If you care about audio quality above all else, you'll want a good pair of audiophile-level headphones. While these headphones generally aren't the best option to use on a day-to-day basis due to their lack of active features, they're great for fully immersing yourself in your music while at home. They reproduce sound accurately, and most can create a spacious and open soundstage that mimics listening to music on actual tower speakers. They also generally look and feel well-built and comfortable enough to fully enjoy the music without being reminded that you're wearing headphones at all. Due to limitations with the Bluetooth connection, this article primarily focuses on wired audiophile headphones.
We've tested over 650 pairs of headphones, and below are our recommendations for the best audiophile headphones you can buy. See our recommendations for the best headphones for music, the best bass headphones, the best wired headphones, and the best studio headphones.
The HiFiMan Arya are the best planar magnetic audiophile headphones that we've tested. These open-back headphones have a planar magnetic transducer, which helps tighten their bass reproduction. Although they're a bit bigger and bulkier than headphones with a dynamic transducer, they have a remarkable passive soundstage that sounds spacious, wide, and natural.
They have a very neutral sound profile with a touch of brightness and deliver bass and treble very consistently. Their unique look uses a ski-band headband design, which helps distribute the weight of the headphones, so you don't feel too fatigued if you're wearing them for long periods. They're also well-padded, with spacious ear cups that don't clamp your head too tightly, and they feel sturdy.
Unfortunately, their price point can set them out-of-reach for more casual users, especially when compared to the more affordable HiFiMan Ananda. They leak a lot of audio and don't block out almost any background noise around you due to their open-back design. That said, thanks to their comfortable fit, neutral sound profile, and spacious soundstage, they're among the best headphones we've ever tested.
The best audiophile headphones with a dynamic transducer that we've tested are the Sennheiser HD 800 S. Thanks to their dynamic transducer design, they leak a bit less sound than planar magnetic headphones and aren't as prone to stereo imaging issues between units. These open-back over-ears are made from metal and high-grade plastic, making them feel very well-built and durable.
They have an outstanding passive soundstage that's large and spacious, which can help immerse you in your audio. Although they lack a bit of low bass, they have an accurate and neutral sound profile that's suitable for a variety of audio content. They also have a comfortable fit and come with a carrying pouch to help keep them clear of dust when you're not using them. They come with an extra detachable audio cable too, which is handy if your first cable gets damaged.
Unfortunately, they need a powerful amplifier to run, and if you don't already have one, this additional expense can add to their already high price point. Just like the HiFiMan Arya, they also leak a lot of audio and won't isolate you from much ambient noise, either. However, if you prefer a dynamic transducer design, they offer an impressive neutral sound experience that's sure to please most users.
The best closed-back audiophile headphones that we've tested are the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x. These over-ears are slightly more versatile than some of the other open-back options on this list, as their closed-back enclosure does a much better job of preventing ambient noise from interrupting your listening sessions. They're also very well-built and quite comfortable, with spacious ear cups that shouldn't have any trouble accommodating people with larger ears.
They're great for mixing and mastering because of their decent audio leakage performance and fairly well-balanced sound profile. Mids and bass are amazingly well-reproduced, while their very good treble accuracy should result in clear and detailed vocals and lead instruments, without any harshness or overly piercing notes. These also come with three different 1/8" TRS audio cables to suit different uses, which is helpful.
Unfortunately, none of the included audio cables come with an in-line microphone to answer phone calls or enable chat functions. Combined with their lack of onboard playback and volume controls, these aren't the most all-around versatile over-ears on the market. However, if you're looking for a pair of closed-back headphones purely for neutral listening, these are a great option.
The best audiophile headphones under $200 we've tested are the Philips Fidelio X2HR. These open-back headphones have a very good passive soundstage that can help immerse you in your audio. They also have a good build quality that feels durable and solid.
These headphones have a well-balanced sound profile that's versatile enough for a variety of audio content. Their frequency response consistency is also very good, and once you achieve a good fit, you should experience consistent audio delivery each time you use them. They have an automatically-adjusting headband, and their ear cups are well-padded, making them very comfortable for long listening sessions.
Unfortunately, their open-back design means they lack a thumpy low-bass, and they can't block out ambient noise. They also leak a lot of audio at high volumes. However, if you have a dedicated space to use them in, these headphones are a solid choice. They're even among the best open-back headphones that we've tested too.
The Philips SHP9500 are the best audiophile headphones under $100 that we've tested. Thanks to their open-back design, their passive soundstage seems large, open, and spacious. Their very comfortable fit is well-padded and doesn't clamp very tightly on your head.
These headphones have a very neutral sound profile with a flat mid-range, ensuring that vocals and lead instruments are clear, accurate, and detailed. Like most open-back headphones, they lack thump and rumble, but a bump in their high-bass adds a touch of extra boom and warmth to your audio. They also have consistent audio delivery, and their build quality feels decently durable.
Unfortunately, overemphasis in the mid-treble can make sibilants like cymbals sound a bit piercing. Due to their open-back design, they don't block out almost any background noise and leak a lot of audio at high volumes. That said, these audiophile headphones offer a spacious soundstage, neutral sound, and comfortable fit at a more affordable price point.
The best budget audiophile headphones that we've tested are the Superlux HD 681. Unlike other headphones on this list, these over-ears have a semi-open back design. This enclosure helps them reproduce more extended and accurate low-bass as well as leak less audio at high volumes.
These comfortable headphones have a very good passive soundstage that seems wide, spacious, and natural. Their fairly neutral and well-balanced sound profile is also suitable for most kinds of audio content, and they can deliver audio pretty consistently, although you may notice a drop in bass if you wear glasses or have thick hair. They come with a 1/8" to 1/4" adapter, which is nice if you want to connect them to a mixer.
That said, they have a cheap and plasticky build quality that doesn't feel very durable. Their treble range is also overemphasized, so sibilants like cymbals can be fairly piercing, which may cause ear fatigue over time. Some users may prefer this sound, though, as it can help emphasize imperfections in your audio.
Dec 22, 2021: Moved the Philips Fidelio X2HR to 'Best Audiophile Headphones Under $200'.
Nov 02, 2021: Moved the Philips SHP9500 to a new category: 'Best Audiophile Headphones Under $100'. Made the Superlux HD 681 the 'Best Budget Audiophile Headphones'.
Sep 03, 2021: Checked our picks for consistency and product availability. There hasn't been a change in our recommendations.
Jul 06, 2021: We've confirmed the accuracy of our text and checked for product availability. There hasn't been a change in our recommendations.
May 07, 2021: No changes in product picks after verifying their accuracy and availability.
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 headphones, sorted by their neutral sound performance. 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.