Having a sturdy set of headphones is like owning a good pair of shoes — they will be with you through thick and thin and make the journey enjoyable. Whether you prefer listening to music, audiobooks, or podcasts, headphones help you tune out the rest of the world and focus on what interests you.
No office task seems too tedious and no commute too long, as long as you have your sound to keep you company.
But where do you even begin if you want to find a great set of headphones? Due to the sheer amount of variety on the market, finding the right pair for you can be a daunting task. You may be drawn to the airy designs of open back headphones, but those are only convenient to use at home. If you plan to use them in public places, a good set of closed back headphones is better.
In this guide, I will take you through all the essential characteristics of good headphones and present you with 5 of the best closed back headphones under $200. Moreover, I will address how each of my picks meets the criteria I set out beforehand, and choose a final winner.
Why You Need a Pair of Headphones
The benefits of owning a set of high-quality headphones are numerous. For one, they give you a sense of control over your environment, as well as privacy. You don’t have to listen to strangers talking on the train, nor to your coworkers typing away on their keyboards. Likewise, you get to enjoy your music or show without everyone around you knowing what you’re listening to.
But depending on how you plan to use them, you need to learn about the three main types of headphone builds and what they’re best at.
Editor Sidenote: Performing on a stage? you need some qualtiy earbuds/ In-ear monitors right? Here is our review on the 10 best in ear monitors for musicians that singers love to wear on their performance.
Closed vs. Open vs. Semi-Open Back Headphones
The distinction between these three types of headphones relates to whether the outside part of the over-ear speaker is covered or not. Though there are high-grade earphones out there, too, I have yet to find a pair whose quality is superior to the best closed back headphones under $200. Thus, I am not going to cover earphones in this article.
Open Back Headphones
The ear cups of these headphones are open on both ends. The sound produced by the speakers inside the headphones is thus directed both towards your ear and away from it.
Thanks to their open backs, these headphones add dimension to the sound. Music or conversation heard through open-back headphones sounds closer to reality. Moreover, the open back allows for a better flow of air. Even if you wear them for hours on end, they won’t make your ears hot or sweaty.
The downside to these headphones is that outside noise also gets in through the open backs. If you’re looking for noise-cancellation, these are not the headphones for you. Plus, what you’re listening to will also carry to the people around you and may disturb them.
Closed Back Headphones
These headphones are completely closed off from the outside. They can play sound at high volumes without allowing much (or any) of it to escape. Even someone sitting right next to you might not be able to tell you’re listening to anything.
In other words, closed back headphones are perfect to use when you’re around people. They are the best choice for office workers, commuters, and the like. Moreover, you will also be spared any distracting outside noise, especially if you go for a noise-cancelling set.
The only downside to closed back headphones is that your ears might get a little warm after a few hours. Still, you can easily avoid this by taking headphone breaks, allowing your ears to “breathe.”
Semi-Open Back Headphones
A hybrid solution, these headphones are neither entirely closed nor entirely open. They allow for some sound to enter and leak, but they also give your ears a breather.
In my opinion, semi-open headphones are subpar to the other two types. They don’t create the realistic sound that open back headphones do, nor do they have the noise cancellation features of closed back headphones.back to menu ↑
Are Closed Back Headphones the Right Choice for You?
If I have to be perfectly honest, I find that closed back headphones are the most practical type, regardless of one’s lifestyle. I can’t even count how many times someone has come onto my train when I was trying to read, loud music blasting from their headphones (open back, of course). People would turn heads, grunt, and shift uncomfortably, some muttering curses. Now imagine being the one blasting the music, annoying everyone around. You probably don’t want to be them.
Don’t get me wrong; open back headphones can deliver fantastic sound quality. They are a wonder to have and use — but they are best if you listen to music alone, preferably at home.
For those of us who need headphones when we’re around other people, especially in noisy environments, closed back headphones are a must. They will deliver a clear, enjoyable sound without making you a public nuisance.
Criteria for Choosing Closed Back Headphones
The best closed back headphones under $200 ought to accomplish three main things — deliver high-quality sound, minimize ambient noise, and stay within your budget. For this reason, it’s important to look at the key features of headphones to determine how well they perform those tasks.
I will focus on several of the most critical aspects of headphones and explain what each of them means. Besides sound quality, I also looked at comfort and practicality features. To me, these two criteria are just as crucial as technical characteristics. Even if I have the best-sounding headphones in the world, if their cable keeps getting tangled everywhere or if the cushions hurt my ears, I won’t ever use them.
With that in mind, here are the criteria I will be using to choose the best closed back headphones under $200.
Nowadays, headphones are so much more than two speakers with a connecting headband. Sinuous curves, materials that feel good to the touch, and tasteful use of color can feel like love at first sight.
Moreover, the appearance of the headphones also matters when it comes to your personal style. A super sporty design, no matter the specs, will look jarring if you plan to use them in an office environment where everyone, including you, wears a suit and tie.
Comfort and Practicality
I am combining these two aspects since they work in conjunction.
First of all, if your headphones are uncomfortable to wear, you’ll hate using them. It’s important to choose a headset that fits your head nicely and doesn’t hurt your ears. I personally had to part ways with a beautiful pair of Marshalls whose lining mesh had the painful habit of imprinting itself on my ears.
In this respect, I recommend choosing headphones with ample padding on the ear cups. In addition, an adjustable headband is a must so that you can get a comfortable fit. You also want to make sure that the model you pick won’t slide off your head, especially if they are wireless.
You should also consider whether you want headphones with foldable hinges or cups. Foldable headphones are easier to carry around — they won’t make your bag too bulky.
Wireless vs. Wired
Both wired and wireless headphones have advantages and disadvantages compared to each other. One is not better than the other. You have to consider what suits your lifestyle more to narrow down your search significantly.
Traditional headphones with a cable you have to plug into your device usually deliver a better sound. The signal travels uninterrupted from the playback device to the speakers with a clarity that’s nearly impossible to achieve with wireless earbuds. However, there’s the pesky business of a cable dangling around, catching under the wheels of your chair, and possibly tripping you up.
One thing to bear in mind with wired headphones is their impedance. This term is the measurement of how much power the headphones need to produce a clear, high-quality sound. For a detailed explanation of impedance, check out this lecture.
If you plan to use the headphones with a weaker device such as a smartphone or a tablet, low impedance (under 25 ohms) would work well enough. High impedance (above 25 ohms) headphones tend to be pricier because they can work with higher amounts of power. These headsets are great to use with a hi-fi sound system or DJ equipment.
If you want to be able to move freely while you listen to music, wireless headphones are a better option. Bluetooth technology has come far — today you can find wireless headphones that sound great. Nevertheless, even those might be slightly inferior to wired pairs, and you also have to think about batteries and such. On the other hand, if you mostly sit in an office or on a train, a wire won’t bother you, and you can enjoy a more precise sound.
Sound Signatures & Quality
Though there are ways to test how each pair of headphones reproduces different frequencies, sound quality is highly subjective. I, for one, feel that a heavy bass is too much for my heart to take, but many people would beg to differ. One sound signature is not better than another — it’s simply a matter of personal preference.
What I mean by sound signature is the distribution of low, medium, and high frequencies that the speakers in a pair of headphones favor. If you like a strong bass, you can go for bass-heavy headphones. They amplify lower frequencies, minimize treble (high frequencies), and sometimes lessen the mid-ranged tones as well.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, bright signatures amplify the treble and minimize the bass and mids (or leave them neutral). V-shaped sound signatures are generally livelier than bright ones, as they enhance both the bass and the treble while lowering the mids.
Another popular sound profile is the flat or neutral one. This signature does not reduce or enhance any of the three frequency tiers, striking a balance between them instead.
The Numbers: Frequency, Sensitivity, Distortion
You might also be under the impression that frequency response is one of the main factors in choosing the best closed back headphones under $200, but that’s not true.
The human ear generally picks up frequencies between 20 and 20,000 Hz. Anything below 20 Hz is too low to hear, though you might still feel the vibration. Frequencies above 20,000 Hz are too high to hear at all. So, even if you see the frequency response of a pair of headphones listed as 10 – 30,000 Hz, you’re not gaining anything.
A much more important metric is the deviation from a flat response. It’s measured in decibels, and a lower number indicates a sound that’s closer to reality.
Manufacturers also usually list the sound pressure level (SPL or sensitivity) and total harmonic distortion (THD) of headphones. The SPL value is the highest volume of sound that the headphones can make. Most models have an SPL up to 120 dB, but even a value as low as 85 dB could damage your hearing, so you probably won’t use the headphones to their full potential. THD shows how much sound gets distorted when played at a high volume. The best closed back headphones under $200 should have a THD below 1%.
In other words, for a pair of headphones to sound good, it needs to use a sound signature that’s pleasant to your ears, with as little deviation as possible. However, not all of this info is usually available in the specs. Instead, you can use websites and apps to test the headphones in-store.
Soundstage is also a term related to the overall quality of sound, but it’s not like other metrics. Usually described as wide or narrow, the soundstage of headphones refers to how expansive the music gets. It’s like being in a theater, listening to instruments coming from various places from inside the hall.
With a wide soundstage, you should be able to hear some instruments as coming from farther off than others, or from different directions (also called imaging). The wider soundstage creates a sense of dimension that’s pleasant to the ear. On the other hand, with a narrow soundstage, everything sounds more one-dimensional and bland.
In other words, the best closed back headphones under $200 need to offer a wide soundstage.
One of the most significant advantages the best closed back headphones under $200 should have is the ability to deliver clear audio without outside interference. Not all models do this to the same extent, however. If you truly want to block whatever is going on around you, you need noise-cancelling headphones.
Headphones usually provide passive noise cancellation simply through their design. Big cushions and a snug fit over your ears mechanically limit the sound that can come in from outside.
For an enhanced listening experience, some headphones come with active noise cancellation as well. The device contains a microphone that records outside noise and plays the inverse sound wave together with your music. By playing the opposite sound, these headphones actively cancel ambient noise.
Editor Sidenote: Are you a motorcycle rider? or even loves to wear headsets/earbuds while on the road driving. Here is our guide on the best earbuds for motorcycle for 2019 as we uncover the tips and details that you need to consider before buying them.
My Top 5 Picks for the Best Closed Back Headphones under $200
Now that you understand what the different features of headphones mean, I can present you with several options that offer superb quality in their price range. Is my headphone lineup better than everything else on the market? No; but they are the best under $200.
#1. Audio-Technica ATH-M50x
When I was still a hi-fi newie, more experienced audiophiles told me these were the best closed back headphones under $200. The first time I put them on, everything sounded new and different to me. I heard things I didn’t even know were there before.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x are made from high-quality materials and magnets, though the body is still light enough, just under 200g. Their headband is solid metal, while the rest of the body is plastic, with soft, faux-leather padding. They do leave something to be desired in terms of cushioning on the pads, however.
Thanks to the foldable design and detachable 1.2-meter cable, they are also easy to travel with. Plus, the earcups turn 90 degrees in each direction, so you can customize the fit.
With 45mm drivers, the sound quality produced by these headphones is excellent. Moreover, at 38 ohms, these headphones have higher impedance than average and they work well with professional sound equipment. Indoors, they can substitute IEM devices. In addition, these headphones only have passive noise cancellation.
In terms of sound signatures, the M50x has a solid bass, decreased mid-range, and prominently enhanced treble. The high frequencies stand out more than the rest, so if that’s not the sound you’re looking for, you may be disappointed. Moreover, the soundstage is quite narrow, though you can clearly make out what direction each sound is coming from, which is good.
- Sturdy and portable
- Medium impedance
- Great for sound monitoring
- Might feel a bit tight
- Narrow soundstage
- High frequencies may hiss
#2. Sennheiser HD 598 Cs
As much as I liked the clear sound of the ATH-M50x, I admit that the enhanced treble can be too much for a casual listener. If you prefer a flatter, more realistic sound profile, this option from Sennheiser is better. The quality and the fit are just right to consider them among best closed back headphones under $200.
The HD 598 Cs are wired over-ear closed back headphones with two detachable cables. The 3-meter cable is compatible with audio receivers, while the 1.2-meter 3.5mm one works for smartphones, tablets, and computers. Moreover, these headphones have a built-in microphone, so you can use them for phone calls or gaming.
The HD 598 Cs are made of high-quality plastic that feels sturdy and will survive just fine in your bag. The faux leather cushions on the ears are softer than the Audio-Technica, making these headphones quite comfortable. However, the leatherette may tear and flake with prolonged use, so bear that in mind.
The supported sound frequencies are from 10 to 28,000 Hz with a low impedance of 23 ohms. The maximum volume caps out at 115 dB, which is relatively standard, but the THD of just 0.2% is quite low. At this level, you will have a very high quality, realistic sound even at high volumes, which is impressive. The passive noise-cancellation of these headphones is just enough for casual listeners.
If you’re looking for a balanced frequency profile, you will likely find the Sennheiser HD 598 Cs to your liking. The treble is reduced, while the bass and mids remain neutral to slightly enhanced, so the sound is crisp and natural.
- Comfortable fit
- Very low distortion
- Balanced sound signature
- Built-in mic
- Low impedance (not great with professional sound systems)
#3. Sennheiser HD 280 PROCLICK FOR PRICE
The Sennheiser HD 280 Pro was one of the first models of professional headphones I learned to recognize — mainly because I kept seeing it everywhere. These may not be the newest Sennheisers, but the realistic sound they produce and their high portability make them a strong contender for the best closed back headphones under $200.
These over-ear closed-back headphones are light and foldable, making them great to carry around. The earpads are nice and soft, so they won’t make your ears hurt even after many hours of use. However, you might notice your ears getting a bit warm — whether that’s a positive or a negative is up to you.
The build is plastic and faux leather, which doesn’t sound too sturdy. However, all of the parts are replaceable, so even if they suffer some wear and tear, you won’t have to throw these headphones away.
The frequency response on the HD 280 is fairly standard, from 8 to 25,000 Hz, with an SPL of 113 dB. Moreover, this pair of headphones has a high impedance of 64 ohms, so they perform well with both mobile devices and sound systems.
One aspect where the HD 280 Pro truly shine is the 32 dB noise cancellation. If you’re wearing them correctly, these headphones do a spectacular job of blocking outside noise.
The sound signature is unusual, favoring more of a warm profile. With this build, you’re getting enhanced bass and neutral mids, while higher frequencies are reduced. The resulting sound is clear and won’t give you a headache.
- Comfortable fit
- Replaceable parts
- Great passive noise isolation
- High impedance
- The cable is not detachable
- Outdated design
#4. Philips Fidelio X2HR
Considering these are open-back headphones, I am technically cheating. But I wanted you to have options and see the differences between closed and open back headphones for yourself. Plus, these cans deliver a similar performance to the other contenders for the best closed back headphones under $200.
The headband is durable, real leather, with a hammock for added comfort. The ear caps have just the right amount of padding, which is also replaceable, extending headphone life. Oh, and did I mention the padding is memory foam that molds to the shape of your ears? Now, that’s comfy.
I have no qualms about the sound quality of these cans. The speakers use a 50mm neodymium driver, which is bigger and more powerful than average. The frequency response starts at 5 and extends up to 40,000 Hz, but unless you have superhuman hearing, the added range won’t make much of a difference. I am more impressed by the 0.1% THD — that’s better than 99% of similarly priced products.
The Fidelio X2HR have an impedance of 30 ohms, which is too low for hi-fi sound systems, but high enough to sound great on smartphones and computers.
Moreover, the open back ensures breathability and a rich, realistic sound profile.
- Extremely comfy
- Great acoustics
- No sound distortion even at high volume
- Not noise-cancelling
- Not suitable for listening in public spaces
- Low impedance – may pick up noise from laptop
#5. Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro
I tend to spend a very large part of my day with headphones on, as I work on my computer and travel a lot. If you’re anything like me, you’d know how important it is that headphones feel comfortable on your head. Amid my picks for the best closed back headphones under $200, these are arguably the comfiest.
The beyerdynamic DT 990 had me hooked at “velour ear pads.” The fit on the ear cups is ridiculously soft. It’s also replaceable, so if you tear or deform the cushions, you don’t have to say goodbye to these headphones. Despite the soft cups, these headphones are pretty sturdy, if not all that portable.
The DT 990 have an extended frequency range of 5 to 35,000 Hz, which is similar to the Fidelio. Their SPL at 96 dB seems lower than average, but it is closer to the recommended maximum of 85 than the other models on this list. Most importantly, the high impedance of 250 ohms makes them ideal for work with professional audio equipment.
The semi-open back design of the DT 990 gives you an expansive, realistic sound. However, because they’re not entirely open, these headphones won’t leak too much of your music outside.
In addition, the signature strikes a perfect balance between bass and treble, which results in a lively profile. Nevertheless, some users report that the frequencies above 10 kHz are uncomfortably heightened, which may be off-putting to some ears.
- Soft and comfortable
- A good compromise between closed and open back headphones
- High impedance
- A non-detachable cable
- V-shaped signature — not for everyone
- No noise cancellation
Final Verdict: Who Takes the Crown for Best Closed Back Headphones under $200?
Each of the five pairs I considered for the title of best closed back headphones under $200 excels at something that the others don’t. Some are more comfortable than the rest, while others produce a more enjoyable sound. In the end, what you decide to buy depends on your preferences.
My personal favorite for the best closed back headphones under $200 is the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro. Yes, they might be a bit outdated, and the non-detachable cable could be annoying. But the quality and portability of these headphones are quite good, which matters if you, like me, plan to drag them everywhere you go.
In addition, the HD 280 Pro have excellent noise cancellation, so they deliver a degree of privacy both in the office and on public transport.
Nevertheless, to find your ideal set of headphones, you have to work around your needs and preferences, as they might not be the same as mine. Visit audio stores or borrow the cans of your audiophile friends to try them out for yourself. Now that you know what to watch out for, allow your ears to make a choice.
Editor Sidenote: Having some trouble in your trucking lately? Or you just need the right headset for a reliable communication with your head office, family or music? you should consider reading our guide on the best bluetooth headset for truckers as we talk about the components of a headset for truck drivers that will help them perform better even on the rocky roads.