A well-rounded list, looking at the pro’s and con’s of audiophile headphones for people who want to ditch their apple earbuds and get into the world of high fidelity headphones.
- Audio-Technica ATH-M50x
This headphone is a closed back over-ear headphone that originally designed for DJ and studio purposes. The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x is an updated version of the ATH-M50, which has been praised by audio enthusiasts for a headphone at this price point. The update includes detachable cables from the headphone drivers and “improved” padding. The ATH-M50x includes 4ft and 10ft straight cables and one coiled cable for versatility.
Pros: The ergonomics make this headphone very comfortable to use for extended periods of time.
Cons: Removable cables have to be designed for the M50x specifically, so not any headphone cable would work.
The Sound: These headphones have crisp highs (but not overwhelming), and tight punchy bass. These is little to no soundstage as these are closed back headphones. Pop, electric, and hip-hop would sound great on the M50x’s. These headphones have a slightly colored sound, but at this price, these headphones are ahead of the curve as far as accurate audio reproduction. A headphone with an even “flatter” or “neutral” EQ would cost $$$ for little improvement.
- Grado SR80e Prestige Series Headphones
These are on ear open-back headphones. The SR80e’s have a minimal retro design. The frequency response is between 20-20,000 hz. These headphones are easily driven at a normal impedance of 32 ohms, so they don’t require an amplifier.
Pros: This is a really great open-back headphone for someone looking for a headphone with great soundstage. The cushion padding is replaceable when it wears out and there are other options online for L-cushion pads and leather pads.
Cons: The minimal construction of these headphones don’t make them the sturdiest.
The Sound: For the price, you really won’t find better headphones with soundstage like this. The SR80’s really shine in the highs and mids. The bass is there, but it’s not as punchy like a closed back headphone would be. The best music to listen to on these would be jazz, acoustic, live performances, heavy vocal music, synth pop, and really anything atmospheric.
- Sennheiser HD 280 Pro
The 280 Pro’s are another headphone designed for studio use. These are over ear closed-back headphones that are super isolated so the monitor sound won’t bleed into the microphone during recording sessions. Even though these headphones were designed for studio use, they are great to listen to and have a super “flat” EQ. The frequency response is 8-25,000Hz and has a normal impedance of 64 ohms, so these can be easily driven by laptops and phones without needing an amp. It has a coiled cable with a 1/8″ jack and comes with a 1/4″ adapter.
Pros: All the padding is replaceable, flat EQ, and folding cups make it packable
Cons: The cable is fixed, and can’t be replaced easily if the connection ever wears down (this doesn’t seem to be a problem with these headphones, but it’s still possible).
The Sound: Since these headphones are used by sound engineers for studio use, these have flat EQ response. Those who aren’t used flat EQ’s may find that the bass isn’t as FAT as they’d like, but it’s the way the sound was meant to be represented. The highs and mids are really represented “as are” and aren’t flashy at all, and the lows probably start to roll off around 200Hz, even though they are advertised at 8Hz.
- AKG Q 701 Quincy Jones Signature Reference Headphones
The AKG Q 701’s are over ear semi-open back headphones. These headphones are modeled after the AKG K 701’s, but have updated touches (mostly cosmetic) by Quincy Jones. These come with a 10 foot and a 20 foot cable for home use and for studio use. The frequency response is between 10Hz – 39.8kHz, which is almost twice as high as many headphones that only go up to 20kHz. The normal impedance is 62 ohms, so there is no need for an amplifier.
Pros: Replaceable ear pads, and cables
Cons: Lacks warmth, 10ft and 20ft cables are awkward lengths for the average music listener
The Sound: The Q 701’s are a very bright headphone with good soundstage. The highs and mids come through very tight and fast. The lows are there, but wouldn’t stand out on hip-hop and pop music. These really seem to be geared toward listening to things like jazz, acoustic, and classical music.
- Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO
The DT 770 Pro’s are an over ear closed-back headphone with some isolation. This model is offered in impedance levels: 32 ohm, 80 ohm, and 250 ohm. The 32 ohm version won’t require an external amp, but the 80 and 250 ohm versions will. The 250 ohm version will need an amp with a little more power than the 80 ohm version. The 80 and 250 ohm versions also comes with different “valvet like” velour ear pads, while the 32 ohm version just has black “leather-esqe” type padding.
Pros: Veriety of impedance levels, robust design, thigh punchy sound, removable ear pads
Cons: Fixed cable to headphone driver
The Sound: The sound varies from model to model. The 80 ohm version has a little more bass than the 250 ohm version, and the 250 ohm version has incredible clean mids and highs. The 250 version can defiantly get a punchy bass, as many external amp offer a bass boost mode.
- Sennheiser HD 598
The HD 598’s are over ear open-back headphones. These headphones were designed with aesthetics in mind. They feature velour ear pads, padded leatherette headband, and a removable cable jack. These headphones are lightweight and extremely comfortable, even when wearing them over long periods of time. The frequency response is between 12 – 38500 Hz. This pair of headphones is 50 ohms, so an external amp isn’t necessary, but will help. This is one of my favorite audiophile headphones I’d recommend for beginners.
Pros: SOUNDSTAGE, and comes with two cables at different lengths (3 meters, and 1.2 meters), and aesthetics
Cons: These headphones aren’t great for traveling because they don’t fold
The Sound: The 598’s really shine when it comes to soundstage. The mids and highs are bright and clear. The lows “exist” but because these are open-back, the bass won’t be punchy. The music that sound best is atmospheric, acoustic, jazz, rock, etc… The soundstage on these headphones will make you feel like you are in a live concert, especially with live jazz and acoustic music.
- AKG K 240 Semi-Open Studio Headphones
The K 240’s are an over ear semi-open headphone with a retro look. These headphones are advertised for studio or DJ use, but because they are semi-open, they’d be more suitable for listening to music than performing music. These have a normal frequency of 55 ohms and don’t require an amp, but would definitely sound like more expensive headphones if they were amplified. The frequency response is 15Hz to 25,000Hz. The semi-open back does let the sound bleed just as much as an open-back headphone, but allows for more soundstage than a closed back headphone.
Pros: The price (less than $60 on Amazon), removable/replaceable cables and earpads, very light and comfortable with extended periods of use
Cons: They don’t fold, lightweight makes them feel cheaper
The Sound: These headphones have a very specific colored sound. They sound great in mids to high mids. The highs sound good and open, but aren’t a focal characteristic of this headphone. These are advertised to go as low as 15Hz, but honestly start to roll off around 40Hz. The low bass isn’t really present, but the high bass and low mids are where this headphone really stands out. This is a good headphone for someone who listens to a lot of rock, metal, and acoustic because there isn’t too much going on in the sub-bass. The open-back allows these headphones to have good soundstage in the low-high mids. Guitars and vocals sound brilliant with these.
- Shure SRH840 Professional Monitoring Headphones
The SRH840’s are an over ear closed-back headphone designed for studio monitoring. The frequency response on these are from 5 Hz – 25,000 Hk, with a normal impedance of 44 ohms. The stock cable that comes with the headphone is a 10 foot coiled cable which can be replaced, and removable ear pads. The stock ear pads are pretty thin, thus, putting the drivers closer to your ear and create a tighter punchy sound. By replacing the stock with thicker after market ear pads, you can actually get these headphones to have SOME soundstage.
Pros: Replaceable cable/ear pads, versatile sound signature
Cons: A little heavy and may be uncomfortable for extended periods of wear
The Sound: These headphones are comparable to the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x’s sound. The M50x’s sound is a little more colored and bassy, while the SRH840’s are a little more neutral and flat sounding. The SRH840’s also have a little bit of soundstage (just a little), which is surprising considering that they’re a fully closed back headphone. When it comes to what music would sound best on these, really most music would sound great. You may not get the punchy bass in music like hip-hop or pop, but you will get very detailed playback and will hear the music as it was intended to be heard. These are really versatile.
- Sennheiser HD 25 Plus
The HD 25 Plus’s are on ear closed-back headphones designed for DJ and studio purposes. The frequency response is between 16 Hz – 22,000 Hz, had has a normal impedance of 70 ohms. These headphones don’t require an external amp. The HD 25 Plus comes with two cables (10 foot straight/10 foot coiled cable), storage pouch, and secondary set of velour ear pads. These audiophile headphones also feature a split headphone band that can be adjusted, and a rotating ear cup that can flip off the ear for one-sided listening. These are my favorite headphones for versatility, sound, portability, and design. I love these headphones.
Pros: Replaceable accessories, portable design, playback accuracy, adjustablility
Cons: Minimal design may affect durability
The Sound: Since these are designed for DJ and studio use, the EQ is flat. The sound definition is clean and tight through the entire frequency range. The mids and highs are “crisp”. The highs won’t be so bright and sharp that they’ll give you listening fatigue, but rather, warm pleasant highs. The bass is “present”. This headphone doesn’t have intense punchy bass, so it may not be for everyone, but the bass is there and goes surprisingly low for the size the drivers. These may not be the best headphones for hip-hop, but electric, pop, and rock music would sound great on these.
If you buy these headphones, read this article on how to change/replace the cable before purchasing them.
- Sennheiser HD 800 Reference Dynamic Headphone
This website was put together to talk about the world of audiophile headphones for beginners, and great headphones don’t have to cost a ton of money, but they can. The HD 800’s are the Lamborghini of headphones. Just by picking these up, you can tell the amount of detail that went in to the design and the quality of materials as it is made in Germany. These are advertised as “around-the-ear” open back headphones. Even the cables that come with the HD 800’s feel The frequency response is between 14 Hz – 44,100 Hz, and a nominal impedance of 300 ohms. These headphones will require an amplifier, but what’s nice is that Sennheiser has made the HDVA 600, an amplifier specifically for the HD 800’s. This headphone is widely considered as the endgame for many audiophile enthusiasts.
Pros: Wide soundstage, sound versatility with different amps
Cons: Proprietary cables
The Sound: It makes it hard to talk about the sound in a particular way because the HD 800’s sound so different depending on the sound source that it’s plugged into. These factors being, the audio source, DAC, and amp. The amp makes the biggest difference in sound depending on it being a tube amp or solid state. Solid state amps, will tend to sound brighter and more extreme in the highs, while tube amps will have an overall warmth. Overall though, these headphones sound great on whatever, and it’s really up to the user to pick an amp that is suitable to your sound preference.
Hopefully this list helps some people find the right audiophile headphones for them.