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    Table of Contents
  1. Intro
  2. Best Headphones
    1. Alternative
  3. Best Mid-Range
    1. Alternative
  4. Best Budget
    1. Alternative
  5. All Reviews
  6. Q&A
Updated

Best Audiophile Headphones for Critical Listening - Fall 2017
Reviews

Looking for the best sound quality possible? The best audiophile headphones produce the highest and truest fidelity of audio production. They should reproduce all aspects of the sound quality, as well as create a spacious and open soundstage. 

Good headphones for critical listening will be comfortable over long listening periods and should have a good frequency response, good imaging, and excellent harmonic distortion performance.

We've tested 140 headsets so far and below are our recommendations for the best high-fidelity headphones you can buy today.

Best Critical Listening Headphones

Critical listening headphones in this price range are built with premium materials and carefully engineered to have superbly matched drivers, an almost flat frequency response, superior stereo imaging and a spacious and open soundstage. They're also usually very comfortable. 

Usage Rating - Version 1.1
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Test Benches:

  • 1.1: Summer 2017
  • 1.0: Winter 2017
  • 0.9: Winter 2016
8.5Critical Listening
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What it is The level of audio fidelity a headphone can reproduce. Therefore a balanced and true representation of bass, mids, treble, soundstage and imaging, as well as a comfortable listening experience, is essential for critical listening.
Score components:

The Sennheiser HD 800 S are one of the best critical listening headphones we've tested. If they’re within your budget and you have a good amp, then they are an excellent recommendation for pure critical listening. They’re comfortable enough to wear for extended listening sessions, and their build quality feels durable and very high-end. They have the same sensitivity to noisy environments as all open headphones but deliver a spacious and immersive soundstage that will surely satisfy the audiophile in you.

See our review

Cheaper Alternative

If you want a much cheaper option than the Sennheiser HD 800 S that still offers an excellent sound quality, then consider the HiFiMan HE-400i.  They're comfortable planar magnetic headphones that deliver a well balanced and spacious audio reproduction. However, like most open headphones in this list, they won't be practical to use outdoors.

The base price of the HE-400i is a bit more expensive than the AKG K702 or the Sennheiser HD 599 but since they are often on sale, you can sometimes get them at a better deal than the alternatives, especially considering their sound quality.

See our review

Best Mid-Range Critical Listening Headphones

The critical listening headphones in this price range are not as well-built or have the premium materials of higher-end models. They have a good audio reproduction, good soundstage, and above-average imaging but do not have as precisely matched drivers.

Usage Rating - Version 1.1
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Test Benches:

  • 1.1: Summer 2017
  • 1.0: Winter 2017
  • 0.9: Winter 2016
8.2Critical Listening
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What it is The level of audio fidelity a headphone can reproduce. Therefore a balanced and true representation of bass, mids, treble, soundstage and imaging, as well as a comfortable listening experience, is essential for critical listening.
Score components:

For a mid-range option, we recommend the Beyerdynamic DT 990. They're an excellent choice if you’re looking for an affordable and sturdy pair of great-sounding open headphones. 

They deliver a sound quality as good as, if not better, than the pricier models in this use case. Their durable build quality makes them an easy recommendation for any audiophiles. However, they do not look as premium as the pricier critical listening headphones and they’re not as comfortable.  

See our review

More Versatile Alternative

If you want a closed back option that’s a bit more versatile for other use cases, then the Audio-Technica M50x are a good alternative to the Beyerdynamic DT990. They deliver an excellent sound, and their closed-back design means they won’t leak as much.

They also block a bit of ambient noise so you can use them in more varied environments than some of the open models on this list. Due to their closed design, you lose a bit of soundstage, but these headphones are sturdy, durable and have a comfortable fit. At their price, they’re a solid recommendation for most casual or critical listeners. 

See our review

Best Budget Critical Listening Headphones

Audiophile headphones below 100$ will not be as durable or comfortable as the higher-end models. They will have an above-average audio reproduction but won't sound balanced, which may be too sharp or mid-range heavy for some. 

Usage Rating - Version 1.1
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Test Benches:

  • 1.1: Summer 2017
  • 1.0: Winter 2017
  • 0.9: Winter 2016
8.0Critical Listening
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What it is The level of audio fidelity a headphone can reproduce. Therefore a balanced and true representation of bass, mids, treble, soundstage and imaging, as well as a comfortable listening experience, is essential for critical listening.
Score components:

If you’re looking for a budget pair of headphones, we recommend the Philips SHP9500. They are an excellent option and for their price, they easily outperform some of the more expensive audiophile headphones we’ve reviewed. They’re comfortable for long critical listening sessions, but like all open headphones, they are best used in quiet environments, which makes them less versatile for other use cases. They're also not as well-built or as sturdy as some of the pricier open headphones on this list.

See our review

Cheaper Alternative

The Superlux HD 681 are even cheaper than the Philips SHP9500 and Superlux HD668 B. They're a great entry point into critical listening headphones for their incredible price to sound quality ratio.

They sound as good as headphones 3 to 4 times their price range at fraction of the cost. However, their super-budget price point is also reflected in their build quality and comfort level. While they look and feel better built than the HD668B, they're not the ideal headphones if comfort and durability are higher on your priority list than sound quality.

See our review

Notable Mentions

  • Sennheiser HD 700. Great audio reproduction, comfortable and sturdy design. A bit pricier than the HiFiMan HE-400i for about the same sound quality. See our review
  • Beyerdynamic DT 770. A closed-back alternative to the DT 990 for more versatility. However, they do not sound as good due to the reduced soundstage. See our review
  • Sony MDR-1A. A more comfortable design than the ATH-M50x with good audio reproduction. Slightly too pricey for what they offer.See our review
  • Superlux HD 668B. A more expensive alternative to the HD 681 but comes with a detachable cable. See our review
  • OPPO PM-3. The planar magnetic drivers deliver a good sound. They're comfortable and sturdy. However, they may sound a bit too sharp for some. See our review
  • Sennheiser HD 599. Great sound and soundstage. Comfortable design but slightly outperformed by the HE-400i. See our review
  • Sennheiser HD 650. Good, open sound and a spacious soundstage. They're a viable and cheaper alternative to the Sennheiser HD 800S, but they're not as well designed. See our review
  • AKG K702. Good and balanced sound. Incredibly comfortable design but slightly bulky and a bit flimsy for their price. See our review
  • Polk Audio UltraFocus 8000. Great sound but poor soundstage. A good substitute for the ATH-M50x. See our review

All Reviews

Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best sounding headphones to buy for most people in each price range. We factor in the price (a cheaper headphone wins over a pricier one if the difference isn't worth it), feedback from our visitors and availability (no headphones that are difficult to find or almost out of stock everywhere).

If you would like to choose for yourself, here is the list of all our reviews for critical listening headphones. Be careful not to get caught up in the details. There are no perfect headphones. Personal taste, preference and where you use the headphones will matter more in your selection.

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Questions & Answers

6 ANSWERED QUESTIONS
6
Your site is great, your reviews are fair and well structured, and your work is much appreciated. Sennheiser has recently released replacements for the 5X8 line of headphones. Any chance you guys can review the HD 599 and all-new closed back HD 569? I know there are, and will be, a TON of people interested in these new models.
We are planning on reviewing the new Sennheiser HD 5xx headphones, however, they will probably be published in 3 or 4 months since we have a lot of other headphones on our to-do list.
0
Somehow you guys are showing Sennheiser hd598 as closed-back, in the big chart on the critical listening page. I don't know if others are affected.
Thank you for noticing this issue. We have updated the HD598 specifications, and verified that the critical listening table is currently displaying the right data.
0
Just curious. The Beats studio wireless got a 6.9 in Critical Listening but not in the table. I don't like Beats that much as well. But since you did the review, I hope you did it equitably. First please add Beats to the table. Second either change your methodology and test all headphone again to eliminate the error or just admit that Beats studio wireless has a no-bad sound quality since SR325e has only got 7.1. I found RTINGS is a good website, at least for headphone review. Now a days not all people still doing the frequency analysis, even innerfidelity. I like your website. Also, I think Beats is not that bad. I have a Solo 2 and it happened to be very good sound quality. You are the only website that tested the Beats. I wish you could, if you can, test the coming Beats X;Beats Powerbeats 3; Bose QC30; Sony MDR-EX750BT. Since these 4 IEM are competitive and I want to buy one for my new iPhone 7. Thank you very much!

We currently have a bug in our system that checks the product availability on Amazon.com. The reason the Studio Wireless are not showing in the table is that our system mistakenly thinks they are not available on Amazon.com. We are working on a fix.

We do have some inconsistencies and errors in our measurements, and it is our current priority to fix them. However, Beats headphones in general don't score and sound as good as most other headphones in their price range. We have already been planning on reviewing most of the headphones you recommended, but it could take us 3-4 months to get to them since we have a lot of other headphones on our to-do list.

0
Good job... Please review dt880 pro and focal Elear.
We are mostly focused on low to mid priced headphones at the moment, and will review more high-end headphones in the near future.
0
I am looking for a recommendation for a great headphone to use for PC gaming. Are critical listening headphones ideal for PC gaming, or is there another type of headphone you can recommend me?
Most of our Critical Listening recommendations are open-back and don't have a microphone, so if a microphone and isolation are not a concern, then they should be a great choice for gaming. Otherwise, we would suggest a pair of wired closed-back headphones (for the lowest latency) that also come with a mic, like the Bose QuietComfort 25.
0
Any chance you'll ever review the Stax SR-009? I know it's $$$...just curious
Chances of us reviewing anything above $1500 at the moment is very very slim.
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