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 615 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 HiFiMan Arya are the best planar magnetic audiophile headphones that we've tested. These open-back headphones have a planar magnetic transducer, which helps tighten their bass reproduction. Although they're a bit bigger and bulkier than headphones with a dynamic transducer, they have a remarkable passive soundstage that sounds spacious, wide, and natural.
They have a very neutral sound profile with a touch of brightness and deliver bass and treble very consistently. Their unique look uses a ski-band headband design, which helps distribute the weight of the headphones, so you don't feel too fatigued if you're wearing them for long periods. They're also well-padded, with spacious ear cups that don't clamp your head too tightly, and they feel quite sturdy.
Unfortunately, their price point can set them out-of-reach for more casual users, especially when compared to the more affordable HiFiMan Ananda. They also leak a lot of audio and don't block out almost any background noise around you due to their open-back design. That said, thanks to their comfortable fit, neutral sound profile, and spacious soundstage, they're among the best headphones we've ever tested.
The best audiophile headphones with a dynamic transducer that we've tested are the Sennheiser HD 800 S. Thanks to their dynamic transducer design, they leak a bit less sound than planar magnetic headphones and aren't as prone to stereo imaging issues between units. These open-back over-ears are made from metal and high-grade plastic, which makes them feel very well-built and durable.
They have an outstanding passive soundstage that's large and spacious, which can help immerse you in your audio. Although they lack a bit of low bass, they have an accurate and neutral sound profile that's suitable for a variety of audio content. They also have a comfortable fit and come with a carrying pouch to help keep them clear of dust when you're not using them. They come with an extra detachable audio cable too, which is handy if your first cable gets damaged.
Unfortunately, they need a powerful amplifier to run, and if you don't already have one, this additional expense can add to their already high price point. Just like the HiFiMan Arya, they also leak a lot of audio and won't isolate you from much ambient noise, either. However, if you prefer a dynamic transducer design, they offer an impressive neutral sound experience that's sure to please most users.
If you're looking for audiophile headphones with a dynamic transducer design but at a more reasonable price point, consider the Philips Fidelio X2HR. While they don't feel as well-built or high-end as the Sennheiser HD 800 S, the Philips offer a great price-to-performance ratio when it comes to neutral sound. Just like the Sennheiser, they lack low-bass, but they have a very neutral and well-balanced sound that's well-suited for the accurate reproduction of audio. They also have a comfortable fit with well-padded ear cups and they use a detachable audio cable, which makes it easy to replace this part if it ever gets damaged. Their passive soundstage is very good too and it seems open, spacious, and natural. However, sound still seems like it's coming from inside your head, rather than from speakers placed in the room around you.
Go for the Sennheiser if you're looking for better-built headphones with an out-of-head passive soundstage. However, if you don't mind sacrificing a premium look and feel for more affordable audiophile headphones, check out the Philips instead.
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" 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 headphones have a very well-padded and comfortable fit, making them a suitable choice for long listening sessions. They also have an open-back design, which helps them create a somewhat large, spacious, and open soundstage to help immerse you in your audio.
These headphones can deliver audio consistently, and once you get the right fit, you shouldn't experience significant deviations in their sound. They also have a well-balanced and neutral sound profile that's versatile enough for most audio genres. Although their build quality is more plasticky than other headphones, they have a thin metal frame to help reinforce their headband, which makes them feel a bit more sturdy.
However, like other open-back headphones, they have a hard time reproducing a thumpy low-bass. Their design also means that they don't block out any background noise either and they leak audio, which could annoy others around you. That said, if you're shopping for audiophile headphones on a budget, they offer a neutral sound profile and a very good passive soundstage performance that's sure to please most users.
If you're looking for headphones with a semi-open enclosure, check out the Superlux HD 681. While they aren't as comfy or well-built as the Philips SHP9500, the Superlux's semi-open design helps them reproduce a more extended low-bass. As a result, they can deliver more thump, rumble, and boom to your mixes. They're still neutral enough for most audio content though, but some users may still find they sound a bit bright and piercing. They also have a very good passive soundstage that sounds open, large, and natural, which can help immerse you in your audio.
Consider the Philips if you're looking for more comfortable and better-built headphones with an open-back design. However, if you want headphones that can reproduce more low-bass and that have a semi-open enclosure, try the Superlux.
Sep 03, 2021: Checked our picks for consistency and product availability. There hasn't been a change in our recommendations.
Jul 06, 2021: We've confirmed the accuracy of our text and checked for product availability. There hasn't been a change in our recommendations.
May 07, 2021: No changes in product picks after verifying their accuracy and availability.
Mar 10, 2021: We've renamed the 'Best Audiophile Headphones' to 'Best Dynamic Audiophile Headphones' to better-suit the needs of our users. We've also replaced the HiFiMan Ananda with the HiFiMan Arya and moved the Ananda to Notable Mentions.
Jan 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.
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.