There is a large choice of high-end headphones on the market and many headphones are equipped with a large number of high-tech bells and whistles. But what if you just want the purest listening experience possible? With an emphasis on sound quality, the best audiophile headphones are an ode to excellent sonics – rather than sensors or streaming technology. We’ve put together our favorite audiophile headphones below. And they’re not necessarily prohibitively expensive – high-quality sound quality can exist, even with more affordable headphones.
If you want to focus on music, it’s best to use a pair of wired over-ears that offer the perfect balance of musicality and precision. If you want to add technology for mixing, choose audiophile-grade cans that combine state-of-the-art noise-canceling technology with state-of-the-art sound.
Best Audiophile Headphones
Ready to rediscover your favorite song or revive a carefully composed playlist? Our top-of-the-range selection of the best audiophile headphones will level your love of music.
1. Grado SR325e
Simply put, these Grado over-ear headphones are a masterpiece. Even if their retro shell isn’t attractive, their glorious-musical output will almost certainly be. The open-back design provides clear, light sound with well-organized layers that deliver energetic, rhythmic sound. And while those 360-degree rotating ear shells may look a little old-fashioned, they’re a pleasure to wear. They’re not cheap, but these excellent looks are worth every penny. Actually, there’s only one drawback: the open back cups do leak, so they’re not ideal for use in the office.
2. Sennheiser HD 820
Closed-back headphones may have distortion issues, but that’s not the case with the brilliant Sennheiser HD 820 headphones. Sennheiser has refined that problem by using a combination of Gorilla Glass and sound-absorbing chambers to prevent sound waves from bouncing back into the drivers. The result? An astonishing level of agility and precision, impressive low-frequency authority, and expertly controlled bass. Of course, these over-ears are a serious investment. But if you’re serious about music, they’ll change your listening experience at home. Overall, this is one of the best audiophile headphones.
3. Beyerdynamic Amiron
Beyerdynamic’s Amirons aren’t the kind of headphones that draw your attention with a short listen, but give them a little time and you’ll love their impressive transparency and resolution. They’re also comfortable, with nicely rated ear cushions and a sensible weight. You’ll need a good quality source and recordings to hear them at their best, so don’t be tempted to skimp. With all the trimmings, Beyerdynamic’s Amiron headphones offer an impressive sound that spans the entire frequency range. We love their clear midrange vocals, their tight timing, and the impressive way they handle challenging messy songs. Overall, this is one of the best audiophile headphones.
4. Grado SR80e
If you’re looking for affordable and one of the best audiophile headphones, you’re in luck. There is no luxury electronics here because Grado is a company that revolves around the music. They are very detailed and clear and offer a dynamic sound that is hard to beat at this price point. Of course, without sounding raw, they elevate almost any music genre, from electro to easy listening. One thing’s for sure: the open-back design is there again, which means they’re not suitable for commuting and the foam ear cups are not the most plus. Still, the SR80s look a bit retro, but they deliver advanced performance.
5. Sony WH-1000XM4
The Sony WH-1000XM4 delivers excellent noise cancellation and surprising sound quality in a lightweight, comfortable design. Although they do not look significantly different from their predecessors, the Sony WH-1000XM3, a number of new features such as multipoint pairing, DSEE Extreme upscaling, conversation awareness, and auto-play/pause using a built-in sensor, help the WH-1000XM4 claim the title of best headphone in 2020. The Sony WH-1000XM4 is in every way a beautiful wireless noise-canceling headphone.
6. Klipsch T5M Wired
Klipsch knows how to make a decent pair of affordable in-ear headphones. In 2018 it was the R6i II (below) that stole all the headlines, but for 2020 it’s the T5M Wired that’s causing a stir. Not only are they extremely comfortable (which helps), they’re also one of the most musical hits we’ve heard at the money. The Klipsch sound is detailed and dynamic with an even tonal balance and an excellent sense of timing. The only slight negatives are that they can generate cable noise if you don’t use the included clothing clip and you can’t change the volume using the one-button control/mic. Overall, this is one of the best audiophile headphones.
7. Focal Stellia
This is essentially a closed version of the Focal Utopias at number 11 on this list. That means you get Focal’s trademark great sound quality, but with a more practical design – because they’re closed-back, everyone around you won’t hear what you’re listening to, and – crucially – they won’t let in sounds from your environment. In other words, if you feel brave, you can take them outside without compromising the listening experience.
8. Shure SRH1540
These plush, closed-back over-ears are beautifully made from high-quality materials such as aluminum and carbon fiber. They are lightweight and feature ear shells in soft Alcantara, making them ideal for long listening sessions until late at night. Beneath the ear cups are 40mm neodymium drivers, providing impressive dynamics, agile presentation, and an astonishing amount of detail. Naturally musical, they offer excellent value for money and are a great choice for the best audiophile headphones.
9. Sony WF-1000XM3
It’s rare to find a pair of wired earphones, let alone a pair of real wireless earphones on a list of the best noise-canceling headphones; given that it’s still rare to find the technology in earphones, the Sony WF-1000XM3’s are very impressive, and fully deserve a place in this roundup. The Sony WF-1000XM3s manages to offer a level of noise cancellation that is very good for a pair of earplugs – they will not offer the same isolation as a pair of over-ear cans, but if you are looking for a slim form factor then the compromise is worth it.
10. Focal Utopia
These are some of the best audiophile headphones we’ve ever heard, period. And as such, they’re appropriately priced. If sound quality is your priority, you should buy them without hesitation. Except that there’s a rather large caveat… They have an open back. That means that they leak sound to everyone around you, but also that they let in the sounds from your surroundings. But the advantage of that is a wonderfully airy, spacious soundscape that really lets the music take its course. This is a refined and wonderfully smooth performance, but there’s still plenty to satisfy. The sound is full of authority, and there is a satisfying feeling of weight in the game.
11. Shure SE425
We looked at these over-ears for the first time in 2013, but they are now (even more) worthy of the price – and your attention. They have a lot to offer a dedicated music lover, including a rich sound and refined dynamics. They are able to pick out details you may never have heard before, not even in your favorite recordings. The design won’t appeal to everyone, but when it comes to performance, we can’t recommend them enough. Overall, this is one of the best audiophile headphones.
12. B&W P9 Signature
Stylish and beautifully balanced, the B&W P9 Signatures add a touch of luxury to your listening sessions. The 40mm drivers are angled for a more natural listening experience, enhanced by comfortable memory foam ear cups wrapped in premium Saffiano leather. They sound as good as they look and offer a satisfying balance of tempo and touch, leaving plenty of room for instruments and vocals to shine. With a talent for dealing with pacifistic rhythms, the P9 Signatures are a fun, vibrant way to upgrade your favorite playlist.
13. Shure KSE1200
If you want to bring a little intimacy to your favorite recordings, Shure high-end in-ear headphones should be high on your list. They’re not cheap, but they come with a proprietary analog headphone amplifier (the size of a deck of cards) that drives wide-range electrostatic drivers. Why all this unusual technology? In short, performance. They reproduce every track with breathtaking levels of detail and precision – no matter how complex the recording. The emphasis is on clarity rather than bass, but if you want to hear every little nuance, they’re (much) well spent. Overall, this is one of the best audiophile headphones.
14. Shure SE846
Don’t be fooled by the simple, functional exterior – these in-ear headphones offer a sophisticated audiophile experience. Pair them with a DAC headphone amplifier or hi-res music player and they’ll really shine. Four balanced armature drive units on each side deliver natural, musical sound, complemented by an impressive low-end response. And if you’re as serious about tonal balance as you are about your favorite band, you can play with three interchangeable filters to control the treble. They may be pricey, but the SE846s certainly justify it.