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 of time and be well-built.
We've tested 370 headphones and below are our recommendations for the best-sounding headphones you can buy in 2019. 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 sounding 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.
Like most open-back headphones, they are sensitive to noisy environments and leak a lot, so by design, they won't be ideal for use on-the-go. They're also a bit shy in bass compared to some planar magnetic or closed-back critical listening headphones. That said, with a proper EQ you can tweak them to your liking and add a bit more bass if desired. If you have the budget, the Sennheiser HD 800 S remain the best audiophile headphones we’ve tested so far.
If you want good-sounding and durable critical listening headphones that are a lot more affordable, then get Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO. They don’t have the soundstage or ambiance of the Sennheiser HD 800 S, but their sound and build quality are practically unmatched at their price. They feel durable enough to last a long time and have great audio fidelity.
Unfortunately, their soundstage is rather disappointing and they tend to sound a bit sharp on brighter tracks. That said, they pack a fair amount of bass for open-back headphones and produce instruments and vocals accurately. Overall, if you're looking for good entry-level audiophile headphones, the DT 990 are a great choice.
If you prefer the added punch that planar magnetic drivers can deliver, the best planar magnetic headphones are the HiFiMan Ananda. They’re very comfortable, well-built planar magnetic headphones that sound outstanding. They don’t sound quite as spacious as the Sennheiser HD 800 S, but they pack a bit more bass while still delivering a balanced sound.
These headphones have a very well-balanced frequency response that is remarkably accurate. Their excellent neutral sound is great for music of all genres. They sound just a touch less open than the Sennheiser, but this may be due to the fact the 800 S sound slightly brighter overall, which means the difference in soundstage may not be as noticeable for everyone.
Although the Ananda aren’t as well-built as the Sennheiser, their build quality is better than the similarly-designed HiFiMan Edition X, making them the best HiFiMan model for critical listening that we've tested so far. As long as their build quality holds up and they don’t develop any major defects, they’re a great choice overall.
If you’re looking for planar magnetic headphones that sound excellent but are even cheaper, then get the HiFiMan Sundara. They don’t feel as well-built as the HiFiMan Ananda, but they sound nearly just as good and have a great price-to-performance ratio.
Unfortunately, there have been multiple reports online of some units having a few driver issues. HiFiMan, unfortunately, doesn’t yet have the quality control of more established brands like Sennheiser or Beyerdynamic and some of their models prone to manufacturing defects. That said, if you get a functional unit, the Sundara do perform quite well overall and make a solid choice for most audiophiles.
If you want more versatile critical listening headphones, then get the Audio Technica ATH-M50x; they’re the best audiophile closed-back headphones we’ve tested so far. They sound great and are a comfortable, durable option not only for studio use but for everyday casual use too.
These headphones have excellent audio reproduction and reproduce instruments and vocals clearly. Their closed-back design doesn’t produce a very spacious soundstage, but they’re among the best headphones for bass-heavy music that we’ve tested so far thanks to their powerful yet accurate bass performance.
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 headphones that sound great.
If you prefer the compact design of in-ears and want more portable headphones that still sound decent, the best audiophile earbuds are the 1More Triple Driver In-Ear. They have a sturdy and durable build with metal earbuds and a nice coated cable that should last you a while. They also come with 9 earbud tip sizes to help you find the right fit.
These wired in-ear headphones have a well-balanced sound that delivers a good amount of bass and reproduces instruments and vocals accurately. As expected, their closed back and small in-ear design doesn’t offer the soundstage of the open over-ear headphones on this list, but they still provide a satisfactory listening experience.
Although they feel well-built in general, their cable isn’t detachable, so if it does break you’ll have to replace the earbuds entirely. If you prefer earbuds with a detachable cable, the TIN Audio T3 are a decent option but can sound a little sharp. Overall, if you're looking for in-ears with good audio reproduction that you can easily carry around in your pocket, the 1More Triple Driver are a great choice.
If you’re looking for open-back headphones that deliver audiophile-approved sound without breaking the bank, the best budget audiophile headphones are the Philips SHP9500. They might not have the same premium design as some of the more high-end options on this list, but they sound very good for the price. They’re remarkably comfortable and have a lightweight design that you should be able to wear for hours without discomfort.
These headphones have very good audio reproduction, with punchy bass, a virtually flawless mid-range, and great treble. They have a relatively bright sound signature that’s well-suited to rock or jazz and a decent soundstage overall.
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. They can also sound slightly sharp on tracks that are already a bit bright. That said, they still have impressive audio quality for the price and are a great choice if you’re looking for good sound on a budget.
If you want to save even more money and prefer a semi-open design, then get the Superlux HD 681. They’re not quite as comfortable as the Philips SHP9500, but they sound quite impressive for the price. They have very good audio reproduction for budget headphones and their semi-open design produces a decent soundstage, especially considering how little they cost.
Unfortunately, they aren't the most comfortable critical listening headphones around and they feel cheaply made. They can also sound a bit sharp, but they pack a decent amount of bass and sound fairly well-balanced overall. However, they perform well for budget headphones and are a good option overall for audiophiles looking to save money.
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.