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Best audiophile headphones

If you're serious about sound quality, give these a listen.
By

Published onJune 12, 2024

The Best
HiFiMan Sundara
7.9
Positives
Sound quality
Comfort
Pads are eyeglasses-friendly
Negatives
Weight
Open backs mean no isolation
Best sound
Sennheiser HD 800 S
MSRP: $1,699.95
7.5
Positives
Sound quality
Illusion of space
Comfort
Removable cable
Easy to equalize
Negatives
Price
Pad material glasses-unfriendly
Bang for your buck
Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO (80Ω)
MSRP: $169.00
7.7
Positives
Sound quality
Extremely durable
Swappable ear pads
Comfort
Adapter
Negatives
Long cable
Bulky
Not very portable
Best active noise cancelling
Focal Bathys
MSRP: $699.00
8.3
Positives
Sound quality
Connectivity
Comfort
Durability
Negatives
Price
Okay ANC
Weight
Best value
Sennheiser HD 490 PRO
MSRP: $399.99
6.8
Positives
Neutral sound
Two washable ear pads
Includes Dear Reality dearVR MIX-SE plugin
Negatives
Difficult to swap the ear pads

Audiophile headphones cater to those who prioritize sound quality above all, providing a listening experience that’s as close to the original recording as possible. These headphones can sacrifice convenience features like wireless connectivity in favor of sound accuracy and a wider, more open soundstage. Rather than on-the-go use, these comfortable headphones are made for getting lost and absorbed in your music at home. Here are our top picks for music enthusiasts seeking the utmost in audio fidelity.

Editor’s note: this list was updated on June 12, 2024, to include new notable mentions. Updates will follow as the market changes. You can learn more about how to read our charts here.

Best audiophile headphones for most people: HiFiMan Sundara

The HiFiMan Sundara open-back planar headphones in full view on a gridded surface with wooden accessories in the background.
We don’t have many reservations in recommending the HiFiMan Sundara.

The HiFiMan Sundara is an impressive entry-level planar magnetic headphones with a not-so-entry-level price. Priced at $299 ($200 less than when it was first released), it offers great sound quality and comfort. They don’t require extensive modifications to achieve excellent out-of-the-box performance, however, you will need a powerful source to use it. While they excel in sound quality — offering a slightly high-frequency emphasis, otherwise following our legacy studio curve — their open-back design inherently does not block out noise, so you’ll want to use them in a quiet environment.

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The build includes updated ear pads for better fit and comfort, especially for glasses wearers, and a design that promotes a more natural sound due to its open-back design. Yet, the headphones’ 372g weight and the requirement for a close source due to the 1.5-meter cable length may deter some users. The planar magnetic drivers ensure less distortion and dynamic accuracy. Overall, the Sundara’s performance merits consideration for those venturing into high-quality audio without the steep price typically associated with such fidelity, such as our next pick.

HiFiMan SundaraHiFiMan Sundara
HiFiMan Sundara
Excellent sound • 3.5mm TRS jack • Low sound distortion
A pair of high-end level sound quality open-backed headphones
The HiFiMan Sundara is an open-backed headset that diminishes the resonance issues in the bass and offers an excellent, natural-like sound.

The best high-end audiophile headphones are the Sennheiser HD 800 S

A photo of the Sennheiser HD 800 S lying atop a wood slab and pegboard.

The Sennheiser HD 800 S is a high-end choice for audiophiles, delivering excellent sound quality, comfort, and durability. While it has a high price point of $1699.95, it is a long-term investment for serious listeners. In our review, we found it to have an expansive soundstage and be comfortable during extended use. The design, which includes large ear cups and velour pads, accommodates a wide range of head shapes and sizes while ensuring minimal ear contact.

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With a 300Ω impedance and 102dB sensitivity, its technical specs suggest that you will likely require an amplifier to get an acceptable volume output. The sound quality is detailed and leans towards an analytical profile, with a focus on accurate sound reproduction rather than bass emphasis.

Overall, the Sennheiser HD 800 S is targeted at audiophiles willing to invest in a high-quality listening experience. It emphasizes sound accuracy, comfort, and build quality over portability and low-end response. It’s recommended for those setting up dedicated listening spaces where the nuances of its performance can be fully appreciated.

The chart below shows how the sound of the Sennheiser HD 800 S was assessed by the Multi-Dimensional Audio Quality Score (MDAQS) algorithm from HEAD Acoustics.

A bar chart showing the Multi-Dimensional Audio Quality Scores of the Sennheiser HD 800 S.
As audiophile headphones aren’t generally tailored for the mass market, it’s not surprising that the simulated panel scores are a little low.
Sennheiser HD 800 SSennheiser HD 800 S
Sennheiser HD 800 S
Sound quality • Illusion of space • Comfort
MSRP: $1,699.95

20 years later, the Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO hold their own

The Beyerdynamic DT 770 Studio 80 ohm sitting on a glass skull display.
It may not be flashy, but the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Studio is metal as hell.

The Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO (80Ω) headphones are celebrated for their enduring sound quality and robust build, making them an ideal choice for musicians and studio professionals. Available for $118 nowadays these headphones boast impressive durability, comfort, swappable ear pads, and come with an adapter.

The DT 770 PRO’s sound profile is characterized by a strong emphasis on the highest frequencies, which might require some getting used to or adjustment through equalization to reduce potential shrillness in certain tracks.

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With an impedance of 80Ω and sensitivity of 96dB/mW, these headphones offer excellent sound quality without the necessity for an amplifier, except in cases where the source device struggles with volume output. The DT 770 PRO effectively blocks out a significant amount of external noise, particularly higher frequencies.

Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO (80Ω)Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO (80Ω)
Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO (80Ω)
MSRP: $169.00
This is the headset to get if you need something to withstand bandmates or a small studio. Their time-tested sound and durability earn top marks for computer users and people who need something for tracking. If you want something to listen to on the subway, you're going to want to keep looking.

The Focal Bathys are the best sounding ANC headphones

A photo of a man wearing the Focal Bathys on a phone call.
Office calls are better than street calls, but the Focal Bathys handles noise pretty well.

If you have a slightly larger budget, the Focal Bathys package includes headphones, a carrying case, USB-C, and 3.5mm cables. The build quality features black resin, magnesium yokes, and an aluminum band, ensuring both durability and comfort despite its 350-gram weight. The weight may be a concern for some, especially during long listening sessions, but the headphones are designed to distribute this weight evenly across the head.

Unique to the Bathys is the ability to connect digitally via a wired USB-C cable in addition to Bluetooth 5.1 and traditional 3.5mm connections. This feature sets them apart, offering a pure digital signal path without the need for an external DAC or amp, although they might play at a lower volume through USB. The inclusion of high-quality codecs like aptX Adaptive further enhances their wireless performance.

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One caveat is that the Focal Bathys require battery power to function, even when using the 3.5mm cable, which could be a limitation for some users. Battery life is strong, with over 31 hours of playback with ANC on, but the ANC performance itself, while decent, doesn’t quite match the leaders in the space like Sony or Apple.

Soundwise, the Bathys excel, offering a balanced sound profile with slight tailoring in the mids and highs. They manage to deliver bass that’s present without overpowering and clarity in the highs that add detail and spatial depth to the listening experience. While there are less expensive alternatives with stronger ANC, the Bathys stand out for their audio performance, build quality, and unique connectivity options.

Focal BathysFocal Bathys
SG recommended
Focal Bathys
Amazing sound quality • Tough and comfortable • Great battery life
MSRP: $699.00
The best-sounding ANC headphones come at a price
Impressive audio output, good battery life, solid connectivity, and a comfortable design make the Focal Bathys one of the best sets of headphones out there. A premium experience with a really high user rating.

The Sennheiser HD 490 Pro are great value

Sennheiser HD490 PRO headphones on man facing left.
Chase Bernath / SoundGuys
The Sennheiser HD 490 PRO is versatile and relatively affordable.

Priced at $400 ($470 for the Plus model with additional accessories), the Sennheiser HD 490 PRO stands as an exceptional choice for audio professionals and bedroom music producers. Delivering neutral-leaning sound, these headphones offer two ear pad options (velour and fabric) for sound and comfort customization, addressing the diverse needs of its users.

Designed for durability and versatility, the HD 490 PRO maintains Sennheiser’s reputation for excellent build quality and sound. Weighing only 260g, these headphones are comfortable for extended mixing sessions. The inclusion of a semi-coiled cable, an adapter, and the option to switch between velour and fabric ear pads (the latter aiming for a flatter, more traditional open-back frequency response) caters to various production requirements.

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A notable feature is the free dearVR MIX-SE plugin, which enhances the mixing experience by simulating the acoustics of a studio. This further solidifies these headphones’ appeal to music producers. The HD 490 PRO offers flexibility in connection, featuring a mini XLR input on both ear cups, allowing for easy cable management in studio setups.

Considering their build quality, comfort, and the inclusion of advanced audio software, the Sennheiser HD 490 PRO headphones represent a sound investment for those dedicated to audio production. They offer a balance of professional features and sound quality.

The chart below shows how the sound of the Sennheiser HD 490 Pro was assessed by the Multi-Dimensional Audio Quality Score (MDAQS) algorithm from HEAD Acoustics.

This chart shows the MDAQS results for the Sennheiser HD490 PRO Plus in Producing Pad (Black) mode. The Timbre score is 3.7, The Distortion score is 3.6, the Immersiveness score is 2.9, and the Overall Score is 3.6).
This chart shows the MDAQS results for the Sennheiser HD490 PRO Plus with the velour-producing ear pads.
Sennheiser HD 490 PROSennheiser HD 490 PRO
Sennheiser HD 490 PRO
Open back • Two washable ear pads • Includes Dear Reality dearVR MIX-SE plugin
MSRP: $399.99
Built for comfort, clarity, and versatility.
The Sennheiser HD 490 Pro are professional open-back headphones tuned for professional use. Swappable ear pads and reference sound make this an ideal headphone for music producers.

The Drop x Sennheiser HD 6XX is a steal for less than $200

The Drop x Sennheiser HD 6XX on a desk.
Premium headphones like the Sennheiser HD 6XX don’t offer many features, but they do pack performance.

Based on the design of the legendary Sennheiser HD 650, the HD 6XX is a steal at half the price. Highlights include superior sound quality, an open-back design, soft velour padding, and a removable/replaceable cable. Soundwise, the HD 6XX has a neutral-leaning sound profile, offering a clear and accurate listening experience that excels with a wide range of music.

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Weighing just under 10 ounces, the HD 6XX ensures comfort during prolonged listening sessions, thanks in part to its large ear cups and velour ear pads. Connectivity-wise, the HD 6XX utilizes a TRS 3.5mm headphone connector with removable two-pin connectors on each earcup. Regarding power requirements, the HD 6XX may necessitate a DAC and amplifier to reach optimal listening volumes, especially when used with devices that cannot adequately power its 300Ω impedance.

For those prioritizing top-notch audio quality over additional features and portability, the Drop x Sennheiser HD 6XX stands out as an exceptional deal. Its focus on performance over frills makes it a compelling choice for audiophiles looking to enjoy pure, high-fidelity sound at home.

Drop x Sennheiser HD 6XXDrop x Sennheiser HD 6XX
Drop x Sennheiser HD 6XX
Sound quality • Removable/replaceable cable • Open back
MSRP: $199.00
If you're looking for a set of headphones to stay by the computer, few offer a better price-to-performance ratio than the Drop x Sennheiser HD 6XX. Based on the design of the legendary Sennheiser HD 650, the HD 6XX is a steal at half the price.

The Audeze Maxwell are the best headphones for audiophile gamers

The driver and ear pad of the Audeze Maxwell.
Christian Thomas / SoundGuys
Giant drivers and deep ear cups give the Audeze Maxwell a good foot forward.

The Audeze Maxwell stands out as a top choice for gamers, particularly appealing to those frequently switching between consoles and PCs, thanks to its exceptional audio quality and versatile feature compatibility. Its compatibility across platforms, combined with high-end planar magnetic drivers and a proprietary dongle for low-latency wireless and Bluetooth connectivity, ensures a premium, versatile gaming audio experience. It also features built-in head-tracking hardware with support for Dolby Atmos Renderer, aimed at both professional mixing.

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The headset’s overall mass can affect long-term comfort. Still, the sound customization options through the Audeze HQ app, including EQ presets for gaming scenarios and spatial audio enhancement, alongside its robust build and multiple connection options, solidify its status as a top choice for serious gamers.

Audeze MaxwellAudeze Maxwell
SoundGuys Editor's Choice
Audeze Maxwell
Sound quality • App • Connection options
MSRP: $299.99

Who should buy the Beyerdynamic DT 900 PRO X?

Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X laying on table
We have to really nitpick to find flaws in the Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X.

The Beyerdynamic DT 900 PRO X is one of the best open-back headphones for content creators, music professionals, and audio enthusiasts alike. With plush velour ear pads, replaceable components, and a low impedance that negates the need for an amplifier, the DT 900 PRO X stands out in the competitive field of studio headphones for stationary use.

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Sound reproduction is a key strength, with the headphones providing an accurate bass and midrange response that’s essential for professional audio work. Those working in other creative industries, such as video production or game design, will also appreciate the neutral sound response.

Beyerdynamic DT 900 PRO XBeyerdynamic DT 900 PRO X
SoundGuys Editor's Choice
Beyerdynamic DT 900 PRO X
Sound quality • Plush fit • Replaceable parts
MSRP: $299.00
Open-back wired-only headphones for creative professionals
Content creators, music professionals, and audio enthusiasts can all get something out of the Beyerdynamic DT 900 PRO X. These open-back wired-only headphones are great for mixing, mastering, or just critically listening to your favorite songs.

The best audiophile headphones: Notable mentions

While not making the top picks, these audiophile headphones still offer unique features or exceptional value that might be the perfect match for your specific needs or preferences.

Meze 109 Pro back of ear cup.
Christian Thomas / SoundGuys
Meze 109 Pro
  • Audeze LCD-5 ($191 at Amazon): These are Audeze’s flagship planar magnetic headphones, which boast impressive specs, sound amazing, and weigh considerably less than its predecessors. It’s comfortable, and there’s little to complain about besides the extremely high price.
  • Beyerdynamic DT 700 PRO X ($269 at Amazon): These headphones look the part and feel comfortable over long sessions. If you want to hear basically everything—and in style—try it.
  • Beyerdynamic DT 1990 PRO ($529 at Amazon): The Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro are made for professionals, and remains a great choice for audio enthusiasts. Those with cash to burn will get plenty of mileage out of these open-back headphones.
  • Bowers and Wilkins PX8 ($699 at Amazon): These are a competent but expensive set of ANC headphones. Consequently, it’s less of a question of getting the most for your dollar but whether or not you’re looking for something a little more posh than your average headphones.
  • Focal Azurys ($549 at Manufacturer site): The Focal Azurys are a competent, durable, and attractive set of headphones meant to meet the needs of keyboard warriors with deep pockets looking for a more “mature” set of headphones. They’re pricy but hardly a poor investment.
  • Meze Audio 109 Pro ($799 at Amazon): The tuning highlights treble frequencies but with more bass than most open-back headphones. It also allows you to repair and replace parts as they age, which helps justify the price tag.
  • Neumann NDH 30 ($649 at Amazon): If you often mix on a studio monitor system or are simply seeking a reference headphone, the Neumann NDH 30 are worth considering. They don’t really have a wow factor, but they work well as a professional tool for picking out details in a mix.
  • Sennheiser HD 660S2 ($499 at Amazon): The successor to the original high-end headphones, these are for anyone looking for a set of open-backs that perform well for music listening and don’t overemphasize the highs.
  • Sony MDR-7506 ($79 at Sweetwater): Since the early 90s, these headphones have remained a companion for many audio professionals, and for good reason. Lacking in frills and luxuries, it does the job even if it’s not the flashiest set of headphones and still sounds good.

See our top picks for the best audiophile earbuds if you are looking for something more portable.

What you should know about audiophile headphones

Frequency Response

The frequency response of headphones describes their ability to reproduce all frequencies of sound accurately. Audiophiles seek headphones with a flat or neutral frequency response, ensuring tracks sound as true to the original recording as possible, without artificially boosted bass, mids, or treble.

Impedance and Sensitivity

The impedance (measured in ohms) and sensitivity (measured in decibels) of headphones can significantly affect their performance with different audio sources. High-impedance headphones may require a dedicated amplifier to reach optimal listening levels, whereas low-impedance models are more versatile and easily driven by portable devices like laptops. Understanding the power requirements of your headphones ensures you can pair them with appropriate sources for the best sound quality.

Soundstage and Imaging

Soundstage refers to the headphone’s ability to create a three-dimensional sound field, making you feel as though the music is happening around you, not just inside your head. Imaging, on the other hand, is how well headphones can pinpoint the location of instruments and vocals within that soundstage. These characteristics are especially valued in open-back designs, contributing to a more immersive listening experience.

Isolation

Many audiophile headphones are designed with an open-back construction to enhance sound quality and the sense of space in the audio. However, this design choice means they offer little to no isolation from external noise. Open-back headphones are best enjoyed in quiet environments where outside sounds won’t interfere with your listening experience.

Comfort and Fit

Extended listening sessions demand comfortable headphones. Factors such as the weight of the headphones, the pressure exerted by the headband and ear cups, and the materials used (like memory foam or velour padding) can all influence comfort. The fit not only affects how enjoyable the headphones are to wear over time but can also impact sound quality, especially in terms of bass response and isolation.

Durability

Investing in high-quality, durable headphones is vital for audiophiles. Look for headphones with robust build quality, replaceable parts, and warranties. Models featuring modular components like detachable cables and ear pads can significantly extend the lifespan of your investment.

Additionally, the materials used in construction (such as plastic, metal, or wood) and the overall design can affect both the durability and aesthetic appeal of the headphones. Audiophiles often view their headphones as both a tool and a piece of art, so consider a build material and design that meets your satisfaction.

Software

While purists might prefer the untouched sound, some audiophile headphones come with accompanying software for EQ adjustments and creating virtual sound environments. This can be particularly appealing for users who appreciate tailoring their audio experience based on the genre or specific listening needs.

Console Compatibility (Gaming)

For audiophiles who are also gamers, it’s essential to check the compatibility of headphones with gaming consoles. Open-back headphones can provide an expansive soundstage beneficial for gaming, but remember, the lack of isolation could be a drawback in noisy environments. Additionally, gaming often requires a microphone, so consider models that include this feature or allow for an external mic to be added.

Price to Performance Ratio

Finally, the value offered by a set of headphones relative to their cost is crucial. Some headphones may offer diminishing returns as the price increases. Hence, it’s important to research and listen to various models within your budget to find the best price-to-performance ratio.

How we test audiophile headphones

Sennheiser HD650 mounted on B&K5128 test head, viewed from the front.
We test our headphones on the B&K 5128.

Our approach to testing audiophile headphones is grounded in objectivity and first-hand experience. We utilize a combination of technical measurements and real-world listening experiences to evaluate each pair’s performance, comfort, durability, and value. Technical assessments include analyzing frequency response, isolation, distortion levels, and impedance to ensure accurate reproduction of sound as intended by the original recordings. For a detailed breakdown of our testing methodology, visit our in-depth guide to how we test and learn more about the importance of why we test.

How we choose the best audiophile headphones

Selecting the best audiophile headphones involves more than just scrutinizing technical specifications; it requires considering the nuanced preferences of the audiophile community and the practical use cases of each product. We weigh factors like sound quality, build quality, comfort for extended listening sessions, and the headphones’ ability to connect with various audio sources. Our selection process also takes into account user feedback, industry standards, and innovations in audio technology to compile a list that caters to a wide range of audiophile needs.

Why you should trust SoundGuys

Neumann NDH 30 headphones on a testing head next to a monitor speaker.
Chase Bernath / SoundGuys
The Neumann NDH 30 on our Bruel & Kjaer 5128 testing head.

SoundGuys stands as an authority on all things audio, thanks to our commitment to unbiased reviews, deep technical expertise, and our dedication to providing valuable information to our readers. Our team consists of seasoned audio professionals, engineers, and enthusiasts who bring years of experience and passion to our reviews and guides. We adhere to strict ethical standards, ensuring that our content remains independent and focused on helping consumers make informed decisions. You can count on SoundGuys for reliable, well-researched, and impartial advice on your next audiophile headphone purchase.

Frequently asked questions

We recommend the HiFiMan Sundara as the best pair of entry-level planar magnetic headphones. They are great for anyone who wants a pair of open-backed audiophile headphones that perform great out of the box without much tinkering.

What is ‘better’ depends on your needs and use cases, but generally, audiophile headphones provide an improved listening experience compared to standard headphones. They are designed to offer a more accurate reproduction of sound, emphasizing clarity, detail, and a balanced frequency response. This ensures music sounds closer to the original recording, making it better for critical listening.

The difference between 5.1 and 2.1 refers to the audio system setup, not directly to headphones. A 5.1 system includes five speakers and one subwoofer, creating a surround sound experience. In contrast, a 2.1 system consists of two speakers and one subwoofer, providing a stereo experience. Audiophile headphones typically offer a stereo sound (akin to 2.1) but can simulate a surround sound experience (like 5.1) through advanced processing and soundstage capabilities.

Audiophile-grade sound quality emphasizes pristine audio reproduction with minimal distortion and no coloration, ensuring music is experienced as true to the original recording as possible.

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