Here’s a reality of listening to music that I recently learned: a song is only as good as what you use to listen to it. Your favorite track could be a masterpiece of blended instruments, sound balancing, and vocals, but you won’t be able to enjoy it without good headphones.
I was content for too long to go with subpar or “okay” headphones and earbuds. I figured, foolishly, that there wasn’t much of a difference between them and the best audiophile headphones, and that stuff advertised to audiophiles was a waste of time and money.
Here’s another reality: I was wrong.
See, I ended up listening to one of my favorite tracks (Katy Perry, guilty pleasure) on a friend’s pair of high-quality Bose headphones. I had no idea what I was missing. Turns out, I had been listening to my music without getting the full experience.
Driver quality, noise-cancellation, and comfort level can all dramatically affect whether you really get into your tunes or if you’re separated from the song. It’s like watching a movie in a theater compared to watching it on a corner screen at the dentist’s office.
I was hooked on audiophile-quality sound, so I went searching. In the end, I found several of the best audiophile headphones I had to share. Some of you may disagree with these headphones recommendations, and that’s fine. But ultimately, I think that audiophile headphones like the ones below have the power to really transform how you listen to music or enjoy games and movies.
I know these changed things for me! I guess I’m an audiophile now!
- Top 10 Headphones for Audiophiles in 2021 – At a Glance
- Best Audiophile Headphones for 2021
- 1. Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless Copper Hi-Res Bluetooth Headphones – Best Headphones for Long Gaming Sessions
- 2. Bose Noise-Canceling Wireless Bluetooth Headphones – Best Headphones for High-Quality Voice Recording and Calls
- 3. Focal Stellia Closed-Back Circum-Aural Headphones – Best High-End Headphones
- 4. HIFIMAN Ananda Over-Ear Full-Size Planar Magnetic Headphones – Best Headphones for Music
- 5. Jabra Elite 75t Earbuds – Best Earbuds for Audiophiles
- 6. Sennheiser HD800 S Reference Headphone System – Best Sound Quality Headphones
- 7. Sony WH-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Canceling Stereo Headset – Best Portable Headphones
- 8. V-MODA M-200 Professional Studio Headphones – Best Wired Headphones for 2021
- 9. EarFun Bluetooth 5.0 Wireless Earbuds – Best Value Headphones
- 10. Anker Soundcore Life Q20 Bluetooth Headphones – Most Comfortable Headphones
- Buyer’s Guide
- Final Verdict
Top 10 Headphones for Audiophiles in 2021 – At a Glance
- Best High-End Headphones – Focal Stellia Closed-Back Circum-Aural Headphones
- Best Headphones for Long Gaming Sessions – Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless Copper Hi-Res Bluetooth Headphones
- Best Headphones for Excellent Call Quality – Bose Noise-Canceling Wireless Bluetooth Headphones
- Best Headphones for Music – HIFIMAN Ananda Over-Ear Full-Size Magnetic Headphones
- Best Earbuds for Audiophiles – Jabra Elite 75t Earbuds
- Best Sound Quality Headphones – Sennheiser HD800 S Reference Headphone System
- Best Portable Headphones – Sony WH-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Canceling Stereo Headset
- Best Wired Headphones for 2021 – V-MODA M-200 Professional Studio Headphones
- Best Value Headphones – EarFun Bluetooth 5.0 Wireless Earbuds
- Most Comfortable Headphones – Anker Soundcore Life Q20 Bluetooth Headphones
Last update on 2021-01-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Best Audiophile Headphones for 2021
1. Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless Copper Hi-Res Bluetooth Headphones – Best Headphones for Long Gaming Sessions
These days, everyone makes a big fuss about the new graphics in the latest video games. As a big gamer myself, I can relate. But I too rarely hear people talk about how much of a difference great sound makes for the best games on the market.
Truth is, great headphones can totally change your gaming experience – at least, it does for me! With that in mind, I have to say that the Beyerdynamic Amirons are the best headphones for gaming in 2021, and I think they’re great for both gamers and audiophiles alike.
Where to start? The headphones offer truly and deeply moving sound thanks to the top-tier Tesla-tech drivers and miniaturized equipment. Deep, precise basses, silky smooth highs, and full, natural mids are the rule, not the exception, meaning you’ll be able to hear every explosion or line of dialogue from a videogame many characters in fully realized audio enjoyment. Gaming soundtracks also sound fantastic on these things, too!
Voice coils made from copper rest at the heart of the headphones ensure that characters, music, and ambient background noise all come through naturally and don’t overwhelm one another.
But more interesting (and innovative, in my opinion) is the MOSAYC sound personalization app. This can be downloaded to any iOS or Android device. Once you apply the sound profile, you can fine-tune what the Beyerdynamic Amirons provide whenever you sit down to game.
Being totally wireless headphones, you’d think that some sound quality might be lost, but not here. Audiophiles will be able to quickly recognize the sheer excellence of these headphones’ design, especially since they feature integrated Qualcomm aptX HD chips.
So the headphones sound great, certainly. But I was also really impressed with how comfortable the headphones were. Their cups are comfortable and wrap easily around your ear – the only downside is that they become hot relatively quickly. Still, I like the comfortable band (no headaches from long listening sessions) and the easy controls. You can switch the headphones on and off with a single button, and a touchpad on the earcup lets you control calls or other media playback settings like volume.
And all this hasn’t even touched on the phenomenal aesthetic. Talk about gorgeous! These Bluetooth headphones feature copper trimming (harkening back to the copper coils inside the headphones), and a dark color that’s sure to be at home in any man’s bachelor pad. Because we all know that your headphones are only worthwhile if they look as cool as they sound, right?
Ultimately, these are the best audiophile headphones for gaming. But they’re also great for general headphone and audio enthusiasts everywhere. They’re not even the priciest headphones on my list, so consider getting yourself a pair.
2. Bose Noise-Canceling Wireless Bluetooth Headphones – Best Headphones for High-Quality Voice Recording and Calls
For a headphone enthusiast, what really makes audiophile headphones work is how well they cancel out sound from the outside world. I admit that even I like to retreat into my own happy space now and then, and high-quality sound-canceling headphones can be great study aids when you want to dig deep into a textbook. Fortunately, I found the Bose headphones above to be some of the best high end wireless audiophile headphones.
It’s no surprise, either, given Bose’s reputation as one of the best over ear headphone manufacturers in the business.
But let’s get technical. Ultimately, these Bose headphones offer up to 11 levels of noise-canceling control. That means you don’t have to totally mute your environment – you can just take the edge off if you want to remain aware of your surroundings. One thing I noticed was that this was advantageous when traveling. I could use these headphones when catching the train and not have to worry about running into someone because I couldn’t hear them at my side.
But I also liked how well-optimized headphones were for wireless assistance and control. Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant both work (I prefer Google Assistant). You can access the former by using a wake-up word programmed into the headphones by default or by pushing a physical button.
Speaking of wireless connectivity, the headphones can work for up to 20 hours with a single charge. There’s definitely better battery life offered by other headphones, and it sharply drops if you use some of the higher levels of noise-cancellation. But it’s also nothing to sneeze at. More importantly, the wireless connectivity lets you play music from your phone without having a cord get in the way of your movement.
I checked the integrated microphone system to get a sense of everything these headphones could really bring to the table. Turns out, it’s great! These are excellent headphones for calling and for hearing other people when making a call.
In terms of comfort, the headphones are middling. You see, the earcups are angled so they should fit pretty much everyone without much adjustment. But the stainless steel headband certainly isn’t that cushy on the top of your head. This means you may need to remove the headphones from time to time to massage your scalp.
Still, even with that caveat, these are undoubtedly the best noise-canceling headphones for 2021, especially for students who want to hunker down and focus on their studies without being distracted.
3. Focal Stellia Closed-Back Circum-Aural Headphones – Best High-End Headphones
Okay, I admit, I didn’t buy these… but I did try them out for three hours with a friend at an audio equipment shop I know. I didn’t buy these personally because they’re quite pricy. With that in mind… I would recommend them for select audiophiles if price is absolutely no object.
I would do that because the sound you get with these headphones is out of this world, full-stop. Play a song on these headphones and you’ll hear every note in the mix, even at very high and low frequencies. Even more impressively, the drivers and chips inside each earcup work together to make sure that the tonal balance is never disturbed. For the uninitiated, this just means that the bass sounds aren’t lost when high sounds peak, and vice versa.
With the closed back headphone design it’s more possible than with any other audiophile headphone set to immerse yourself in your favorite music. The electrodynamic speaker drivers work well even with really complex melodies and tracks.
But these premium headphones are also great because they’re comfortable. In fact, the comfort alone is enough to make me wonder if that price tag isn’t warranted in the end!
Comfortable earcups and a padded headband combine to ensure a comfortable experience even if you wear these headphones for hours on end without stopping. The earpads inside the cups are even bolstered with memory foam which helps with sound isolation. The more you use them, the more comfortable they should become. The headband features lambskin leather – talk about fancy.
Plus, the headphones come in a classy carrying case for storage and protection. After all, you don’t want these treasured headphones to get damaged!
Note that these headphones are wired, which may be a downside if you’re in the mood more for portable audio luxury. However, I believe you don’t get as high audio quality without using a cord, at least with today’s tech.
Have some cash to spare? These are some of the best over the ear headphones I’ve ever seen and are a treat for any audiophile.
4. HIFIMAN Ananda Over-Ear Full-Size Planar Magnetic Headphones – Best Headphones for Music
There are different headphones made for different uses. What distinguishes different headphones for those uses lies in the audio chips and the style of the ‘phones themselves. For instance, a gaming headset (like I already went over above) focuses more on user comfort and bass sounds since there’s usually a lot of explosions.
Music-focused headphones will be more balanced, and that’s exactly what the HIFIMAN Ananda’s bring to the table. Hovering at about the middle of the pack in terms of price, these headphones are perfect for high-sensitivity audiophiles who know exactly what to listen for when jamming to their favorite tunes or delving deep into their favorite artists’ albums.
Indeed, the headphones have a frequency response of 8 Hz to 55 kHz. In a nutshell, this just means they can accurately replicate highs to basses without losing a single bit of auditory information or letting any part of the range overwhelm the other.
Inside the earcups of these planar magnetic headphones, the super-thin diaphragm (the layer of material between the drivers and your ears) adds to this effect. It’s just 1-2 microns thick. Let me assure you, you can hear the difference when there isn’t felt, leather, or some other material between your ears and your music’s source.
But they’re also pretty stylish and comfortable, all things considered. For instance, they weigh less than a pound (just 14.07 ounces) and feature thin, tall earcups that should fit most users without any adjustment. The grill design on the outside of the earcups is hit or miss. It’s not my favorite, personally, but that’s not really a con since that aspect is totally subjective.
I found I could connect these headphones to any smartphone or portable tablet without any lag or drop in audio quality. This is, of course, largely thanks to the corded design instead of relying on the inherent risk of wireless connections.
All in all, they’re the best over ear headphones for high-quality music listening I could find, even if they weren’t the most expensive.
5. Jabra Elite 75t Earbuds – Best Earbuds for Audiophiles
I know, I know… really, Edward? You want to recommend earbuds for audiophiles? Hear me out (pun intended).
The thing is, most people think of headphones as the premier high-quality audio solution, usually because they can have larger speakers, more and better drivers, and overall enclose your ear to block out intruding sound. But earbuds can still be great picks, especially if you’re on a budget and if you like to listen to high-quality music on the go without totally closing yourself off from the outside world.
It’s here that the Jabra Elite 75ts excel. For starters, these earbuds are extremely comfortable when you fit them into your ear. This is a big deal for me since lots of other cheap earbuds feel like the uncomfortable, cheap plastic they actually are within 15 minutes.
These buds are different. They feature a small and sleek design that can fit most ear shapes without much effort. They don’t have multiple ear tips like cheaper earbuds often do, but I honestly don’t think you’ll need them.
More importantly, these buds can wirelessly connect to any music playing device like an iPhone or tablet without any dropout or connectivity issues. Fourth-generation, true wireless connectivity means any calls and all music playback should be stable. It certainly was in my experience.
The sound on display is also relatively high quality. It’s no full-on wireless headphone experience, to be sure, but it’s a far cry from the tinny, unrewarding sound offered by most competitors. 4 microphones work in conjunction to ensure that all phone calls are clear and crisp, and work to filter out wind and similar noises from the background.
You also get a little under eight hours on a full charge. But the buds come with a charging case that can store another 28 hours of power. It shouldn’t be too much trouble to always have the buds ready to go, therefore, and the case provides a convenient storage solution anyway.
Also, the buds are weatherproof. Their water-resistant bodies can also repel dust, making them great for exercise. Add to that the proprietary app you can connect them to and you’ve got arguably the best wireless earbuds for audiophiles on the market. The app is a really nice touch if you like to personalize your listening experience like I do.
Again, it’s not about beating headphones in terms of raw sound quality. These buds are about offering portable and comfortable high-quality audio on the go without the bulk and cable connectivity required by so many other top-tier headphones. If that sounds attractive to you, give these a shot. If it helps, think of them as some of the best in-ear headphones.
6. Sennheiser HD800 S Reference Headphone System – Best Sound Quality Headphones
Earlier I talked about how different headphones are designed to prioritize different types of sound. But what about headphones that focus on making an open and spacious soundstage? With those headphones, you could use them interchangeably for gaming, movies, music, phone calls…
Enter the best audio quality headphones: the Sennheiser HD 800 S. The successor to the magnificent Sennheiser HD600, these were certainly some of the best I had the pleasure of listening to when researching for this guide. These dynamic headphones feature some of the largest drivers in their class, reaching 56 mm in diameter. For comparison, most other headphone drivers are around 30-40 mm.
Ultimately, this results in phenomenal sound across the board. Music, movies, and games all sound fully realized just as their artists intended them to be. This is all bolstered by the wired nature of the headphones and the use of German materials. Ever heard of the merits of German engineering? It’s on full display with these devices.
But they’re top-tier in terms of sound reproduction for more reasons than just the driver size and materials. The open back headphone design helps to funnel soundwaves deeper into your ear. This does mean there’s a real danger of blasting out your eardrums if you listen to your music too loudly. But it’s an acceptable trade-off in my experience!
The headphones are also excellent since they come with vibration dampening materials around the ears and headband, both of which are padded for comfort. As a bonus, this makes the sound even better again since it means certain lower sounds aren’t drowned out by their higher counterparts.
I really like the semi-industrial aesthetic. These aren’t as sleek as some of the other headphones on the market, but they’ll be a favorite for many just because of how techy and audiophilic they look. The headphones come with the cables you need to connect both to audio devices and a headphone amplifier (a headphone amp increases the power to your headphones more than what the output of most phones and audio devices can manage): a perfect pick for mixing your own music in your studio.
All in all, I’d rank these highly if you want top-tier audio quality for all kinds of media enjoyment instead of specializing in one or the other.
7. Sony WH-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Canceling Stereo Headset – Best Portable Headphones
Sony has a big reputation in the electronics industry, but they’re not exactly industry leaders. So it was with some trepidation that I tried out these headphones, expecting them to be decent but not truly ideal for audiophiles.
I was wrong. These combine Sony’s technological expertise with electronics with smart manufacturing in more ways than one. For instance, the headphones feature a smart-listening “Sense Engine”: in brief, this tech helps the headphones to reproduce sound in the most optimal way possible based on your ambient environment and the songs being played.
40 mm liquid crystal polymer drivers add to the overall reproduction efficacy. The resulting musical quality is pretty top-notch, even if it doesn’t quite reach the levels of some of the other headphones on my list.
But these stereo headphones are valuable for more than just their sound reproduction quality. For example, they come with excellent noise-canceling tech (which is to be expected from Sony). While this noise-canceling setting can’t be fine-tuned quite as well as the Bose version described earlier, it’s still great for drowning out annoying sound and totally immersing yourself in your favorite music.
It’s also helpful when you make calls using the headphones. Since they can operate as wired/wireless headphones depending on your needs, you can easily use these to communicate with your friends or make a work call, then go back to listening to your music seamlessly without having to take them off your ears.
In fact, Sony integrated a special “quick attention” mode directly into the headphones’ software to facilitate this type of interaction. Take a call, have a conversation, use the noise-canceling tech to ensure there isn’t any background chatter, then go back to your music all within seconds through this seamless shifting.
These lightweight, noise-canceling headphones operate more powerfully and innovatively than I originally expected. Plus, they’re overall pretty affordable, especially compared to some of the pricier choices I’ve gone over so far. My advice? Check these out if you’re in the mood for something portable, easy to use for calls, and that provides good sound quality and noise-canceling in a single package.
8. V-MODA M-200 Professional Studio Headphones – Best Wired Headphones for 2021
Many audiophiles couldn’t care less about wireless connectivity, and some would argue rightly so. After all, wired headphones will almost always be able to provide the best sound relative to their wireless counterparts just because of the stability of the connection and a wire’s ability to translate more audio information without any bit loss.
In my mind, the V-MODA M-200s are the best of the best when it comes to wired headphones, even if there are tons of pricier versions on the market. But cost doesn’t always translate directly to quality.
For instance, these headphones feature 50 mm drivers – those are relatively huge, and they facilitate fantastic audio replication across the entire sound spectrum. But those are also made with special “neodymium” magnets, plus specialized voice coils that really make singers in various tracts pop without any part of a given song feeling overwhelmed or drowned out.
That same attention to audio quality is replicated when it comes time to make phone calls. I found that it was really easy to both place and take calls using the designated button, which automatically engages the in-built microphone. Call quality is crystal-clear, especially since you can connect the headphones to your wireless device using the included cables.
What about comfort? Here’s a small downside: that the earcups aren’t super comfortable, though the headband is oddly fine. That’s likely because the headphones overall are quite lightweight and you can adjust the tension in the headband easily. Both components use sweat-resistant PU-leather, which I do like even if it isn’t the coolest material they could have used.
But the earcups do benefit from memory foam cushions, so they become more comfortable the longer you use them. A flat-folding hinge allows you to store the headphones either in the included case or anywhere that’s convenient.
These sweatproof over ear headphones come with 3.5 mm stereo cables perfect for facilitating studio-quality sound mixing and listening. Ultimately, there are few headphones that do as good a job at transmitting sound straight from a device or instrument without losing anything in the translation as these.
Honorable Mention: Philips Audio SHP9500 Headphones
These headphones are pretty similar to the V-MODA M-200s, only for a much lower asking price. But you still get 50 mm drivers to deliver a full spectrum of sound replication and a very spacious soundstage that’s unmatched by far too many pricier headphone options.
On top of that, the SHP9500s come with 1.5 m of cable length: more than enough, for me at least, for wandering around a studio or listening to music while working. On top of the cable length and sound quality, these headphones come with ancillary benefits, like a comfortable and double layered cushion on the headband for added comfort, breathable ear cushions, and specially angled drivers.
What marks this as audiophile-quality, you ask? Check out the gold-plated adapter cables that are sure to help you maximize your listening enjoyment while plugged into studio-quality equipment.
9. EarFun Bluetooth 5.0 Wireless Earbuds – Best Value Headphones
Can you marry budget and quality? I happen to think so, and I think that the EarFun Wireless Earbuds ended up surprising me as they demonstrated it. Yes, earbuds again! As before, hear me out.
The EarFun Wireless Earbuds are super affordable, but that doesn’t mean they skimp on audio quality the way you might think. That’s partially because they utilize dual graphing speakers (one in each bud) to produce improved bass performance and really clear trebles making for a very balanced sound signature.
The result is that there is, admittedly, a little bit of tinniness with some of the ultrahigh sounds you get with pop songs. But that tinniness shouldn’t be enough to take away from your enjoyment of your music if you’re looking for some of the best budget audiophile headphones, anyway.
I also really like these since they come with noise-cancellation microphones, which you can engage with a voice command or with your phone. This doubles the efficacy of the inbuilt sound replication, though be aware that it does drain the batteries extremely fast.
Speaking of batteries, these buds can run for up to six hours on a single charge, and the included jumbo charging case carries another 24 hours of battery life. That’s certainly not the best I saw in my search for the best audiophile headphones, but it’s enough for casual use or for those who are sticklers about recharging their buds after every outing.
Fortunately, the buds benefit from offering a 10-minute charging cycle that, after completion, results in two hours of listening time. So these are actually pretty good if you forgot to charge them the night before but still want to take them with you for your run outside.
The charging case is pretty cool, too. It features indicator lights on the outside so you can quickly see, at a glance, whether your buds are ready to go or if you need to give them more time to charge.
The EarFun Wireless Earbuds are really easy to connect to a variety of wireless devices, and they work up to a whopping 15 m away. I’d even go so far as to say they’re the best set of noise-canceling true wireless earbuds of 2021, all for a cheap price!
In the end, these certainly aren’t the best of the best when it comes to pure audio quality. But they do a phenomenal job of offering a decent audio experience on the go and without having to totally empty your wallet.
Honorable Mention: GRADO SR80e Prestige Series Wired Headphones
For the price, these are phenomenal picks. They serve as an alternative pair of great value audiophile headphones if you don’t like earbuds. Featuring an open back design and a great aesthetic that should look right at home in any studio environment, these headphones are lightweight and exceedingly comfortable, even by my high standards.
On top of that, they come with a miniature plug and a standard 1/4th” adapter for ease of use and versatility. Improved bass residence, vented diaphragms for better sound transmission, and copper cords all add up to a decent piece of equipment you can get without completely breaking the bank.
Even better is the 1-year US warranty that covers manufacturer defects. For peace of mind, you can’t do much better than these top open back headphones.
10. Anker Soundcore Life Q20 Bluetooth Headphones – Most Comfortable Headphones
You’ve probably seen that I don’t like headphones that are too uncomfortable for listening over long sessions. The Anker Soundcore Life Q20s seem tailor-made to alleviate that issue. That’s partially because of the special protein leather they use for their earcups. Far from the sweat-inducing stuff seen earlier, these earcups don’t become too sweaty for comfort, even if it’s hot around you.
The earcups also come with memory foam toward the pads and around the rim. I found the headphones became more comfortable as I wore them over time, which is always a plus in my book. The earcups feature rotating joints so you can easily adjust their angle, too.
The headband isn’t padded, but that doesn’t detract from comfort as much as you might think since the headphones overall are only a little over .5 pounds. The headband didn’t weigh down on the top of my head at all, which I really enjoyed.
But comfort is only one part of determining whether a set of headphones is worth your time. Thankfully, these do a good job of bringing high-quality sound to the table thanks to their custom 40 mm dynamic drivers. Since they can replicate extended frequencies, both very high, er, highs and lower bass sounds are represented equally well.
As a bonus, these headphones come with active noise-cancellation tech, produced by four simultaneous microphones. A special ANC algorithm built into the headphones’ software can easily detect and then cancel out ambient noise in the background, making these some of the best headphones for airplane use, too. Comfort and quiet on an airplane? Sounds like a great combination to me.
As wireless dynamic driver headphones, these also do a really good job with battery life, offering up to 40 hours in total even with noise-cancellation engaged. Turn noise-cancellation off and this goes up to 60 hours! Like the earbuds before, these also feature a fast-charging cycle where you can plug them in for five minutes and get a couple of hours of battery life if you’re in a rush.
Did I mention how affordable these were? Honestly, they’re a dark horse pick that I feel has been ignored by almost everyone else in favor of pricier picks. Check these out if you want some of the best budget audiophile headphones that also doesn’t compromise on sound quality!
Honorable Mention: Meze 99 Classics Over-Ear Headphones
I also found these headphones from Meze, which almost took the spot for the most comfortable headphones for audiophiles. As closed-back headphones, these top-tier devices can completely immerse you in your favorite sounds and exceptional physical comfort at the same time. And you won’t bug those around you as these have insanely little sound leakage.
A self-adjusting, PU-leather headband adequately spreads the weight of both earcups out so the top of your skull never feels achy or sore.
The earcups themselves are made with the same PU-leather, plus memory foam on the inside to both increase passive noise isolation and boost your comfort over time. Check out the real wood earcups, too – the 99 Classics get a definite boost to style points there.
There’s a lot else to like as well, including a hard carrying pouch, plenty of cable length, a detachable USB microphone and remote, and airplane jack adapter, and excellent sound replication capabilities. Beyond just being an alternative for one of the best headphones on the market for comfort’s sake, the 99 Classics are a solid choice all around, too.
Full disclosure – I don’t own all of these headphones.
But that makes sense! Some of the headphones above really have astronomical prices. You’d need to be a famous DJ or artist to justify spending that kind of cash on what amounts to a luxury item. Even new converts like myself that really get the difference that it makes to have high-quality headphones can’t justify spending too much money, especially when I needed to try all these headphones out.
So instead I contacted friends who had them or, in the case of the really pricy ones, got a trial run from the store when I asked. It wasn’t as in-depth an experience as I was able to get with the headphones and earbuds I did buy or try for extended periods, but I learned enough to have a solid grasp of what they offered and how they sounded.
After compiling notes and summarizing some of the gut feelings I had, I wrote this high end headphones review. It was fun enough that, to be honest, I’ll probably do it again when new audiophile headphones come out!
My advice is great and all, but it’s based on my subjective experience! You’re probably wondering, “How do I choose the best headphones for me?”
The good news is there are a few things you can prioritize to make sure you grab some great ‘phones or ‘buds that are perfect for you, not just the best in their category.
Sound Quality – How to Tell What Headphones Have the Best Sound?
First and foremost, the best headphones for audiophiles should sound phenomenal… right? I don’t make headphones and so don’t know all of the exact specifics or technical terms that sound mixers might be able to explain by heart. When I was listening to different headphones, I focused on a few key things:
- Frequency range
- Sound balance
- Bass and high representation
The first factor essentially describes how good the headphones are at reproducing sounds from the low end of the spectrum (bass sounds) to the high end (many female voices, higher instruments, etc.). The wider the frequency, the greater the sound replication accuracy and the more dynamic the resulting sound should end up.
When I listened for sound balance, I tried to discern whether a given pair of headphones overrepresented certain sounds on the frequency or allowed certain sounds to dominate the song. For instance, some drivers naturally favor bass sounds, so songs with a lot of high notes or voices suffer. The reverse is true for headphones with drivers that prioritize highs and mids over bass.
Well-balanced headphones more often produce top-tier sound across the board.
I also listened specifically for bass and high reproduction and representation, since those two sounds are most often ignored in favor of the middle of the sound spectrum.
What Materials Should Headphones Have?
Materials were a place where I became a stickler for certain things, mostly because it determines your overall comfort when you wear a pair of wired and over ear headphones. Headphones with PU leather and certain types of mesh fabric tend to be a little more comfortable than those with hotter leather or just plain plastic.
Over time, those latter materials can really do a number on your ears and the top of your head, especially if you listen to music on the headphones for hours on end.
But you should also consider the materials of the overall chassis and the drivers on the inside. Neodymium magnets and drivers are particularly good choices if you want to prioritize quality over budget. Some earcups might be made with special polymers or even real wood for added aesthetic value.
What about mesh? Mesh is budget-friendly and can be comfortable, but it’s not super durable compared to the other options. My advice would be not to cross mesh off entirely but be aware that it, out of the other materials, has the potential to shred and fray faster than you may like.
Are a Pair of Headphones Wired or Wireless?
You should absolutely consider whether a given pair of headphones can play wirelessly or must be attached via cable to an audio device. Both sides have their pros and cons.
- Can be taken with you on the go more easily since you don’t need to wrestle a cable back and forth as you walk
- Are oftentimes smaller and lighter, which may contribute to comfort
- Are easier to connect to wireless devices, oftentimes via voice commands or through automatic memory pairing
- Usually edge out in front of their wireless counterparts in terms of total sound quality. That’s because wires can transmit more sound information without bit loss to headphones’ drivers
- Never run the risk of running out of battery
- Sometimes feature classier or more expensive interior materials, which may make for a more comfortable headband or earcups
Which should you pick? It depends on your focus. If you want the absolute best sound reproduction you can get, wired headphone options are the way to go. In my opinion, everyone else won’t care or won’t be able to tell the difference between wired and wireless headphones, so wireless headphones might be the way to go for sheer convenience.
On the other hand, wired headphones might be the pick for you if you can never remember to plug in your wireless headphones at the end of the day!
If They’re Wireless, What Are the Headphones’ Battery Life?
If you do decide to go with wireless headphones, be sure to consider the overall battery life they offer. Earbuds split their battery life between the miniature batteries embedded in each bud and a larger battery inside the charging case that should, more often than not, just remain plugged in for convenience.
Either way, battery life tells you how long you have before you need to plug your headphones or earbuds in to keep listening. Longer battery life is obviously better, and it’s also better for combining with headphones with noise-cancellation tech. Noise-cancellation microphones often draw tons of power from the battery, cutting your overall battery life in half.
When push comes to shove, which would I take with me onto a desert island?
I have to admit that the HIFIMAN Ananda Over-Ear Full-Size Magnetic Headphones really won me over in the end. Granted, they’re not the best for all head shapes, but they fit me just fine! On top of that, they’re supremely comfortable and don’t even weight a whole pound.
But they’re true audiophile headphones because of their unparalleled sound quality, super-thin diaphragms, amazing drivers. It’s hard to put into words exactly how they made me feel, but let me put it this way: I don’t use any other headphones when I want to sink into sound and just become a song.
Poetic? A little. But I think anyone who gives these a shot will be far from disappointed and they’re my pick for the best overall audiophile headphones.
Q: Are high-end headphones worth it?
A: As I’ve already given away, I’d say yes. But in truth, it depends on what you’re looking for in headphones and how much of a value you put on a top-tier audio experience. Basically, the best headphone brands and their offerings are great if you like to get everything you can out of a song or media experience.
But if music isn’t a passion, then high-end over ear headphones may be a waste of time and money. You have a vast choice of headphones from across the market and a variety of pricing points – go with what seems to be a good balance for price and quality.
Q: Are expensive headphones worth it?
A: If you have the cash and are passionate about getting the best audio experience possible, sometimes. As I hopefully showed above, some of the highest rated headphones are well worth your time and money even if they aren’t the most expensive on the market. Price doesn’t always reflect quality (though there is a strong correlation).
Q: Do headphones sound better than earbuds?
A: Honestly… yes, in most cases. The fact of the matter is that headphones can utilize bigger drivers and more sophisticated audio equipment since they’re larger. Earbuds are much more limited by their size and battery life. Plus, headphones often wrap around your ear to get rid of background noise.
Q: Do you need surround sound?
A: With headphones that advertise surround sound software, the manufacturer is essentially saying that the headphones can mimic the effect of having multiple speakers around your ears. For songs and general artist playback, it’s not really necessary. But gamers might appreciate it since surround sound software can result in better directional recognition for certain sound cues in your game. Many of the best audiophile headphones have surround sound by default.
Q: Is it worth buying Airpods in 2021?
A: Airpods are the proprietary Apple earbud type. Like most Apple-exclusive products, they’re middle-of-the-road at best instead of being top of the category. Plus, cheap Airpod alternatives strike a better balance between price and quality without Apple’s price-spiking. From my perspective, there are plenty of earbuds that serve as great Airpods alternatives.