Programming Headphones
review office

Last Week

Since I posted The Five Greatest Coding Albums Of All Time last week, this week I thought it was only fitting to discuss what I think are the top 3 coding headphones currently available.

I recently switched to working on a new project for work. My previous coding was mostly done at home and my new job required me to commute and work in a multi-person group setting. In order to survive the change in working conditions, I needed to find a pair of awesome headphones. Headphones are essential for my work in a group atmosphere because:

  • Headphones block ambient noises and facilitate focus.
  • Headphones create a do not disturb me, I’m working sign to coworkers, which cuts down on untimely distractions.

Audio-Technica ATH-M50s’ next to a pair of Sennheiser HD280 Pros’:

The Research

I did a ridiculous amount of research for this purchase. My search for the ultimate headphones started with filtering on these features:

  1. Must be of closed-back circumaural style
  2. Must be in the sub-$150 price area
  3. Must be comfortable with eyeglasses
  4. Must not require an amp

I wanted closed-back headphones because they seal sound and block distractions very well. I’ve never been a huge fan of the active noise-cancellation models because they tend to be heavy, use a lot of battery power, and I’ve found the closed-back style headphones block external sound sufficiently. I also opted against choosing an open-back style headphone because everyone around you can hear your music, which is not conducive to my new multi-person office setting. I decided on circumaural style headphone because I needed to wear the headphones for several hours each day and I find this style the most comfortable. I also find earbud style headphones to be uncomfortable for prolonged use.

I started researching at all price points and eventually settled on headphones that were less than $150.1 After personally testing MANY headphones, I found this price point was the sweet-spot in terms of value and quality. I eventually went to two stores and attempted to blindly differentiate sound quality between about 10 models. Here are the models I tested:

  • AKG K271MKII
  • Audio Technica ATH-M35
  • Audio Technica ATH-M50
  • Beyerdynamic DT 235
  • Beyerdynamic DT 770
  • Denon DJ DN-HP1000
  • Koss R80, Sennheiser HD280 Pro
  • Sony MDR-V6, and Sony MDR-XB300

I wear eyeglasses. I’ve never found contacts to be comfortable - especially while staring at monitors. Oddly, I’ve noticed that many headphones I tried were quite uncomfortable to wear with glassed. The frames get pushed into your skull from a poor fit despite seemly ample padding.

Another requirement I had was a I pair of headphones with relatively low impedance and reasonable decibel sensitivity. I sometimes want to use these headphones with portable devices such as my iPhone and buying an amp to drive some of the 600Ω studio headphones is not something I want to do.

After my exhaustive search for the best coding headphones, here are my top 3 coding headphone picks:

  1. Audio-Technica ATH-M502
  2. Sennheiser HD280 Pro
  3. Shure SRH440

I was able to listen to the Sennheiser, Audio-Technica, and Beyerdynamic models with greater than 100 hours of burn-in time.

The Purchase

I ultimately purchased the Audio-Technica ATH M50, but if you are in the market for a good set of coding headphones, you can’t go wrong with any of these picks. The ATH-M50 is a perennial favorite on the Head-fi forum, highly rated on Amazon, one of Headroom’s Top 10 Best Headphone Picks, a featured pick on Lifehacker, and ranked 6th on Head-fi.org’s Top Over-Ear Headphones3. If you are looking for something a bit cheaper than the ATH-M50, the Sennheiser HD280 has an incredible rating on Amazon and are highly reviewed and recommended most everywhere. I have less experience with the Shure SRH440, but I was really impressed with the detail of midrange sound they produced.


  1. I could discern cheap headphones compared to more expensive models. After about $125 my ability to differentiate headphones based solely on sound quality diminished substantially. 

  2. Note that the Audio-Technica ATH-M50 currently comes in coiled and straight cable models. I prefer the coiled model. Straight cable headphones are cumbersome to deal with due to the large amount of cable that becomes tangled around my workstation. 

  3. This ranking is amazing given most of the other headphone models in the top 10 easily cost north of $400.