Whether you’re new to guitar or have been playing for decades, you know the joy that playing the instrument brings. Unfortunately, you probably also know that not everyone shares your love of the music. And let’s be honest: can you really fault your downstairs neighbors (or your spouse!) for not enjoying your practicing thrashing, distortion-heavy riffs at max volume?
The truth is, a fully amped electric guitar can produce a massive amount of sound. But there are going to be plenty of times where you don’t want (or can’t have) that kind of volume.
A pair of headphones for your guitar amp is the solution. Practicing guitar with headphones is the courteous, neighborly thing to do in many situations. But beyond that, doing so can actually make you a better player. With the right set of headphones, you’ll hear every nuance (good and bad) in the tone. You may discover weaknesses in your playing that you can’t hear on the amp alone.
Picking a set of the best headphones for guitar amp is a bit challenging, though. You won’t find very many headphones marketed specifically for this purpose, but the headphones you choose do matter a great deal.
In today’s post, we’re reviewing the 9 best headphones for guitar amps that you can buy here in 2021. But before we dive into the reviews, let’s look at three key areas:
- What makes headphones for guitar amps different
- Why you shouldn’t just plug in whatever you have lying around the house
- What attributes to look for when you go to purchase a set of guitar amp headphones
What Makes Headphones for Guitar Amps Different
The main thing that differentiates the best headphones for amp use from normal consumer-grade headphones is the goal of having a flat response that clearly and cleanly represents your audio source without any fiddling or “sound markup.”
Consumer-grade headphones often boost aspects of the spectrum to improve the experience of music consumption (and to overcompensate for design weaknesses). We’ll talk more about that in the next section, but suffice it to say you want a pair of headphones that offer a flat, even response.
Also, if you’re an electric guitar player (or acoustic-electric), your instrument doesn’t go below E2 (or D2 in drop tuning). In terms of bass response, that’s not all that low. So you don’t need a set of headphones with an especially impressive bass response. You simply aren’t producing any of the lowest frequencies on your instrument.
Now, the previous point is out the window if you’re a bass guitar player. You want — no, need — those low frequencies, and you should prioritize headphones that can produce exceptional bass tones. We’ll note some headphones that are better for bass players in the reviews below.
You do want an excellent upper-frequency range due to the harmonics in play on a guitar. You might not be playing in the stratosphere, but the upper harmonics are part of what makes the guitar such a beautiful instrument. This isn’t something to worry about typically, though. Just about every decent set of headphones has a frequency response that exceeds the range of human hearing.
Can’t I Just Use Whatever Headphones I Already Own?
One common question, especially from beginning players, is whether they can just plug in whatever headphones they already own to their amp and start jamming.
Assuming your headphones are wired and you have the right cables and adapters, then yes, it’s entirely possible to do this. The same goes if your amp supports Bluetooth headphones (though this isn’t exactly commonplace, and it’s nonexistent among vintage amps).
However, even though it’s possible, using whatever headphones you have lying around isn’t generally the best idea. Here’s why.
Most consumer-grade headphones are designed for one use case: pleasure listening to commercial pop music. In most cases, this means that bass is cranked up above what’s really there in the music, and usually there’s some kind of high-end boost to enhance the vocals.
Listening to your guitar playing on headphones that do this isn’t a huge problem, but you need to know that you’re not getting a true representation of your sound. This can lead to improper playing, and it certainly leads to improper tuning and setup of gear and FX for fully electric players.
The best headphones for guitar amp usage are the ones that don’t do these kinds of consumer tricks. Quality electric guitar headphones share much in common with quality studio headphones. Namely, what you’re looking for is an even, flat response that’s as accurate as possible. For that reason, there is some overlap on the list below with our ultimate guide to the best studio headphones.
What to Look for in the Best Headphones for Guitar Amp
By this point, you should be getting a solid idea of what to look for in your search for the best headphones for amp use. But quickly, we’ll review the top characteristics you want to prioritize.
Flat, Reference-Quality Tone
First, you want to look for headphones that give you a flat, reference-quality tone. Now, by flat, we don’t mean that they sound boring or, worse, under pitch. No, what we mean by this term in the audio world is that they don’t have any EQ spikes, whether low, mid or high.
Many consumer-grade headphones intentionally create these EQ spikes. And lower quality headphones may also have unintentional ones. If you’ve ever listened to multiple sets of headphones in a short span of time, you have an idea what we mean. Every set of headphones is going to have a slightly different sound profile. Some of them sound woofy and muffled, while others sound tinny or brassy.
Of course, when you get into a certain price tier, you should be able to expect a more even response. That’s why it’s worth spending upwards of $150 on a pair of good and reference headphones for the purpose of practicing guitar with headphones.
The Right Connectivity for Your Usage
Second, you want to look for a pair of headphones that will connect properly with your amp. Most amps have a quarter-inch jack for headphones, though some — especially on the lower end — have an eighth-inch jack instead.
As long as you’re buying wired headphones, you typically won’t have an issue here. You can get adapters that convert either direction (quarter to eighth or eighth to quarter), and there’s no real difference in signal type between these kinds. One is just a bigger version of the other.
There are some headphones that come with less common connections, though, such as mini-XLR. If you’re shopping for high-end headphones with less common connections, make sure that they can connect to your amp via an adapter before purchasing.
Headphone impedance is something most casual users don’t know anything about, but it becomes pretty important in studio settings and in hi-fi audio setups. We won’t get too far in the weeds on this one, but try to find information on what your amp’s impedance output is, and make sure to get headphones with a complementary load impedance.
Honestly, this is a very complex discussion that will, most of the time, not cause a huge problem. You might run into trouble if you try to pair a very high-end headphone (say, 300 or 600 ohm models) with a very low-power or cheap amp. But for most midrange gear, this won’t become a factor.
If you’re worried about it and ready for an extremely deep dive on the topic, Headphonesty has done some solid work on headphone impedance.
What If Your Guitar Amp Doesn’t Have a Headphone Jack?
Just about every solid state amp will have a headphone jack. However, many tube amps do not. Typically, if you’re operating at the level where you have vintage tube amps, you already know how to make this scenario work. But if you’ve gotten this far in the article and are puzzled because your amp has no headphone out jack, there is a workaround.
Unfortunately, it’s not exactly simple. Since most readers won’t need this info here, we’ll simply link out to a great explanation from Guitar Chalk. If you need to connect headphones to an amp without a Headphone Out port, here’s what you need to know.
The 9 Best Headphones for Guitar Amp: Our Top Picks
With all that out of the way, let’s get to the gear! Here are our top picks for the best headphones for guitar amp. Anything included below will perform well for your electric guitar practice, and we’ve included a few specialty pieces for unique scenarios, too.
Here are some quick links to the sets we’ve reviewed below:
- Best High-End Open-Back Headphones for Guitar Amp: Sennheiser HD 650
- Solid All-Around Headphones: Audio-Technica ATH-M50x
- Best for Approachable Luxury: Focal Listen Pro Reference Studio Headphones
- Old-School Budget Workhorse: Sony MDR7506 Professional Large Diaphragm Headphones
- Great for On the Go Practice: AKG Pro Audio K553 MKII Studio Headphones
- Studio-Quality Sound Plus All-Day Comfort: Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro
- Best for the Casual Player: AKG K240 Professional Studio Headphones
- Great Choice for Bass Guitar: Beyerdynamic DT1770 Pro
- Best All-in-One Solution: Boss Waza-Air Wireless Personal Guitar Amplification System
Best High-End Open-Back Headphones for Guitar Amp: Sennheiser HD 650
If your ideal practice environment is a place where a little bit of sound is OK, you might prefer an open-back headphone. We went into detail on what this means in our Best Studio Headphones guide, but the short version is that open-back headphones allow air exchange in the ear cups. They’re more comfortable and can produce an even better sound, but everyone around you can hear that sound … and you can hear everyone around you.
So if you’re practicing in a private room, open-back should be fine. If you’re in the corner of a crowded family room, they won’t work.
OK, that said: the Sennheiser HD 650 is a phenomenal set of headphones that offers a reference quality even portrayal of your playing. Enjoy legendary German engineering from one of the top players in the business, plus improved acoustic materials. Frequency response is far wider than what your guitar is producing, so you’ll never miss a detail.
Solid All-Around Headphones: Audio-Technica ATH-M50x
Another giant in the world of studio audio equipment, Audio-Technica offers the ATH-M50x as a reasonably-priced all-around reference headphone. If you need to keep your spending low (around $150), this set is one of the best guitar headphones in its class. These are great all-around reference headphones, which is why they also made our list of best studio headphones.
As with other reference phones, you’re getting a very even response here, with little jumping out across the entire sonic spectrum. Frequency response is more than adequate for guitar practice as well.
Audio-Technica also produces a Bluetooth compatible version of the ATH-M50x, called the ATH-M50xBT. However, we recommend choosing the wired version for the best sonic quality and no delay.
Best for Approachable Luxury: Focal Listen Pro Reference Studio Headphones
If you’ve ever heard of the brand Focal, you know that its products are both highly coveted and highly priced. And by highly priced, we mean that it’s not uncommon to pay several thousand dollars for a pair of Focal headphones.
Thankfully, in recent years, Focal has added a more entry-level line of products, including this impressive set of closed-back reference studio headphones.
At around $300, the Focal Listen Pro isn’t exactly a cheap set of headphones, nor would most of us call that an entry-level price point. Whatever you want to call them, they’re an awesome set of headphones, and certainly among the best headphones for amp use.
Focal has loaded these babies up with features and comfort alike. The memory foam microfiber earcups remain comfortable for hours, and the 40mm mylar titanium drivers pump and impressively even tone to you, from 5Hz up to 22kHz. They’re even foldable, though we certainly don’t recommend tossing them loose into your bag.
These headphones are equally at home in the studio, plugged into your amp, or used for private listening. If you want to have a little luxury in your life without selling your car to finance it, Focal Listen Pro might be the solution.
Old-School Budget Workhorse: Sony MDR7506 Professional Large Diaphragm Headphones
Sometimes, you just want a classic. And sometimes, you don’t want to spend very much money. The Sony MDR7506 professional large-diaphragm headphones check both those boxes. They’re inexpensive, and they haven’t changed much in the 30-some years they’ve been on the market.
Of course, most headphones today don’t look like the 1980s. These definitely do. They aren’t exactly winning any beauty contests, but they’ve been a trusted workhorse for generations of audio pros.
Sony has paired neodymium magnets with a pair of 40mm drivers to deliver a solid sonic response. Frequency response goes from 10Hz up to 20kHz, so these will be perfect for guitar and bass guitar use alike.
The coiled cord is great for guitar players, and the foldable design makes it easy to toss these into your bag and hit the road. These headphones are equipped with an eighth-inch jack, and a threaded quarter-inch adapter is included with the set.
One drawback is the thin wire that runs from each ear cup to the headband. It’s a weak point in the design: pinch or pull either wire hard enough, and you’ll need a new set of headphones or face a challenging electrical repair.
Great for On the Go Practice: AKG Pro Audio K553 MKII Studio Headphones
Many of the best headphones for guitar amp out there are not particularly portable. Their designs to be studio headphones that never really leave the studio or control room. If you need the ability to practice on the go, you need a set of headphones that travels well.
The AKG Pro Audio K553 MKII is a lightweight pair of headphones that can collapse down to a pretty small package and get tossed in your bag. It’s great for musicians who travel from time to time, and the sound quality is everything you’d want in headphones at this price.
Earlier versions didn’t allow you to detach the cable from the headphones, a strange oversight in a foldable model. Thankfully, AKG has rectified this problem. The MKII features a detachable cable, so these studio headphones should last you a long time during many guitar practice sessions — wherever you happen to be.
Though these are lightweight headphones, they still pack a sonic punch with two 50mm transducers. The closed-back design is also ideal for on-the-go guitarists who may need to practice in spaces where silence is appreciated.
Studio-Quality Sound Plus All-Day Comfort: Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro
Some great quality headphones — even at very high price points — can be downright uncomfortable to wear for longer than 30 minutes or so. If you’re looking for a solid pair that definitely won’t have this problem, the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro is great for long sessions of practicing guitar with headphones.
The DT 770 Pro has a soft cushioned headband, and the ear cups are covered in smooth, velvety velour. You can wear these for hours without fatigue. In fact, that was the entire point of the design: these are studio headphones designed to be worn for long mixing sessions.
One interesting aspect of the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro is that you can purchase these headphones at one of three impedance levels. Choose from 32 ohms, 80 ohms, or 250 ohms, depending on what your equipment calls for. (Most amps will do well with the 80-ohm set.)
You also get a choice of black or gray, which is a nice touch.
Like the beefier DT1770 Pro reviewed later on, the DT 770 has an excellent frequency response that makes it a better than average choice for bass players.
Best for the Casual Player: AKG K240 Professional Studio Headphones
A few of you have made it this far and are thinking, “Those all look great, but let’s be real. I don’t play enough to spend that kind of cash.” It’s OK; we get it: not everyone practices guitar for hours on end multiple times a week.
It’s OK if you can’t quite justify dropping a few hundred bucks on a pair of headphones that you admittedly won’t use that much. There are still plenty of options that will perform better than your consumer-grade headphones but that won’t break the bank.
Our favorite in this category is the AKG K240 Professional Studio Headphones. This set often sells for just $69, but it has the studio chops you want in a reference headphone. These are lower-end professional studio headphones with a semi-open design. This means that they aren’t completely silent in the room around you, but neither are they as noisy as fully open-back headphones.
At this price, you get smaller transducers of just 30mm. But the sonic response is even and clear, and AKG’s dual-band design makes these cans comfortable on the head, too.
Great Choice for Bass Guitar: Beyerdynamic DT1770 Pro
If you’re a bassist or a multi-instrument player who switches between guitar and bass, you’ll want to pick up a set of headphones that have an exceptional bass presence. That said, you still want to avoid bass-heavy consumer listening headphones, which can distort your playing.
For practicing bass with headphones on, we recommend the Beyerdynamic DT1770 Pro. This set of closed-back headphones has exceptional response throughout, but it’s particularly effective on the low end. This is a feature that guitarists don’t really need, but it’s essential for bassists.
The overall frequency response here is impressively wide, reaching all the way down to 5Hz and way up to 40kHz. The 45mm dynamic Tesla neodymium drivers create an impressive soundstage with crystal clarity throughout your range of playing.
You do pay a premium for the extra low-end reinforcement. The Beyerdynamic DT1770 Pro usually sells for around $549, which is going to be a little steep for some players. Still, if your budget allows, you won’t be disappointed with this choice.
Best All-in-One Solution: Boss Waza-Air Wireless Personal Guitar Amplification System
This one isn’t going to make sense for every player, but for many, it’s a dream come true. If you’ve ever thought, “Why do I need an amp at all? Wouldn’t it make sense to plug headphones in directly?” then the Boss Waza-Air Wireless Personal Guitar Amplification System is the answer to your question.
You can’t plug normal headphones directly into your guitar for all sorts of reasons: headphones aren’t designed to process raw instrument signal — the two may use the same jacks, but they aren’t speaking the same language. Typically, you need something to translate the electrical instrument signal into analog sound, and an amp with a headphone out jack does the job.
The Boss Waza-Air Wireless system doesn’t exactly bypass this system. Instead, it is the amp — and the headphones — and the FX board, and so on and so forth.
There are three components to this system. First is the portable wireless amp, which plugs into and stays snug on your guitar. Second is the glorious set of included headphones. Third is the included Tone Studio smartphone app. With all these combined, you have access to five Katana amp types, voicings for acoustic guitars and bass guitars, 50 customizable effects and more. Plus, your headphones and guitar are both free from wires, so there’s nothing to get tangled up in.
There’s so much tech packed into this set, including custom spatial technology and even a gyro sensor, giving you that same effect as an amp in the room — but silent as a church mouse to those not wearing the headphones. The custom 50mm drivers aren’t bad, either.
The Boss Waza-Air system isn’t right for everyone. If you absolutely love your current amp, well, this system just isn’t going to integrate with it. But if you’re looking for the ultimate complete personal guitar practice package, this is the alpha leader of the pack.
Headphone Types to Avoid
Pretty much all the headphones we reviewed in this guide were large, over ear headphones. This was on purpose: we believe this style of headphone is the best for electric guitar practice, just like it tends to be the best for studio use. No other style of headphone gives as full a sound or can create as large a sense of space.
That said, there are a few specific types of headphones you should definitely avoid using for guitar practice.
Consumer-Grade Headphones Designed for Music Consumption
As we mentioned earlier, you don’t want to use the sorts of headphones that are designed for general music consumption or listening. These don’t provide a true, even response, and bass is almost always amplified. Using them for guitar practice will give you a distorted view of what your instrument sounds like.
Hopefully, this one’s pretty self-explanatory. Earbuds that just sit inside the opening of the ear aren’t good for much, really, besides phone conversations or listening to podcasts. You can’t possibly get a wide and even frequency response with this type of headphone, so they don’t do a good job for practicing guitar with headphones.
In-Ear Monitors (or Sport or Pro In-Ear Earbuds)
Here, we’re talking about those sorts of higher end earbuds that actually fit into your ear canal. These are far better for general listening than regular earbuds, but they still aren’t the right choice for practicing guitar with headphones.
The ultra-high end in-ears that pros use on stage will work just fine. But these cost thousands of dollars and must be custom-made to fit your ears. Anything less than those just can’t compete with even the cheaper over-ear headphones we reviewed above. In-ear earbuds and monitors have their place, but you’ll tend to have a better guitar practice experience if you avoid them for that purpose.