Between streaming services, your smartphone, and the plethora of inexpensive headphones that are available, shopping for headphones with a $1,000 budget might seem like overkill. Why buy a Ferrari if the speed limit is 55mph? Because, just like a good car and an open road, if you pair any of these headphones with the right source and gear, the experience can be exhilarating. These headphones aren’t the kind that you’d stuff in a bag for your commute. If you want to really sit and enjoy your favorite songs, these are the best headphones under $1,000.
It’s also worth mentioning that $1,000 is quite reasonable as far as audiophile gear goes. We’ve reviewed cans that will run you more than four times that and had a chance to listen to a pair that costs the same as two cars. But it’s worth researching before investing in a pair of premium headphones and asking yourself, “Are these good for me?”
Editor’s note: this article was updated on June 16, 2021, to replace the Sony WH-1000XM4 with the Apple AirPods Max.
Related: Best studio headphones
If you care about sound, check out the Audeze LCD-2
When you’re looking for top-of-the-line headphones, Audeze is a name that comes up a lot. Its line of planar magnetic headphones ranges from affordable to expensive, and includes in-ears and over-ears. Basically, they got you covered for whatever you want and the LCD-2 Classic headphones definitely occupy a niche.
Audeze LCD-2 Closed
These headphones are a large pair of over-ear cans that utilize planar magnetic drivers, utilizing a thin, flexible piece of film to create sound. Of course, even though these are closed-back they’re not meant for use on the subway. The plush ear cups are comfortable and isolating, which when combined with the closed-back design lets you enjoy your music while keeping it to yourself. At 70Ω you also don’t need any extra equipment to drive these.
If you want the greatest value of the best headphones under $1,000, check out the HiFiMan HE-400i
The HiFiMan HE-400i brings great sound down to an affordable price point, and we couldn’t leave it off the list of the best headphones under $1,000. This isn’t cheap by any means but pound-for-pound, it has excellent build quality and impressive sound quality. HiFiMan is one of those companies (like Sennheiser) with plenty of people swearing by its headphones.
Each ear cup houses a planar magnetic driver, which is different than the dynamic drivers you’ll find in most headphones. It’s also super lightweight, weighing in at only 362 grams. Since the HE-400Is is open-back, you’ll get that sense of space that open-back headphones are known for. The drivers are protected by a thin grill, but they’re still exposed to the world. On the bottom of both ear cups are the signature HiFiMan inputs which have their pros and cons. On one hand, it’s pretty annoying to have to screw in the connectors, but on the other hand, at least there is no chance of them getting pulled out.
That cable is nicely constructed and ends in a 90°, 3.5mm jack. It also comes with a 1/4” adapter, so if you’re looking to plug these into something a little more powerful than your phone, you can. This headset has a sensitivity of 93dB and impedance of 35Ω, so it can draw enough power from the average smartphone to work. Though they work with smartphones, these aren’t exactly portable. The HE-400I doesn’t fold at the hinges, but the ear cups rotate to lie flat.
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Ditch the wires, go with the Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless
When it comes to what qualifies as one of the best headphones under $1,000, a Bluetooth pair is rarely in the conversation. That changes with the Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless headphones. The standard wired Amiron was already well-received, so when Beyerdynamic made a wireless set, it had a lot to live up to. Luckily, the Amiron Wireless doesn’t disappoint and is one of the best-sounding pairs of Bluetooth headphones you can get.
Amiron WirelessFull Review
Though the modern, industrial look might not be for everyone, it’s hard to argue with the build quality of these headphones. The sturdy metal build combined with the plush padding makes for a pleasant listening experience for long periods of time. It’s worth mentioning that, although the ear pads and headband are really comfortable, the clamping force is a bit weak. It slid off of my head more than once during testing.
The sound quality is top-notch and lives up to the Beyerdynamic name. Included are a few of the top codecs for Bluetooth streaming and the battery life is absurdly good. It should last you around 30 hours of constant playback, which is enough juice to fly from New York to Hong Kong and then some. Of course, the Amiron Wireless won’t sound better than any of the other headphones on this list (more on that in the section down below), but if you really want the option to go wireless this is tough to beat.
For a unique design, look no further than the Grado GS1,000e
Another brand that has made its mark in the audio community is Grado. This family-run company is true to its roots and still operates out of the Brooklyn townhouse where it all began more than half a century ago. But it’s not just the backstory that makes the GS1,000e great, it’s the fact that each one of them is handmade.
The open-back, over-ear design is half-retro, half-modern. Each ear cup has foam padding that allows them to be worn comfortably for long periods of time without causing too much fatigue. The audio cable ends in a 1/4″ connector but also comes with a 3.5mm adapter so you can plug them into a mobile device should you choose to. That said, I still wouldn’t use these on your commute to work.
Sometimes you can find these on Amazon for varying prices, but just to be safe, you might as well get them straight from Grado if you’re looking to invest in one of the best headphones under $1,000.
If you want noise cancelling go with the Apple Airpods Max
If you’re the type of listener willing to cough up $1,000 USD for Bluetooth headphones, you might want to check out Apple’s flagship headphone: the AirPods Max. These headphones come in at a whopping $549 USD—making it more expensive than Sony and Bose’s flagship noise cancelling headphones.
The AirPods Max features a unique design that nicely balances comfort with acoustic performance. A mesh-knit canopy headband prevents unnecessary clamping force on the wearer’s head, while a stainless steel frame holds the headphone together. The ear cups are made of aluminum and feature magnetically attached knit ear pads, which can be replaced if needed.
Apple Airpods MaxFull Review
Apple’s latest over-ears feature the same hybrid noise cancelling technology, originally introduced with the AirPods Pro. An array of outward and inward-facing microphones, in tandem with software, effectively quiets ambient noise whilst also reducing resonances. This results in noise cancelling performance that beats out Sennheiser, Sony, and one-time champion Bose.
Additional features include Apple’s H1 chip for seamless, enhanced connectivity with iOS devices, Transparency Mode, Adaptive EQ, Spatial Audio, fast-charging, and a 20-hour battery life. Our measured data speaks for itself, these really are quite good.
Best headphones under $1,000 in 2021: notable mentions
- Audio-Technica ATH-W5000: These closed-back reference-grade headphones will cater to any audiophile, blending its attractive wood grain ear cup design with powerful 53mm drivers that deliver an accurate reproduction of sound.
- Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro: If money is no object to you, or if you’re a professional looking for a reliable set of studio headphones, these cans strike the perfect balance between sound quality and comfort—tailored to suit the demands of any audiophile.
- Drop x Sennheiser HD 6XX: This sub-$250 headphone is based off the original Sennheiser HD 650. It features a very neutral leaning sound signature that accurately reproduces audio—ideal for home studio use.
- Sennheiser PXC 550-II: With exceptional active noise cancelling performance, ample high-quality codec support, and great sound quality, it’s hard to believe you can snag these cans for less than $300.
- Sony WH-1000XM4: Still one of the best options for most people looking to invest a little money in their headphones. This headset sounds really good and has a great set of useful features, including excellent ANC, but not aptX. Want something more portable? Grab the Sony WF-1000XM4 instead.
- Sony WH-1000XM3: Now quite easy to find at a discount after being superseded by the Sony WH-1000XM4. They feature almost everything the newer model has, minus Bluetooth multipoint and with slightly less superb ANC.
What you should know before you buy expensive headphones
Before spending your hard-earned cash there are some things you should be aware of. After all, $1,000 is a lot of money and if you’re going to dive into the world of high-end audio, then you should know some of the basics.
Do you need an amp and DAC?
The answer to this is going to vary case by case and depends on what your source is, but for the most part, the answer is no. That’s not to say that the answer is always going to be no. For example, the famous Sennheiser HD800 headphones have an impedance of 300Ω so good luck trying to power those without an amp. Even the Grado headphones are only 32Ω which is in the range most smartphones can handle. If you want to really dig into this topic, check out two great explainer pieces about when you do and don’t need an amp or DAC. But if you’re pressed for time we’ll go over the basics here.
When you hear someone talk about “driving” a certain pair of headphones, what they’re referring to is its impedance, or its ability to resist a current. Most manufacturers will state this number in the specifications. If your headphones have an impedance of around 32Ω or less, chances are the average smartphone can sufficiently power them. The Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless has an impedance of 32Ω when wired, so an amp isn’t necessary with them. Even the HiFiMan HE400i (35Ω), our bang-for-your-buck pick as the best headphones under $1,000, should be fine without an amp. Of course, if you read the full explainer, you know that impedance is only half the equation. You’ll also need to know the sensitivity of the headphones to determine if you really need an amp, but a quick glance at the impedance will usually let you know if you need to dig deeper.
You might be annoyed to hear that the answer to whether or not you need a DAC is similar: it depends. The DAC, or digital to analog converter, that comes in modern devices is usually fine. Unless you’re using a pretty old piece of equipment, most smartphones, computers, and tablets have built-in DACs that do a really good job at cleanly converting a digital signal. If you’re experiencing issues with sound quality, chances are the culprit is insufficiently powered headphones or low-quality source files—not the chip that’s doing the converting.
Should you burn-in your headphones?
No, do not waste time burning in your headphones. As you start going down the rabbit hole of high-end audio, you might see people talking about something called burn-in. It basically equates to the idea of breaking in a new pair of shoes. Luckily, burn-in isn’t a thing. So don’t waste your time burning in your investment and skip right to the part where you can enjoy your new headphones.
Is wireless as good as wired?
Bluetooth and wireless audio has come a long way in the last few years, but if your main concern is sound quality then the answer here is simple. No, wireless audio is not as good as wired. That said, it’s important to understand why. And even more important is to know that chances are, you’re not going to hear the difference anyway. Wireless audio isn’t bad by any means. It’s just not as good as a wired connection on a technical level. While the Amiron wireless that made this list is a phenomenal pair of headphones, an audio cable is currently the best way to go.
This has to do mainly with the amount of data that can be transferred over Bluetooth from your source device to your headphones. The technology is getting better every year, but at the time of this article, it just can’t beat a good ‘ol wired connection.
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If you're rocking a pair of headphones that require more power than your DAC can support, check out our list of the best headphone amplifiers currently on the market.