These days, the term audiophiles often get a bad reputation. You’ll often see companies slap the term on any headphones that they deem fit. Anything that sounds barely above average is suddenly “audiophile-grade” these days. Now, that’s not to say that audiophiles are music snobs who enjoy the tech more than the actual audio.
In fact, the truth is the entire opposite of that statement. Being an audiophile means you can tell the little differences in sound quality, and even pick up on minor details. It’s an enjoyable experience, but it doesn’t come cheap. There are also a lot of elements at play here, so the confusion drives people away.
The purpose of this guide is to help newcomers decide on the best headphones, for different use cases. Sure, there are thousands of great headphones out there. But if you’re looking for a good starting point, this should serve as a nice diverse list. With that out of the way, here are some of our favorite audiophile headphones in 2020.
The Sennheiser HD 800S is a modern classic. These are Sennheiser’s flagship headphones, and it shows off their expertise. This is Sennheiser just flexing their engineering muscle, and we’re all for it. For those of you who don’t know, let us break it down why these headphones are so important.
Sennheiser wanted these to stand out from the crowd. They have certainly managed to achieve that, but not just from the sound quality. These reference headphones have a futuristic design. Instead of the usual classic retro look, Sennheiser tried to experiment with the design. We think it pays off, as the black and silver finish looks incredible.
Let’s quickly talk about comfort. The headband adjustment feels butter smooth and quite premium. The huge drivers inside sit right next to your ears. Furthermore, the gigantic silky smooth earpads feel spongey and lightweight. The same padding is used in the headband. These headphones just disappear after a time. They are durable and lightweight.
In terms of sound quality, these headphones scale dynamically to the power you give them. The cleaner the signal, the better. Combine these with a powerful amp (maybe even a tube amp) and these spring to life. They sound pleasant and warm. The soundstage is massive, and the entire experience is natural and realistic. You can’t replicate sound like this. Incredible detail all around.
However, we have to address the elephant in room. Of course, we’re talking about the price. Enthusiasts will be willing to pay the massive price tag. Obviously, most newcomers will not. Don’t let that fool you, these are worth the money.
The Phillips SHP9500 is a legendary pair of headphones. These are some of the best headphones Phillips has ever made, right alongside the Fidelio X2. While there are better sounding high-end headphones out there, the cost three or four times as much. The sound quality coming from these headphones is unrivaled.
We love the SHP9500 for both its incredible performance and versatility, more on that later. These headphones are built quite well. We’re fans of the classic retro look that they are going for here. There is a lot of text all around, but it doesn’t feel overdone. These 50mm drivers are quite large, and so are the earcups. Surprisingly, these have a detachable cable, which is rare at this price.
Comfort is another strong reason to love these headphones. Since these are open-back headphones, they don’t need to create a tight seal for that closed-back effect. This means that the clamping force is barely noticeable. It’s just enough to stay on your head. The giant earcups feel amazing, and they have a bit of tilt and swivel to them. They are made of a rough textured fabric-like material.
Let’s talk about sound quality. These headphones are enjoyable, and “spacious” would be the word to describe them. They sound very open, not necessarily wide but they sound vast. Mid-range is the main focus here, as it sounds full and rich. Highs are great as they aren’t too harsh but do have somebody to them.
The bass is controlled, and it’s more than enough for most people. However, you really shouldn’t be looking for sub-bass in an open-back headphone. That’s just unfair. They are also great for gaming, as they help in picking up audio cues. You can pair these with an in-line microphone and have an incredible gaming setup. The only real downside is the lengthy cable, and that’s barely a major issue.
3. Hifiman Ananda Over-Ear Planar Magnetic Headphones
Best Planar Magnetic
- Great planar magnetic headphones
- Easy to drive
- Precise audio
- Comfortable for long sessions
- Rivals have better construction
- Quite expensive
Design: Over-Ear, Open-Back | Frequency Response: 8Hz-55kHz | Impedance: 25 Ohms | Weight: 399g
Hifiman is a company that doesn’t really have the clout that, say, Beyerdynamic or Sennheiser does. In reality, unless you’re familiar with audiophile headphones, they aren’t really mainstream. Fortunately, they don’t care about that. Their headphones speak for themselves. The Hifiman Ananda is the perfect example of this.
The Hifiman Ananda is a planar magnetic headphone. Now, we won’t get into the details but for now, let’s quickly explain what this means. Planar magnetic headphones use an electrostatic material sandwiched between two magnets. They sound precise, accurate, and clean. This method gets rid of distortion.
Planar magnetic headphones are often thought of as having less “oomph” than dynamic headphones. Well, that’s like comparing apples to oranges, and the Ananda proves that. The Ananda sounds airy, big, and vast. It almost delivers a concert-like feel. The treble is crisp and forward. The amount of forwardness and smoothness sounds pleasant.
The bass and midrange have a lot of detail. Vocals sound amazing, entirely present, and full. The female vocals have a bit more body to them, which some people will prefer. The bass doesn’t really roll-off but instead has a sort of gradual slope to it. It’s not quite flat in the low-end department. It’s not punchy or powerful, but the entire sound signature is clean and sweet.
These headphones are surprisingly efficient as they are rated at 25ohms. They are lightweight and comfortable, although the earcups lack tilt and swivel. However, they don’t feel as premium as their rivals, like the Sennheiser HD 800 or the Audeze LCD.
Beyerdynamic has been quite successful with their DT lineup of headphones. There are many newcomers out there who are using the DT770, DT880, and even the DT 990. Well if you’re interested in the company, the DT1990 is the best Beyerdynamic experience. They are great for gaming and musical listening. For many people, these are what you might call the end-game headphones.
These are open-back dynamic studio headphones. They come with analytical pads that provide a more reference-grade sound. If you require more bass, and more treble, then you should use the balanced pads that come in the box. The velour padding on these feels excellent. They aren’t too light nor too heavy, and they feel great on the head.
We love the design and sleek look of Beyerdynamic headphones. The laser-etched reflective grill design looks very unique. Apart from that, the gunmetal look also provides some visual flair to the headphones. It comes with a straight cord and a coiled cord. Both of these cords come with a quarter-inch adapter as well.
These are 250-ohm headphones so there is little to no distortion. You will need a decent DAC/amp to power these. If you listen to vocal music like hip-hop, pop, R&B, and even Rock, these are amazing. The vocals are incredibly detailed and everything sounds incredible. The treble is a bit forward here, almost a bit too much at times. However, it’s much better than previous Beyerdynamic headphones.
These headphones are great for the studio, gaming, and even music listening. We love their versatility.
We doubt many people will be surprised to see Audio-Technica on this list. They have made quite the name for themselves, no doubt about that. Audio-Technica is known to make great headphones for both the studio and general listening. Right now, we’re talking about their most legendary headphones ever.
You guessed it, we’re talking about the Audio-Technica ATH M50X. These are often referred to as the go-to headphones for Youtubers and video editors. They earned that status because, well, they are highly recommended by both of those crowds. The design is iconic, and the Audio technical logo is stamped proudly on either side of the earcup.
At this price, we’re surprised to see the detachable cable. They pay great attention to the construction and a lot of attention to detail. The foldable design means you can throw them in your backpack and have them with you at all times. They are also incredibly easy to drive.
As for sound quality, these aren’t as “reference-grade” as some people often say they are. These headphones are great for listening to music and editing video. This is because everything sounds clear and detailed. However, if you are looking for something flatter or reference-grade, I’d look elsewhere.
Don’t get us wrong, these are a great pair of beginner headphones. But there’s something to be said when they start feeling uncomfortable after longer sessions. We’d still recommend many newcomers to try them out.