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

The 7 Best Audiophile Headphones - Spring 2018
Reviews

Best Audiophile Headphones for Critical Listening

229 Headphones Tested
  • Store-bought headphones; no cherry-picked units
  • Retest after major updates
  • Easily comparable results
  • No ads; unbiased reviews
Learn more about our approach to product reviews here.

Looking for the best sounding headphones? 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.

So far, we've tested 186 headsets and below are our recommendations for the best high-fidelity headphones you can buy in the spring of 2018.

Best Critical Listening Headphones: Sennheiser HD 800 S

Usage Ratings - Version 1.2
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Test Benches: test

  • 1.2: Winter 2018
  • 1.1: Summer 2017
  • 1.0: Winter 2017
  • 0.9: Winter 2016
8.5
Critical 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:
Type : Over-ear
Enclosure : Open-Back
Wireless : No
Noise-Cancelling : No
Mic : No
Transducer : Dynamic

Of the 186 headsets we've tested so far, the Sennheiser HD 800 S are still one of the best audiophile headphones that we've measured. 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. The Sennheiser HD 700 are a cheaper alternative that also has an excellent audio quality but do not sound quite as good as the HD 800 S.

See our review

Cheaper Alternative: HiFiMan Sundara

Type : Over-ear
Enclosure : Open-Back
Wireless : No
Noise-Cancelling : No
Mic : No
Transducer : Planar Magnetic

If you want a much cheaper option to the Sennheiser HD 800 S that still offers an exceptional sound quality, then get the HiFiMan Sundara. They're a great improvement over the HiFiMan HE-400i with a more durable build quality and a better-balanced sound.

They're comfortable planar magnetic headphones that deliver a spacious audio reproduction. However, they can sound a bit sharp on already bright tracks and do not quite have the bass range of the Edition X. Also, like most open headphones on this list, they won't be practical to use outdoors. They're a bit more expensive than the AKG K702 or the Sennheiser HD 599 but they're better built with a more premium-looking design and a great sound quality that's worth the investment.

See our review

Wireless Alternative: Astro A50

Type : Over-ear
Enclosure : Closed-Back
Wireless : Yes
Noise-Cancelling : No
Mic : Yes
Transducer : Dynamic

If you prefer the convenience of a wireless design for critical listening, then we recommend the Astro A50. They're a surprisingly great sounding gaming headset with an excellent set of features and a robust software that lets you tweak their sound profile to your liking. 

They also offer a couple connection options with their dock so you can connect an optical cable for slightly better audio fidelity. Unfortunately, there is still some compression being done to transmit audio over a wireless network and they do not have the open and immersive soundstage of the Sennheiser HD series or the Planar HifiMans. On the upside, their wireless design and low latency also make them a good pair of home theater headphones.

See our review

Best Mid-Range Critical Listening Headphones: Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO

Usage Ratings - Version 1.2
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Test Benches: test

  • 1.2: Winter 2018
  • 1.1: Summer 2017
  • 1.0: Winter 2017
  • 0.9: Winter 2016
7.9
Critical Listening
Show Help
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:
Type : Over-ear
Enclosure : Open-Back
Wireless : No
Noise-Cancelling : No
Mic : No
Transducer : Dynamic

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 sound a bit sharper than the SteelSeries Arctis 7 so they won't be the ideal headphones when listening to already bright tracks but they have an open design that delivers a more spacious soundstage than the Arctis.

They still sound as good, if not better, than pricier models for this use case and their durable build quality makes them an easy recommendation for any audiophile. 

See our review

Closed-Back Alternative: Audio-Technica ATH-M50x

Type : Over-ear
Enclosure : Closed-Back
Wireless : No
Noise-Cancelling : No
Mic : No
Transducer : Dynamic

If you want a pair of audiophile headphones that you can also use outdoors, then the closed back Audio-Technica M50x are a good alternative to the Beyerdynamic DT990. They deliver an excellent sound that packs a lot of bass 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. 

See our review

Best Budget Critical Listening Headphones: Philips SHP9500

Usage Ratings - Version 1.2
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Test Benches: test

  • 1.2: Winter 2018
  • 1.1: Summer 2017
  • 1.0: Winter 2017
  • 0.9: Winter 2016
7.8
Critical Listening
Show Help
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:
Type : Over-ear
Enclosure : Open-Back
Wireless : No
Noise-Cancelling : No
Mic : No
Transducer : Dynamic

The best budget audiophile headphones are the Philips SHP9500. They are an excellent option for their price and 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. 

See our review

Closed-Back Alternative: Logitech G433

Type : Over-ear
Enclosure : Closed-Back
Wireless : No
Noise-Cancelling : No
Mic : Yes
Transducer : Dynamic

If you're looking for a closed-back alternative, get the Logitech G433. This is an affordable and versatile gaming headset with a great sound quality for critical listening. These over-ears are surprisingly well-balanced and sound better than a lot of headphones twice to three times their price range. They also have a closed-back casual design so they're more versatile than the Philips SHP 9500, although they can't produce a soundstage as spacious.

They have large comfortable ear cups and come with two sets of pads making them a bit more breathable than other closed-back over-ears like the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x. They're a great choice if you want a well-rounded headphone to use with multiple devices and they sound good enough to be the best budget choice for critical listening if you do not care as much about soundstage.

See our review

Notable Mentions

  • Sennheiser HD 700. Great audio reproduction, comfortable and sturdy design. A good alternative to the HiFiMan Sundara. 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 HiFiMan Sundara. See our review
  • Sennheiser HD 650. Good audiophile headphones, open sound and a spacious soundstage. They're a viable and cheaper alternative to the Sennheiser HD 800 S, 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
  • SteelSeries Arctis 7. A versatile and customizable headset that's good for gaming and even casual use. A good alternative to the Astro A50 but do not have the convenience of a dock. See our review
  • Sennheiser Game One. An open gaming headphone that sounds as good as the Sennheiser HD 599 or HD 600 but also has a great microphone. See our review
  • HiFiMan HE-400i. Exceptional sound quality and a good alternative to the HiFiMan Sundara. 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

8 ANSWERED QUESTIONS
10
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.
3
Focal Utopia is 4000$ - indeed very Top end. But Focal Elear is 1000$ and Clear 1500$. When HD800S which is reviewed is 1500$ as well.
It is true that the Elear and Clear models are within our specified price range, however, since they are not very high on the suggestions list we haven't reviewed them yet. But they haven't been ruled-out and we may review them in the future based on their popularity.
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.
0
All the recommendations are big over-ear headphones. Which would be the best in-ear recommendation for critical listening?
The reason we recommend over-ears, is that they tend to have a better soundstage, but we may consider recommending in-ears and earbuds in the future. For now, our recommendations would be either one of the Bose headphones like the SoundSport Free (they are earbuds though), or 1More Triple Driver or the Beats BeatsX. There's also the AKG N5005 which is supposed to be based on the Harman target curve, but it's pretty expensive and we haven't measured it yet. So we can't really comment on it, but it would be another good option to explore.
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