How the Sony MDR-7506 Headphones Took Over Music Studios

Good enough is good enough

Key Takeaways

  • The Sony MDR-7506 launched in 1991.
  • Pretty much every music studio in the world has at least one pair.
  • They’re cheap, reliable, repairable, and sound great.
Sony MDR 7506 Professional Headphones.

Kreeson Naraidoo / Unsplash

Walk into any music studio in the world, pick up the headphones hooked up to the desk, and more than likely, you’ll be holding a pair of MDR-7506 cans.

Launched in 1991 and based on a design from 1985, the MDR-7506 might as well be the definition of "industry standard." They sound good, they’re tough, they’re completely repairable, and they have a coiled cable that seems absurdly long until you use them in the studio, where it is perfect. But the same goes for many headphones, so what makes these Sony's different?

"The secret to the popularity of the 7506 is that everyone steals them from their art school or employer," electronic musician Obscurerobot replied to Lifewire in a forum post. "I think I’m the only person that I know who actually bought a pair. That said, I’ve been replacing the pads continuously for two decades and don’t see any sign of them giving up."

Virtuous Circle

Whatever first put the MDR 7506s (and their precursor, the MDR-V6) into studios, they’ve stuck around in part because they’ve stuck around. 

The Sony MDR-7506 headphones on a gray background.

Lifewire/ Charlie Sorrel

"I've used MDR-7506's for years. I don't love 'em, don't hate 'em—I'm familiar with how they sound, so I have bought numerous pairs over the years," musician and music educator Daveypoo told Lifewire in a forum post.

"They have been in literally EVERY SINGLE studio I've ever had the pleasure to record in, both professional and amateur, so being familiar with their strengths and weaknesses is useful."

For music producers and mix engineers, there are two features of headphones and studio monitor speakers that trump all others: accuracy and predictability. 

Accuracy lets you hear the detail in the mix, both good and bad. The headphones you buy for listening to music are designed to make the music sound great. Studio headphones should reproduce every last bit of the music. If the bass is thin and weak, it should sound that way in the headphones, so you can correct it.

But while accuracy is important, consistency beats everything because it allows you to calibrate your own brain. If you mix on the same speakers and headphones for years, you know how the sound they produce relates to the final result. This might be the MDR 7506's biggest strength.

"7506s are my mixing, guitar/vocal tracking, amp sim playing, and reference listening cans, all in one. Without a doubt, I would keep buying them over and over..."

They’re everywhere. To paraphrase an old computer industry saying, nobody ever got fired for buying MDR 7506s. 

"I think people forget the main reason they were so popular back in the day was because they were cheap and easy to find, so if the drummer threw them, you could get more quickly," musician Tarekith told Lifewire on the AudioBus forum

Sound Investment

That’s not to say the MDR 7506s sound bad. Far from it. Some folks use them as everyday headphones for music, this writer included. They’re comfortable enough, they isolate background noise pretty well even though they are not noise-canceling, and they sound fantastic—open, with plenty of detail, and good solid bass without going crazy. 

One common belief is that studio monitor speakers and headphones are somehow cold and clinical compared to regular or audiophile models. But that’s not true. In my experience, the difference is more like the oversaturated showroom mode on TV sets. Fine for comparisons, but what you really want every day is something neutral. I love the MDR 7506s, and I listen to music on Yamaha monitor speakers at home. And I’m not the only one.

A coiled cord on a pair of headphones.

Lifewire / Charlie Sorrel

"7506s are my mixing, guitar/vocal tracking, amp sim playing, and reference listening cans, all in one," musician and opera singer JoyceRoadStudios told Lifewire via forum post. "Without a doubt, I would keep buying them over and over, only $100!"

There are plenty of better headphones out there, but the MDR 7506s are the perfect all-rounder. They deserve their spot tossed onto a chair at the back of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, with a tangled cable, and patched up with gaffer tape. And because the basics of headphone tech are pretty much set, they’ll be providing comforting familiarity for decades to come.

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