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 and be well-built.
We've tested over 400 headphones and below are our recommendations for the best-sounding headphones you can buy in 2020. 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 audiophile 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 their sound is very flat and neutral, 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 as well-balanced and neutral 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 have a powerful amp and money is no object, 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 Jubilee.
The best planar magnetic headphones that we've tested so far are the HiFiMan Ananda. You'd be forgiven if you've never heard of planar magnetic headphones before, as they're less common and are usually associated with high-end audio. These open-back headphones are an upgrade over their very popular HiFiMan Edition X, with large well-padded ear cups that are comfortable, but may be too big for some as they extend well past the jaw. The build quality has also improved over the Edition X and they do feel premium; however, HiFiMan's quality control can be questionable at times.
Their sound reproduction is great, though. The bass has decent extension, while the treble is nearly flawless, but there's a slight bump in the lower mids that can cause some muddiness in certain tracks. Nonetheless, open-back headphones such as these are all about soundstage, and they deliver. They sound natural and spacious, without that inside-the-head feel of closed-back headphones. Unfortunately, this comes at the cost of terrible noise isolation as well as bad leakage. Needless to say, it's best to use them in a quiet environment that won't be bothersome to others.
Unfortunately, due to their size and weight, they likely aren't the best choice for traveling or commuting. Not to mention the fact that they don't come with a carrying case and that they're open-back headphones. Overall, however, if you're able to get a pair that's free of defects, these headphones are well worth it.
If planar magnetic headphones like the HiFiMan Ananda have caught your attention but are out of your budget, take a look at their cheaper option, the HiFiMan Sundara. They sound almost as good, at a price that's much more feasible. However, durability is a concern, as it adds to HiFiMan's already irregular quality control. While the headband can be tight for some, the circular ear cups and lower profile design does make them very comfortable to wear for long listening sessions. That said, it's still not recommended to use these headphones on-the-go, as the open-back design doesn't isolate from noise at all and leak a lot.
If cost isn't a concern, the Ananda has better build quality and will likely be more durable, but for a cheaper pair that will still perform admirably, go with the Sundara.
If you don't mind a less open soundstage, Audio-Technica ATH-M50x are the best closed-back audiophile headphones we've tested so far. They're available at a very attractive price point and feel very well-made and durable. They don't fit too tight on the head and are a comfortable option not only for studio use but for daily use too. They come with three different detachable audio cables, though unfortunately, none of them include an in-line mic for phone calls while on-the-go.
Their sound profile is fairly well-balanced, making it suitable for a wide range of genres. While there's a bit of extra kick in the bass range, it isn't overpowering or boomy. They're a bit on the bulky side, but they can also fold up, and come with a carrying case so you can easily toss them into a bag or suitcase. Unfortunately, their soundstage isn't nearly as open as most of the other options on this list, though that's to be expected due to their closed-back design.
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 closed-back headphones that will still provide an audiophile-level experience, but at a low price point.
You don't need bulky over-ears to get a well-balanced and neutral sound profile, and the best audiophile earbuds we've tested so far are the 1More Triple Driver. These wired in-ears are super lightweight and decently comfortable since they don't enter too deeply into the ear canal. They feature an in-line remote with easy to use controls that give you good control of your music or phone calls. They feel decently well-made and come with a great hard carrying case so you can bring them with you without worrying about them getting damaged.
Their sound profile is fairly well-balanced, though they do have a bit of extra kick that will please fans of bass. Their sound profile is lacking a bit of brightness, and some vocals and instruments may be lacking in detail, but overall, they're well-suited for a fairly wide range of genres and content. As with most in-ear headphones, they have a closed-back design so their soundstage won't appear open or spacious.
While they're a good option to take with you traveling or commuting, unfortunately, they only do a mediocre job at blocking out background noise, and won't do much to block out the low rumble of bus or plane engines. On the bright side, they don't leak much audio, so you should be able to turn up your music to help block out background noise without bothering those around you. Overall, if you travel a lot and want a pair of portable in-ear headphones that can deliver a well-balanced and accurate sound profile, these are a good, versatile option.
If you’re looking for open-back headphones that deliver audiophile-approved sound without breaking the bank, the Philips SHP9500 are the best audiophile headphones in the budget category we've tested so far. They're very comfortable thanks to their large and well-padded ear cups. They're also quite lightweight and don't fit too tight on the head. They feature a detachable audio cable, which is great in case it gets damaged, though they don't include various wires like some other headphones do.
While they don't feel quite as premium or well-built as some other options, these headphones have a fairly well-balanced and accurate sound profile. They have a relatively bright sound signature that’s well-suited to rock or jazz, with punchy bass, a virtually flawless mid-range, and great treble. 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, though this is somewhat standard for open-back headphones. They can also sound slightly sharp on tracks that are already a bit bright. That said, they still provide an impressive price-to-performance ratio and are among the best open-back headphones we've tested to date.
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.
03/12/2020: Minor text and structure changes, no changes in recommendations.
10/28/2019: Only minor updates to the text and verification for accuracy; no changes in product picks.
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.