Closed-back reference headphone recommends?

I’m putting together a “portable” studio. I need some recommendations on closed-back reference headphones with a linear response. I’d be interested in what professionals are using in the studios.

Hi, tilbergman!

I do mostly on location classical music recording, and after spending many years listening to various “cans” I finally settled on Etymotic ER-4P “earphones” for several reasons:

  1. They’re virtually flat response when comparing the electrical signal with the live audition (one ear with ER-4P using a reference calibration DPA 4007 microphone flat through my mixer, and one ear without to listen to the live sound). They provide a very exact representation to your ears of what you are recording. [The ER-4P’s were designed by an audiologist, Dr. Mead Killion, who’s been developing hearing solutions for several decades.]
  2. They’re incredible isolation from surrounding noise and other distractions.
  3. They’re small in size making them easy to schlepp!

They aren’t ideal for everyone, as you feel you’re inserting them into your brain when you put them into your ear canals; and they cannot be removed in haste to chat with someone as they seal snugly in your ears. Although they do reproduce bass nicely, they don’t permit you to “feel the bass” because they’re not physically capable of doing so, anymore than conventional headphones! Another issue is the somewhat stiff wires to the ear transducers that tend to conduct physical noise when moving around. I’ve licked that problem by wrapping the wires over my ear pinnas (ear lobes), and then clipping the cable to the front of my shirt. Finally, they’re not inexpensive at an MSRP of ~$299 USD, but you may be able to find a used set on eBay for less, assuming they haven’t been abused, as the ear tips are easily replaced for sanitary reasons!

That said, there is a convenience factor to be able to remove conventional headphones quickly. But their design always results in compromises, and the closed back design presents considerable issues with a limited volume and resonant chamber behind the diaphragm, and reflections back through the diaphragm to your ear. Amongst some of the better brands are Beyer, Sennheiser, Grado, and Koss.

Your best bet if you really prefer headphones, is to find a reference CD you listen to a lot, and are familiar with how it sounds, and then visit a local audio/music store to give a listen to various headphones using your “reference” CD. The drawback with this audition technique is that you are at the mercy of the mastering engineers, and what you’re used to listening to for music. The more live music you listen to, the better off you’ll be at knowing what sounds “right” and what doesn’t based on live listening to the “real thing”.

Hope this helps you out. And don’t be afraid to return to the forum with questions. There’s likely somebody who’s had a similar issue as you and can help you resolve it.

AKG 271 mk2 . very good detail and an industry standard


I don’t know what the frequency curve of the Fostex T-40 are, but the 1 thing I love
about them is, the cord is twist-lock detachable, so if the chord gets damaged you
don’t have to throw away a $200 pair of headphones. I have tried to save most of
the major brands and the regular lead/tin solder does not hold. I hate trashing
$100-200 headphones because the designers don’t take into account the abuse
these phones will endure.


Thanks for the great input guys, Appreciate it a lot.

Perhaps the kind of thing I’m doing might help with the suggestions. I’m primarily a composer.

Initially my work is focused on jazz; both combo and big band, stretching to studio orchestra, orchestral, and film type compositions.

Later works will be moving more towards more modern pop genres.

Just out of curiosity, why are you specifically looking for closed phones?
I use the AKG 271 mk2 primarily for tracking vocals and any other acoustic material where I want to avoid bleed from the phones to the mics. For most everything else and especially mixing, I use AKG K601 reference phones. These are open but bleed is not of concern here. They are lighter, very comfortable, and a great deal less fatiguing.

Good points,

Primary reason for closed back is not wanting external sound distracting me. As this unit is intended for portability it would enable me to work where I am (save the flight deck of an aircraft carrier.) Also wouldn’t be a distraction for those around me also.

But not having to hear my DAW is also a nice factor.

Really informative thread about headphones! I think you can try closed band headphones as they are good to use because of sound quality. Really great thanks for input friends on headphone brands.

Aloha and totally agree.


Thanks so much for the fine report.
IMHO there is no substitute for experience. Sending much Aloha for that.

Mahalo for sharing; to you and everyone else.