6 Best Headphones for Guitar Amps – For Playing Whenever You Like

Electric guitars and amps are great but they come with one major drawback: they’re very loud. This is fine when you’re playing a gig, but when you want to practise, you run the risk of annoying neighbours and family in close proximity.

The solution is to use a pair of headphones. If your amp has a headphone output – not all do, so check first – then you can plug in and jam away until the early hours of the morning if you wish.

However, not all headphones are suitable for plugging into a guitar amp. In fact, an average set of hi-fi headphones won’t bring out the best in your guitar sound.

DT770s Headphones

In this article we’re going to walk you through all the things to consider when you’re buying a pair of headphones specifically for playing guitar with. We’ll look at what factors are most important when making your buying decision, and recommend our favourite models at different price points.

If you’re in a rush, here’s what we’ll cover….

At a Glance: Our Choice of the Best Headphones for Guitar Amps on the Market

PREVIEW PRODUCT FEATURES

Audio-Technica ATH-M20x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones, Black

Audio-Technica ATH-M20x Headphones
  • Chunky, solid build
  • Long, single side exit cable (10 foot)
  • Comes with snap on ¼” adapter
CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

Sony MDR7506 Professional Large Diaphragm Headphone

Sony MDR7506 Headphones
  • Foldable
  • Large diaphragm size
CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones, Black

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x
  • Collapsible for portability
  • Superior mid range and extended bass
  • Detachable cable
CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO 80 Ohm Studio Headphone

Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO 80 Ohm Studio Headphone
  • Solid German Build
  • High Impedance
  • Very Cool Design
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Sennheiser HD 700 Headphone (Jack plug ¼” (6.3 mm) stereo)

Sennheiser HD 700 Headphone
  • Super sleek design
  • Lightweight
  • Gold plated connector
CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

Audeze LCD-3 Over Ear | Open Back Headphone | Zebrano Wood Rings | Leather

Audeze LCD-3 Over Ear | Open Back Headphone
  • Insanely good sound
  • Detachable cables
  • What professional music engineers use
CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

Ok, let’s get cracking. To make the best decision read the article top to bottom, but in case you want to jump around here’s a clickable list of everything we cover.

What are Guitar Headphones?

There is a certain category of headphones that are made specifically for use with live instruments. Many of these headphones (that we calling ‘guitar headphones’ for the purposes of this article) are also widely used in studio production to mix and master music in a professional recording environment.

Can’t I Just Use Normal Headphones?

Well, you can. But you’ll be getting an inferior sound. There’s a huge gulf between headphones for listening to your favourite band on Spotify or wherever, and headphones deliberately designed for playing and recording live instruments.

Here are the main differences:

Higher Impedance

Without wanting to bore you, impedance is an electrical unit (called ‘Ohm’) that represents the relationship between resistance and reactance. Because guitar amps naturally have high impedance, the headphones need high impedance too. Low impedance headphones – the type people use for commuting while they listen to music through their phones – have lower impedance (usually below 25-30 Ohms) and only work well with devices that have low amplification (e.g. smartphones, laptops etc).

Higher impedance headphones such as the ones we include here all have impedance of 32 Ohms and upwards. When playing at higher frequencies, high impedance headphones avoid overloading or ‘blowouts’ – which tend to be why they’re used in studios to mix and master music.

Lower Harmonic Distortion

One of the advantages of headphones suitable for plugging into an amp is low harmonic distortion. Amps will naturally add a little harmonic distortion which can add a slightly muffled sound to your signal. Pro audio headphones of the type we include below are designed specifically for this purpose and reduce the amount of distortion coming from the amp, giving you a truer, cleaner signal.

Dynamic Frequency Range

Everyday, run of the mill headphones you use for listening to music also have a limited dynamic range. The headphones we’ve picked below all have a wide-range frequency, which gives you a highly accurate reproduction. As already mentioned, higher impedance headphones reproduce music more accurately and are used for ‘critical decision making’ when a producer needs a clearer picture of what’s going on at a sonic level.

Comfort for Long Practice Sessions

Your average headphones are made for the daily commute which, unless you’re unlucky, is less than an hour. Headphones made especially for guitar and music production more generally are geared towards long periods of use, and are therefore much comfier. Proper padding for a start helps to alleviate any soreness or chafing, and many products have replaceable ear pads that you can switch for new, softer ones.

‘Over Ear Design’ for Sound Isolation in Loud Environments

Another big difference between guitar headphones and the everyday type, is the size of actual headphone cup. Look at any pair that’s for pro audio, and the cup is usually much bigger than a normal cup. This helps to isolate any outside noise by fully covering the ears.

Pair of ATH-M50x Headphones

 

Buying Guide – Things to Consider When You Purchase a Pair of Guitar Headphones

OK, now you know why headphones designed specifically for guitar amps are worth buying, we’ll now look at some of the decisions you need to make when it comes to the type of headphones you purchase.

Open Back or Closed Back Headphones?

The first decision is whether you go for open or closed back headphones. Open back headphones allow some sound to spill out and escape from the rear of the cups. This gives you a more natural frequency response. Open back headphones are used for studio mixing and mastering as they can enhance the sound. They’re also good if you want to avoid ‘ear fatigue’ – a condition you sometimes get when isolation (i.e. closed) headphones are used for extended periods of time. The disadvantage with open back headphones is more about becoming a potential annoyance to other people. If you sit next to someone wearing a pair of open back headphones you’re able to hear the sound slightly.

Closed back headphones, as you probably guessed, completely eliminate any sound spillage from the headphones. Closed back are used in studios when a singer needs to hear the audio track but its important no sound bleeds from the headphones. Sonically, purists say they’re not quite as good as open back headphones (as you don’t get the same feeling of ‘expanse’ as you do with open back) but there are still some amazing products out there. For the guitarist looking to plug in and practise with minimal outside noise, the closed back is normally the variety to go for.

Jack Size

Headphones vary in the jack (i.e. plug) size. Most studio headphones come with a 1/8″ cables (often referred to as 3.5mm) and have a quarter inch jack (that you find on guitar cables).

Foldability

Some products are foldable, meaning they collapse into a neat little package. You might not think this is all that important, but don’t overlook the importance of being able to stow away your headphones. If you live in a busy household with music gear in every available alcove, the more compact the better. Some of premium headphones more suited to studio production have 90° swivelling ear cups for easy, one-ear monitoring. Very useful if you need a quick listen to something.

Extreme Comfort

Some products go to town on making super comfy headphones. Materials such as memory foam are used (the sort you get in expensive mattresses) that literally move and mold to the shape of your head and ears. If you’re big on comfort and have an inkling you’ll be spending a lot of time with them on (like several hours at a time) then choose a pair with luxury cups. Some products even have detachable cups so you can replace them as they start to wear out, harden, get dirty or just get uncomfortable to wear.

Sound

While all the products we review below are perfectly good enough for playing a guitar through, if you’re a producer, session musician, or have no budget restriction then going for a premium grade pair maybe worth it. Like everything, the more you pay the more premium the sound you’re going to get. Super premium headphones give you a headphone experience that’s more akin to listening to a really nice set of studio monitors with much greater dynamic range.

Product Round up and Mini Reviews – The Best Headphones for Guitars and Amps

OK, now we’re going to look at the best headphones for guitars and amps and see which ones do what.

Best Budget Guitar Headphones

Audio-Technica ATH-M20x Headphones

Audio-Technica ATH-M20x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones, Black

First up on our list is the ATH-M20x from Audio Technica. Featuring a similar look and feel to the higher end models, these closed back headphones come with 40mm drivers with rare earth magnets, audio response for enhanced low frequency performance for bass and circumaural design contours around the ears for sound isolation in loud environments. The cups also swivel 15 degrees for one ear DJ style swiveling.

They’re good entry level headphones for the beginner or person on a budget. They’re not going to win any awards, but for the price they’re well built and will sound far superior to your average hi-fi headphones. The 10 foot cable (which is straight, preferable in my opinion) gives you plenty of room to manoeuvre with guitar in hand. The permanently attached cable is a bit of a disappointment, but to be expected at this price point.

PROS

  • Chunky, solid build
  • Long, single side exit cable (10 foot)
  • Comes with snap on ¼” adapter

CONS

  • Permanently attached cable (premium models have detachable cables)
  • Bit plastic looking
  • Not foldable

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

 

Sony MDR7506 Headphones

Sony MDR7506 Professional Large Diaphragm Headphone

Second in our pick of budget headphones is the MDR7506 from Sony. Like the ATH-MX20x pair above, these are closed back headphones and come with 40mm drivers for powerful, detailed sound. The main difference is the large diaphragm that helps to cover the ear which is good if you’re ears are on the large size. Also their ability to fold away is a really neat feature (literally). With a slightly higher impedance to the Audio Technicas (63 Ohms versus 47 Ohms) they’re slightly better suited to higher impedance gear like guitar amps, but the difference is negligible.

PROS

  • Foldable
  • Large diaphragm size

CONS

  • No ear cup swivel

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

 

Mid Price Guitar Headphones

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones, Black

The second pair on our list from Audio Technica, these headphones have legendary status among music producers and DJs and have been consistently best sellers for a few years. As opposed to the lower range M20x or the Sony 7506, these headphones are much better suited for live instrument use and music production in general. They come with 45 mm large-aperture drivers and as you’d expect have an extended frequency range and deeper bass response than the budget picks above.

With a surprisingly low impedance (38 Ohms) – which is lower even than it’s younger sibling the ATH-M20x (47 Ohm) it’s still plenty and doesn’t detract from its superior mid range and extended bass. With the 90° swivel feature, ability to collapse for space-saving portability and detachable cable they’re really the ultimate combination of great spec and value for money.

PROS

  • Collapsible for portability / space saving
  • Superior mid range and extended bass
  • Detachable cable

CONS

  • Bit plastic looking
  • Bass response can be a bit overpowering

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

 

Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO 80 Ohm Studio Headphone

beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO 80 Ohm Studio Headphone

Now to what I think are the coolest looking, if not best sounding headphones on the list. The German built DT770’s are hard-wearing, robust and look straight out of the movie Bladerunner. The frequency range is excellent, giving a very accurate sonic representation of how your music really sounds thanks to a range from 5hz all the way to 35Khz. They come available in 32, 80 and 250 ohms. There is great debate about which impedance is best for guitars, with some saying the 80 Ohm is the way forward. We recommend the 80 Ohm or 250 Ohm pair (in case you need them for studio work) although if its just for playing guitar at home, the 80 Ohm will suffice.

In terms of downsides, it’s a shame that manufacturer Bayerdynamic have chosen not to make these collapsible, and the relatively short cable length (5 metres) is half the length of the Audio Technicas above. If neither of these things are an issue, the DT 770 are a classic set of guitar amp headphones you can’t go wrong with.

PROS

  • Solid German Build
  • High Impedance
  • Very Cool Design

CONS

  • Not Collapsible
  • Cable Length Relatively Short

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

 

High End Guitar Headphones

Sennheiser HD 700 Headphone

Sennheiser HD 700 Headphone (Jack plug ¼” (6.3 mm) stereo)

Let’s now look at a premium set of headphones on the list, the Sennheiser HD 700 Headphones. At more than twice (even three times in some cases) the price of others on the list, the HD 700s are really the Maserati of headphones – built for high precision and performance.

For a start, the design is ultra modern which incorporates a vibration resistance chassis with high end materials, with a stainless steel mesh. Along with 3d inlays to protect the ear and diffuse sound, microfiber earpads, and a super lightweight design, they almost float on your head and make for a really comfortable prolonged listening experience. As they’re open backed headphones, the bass isn’t as responsive as it would be on a closed headphone set. And like a high speed sportscar, they’ve not designed for practicality – so they’re rather large and don’t fold away. But hey, when you have superior sound you can live with that (maybe?).

PROS

  • Super sleek design
  • Built for comfort and incredibly lightweight
  • Gold plated connector

CONS

  • Impractical (no foldaway option)
  • No detachable cable

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

 

Audeze LCD-3 Over Ear | Open Back Headphone

Audeze LCD-3 Over Ear | Open Back Headphone | Zebrano Wood Rings | Leather

As we’re talking high end, how about we go ‘super high end’! These headphones from Audeze are total overkill for just a bit of guitar practice, but who knows, maybe be want something that for life that you’ll never grow old of and is adaptable to almost any scenario: be it at home jamming through a guitar amp or in a professional music studio cutting your first album 🙂

Just one look at these and they just look quality, don’t they. These are a favourite among professional music engineers working on mainstream music. As you can imagine, the quality is insanely good. They claim this set of headphones will ‘put you in a time machine that puts you in the room with your favorite artists and musicians’. The construction of these is one it’s standout elements: made using a steel & leather suspension, the headband provides comfort for literally hours of music production, listening, or playing guitar with. The only downside to these, other than the astronomical price of course, is the sheer weight of them on your head. Whereas the super futuristic Sennheiser HD 700’s are light as a feather, you really know when you’re wearing a pair of Audezes!

PROS

  • Insanely good sound
  • Detachable cables
  • What professional music engineers use

CONS

  • Astronomical price
  • On the weighty side

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

Final Verdict

By now it should be fairly obvious which option is best for you.

If you’re looking for a budget set, either the Audio-Technica ATH-M20x or the Sony MDR7506 will suffice – though if you’d rather them be foldaway and have larger sized ear cups then I’d go with the Sony MDR7506 which are a solid pair at that price.

Mid price, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x are the best overall for the price and features you get with them, but the looks can put some people off (they are a bit cheap looking). If you’re in that camp, go with the Bayerdynamic D770s which look and sound amazing too.

Finally, the high end options. If ultra modern is your thing, then the Sennheiser HD 700 will not only look great, they’ll blow your socks off sound-wise. If you really want to push the boat out and get a design classic, then go the Audeze LCD-3 Over Ear – they’re an amazing set of headphones that will stand the test and time and grow old with you. Disgracefully 🙂

Drop me a line below with any questions or anything. Good luck!

 

 

Featured image source: uyeah CC BY-SA 2.0
In copy image source: Eric HsuCC BY-SA 2.0

Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.

2 thoughts on “6 Best Headphones for Guitar Amps – For Playing Whenever You Like”

  1. Hi Ged,

    Just wondering if the theory of impedance (higher is better for guitar) and frequency range (wider is better) applies to playing through solid state amps as well?

    Eg, I’ve got a little Yamaha THR-10x and my regular old headphones sound very thin when playing guitar, yet fantastic when I play music through my iPhone. I like the Beyerdynamics but would I need the 32, 80 or 250 ohm for practising guitar through it?

    Thanks!

    • Hey Steve, thanks for the question. Not sure why your Yamaha THR-10x sounds tinny through a regular set of old headphones, but good through an i-phone. What I can say it that getting a pair of headphones suitable for hooking up to a guitar amp definitely makes a world of difference. We like the Beyerdynamics too – I’d go with the 250 Ohm pair. Good luck!

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