Looking for the best-sounding headphones? The best audiophile headphones provide the highest level of audio fidelity. They reproduce sound accurately and can create a spacious and open soundstage. Critical listening headphones require an excellent frequency response, great imaging, and good harmonic distortion performance. They should also be comfortable to wear for long periods of time and be well-built.
We've tested nearly 400 headphones and below are our recommendations for the best-sounding headphones you can buy in 2019. See also our recommendations for the best headphones for music, the best bass headphones, the best wired headphones, and the best studio headphones.
The best sounding headphones that we've measured so far are the Sennheiser HD 800 S. They have a durable, high-end feel and are comfortable enough to wear for prolonged amounts of time. If they’re within your budget and you have a powerful amp, they’re an excellent recommendation for accurate, honest listening.
These headphones sound remarkably well-balanced and have excellent audio reproduction. They sound a bit brighter than other open-back headphones we’ve tested but aren’t too sharp or piercing. They have an open, spacious soundstage and deliver an outstanding listening experience.
While they sound amazing, they don’t pack as much bass as some of the other audiophile headphones on this list. They’re also considerably more expensive. That said, if you have the right set up with a powerful amp and good EQ, you can tweak them to sound just right for your needs. Thanks to their outstanding soundstage, they remain the best audiophile headphones we’ve tested so far.
If you want a pair of open-back headphones that sound great but are considerably less expensive, get the Sennheiser HD 58X Jubilee. Their soundstage isn't nearly as open as the Sennheiser HD 800 S, and they're only available from Drop.com, but their sound profile is very similar for a small fraction of the price. They have great bass response which will give you accurate bass representation without sounding too boomy or overpowering. Unfortunately, while they're decently comfortable overall, their fit is quite tight and those with larger heads may not be able to wear them for extended listening periods. While their build quality is good, some of their joints feel a bit fragile, and if you're concerned about durability you may also want to consider the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO.
If you want the best critical listening headphones we've tested so far, get the HD 800 S, but if you're just testing the waters of high-end audio headphones and want something much more affordable, go with the HD 58X Jubilee.
If you prefer the added punch that planar magnetic drivers can deliver, the best planar magnetic headphones are the HiFiMan Ananda. They’re very comfortable, well-built planar magnetic headphones that sound outstanding. They don’t sound quite as spacious as the Sennheiser HD 800 S, but they pack a bit more bass while still delivering a balanced sound.
These headphones have a remarkably accurate and very well-balanced frequency response. Their excellent neutral sound is great for music of all genres. They sound just a touch less open than the Sennheiser, but this may be because the Sennheiser sound slightly brighter overall, which means the difference in soundstage may not be as noticeable for everyone.
Although the HiFiMan aren’t as well-built as the Sennheiser, their build quality is better than the similarly-designed HiFiMan Edition X, making them the best HiFiMan model for critical listening that we've tested so far. As long as their build quality holds up and they don’t develop any major defects, they’re a great choice overall.
If you want planar magnetic headphones that are significantly cheaper but still sound amazing, get the HiFiMan Sundara. Their build quality doesn't feel quite as good as the HiFiMan Ananda, but they sound nearly as good and are considerably less expensive, giving them an amazing price-to-performance ratio. While we had no issues with our unit, unfortunately there have been several reports online of driver issues. That said, if you get a functional unit, they have similarly amazing sound reproduction as the Ananda in a less bulky design that most people will likely prefer.
Get the Ananda if you're concerned about durability and don't mind spending more, but if you want to save a good chunk of money and want exceptional sounding headphones for the price, get the HiFiMan Sundara.
If you want more versatile critical listening headphones, then get the Audio Technica ATH-M50x; they’re the best audiophile closed-back headphones we’ve tested so far. They sound great and are a comfortable, durable option not only for studio use but for everyday casual use too.
These headphones have excellent audio reproduction and reproduce instruments and vocals clearly. Their closed-back design doesn’t produce a very spacious soundstage, but they’re among the best headphones for bass that we’ve tested so far thanks to their powerful yet accurate bass performance.
Although they feel like durable headphones, they don’t feel quite as well-built as the Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO, which have a solid metal frame that feels very sturdy. Unfortunately, the Beyerdynamic don’t have a detachable cable and some find they can sound a little sharp. The M50x provide slightly better value overall and are a solid choice if you’re looking for versatile headphones that sound great.
If you prefer the compact design of in-ears and want more portable headphones that still sound decent, the best audiophile earbuds are the 1More Triple Driver In-Ear. They have a sturdy and durable build with metal earbuds and a nice coated cable that should last you a while. They also come with 9 earbud tip sizes to help you find the right fit.
These wired in-ear headphones have a well-balanced sound that delivers a good amount of bass and reproduces instruments and vocals accurately. As expected, their closed-back and small in-ear design doesn’t offer the soundstage of the open over-ear headphones on this list, but they still provide a satisfactory listening experience.
Although they feel well-built in general, their cable isn’t detachable, so if it does break you’ll have to replace the earbuds entirely. If you prefer earbuds with a detachable cable, the TIN Audio T3 are a decent option but can sound a little sharp. Overall, if you're looking for in-ears with good audio reproduction that you can easily carry around in your pocket, the 1More Triple Driver are a great choice.
If you’re looking for open-back headphones that deliver audiophile-approved sound without breaking the bank, the best audiophile headphones in the budget category are the Philips SHP9500. They might not have the same premium design as some of the more high-end options on this list, but they sound very good for the price. They’re remarkably comfortable and have a lightweight design that you should be able to wear for hours without discomfort.
These headphones have very good audio reproduction, with punchy bass, a virtually flawless mid-range, and great treble. They have a relatively bright sound signature that’s well-suited to rock or jazz. They even have a decently open soundstage, which is good for this price range.
On the downside, they lack quite a bit of sub-bass, so they might not be ideal if you listen to a lot of bass-heavy EDM or hip-hop. They can also sound slightly sharp on tracks that are already a bit bright. That said, they still have impressive audio quality for the price and are a great choice if you’re looking for good sound on a budget.
If you prefer semi-open headphones or want something even cheaper, go with the Superlux HD 681. They aren't as comfortable as the Philips SHP9500, but their sound reproduction is impressive, especially at this price point. They have exceptional bass response and excellent mid-range, providing great overall sound. Due to their semi-open design, their soundstage is decently open-sounding, though unfortunately their build quality is disappointing and they feel cheaply made and plasticky.
Get the Philips if you want more durable headphones that are more comfortable for extended listening sessions, but if you want to save even more money and still want something with impressive sound, go with the Superlux.
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 (cheaper headphones win over pricier ones 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.
10/28/2019: Only minor updates to the text and verification for accuracy; no changes in product picks.