Top 20 Best audiophile headphones

Our monster list of the top 20 best audiophile headphones for 2016 contains some of the world's best sounding headphones.  

Why buy audiophile headphones?

The easy answer as to why you would want to buy audiophile headphones is that you want the best sound quality possible.  But very few people get into this hobby and buy one of these outstanding headphones right out the gate.  Instead, the pursuit of on head audio fidelity usually involves a lot of tinkering and many headphone purchases and upgrades along the way to the end game.  A lot comes down to audiophiles and those that appreciate sound quality as having a deeper understanding of how the hardware is affecting the reproduction of their sound.  We become obsessed with minor annoyances like barely audible treble spikes and bass roll offs because demand the best. 

The other reason you might want to purchase a set of audiophile headphones is that you want incredible sound but you don't want to step into the ultra pricey world of high-end HiFi systems.  That or you may just not have the space available to accommodate such setups.  By going the headphone route you can still experience a very high level of fidelity in a relatively compact package.

Choosing the best audiophile headphones for your needs

Whilst sound quality fitting your personal preference should be of utmost importance when buying audiophile headphones don't forget to consider a few other factors.  A headphone might have the greatest sound in the world but if it is impractical for use in the scenarios where you listen to music it's probably worth buying something better suited to the task. 

Comfort and fit play a huge role in determining how good a match a certain headphone is for you.  A set of uncomfortable headphones are going to make you want to not use them.  Good audiophile headphones will be comfortable over long listening periods. 

Finally, price, is one of the biggest barriers to entry for some of the world's best headphones.  Don't be too disheartened though as there are a number of budget headphone options that produce about 95% of the sound that the multi $1000 versions do.  The difference between an entry level audiophile headphone and an ultra high end is a sonic evolution as opposed to a revolution.

 


Stax SR009

TechnologyOpen back electrostatic headphones

The Stax SR009 have a very good case for being considered the best sounding headphones in the world right now and for good reason. 

These electrostatic headphones will need the addition of some high-end tube amplifiers or energizers to reach their full potential but when you do you will end up with a smile plastered across your face from ear to ear.

Owners of the Stax SR-009 are rewarded with unparalleled levels of transparency so be careful of the source material you feed them. They will expose shoddy mastering and recordings unlike anything else out there. 

Stax headphones are long considered by many audiophiles to be the pinnacle of headphones and 

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Official Stax Earspeakers Website

 


Stax SR007 Mk2

Technology: Open back electrostatic headphones

If you don't have the funds to shell out over $3000 for the outstanding Stax SR-009 you could always take a look at their baby brother. 

While there was a wide gulf between the SR007 mk1 and SR009 that has been closed considerably in the mk2 version. 

If you like a more subdued midrange then the SR0097 would be the better choice and whilst the bass is a little on the lean side compared to some of the Planar headphones on this list it more than makes up for it in speed and detail retrieval.

Just like on its big brother the soundstage is excellent and when paired with the right tubes these headphones are about as close as you can get to listening to a set of full-size speakers whilst still being infinitely more portable.

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Focal Utopia by Focal Headphones

Technology:  Open-back dynamic driver headphones

Most headphone companies hope they will make waves when releasing a new headphone but Focal just managed to create a Tsunami. 

The Focal Utopia is now out and after spending a couple of sessions with it, we had to crown it the new king of the audiophile headphones world.

Detail retrieval is jaw dropping and soundstage is f****n massive.  It is everything I wanted when I got into this hobby and they very much feel like an end game product that will take some beating.

They are light and incredibly well built and if I could have one headphone for the rest of time, right now it would be the Focal Utopia.

At a shade under 4grand though these are going to be or of the reach of the majority of headphone enthusiasts but none the less they are a stunning achievement from the french manufacturer.

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Official Focal headphone website


Kingsound KS-H3

Best-audiophile-headphone

Technology:  Electrostatic Headphones

Technology: Open back electrostatic headphones I have owned the Kingsound KS-H3 for a couple of years now and every time I put them on I know I'm in for a good time. 

The brand might not be as trendy as Stax or Focal but they still give them a serious run for the money.  Paired with my WooAudio tube amp they are everything audiophiles would look for in a set of premium headphones.

Detailed, transparent and unlike some other Electrostatic headphones they also have a solid amount of bass.  Oh, and if comfort is your thing then look no further.  Easily the most comfortable set of full sized headphones period.

Don't look past the companies own M-20 headphone amplifier / energizer either.  Paired with the KS-H3 and the right selection of tubes it is a beautiful thing bringing out that analog-style warmth that makes old recording shine. 

Click here for lowest price at Moon Audio.  (US Buyers Only)

Official Kingsound Audio Headphones website

Read our full review of the Kingsound KS-H3 Electrostatic Headphones


Sennheiser Orpheus

Technology:  ALL OF IT!

You will most likely never own these headphones.  You will most likely never listen to these headphones. You will most likely you never even see a set of these headphones but from what everyone who has heard them says the new Sennheiser Orpheus are the best audiophile headphones money can buy. 

How much money did you just ask?  Well in the region of $50,000.  As an exercise in how far we can take headphone technology, it's a great project but if you actually own one you should be slapped for having more money than sense. 

Sennheiser went all out and no corners were cut in the pursuit of all-out sound fidelity.  If there was a perceived weakness Sennheiser sought to rectify it and along the way the created not just an incredibly advanced piece of audio equipment but a work of art.

Check out the story behind the Orpheus on Sennheiser's awesome dedicated website.


Sennheiser HD800s

Technology: High Definition Dynamic Driver

The HD800 were for a long time considered the best audiophile headphone.  It just so happens to be one I still currently own. However, Sennheiser recently improved on the standard HD800 when they released the Sennheiser HD800s. 

There wasn't much wrong with the originals but any weaknesses have now been ironed out leaving one of the most analytical and technically perfect sounding headphones at any price. 

Long term fans of the top of the line HD's will be happy to know that Sennheiser has kept the styling of the old model and just made subtle refinements.  As i have said before... if Darth Vader used headphones, well just look at them.

What's more incredible is that with the introduction of this new model the outgoing 800's have just received a significant drop in price.  Given that they were already outstanding value before the introduction of the "S" variant they are probably the best bang for buck audiophile headphone on the market right now.

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Official website for the Sennheiser HD800


Sennheiser HD650

Technology:  Open back dynamic driver headphones

One of the cheapest audiophile headphones on this list and another that I own the HD650 gives you a lot of what makes the Sennheiser HD800 headphones so good in a far cheaper package. 

A lot of headphone enthusiasts consider the HD650 as the only headphone you ever really need for listening to High definition audio. For a large part, I agree with that statement.  They set the bar at 90-95% of what the far more expensive headphones can do and are top shelf performers even when you remove price from the equation.

Take the price into the equation and you have the perfect headphone for budget audiophiles.

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Audeze LCD-4

Technology: Open back planar magnetic headphones

The top of the line Audeze LCD-4 are true luxury headphones in every sense of the word. 

From the exquisite and ornate packaging to the stellar build you are in for a treat with this set of planar magnetic beasts. 

Made from some of the finest materials, swathed in wood and leather they look every bit as good as they sound. 

Transparent, detailed fast and with excellent sound stage this is like having a full 2 way speaker system planted right on top of your head.

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Official Product page for the Audeze LCD-4


Audeze EL-8 Open Back

Technology: Open back planar magnetic headphones

Sound wise they can't quite compete all out with a lot of the more pricey headphone models on this list but what the EL8 has done for the audiophile headphone community is something that not many people talk about. 

They made this hobby cool.  No longer do the planar headphones have to look like a DIY project from someones garden shed.

Instead the sleek lines are paired with Audeze's legendary orthodynamic technology to create a great sounding headphone that will also appeal to a mainstream audience. 

One of the best parts of this is that the Audeze EL-8 have encouraged more manufacturers to concentrate on design as well as sound and we are now seeing an industry wide trend in the direction of better built and more ergonomically designed Hifi headphones.

At $699 and with the ability to use it with a lighting connector as a set of true audiophile headphones for the Iphone 7 it also seems like a bit of a bargain.

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Official Website of the Audeze EL-8 Open back headphones

Click here for our full Audeze EL-8 review


Final Audio Design X

Technology:  Semi-Open back dynamic driver headphones

Ostentatious and way over the top are 2 ways to describe the Final Audio Design Sonorous X the others might be rich, detailed and spacious. 

If ever a set of headphones could be considered a piece of jewellery then it's the Final Audio Sonorous X, the king of the FAD headphone lineup. 

Click here for current lowest price for the Sonorous X on Amazon

Official website of the FInal Audio Design Sonorous X


Final Audio Design VI

Technology:  Semi-Open back hybrid driver headphones

Don't want to splash out on the Final Audio X headphones?  Well you can save a lot of cash and get the majority of the flavour from the brands Sonorous VI model. 

This is a headphone I own personally and what better way to explain how much I like it than the fact that it replaced my Audeze LCD-2 planar magnetic headphones. 

The soundstage is godlike, the bass and the mids are super imersive and the treble is some of the smoothest on any sub $1000 headphones.

It's still got all the bonkers design that Final Audio fans love but just toned down from the range-topping X model.  One of my all time favorite headphones and probably one of my most listened to when not conducting reviews.

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Official website of the Final Audio Sonorous VI

Read Audiophile On's full in-depth review of the Sonourous VI


Beyerdynamic T1

Technology: Semi Open Tesla Coil Dynamic Driver Headphones

Just like the Sennheiser HD800 the Beyerdynamic have been around, unchanged, for years and for good reason.  

The german headphone company makes a lot of excellent headphones but my pick of the bunch has to be the Beyer T1.  These headphones have a very high impedance of 600 ohms so be careful what source you are using to drive them. 

The sound is very comparable to that of the Sennheiser HD800 but with a bit more of a low-end grunt that leads to a more natural and less sharp listening experience. 

Detail retrieval is at an all-time high thanks to the use of Beyerdynamic's Tesla Driver Technology.  Build quality is top of the line and these headphones should serve you well for decades to come.

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Official Webpage of the Beyerdynamic T1 2nd Generation


Hifiman HE-1000 V2

Technology: Open back planar magnetic headphones

Everyone thought Hifiman was done for when Audeze started to take control of the market a few years back. 

For a long time these 2 headphone makers were the kings of planar magnetic technology.  Hifiman's line started to grow somewhat stagnant but then they released the Hifiman HE-1000, a true audiophile grade headphone.  Then they decided to better it by releasing the V2.

I love everything about this headphone from it styling to its fit and finish and the transparent, highly detailed and ultra accurate sound.  I was so impressed that the HE-1000 V2 are the headphones I will be purchasing this Christmas.

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Official Hifiman Website


Hifiman H400s

Technology: Open back planar magnetic headphones

Whilst there are better sounding, better looking and just all around better headphones on this list most of them also cost many times the price of the humble Hifiman HE400's.

I wanted to include it as a great option for those aspiring audiophiles on a budget.  The law of diminishing returns is big in this hobby and the HE400s offsets that by offering big performance at just $299 in the US market. 

A warm sounding but still very detailed Planar headphone they weigh only 350g so can be worn all day and are well enough built to last for years to come. 

One of the best headphone buys if you, like many others, consider yourself a budget audiophile.

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Grado PS1000e

Technology:  Open back dynamic driver headphones

It's hard to make a list of the best audiophile headphones without including Grado.  The PS designation on the Grado PS1000e stands for professional series and you can see why. 

The PS1000e, unlike the GS100e that is also on this list of the best audiophile headphones, will give out exactly what you put into it. 

It is as transparent as it gets and if your source chain is up to snuff the PS1000e show themselves for being one of the most accurate and true sounding headphones on this list.

You might want to invest in a pair of gloves though as touching anywhere on the PS100e's aluminium earcups will result in masses of fingerprints.

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Official Website of the Grado PS1000e


Grado GS1000e

Technology:  Open back dynamic driver headphones

My personal favourtie out of the Grado headphone lineup.  The Grado GS1000e is beautiful in every way.  The stunning wood earcups and leather headband are a sight to behold but its when you get to head these headphones with rock, acoustic, classical and jazz music that they really begin to shine.  The retain all of the detail that the PS1000 produce yet at the same time the GS1000e have a subtle warmth and are fuller bodied.  The treble is more smoothed off and the bass slightly enhanced.  The GS series feels much more like a continuation of the GR series in this sense, true to the Grado house sound and my current headphone of choice for daily listening.

 

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Official website of the Grado GS1000e

 


Oppo PM1 & PM-2

Tecnology: Open back Planar magnetic headphones

Why have I included the Oppo PM2 and PM1 planar headphones at the same spot in the list?  Well basically it is the same headphone sound wise. 

The Oppo PM-1 has a number of more premium touches such as the packaging and earpads but the Oppo PM-2 sounds every bit as good as its pricier big brother. 

Oppo injected some much-needed competition into the world of orthodynamic headphones upon the PM-2's release.  They managed to put a planar-magnetic driver into a housing that looked far more appealing to mainstream buyers than Hifiman and Audeze headphones that came before. 

Sound is warm, energetic and detailed.

Oppo PM-2 Review

Oppo Headphone Website

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Ultrasone Tribute 7

Technology: Closed back dynamic driver headphones

Another headphone on this list that you most likely will never own.  Unlike the Orpheus however, it is not the price that is a barrier to entry.  It's their rarity. 

The Ultrasone Tribute 7 are a special limited run of the truly outstanding Ultrasone Edition 7.  Having spent a couple of sessions listening on the ultra rare Edition 7 I can tell you that even given the age these are special headphones.  Unbelievable comfortable, detailed, rich and full bodied they even stand ahead of what many companies have managed to achieve 12 years after the originals release. 

The Tribute 7 were made available in July and only 777 models were made available. 

Sure to become a collector's item in the future if you can grab a set at a fair price then, by all means, listen to them every day and you will probably see your money back even with added wear and tear.

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Mr Speakers Ether Flow

Technology: Open back planar magnetic headphones

We reviewed the Mr Speakers Ether a couple of months ago and were massively impressed how far Dan (aka Mr Speakers) has taken the company.  From modifying the popular Fostex T50RP headphones to building the Ether Flow from the ground has seen Mr Speakers become one of the best audiophile headphone brands.  The Ether are now surpassed by the Flow all accounts put them as an excellent choice for those buying audiophile headphones.  Ultra transparent, big detail and impressive amount of bass for and open back headphone

Original Mr Speakers Ether Review

Mr Speakers website

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Readers Choice

A few years ago we would have put together a list like this and still had plenty of room to spare, however nowadays there is so much choice on the market we have to leave a lot off this list of the top 20 headphones.  The final spot, as usual is reserved for the readers pick, what headphone should we have included? what have we missed out that should be given recognition?

Leave a comment bellow with what headphone you want to see us put in the final place, the one that receives the most votes/ comments will be added to this list at the end of 2016.