10 Best Headphones for Music for 2022
Updated: June 02,2022
Are you thinking of joining the HiFi world? A fantastic pair of cans is a must, then. We’ve assembled and reviewed 10 of the best headphones for music available, and there’s bound to be one that’s your perfect match.
Scroll down, and you’ll find:
- A handy comparison table with all the essential features
- Ten in-depth reviews focused on specs, sound, usability, and pricing
- A guide on how to find your ideal headphones.
So, let’s get down to business!
1. Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless
Are you looking for the finest noise-canceling headphones? The Sony WH-1000XM4 is full of intelligent features that ensure your complete isolation wherever you are. It has a stunning battery life of 30 hours with ANC on.
Active noise cancelation
Battery life with ANC on
SBC, AAC, and LDAC
Sony’s current flagship headphones model — the Sony WH-1000XM4 — was launched in August 2020. It continues and grows its predecessor's (WH-1000XM3) brilliant legacy in noise cancelation and sound quality.
Overall, these top-quality headphones are a well-rounded choice for almost everyone.
Yes, almost. They aren’t really suitable as outdoor/workout cans since they are not waterproof. Travelers and commuters will love them, however.
Let’s start from the basics — the WH-1000XM4’s build. Their soft foamed urethane earpads ensure comfort during long listening sessions. They come equipped with an optional 1/8’’ (3.5mm) audio cable.
They are also very flexible yet durable. You can rotate the earcups 90° and fold them. Aesthetically, they are a near-identical twin to the older WH-1000XM3 model.
These wireless headphones for music use Bluetooth 5.0 and support codec options like SBC, AAC, and LDAC. Now, LDAC is Sony’s homegrown Bluetooth codec, with a 990kbps bit rate. Still, this model discontinued its support for aptX or aptX HD.
Sony has gone to great lengths to make these music headphones as practical as possible. They are chock-full of useful little features like:
- Touch-sensitive earcups — raise/lower the volume, play, pause, and skip songs with a simple tap or swipe
- Auto-pause — automatically pauses the music whenever you take the headphones off and continues when you put them back on
- Speak-to-Chat — stops the music whenever you say something and then resumes it once your conversation is done
- Bluetooth multipoint connection — connect two devices at the same time, and smoothly switch between them
- Ambient sound control — choose which sounds to let in when you’re listening on the move.
As you can see, the WH-1000XM4s are convenient Bluetooth headphones for music and when you have to react quickly but your hands are full. Or, sometimes you just don’t feel like taking off your cans! We all know the feeling.
They also have a long battery life: about 30 hours with noise-canceling on and 38 hours without it. You can count on the quick charge for a quick fix: you will have five hours worth of charge after only 10 minutes of power.
The app for these high-end headphones adds even more options. Sony Headphones Connect lets you customize each button on the earcups and play around with different equalization levels. Now, that all sounds pretty standard, but you can do some really cool things too, like optimize noise-canceling and enjoy 360 Reality Audio.
The Connect app allows you to adjust noise levels for every situation — you won’t use the same noise isolation settings at home and in an airplane, for example. With atmospheric pressure optimization, you can even change settings based on the level of air pressure you’re in.
The 360 Reality Audio elevates the WH-1000XM4’s as one of the best audiophile headphones. The full sound makes for a more immersive listening experience compared to the flat normal stereo audio. Sadly, you can only experience it if you use Amazon music HD, Deezer, nugs.net, and TIDAL. Sorry, Spotify users!
Generally, this model has improved sound quality, which is an impressive feat considering the WH-1000XM3’s high standards. It uses 40mm drivers and is capable of reproducing a range of frequencies up to 40kHz.
There’s one more ace up its sleeve: the Digital Sound Enhancement Engine Extreme (DSEE Extreme). This fascinating AI-powered engine restores lossy, compressed files.
Finally, the pricing. The numbers range from $250 to $350 — a fair price for these amazing headphones. Versatile and full of smart little tricks and features, the Sony WH-1000XM4s will perfectly mask noise and immerse you in music.
2. Grado SR325x
The Grado SR325x are more than just brilliant open-back headphones — they are a statement piece. Their authentic design and natural sound are a powerful combo. They cost $295 and come with two adjustable sets of earpads, each capable of reproducing a different sound signature.
The SR325xs are the latest addition to Grado’s Prestige Series. Released in May 2021, they are a natural progression of the trademark Grado open-backed design and sound. The Brooklyn, NY-based company has been around for a long time (since 1953!). It’s known for some of the best open-back headphones in the industry.
Their specific build means they are perfect for at-home listening and similarly intimate situations. You will be aware of everything that’s happening around you — and everyone near you will be able to hear what you’re listening to. The obvious downside is that they aren’t made for portable use.
So, let’s see what makes these cans so special.
The SR325x model rocks the iconic retro Grado design, with brushed aluminum housing and a leather headband with white stitching. But it also comes with a new super annealed copper 8-conductor cable, a 1/8’’ (3.5mm) headphone jack, and a 1/4’’(6.3mm) adapter.
The company puts authenticity in the first place, so the high-quality headphones are hand-made. They are pretty robust and made to last. Most of the parts are easily replaceable, so don’t worry about switching worn-out earpads.
Now, talking about earpads:
The default flat ones are a polarizing feature. If you’re used to very plush, soft protection, these will take some acclimating. With the metal housing and the intense clamping force, the SR325xs are not to be taken lightly. They will tire you out after a couple of hours of listening.
Still, the extra flat earpads are that way for a reason. They are part of the intricate sound design. Since they are pressed snug against the ears, with no padding between them and the drivers, listeners will experience music even more keenly. If you really can’t get over the feel of the default earpads, you can change them — but that will also change the sound.
Let’s zoom in a bit more into audio quality.
The Grado SR325x employs specifically tuned 4th generation 44mm drivers. The frequency response range is around 18Hz-24kHz. Since these are open headphones for music, you can’t expect any noise isolation — and there is a lot of leakages. That also means their sound isn’t very bass-centric. It’s crystal-clear, crisp, and dynamic, however, especially in the mid-ranges.
But, what about the pricing?
At $295, these cans are a stylish statement piece representing the most nuanced open sound, vivid and natural, across all ranges.
3. Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro
The Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro are masterfully made professional open-back headphones. They are a must-have for analytical listeners. But they aren’t just serious headphones: switch their analytical earpads with the balanced ones, and you’ll hear a whole new world. These German-quality headphones cost $599.
Beyerdynamic is famous for its detailed and balanced approach to sound design. Its headphones are dominantly used in studio production, but that doesn’t mean they are all work and no play. This German company also makes some of the best headphones.
The DT 1990 Pro model was released in August 2016. It’s primarily designed for professionals, but it’s also an excellent pick for audiophiles. They are stay-at-home (or studio) headphones, not designed for portable adventures.
The 1990s are open-backed, with a mostly metal casing. At 0.8 lbs (370g), they are a bit on the heavier side. The earcups have eye-catching cut-outs on the sides, with a fine mesh underneath. These cans come with two straight and coiled cables and a 1/4" (6.3mm) adapter for each.
More good things come in twos for these high-def headphones — like two pairs of plush velour ear pads with memory foam padding. Interestingly enough, one set has four vent holes and the other 20. The slight differences in their design are part of Beyer’s meticulous audio calibration. So, one pair is for balanced listening, the other for analytical. We’ll get into their sound details a bit later.
Considering their weight and clamp force, the 1990s take some getting used to. Luckily, their thick leather headband and refined earpads prevent any severe discomfort. You can easily wear them for hours but bear in mind that the velour earpads can get quite heated.
So, what puts the 1990s among the best headphones for musicians?
They have a relatively high impedance of 250Ω, combined with high sound sensitivity. To use them to their fullest capacity, you will need something stronger to drive them, like an amplifier. You can also plug them into a laptop or phone, but you will need to crank the sound up.
Beyer’s point of pride for this model is the 45mm Tesla drivers. It also has a sizable frequency response range of 5Hz-40kHz. The cans are known for their incredibly detailed and textured audio — which often leads to treble sharpness. This sonic aspect might be challenging for the more treble-sensitive listeners, but it can be tuned down with equalizers.
Remember the different sets of earpads?
The analytical earpads provide a more neutral sound, with a flatter frequency response. The balanced earpads, on the other hand, sound more energetic, with a noticeable bass rumble. Don’t be afraid to switch around — they are very sturdy.
Let’s talk about pricing. For $599, you can get one of the top options available. Their superb craftsmanship and dedication to detail practically guarantee a long and happy product lifetime.
4. AKG Y500 Headphones
The AKG Y500 are budget-friendly wireless headphones that can pack quite a punch. Despite their low price, they deliver a balanced and warm sound that isn’t muddied by bass. Their 33-hour battery life is also nothing to scoff at! They can be yours for just $150.
Balanced, but energetic
SBS and AAC codec
AKG managed to impress everyone with its affordable yet powerful Y50BT model in 2015. Its younger sibling Y500 came out in 2018, but it’s still relevant. They remain one of the best budget headphones for music.
This pair is foldable and can easily fit in your pocket. You can also stay aware of your surroundings, thanks to their Ambient Aware feature. With a click of a button, you can mute your music and let the outside world seep in.
Here’s what they offer:
These on-ear closed-back wireless headphones for music are made of aluminum and plastic. Compared to their predecessor’s flashy design, the Y500s are more minimalist and subdued. The earcups are slightly bigger than usual for on-ear cans, and they weigh a bit more — 0.5lbs (230g). Still, that doesn’t impact their level of comfort.
The AKG Y500s have up to 33 hours of battery life. You can use their five-minute speed charge for one hour of playtime. They have the standard 1/8” (3.5mm) jack. Pairing them is easy, and you can do it with multiple devices at the same time.
What about their wireless sound?
The Y500 model uses Bluetooth 4.2 and supports the AAC codec. AAC makes sure that your audio doesn’t decline in quality during the transmission. The headphones have 40mm drivers and a frequency range of 16Hz-22kHz.
Those are some of the best cheap headphones for music for a reason. They add an extra oomph on the lower end of sounds without compromising the mids and higher ranges. The sub-bass is also delightful! If you want a flatter sound without the mainstream bass boost, however, you might want to look for something else.
The Y500s are quite a nice deal for $150. Anyone looking to enter the world of audiophiles but isn’t willing to pay the often steep price should check them out.
5. Sennheiser HD 800 S
The Sennheiser HD 800 S is not to be taken lightly. This majestic pair of open-back headphones represent the pinnacle of neutral sound. Its massive drivers are also capable of reproducing an impressively wide soundstage. The price is premium, too — $1400.
Sennheiser produces some of the leading audiophile headphones, without a doubt. The legendary HD 800 from 2009 was famous for its perfectionist approach to sound balance. The 2016 “S” model had some big shoes to fill, but it managed even beyond our expectations.
The pair is designed for critical listening at home or studio. You can’t take them along for daily tasks. So, they are not very versatile, but they are spectacular at what they do. Just one look at their specs will make it clear why they are top audiophile headphones.
The Sennheiser HD 800 S are open-back over-ear cans, developed and hand-made in Germany. They have a black matte metal frame and massive earcups with microfiber padding. Solid and inflexible, it’s not a portable pair of cans. Despite their imposing looks, they’re actually lightweight for this category - 0.82 lbs (330g).
Given their thick padding, these headphones are very comfortable. But, they might not be the best fit for smaller heads because of the humongous earcups. On the positive side, they are very breathable.
The music headphones come with two cables. One is unbalanced, with a 1/4‘’ (6.3mm) jack, and the other is balanced, with a 4.4mm jack plug. Ideally, balanced cables have a better signal-to-noise ratio but only when connected to devices with a balanced output. Keep in mind that with their nominal impedance of 300Ω, you will need some powerful audio equipment to use these cans to the best of their capabilities.
Now, let’s focus on the sound quality.
Sennheiser doesn’t play around - these HiFi headphones have 56mm drivers! They are sitting at an angle to provide a better spatial hearing. The 800 S model also has a staggering frequency response range of 4Hz-51kHz. It strives for faithful reproduction of natural sound, which analytical listeners will surely appreciate.
Aside from the refined neutral sound, this pair has a breathtaking passive soundstage. It seems spacious and all-enveloping. The best soundstage headphones make you feel the music like you’re at a concert — the Sennheiser HD 800 S nails this. But. Those are open-backed, so leakage is inevitable.
Of course, this level of quality has its price — $1400. The S model is clearly out of reach for casual listeners and those just dipping their toes in the high-fidelity sound. But, dedicated audiophiles and audio engineers alike will fall in love with these headphones.
6. HiFiMan Arya
The HiFiMan Arya is a cutting-edge pair of open-back headphones with an incredible neutral sound. It uses planar magnetic drivers instead of the usual dynamic ones, and its frequency response range goes up to 65kHz. This extravagant model costs $1600.
HiFiMan puts a lot of thought into its products’ design, which results in some of the best music headphones. Arya is no different. The model was released in November 2018, and its meticulous construction is awe-inspiring to this day.
As lovely as they are, these aren’t casual cans you can take along for a stroll. The usual goes as for all open-back models: they aren’t made for sound isolation. But, they will work wonders in an isolated room.
They are over-ear open-back and made of metal and high-grade plastic. They come with a crystalline copper cable with a 1/4’’ (6.35mm) connector.
The first thing you’ll notice is their peculiar earcup shape. We’re talking large, asymmetrical, and drop-shaped — designed to follow the natural shape of human ears. Their headband is also a bit unusual because it’s suspended.
The Arya is very comfy, despite its weight of 0.9lbs (404g). It’s distributed rather well, so you won’t feel the telltale strain on the top of your head and ears. The earcups are spacious and soft, and they can swivel.
These top music headphones are fascinating from the inside, too. Arya has a nanometre-thick diaphragm. It doesn’t use the standard dynamic drivers but advanced asymmetrical planar magnetic ones. With planar drivers, you won’t need an amp to add depth and precision to your audio. The downside is that they’re heavier, and they don’t produce that extra rumbly bass sound.
Overall, the audio signature is neutral and leaning towards brightness. So, you can expect clear and precise sound reproduction, though a bit excessive on the treble front. Still, they are among the best sounding headphones available.
Their soundstage is also grand, with incredibly detailed 3D audio. The raw numbers corroborate our praises so far. Arya’s frequency response is 8Hz-65kHz. That is a high-frequency dolphin range! It has a 35Ω impedance, paired with a 90dB sensitivity.
The HiFiMan Arya costs $1600. It is an innovative model designed to push boundaries — which treble-sensitive listeners might find a bit too much for their taste. Other than that, these cans are a treat for neutral audio enthusiasts.
7. JBL Tune 750BTNC
If you’re looking for something cheap and practical that will sound consistently excellent across genres, then the JBL Tune 750BTNC might be your pick. These wireless closed-back headphones also support ANC and multipoint connections. You can fully immerse yourself in sound for just 130$.
1/8’’ (3.5mm), detachable
JBL is well known for its affordable yet good-quality headphones and Bluetooth speakers. The 2019 Tune 750BTNC model is a perfect example of the company's craft.
We can doubtlessly recommend this pair to anyone looking for a practical option, delivering a full, energetic sound without the premium price tag. Understandably, some of the finer details are missing, like Bluetooth 5.0 and aptX codec support or adaptable noise cancelation.
Let’s see what makes the JBL Tune 750BTNC such a crowd-pleaser.
First things first: these Bluetooth headphones for music are over-ear, closed-back, and capable of active noise cancelation (ANC). They are made of plastic, with well-padded, foldable earcups, and weigh 0.49lbs (220g). All of the controls are located on the right earcup. They also come with a 1/8’’ (3.5mm) detachable audio cable.
Comfort-wise, this option is decent. Some users, however, have complained about the awkward earcup size that isn’t fit for bigger ears.
The battery life is also good for the price, but nothing spectacular. You can count on 15 hours with ANC on and 22 hours with ANC off. When connected with the audio cable, the noise isolation option extends up to 30 hours. It takes two hours for a full recharge.
This Bluetooth headset for music supports the 4.2 version and the standard SBC codec only. As mentioned before, die-hard audiophiles won’t be too thrilled about the standard audio quality.
On a more positive side, the 750BTNC’s noise cancelation should block out most outside distractions. It lacks the more leveled, adaptable approach that costlier models have, but it’s forgivable. It also supports multipoint connection, so you can seamlessly switch between your connected Bluetooth devices.
Features aside, what really makes the JBL Tune 750BTNC the best cheap headphones for music is their sound.
They have an impedance of 32Ω and a frequency response of 20Hz-20kHz. Their 40mm drivers produce a surprisingly balanced neutral audio for such accessible cans. The self-proclaimed JBL Pure Bass Sound is punchy and warm without being overwhelming. Combined with the noise-canceling aspect, these headphones will fully submerge you in music.
To top it all off, they cost 130$. All in all, the 750BTNCs are an attractive option for listeners looking for a fun portable pair.
8. Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones’ futuristic design will make you stand out in a crowd. These $380 wireless headphones have eight high-quality headphones that make noise cancelation and taking calls a piece of cake. Their sound is also top of the class and adjustable, thanks to the Bose Music app.
SBC and AAC codec
Bose’s knack for noise-canceling cans is the stuff of legend. It all started with the legendary Quiet Comfort series. The 2019 700 model is a worthy successor for many reasons.
Let’s see why.
Despite their slightly bulky design, the 700s are fit for most situations. Their talents are best saved for traveling, however.
These hi-def wireless cans are over-ear and closed-back. They have a stainless steel headband that’s connected with the protein leather earcups without visible hinges. The futuristic, minimalist look makes them a stunning fashion accessory, too. The earcups are tilted at 15 degrees for a more natural fit. They weigh 0.58 lbs (254g).
The 700s aren’t just pretty — they are also very pleasant to wear. Their design makes them suited for longer listening sessions.
Even with the unconventional hingeless fit, they aren’t flimsy in the slightest. And they’re practical: you can quickly manage your music, Bluetooth, calls, ANC, and mic, thanks to the touch-sensitive earcups.
You also get a 1/8’’ (3.5mm) to 1/16’’ (2.5mm) audio cable with this wireless headset for music. As it is, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 have up to 20 hours of battery life. A full charge takes 2.5 hours, but you have the quick charge option, too. You can get 2 hours' worth of charge for 15 minutes.
This model uses Bluetooth 5.0 with SBC and AAC codecs. We appreciate that it doesn’t rely entirely on the standard audio codec. It’s neat that you can connect two devices at the same time as well.
Now, let’s talk about the main feature — the active noise cancelation (ANC).
The 700s have eight microphones in total: six for ANC and two for voice pickup. The mic can effortlessly discern your voice even from the noisiest environment. These cans excel at both passive and active noise isolation. It’s fully adjustable, with ten notches that let you control how much ambient sound you want to hear.
Bose is weirdly non-transparent about technical details, like transducer size, sensitivity, impedance, and frequency response. Still, they are true audiophile wireless headphones, and they sound beautiful.
The treble is a bit subdued while the bass is prominent, so you can expect a warmer, huskier default sound signature. But, it can be neutralized with the Bose Music app equalizers if it proves to be too distracting.
At $380, they are a bit pricier than their rival, the Sony WH-1000XM4. They indeed lack some of Sony’s flair, like the atmospheric pressure noise-canceling optimization and 360 Reality Audio features.
But you will still find them to be more than worthy (and stylish!) travel companions.
9. Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless
The Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless has the best of both worlds: Bluetooth convenience and stunning sound quality. Its clever selection of audio codecs makes sure of that. Take into account the adjustable noise control and durable frame, and you have a very attractive pair of wireless headphones for $260-$400.
aptX, aptX LL, and AAC codec
If you’re looking for the finest hi-def wireless cans, Sennheiser is worth checking out. Momentum 3 Wireless was released in 2019. It has since proven that you can “cut the wire” and still have premium sound quality.
Given they are noise-canceling over-ear closed-back headphones, you can probably guess their uses. They are made for life on the move. The active noise cancelation (ANC) feature means you can isolate yourself from the accompanying hubbub.
Let’s take a closer look:
Design-wise, these high-end headphones are certainly pretty. They have an old-school, industrial look to them. The frame is metal, with a sheepskin leather headband and earcups. They come with an additional 1/16’’ (2.5mm) to 1/8” (3.5mm) audio cable.
They weigh 0.7lbs (303g) and are a bit on the bulkier side. But, you can fold them into a more practical, compact form. And they fare well during longer listening sessions. The thick padded headband and earcups make sure of that.
The battery life is good, with up to 17 hours worth of juice. It pales, however, when compared to similar wireless headphones for music. For example, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones (20 hours) and Sony WH-1000XM4 (30 hours). The useful 10-minute quick charge buys you 1.5 hours of power.
The Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless use Bluetooth 5.0 and the aptX LL, aptX, and AAC codecs. Now, that’s a very nice selection, especially with the low latency aptX one. This Bluetooth headset for music also supports multipoint connection — you can pair two devices simultaneously.
The Sennheiser Smart Control app lets you access even more features.
One of them is the Tile device finder. Simply put, it lets you know where your cans are in case you misplace them. You can also fiddle with equalization and presets on the app and control the ANC.
There are three noise control levels in total: anti-pressure, anti-wind, and maximum ANC. They are great at eliminating external noise. Additionally, you can adjust how much of those sounds you want to hear with the Transparent Hearing feature.
Let’s not forget the audio quality.
After all, it’s what makes the Momentum 3 top headphones for music. They have a respectable frequency range of 6Hz-22kHz. By default, the low-end is relatively intense but without overshadowing the mids and highs. If you prefer flatter audio with less bass thump, you can balance the levels with the equalizer. Either way, their sound is full and vibrant, as expected of Sennheiser.
They are surprisingly leaky for a closed-back model, though. They aren’t the most discreet office option.
The pricing range is $260-$400 — a hefty sum for wireless headphones for audiophiles. They are superbly built, with durability in mind, and a lovely audio codec selection.
10. Focal Clear Mg
The Focal Clear Mg is a magnesium work of art. Its build quality is the stuff of dreams: the transducer dome and grill are uniquely designed from choice materials. The biggest surprise is that you’re not bound to high-power amplifiers to drive these cans — your phone will suffice. They cost $1490.
Focal is a long-standing name in high-fidelity sound circles. With the 2021 Clear Mg model, the company has taken extra steps to make it stay that way. It turned out to be a huge success, marking them as one of the best wired headphones.
The cans are made to be enjoyed in the private confines of your home or studio. They are over-ear and open-back, which immediately limits their usage. But you can expect them to leak a lot of sounds, as there’s virtually no noise isolation.
This pair is also not the most portable one, since it can’t fold and the earcups can’t swivel. These are hardly faults — it just means that the Focal Clear Mg isn’t your casual bring-along type of music headphones.
Clear Mg are metallic chestnut brown with an intricate honeycomb grill. They have exceptionally comfortable microfiber ear cushions. In fact, they are so comfy that you won’t feel their slightly hefty weight — 1lbs (450g). The pair comes with a 1/8’’ (3.5mm) audio cable, a 1/4’’ (6.3mm) adapter, and a 1/8’’ (3.5mm) XLR cable that plugs into them.
Let’s have a look inside, too.
The fittingly named Clear Mg has a magnesium dome for its 40mm dynamic drivers. They are covered with a unique M-shaped grill. This attention to detail is what makes them top-quality headphones.
The model has an impedance of 55Ω and a sensitivity of 104dB, which means it will work decently even when paired with your phone. Still, give it a try with some high-end audio equipment if you can.
The frequency response is an impressive 5Hz-28kHz. The headphones have a gorgeous open sound, defined and crisp, with a wide soundstage. But they lack definition in the upper treble levels, which makes lead instruments and vocals sound slightly veiled.
Luxury has its cost, of course — $1490. There’s no denying that the Focal Clear Mg are great headphones for music. Their immaculate design, comfort, and audio neutrality make them an audiophile’s dream.
The Best Headphones in 2022
- •Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless — Best overall wireless headphones.
- •Grado SR325x — Best open-back headphones under $500.
- •Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro — Best headphones for musicians.
- •AKG Y500 Headphones — Best budget wireless headphones.
- •Sennheiser HD 800 S — Best soundstage.
- •HiFiMan Arya — Best neutral sound.
- •JBL Tune 750BTNC — Best budget headphones with ANC.
- •Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 — Best microphone quality.
- •Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless — Best wireless audio quality.
- •Focal Clear Mg — Best build quality.
How To Choose the Best Audiophile Headphones?
There is a lot of technical lingo being thrown around casually, which can be intimidating if you’re a newcomer. But, don’t be discouraged — you don’t need a dictionary to find your way around. We will cover the basic features to look for when shopping for your ideal high def headphones.
Let’s jump right in.
Before doing anything, you have to think about how you’re going to use your cans. Consider situations like commute, travel, office use, sports, and gaming.
Do you need a versatile pair that you can carry with you everywhere you go? Or do you want to invest in a stay-at-home model?
Do you want to isolate yourself from external noise or be aware of your surroundings?
Is it important that you listen to music without any of it leaking?
Yep, that’s a lot to think about! But it’s crucial before moving on to the next step.
Comparing various headphone types is easy once you have an idea of how you will use them.
But, before we get started, one word:
You might notice how we didn’t include in-ear models or earbuds in our selection. There is a reason — sound quality.
Now, let’s browse.
Wired vs. Wireless
Wired headphones are a relatively simple affair. Yes, a wire limits your mobility. But you can count on a consistent, well-rounded sound and not worry about battery life and Bluetooth connectivity shenanigans.
The biggest thing, however, is sound quality. Even the best Bluetooth codecs can’t beat wired audio signal quality.
On the other hand, headphone jacks on phones are a slowly dying breed, making wireless headphones for music a necessity. And you can’t deny their convenience — no more untangling your cable! Still, for many, the inferior sound quality is a big minus. If you decide to bite the bullet and cut the wire, look for cans with high-quality audio codecs, like the 990kbps aptX HD and LDAC.
Over-ear vs. On-ear
Headphones also differ based on how they sit on your head and ears. It’s a significant distinction that affects your comfort levels, portability, bass and sub-bass sounds, and soundstage (we’ll get to that later!).
Over-ear options have big, spacious, enveloping earcups. They are deeper, too, with a distance between the speakers and your ears, making for a spacious sound. You can hear the lower ends more intimately.
They are also generally bulkier, which doesn’t mark well for mobility.
On-ear cans sit directly on your ears and are lighter, more compact, and portable. You will also hear a bit more ambient noise. That makes them a good compromise for office use — when you want to be isolated and keep up with everything going on.
Despite being relatively lightweight headphones, users sometimes find them uncomfortable and clamp-heavy. Comfort is subjective, though, and depends on even the tiniest details like your ear size.
Their sound is a bit more shallow, too.
Open-back vs. Closed-back
If it’s full of vents and holes, they are open-back, with a more natural, open audio reproduction.
If it’s solid, they are closed-back, with an immersive, encompassing audio.
Other than the overall sound, the biggest difference between the two types is sound leakage. The best closed headphones act like a leak-proof seal around your head. On the other hand, open-backed models are by design, well, open — everyone can hear what you’re listening to.
Another critical factor is how much of the outside world you want to filter out. Noise cancelation features help you focus on your music more and can help prevent hearing loss! You won’t feel the need to turn up the volume as much.
Generally speaking, there are two types of noise-canceling: passive and active. Passive noise isolation depends mainly on your cans’ design. Over-ear and closed-back ones have inherently good passive noise resistance.
Active noise isolation features microphones that cancel out (or let in) external sounds. It’s more precise, and it needs the power to do so. However, it’s also more expensive.
This is a no-brainer: of course, you need to pay close attention to sound. To be more precise - audio characteristics, like neutrality, signature, separation, and frequency response.
Let us explain.
The top options have a neutral sound. They aren’t colored by excessive bass, mids, or treble. They simply reproduce the audio the way it is originally mixed.
All headphone models have a specific sound signature that they’re known for. It’s their unique sound color or how the model’s drivers are tuned to amplify or reduce certain frequencies. You should always check it out before committing to buying a pair. So, if you’re very sensitive to higher frequencies, you should avoid cans with a brighter sound signature.
Another detail that marks the top music headphones is the level of sound separation. If you listen to a song, you should smoothly tell one instrument from another and even locate them differently. It should feel as if one instrument is to your left, one to your right, another in the back, and so on. The space you can discern between the leftmost and the rightmost instrument is your headphones’ soundstage. You want it to be as broad and grand as possible.
One last thing:
You’ve probably seen frequency range specs while looking up specific models. Some are wider than others — does that make them better?
The frequency response shows you how well your headphones can reproduce various frequencies. The range represents the lowest and higher points of the audio reproduction.
It’s a good thing to keep in mind, but don’t get too hung up on the numbers. You’re human, not a bat (nor Batman) — you physically can’t hear the high-level frequencies that some cans reproduce. Your natural human hearing range should be around 20Hz-20kHz. But, you can feel sounds that are outside of your scope, especially sub-bass rumbles.
This is a tricky one! Comfort is entirely subjective, but it can be a complete deal-breaker.
The main thing you should look out for is how padded the headband and earcups are. Thick padding will prevent hot spots from forming on your head.
Higher-end headphones have moved on from classic materials. They use memory foam, microfibre, velour, high-quality leather, and even more extravagant options.
We left the price for last. The harsh reality is that the HiFi world is often expensive, and there is a lot of hype surrounding the most prized items. Still, there are cheap and awesome high-def headphones.
Anyway, you’re supposed to train your ears and build your way up to the more elaborate (and expensive) models. It’s a musical journey — take it slow and don’t skip ahead.
Bonus — What’s the Best Music to Test Headphones?
Right from the bat, we have to say that there is no universal prime musical material for testing cans. But, we can give you a couple of tips that are the next best thing.
First of all, try to pick well recorded, produced, and mastered songs in the highest possible quality. We’re talking crisp FLAC format, not jangly Youtube-to-mp3 converter quality.
This might come as a surprise, but it should also be songs you’ve heard hundreds of times. Since you’re so familiar with them, it will be easier to notice what has changed in the sound when using different headphones.
There are also some objective points of reference while you’re considering the best music to test headphones.
- Something with a rich and crisp production, layered and deep. Our recommendation: Ulver — So Falls the World.
- Something dynamic, with a real sense of soundstage. Focus on each instrument, and try to locate it. Our recommendation: Massive Attack — Group Four.
- Something bassy, as this will tell you whether you have consumer-friendly cans that lean too much into the lows or balanced cans. Our recommendation: Talking Heads — Burning Down the House.
There’s a Spotify playlist with more certified jams if you’re interested!
There is a lot to take into consideration when looking for a pair of good-quality headphones. There’s more to it than just the price or sound quality. Everything is interconnected: the type of headphones, craftsmanship, comfort, general usability, and the additional features.
The good thing is there’s something for everyone. Our selection proves that being an audiophile is more than just having deep pockets.
Which headphones have the best sound quality?
It’s a tough call, but it’s the Sennheiser HD 800 S. They are designed to be paired with high-end audio equipment. The model is for critical listening and studio use, and its neutral sound reflects that.
What audiophile headphones should I get?
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all pair of audiophile headphones. You should consider first how you would use them and where. Feel free to check our buyer’s cheat sheet above.
What is the best audiophile brand?
It would be impossible (and honestly, a bit unfair) to just point out the one, so here’s several: Grado, Sennheiser, Beyerdynamic, Focal, Sony, Shure, and AKG. Each has the quirks that make it worthy of your time.
Are audiophile headphones worth it?
Without a moment of hesitance, we can say yes. Finding your best headphones for music will make listening to your favorite tunes a more enjoyable experience. Their sound balance and neutrality will open up a whole new world for you.
Selma is a content writer with a love for all things nerdy by day and an internet archaeologist that likes to dig up obscurities by night. Mostly she's trying to balance between many obsessions. Right now, it's bass playing and reading hard sci-fi about vampires in outer space - next week, who knows.
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