The audiophile hobby can sometimes be intimidating to get into. There are multiple combinations of different types of gear, such as headphone amplifiers, DACs, and headphones that can achieve different kinds of sounds. This can be a huge turn off for some people who just want to enjoy their music libraries.
However, things do not have to be complicated. There are easy to drive headphones that can work directly with almost any electronic device. They also sound consistently good, no matter the source. If you are a beginner in the hobby or if you are a person who does not want to deal with complicated setups, then this list is perfect for you.
For the best performing and most versatile headphones, we have the Drop X Sennheiser HD58X. And if you want a high-end pair, we also have the Meze Empyrean on this list. There are, of course, more models on this list with different kinds of sound signatures and price point. Keep on scrolling to find out more.
Best Headphones – With No Amp Needed
Sennheiser X Drop HD58X – Best Value
The best bargain that you can get on this list is Drop and Sennheiser’s HD58X Jubilee. To put things into perspective, the HD58X is a headphone that belongs in the Sennheiser HD6XX series. Its performance is almost as good as the Sennheiser HD650 and HD660s. Those headphones cost almost thrice the price of the HD58X.
That is an amazing value, considering how good these headphones sound. There are very few headphones in the 200 USD price range that could touch the hD6XX series. That means that there is also almost no headphone that can compete with the Drop HD58X.
Now you might think that there are some things sacrificed in the HD58X due to the massive price cut. However, this is not entirely the case for the HD58X. There are some differences between the HD58X and the rest of the HD6XX series headphones. The two major differences being the design, the sound quality, and the power requirements.
The biggest differences that you will immediately notice in terms of the design are the different color schemes and grill design. The different grill design is due to the modified driver that is being used here. Apart from those small details, the build quality is still the same. The HD58X should last you for decades (the HD6XX design is almost 20 years old with some old pairs still active today).
In terms of the power requirements, the HD58X has an impedance of 150 ohms while the rest of the HD6XX models (except for the HD660s) has an impedance of 300 ohms. If you are unfamiliar with headphone impedance, you can refer to our Headphone Impedance Guide. But to keep things short, this means that the HD 58X does not need a headphone amplifier. It has plenty of headroom and will have some improvements if you use one, but users who just want to plug the HD58X into their devices will be perfectly happy without one.
Since the driver design and power requirements are different for the HD58X, there are some differences in the sound signature. However, the sound is still relatively close to the rest of the HD6XX headphones.
There is a slight mid-bass bump in this model that makes it a more energetic and fun sounding headphone. Aside from the low end and a few differences in the high-end, it mostly sounds similar to the HD6XX.
In some ways, it could be considered a less accurate and less analytical version of the HD6XX. But it does not mean it is a worse headphone. It just has a different flavor of the famous HD600 series sound signature.
Imaging and soundstage are mostly the same as the HD6XX. This means that soundstage is intimate but realistic, and imaging is accurate. The imaging makes it an excellent pair of gaming headphones, especially for FPS titles.
A ModMic can then be attached to the HD58X or HD6XX to fully transform them into a gaming headset.
In conclusion, you are getting a comparable sound quality to higher-end headphones with the Drop HD 58X. If you want the best value for your money, then the HD 58X is definitely the best bargain that you can have on this list.
Beyerdynamic X Drop DT 177X Go – Best High-End Closed-Back
If you prefer a closed-back headphone, and if the bass response of the HD58X doesn’t satisfy you, then an excellent but more expensive alternative is the King of Bass, the Drop DT 177X Go.
The DT 177X Go is based on Beyerdynamic’s highly acclaimed Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pro. These models are considered to be the successor of the legendary DT 770 Pro. But what’s different this time around is the power requirements of the DT 177X Go.
The original DT 1770 Pro has an impedance of 250 ohms and was primarily designed for professional use. However, like most Beyerdynamic products, they were tuned so well that they were loved by music enthusiasts and gamers alike. Its bass response was highly-regarded as the best in its premium price range.
With the new DT 177X Go, Drop has managed to lower the impedance down to just 30-ohms. The lower power requirement means that the Drop 177X Go can be powered by almost any modern electronic device. Like the HD58X, it can be used with amplifiers and DAC/Amps in case you want to upgrade in the future, but it already sounds great without any additional gear.
Also, unlike with the DT 770 Pro’s lower impedance version, this headphone does not sound like a lower-end or downsized version of the DT 1770 Pro. The lower impedance does not take anything away from the sound quality. It still has that signature Beyerdynamic V-shaped sound signature that is detailed throughout the whole frequency spectrum.
Bass is full and punchy, mids are detailed, and highs are well controlled. The soundstage is also significantly wider than most closed-back headphones. The imaging is also excellent, which makes these a viable pair for gaming.
Overall, Drop has managed to capture the magic and the sound signature of the original DT 1770 Pro. Despite changing the impedance, there is no loss in sound quality. With its excellent tuning and imaging and soundstage, the DT 177X Go is a very versatile closed-back headphone that can virtually do anything.
Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro 80-Ohm
Of course, the now lower-priced alternative to the DT 177X Go is no slouch, either. The DT 770 Pro is, after all, still a legendary pair of headphones. The DT 770 Pro is widely regarded as the closed-back version of the DT 990 Pro. Thus, we will primarily be comparing the DT 770 Pro against the DT 990 Pro. Compared to the DT 990 Pro, the DT 770 Pro has a better bass response but has a less accurate overall sound due to the reflections caused by the closed-back design.
Like the rest of the lower DT series headphones, the DT 770 Pro also comes with several variations. There is the 32-ohm, 80-ohm, 250-ohm, and 600-ohm version. The 80-ohm version is the best model if you do not wish to use it with an amplifier. Also, it utilizes a superior driver and has more headroom compared to the 32-ohm version.
Just like the DT 1770 Pro, the DT 770 Pro is leaning more towards that V-shaped sound signature. For the price range, it has one of the best bass response in the market. It is very punchy and detailed without being too forward. Highs are also clear and clean without being too sibilant.
Just like the DT 990 Pro, the DT 770 Pro isn’t as detailed as the DT 1770 Pro. However, it is pretty close. It also has the excellent imaging and soundstage found on the DT 1770 Pro. These qualities alone beat most of the popular competing headphones such as the Audio Technica ATH M50X.
If you need a quality closed-back headphone but can’t quite reach the price range of the DT1770 or the Drop DT177X GO, then the DT 770 Pro is a more than capable pair of headphones that can easily blow the rest of the competition away.
Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro 80-Ohm
For open-back lovers, we also have the DT 990 Pro, one of Beyerdynamic’s most popular headphones. It has been used by professionals and has recently also been used by online personalities such as Ninja and other Fortnite streamers for competitive gaming.
Just like the DT 770 Pro, the DT 990 Pro also has a higher-end counterpart, the DT 1990 Pro. Due to their similarities, we will primarily be comparing those two models. However, take note that the DT 1990 Pro does not have a lower impedance version, hence it will not be included on this list.
Compared to the higher-end DT 1990 Pro, the DT 990 Pro is leaning more towards a V-Shaped sound where the lows and highs are more pronounced. The bass response of the DT 990 Pro is also stronger but a bit more exaggerated compared to the neutral bass response of the DT 1990 Pro.
Despite not being as neutral as the higher-end DT 1990 Pro, the DT 990 Pro still manages to provide a sound that is accurate enough for professional use and enjoyable enough for casual use. This also means that the DT 990 Pro does not share the same treble peaks found on the DT 1990 Pro.
Overall, the DT 990 Pro is a well built and excellent sounding headphone. With its accuracy, excellent sound quality, and class-leading build quality, the Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro is one of the best in its price range. The different variants also make it more versatile for users who do not own a headphone amplifier.
Despite the small differences in the sound, and despite not having a removable cable, the DT 990 Pro is highly regarded as the more affordable version of the DT 1990 Pro. And that validates the DT 990 Pro as a superior headphone to most of its competition. Whether you are a professional, a gamer, or just a casual listener, the DT 990 Pro is highly recommended.
Audio Technica M50X
Another popular closed-back choice is Audio Technica’s most popular and successful model, the Audio Technica ATH M50X. Since its inception in 2007, the ATH M50 has been the go-to headphones for musicians, sound engineers, producers, and even casual listeners.
The latest revision, the M50X, gives the M50X the much needed detachable cable, which further enhances its versatility. The ability to swap to a shorter cable makes the M50X also applicable in a portable setting. The sturdy plastic construction and folding design help the M50X keep up with the often harsh and unpredictable portable environment.
The popularity and influence of the M50X can be seen outside of the professional field. Many YouTubers, for example, are using the ATH M50X as their primary output device. Even gamers and Twitch icons such as Timthe Tatman are using the M50X during his streams.
Despite its popularity, the sound signature of the ATH M50X has received some criticisms. The sound signature is not entirely flat and is leaning towards a more V-Shaped sound signature. This is not unheard of as even other studio monitors such as the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro also have a V-shaped sound signature.
However, with the constantly evolving market, enthusiasts are expecting more out of these benchmark headphones. Nevertheless, the ATH M50X is still a very competent headphone. Its technical ability may have been surpassed by other closed-back headphones, but its popularity won’t die anytime soon.
The ATH M50X has already cemented itself as the standard studio monitoring headphone. It is a tried and tested design that has been used by countless professionals around the world. If you are looking for a headphone for your next professional project, or even just for casual listening, then you won’t be disappointed with this one.
The second most popular pair from Audio Technica is, of course, the ATH M40X. Despite being in a lower-tier compared to the M50X, many consider this to be the superior headphone. It is largely due to the flatter tuning of the M40X.
The M50X is known to have a bit of an over-exaggeration in the low-end. This low-end bump helps keep the music exciting. This is also the main factor that made it a reputable pair of DJ Headphones.
However, some users consider this to impact the accuracy of the headphones negatively. The added energy on the bass may lead to incorrect mixing, especially if headphones are your only source (which is the case for most beginners). This is why some users prefer the more accurate sounding ATH M40X, instead.
The downsides of this type of sound signature may, however, sound too flat or boring to casual listeners. Having the most accurate representation of sound does not always result in an enjoyable experience. This is largely the reason why the ATH M50X is still the higher-end model.
But overall, if you are looking for the most analytical sounding studio monitoring headphone for the price, then the Audio Technica M40X is very hard to beat. Apart from the different tuning, the M40X has the same components as the M50X. This means that the M40X is still the same well-built pair of headphones that can be taken to live gigs or any demanding environment that may potentially break the headphones.
If a neutral sound is your priority, then we highly suggest the M40X over the M50X. However, if you want a more versatile option and if you do not necessarily mind the bass bump, then the M50X is the better choice. Either way, you are getting an industry-standard monitoring headphone.
Philips SHP 9500 – Best Budget
If you think the previous models are out of your budget, then this next model is for you. The Philips SHP 9500 is one of the best bang for the buck open-back headphones that you can purchase. Its sound quality alone already punches way above its price point. While it isn’t a Sennheiser HD600 killer, it still does a lot of things right and is a mainstay in a lot of enthusiasts’ headphone collection.
The build quality is excellent in this price category. Despite being predominantly built with plastic, the plastic used is high-quality and comparable with the build of other mid-tier headphones. It features a 3.5 mm detachable cable that can easily be replaced with other aftermarket cables. This also means that it is compatible with the popular V Moda Boom Pro microphone, which turns this headphone into a gaming headset.
Those features are great to have on a budget headphone, but the real star of the show here is the sound quality. The SHP 9500 has great clarity and detail retrieval. It has a smooth high-end that is well controlled and prevents sibilance. The bass is still present but isn’t as pronounced as closed-back headphones. The midrange is also a bit cessed for this pair.
Despite having an intimate soundstage, the imaging is excellent. Its ability to help discern the position of sounds has helped make this a popular pair for competitive gaming. The sound signature is very pleasing and would satisfy anyone who is limited to this price range.
Overall, the Philips SHP9500 is quite possibly the best sounding pair that you can get in the budget category. Its versatility is excellent since it performs well both in music listening and gaming. It has a few things that can be improved on its sound quality, but overall, this is a competent pair that could easily belong in the midrange price category. If you are interested in a budget open-back pair of headphones, this is the one that you should check out.
Audio Technica WP 900 – Best Portable
In the past couple of years, audiophile companies have started straying away from portable headphones. Over the ear, portable Bluetooth ANC headphones have mostly taken over the market since they are more convenient to use. IEMs are also currently more popular than full size or on-ear portable headphones since they are smaller, lighter, and have drivers that could match the sound of bigger headphones.
However, these have not stopped Audio Technica from producing high-quality portable headphones. The likes of the ATH MSR7, ATH ES770H, and ATH ESW990H have proven that Audio Technica is very well versed in tuning portable audiophile-grade headphones.
They continue their hot streak of amazing sounding and gorgeous looking portable headphones with the WP 900. It takes a similar approach to the wood finish of the ATH ESW990H and older models, such as the ATH ESW9. What’s different here is that the WP 900 now has an over the ear design, which is more comfortable for longer listening sessions.
The maple wooden earcups definitely steal the show here. They have been finished by a Fujigen, a Japanese guitar company. This explains why color is similar to a flame maple finish found on electric guitars.
In terms of the sound signature, it follows the traditional Audio Technica sound signature. There is an emphasis on the upper mids, which highlights female vocals. In terms of the highs, the WP 900 has plenty of detail without being sibilant. There is a slight peak somewhere between 9 and 12k Hertz but does not hurt the overall experience.
In terms of the bass response, the WP 900 delivers fun and thumping bass. It is very well controlled and does not overextend into the midrange. This can make tracks exciting but can also be subtle when needed.
Overall, Audio Technica has nailed the sound signature of this release. It has enough detail retrieval to satisfy audio enthusiasts but also has enough bass response for more casual listeners. And of course, the mids are well executed like most Audio Technica headphones.
If you want a gorgeous looking headphone that sounds as good as it looks, then the WP 900 is a headphone that you should check out.
Meze Empyrean – Best High-End
For our high-end pick, we have the Meze Empyrean, which 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.
Stephen is a musician, cinematographer, and headphone enthusiast who is passionate about reviewing audio equipment. He has been playing guitar for at least a decade, which introduced him to professional recording equipment such as headphones and in-ear monitors. With the help of reviews and online content, he was able to learn the ins and outs of the hobby. His goal is to give back to the community by providing quality content to help others enjoy the beautiful (and expensive) world of audio.
Favorite Headphones: Sennheiser HD660s