Looking for the best sound quality headphones? The best audiophile headphones produce the highest and truest fidelity of audio production. They should reproduce all aspects of the sound quality, as well as create a spacious and open soundstage. Good headphones for critical listening will be comfortable over long listening periods and should have a good frequency response, good imaging, and excellent harmonic distortion performance.
We've tested 262 headsets and below are our recommendations for the best sounding headphones you can buy in 2018. See also our recommendations for the best headphones for music, the best bass headphones, and the best studio headphones.
The best sounding headphones that we've measured so far are the Sennheiser HD 800 S. If they’re within your budget and you have a good amp, they are an excellent recommendation for pure critical listening. They’re comfortable enough to wear for extended listening sessions, and their build quality feels durable and very high-end.
Like most open-back headphones, they are sensitive to noisy environments and leak a lot, so by design, they won't be the most versatile headphones. They also do not pack as much bass compared to closed-back critical listening headphones or some of the planar magnetic models by HiFiMan.
Overall, the HD 800 S are the best audiophile headphones if you have the budget.
If you want a critical listening headphone that sounds as good as the Sennheiser HD 800 S but for less, then go for the HiFiMan Ananda. They may not have the build quality of the 800S, and despite their planar magnetic drivers and very open ear cups, they do not quite sound as spacious as the Sennheisers. However, this may be due to the HD800 S being slightly brighter overall so the difference in soundstage is not very noticeable.
Also, the HiFiMan pack a bit more bass, and overall they deliver a balanced audio reproduction that sounds great with any track you throw at them. Their build quality is also better than the similarly designed 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 do not develop any major defects or quality control issues, then they're a great choice for any audiophile and a slightly better value for your money than the Sennheiser. Overall, they're one of the best sounding headphones we've tested.
If you want a much cheaper audiophile headphone than the Sennheiser HD 800 S or the HiFiMan Ananda that still offers an exceptional sound quality, then get the HiFiMan Sundara. They do not have the quality control of a brand like Sennheiser so they are more prone to manufacturing defects. They also do not come with as many accessories and aren't as well-built or as durable as the often compared Beyerdynamic DT 1990 PRO.
However, the Sundara deliver a sound quality that's better balanced than the Beyerdynamic and pack a bit more bass than the Sennheiser while still providing a spacious soundstage and comfortable fit. The Sundara have a great price to sound quality ratio and are a solid recommendation for most critical listeners.
If you want a good-sounding and durable critical listening headphone that's a lot more affordable than our top picks, then get Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro. They do not have the soundstage or ambiance of the more premium recommendations on this list, and they tend to sound a bit sharp on already bright tracks. They also do not have a removable cable or as many accessories as the higher-end DT 1990 PRO.
On the upside, they deliver a sound and build quality that's practically unmatched at their price range. They're also durable enough to last you a very long time and they're decently comfortable but can be a little tight on some heads.
Overall, if you're looking for a good entry level headphone into the audiophile world, the DT 990 are a great choice and one of the best mixing headphones we've tested.
If you want a critical listening headphone that's a bit more versatile for noisy environments, then get the Audio Technica ATH-M50x. They won't have the soundstage of the open headphones on this list. They also do not isolate as well as some of our noise canceling recommendations so they won't be the ideal option for commute and travel. On the upside, thanks to their closed back design and great sound, they strike a good balance between critical listening headphones and a versatile option for everyday casual use. They have a comfortable and durable over-ear design, a powerful bass range, and a balanced enough mid and treble range so that instruments and vocals sound clear and detailed.
They're a great choice if you're looking for a rugged wired headphone for listening to music, mixing, or for studio use; however, if you want something a bit more versatile then go for the wireless variant instead, the ATH-M50xBT. They are a bit more convenient to use with mobile phones and have a control scheme, unlike the wired model, but keep the same great sound and durable design. Unfortunately, they are considerably more expensive.
If you prefer the compact design of in-ears and want a great sounding headset that you can use on the go while commuting and traveling, get the 1More Triple Driver In-Ear. As expected, their closed back and small in-ear design does not offer the soundstage of the open over-ear headphones on this list. The in-ear fit also won't be as comfortable for all listeners.
On the upside, they come with 9 tip sizes to help you find the right fit. They also have a sturdy and durable build quality with metal earbuds capable of handling quite a few drops and a coated cable that should last you a while. They have a well-balanced sound that delivers a good amount of bass and they have an above average reproduction of instruments and vocals.
The Bose SoundTrue Ultra In-Ear are a bit more comfortable with their earbud like fit; however, if you're looking for a durable in-ear for critical listening that you can easily carry around in your pocket, the 1More Triple Driver are a great choice.
If you find the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO too expensive, the best audiophile headphones in the budget category are the Superlux HD 681. Their build quality is not as good as the Beyerdynamic, and the Philips SHP9500 are a better option overall but they are often out of stock.
On the upside, for their price, they deliver a well-balanced and decently open sound that sounds good with most genres and packs a decent amount of bass. Their mid-range is fairly well balanced and they do not sound sharp, but unfortunately they aren't the most comfortable critical listening headphones around and their build quality may be a deal breaker for some.
Overall, the Superlux HD 681 are a good option for critical listening if you're looking to spend a little less than $50 for an audiophile headphone.
If you're looking for a budget critical lightning headphone and also happen to be a gamer, then consider the Corsair HS60. They have a closed-back design so they won't have an as immersive sound as some of the open back models on this list. They're also primarily gaming headsets so they have a more gaming-oriented design that may not be for all critical listeners. On the upside, you can remove their boom mic and used them as casual wired headphones. They also deliver a good sound quality that is sufficiently balanced to handle most tracks you throw at them with a good amount of audio fidelity, especially for their price. They have a slightly boomy bass but it doesn't drown or overshadow the instruments and vocals in the mid range and treble range.
Overall, the Corsair HS60 are versatile wired over-ears with a good sound and a decently well-built and comfortable design. They're a good option for both gaming and casual use and they are fairly affordable, which makes them a solid recommendation for most.
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 (a cheaper headphone wins over a pricier one 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.