Table of Contents
- Comparison: The Best Audiophile Headphones
- Buyer’s Guide
Comparison: The Best Audiophile Headphones
Audiophile headphone industry is a very niche industry where tiny details matter a lot. A lot of audiophile-grade headphones can be found in the market right now but chances are that not all of those will suit you, as almost every headphone offers unique frequency response, soundstage and some other characteristics. In this article, we will look at some of the best audiophile headphones that will provide you with a heavenly experience.
1. HIFIMAN SUSVARA
The Best High-End Headphones In The High-Street
- Type: Open-back
- Impedance: 60Ω
- Frequency Response: 6Hz - 75kHz
- Weight: 450 g
- Sensitivity: 83 dB
- Offers very neutral frequency response
- Extremely detailed lows
- Imperfect physical design due to being hand-finished
HIFIMAN is one of the most renowned companies that design the planar magnetic headphones. These headphones are famous for their large design and detailed bass. The Susvara is a flagship headphone replacing the famous HE1000. These headphones are probably the finest planar magnetic headphones you will find in the market. The design of the headphone looks very attractive, with a blend of metal alloy and wooden rings. The ear cups of these headphones are somewhat circular, unlike the HE1000 V2, which offers rather longer ear cups. The headband is exactly the same as the HE1000 V2, with small holes for breathing and great arch design. Since these headphones are hand-finished, you will not find perfection in the wooden rings, although this can also give the feeling of uniqueness.
The sound quality of the headphone is very harmonious and neutral in all the frequency ranges. The transient response of these headphones is the best you would find in a planar magnetic headphone, much similar to some high-end electrostatic headphones. The bass of the headphone feels very clean and detailed, with no brightness in any certain range. The bass-mid transition feels just perfect and after that, the treble levels feel very slightly brightened but not to an extent to provide a feeling of aggression.
Overall, these headphones prove to be the best high-end headphones with planar magnetic mechanism, although these will cost more than some of the high-end electrostatic headphones.
2. Final Audio Design SONOROUS X
Shines In Instrumental Music Sessions
- Type: Semi-Open-back
- Impedance: 16Ω
- Frequency Response: N/A
- Weight: 630 g
- Sensitivity: 105 dB
- Addictive sound signature for the music
- Can easily be driven by mobile phones
- Very heavy
Final Audio Design is a company that focuses purely on audiophile-grade products. Sonorous X is the company’s latest flagship headphone replacing the Sonorous VI, which was previously their best model. The build quality of these headphones seem really impressive and the shining look feels very premium. However, this premium build quality costs a lot in terms of weight and these headphones feel quite heavy. The design of these headphones makes them somewhat semi-open-back by nature, which yields a mixture of results. A great advantage of these headphones is that they have an impedance of only 16-Ohms, which means that you will be able to drive these headphones very easily through your mobile phones or other portable devices.
First of all, speaking about the lows, these headphones provide a great blend of raw power and detail in this range. In the mid-tones, one can feel the richness and texture prominently and the highs present the most notable feeling of delight. The overall sound signature of these headphones feels very addicting, especially for instrumental music, although you will find many better headphones for vocal presentations.
Overall, these are one of the best headphones quality wise, which provide rich detail and excellent bass balance, although make sure to consider its weight before proceeding for the purchase.
3. Audeze LCD-4
One Of The Best HiFi Headphones With Planar Magnetic Mechanism
- Type: Open-back
- Impedance: 200Ω
- Frequency Response: 5Hz - 50kHz
- Weight: 370 g
- Sensitivity: 97 dB
- Highly comfortable
- World-class bass depth
- The upper-mid frequency feels recessed
Audeze is a name that is quite familiar to people who know Hifiman very well. This company provides great alternatives to the Hifiman HE lineup and offers a toe to toe competition. Audeze LCD-4 is the company’s flagship planar magnetic headphone, with a spectacular design. The ear cups of these headphones are completely circular and are very huge. The ear pads too, feel very premium and provide a great comfortable experience. The headphones provide a very smooth finish, as they are crafted with 30-year old Macassar Ebony wood rings. The headband of these headphones is quiet light in weight, as it is made of carbon fiber with a mixture of leather and fabric. This is a great improvement over the previous generation models, which made the Audeze headphones notorious for their high weight.
Speaking of the frequency response, the bass of these headphones feel very deep and surely, these are one of the best headphones when it comes to lows. The mid-tones of these headphones feel a bit recessed but not by much to cause any noticeable distraction. The highs of the LCD-4 feel rich and just right, which is certainly a big improvement from the previous LCD models.
Overall, these are one of the best HiFi headphones you will find in the market these days, although make sure that you pair it with a high-end amplifier to avoid any kind of bottleneck.
4. STAX SR-009
The Best Headphones For Music
- Type: Open-back
- Impedance: 145Ω
- Frequency Response: 5Hz - 42kHz
- Weight: 453 g
- Sensitivity: 101 dB
- Very detailed and revealing sound signature
- Offers great resolution and imaging
- The build quality feels cheap
STAX is a name that must be heard by audiophile listeners, as this company designs some of the best high-end electrostatic headphones. STAX SR-009 is the company’s flagship model and provides heavenly audio. The build quality of the headphones feels a bit cheap, as most of the material used in the design is plastic. The ear cups of the headphones are circular and the ear pads are quite firm which fit the ears perfectly.
These headphones provide by far one of the most detailed and rich sound quality, with a spectacular transient response as well, without compromising on the dynamics. The sound signature of the headphone feels very revealing and it greatly takes care of each and every note. The resolution of the highs and the sound imaging are the most notable fields of these headphones and with a high-end amp, one cannot ask for anything more.
Overall, these are one of the best headphones for music out there and provide a heavenly experience, although it will require great equipment to show its true potential.
5. HIFIMAN HE1000 V2
An Aggressive Audiophile Headphone With Planar Magnetic Design
- Type: Open-back
- Impedance: 35Ω
- Frequency Response: 8Hz - 65kHz
- Weight: 420 g
- Sensitivity: 90 dB
- Very detailed bass
- Precise imaging
- Bass lacks some quantity
Here we are, with another product from the HIFIMAN. HE1000 V2 is the previous flagship headphone by the company, which takes an aggressive approach towards the frequency response than the Hifiman Susvara. The build quality of these headphones is quite similar to that of Susvara but the ear cups of these headphones are a bit longer. The ear pads of the headphones feel very firm and the headband is really comfortable, just like Susvara.
The frequency response of these headphones is a bit more aggressive than that of the Hifiman Susvara. The bass of the headphone feels very detailed and is quite similar to Susvara, although lacks in the quantity. The mids and highs are, on the other hand, much brightened and might not suit every person.
Overall, these headphones are a great alternative to the Hifiman Susvara if you do not have enough budget for them, but make sure that you can live with the brightened tones.
6. Sennheiser HD800S
The Best Audiophile Headphones For The Price
- Type: Open-back
- Impedance: 300Ω
- Frequency Response: 4Hz - 51kHz
- Weight: 330 g
- Sensitivity: N/A
- The best-valued headphones in the audiophile industry
- Huge soundstage
- No noise suppression
Sennheiser is one of the most well-known companies all around the globe when it comes to high-end headphones. Sennheiser HD800S are the company’s flagship headphones for the mainstream market while their overall flagship headphones are the Sennheiser Orpheus, which has no competitor yet. Sennheiser HD800S are the dynamic headphones and by far one of the widest soundstage offering headphones. The low weight, comfortable ear pads, and the soft, cushioned headband provide miraculous comfort while the build quality feels very solid.
The most notable quality area of these headphones is their soundstage, which leaves a lot of similar headphones in the dust. The mids and highs of these headphones are very detailed and one can feel that right after putting these on the head. The bass of the headphones seems very controlled and balanced, although these headphones are somewhat bass-light by nature.
Overall, these are the best soundstage headphones with dynamic mechanism and for the price, you will not find any other headphones providing such quality sound levels.
7. Sony MDRZ1R Signature
A High-Quality Headphone With Closed-Back Design
- Type: Closed-back
- Impedance: 64Ω
- Frequency Response: 4Hz - 120kHz
- Weight: 385 g
- Sensitivity: 100 dB
- Offers great noise isolation
- Excellent bass quality
- Piercing Treble
Sony MDRZ1R Signature is one of the best closed-back headphones you will find in the market and its characteristics prove these headphones to be very special. First of all, the closed-back design of these headphones provides much more noise isolation than the previously mentioned headphones, which might attract some people. Looks wise, the headphone feels very premium and the aluminum headband is fitted with leather on top and a soft cushion on the inside. The ear pads are also made of leather, unlike some of the similar high-end headphones, which use memory foam.
These are dynamic headphones and use some of the biggest drivers (70mm) we have seen in a headphone. The headphones greatly emphasize on the bass and the thick bass can be felt even in the low mid-tones, although the brightness in that area covers it up somewhat. The highs of these headphones are also much brightened and that is why the treble seems very piercing in a long session.
Overall, the sound quality of these headphones is definitely not as good as some of the open-back audiophile headphones we have mentioned, but if you are into the closed-back design, then these are one of the best closed-back headphones you can consider buying at the audiophile level.
8. Focal Utopia
Comes With A Dynamic Design
- Type: Open-back
- Impedance: 80Ω
- Frequency Response: 5Hz - 50kHz
- Weight: 490 g
- Sensitivity: 104 dB
- Great depth of sound
- Very transparent sound signature
- Mid-high frequency transition lacks realism
Focal Utopia is another audiophile-grade dynamic headphone, which is considered one of the best dynamic headphones in the market. The ear cups of the headset are circular and use thick padding on the headband. If you have got large ears, then make sure that these headphones fit perfectly on your ears.
The sound quality of these headphones is really immersive and one can instantly feel the depth of the notes. The sound signature feels transparent and the instrument separation is quite impressive. The bass lacks a bit of quantity in some places but seems balanced overall. The mids and highs are also quite balanced but the transition from mids to highs lacks a bit of realism due to the brightened region in-between.
Overall, these headphones are one of the best dynamic headphones you can buy right now, although its price is a bit on the higher end.
9. Pioneer SE-MASTER1
One Of The Best High-End Headphones With Dynamic Design
- Type: Open-back
- Impedance: 45Ω
- Frequency Response: 5Hz - 85kHz
- Weight: 460 g
- Sensitivity: 94 dB
- Offers neutral lows and mids
- Very luxurious ear pads
- The highs are very shrilling
Pioneer SE-MASTER1 is a great product by Pioneer and serves as a great alternative to the Focal Utopia. The build quality of these headphones is exceptional, as expected from a product assembled in Japan. The ear pads of these headphones are extremely soft and is a delight to the ears. The headband is very thin and goes up when you put the headphone on the head. These characteristics, overall, provide great comfort and the weight of these headphones is also not as high as other high-end headphones mentioned in this list.
The sound quality of these headphones feels very nice and soothing for the lows and mids but the same cannot be said about the highs. The frequency response of these headphones provides great spikes in the highs, which results in a high-pitched sound. We are pretty sure that most of the people would not like such brightened highs, although it cannot be said about all people.
If you are a person who likes brightened highs and enjoy sharp sounds, then this headphone will provide you with an amazing experience, although Pioneer should have adjusted the brightness in the highs a bit.
10. GRADO PS1000e
One Of The Best Budget Audiophile Headphones
- Type: Open-back
- Impedance: 32Ω
- Frequency Response: 5Hz - 50kHz
- Weight: ~550 g
- Sensitivity: 99.8 dB
- Warm sound signature
- Excellent bass strength
- Sound leakage is too much
Grado PS1000e is one of the best budget audiophile headphones you can find in the market and they come with an open-back design. We will clearly emphasize on the open-back design here because the headphones leak sound on an unacceptable level (imo) but if you are sole listener then it might not be a problem for you. Anyway, The design of the headphone is quite unique and the ear pads feel very captivating while the leather headband also feels very nice.
The lows can be felt recessed while using these headphones and this creates the feeling of more detail in the bass while the low-mids are brightened. This gives the feeling of a warm sound signature overall. The best part of these headphones is the highs, which makes these headphones very musical.
With a similar price tag to that of the HD800S, these headphones are one of the best budget audiophile headphones, with music being their shining area.
The chances are that if you are an audiophile then you would not need much of a guide for buying an audiophile-grade headphone but if you have recently stepped into the audiophile realm then this buying guide will prove to be a great help to you.
There are two types of operating principle in the headphones world. The most popular is the open-back design, which provides a natural sound experience to the user, with a wide soundstage. The latter is the closed-back design, which feels more like “artificial-sound” but this does not mean that it is not good for you. The closed-back design provides much better sound pressure levels and overall strength in the sound. The bass feels much punchier and the treble seems more detailed, although the open-back designs can also exhibit similar characteristics, however, such a headphone usually costs much more. Some of the headphones also provide a mid-ground between both types, which can yield advantages of both of the types but might suffer from disadvantages of both types as well.
Dynamic Vs Planar Magnetic Vs Electrostatic
This discussion is really notorious for audiophile listeners and we will not go into the details of how these types of headphones work. Instead, we will discuss why you should buy a dynamic headphone or a planar magnetic headphone. The chance of buying an electrostatic headphone is a bit low although, due to the sheer price and additional equipment required for its functionality. First of all, most of the headphones belong to the dynamic type. The dynamic headphones offer a larger soundstage than planar magnetic headphones but they are prone to audio distortion during high volume levels.
The planar magnetic headphones are usually larger in design than the dynamic headphones, which is just how they are required to function and the most notable improvement of a planar magnetic headphone is that it reduces the audio distortion levels in comparison with dynamic headphones. Meanwhile, their downside is that these headphones are generally heavier and their soundstage is not as wide as the dynamic headphones.
Now, about the electrostatic headphones, first, we would like to say that you will not find these kinds of headphones cheap. The world’s most elite-class headphones in the history use this mechanism, where some of the most notable mentions are Sennheiser Orpheus HE90. The most important aspect of the electrostatic headphones is that they provide much more natural sound in comparison to the other two types. This lets the user have much more immersion and gives the feel of actually being present in that particular environment. Their biggest downside is that you will require special electrostatic amplifier for these headphones and they are just as expensive as the headphones themselves. Moreover, this requirement reduces their portability, as you will not be able to carry such a large amplifier everywhere you go.
The frequency response, as the name suggests, provides the response of a headphone for various frequencies of the audio signals. Most of the audiophile-grade headphones provide great frequency response, with very little distortion. The term “sound signature” is derived from this particular specification, as each headphone tends to provide a unique frequency response, where sometimes the mid-tones are brightened and sometimes the lows or highs. If you want the best headphone suited for you, you will have to see which particular frequency range you would like to see brightened or recessed or rather a flat frequency response.
The impedance of a headphone governs the amplification required for it to function at the full potential. The headphones having an impedance rating below 35Ω does not require amplification, although it is inevitable that an amplifier is likely to enhance your audio experience tenfold. Meanwhile, headphones with an impedance around 300Ω or higher must be used with a high-end amplifier, as using that headphone without an amplifier would be purely a waste. Moreover, some of the headphones, i.e. electrostatic headphones, require a special amplifier to power them, which is often called energizer.
The comfort levels greatly affect the usability of a headphone and most of the high-end headphones are usually heavier than mid-range headphones you would find in the market. The reason is that the high-end headphones, especially the planar magnetic and electrostatic headphones have much more complex structure within the ear cups, which increases the weight of the headphones by a large margin. To compensate for that, what you can do is that you can look for a headphone which offers soft padding, preferably with leather and comfortable ear pads. This will ensure that you will be able to enjoy your heavenly headphones for a long session without having a burden on your head.