The choices can be overwhelming if you're looking for headphones that are great for music. Depending on what kind of music you like, some headphones are better suited than others. Those listening to more instrumental or vocal-centric content like jazz or folk may prefer a more neutral or balanced sound with a wide, immersive soundstage. On the other hand, fans of EDM, hip-hop, and R&B may like their bass to give their favorite tracks extra thump and kick.
We've tested over 730 pairs of headphones, and below are our recommendations for the best music-oriented headphones based on sound profile, features, and price range. For more picks, check out our recommendations for the best audiophile headphones, the best studio headphones, and the best-sounding wireless earbuds.
The Sennheiser HD 800 S are the best headphones for music that we've tested. If you're looking for the best and intend to spare no expense, these premium headphones are among the best open-back headphones we've tested. They create an incredibly natural, spacious, and wholly immersive listening experience that makes your music sound like it's coming from all around you. Their well-balanced sound profile will also please audiophiles. Their very neutral mid and treble response makes vocals and lead instruments sound clear, present, detailed, and airy, though some may find them a little too bright.
However, their high price point and added costs (since you'll need an amplifier to get the most out of them) can put them well out of reach for most people. They're very well-built, with a sturdy-feeling design made of high-grade plastic reinforced by a metal frame and a braided detachable audio cable. Their spacious, breathable, and well-padded ear cups will also ensure you don't experience any discomfort, even during long listening sessions.
Since they have a dynamic transducer design, they're less prone to imaging issues than planar magnetic headphones. If you want an alternative to these high-end over-ears, check out the cheaper HiFiMan Arya. They utilize planar-magnetic drivers instead of more common dynamic drivers and deliver more low bass and a more neutral sound across the range. They can be difficult to find available, but the HiFiMan Arya Stealth Magnet Version are an updated version that performs very similarly. However, both sets of HiFiMan headphones are bulkier and have less warmth in their bass range than the HD 800 S.
The best upper mid-range headphones for music we've tested are the HiFiMan Edition XS. Unlike the Sennheiser HD 800 S, they use planar magnetic drivers instead of dynamic drivers, which are more common. Thanks to this design, they can reproduce bass more accurately than competitors at this price point and create a better representation of their soundstage. On the other hand, their transducer is more complex, resulting in more minor deviations in sound reproduction between units. They have a bulkier and heavier design than the Sennheiser and feel less premium. However, their ski-band headband helps distribute the headphones' weight evenly, meaning you won't feel fatigued during long listening sessions.
They offer a neutral default sound profile that brings a touch of extra warmth and boom to your music. Lead vocals and instruments clearly and accurately reproduce, although a dip in the high-mid range weakens these elements. Although they feel more plasticky than the HiFiMan Arya and many other high-end options, they still feel sturdy and have a comfortable enough fit for hours-long listening sessions. However, if your head is on the small side, their large ear cups and frame might result in a less comfortable fit. On the plus side, their sound delivery is consistent from use to use.
Looking for great sound at a mid-range price point? Check out the HiFiMan Sundara 2020. They're the next generation of the HiFiMan Sundara 2018 and have redesigned ear cups that are more comfortable. Otherwise, the two models are nearly identical. Both feature the same neutral sound profile that's versatile for different kinds of content. While they lack the low-bass needed to get into EDM and hip-hop due to their open-back design, the mid-range is extremely well-balanced, meaning that vocals and instruments sound present, clear, and detailed.
These headphones feel comfortable and well-built. While they're more comfortable than the pricier HiFiMan Edition XS, their passive soundstage isn't as immersive. They can also trap in quite a bit of heat and aren't as breathable as their predecessor or other models in HiFiMan's lineup, resulting in potential discomfort over long listening sessions. Additionally, they're unstable and can slip around if you move your head when listening to music. Fortunately, their low impedance means you won't need a powerful amp to connect them and can get the same sound quality from your phone or laptop.
If you're looking for a great listening experience without breaking the bank, the Philips Fidelio X2HR are the way to go. These open-back headphones are bulkier than the HiFiMan Sundara 2020 and have a less immersive passive soundstage. However, they offer a much lower bass extension, making genres like hip-hop and EDM sound thumpier and more powerful than on some pricier open-back headphones. The rest of the range is very neutral, with great fidelity in the mid and treble ranges that make vocals and instruments sound crisp, clear, detailed, and present.
These headphones are mostly made of plastic but still feel well-built and durable. They clamp tighter on the head than most Philips headphones but won't cause discomfort during long listening sessions. Their low impedance also means you can get great-sounding audio without an amp. You can use them with your laptop and phone without changes in audio quality.
The best headphones for music that we've tested in the budget range are the Philips SHP9500. These open-back headphones have an extremely balanced and neutral mid-range, making them well-suited for genres like classical and folk that rely on accurately reproducing vocals and lead instruments. They can't reproduce as much low-bass as the more upscale Philips Fidelio X2HR, but their passive soundstage still feels wide, open, and spacious. They're also lighter than the Fidelio X2HR and have a lower clamping force, making them more comfortable for extended listening sessions.
These over-ears have a very comfortable fit and decent build quality. While the ear cups are well-padded, their fabric lining and swivel points both feel prone to breaking over time. Fortunately, the audio cable is detachable, so it's easily replaceable if it gets damaged.
If you care about your music but don't want to sacrifice features like noise cancelling and portability, consider the Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless. They're Bluetooth headphones, which makes them easier to use when you're out and about, and they have an ANC feature that can block out noise like ambient chit-chat or rumbling engines. They have a closed-back design, so they can't create a passive soundstage that feels as wide or open as similarly-priced open-back headphones, like the HiFiMan Sundara 2020. Fortunately, they have a virtual surround sound feature to help create a more immersive experience, though you need to use it with a compatible streaming service, like Tidal.
They deliver much more low-bass than the open-back HiFiMan, which makes them well-suited for genres like EDM and hip-hop. However, it makes vocals and instruments sound muddy and less clear. Fortunately, they work with a companion app with a graphic EQ and presets, which can help you find a more neutral mix. They're also very comfortable, and last 37 hours on a single charge, so they'll last through several full workdays without needing additional power. They also have an integrated microphone, which performs passably well, so you can take calls between tracks while on the go.
If you prefer an in-ear fit, consider the MOONDROP Blessing 3. These wired in-ear monitors (IEMs) are a lightweight and portable alternative to bulkier over-ear audiophile headphones like the HiFiMan Sundara 2020. You won't get a passive soundstage that feels as immersive or open, but in exchange, you get a more subtle look and better breathability. Each bud features a hybrid driver design with dual 10mm dynamic drivers to help improve sound quality, especially in the bass range. The result is an extremely well-balanced sound profile, ensuring that audio reproduces with astounding fidelity.
They're lighter than other MOONDROP models, like the MOONDROP Aria, and sit comfortably in your ear without causing fatigue. They also have good stability due to an over-ear cable design and multiple sizes of included ear tips to help you get the best in-ear fit. The cable's also detachable, so you won't need to replace your whole unit if it gets damaged. These earbuds don't have ANC and do a better job of passively isolating you from nearby conversations or whiny AC units than rumbly bus engines.
If you're still looking for more in-ear headphones, check out our best-sounding wireless earbuds article!
Mar 03, 2023: Shifted our picks for better price flow. Added the HiFiMan Sundara 2020 and the Philips Fidelio X2HR in the 'Mid-Range' and 'Lower Mid-Range' categories, respectively. Made the HiFiMan Edition XS our 'Upper Mid-Range' pick.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best wired and best wireless headphones for music to buy for most people. 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, ranked by their suitability for neutral sound. 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.