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-ear headphones 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, these headphones 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. However, like most open-back headphones, they lack a little kick and thump at very low frequencies. In addition, 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 too 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 look and feel quite premium and deliver a consistent listening experience regardless of head shape, thanks to their generously sized ear cups. That said, if you have a smaller head, those large ear cups can extend past the jaw, much might be a bit irritating during longer listening sessions. In addition, while the unit we tested felt very well-built, HiFiMan's overall quality control doesn't isn't always as consistent as other brands.
Their sound delivery is decently well-balanced with clear and bright vocals and lead instruments, making them well-suited to a wide range of genres. Despite their open-back design, their bass performance is great, though they lack a bit of low-bass, which may be disappointing if you listen to a lot of EDM or hip hop and demand a lot of thump and kick. This is expected from open-back headphones, however, and their open design provides an excellent and open soundstage.
On the downside, these headphones are basically designed as bi-directional speakers, which means that they leak almost all of their audio. This, combined with their bulky design and inability to block outside noise, make them a very poor choice for travel. However, if you intend to use them for critical listening at home or in the studio, they're a great pair of open-back headphones with a unique selling point thanks to their magnetic drivers.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x are the best closed-back audiophile headphones that we've tested so far. These over-ear headphones are much more versatile than the other options on this list, as they have a very attractive price point and block out background noise much better than options with an open-back design. These comfortable headphones are very popular for studio use and are known for providing excellent value. They look and feel very premium and durable and come with three different detachable audio cables, though unfortunately, none of them include an in-line mic for phone calls while on-the-go.
Their sound profile is very well-balanced, though they aren't entirely as accurate as the other options mentioned. Their bass range is slightly elevated to add a bit of extra warmth and body to your music, though it's by no means overpowering or boomy sounding. In comparison to most popular Bluetooth over-ears, they still sound very flat and accurate. As is to be expected from closed-back headphones, their soundstage isn't nearly as open and spacious as the open-back headphones that have been mentioned so far.
While these headphones have a well-built design, they don't feel as durable as the similarly-performing Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO, which have a solid and sturdy metal frame. However, the Beyerdynamic don't have a detachable cable and are typically quite a bit more expensive. Overall, the Audio-Technica are a great choice if you want a high-end audio experience but want headphones that can be used in your daily life as well.
If you prefer the fit and portability of in-ears, go with the 1More Triple Driver. They aren't as comfortable as the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, and they feel a bit less premium, but they have an almost identical sound profile and can easily be tossed into a pocket or bag. Their sound profile is very accurate and well-balanced, making them suitable for most genres, and they have very little distortion at any volume, especially in the bass range. Unlike the Audio-Technica, they have an in-line remote and microphone, so you can easily control your music and take calls while on-the-go.
If you find over-ear headphones more comfortable, go with the Audio-Technica, but if you want something more portable, get the 1More.
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. They may not be the best choice if you tend to be tough on your headphones, however, 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.
07/10/2020: Moved Sennheiser HD 58X Jubilee to Notable Mentions, made Philips Fidelio X2HR 'Budget-Friendly Alternative' for 'Best Audiophile Headphones'. Changed text for accuracy and clarity.
05/11/2020: Moved HiFiMan Sundara to Notable Mentions, made 1More Triple Driver 'In-Ear Alternative' to 'Best Closed-Back Audiophile Headphones'. Updated text for accuracy and clarity.
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.