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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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
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.