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 and be well-built.
We've tested over 400 headphones and below are our recommendations for the best-sounding headphones you can buy in 2020. 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.
While they sound amazing, they don’t pack as much bass as some of the other audiophile headphones on this list. They’re also considerably more expensive. That said, if you have the right set up with a powerful amp and good EQ, you can tweak them to sound just right for your needs. Thanks to their outstanding soundstage, they remain the best audiophile headphones we’ve tested so far.
If you want a pair of open-back headphones that sound great but are considerably less expensive, get the Sennheiser HD 58X Jubilee. Their soundstage isn't nearly as open as the Sennheiser HD 800 S, and they're only available from Drop.com, but their sound profile is very similar for a small fraction of the price. They have great bass response which will give you accurate bass representation without sounding too boomy or overpowering. Unfortunately, while they're decently comfortable overall, their fit is quite tight and those with larger heads may not be able to wear them for extended listening periods. While their build quality is good, some of their joints feel a bit fragile, and if you're concerned about durability you may also want to consider the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO.
If you want the best critical listening headphones we've tested so far, get the HD 800 S, but if you're just testing the waters of high-end audio headphones and want something much more affordable, go with the Jubilee.
The best planar magnetic headphones that we've tested so far are the HiFiMan Ananda. You'd be forgiven if you've never heard of planar magnetic headphones before, as they're less common and are usually associated with high-end audio. These open-back headphones are an upgrade over their very popular HiFiMan Edition X, with large well-padded ear cups that are comfortable, but may be too big for some as they extend well past the jaw. Due to their size and weight, they're not meant to be used for traveling or commuting, not to mention that they don't come with a carrying case and that they're open-back headphones. The build quality has improved over the Edition X and they do feel premium; however, HiFiMan's quality control can be questionable at times.
They do sound incredible, though. The bass has decent extension, while the treble is nearly flawless, but there's a slight bump in the lower mids that can cause some muddiness in certain tracks. Nonetheless, open-back headphones such as these are all about soundstage, and they deliver. They sound natural and spacious, without that inside-the-head feel of closed-back headphones. Unfortunately, this comes at the cost of terrible noise isolation as well as bad leakage. Needless to say, it's best to use them in a quiet environment that won't be bothersome to others.
Overall, if you're able to get a pair that's free of defects, these headphones are well worth it.
If planar magnetic headphones like the HiFiMan Ananda have caught your attention but are out of your budget, take a look at their cheaper option, the HiFiMan Sundara. They sound almost as good, at a price that's much more feasible. However, durability is a concern, as it adds to HiFiMan's already irregular quality control. While the headband can be tight for some, the circular ear cups and lower profile design does make them very comfortable to wear for long listening sessions. That said, it's still not recommended to use these headphones on-the-go, as the open-back design doesn't isolate from noise at all and leak a lot.
If cost isn't a concern, the Ananda has better build quality and will likely be more durable, but for a cheaper pair that will still perform admirably, go with the Sundara.
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 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 don't like over-ear headphones or simply need a more portable pair, the best audiophile earbuds are the 1More Triple Driver. Even at such a low price, they have a decent build quality, as the earbuds themselves are metal and the braided cable below the Y split feels very durable. Unfortunately, the cables leading up to the earbuds are somewhat thin and create a lot of cable noise when moved.
On the whole, these headphones sound fairly well-balanced, with a natural and accurate audio reproduction. However, the bass can sound a tad muddy and the mids are recessed, causing vocals and leads to sound underemphasized. Like most closed-back in-ears, you won't get the spaciousness and open soundstage that open-back headphones can produce.
Unfortunately, these headphones don't isolate against ambient noise that well. They perform decently in the mid-range to block out chatter, but won't do much for the low rumbles of bus engines. Overall, if you're looking for a pair of good-sounding earbuds, try these.
If you’re looking for open-back headphones that deliver audiophile-approved sound without breaking the bank, the best audiophile headphones in the budget category 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. They even have a decently open soundstage, which is good for this price range.
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 prefer semi-open headphones or want something even cheaper, go with the Superlux HD 681. They aren't as comfortable as the Philips SHP9500, but their sound reproduction is impressive, especially at this price point. They have exceptional bass response and excellent mid-range, providing great overall sound. Due to their semi-open design, their soundstage is decently open-sounding, though unfortunately their build quality is disappointing and they feel cheaply made and plasticky.
Get the Philips if you want more durable headphones that are more comfortable for extended listening sessions, but if you want to save even more money and still want something with impressive sound, go with the Superlux.
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.
01/06/2020: Minor text and structure changes, no change in recommendation.
10/28/2019: Only minor updates to the text and verification for accuracy; no changes in product picks.