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 685 pairs of headphones, and below are our recommendations for the best headphones for audiophiles 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 best audiophile headphones we've tested are the Sennheiser HD 800 S. These top-of-the-line headphones aren't for everyone; their high price point puts them out of reach for most users, and you'll need a powerful amplifier to drive them, which can be an additional expense. However, if you're looking for an immersive experience regardless of cost, these open-back over-ears have an outstanding soundstage that's large, natural, and spacious. Audio feels like it's coming from out in front of you rather than from inside your head. Their dynamic transducers aren't as prone to stereo imaging issues as planar magnetic headphones like the HiFiMan Arya. However, the trade-off is that they lack more low-bass.
Although they lack a bit of punch and rumble to their sound, they have a touch of extra high-bass to add warmth to mixes. Their mids are especially flat, so vocals and lead instruments sound accurate and natural, making them a solid choice for most kinds of audio content. They also have a very comfortable fit, so you shouldn't feel fatigue during long listening sessions. They come with an extra detachable audio cable, should your first cable get damaged.
The best upper mid-range audiophile headphones we've tested are the HiFiMan Ayra. Unlike the Sennheiser HD 800 S, these over-ears have planar magnetic transducers instead of the more common dynamic design. They can reproduce more low-bass than the Sennheiser and can create a nearly similar soundstage that's natural, wide, and spacious. However, their transducer is more complex, so there can be slight variances in audio reproduction between units. They're also somewhat heavy, but their ski-band headband helps distribute the headphones' weight.
Although they still struggle to reproduce thump and rumble, they can still deliver more bass than our top pick. Thanks to a touch of extra treble, vocals and instruments also sound bright but not harsh or piercing. As a result, they're versatile enough for a variety of audio content, and they reproduce audio quite consistently, so you don't need to stress about the headphones' fit, positioning, and seal.
This manufacturer has re-released these headphones, colloquially called the Arya V3. They're updated with Stealth Magnets, which are designed to improve their sound quality by reducing distortion and increasing transparency. We tested the V2 model, which are currently available via the manufacturer's website and lack this feature. Even though we haven't tested the V3 yet, there may be some small variances between both models in overall sound quality.
The HiFiMan Edition XS are the best mid-range audiophile headphones we've tested. These over-ears are easier on the wallet than the HiFiMan Arya and still have planar magnetic transducers to help boost their bass as well as create an immersive sound. While they aren't as comfortable or well-built, they have a neutral sound profile with a flat mid-range, so vocals and lead instruments sound present and clear. They also lack a bit of low-bass, but they have a bump of high-bass that adds warmth to mixes to balance their sound. Their passive soundstage is outstanding; it feels wide, spacious, and as if your audio is coming from outside your head.
These over-ears have a comfortable fit, but overall fit large. As a result, they aren't as comfortable as our top pick, especially if you have a small head. If you'd still prefer planar magnetic headphones at this price point but want a better fit, the HiFiMan Sundara 2020 offer a somewhat comparable performance to the Edition XS but have a ski-band headband to distribute their weight on your head. However, they reproduce less low-bass, and their soundstage struggles to create an out-of-head audio experience.
The Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO are the best lower mid-range headphones for audiophiles we've tested. Closed-back headphones tend to dominate the lower mid-to-budget range compared to open-backs. Yet, the well-built Beyerdynamic still rival similarly priced open-back counterparts like the Philips Fidelio X2HR when it comes to their neutral sound. They have a few benefits: they're designed to block out some sound (like ambient chatter) and reduce audio bleed, which is great for live studio work. They also reproduce bass more accurately than many open-back models, ensuring mixes have adequate thump and boom.
Their sound profile ensures clear and detailed vocals and instruments, but their bright treble can be fatiguing over time. You may prefer it if you want to highlight imperfections in your mixes, though. Although their soundstage doesn't seem very open or spacious, the sound seems like it's coming from speakers around you. Unfortunately, their audio cable isn't detachable, so if it's damaged, you'll need to replace the entire unit. However, if you value replaceability, you may want to look into the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x. These over-ears come with three sets of audio cables, including one coiled, so it's convenient if you need to replace a damaged one. They don't block out as much background noise, though.
If you're looking for even more affordable headphones, the Philips SHP9500 are the best budget audiophile headphones we've tested. While their wallet-friendly price point is reflected best in their plasticky build, which doesn't feel very durable, their neutral sound is a worthy trade-off. They have a very flat mid-range, ensuring that vocals and lead instruments are clear, accurate, and detailed. Overemphasis in the mid-treble can make sibilants like cymbals sound a bit piercing, though. Thanks to their open-back design, their passive soundstage seems large, open, and spacious, which can make your audio feel more immersive.
These comfortable over-ears have consistent audio delivery, and their build quality feels decently durable. If you're looking for even cheaper audiophile headphones, it's worth checking out the Superlux HD 681. Although they aren't as comfortable as the Philips, these entry-level over-ears have an analytical sound profile that brings out imperfections in your mixes, thanks to their overemphasized treble. However, their low price point is reflected in their plasticky build, which feels even less durable than the Philips.
If you prefer an in-ear fit instead of over-ears, the best in-ear monitors (IEMs) we've tested are the MOONDROP Aria. Thanks to their fit, they can block out more noise than closed-backs like the Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO, which is handy if you want to monitor live content. Their audio cable hooks around your ear to keep them in place, and they have a compact design that's easy to take with you on the go. A downside of in-ears is that their soundstage doesn't sound as immersive as that created by over-ears.
Their neutral sound profile has a small bump in the high-bass to add warmth to your audio. Although a dip in the treble dulls sibilants, vocals and instruments are still present and clear. Overall, these in-ears have a good build quality with detachable audio cables and replaceable filters. They also come with a variety of foam ear tips to help you achieve a comfortable fit. However, there have been user reports of the audio cable fraying or the connectors feeling loose. Luckily, you can purchase another audio cable separately, should it get damaged.
The best casual-use audiophile headphones we've tested are the HiFiMan ANANDA-BT Wireless. If you want headphones that you can use wirelessly, or if you need to take an occasional call, you'll want to check out these over-ears. What sets them apart from other over-ears on this list is their Bluetooth support and detachable mic. Like the HiFiMan Arya, they also have a planar-magnetic design, which helps their soundstage seem wide, natural, and open. They have a fairly neutral sound but lack a bit of low-bass. Even though they have slightly veiled vocals and lead instruments, these sounds are still clear and present.
They support aptX and aptX HD codecs, and while they still have somewhat high latency across the board, these codecs allow you to stream audio in higher quality than the default codec. Their 11-hour battery life isn't very impressive for wireless over-ears. If you're looking for versatile headphones with better battery performance, the Apple AirPods Max Wireless are worth considering. These high-end over-ears have over 21 hours of playback time, and their Adaptive EQ adjusts the headphones' sound reproduction based on their fit and seal. They have an active noise cancelling (ANC) system that tackles sounds like traffic or ambient chatter. However, since they're designed to block background sound, their soundstage isn't very immersive or natural-feeling.
Sep 20, 2022: We've added the HiFiMan Arya as the 'Best Upper Mid-Range Audiophile Headphones' and made the Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO the 'Best Lower Mid-Range Audiophile Headphones'. We've also added the Philips Fidelio X2HR to Notable Mentions.
Jun 09, 2022: We've revamped this article. Moved the HiFiMan Edition XS to 'Best Mid-Level Audiophile Headphones' and removed the Superlux HD 681 as well as Philips Fidelio X2HR. Added the MOONDROP Aria as 'Best Audiophile In-Ear Monitors' and the HiFiMan ANANDA-BT Wireless as 'Best Casual Audiophile Headphones'.
Apr 20, 2022: We've replaced the HiFiMan Sundara 2020 with the HiFiMan Edition XS as the Edition XS have a better passive soundstage performance as well as a more neutral sound. We've moved the Sundara 2020 to Notable Mentions.
Feb 23, 2022: Replaced the HiFiMan Arya with the HiFiMan Ananda as the Arya aren't available. Also replaced the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x with the Beyerdynamics DT 770 PRO. The Audio-Technica are now the 'Alternative With More Accessories'.
Dec 22, 2021: Moved the Philips Fidelio X2HR to 'Best Audiophile Headphones Under $200'.
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.