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 450 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 so far 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-back headphones. 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 just dipping your toes into the world of audiophile headphones and don’t want to break the bank, then the Philips Fidelio X2HR are a good choice. These budget open-back headphones offer a less spacious and less natural-sounding listening experience than the Sennheiser HD 800 S and aren’t as stable on the head. However, they're significantly cheaper and deliver a similarly neutral sound profile, with remarkably accurate mids and very even bass. Like most open-back headphones, they lack a little kick and thump at very low frequencies. Also, their slightly uneven treble accuracy means that certain tracks will sound a little piercing. On the bright side, they're very comfortable, even during long listening sessions, and they look and feel quite well-built.
If money is no object and you prioritize a neutral sound profile and premium build quality above all else, get the Sennheiser. If you’re on a budget but aren’t willing to compromise much on performance, consider the Philips.
The best planar magnetic headphones that we've tested to date are the HiFiMan Ananda. These open-back over-ears offer a distinctive look and premium-feeling build quality, with metal yokes and a detachable audio cable coated in rubber. However, it should be noted that quality control on Hifiman headphones can be a little inconsistent, so your experience may vary. Thanks to their large, generously-padded ear cups, they're comfortable enough to wear for hours at a time.
They deliver a well-balanced listening experience overall, so they should be well-suited for a wide variety of genres. While there's a slight lack of low-end bass, this is normal for open-back headphones, and vocals and lead instruments still sound full-bodied, present, and detailed. They also generate a remarkably open passive soundstage and do an incredible job of making your music sound like it's coming from all around you, rather than the inside of your head.
Unfortunately, these aren't the most versatile headphones, since they lack on-board controls and a mic. If you're looking for a similar listening experience but want a little more day-to-day practicality, the HiFiMan ANANDA-BT Wireless offer Bluetooth 5.0 compatibility, a small detachable boom mic, and a fairly rudimentary control scheme. However, they're still quite bulky and heavy and produce a less well-balanced sound profile than the wired-only version.
The best closed-back audiophile headphones that we've tested so far are the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x. These over-ear headphones 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.
These headphones are 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 headphones 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 headphones 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 audiophile headphones in the budget category that we’ve tested are the Philips SHP9500. The over-ear open-backs feature a relatively upmarket, very comfortable design, with well-padded, spacious ear cups and relatively lightweight construction that shouldn’t place too much of a strain on your head. Considering their price, their build quality is good, with a sturdy-feeling metal headband as well as a detachable audio cable.
Their sound profile is decently well-balanced with remarkably accurate mids and treble, ensuring clear, present vocals and lead instruments. However, fans of EDM and hip-hop might prefer a little more thump and kick, as these headphones lack quite a bit of low-end bass, which is normal for open-back headphones. However, their passive soundstage is quite good, capable of delivering a natural, very spacious listening experience.
While these headphones feel decently well-built overall, some may find their construction to have too much of a plastic feel. Their swiveling ear cups are a weak point due to their somewhat fragile attachment point. If that isn’t a problem, then the Philips are worth considering, as their impressive price-to-performance ratio means that they rank among the best open-back headphones we’ve tested so far.
If you want something even cheaper that has a semi-open design, get the Superlux HD 681. They aren't nearly as comfortable or well-built as the Philips SHP9500, and their sound profile isn't quite as well-balanced, but they're even cheaper, and they leak much less audio. While they don't block nearly as much audio coming in or out as closed-back headphones, they still do a much better job than fully open-back headphones and have a fair amount more bass. However, they may not be the best choice if you tend to be tough on your headphones as they look and feel very cheap and plasticky.
Overall, if you want something more durable and comfortable and don't mind spending a bit more, get the Philips. However, if you want to spend even less, the Superlux have an impressively well-balanced sound profile considering their extremely low price point.
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'.
03/12/2020: Minor text and structure changes, no changes in recommendations.
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.