Between streaming services, your smartphone, and the plethora of inexpensive headphones that are available, buying the best headphones under $1,000 might seem like overkill. Why buy a Ferrari if the speed limit is 55mph? Because just like a good car, if you pair any of these headphones with the right source file and gear, the experience can be exhilarating. Continuing with this analogy, these headphones aren’t the kind that you’d stuff in a bag on your way to work. They weren’t made for commuting, they were made for people who enjoy the thrill of driving. If you want to really enjoy your favorite songs, these are the best headphones under $1,000.
It’s also worth mentioning that $1,000 is pretty reasonable as far as audiophile gear goes. We’ve reviewed cans that will run you more than four times that and got a chance to listen to a pair that costs the same as two cars. But before you go throwing your money away, it’s worth researching before investing in a pair of premium headphones and asking yourself, “Are these good for me?”
Editor’s note: this list was updated on January 15, 2021, to include more information about the 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 range from affordable to expensive, and in-ears to over-ears. Basically, they got you covered for whatever you want and the LCD-2 Classic headphones are no exception to this.
Audeze LCD-2 Closed
The headphones are a large pair of over-ear cans that utilize planar magnetic drivers which is a thin and super flexible piece of film that creates the sound. Of course, even though these are closed-back they’re not meant for use on the subway. The plush earcups are comfortable and isolating, which when combined with the closed-back design lets you enjoy your music. At 70 ohms you also don’t need any extra super high-end equipment to power these.
If you want the greatest value of the best headphones under $1,000, check out the HiFiMan HE-400i
The HiFiMan HE-400i bring some great sound down to an affordable price point, and we couldn’t leave them off the list of the best headphones under $1,000. These aren’t cheap by any means but pound-for-pound, these have excellent build quality and impressive sound quality. HiFiMan is one of those companies (like Sennheiser) with plenty of people who swear by its headphones.
These use planar magnetic drivers, which are different than the dynamic drivers you’ll find in most headphones; they’re also super lightweight, weighing in at only 362 grams. Since the HE-400Is are open-back, you’ll be able to hear your surroundings which is useful if you want to 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. Naturally, we recommend taking care of these and not just tossing them in your bag on the way to work. 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-degree, 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. The cans have a sensitivity of 93dB and impedance of 35 ohm, so it can draw enough power from the average smartphone to work. Though they work with smartphones, these aren’t exactly portable. The HE-400Is don’t fold at the hinges, but they do rotate to lie flat so you can let them hang around your neck while not in use.
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If you want to 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 Amiron headphones were already well-received, so when Beyerdynamic made a wireless pair, they had a lot to live up to. Luckily, the Amiron Wireless doesn’t disappoint. These are easily one of the best-sounding pairs of Bluetooth headphones you can get and certainly deserve recognition as one of the best headphones under $1,000.
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 they’re really comfortable, the clamping force is a bit weak. They slid off of my head more than once during testing. Still, that’s all forgiven when you listen to these.
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, these aren’t going to 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 these are tough to beat.
For 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 these headphones great, it’s the fact that they’re widely considered to be some of the best headphones on the planet and each and every one of them is handmade by someone with a lot of experience putting them together.
These are open-back headphones of the circumaural variety and have a design that’s half-retro and half-modern. The two ear cups are made of mahogany wood for acoustic purposes, but they do have an unintended side effect: They look awesome. As open-back headphones, the ear cups have a small hole that allows sound to travel freely in and out of the headphones. In that hole is the driver protected by a small grill, and around it, the Grado name and series of the headphones are etched onto it.
Normally I’m not a big fan of any kind of “self-promoting” on the product, but since the company hasn’t paid for advertising since 1964, the minimal intrusion is tastefully done and is something I can easily live with. 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-inch 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 one of the best headphones under $1,000.
If you want noise cancelling go with the Sony WH-1000XM4
At well under $1,000 the Sony WH-1000XM4 are still one of the best options for most people looking to invest a little money in their headphones. They don’t have the same sound quality as some of the other options on this list, but they come so close that most people won’t be able to tell. Plus, even though these sound really good that isn’t the only thing you get with these headphones. They’re also rocking Bluetooth multipoint and have smart assistant integration. Unfortunately, they only feature SBC, AAC, and LDAC codecs, but these are still quite good.
Sony WH-1000XM4Full Review
But if you’re getting these it’s probably for one main reason: their active noise cancelling. These are one of the best headphones we’ve tested to date when it comes to cancelling out noise from the outside. They’re better at cancelling noise than the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, their predecessor the Sony WH-1,000XM3, and, when it comes to low and low-midrange frequencies, the Shure AONIC 50.
Best headphones under $1,000 in 2020: 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: These sub-$250 cans are 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-1000XM3: Now that the Sony WH-1000XM4 are out, their predecessor is likely to go on sale very soon. They feature almost everything the newer model has minus Bluetooth multipoint and with slightly less superb ANC.
Keep your eyes peeled for the Apple AirPods Max
If you’re the type of listener willing to cough up $1,000 for Bluetooth headphones, you might want to check out Apple’s latest release: 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 feature a unique design that supposedly 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 headphones together. The ear cups are made of aluminum and feature magnetically-attached knit ear pads, which can be replaced if needed.
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 inner-ear resonances. This results in noise cancelling performance that is comparable to the likes of Sony, Bose, or even Sennheiser.
Additional features include Apple’s H1 chip for seamless connectivity with iOS devices, Transparency Mode, Adaptive EQ, Spatial Audio, fast-charging, and a 20-hour battery life. We haven’t yet had a chance to run our objective testing on the AirPods Max’s sound quality, ANC performance, or microphone quality, though, so keep an eye out for our in-depth review coming soon.
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 these topics Chris Thomas wrote 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 the ability of the cable to resist a current. Most manufacturers will state what this number is in the specs section. If your headphones have an impedance 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 enough to get the job done. 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. You can learn more about the gritty details here, but 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. So before you can get peak performance from a pair of new headphones, you need to use them for hours upon hours to “burn-in” the drivers. Sounds like a lot, right? 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 wired headphones are on a technical level. While the Amiron wireless that made this list are 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, and there are some promising advancements on the horizon, 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.