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, audiophile headphones are almost always wired, so you won't find any wireless options on this list.
We've tested over 540 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 that we've tested are the Sennheiser HD 800 S. These open-back over-ears 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. However, some people may find them lacking in bass compared to 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, they require a sizable investment, as they're very expensive and need a powerful amplifier to run them. They are also 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-backs. Overall, if you want the best listening experience possible regardless of cost, these are among the best headphones we've ever tested.
If you're looking for something less pricey, you may want to consider the Philips Fidelio X2HR. They have a less natural and open soundstage compared to the Sennheiser HD 800 S and feel noticeably less premium, but they're substantially cheaper and have a similarly well-balanced sound profile. They should suit a wide mix of musical genres, with remarkably full-bodied, present, and clear vocals and lead instruments as well as detailed, bright high notes. They also have an impressively well-balanced bass range, especially for a pair of open-back headphones, though they're still lacking low-end thump and rumble. They're quite comfortable though, and you shouldn't experience any fatigue even if you wear them for extended periods.
Get the Sennheiser if you prioritize better build quality and a larger, more expansive soundstage, but consider the Philips if you want to save some money without sacrificing a well-balanced sound profile.
The HiFiMan Ananda are the best planar magnetic headphones that we've tested. These open-backs have a well-balanced sound profile that should suit a broad mix of musical genres and audio content, though fans of EDM and hip-hop listeners may prefer a little more low-end thump and rumble. Their soundstage is natural, open, and spacious, causing you to perceive sound as coming from out in front of you instead of originating from inside your head.
They're quite comfortable, with large, well-padded ear cups that help distribute their weight as well as their somewhat high clamping force. They deliver audio very consistently, and they look and feel quite premium, courtesy of their metal yokes, densely-constructed ear cups, and rubber-coated audio cable.
Unfortunately, quality control for HifiMan headphones can be inconsistent, so your user experience may vary. Also, their large ear cups may be too big for some users, as they can extend past your jaw, which could be an annoyance for some. Otherwise, if you're looking for a pair of planar magnetic headphones with an expansive soundstage and well-balanced sound profile, these are a good option.
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 inch 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 budget audiophile headphones that we've tested are the Philips SHP9500. These open-backs have a very well-balanced sound profile overall, with accurate mid and treble ranges that yield full-bodied, detailed vocals and lead instruments as well as well-articulated sibilants. They also provide a fairly natural and open soundstage, allowing for a more immersive listening experience.
They deliver audio very consistently, so you shouldn't experience severe differences in bass or treble delivery depending on their fit or positioning. They're comfortable enough to wear for extended listening sessions thanks to their lightweight design and spacious, well-padded ear cups that don't clamp on to your head too tightly. They're also decently well-built, with a metal-reinforced headband and detachable audio cable.
That said, the attachment point for their ear cups feels a little flimsy, and they don't feel quite as premium as some more expensive open-back headphones. That said, their well-balanced sound profile and relatively affordable price make them a great choice for audiophiles on a budget.
If you're looking for an even more affordable pair of audiophile headphones and you prefer a semi-open design, check out the Superlux HD 681. While they feel a lot more plasticky and flimsy than the Philips SHP9500, and they're not as comfortable, they're available at a lower price point. Their semi-open design also helps to leak less sound, which can be beneficial if you listen to your audio with others around you. They can also produce more bass, although it's still very balanced and neutral in this range. However, their sound profile is a bit bright and piercing. Some users may also find the build quality to be especially cheap and low-grade.
If you're looking for a pair of durable headphones with an open enclosure on a budget, try the Philips. However, if you're trying to keep down your spending and you prefer a semi-open design, check out the Superlux.
01/13/2021: Verified the availability and suitability of current product picks and updated text for clarity and accuracy. Added Sennheiser HD 560S to 'Notable Mentions'. Removed Corsair HS60 from Notable Mentions due to current availability.
09/08/2020: Removed 'In-Ear Alternative' category; added HifiMan ANANDA-BT and 1More Triple Driver to Notable Mentions.
07/10/2020: Moved Sennheiser HD 58X Jubilee to Notable Mentions, made Philips Fidelio X2HR 'Budget-Friendly Alternative' for 'Best Audiophile Headphones'.
05/11/2020: Moved HiFiMan Sundara to Notable Mentions, made 1More Triple Driver 'In-Ear Alternative' to 'Best Closed-Back Audiophile Headphones'.
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.