Best Audiophile Headphones (2020 Reviews)

There are a lot of audiophile headphones in the market. Some come from well-established brands such as Sennheiser and Beyerdynamic, while some come from newcomers such as Hifiman and Audeze. Despite the difference in the technologies used in the drivers, all of these headphones sound great. It just depends on whether or not their characteristics appeal to you. 

This article lists some of the best audiophile headphones that are available in the market. The list features well-loved classics such as the Sennheiser HD800s and Beyerdynamic T1 and also features new headphones such as the Meze Empyrean. There are a lot of amazing choices in this list, so keep on scrolling to find out more. 

Also, if you are not familiar with headphone impedance and power requirements, you can read our headphone impedance guide since this is a core concept with audiophile headphones. You can also check out our best headphone amplifiers list to see some great options that would fit well with these headphones.  

Best Audiophile Headphones

Sennheiser HD800s

Sennheiser HD 800 S Reference Headphone System
Sennheiser HD 800S (Image: Amazon)

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The Sennheiser HD800s is one of the most popular dynamic driver headphones. It has been well regarded both by enthusiasts and professionals such as Misha Mansoor of Periphery. And it is well known both due to its strengths and weaknesses. 

The Sennheiser HD800s is the successor to the widely acclaimed HD800 and HD6XX series. It sports a new look and has tuning enhancements that aim to correct the issues found in the original model. This series is currently Sennheiser’s flagship line. 

Despite being the successor to the Sennheiser HD6XX lineup (the HD700 was widely considered by fans to be a failure and has been discontinued), the Sennheiser HD800s takes a different approach in its sound signature. This pair is more neutral than the HD6XX series, which was known for being mid-forward. 

The HD800s’ bass response is better both in terms of quality and quantity when compared to the Sennheiser HD6XX series. The soundstage is also significantly wider than the HD6XX. Its soundstage is wider than most headphones in its price range. 

These new improvements, however, come at a cost. The selling points of HD800s serves as a double-edged sword. Both the soundstage and the highs have become the debatable aspects of the HD800s.  

Despite improving the issues of the original HD800, the highs and the soundstage are still the weak points of the HD800s.  Both the original HD800 and the new HD800s have treble peaks that eventually result in a fatiguing listening experience. This is the price that you pay for having an incredibly detailed sound.  

The soundstage, while producing an almost speaker like experience, is not entirely accurate. Its wide soundstage sometimes sounds artificial and fake. However, these are debatable aspects and highly dependent on the user’s preferences. 

Despite the criticism, it is undeniable that the Sennheiser HD800s is a successful headphone. It has been used in various fields, like professional gaming and music production. Well-known musicians/producers like Misha Mansoor are still using the original HD800. 

If you dislike the highly analytical sound signature of the Sennheiser HD800s, there are other alternatives, such as planar magnetic headphones that may satisfy your needs better. However, if that sound signature is what you are looking for, then the Sennheiser HD800s may just be the one for you. Do not forget to audition these headphones and pair them with the right gear to maximize it to its full potential. 

You can learn more from Sennheiser’s Official Website.

Great For:

The Sennheiser HD800s is a versatile pair of headphones. They can be used for professional music production, critical and casual listening, and even gaming. 

Not For:

These headphones are not for casual listeners who are treble sensitive. Its sound signature can be fatiguing for longer listening sessions.  

 

Focal Utopia

Focal Utopia Open Back Over-Ear Headphones (Black)
Focal Utopia (Image: Amazon)

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No Audiophile headphone list is complete without the legendary Focal Utopia. Focal is another headphone manufacturer that has been setting the standards for professional production equipment. They are highly regarded as a brand that is competing for the top spot along with Sennheiser and Beyerdynamic.

Their flagship Utopia is almost twice the price of the Sennheiser HD800s. At first, its asking price may seem a bit ridiculous since they are not made of any special or unique material. The design language is also similar to other Focal headphones, so there isn’t anything special here either. 

What is special about these headphones is, of course, its sound. Some even regard the Utopia’s sound quality as audio perfection. The sound reproduction that this produces is as close as you get to the source material. 

Bass is punchy and not lacking in any way. Unlike other dynamic driver headphones such as the HD6XX series, bass notes hit hard. However, it does not extend into the mid-range frequencies. 

The midrange sits very well in the mix. It is neither recessed nor forward. It picks up lots of details in songs and has a very natural tone. Its reproduction of vocals and instruments is so natural that you feel that you are in the same room as the performer. 

In terms of soundstage, the Utopia does not have the largest soundstage. It is not trying to emulate a speaker. Instead, it focuses more on accuracy. The soundstage is neither massive nor cramped. It sits between those two. 

The highs pick up so much detail. However, unlike headphones like the Sennheiser HD800s and Beyerdynamic T1, the Focal Utopia does a much better job in controlling the highs. High notes are not piercing, which helps make it an enjoyable listening experience.

The amount of accuracy and detail retrieval that this headphone has makes it a perfect pair for professional producers who are looking for the slightest details in their mixers or for audiophiles who wish to hear the smallest in every song. 

Great For:

The Focal Utopia is perfect for demanding audiophiles and professionals. The experience that it gives truly lives up to its name. 

Not For:

This is not for anyone looking for a great value pair of headphones. While their performance justifies its price point, other high-end headphones have a more realistic price. 

 

Sennheiser HD6XX Series

Sennheiser HD660s
Sennheiser HD660s (Image: Stephen Menor)

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Another popular series that is always talked about in the audiophile scene is Sennheiser’s HD6XX series. These headphones were first released in the 90s and have been the standard for mid to high-end headphones. They have now been replaced by Sennheiser’s new flagship, the HD800s. Despite being relegated to the mid-tier category, these are still some of the best headphones that you can buy. 

The reason why we are adding a series to this list is that the models here are similar to each other and only have minor differences. The series is currently composed of the Drop HD58X, HD600, HD6XX/HD650, and the HD660s

What makes these headphones unique is their amazing midrange reproduction. While they do have a complete and correct representation of the different frequencies, the mids are the star of the show here. Female vocals, in particular, are reproduced very well in terms of the detail and the clarity. 

The HD6XX line has an intimate sound. The soundstage is not very wide, so sounds are presented close to the ear. Despite the criticisms, the soundstage is not congested, and the overall sound has a natural presentation. This is why these headphones are popular for professional productions. 

Sennheiser HD 600 Open Back Professional Headphone
Sennheiser HD 600 (Image: Amazon)

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For the HD660s, in particular, the imaging and soundstage are spectacular. They have great accuracy in terms of discerning the locations of sound. Fans of orchestral music and gamers will enjoy these headphones. 

The only real criticisms of the HD6XX line is the lack of deep sub-bass, the veil on the high frequencies (which was addressed in the HD660s), and the intimate soundstage. They are still overall competent headphones with newer designs. 

And with Drop and Sennheiser’s collaboration, you can even get the HD6XX or HD58X at an entry-level price point. Overall, these are some of the best, most accessible, and most versatile headphones that you can get in today’s market. 

If you’re planning on buying and of the HD600 series, check out these recommended DACs/Amps to pair your headphones with.

Great For:

These headphones are great for music production, gaming, and even casual listening. They have a sound that would please most music enthusiasts. 

Not for:

Fans of deep sub-bass won’t be impressed here. Try planar magnetic headphones or other dynamic driver headphones instead. 

 

Beyerdynamic T1

beyerdynamic T1 2nd Generation Audiophile Stereo Headphones with Dynamic Semi-Open Design (Silver)
Beyerdynamic T1 (Image: Amazon)

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A popular alternative to the Sennheiser HD800s is the Beyerdynamic T1. It is Beyerdynamic’s current flagship and shares a lot of similarities with their signature DT lineup. This series is also known to utilize Beyerdynamic’s Tesla drivers

Despite the difference in price and the difference in specifications, the Beyerdynamic T1 shares a similar sound signature to the Sennheiser HD800s. This does, however, mean that the Beyerdynamic T1 also shares most of the criticisms found in the HD800s. But on the flip side, it remains fairly competitive to the strong points of the Sennheiser HD800s. 

Unlike in Sennheiser’s case, the Beyerdynamic T1 is a true spiritual successor to the highly successful Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro. It shares a lot of the design elements and improves on the sound signature of the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro. The T1 is more accurate and analytical when compared to its mid-tier offering. 

Like the HD800s, this is the second revision for Beyerdynamic’s flagship headphone. It is a minor tweak that introduces a removable cable. If there are any differences in the sound quality between the 1st and 2nd generation, they are very subtle.

One key difference between the Sennheiser HD800s and the Beyerdynamic T1 is their soundstage. Despite being wider than other headphones, the soundstage of the Beyerdynamic T1 is still not close to the Sennheiser HD800s. This does, however, mean that the soundstage of the T1 is more realistic than the HD800s.  

Another key difference between the two models is the power requirements of the Beyerdynamic T1. This headphone has an impedance of 600-ohms and is one of the harder to drive headphones. There are a lot of amplifiers and DAC/Amps to choose from that could help in taming the T1’s treble. You can find them in our Beyerdynamic T1 headphone amp and DAC/Amp guide.

The final difference between the two is the build quality. Both of these manufacturers are known for building headphones that stand the test of time. The only difference is the materials that are used. Beyerdynamic usually prefers a metal construction while Sennheiser opts for a plastic build.

The metal build ensures a sturdy construction that should last a very long time. The plastic build, on the other hand, is lightweight and more comfortable. Both are executed very well and will depend on your personal preferences. 

Overall, the Beyerdynamic T1 is a close competitor to the Sennheiser HD800s. They both share the same sound signature and are both made for the same purpose. If you are looking for the best Sennheiser HD800s alternative, this is your best. As always, make sure to audition these two models before making a purchase. 

Great For:

The Beyerdynamic T1 is an excellent pair of reference headphones that can be used in a multitude of professional applications and casual listening. 

Not For:

Like the Sennheiser HD800s, the Beyerdynamic T1 is not for listeners who dislike treble peaks. Treble sensitive listeners won’t be able to listen to this pair over extended listening sessions. 

 

Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro

beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro Open Studio Headphones
Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro (Image: Amazon)

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Beyerdynamic’s best offering outside of the flagship series is the DT 1990 Pro. This pair is one of the three most popular pairs on the midrange headphone market (the Sennheiser HD660s and the Hifiman Sundara being the other two). The competition in this price range is very close, and there is no clear winner. It will all depend on your preferences. 

What is undeniable, however, is that the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro is the best built of the three. It once again carries Beyerdynamic’s excellent build quality. The metal construction that is predominantly used in the DT 1990 Pro reflects its price point. 

This is a premium pair that is designed to meet the demands of the professional environment. And it definitely delivers. Like Sennheiser’s offerings, almost every part of this headphone is replaceable. 

The DT1990 Pro comes with several earpads, cable options, and even a carrying case. Those alone make the DT 1990 Pro a solid value compared to the other two. The included accessories let you mod the headphone without spending an extra amount. 

What differentiates the DT 1990 Pro from the other two headphones is its accuracy. The Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro has a better high-end reproduction that picks up more detail. This is, however, also its biggest weakness. 

The high-end reproduction may be too detailed for a lot of people. Sibilant tracks will sound even harsher. This results in a more fatiguing experience for longer listening sessions.

For a reference pair, this makes sense. Mixing engineers can easily detect imperfections in the tracks that they are mixing. This, however, also translates to casual listening. The imperfection of tracks will be revealed, making some tracks less enjoyable. 

In a lot of ways, this headphone is similar to the higher-end Beyerdynamic T1. A lot of high-end dynamic driver headphones seem to suffer from the peaky and fatiguing treble. 

The Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro has an impedance of 250-ohms. This is significantly lower than the 600-ohm Beyerdynamic T1. This still means that amplifiers are a must and that most amplifiers that pair well with other Beyerdynamic headphones will also pair well with this model. 

Overall, if you are looking for a reference pair that can squeeze out all the tiny little details (including the imperfections) in a track, then the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro is the best pair for you, The overall package makes this an excellent value over the other two headphones.  

For:

Like the Beyerdynamic T1, the DT 1990 Pro is amazing for professional use. The amount of detail that you get and the solid construction makes this a truly professional headphone. 

Not For:

Unfortunately, like the Beyerdynamic T1, the DT 1990 Pro has treble peaks that will cause fatigue over long listening sessions. 

 

Hifiman Ananda

HIFIMAN Ananda Over-Ear Full-Size Planar Magnetic Headphones with High Fidelity Design Easy to Drive by iPhone/Android Studio Comfortable Earpads Open-Back Design Easy Cable Swapping
Hifiman Ananda (Image: Amazon)

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Unlike most of the brands here, Hifiman isn’t a brand that is known for producing headphones for professionals. Instead, most of their products cater to the audiophile community by creating products that sound good without necessarily sounding too analytical or accurate. The Hifiman Ananda serves as the sweet spot in their lineup since it competes with most mid-range headphones from other companies. 

Like most high-end headphones, the Hifiman Ananda utilizes a metal construction. Despite the materials used, it maintains its lightweight design. It is so good that Hifiman even had the crazy idea of making the Ananda BT, a Bluetooth version of the Ananda. 

As for the sound signature, the bass is not its strongest feature. It is not a strong or thumping bass, but it is clean and well-controlled. The mids are similar to the bass. They are clean and well detailed but lacks a bit of sparkle to make them truly great. Highs are forward but are not fatiguing like the Beyerdynamic T1/1990 Pro or Sennheiser HD800s. 

The caveat here is that while there are plenty of highs, its smoothness sometimes prevents it from being as detailed as those treble peaky headphones. In terms of soundstage, the Ananda is fairly open sounding. It does not have the widest soundstage, but it is a very breathable and open sound. The imaging is also spot on and performs as expected for its price range. 

Overall,  the Ananda is smooth sounding and inoffensive. If you are a fan of Hifiman’s other planar magnetic offerings such as the Sundara, then make sure to give the Ananda a try. 

 

Great For:

The Ananda’s smooth yet detailed sound gives an amazing experience for fans of Hifiman’s sound signature. 

Not For:

The Hifiman Ananda is not the most accurate headphone. While it may work for critical listening and professional use, there are arguably better options. 

 

Audeze LCD 4

Audeze LCD-4 Over Ear | Open Back Headphone | Ebony Wood Ring | Leather Ear Pads
Audeze LCD-4 (Image: Amazon)

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Another planar magnetic headphone on this list is the Audeze LCD 4. Despite being the last to be mentioned. This headphone is a contender for the number 1 spot on any list. After all, the Audeze LCD 4 is Audeze’s flagship pair. And Audeze is already taking over the high-end audio world. 

The Audeze LCD 4 is a headphone that is aimed towards a different market compared to Sennheiser and Beyerdynamic’s offerings. With that in mind, out of three high-end headphones that we have here, the Audeze LCD 4 is the unique sounding. It is up there when it comes to technicalities, but its approach to sound is different.

In terms of its sound signature, the LCD 4 is a nice change of pace. It does not have the highly analytical highs that are present with the other two headphones. This means that it will not hurt your ears for extended listening sessions. Despite this, the highs remain clear and clean.

Bass response and mids, on the other hand, remain fairly flat. Low notes are reproduced with that planar magnetic slam that is missing from most dynamic driver headphones. The notes can go as low as 20 Hz without being too muddy. 

The midrange is reproduced beautifully without sounding too artificial. With that being said, the main weakness of these headphones for this price range is its imaging and soundstage. The soundstage is, of course, larger than most headphones below the high-end price range, but it is still not approaching the levels of the HD800s. 

Imaging is also not the best. You can tell where the direction is coming from, but it is still not as good as other headphones that specialize in this aspect. The Audeze LCD 4 does not seem to be interested in competing against other brands in this aspect. 

Instead, the goal of the Audeze LCD 4 is to create a pleasing and relaxing sound that is refined throughout the spectrum. It does not present any features that are the best in its class. However, the whole package is one of the best that you can buy for the money.

Overall, if you are not looking for a reference headphone that can be used professionally but instead looking for a headphone that has a pleasing and relaxing sound that has a refined sound signature, then the Audeze LCD 4 is the best headphone for you.

 

For:

This headphone will suit listeners who prefer to have a relaxed listening experience without sacrificing detail retrieval. 

Not For:

Some aspects of the LCD 4 could be improved, such as the soundstage. Users who are fans of a wider soundstage may want to look at something else. 

 

Meze Empyrean

Meze Empyrean
Meze Empyrean (Image: Meze Audio)

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The Meze Empyrean is arguably the most interesting headphone on this list.  It does not follow any design aesthetics or conventions set by other headphone brands. It looks highly advanced and out of this world device, which makes it a treat to look at. 

The Empyrean is Meze’s first attempt at a high-end open-back headphone. Their best selling models, like the Meze 99 classic, are closed back and have a more affordable price. The premium that Meze is charging for their flagship headphones is thanks to the high-end materials and innovative driver design that is being used in the Empyrean. 

Most of the Empyrean is made out of solid metal construction. The self-adjusting headband is made of genuine leather. It also comes with Alcantara and leather earpads along with a luxurious looking high-end case. The Empyrean and its accessories surely scream high-end and give off a great first impression. 

However, that is only part of what makes the Meze Empyrean special. The real star of the show here is the innovative Isodynamic drivers. This is a fairly complex architecture, but to make things simple, the array is made of two parts. 

These are the switchback coil and the spiral coil. The switchback coil produces low frequencies while the spiral coil handles the mid and high frequencies. This is, in a way, similar to how multi-driver IEMs are implemented. 

Despite the advanced technology used for the drivers, they are efficient and only have an impedance of 31.6 ohms. The low impedance makes the Empyrean easy to drive and can be driven by almost any electronic device. 

In terms of the sound signature, the Empyrean is leaning towards the warmer side, similar to most of the headphones in Maze’s lineup. The Empyrean produces a planar slam that hits hard. It may sound too much if compared to the likes of the Sennheiser HD800s or Beyerdynamic T1, but users of planar magnetic headphones such as Audeze and Hifiman’s offerings will feel right at home. 

The mids have a forward presentation. This results in an intimate experience, especially with the vocals. Highs are smooth and inoffensive. They are detailed without sacrificing the user experience, which is the case with headphones like the Sennheiser HD800s and Beyerdynamic T1. 

The imaging is up there with the best headphones. It is spot on and incredibly easy to pinpoint the direction of sounds. The soundstage, on the other hand, is intimate and mostly has an “in your head” kind of experience.

Overall, the Meze Empyrean easily justifies its price point. The well-designed aesthetics and the innovative driver design make the Meze Empyrean an exciting and unique product. Listeners who are looking for an enjoyable listening experience should try out the Meze Empyrean. 

 

For:

This headphone is for enthusiasts who enjoy a warm sound signature. The inoffensive highs help make the Empyrean an enjoyable headphone. 

Not For:

This headphone is not for users who are expecting a speaker-like experience. The soundstage is intimate and does not give the illusion of listening to speakers. 

 

Audio Technica ATH-AP2000Ti

Audio-Technica ATH-AP2000TI Closed-Back Headphones, Black
Audio-Technica ATH-AP2000TI (Image: Amazon)

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Audio Technica is a company that is constantly improving their products. They do not just stick with one tried and tested design. They are always testing their limits by producing gorgeous looking headphones with a sound that matches its looks.

This is demonstrated with their new high-end headphone, the AP2000TI. The star of the show here is the build quality. The AP2000TI has shiny titanium earcups, which is not common even in this price range. They are well executed and make the AP2000TI a gorgeous looking headphone. 

What is surprising for the price is that these headphones are efficient. This can be used as a portable headphone, but the aesthetics and the size of these headphones will definitely make you stand out. 

In terms of the sound signature of the AP2000TI, it is leaning towards a V-shaped sound with an emphasis on the high frequencies. It is a bright sounding headphone with plenty of detail. In some ways, it can be compared to the Sony Z1R.

The AP2000TI sounds thinner compared to the Z1R. However, the AP2000TI sounds more natural and textured with its nice high-end extension. 

Overall, the Audio Technica AP2000TI is one of the best looking and best sounding headphones that you can get. If you want a unique looking pair that has an amazing detail retrieval, then the AP2000TI should be added on your list. 

For:

This headphone is for those who want a headphone similar to the Sony MDR Z1R but with less bass and more high-end focus. 

Not For:

This headphone is not for those who prefer a warmer and more full sounding headphone. 

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