What happens when you mix a love of sound with a deep wallet? This list. Whether you’re a professional looking for the highest quality you can get for whatever your job title entails or just an audio enthusiast looking for the best way to hear your music, this list is for you. The market for headphones is vast and though the majority of people have little use for premium headphones, they’re out there. If you’re looking to step your listening game up a notch, these are the best headphones under $1000.
A thousand bucks might seem like an astronomical amount of money to spend on a pair of headphones, and you wouldn’t be wrong in thinking so, but believe us when we say that there are headphones that are actually worth the asking price. Though we have to warn you that once you leap into the deep end and listen to one of these, going back to a lesser pair of headphones might not be the most pleasant of experiences. Most of these will all work best if you combine them with a fairly decent DAC and amp combo , as well as better quality audio files. If you’re looking to use them with a portable device such as your phone, these might not be for you.
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If you’ve been really researching some of the best headphones period, you’re likely to have come across these. The Audeze El-8s are one of the top pairs of headphones you can get. Not only are they great to listen to but they’re gorgeous as well. They were designed by a subsidiary of BMW called Designworks, so basically these the BMW of headphones. The El-8s are also open-back headphones and use planar magnetic technology to push sound. What pushes that sound? Audeze packed 100mm drivers into these. That’s more than double the size of the drivers you’ll find in most consumer headphones. If you want great sound, these are the way to go. They have a 2m audio cable and end in a 3.5mm adapter, but like any self-respecting pair of high-end cans they come with a 1/4” adapter. That said, they’re made to be used with mobile devices. So you’ll find that these only have a 30 ohm impedance. They also come with a cable that has an in-line mic and playback controls. Like the HD650s that we previously mentioned, these will work without any special equipment. But if you really want to see what they can do a decent headphone amp goes a long way.
The bang for your buck money is no object category is kind of an oxymoron, but if there were ever a pair of headphones that live up to the name it’d be the HiFiMan HE-400i. These aren’t cheap by any means, but pound for pound these have excellent build quality and sound amazing. HiFiMan is one of those companies (like Sennheiser) with plenty of people who swear by their headphones. These are also planar magnetic headphones meant for really sitting back and listening to your music. On top of that they’re also super lightweight, weighing in at only 0.8 pounds. Since the HE-400Is are open-back, you’ll be able to hear your surroundings (not to mention people around you can hear what you’re listening to). The drivers are protected by a thin grill, but 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 at least there is no chance of them getting pulled out. That cable is also 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. It has a sensitivity of 93dB and impedance of 35 oHms 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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You can ask almost anyone who knows audio and they’ll tell you the same thing: Audio-Technica is one of those companies that consistently does right by the consumer. They do a spectacular job of bringing high end sound down to an affordable price point, the ATH-M50x is a prime example of this. But what about their high-end headphones? The ATH-AD2000X may not be their most popular pair of headphones but they are one of the best. These are open-backed headphones and if you’re not sure what that means, here’s a quick run-down. Most headphones you encounter in public are closed-back, that is, the drivers are completely encased in the ear cups save for the part of it that shoots the sound to your ears. These kind of headphones are great for public use as they naturally block outside noise as well as keep your music from spilling out around you. Open-back headphones on the other hand do not have their drivers encased, rather (as the name implies) the back is left open. Open-back headphones are usually preferred if you want a significantly better soundstage when listening to your music. Though this may not be too good if you’re in public seeing as the person next to you will be able to sing along to whatever it is you are listening to, they’re great for home or studio use where there will be little outside noise to begin with. This is the family of headphones that the ATH-AD2000X belong to. They have exposed drivers units whose only protection is the grill in which they sit behind. Those two 53mm drivers can accurately reproduce the most extreme sounds on the fringes of the frequency range. Humans can hear sounds in the range of 20Hz – 20kHz, but these have a frequency range of 5Hz – 45kHz. Whether or not you’ll be able to hear the minute details at either extreme is highly doubtful (or impossible), but that broad range means that whatever you can hear will be situated comfortably in the middle. The headband itself is composed of comfortable and lightweight magnesium that redistributes the weight evenly along the top of your head allowing these to be worn comfortably for the longest of listening sessions. Besides that, Audio-Technica also added self-adjusting wings that absorb the weight of the headphones so it’ll feel like they’re floating on top of your head rather than sitting on top. The audio cable is connected to both ear cups and ends in a standard 3.5mm jack. For those intending to use these in the studio you don’t have to worry as they also come with a 1/4-inch adapter and a cable thats roughly 9 feet long in length, again proving that they’re not intended to be the most portable of headphones.
Another brand that has made it’s 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. It’s not just the background story that makes these headphones great however, 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. Owning a Grado product is like owning a painting from a famous artist, except you can listen to it. If headphones are paintings then the Grado GS1000e is the equivalent of a Basquiat. These are open-back headphones of the over-ear 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, which is they look awesome. As open-backed headphones the ear cups have a small hole that allows sound to travel freely into 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. The GS1000e headphones have a frequency range of 8Hz – 35kHz ensuring that any detail that you miss in the music wasn’t there to begin with. In other words, you’ll hear everything. 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, though 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 these.
We can’t end this list without a little something from Sennheiser, or in the case of the HD800s a big something. Now it’s worth mentioning that the HD650 and HD600 are also favorites in the audio community and sometimes preferred to the HD800. If you’re just starting out in audio it’s probably best to go with one of those and use the money you saved to start building your setup. But if you’ve already invested in a quality DAC and amp, you can’t go wrong with the HD800. Just in terms of the build, these headphones look monstrous. They look like something from a “Back to the Future” movie in a good way. Both the headband and the ear cups are covered in a plush cushion that makes these ridiculously comfortable during long sessions. They feature 56mm drivers that were made with perfection in mind and get pretty damn close. People who have these set up the right way have nothing but great things to say about them and it’s not hard to imagine why. Sennheiser has always been top of the game and the HD800s further that legacy. They weigh about 330g and have a wide frequency response ranging from 6Hz – 51kHz at -10dB. These also have an impedance of 300 Ohms so if you’re looking to use these with your cell phone, you might want to rethink that unless you have an amp to go along with it. The price of the HD800s usually hover around $1000 which isn’t cheap, but good things rarely are.
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It’s no coincidence that the headphones on this list are open-backed reference headphones. Moving up in price usually results in this style of headphone since it truly does offer a unique and rewarding listening experience. That’s not to say there aren’t some great closed-back headphones out there, but if you want the premium grade sound you can’t go wrong with any of the headphones on this list.
You do you think are some of the best headphones under $1000? If you know of a pair of headphones that should have made this list, let us know. If they can be considered the best they might make it on this list when we update it in the future.
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