) which is often labeled 3.5 mm, can double as your "garden-variety" set of headphones.
This goes double for the ATH-M50xBT since it's compatible with a Bluetooth wireless connection.
I have a set of the ATH-M50x for my guitar rig and a Skullcandy Hesh set as well, both of which can be used interchangeably. Personal listening will work just the same as guitar playing.
Cheaper Alternative: Behringer HPX2000
Behringer has specialized in budget audio gear for a long time and the HPX2000 (as well as past iterations of the headset) is a good example of that. This headphone pair has a wide frequency range, as well as a solid-sounding bass response that handles well in an instrument monitoring or mixing environment. The backs of the ear cups are mostly closed, but do have a slight opening to give you some access to open air. This set also has a significantly lower return rate than similar headphones.
IDEAL FOR: The Studio
Best Headphones for Guitar Amp Monitoring
2. Sennheiser HD 600 Open Back Headphones (-4)
While they're a little on the pricey side, the HD 600 series contains some of the most well-liked and highly-rated headphones available in the $300 price range. They're also insanely comfortable. They have a velour ear pad that feels like a soft pillow, along with a padded foam top that stays completely still. Once you get playing, you'll hardly notice they're there.
The tone of the headset is warm and thick, almost like a vintage blues amplifier, but with all the crisp attack you would expect from a modern set of headphones. Music from your MP3 player and guitar from a preamp both sound full and satisfying.
Checkout Crutchfield's article for a full explanation of ohms.
The kevlar coated copper cable is lockable and detachable, while the unit ships with a 3.5mm adapter, allowing you to plug into nearly any device. Sennheiser includes a two-year warranty with the product, provided you purchase the set from an approved list of authorized dealers, of which Amazon is included, per the following:
The extra comfort provided by the cellulose fleece helps keep natural distortion down to around 0.1% meaning your guitar's gain is the only thing you'll hear without any added interference.
If you have the budget, these are some of the best headphones money can buy under $400.
Cheaper Alternative: Sennheiser HD 202
At less than 0.5% harmonic distortion and 32 ohms of impedance, this $25 set of headphones is an excellent bargain that can hang in the studio and with most small to mid-sized guitar rigs. I've owned these ones as well and they sound fantastic with both clean and distorted guitar signals.
IDEAL FOR: Comfort
3. AKG k240 Studio Headphones
The AKG k240 headphone sets might be the best under $100, at least for guitar playing and instrument monitoring. In fact, they're way under that price point.
55 ohms of impedance and a detachable cable get the ball rolling on this affordable, pro-level headphone set from AKG. The price is alluring in the mid two-figures range in most markets. I've seen used options going much lower.
The headband design is a classic self-adjusting system that is really comfortable and saves you the trouble of having to manually adjust them every time you put them on. In my opinion, this is an underrated feature for guitar players' headphones. It doesn't seem like much, but just being able to put your headphones on and play, without having to pull those ratcheting adjustment bands, is actually really nice. 15 - 25 kHz is the frequency range, which is fairly standard and won't leave any of your tone behind.
It's a solid go-to option for the studio guitarist.
While it's not super expensive, it still has all the trimmings of what we need and expect out of the studio-quality headset. Considering the great price point, you've got what I would consider one of the best studio headphone sets from a value perspective.
Cheaper Alternative: Samson SR850
The only Samson product on this list has a professional-level frequency response of 10Hz to 30kHZ with 32 ohms of impedance and a rock-bottom price tag. The semi-open back design is ideal for live performance or any situation where you need to hear a little bit of the open environment around you. The headband is comfy and the design looks like the more expensive models.
IDEAL FOR: Instrument monitoring
OVERALL (pulled from full review)
4. Status Audio CB-1 Studio Headphones
The founder of Status Audio reached out to me directly and was nice enough to send me a set of the CB-1s to try out with my guitar. It gave me time to test them in a variety of situations, though my setup was primarily the following:
- PRS CE 24 electric guitar
- GarageBand amp model (iPad version)
- Focusrite iPad Audio interface
- PreSonus Studio Monitors
That setup allowed me to try a variety of amp models and tones with the CB-1s, which I tested with a five-string Warwick bass as well.
Sound Quality and Features
The CB-1 is a closed back headphone set, making them more isolating than open back headphones. Unlike a lot of other closed back headphones the CB-1 does a really good job of handling the higher frequencies of the guitar without just piling on heavy bass tones.
As a consequence the headphone's low end - particularly when playing the Warwick bass - wasn't as thick as I was used to from other sets. At times it felt a little airy, and perhaps more like an open back headphone pair. However, it seemed like a more balanced EQ when I got used to it.
Cables and Adapters
The set also does a really nice job with peripherals, as it includes an eighth to quarter-inch adapter that screws in, as well as two extension cables that can be locked into the headphones and easily detached.
Pricing and Value
When you consider the price (you can check it out here) the CB-1 is an incredible value, as it's comparable in quality to models that are far more expensive. Aside from having to get used to a more moderately balanced EQ, there wasn't anything to dislike, especially since it handled the higher tones of my electric guitar so well.
For the price, it's a great option for guitarists or anyone looking to do professional instrument monitoring or recording on a lower price tag.
IDEAL FOR: Instrument monitoring and noise isolation
5. Sony MDR7506 Headphone Set
While it doesn't have the detachable cable, the MDR7506 supports both 1/8" and 1/4" applications via an included adapter and delivers a whopping 63 ohms of impedance, enough to handle more intense preamp audio levels. Another feature I really like for guitar players is the cable length, measuring at nearly 10 feet out of the box, removing the need for additional adapters and cabling.
Though I didn't find this set as comfortable as the ATH-M50x, the over-ear design felt similar and well-adjusted. In my limited time using it (tried them out in-store) I had no comfort complaints.
Pricing and sound quality
The Sony brand is rarely a bad bet, even when you dip into the lower price ranges, where the MDR7506 typically makes its living.
Mid two-figures is not unusual.
Despite the list price on Sony's website being $130, you're not likely to ever pay that much, especially if you stick to online retail. As you would expect from a Sony product, the sound quality is excellent and capturing the guitar's tone effectively. While I didn't find the bass response quite as satisfying as the Audio-Technica offering, any complaining about the discrepancies between the two would be nit-picking.
The only thing I really missed with this set was the detachable cable.
Cheaper Alternative: Sony MDRZX
For under $20 you can stay within the Sony brand and land a headset that can handle your guitar playing without making you pay for extra "studio-friendly" aspects. This set can be had with or without the external microphone, potentially saving you even more money.
IDEAL FOR: Budgets
How to Plug Headphones into a Guitar Amp
In most cases, a solid state or digital guitar amp will have a clearly marked "headphone out" that is either an eighth or quarter inch jack. Once you find that jack, simply plug your headphones in and you are good to go.
For a more detailed explanation, checkout our article on how to hookup headphones to a guitar amp.
Otherwise, here are a few basic dos and don'ts to keep in mind:
- Use the headphone out jack provided on your amplifier
- Use an adapter if you need to go from quarter inch to eighth inch or vice versa
- Plug headphones into any speaker out
- Plug headphones into a "line out" or "direct out"
- Plug headphones into the amp's input jack
- Plug headphones directly into your guitar jack
Difference between Headphone Out and Line Out
For those curious, the difference between a headphone out and line out can be a little difficult to explain. My friend, Peter Driver, covered it exceptionally well in a quick few paragraphs that I'll quote here, where he explains it by breaking down the four levels of audio signal strength:
When discussing audio signal strength, there are generally four levels.
Mic Level Signal (the weakest)
The weakest, ‘mic level’, is the output created by a microphone this is often a balanced output (3 contacts in an XLR for example).
Instrument Level Signal
The next step up would be, ‘instrument level’, this is level of signal created by a guitar or bass pickup for example and is typically unbalanced ( 2 contacts (TS) in an instrument cable for example).
Line Level Signal
The next step would be ‘line level’ this is often the level of signal between pro level audio components, between a mixer and an effect unit for example. This signal is most often balanced ( 3 contacts (TRS/XLR).
Speaker Level Signal
The final step would be speaker level, this is the output from an amplifier to a speaker for example, or from a device to headphones. It is often unbalanced (2 contacts TS) for driving speakers or unbalanced stereo (TRS) for driving headphones.
If it’s documented as a ‘combo’ headphone/line out it’s stereo unbalanced – probably compromising on higher impedance to drive headphones but should work at lower levels for a recording DI out. Using an appropriate DI box or interface would be important as well to get a good clean signal for recording.
Can you use headphones with a tube amp?
Tube amps do not provide headphone outs like you'll usually find in solid state amps. This is because you cannot cut off the speaker from a tube amp, without giving the speaker load somewhere to go.
Understanding Speaker Load
In a tube amp, you must have a speaker connected if you have tubes running at both the preamp and power amp sections. If you don't - and disconnect the speaker - the power amp will eventually be shorted out by high voltage, since the ohm load has no place to go.
However, for tube amps, there is a secondary option that will allow you to manage the speaker load and connect headphones. It's a simple little device called an attenuator.
Getting an Attenuator
Attenuators act as a gracious host for your speaker load, allowing you to disconnect or mute the main speaker without risking damage to the amp's internals. Almost every attenuator also comes with its own headphone out to let you directly monitor the signal. Checkout Guitar Chalk's list of the best guitar amp attenuators for suggestions.
Headphones to Avoid
For guitar practice and instrument monitoring specifically, there are a few types of headphones we'd recommend avoiding. We won't mention specific models or brands but just a few generic recommendations.
- Recreational models designed for simple phone and tablet listening
- Ear buds or the white headphones that come with iPhones
- In-ear models designed for exercising
It's important to focus on limiting your search to headphones that implement an over-ear designed and are made for work in the studio. These headphones will sound better, be more comfortable, and match the impedance levels necessary to handle higher volumes of guitar amps.
What about bass players?
Most of the headphones we recommend for guitar amps would also apply to bass players. Though you might want to look at a wider frequency range, just to make sure you get as much of your bass's tone in the mix as possible.
Headphones can be especially helpful for pairing with a bass preamp, like the Gallien Krueger Plex, pictured below:
That said, the difference in typical frequency ranges of studio headphones isn't going to be that noticeable.
We'd recommend a closed-back pair, perhaps one of the following:
- Sennheiser HD Series
- Audio-Technica ATH-M50x
In-Ear or Over-Ear for Guitar Amps?
While in-ear monitors (headphones) can be useful, particularly for live performing, we don't like them as much for instrument practice or recording.
Unless you get a really expensive in-ear set, it's not going to sound quite as full and rich as you would get from a larger-profile pair of studio headphones.
How much should I spend?
The amount you spend will depend on what you want to use the headphones for and how involved you are with your instrument. Typically, the price range for studio headphones hovers between $60 and $150, though you can go far cheaper or far more expensive. We'd recommend pricing based on three typical usage categories:
Recording, Performance or just Practice (headphone pricing)
Plan to spend in roughly the following price ranges for your headphones, depending on which of the following three categories you're going to be using them for:
- For recording: $150 - $300
- For performing: $100 - $200
- For practicing: $50 - $150
Value Points for Headphones
Many of what I would consider ideal headphones don't crack $200. And even if that seems like a lot of money to you, there are plenty of great options that retail much cheaper. It's simple technology that's easily produced and keeps a friendly retail price tag.
To get a set that will pair well with your guitar, I'd target the following features:
- Eighth inch jacks (with an adapter)
- More than 25 Ohms of impedance (works better with heavy amplification)
- Name brands
A quick note: What about eighth and quarter inch jacks? Let's chat about that.
Eighth and quarter inch jacks
If you don't know the difference, here's a quick rundown of the two most common headphone jack sizes:
- Eighth inch: Smaller jacks, typically used for mobile devices (iPods, iPhones, etc.)
- Quarter inch: Larger jacks, typically used for instruments such as guitar cables
When you buy a set of headphones for guitar, most studio headphones that you'll consider will support 1/8" cables (often referred to as 3.5mm) and provide an adapter for a quarter inch input.
I prefer this, simply because it allows you to use the headphones on a wider range of devices.
If you want to play guitar, use the quarter inch adapter or a 3.5mm to quarter inch cable, like the following:
Otherwise, you can still plug into your phone and use the headset for personal listening. It's just something to make a mental note of as you shop.
Does the 1/8" to 1/4" headphone conversion mean you take a hit in sound quality?
The difference in size between a 1/8" and 1/4" jack doesn't cause you to lose any kind of sound quality at all.
Both adapters, assuming they're clean and making contact with the port, will sound exactly the same. Thus, adding the 1/4" converter to a 1/8" cable isn't going to hurt your audio. Adapters are a necessary and completely harmless part of the process.
What other brands could/should I target?
I've always leaned towards Audio-Technica and Sennheiser when it comes to studio-quality headphones. After that, I tend to stick with Skullcandy for personal listening. Here are a few other brands you could look at that I haven't yet mentioned:
I'm not listing or reviewing any specific sets, simply because I don't have much personal experience actually using a set from any of these companies. At the same time, I know they're widely-used and that many of their products are very popular.
If you don't find anything else in this list that works, those three brands are places you could continue your search.
What about something like the VOX Amplug?
There are a lot of guitar headphone amps that are small and designed specifically to be used with headphones.
Personally, I don't like them because of the smaller size.
I suppose you could make the case that they're good for travel, but I've owned a couple and have just never found a reason to use them. Moreover, almost all normal-sized guitar and bass amps have a headphone jack.
My advice would be to avoid most guitar headphone amplifiers, though if you have to have one, the VOX Amplug is by far the most popular and well-received.
Do I need to understand all the technical stuff before I buy?
Truly understanding what makes a set of headphones work, and work well, requires some college credit.
It's truly just a lot of in-depth signal processing that you don't need to know.
In my extremely limited understanding of it, I'd sum it up this way:
- Frequency range: EQ quality and tone variance - the higher the better
- Impedance: A speaker's ability to handle higher audio levels and external input - the higher the better
In my own search, these are the two "technical" indicators that I've kept an eye on.
Otherwise, I've relied on aesthetics, brand recognition, features I like (i.e. a detachable cable, comfort, etc.) and personal experience.
I'd encourage you to do the same and not worry too much about the signal-processing aspect.
The tangible factors are enough to get you a good set.
Focus your energy there.