The 10 Best Audiophile Headphones
This wiki has been updated 22 times since it was first published in May of 2015. While high-fidelity headphones are a highly subjective field, some models stand out as the cream of the crop when it comes to accurate reproduction and clarity. Serious music fans and sound recording professionals alike will appreciate this audiophile-level selection, all of which are highly regarded by experts around the world. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best audiophile headphone on Amazon.
Sonoma Model One Warwick Acoustics only makes two pairs of headphones, and these $5,000 cans are considered some of the best in the business. They're hard to get your hands on, not particularly loud, and only sold by a select few dealers, but given their price, you'll probably want to give them a listen on studio-quality equipment before you purchase them, anyhow. warwickacoustics.com
Sennheiser HE 1 If money is truly no object, check out these successors to Sennheiser's already absurdly expensive -- and unwaveringly famous -- Orpheus headphones. If your motto is, "He who dies with the most toys wins," then these should at least be on your list. Of course, they'll probably be at the very end of said list, because they cost about $60,000. sennheiser.com
Abyss AB-1266 Phi Some people call these the greatest headphones ever made, and while that is, of course, highly subjective, what's not in argument is how they're quite unconventional. They look a little, well, odd, and they don't clamp your ears like normal headphones, but rather float along side them in a very unusual way. Nonetheless, if you're a dedicated collector of high-end audio equipment, these updated cans are definitely worth a look. abyss-headphones.com
January 17, 2020:
Audiophile products are a decidedly subjective and personal topic. They're categorically more expensive than common headphones and, generally speaking, aren't useful for on-the-go listening. In fact, given the fact that they're generally in an open-back configuration, they're often not ideal for studio work. But, provided you haven't spent too much time standing next to overly loud speakers, you might just be able to pick out the pros and cons of headphones that cost from several hundred to several thousand dollars.
Neophyte audiophiles might consider some less expensive models such as the Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2 (formerly MrSpeakers), which, while unconventional in appearance, are quite comfortable and cost less than $1,000. The Focal Elear are in a similar price range, and come from a highly respected manufacturer of high-grade cans; the Focal Clear, while about twice as expensive, will satisfy all but the most demanding listeners. Then there are the Beyerdynamic T1 2nd Generation, which come in a handful of varieties with differing impedances; the 600-ohm version are widely considered to be the most sensitive, but they will require a powerful amplifier, so if you are a pro at pairing various components, they may not be right for you.
If you're willing to spend over $1,000, your options open up considerably. The Sennheiser HD 800 S are all-around high performers, and well-renowned for dynamically-driven cans. The Sony MDR-Z1R, while even more costly, feature massive, 70-millimeter drivers that can push nearly any type of sound you desire. Their closed-back construction also lends them to studio use, unlike many others in the category. We also want to point out the Audeze LCD-X and Audeze iSine20, which come from a popular manufacturer of planar magnetic headphones, and the Stax SR-009, which are often called the finest electrostatic headphones in the world. Keep in mind, though, that these more specialized technologies don't sound quite the same as traditional dynamic drivers, and won't be right for everyone.
Inside Audiophile Headphones
Once it's all put together, things like the diameter of the main speaker, and the size and shape of the ear cup will all play a role in tonal quality and bass response.
When you begin to look closely at the components that come together to form most audiophile headphones, you see that there aren't a whole lot of variables to adjust from brand to brand.
A signal is converted from its digital state by a dense magnetized coil of copper wire that vibrates a membrane, usually made of plastics, or fabrics, or a combination of the two, and that sound hits you in the ear along with the resonance of the ear cup itself. Pretty simple stuff.
What is it, then, that can make one pair of cans so much more expensive, or sound so much better, than another? At times, it can feel like distinguishing between two other cans: Pepsi and Coke. Sure they're different, but they're both just carbonated, flavored sugar water. Is either really better than the other (yes, one is better, and it's called Royal Crown)?
Well, since the primary point of signal conversion is that magnetized coil of wire, the quality of that magnetic field is about as vital as that of any other component.
Many nicer headphones will use neodymium magnets, which are touted as the strongest permanent magnet available on the market, though it's important to note that even these have their own grades to them.
Once it's all put together, things like the diameter of the main speaker, and the size and shape of the ear cup will all play a role in tonal quality and bass response. Generally speaking, the smaller these two things, the less likely you're going to get a deep bass.
To Tweak Or Not To Tweak
I hope your taste in music is eclectic. I really do. What we listen to says a lot about who we are, and the more musical styles we expose ourselves to with an open mind, the more we'll find to like. This will do nothing but make you a more interesting, well-rounded person. I believe it's inevitable.
Eclectic musical tastes will also likely make you better versed in the equalizer settings in your car, on your phone and your computer.
Eclectic musical tastes will also likely make you better versed in the equalizer settings in your car, on your phone and your computer. That Carter Family track is going to sound pretty strange if your EQ is set up to maximize your dubstep experience.
Each style of music thrives at its own equalization, and knowing what your new set of headphones is designed to play will tell you how you ought to tweak your EQ, for the best sound on your favorite tracks. You might find that a set with deeper bass is stifling the vital mid tones in your favorite classical pieces, so you can lower some of the bottom frequencies or boost the mids and highs as you see fit.
This is the case with a tremendous amount of headphones produced for audiophiles in the past decade. The advent of Beats by Dr. Dre has a lot to do with this trend, as those headphones came along and told the marketplace that it needed as much bass as humanly possible, whether it knew it or not.
It's taken a while for manufacturers to fight back against the empire of the lower case 'b', but companies like AKG and V-Moda are daring to reduce their bass output in favor of a clearer, more balanced sound.
If you only really listen to modern pop music, hip hop, and R&B, you might want to start out by sacrificing those mids for a booming bass and clear vocals. Most all other styles though will work best with something a little less artificially bass driven.
Communing In Private: On Headphones and Isolation
I was on a road trip once with my childhood best friend and his family, some time around the fifth grade. We each had the same CD in our respective Discman players. We got the discs spinning on track one at the 0:00 mark, and simultaneously pressed play so that we could listen together without bothering with the music on the car radio. It was a great bonding experience to be a separated individual in sync with your friend right next to you.
It was a great bonding experience to be a separated individual in sync with your friend right next to you.
That's because music is a communal art. We come together to make it and appreciate it. Of course, our tastes vary so wildly in today's endless musical expanse that it's increasingly difficult to share music without the fear of offending another, or embarrassing ourselves by openly displaying anything we like.
Now, headphones are neither the cause of our increasing social anxiety and alienation, nor are they necessarily an antidote for it.
When they first came around, headphones were a military device. Later, they entered the private sector through telephone and radio operations, but they didn't truly become a staple in our way of life until the advent of the Walkman in the late 1970s.
Now they're as ubiquitous as denim jeans, and the right pair can set you apart from the crowd in wondrous ways while you peacefully appreciate the finest nuances of your favorite music. Just don't forget to let someone else in the bubble every once in a while.
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