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 daily 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, open soundstage that mimics listening to music on actual tower speakers. They also generally 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 725 pairs of headphones, and below are our recommendations for the best headphones for audiophiles you can buy. See 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 we've tested are the Sennheiser HD 800 S. These top-of-the-line headphones aren't for everyone; their high price point puts them out of reach for most users, and you'll need a powerful amplifier to drive them, which can be an additional expense. However, if you're looking for an immersive experience regardless of cost, these open-back over-ears have an outstanding soundstage that's large, natural, and spacious. Audio feels like it's coming from out in front of you rather than from inside your head. Their dynamic transducers aren't as prone to stereo imaging issues as planar magnetic headphones. However, the trade-off is that they lack more low-bass.
Although they lack a bit of punch and rumble to their sound, these comfortable over-ears have a touch of extra high-bass to add warmth to mixes. Their mids are especially flat, so vocals and lead instruments sound accurate and natural, making them a solid choice for most audio content. If you're looking for high-end audiophile headphones with more bass, check out the HiFiMan Arya. They're planar magnetic headphones that deliver more thump and punch to mixes but are brighter than the Sennheiser. Sibilants sound a bit piercing, though.
The HiFiMan Edition XS are the best mid-range audiophile headphones we've tested. These over-ears are easier on the wallet than the Sennheiser HD 800 S and still have planar magnetic transducers to help boost their bass and create an immersive sound. While they aren't as comfortable or well-built, they have a neutral sound profile with a flat mid-range, so vocals and lead instruments sound present and clear. They also lack a bit of low-bass but have a bump of high-bass that adds warmth to mixes to balance their sound. Their passive soundstage is outstanding; it feels wide, spacious, and as if your audio is coming from outside your head.
These over-ears have a comfortable fit and, unlike other HiFiMan headphones, have a more conventional headband design. However, they still fit large. As a result, they aren't as comfortable as our top pick, especially if you have a small head. They're also well-built, but their plasticky hinges make them feel a bit cheap.
If you're looking for something under the $500 range, consider the HiFiMan Sundara 2020. Like the HiFiMan Edition XS, they're planar magnetic headphones but have a different overall design, which some users may prefer. Their ski-band headband helps distribute the headphones' weight across your head, and they have a circular ear cup design. They have a higher clamping force, so they fit more snugly. Their passive soundstage doesn't feel as out of head either, though it's still very open and spacious.
These over-ears have balanced and neutral mids, ensuring natural, present, and clear vocals and instruments. Sibilants like cymbals are present without becoming overly bright or piercing. While they don't reproduce as much thump and punch as the Edition XS, their touch of extra high-bass helps add warmth to your mix.
The Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO are the best lower mid-range headphones for audiophiles we've tested. Like many audiophile headphones on the lower end of the price range, they have a closed-back design. Even though they're comparable to similarly-priced open-backs like the Philips Fidelio X2HR for neutral sound, they don't create a soundstage as wide or spacious as open-backs. However, there are a few upsides to the closed-back design: it allows them to block out some ambient sound, like background chatter, and leak less audio, which is helpful for studio work.
Closed-back headphones also do a better job reproducing bass, so your audio has adequate rumble and boom compared to open-backs like the HiFiMan Sundara 2020. Voices and lead instruments are present and accurate too. The bright treble response can be fatiguing over time, but you may still like this sound, as it can help you hear imperfections while mixing audio. They also have a comfortable, well-built design, but the audio cable isn't detachable, meaning you must replace the headphones if it breaks. If you'd like a replaceable cable, you might prefer the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, which come with three interchangeable audio cables. They can't block out as much ambient sound, though.
If you're looking for even more affordable headphones, the Philips SHP9500 are the best budget audiophile headphones we've tested. These wallet-friendly headphones are plasticky compared to the more expensive options listed here, so they don't feel very durable. Still, they offer a very neutral sound profile, with a flat mid-range response that ensures vocals and lead instruments are clear, accurate, and detailed. Unlike the Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO, they have an open-back design that helps to create a wide-seeming and immersive passive soundstage. This design also means they struggle to reproduce low-bass, so your audio lacks thump and rumble.
They deliver audio consistently from use to use and have a very comfortable fit, with big ear cups that can easily fit around most people's ears. However, if you're looking for cheaper headphones, consider the Superlux HD 681. They aren't as comfortable as the Philips but offer an analytical sound profile to help bring out imperfections in your audio. If you're concerned about durability, they don't feel as well-built as the Philips.
If you prefer an in-ear fit instead of over-ears, the best in-ear monitors (IEMs) we've tested are the MOONDROP Aria. Their design makes them better able to block out ambient sound than most over-ear audiophile headphones, including the Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO, which is important when monitoring live audio. They have a very comfortable, stable fit, so they won't slip out of your ears if you move your head around. Their audio cables loop around your ear for added stability as well. However, in-ears create a less immersive, smaller-seeming passive soundstage, where sound seems to come from inside your head.
They have a well-balanced sound profile that adds a bit of extra warmth and boom to your audio. Unlike the previous pick, they have a slightly underemphasized treble response, so sibilants sound dull. Still, most of the range is well-balanced, so instruments and vocals still sound present and clear. The buds are made of metal and feel well-built, but unfortunately, some users have reported issues with the cables fraying or connectors coming loose. On the plus side, the filters and cables are replaceable if they become damaged.
The best casual-use audiophile headphones we've tested are the Focal Bathys Wireless. These Bluetooth headphones have a closed-back design. Unlike the much cheaper Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO, they have a very good ANC feature, so you can use them on the bus or when you're out for a walk; your music won't be drowned out by noise like background chit-chat or rumbling engines. They're also wireless, so you don't need to worry about managing a long cable when you're out and about. They support the aptX Adaptive codec for high-res audio, which helps improve audio quality via Bluetooth.
They have a bass-rich, well-balanced sound profile. Instruments and vocals sound somewhat veiled, but you can adjust the sound with an EQ and presets in the companion software. The headphones are sturdy and comfortable, and unlike most audiophile headphones, they have a mic for the occasional phone call, even if it doesn't perform the best. That said, if you want audiophile headphones for gaming or mic performance is important to you, you might prefer the RØDE NTH-100M. While any wired headphones can receive audio from most consoles, these have a detachable boom mic with an excellent recording quality and a well-balanced sound profile. However, both the RØDE and the Focal have a closed-back design, and their passive soundstage performances aren't very good. The soundstage seems small, and audio seems to come from inside your head.
May 23, 2023: Replaced the HiFiMan ANANDA-BT Wireless with the Focal Bathys Wireless because the Focal's closed-back design makes them better for casual use. Moved the HiFiMan to Notable Mentions.
Mar 07, 2023: We've replaced the HiFiMan Arya with the HiFiMan Edition XS and added the HiFiMan Sundara 2020 as the 'Best Mid-Range Audiophile Headphones' to better show the gradation of headphones across the price spectrum. Also added the Focal Bathys Wireless to Notable Mentions.
Jan 05, 2023: Made minor text updates and ensured that the products are available.
Sep 20, 2022: We've added the HiFiMan Arya as the 'Best Upper Mid-Range Audiophile Headphones' and made the Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO the 'Best Lower Mid-Range Audiophile Headphones'. We've also added the Philips Fidelio X2HR to Notable Mentions.
Jun 09, 2022: We've revamped this article. Moved the HiFiMan Edition XS to 'Best Mid-Level Audiophile Headphones' and removed the Superlux HD 681 as well as Philips Fidelio X2HR. Added the MOONDROP Aria as 'Best Audiophile In-Ear Monitors' and the HiFiMan ANANDA-BT Wireless as 'Best Casual Audiophile Headphones'.
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.