Directly referring to a group of people who are passionate about the quality of audio products, audiophile (a hi-fi enthusiast) headphones have been around for several decades. In fact, there are a number of reasons which would make you want to consider “audiophile” headphones. First, known for being manufactured with high-quality components, the best audiophile headphones offer very high-quality components and specifications. That being said, we are not downgrading (in any way) less expensive headphones (see: best studio headphones). If lower quality headphones might suit your needs in a situation where you don’t have a choice, the outcome of your mixes and the more accurate sound representation with audiophile headphones will offer a more satisfactory music production process.

Moreover, we don’t just want to state facts. Without a doubt, some features make these headphones a more solid choice for music producers. Comfort, durability, sound quality and aesthetics are the features you should be looking for.  In the end, it all boils down to personal preference but also the price or the value of the headphones. Therefore, we strongly recommend that you analyze the different headphones attributes in a local store. Furthermore, after having determined what criteria should strongly be considered when making your final choice, we will go through 5 criteria (in no particular order) which, according to us, matter when choosing audiophile headphones. As a consequence, we will determine which headphones offer the best value for money on today’s market.

Guide: 5 audiophile headphone criteria

1. Sound Quality

One of the most important aspects is the sound quality of your headphones. The best audiophile headphones offer an unequalled performance. Most of the time, their frequency response is very wide and detailed. In fact, this is a characteristic which is necessary for the most accurate representation of the sound you want to hear. It is true that most of the times this frequency response is very spread out with high end headphones. Nonetheless, sometimes these extensive frequency ranges are not really necessary considering that the human hearing range doesn’t go far under 20Hz or higher than 20 kHz.

Another point of interest should be the impedance range. Especially important, this consideration always comes with the dilemma of knowing that a higher impedance (more than 300 Ohms) will provide a better audio quality, with the downfall of requiring more power. When a lot of power is required, it will necessitate a dedicated amplifier.

Additionally, a last feature which is not always displayed is total harmonic distortion. Basically, it corresponds to the amount of distortion that can appear when raising the volume. Ideally, you would like this value to be the closest to zero.

2. Comfort

Since you will probably use these headphones everyday during your music creation sessions, they should be made out of components which will not make you feel uneasy. In general, for all listeners, it is also important that listening is as much a pleasurable experience in terms of sound that it is when it comes to comfort.

Also important, velour pads definitely make a difference here by their soft and light feel. Open-back headphones also provide for a sense of comfort which is comparable to listening to your studio monitors. A comfort which is not possible with a classical closed-back design.

Along with this, the weight of your headphones should also matter. The lighter, the better. Once again, if all this criterias cannot be met in a single product, it is worthy to weigh out the pros and cons of all the considered models. Notwithstanding, comfort should never be underestimated, especially when you are considering the purchase of a more expensive product.

3. Durability

In line with the previous criteria, the manufacturing of the headphones should also be durable and resistant. By that we mean, its capacity to endure shock and to be specifically engineered for travelling purposes. We are aware that some of the products we feature on our list have been manufactured for exclusive studio use. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be sturdy and ready to be taken anywhere. If there is one reason that should justify this necessity for higher end headphones to last, it would be the price tag. In addition, some brands, like Sennheiser are well known for delivering enduring headphone models. That is not to say that there are not other very durable and resistant headphones available on the market. Some brands just have a reputation.

4. Aesthetics & Design

Comfort, paired with durability should not be made available at the expense of aesthetics and design. Who would want to use an unappealing set of headphones? Some users don’t really care about the exterior of their headphones. For us, it matters. If you go for a high-end model, it is very logical to consider the design of the product. Again, some brands offer a more pleasing design than others. But, once again when it comes to higher-end models such as audiophile headphones, most are very satisfactory in terms of exterior conception.

5. Trust your ears

In the end, everything depends on your personal aspirations, taste, preferences. What do you intend to use your headphones for? Is it for tracking, mixing, mastering? Some people also have a marked preference for more bass oriented sounds. Others prefer more punch in the mids or a more “airy sound”. The best way to find out what type of sound representation suits you best is to go to a local store and try out the most headphones you possibly can. This is probably one of the most important considerations.

Some stores feature audiophile or higher end type of headphones which you can try out. Our article is only meant to inform you in the best possible way. As a consequence, our purpose has been to find and compile the best high-quality headphones on today’s market.  It is also worth mentioning that we haven’t focused on differentiating open-back headphones with closed back ones in this article (see: best studio headphones).

The 5 Best Audiophile Headphones

1. Sennheiser HD800S Review

Sennheiser HD800S

Sennheiser HD 800 S

  • overall rating 90%

Pros & Cons 

L
Probably one of the best sound stages 
L
Quality manufacturing and appealing design.
L
Comfort
K
Bass might be lacking for some users.
K
Too expensive for its value
K
Complicated to carry around and open-back headphones
These over-ears, open back headphones are a high-end model which will probably not disappoint you. For instance, the sound stage is extremely well detailed. Indeed, the soundstage of this pair of headphones can be described as “three dimensional”. Furthermore, musical instruments and sound elements are not only spread out from left to right on the stereo spectrum, but also front to the back. As a result, these sound bright and clean, without being strident. With this in mind, the sound quality assimilates defined lows and densely balanced mids.

However, the emphasis of the sound is put on the high-mids as the lows are playing more of a supporting role than anything else. In that sense, for some listeners who have a preference for a more “mellow” and “bass-emphasized type of sound, these will probably come of as being too bright for you. That being said, these headphones have clarity and the highs are extremely smooth. Furthermore, the sound is subtle. Evidence of this can be perceived across the entire sonic spectrum. There are no cumbersome peaks. But, after the 100~120 hours of “burning in” process, the sound will be even more detailed and satisfactory according to users.

Especially satisfying is the elegant black color and the sleek design. Along with this, comfort (especially the padding material) and manufacturing are very enjoyable. If design and comfort matter, ultimately, it’s sound that matters in this price range. To sum things up, these headphones might appear as being expensive. But, quite often quality matches price. This is certainly the case here.

2. AKG Q701 Review

AKG Q 701

AKG Q 701

  • overall rating 80%

Pros & Cons 

L
Perfectly well balanced sound
L
Fantastic value
L
Open-back headphones (most accurate sound representation)
K
Not very portable 
K
Require an amplifier for optimal use
K
Leak a lot of sound
Without a doubt, we can probably name this pair of headphones as the ‘underdog’ of our list.  However, these are fantastic headphones for the money and are worth every buck. First, we should start by talking about the incredible soundstage these headphones offer. Especially satisfying, the soundstage is very full and detailed. Similarly to the HD 800 S, these provide for a very realistic three-dimensional soundstage (probably less precise but less expensive).

The Q 701 (as other open back headphones) are especially full and well balanced. Surprisingly, they are not especially precise and subtle. The bass is deep. On the other hand, the mids are strong and forward sounding. Compared to the mids, the Highs are often overrepresented in headphones. Here, highs may reflect some sibilance but overall there is no real coloration of the sound. You should bear in mind that these headphones are ‘amp-particular’ (necessitate more power for optimal performance). Furthermore, they also need a lot of hours to perform optimally (100~150 hours).

Additionally, the overall build quality certainly isn’t as great as the Sennheisers. Nonetheless, the self-adjusting headband and large, deep and soft ear pads make these headphones very comfortable. Moreover, the design is very malleable, extending itself to fit the user’s head. The arches are made of metal and all the plastic that is being used is high quality. Users have complained about the band and the bumps as being too flimsy. Briefly said, the “Q 701” are pretty close to headphones of a higher price range whilst offering a very similar quality of sound.

* The pair comes in black and green colors.

3. Shure SRH1540 Review

Shure SRH1540
  • overall rating 80%

Pros & Cons 

L
Fantastic build quality
L
Superior imaging and soundstage
L
Very comfortable headphones
K
Not very compact
K
Vocals may sound a bit “distant”
In the line of the previous headphones, we believe that the SRH1540 is a significantly underrated pair. It is important to note down that these headphones deserve a decent amplifier to be driven properly. Nonetheless, they still sound amazing at low volumes. Exceptionally well isolated, it makes them appropriate to use in any environment.

Additionally, the sound of the pair covers the entire spectrum in an even and natural way. Coupled with that is an excellent sound separation. Balanced, correct and neutral are accurate adjectives in this case. In fact, the cans are convenient for all music genres (electronic, hip-hop, jazz, rock). The bass is booming, present and solid. Some users have complained about the fact that the mids were slightly recessed. Other than that, the treble is appropriately airy. Generously, the sound encompasses a lot of detail in the highs. Even though the headphones are closed back, they can still be described as being accurate and detailed.

Furthermore, the lightweight construction of the SRH1540 is very handy and their design gives them a somewhat futuristic appearance. Meanwhile, a circumaural design will make them comfortably sit over your ears (excellent padding). Although the ear pads are soft, some users have complained about an angle of wearing which might cause more pressure. Moreover, the 40 mm neodymium drivers also deliver a superior acoustic performance. Easily comparable to the HD 650, the bottom line is that the SRH1540 give you this neutral sound representation which is required during the mixing process.

4. Fostex TH900 (25-Ohms) Review

FOSTEX TH900

Fostex TH900

  • overall rating 80%

Pros & Cons 

L
Appealing design and construction
L
Furnished headphone stand
L
Very neutral sound (Basses,mids and highs are all equally present)
K
Overpriced and not accessible for everyone
K
Undetachable cable

In spite of having such an elevated price tag, the TH 900’s don’t really deliver the ultimate listening experience. Offering a great fit and finish, the build quality is certainly solid. The headphones are comfortable too. Additionally, soft ear cups and an easily adjustable headband will make your listening experiences more than enjoyable. Nonetheless, the lacquered and red finish and synthetic leather earpads on these ones might not satisfy everyone. Without a doubt, they are soft and supple, but they are not as good as other headphones (we think about the “HD 800 S” or the “Q 701”).

Moreover, a very unfortunate characteristic of these headphones is their apparent closed back construction. That being said, these headphones sound more like open back headphones than closed ones. Essentially, what that means is that sound will leak in and out. One point of satisfaction is that the soundstage is excellent. The treble is very well extended and detailed. Bass is extremely pleasing to the ear. In fact, the Fostex have no issue playing very low (30 Hz) frequencies flawlessly. Furthermore, midrange frequencies are not recessed and mostly well defined.

As a result, these are very smooth and well balanced. Evidence of this is the equilibrium between upper bass frequencies and lower mid range which is unbelievably good. Disappointingly, the cable which the headphones come with is not detachable. You should also consider buying an additional amplifier to drive these headphones properly. All things considered, with these headphones, the “law of diminishing returns” applies in the sound department.

5. Sennheiser HD650 REVIEW

Sennheiser HD 650
Sennheiser HD 650
  • overall rating 90%

Pros & Cons 

L
Great balance of sound
L
Very comfortable
L
Vivid sound and very accurate sound representation
K

Bass might be too powerful for some

K

Ear cups are shallow and your ears might touch the drivers

K

An additional amplifier is required for optimal performance

In our opinion, the HD 650 is the best “all-around” pair. Comfortable and enjoyable to wear, the ear pads of these headphones are made out of a cloth-like material which is really soft. It not only feels great but it will also prevent your ears from overheating. Moreover, the headband on these headphones is adjustable. The HD 650 is very lightweight in a similarity to the Q 701. Even though these headphones have a mostly plastic construction, they offer a solid and resistant design

Along with this, what will strike you with these is their exceptional sound quality. They sound much better (and less harsh) than the 600s. Evidence of this is the soundstage, which is wide and expansive and every instrument can be heard clearly. Notwithstanding, this design will cause some sound leakage (in and out) letting you hear things around you, which can be a disruptive element. On the positive side, this factor will also add more airiness to the sound. Thus, giving you the impression of a better separation between instruments.

In particular, their solid midrange will make any genre of music sound great on these. Notably, the high range is very accurate and shows no real signs of sibilance. Along with this, a rich bass creates a dark, warm but also detailed and full-bodied sound. Yet, these headphones need some time to “break in” in order to sound good. In short, the “HD 650” largely stands out from the crowd as the law of diminishing returns perfectly applies here.

Conclusion

All of these headphones have their advantages and disadvantages. But they have one particularity, they all excel at something.  The Sennheiser models (800 S & 650) offer a sturdy and resistant design while providing a very balanced sound.  The AKG Q 701 (Quincy Jones signature) offers the comfort and openly balanced and accurate sound representation which is the standard for open-back headphones while offering a fantastic value. Likewise, the Fostex TH900 delivers one of the most balanced and accurate sound. The Shure SRH1540 are very all round providing quality manufacturing, soundstage and comfort.
When it comes to the numerous cons these headphones unfortunately encompass, we want to give users the benefit of the doubt. You should remember that this only our personal opinion.  When it comes to audiophile headphones, one extremely important factor to consider is the price and the value you get for that price. Less expensive headphones which are still deemed audiophile can offer very satisfactory results even though they are not as pricey. The bottom line, and especially for headphones is that you should consider the criteria we have listed above, but nothing is as important as trusting your ears.