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 as day-to-day headphones 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 are comfortable enough that you can fully enjoy the music without being reminded that you're wearing headphones at all. Due to limitations with the Bluetooth connection, audiophile headphones are almost always wired so you won't find any wireless options on this list.
We've tested nearly 450 pairs of headphones and below are our recommendations for the best audiophile headphones you can buy. 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 we've tested so far are the Sennheiser HD 800 S. These open-back over-ear headphones look and feel very durable and premium, with a sturdy metal frame and good quality plastic. Their ear cups are spacious and well-padded with a suede-like material that's very comfortable even during longer listening sessions. Their audio cable is detachable, so you can easily replace it if it becomes damaged, or if you need to switch up your connection-type depending on your setup.
Their sound profile is remarkably accurate and well-balanced, giving you an accurate and natural listening experience that's well-suited for most genres, though some people may find them lacking in bass when compared to some other options on this list. Their open-back design gives them a large and spacious soundstage, and they provide a clear and pure sound with minimal distortion.
Unfortunately, these headphones require a sizable investment, as they're very expensive and require a powerful amplifier to run them. They also are best-suited to use in a dedicated listening room as they leak a lot of audio and block out no background noise, though this is expected from open-back headphones. Overall, however, if you want the best listening experience possible regardless of cost, these are among the best headphones we've ever tested.
If you're new to audiophile headphones and want something considerably cheaper, get the Sennheiser HD 58X Jubilee. Their soundstage isn't nearly as open and spacious as the Sennheiser HD 800 S and they're only available from Drop.com, but they have an almost identical sound profile and are significantly cheaper. These open-back over-ears aren't as comfortable as the other Sennheiser as they're quite tight, especially if you have a larger head. While their build quality is good overall, some of the joints feel a bit fragile. If you're concerned about durability you may also want to consider the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO, though their sound profile isn't quite as well-balanced and accurate.
If money is no object and you want the best audiophile headphones you can get, go for the HD 800 S, but if you're just dipping your toes into high-end audio and aren't looking to spend nearly as much, get the Jubilee.
The best planar magnetic headphone we've tested to date are the HiFiMan Ananda. Planar magnetic headphones are much less common than headphones that use dynamic drivers, though they're generally associated with high-end audio. These open-back headphones are an upgrade over the very popular HiFiMan Edition X and have spacious, well-padded ear cups that provide a comfortable listening experience, though they may be too large for some people as they extend past the jaw. They look and feel very well built and durable, though it seems that quality control can sometimes be an issue with HiFiMan headphones.
Their sound profile is very well-balanced and accurate, though they may sound a bit dull and lacking in brightness on some tracks. Their open-back design provides a great soundstage that is extremely open and spacious, and they have very little distortion, even at higher volumes. While they're a bit cheaper than some other high-end options, they're still fairly expensive. If you want something that performs very similar, check out the HiFiMan Sundara, though the quality control of these specific headphones seems to be even worse than usual.
Unfortunately, like with most open-back headphones, they aren't well-suited for using outside of the house. Their open-back design means they block almost no background noise, and they leak a lot of audio, making them best-suited for use in a dedicated listening room. Overall, they perform extremely well and are a great option if you prefer headphones with planar magnetic drivers.
The best closed-back audiophile headphones we've tested to date are the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x are the best closed-back audiophile headphones we've tested so far. These over-ear headphones are much more versatile than the other options on this list, as they have a very attractive price point and block out background noise much better than options with an open-back design. These comfortable headphones are very popular for studio use and are known for providing excellent value. They look and feel very premium and durable and 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 very well-balanced, though they aren't quite as accurate as the other options that have been mentioned so far. Their bass range is slightly elevated to add a bit of extra warmth and body to your music, though it's by no means overpowering or boomy sounding. In comparison to most popular Bluetooth over-ears, they still sound very flat and accurate. As is to be expected from closed-back headphones, their soundstage isn't nearly as open and spacious as the open-back headphones that have been mentioned so far.
While these headphones have a well-built design, they don't feel quite as durable as the similarly-performing Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO, which have a solid and sturdy metal frame. The Beyerdynamic don't have a detachable cable, however, and are typically quite a bit more expensive. Overall, the Audio-Technica are a great choice if you want a high-end audio experience but want headphones that can be used in your daily life as well.
If you prefer the fit and portability of in-ears, go with the 1More Triple Driver. They aren't as comfortable as the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, and they feel a bit less premium, but they have an almost identical sound profile and can easily be tossed into a pocket or bag. Their sound profile is very accurate and well-balanced, making them suitable for most genres, and they have very little distortion at any volume, especially in the bass range. Unlike the Audio-Technica, they have an in-line remote and microphone, so you can easily control your music and take calls while on-the-go.
If you find over-ear headphones more comfortable, go with the Audio-Technica, but if you want something more portable, get the 1More.
The best audiophile headphones in the budget category that we've tested so far are the Philips SHP9500. These open-back over-ears are remarkably affordable, without sacrificing sound quality. They're extremely comfortable thanks to their well-padded ear cups and headband. They provide an impressive price-to-performance ratio and are among the best open-back headphones we've tested to date.
Their sound profile is very well-balanced, though some may find they lack quite a bit of brightness and airiness on some tracks. They also lack even more bass than is common with most open-back headphones, so they may not be the best choice for more bass-heavy genres. They have very little distortion, however, and they sound fairly open and spacious.
Unfortunately, like with all open-back headphones, these will be best used in a dedicated listening room, as they leak a lot of audio and don't block any background noise. They're also very big and bulky, and don't look and feel quite as premium and well-built as our more expensive picks, though this is to be expected at their extremely low price point, and they still pack a detachable audio cable, which is nice.
If you want something even cheaper that has a semi-open design, get the Superlux HD 681. They aren't nearly as comfortable or well-built as the Philips SHP9500, and their sound profile isn't quite as well-balanced, but they're even cheaper and they leak quite a bit less audio. While they don't block nearly as much audio coming in or out as closed-back headphones, they still do a much better job than fully open-back headphones and have a fair amount more bass as well. They may not be the best choice if you tend to be tough on your headphones, however, as they look and feel very cheap and plasticky.
Overall, if you want something more durable and comfortable and don't mind spending a bit more, get the Philips. However, if you want to spend even less, the Superlux have an impressively well-balanced sound profile considering their extremely low price point.
05/11/2020: Moved HiFiMan Sundara to Notable Mentions, made 1More Triple Driver 'In-Ear Alternative' to 'Best Closed-Back Audiophile Headphones'. Updated text for accuracy and clarity.
03/12/2020: Minor text and structure changes, no changes in recommendations.
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.