Shopping for the best audiophile headphones is never an easy process, even if you have been through it a dozen times already in the past. There are so many options on the market – from premium headphones selling for well over $500 to relatively more affordable headphones under $300. But fortunately, you have this product guide to point you in the right direction.
In this guide, you’ll find the best headphones for audiophiles and headphone enthusiasts. While the products differ in form factor, build quality, and structure, They are some of the best-sounding headphones on the market, with almost all of them being wired headphones. Table of Contents
- Best Open-back Headphones: Focal Clear
- Best Closed-back Headphones: Dan Clark Audio Aeon Flow 2 Closed
- Best Planar Magnetic Headphones Under $500: HiFiMan Sundara
- Best Budget Headphones Under $100: Philips SHP9500
- Best Cheap Headphones: Superlux HD 681
- Best Wireless Headphones: Bose QuietComfort 35 II
Best Open-back Headphones: Focal Clear
Open-back headphones are preferred by many audiophiles and headphone enthusiasts due to their accurate audio reproduction. There are a lot of good-sounding open-back headphones on the market, including premium headphones selling for more than $500. Out of all of them, the Focal Clear stand out as the best. They are some of the best-sounding headphones currently out – but they are also some of the most expensive, with their $1,500 price making them inaccessible to most people.
The Clear is wired over-ear headphones featuring a classy silver-and-gray color scheme that easily stands out. While their premium construction is undeniable, their overall aesthetic is clean and discreet, with minimal branding on the headband and ear cups. Their build quality is impressive and feels sturdy and durable. They are mostly made of metal, featuring a metal headband and large ear cups with stainless steel mesh and aluminum yokes.
Although they are not as lightweight as some over-ear headphones, the Clear are comfortable to wear for long hours. Their headband is flexible and distributes the weight evenly, while their ear cups are spacious and can accommodate larger ears. Both the headband and the memory foam earpads are covered with perforated microfiber fabric for better breathability, which is important for long listening sessions. Additionally, their headband has a leather cover on the outer side, making for a more premium look overall.
Like other over-ear headphones, the Clear are not the most portable. They are quite bulky and can’t be folded into a more compact form unlike most modern headphones, but on the plus side, they are not too cumbersome to wear around your neck when not in use. Their subpar portability is not surprising for a pair of headphones designed for home use, though; most audiophile headphones have the same issue.
For accessories, the Clear include a hard case, a stereo jack adapter, and three audio cables. The sturdy carry case offers better protection against physical damage than a soft case or pouch. One of the audio cables is a shorter cable that ends with a 3.5 mm analog plug for universal compatibility with most devices.
The Clear are excellent audiophile headphones with little flaws in sound quality. They sound engaging and detailed and have a nice bass for open-back headphones. Their soundstage is satisfying but not as wide as that of the Sennheiser HD 800 S and other open-back headphones. With their well-balanced audio reproduction, they are suitable for all music genres, including classical, pop rock, and folk music.
Since the Clear are open-back headphones, their sound isolation is poor. Their noise isolation is pretty much non-existent, which makes them unsuitable for listening to music in a noisy environment. And they bleed a lot, which can be distracting for people around you. They are best suited for listening to music while alone in a quiet room.
Overall, the Clear are fantastic open-back headphones that are recommended as endgame headphones for audiophiles. Their build quality and sound quality are both excellent. They are suitable for all kinds of music and are comfortable to wear for long listening sessions despite their weight. They also include a good set of accessories, which can’t be said for some premium headphones.
Best Closed-back Headphones: Dan Clark Audio Aeon Flow 2 Closed
Formerly MrSpeakers, the rebranded Dan Clark Audio launched the Aeon Flow 2 in November 2019 as the first product under its new name. Like the original Aeon Flow, the new model comes in both closed-back and open-back variants. While both models are excellent planar magnetic headphones under $1,000, the Aeon Flow 2 Closed particularly stand out as some of the best closed-back headphones out on the market.
They are better than the original Aeon Flow Closed, not only in design and structure but also in overall sound quality. They are wired over-ear headphones with unique teardrop-shaped ear cups, but instead of blue, their paint is red, which makes for a more striking look. Their driver structure is redesigned while their headband now allows the headphones to be folded into a more compact format for a more travel-friendly setup. Unlike with many modern headphones, their headband collapses into the ear cups, instead of their ear cups folding inward.
The included travel case is also smaller and more compact than that of the original Aeon Flow Closed, but it’s still just as sturdy. With their smooth folding mechanism and smaller case, the all-new Aeon Flow 2 Closed are quite portable for over-ear headphones despite their bulky design. This makes them more suitable for frequent travelers who can’t leave home without their high-fidelity audio equipment.
Featuring a dual headband design, the Aeon Flow 2 Closed are comfortable to wear for long listening sessions, but they are not as breathable as on-ear headphones. They have a Nitinol headband and a leather strap and feature large ear cups with soft pads. Their clamp is secure but not too tight, which makes for a stable and comfortable fit.
Outside of the travel case, the Aeon Flow 2 Closed come with tuning pads and a removable audio cable, with the option to choose different types of connectors or plugs when purchasing from the official store. Like with most other audiophile headphones, the default audio cable has no inline remote for call and music controls.
The Aeon Flow 2 Closed are some of the best-sounding closed-back headphones under $1,000 and are suitable for different music genres. Their bass is accurate and detailed while their treble is not too harsh. They can reproduce clean vocals and clearly separate instruments. Their soundstage is good for closed-back headphones and is better than that of the original Aeon Flow Closed, but it’s not on par with some of the best open-back headphones. You can adjust the sound profile using the included tuning pads.
While they are not as good as the best noise-canceling headphones, the Aeon Flow 2 Closed have good sound isolation, courtesy of their closed-back design. Their passive noise isolation with music playing is effective for blocking out ambient noise in a moderately noisy room. Their sound leakage is also low, allowing you to increase the music volume without disturbing people around you.
With their passive noise isolation, low sound leakage, and more portable design, the Aeon Flow 2 Closed are solid headphones for listening to music at the office. They are easy to carry for everyday use, taking up less space in your bag due to their foldable design and smaller case. Their wired connectivity and lack of inline controls can be inconvenient at times, though.
If you prefer the more intimate and personal listening experience provided by closed-back headphones, check out the Aeon Flow 2 Closed. Their build quality and comfort level are just as good as that of the previous model, but they are better-sounding and more travel-friendly. And the most exciting part is that they are only a bit more expensive than the original Aeon Flow Closed, selling for around $900.
Best Planar Magnetic Headphones Under $500: HiFiMan Sundara
The HiFiMan Sundara are some of the best audiophile headphones under $500, with their $350 price being especially notable for planar magnetic headphones. Their build quality feels premium while their sound quality is fantastic. While they have limited accessories, they offer good value for the money and will last several years.
Like the Focal Clear, the Sundara are wired over-ear headphones with an open-back design. Their matte black finish adds to their high-end look. Their round ear cups are not as bulky as that of other full-sized headphones, which makes for a sleeker design. They have a dual headband structure composed of a metal headband and a synthetic leather strap.
The overall build quality is great. The Sundara are mostly made of metal and feel sturdy, featuring durable ear cup grilles and more wear-resistant yokes. Their detachable audio cable – which connects to both sides and ends with a regular 3.5 mm analog plug – also feels well-constructed. The default audio cable lacks a remote for music controls, which isn’t really surprising for audiophile headphones.
While they have a tight clamp and are not as breathable as other open-back headphones, the Sundara are comfortable to wear for long listening sessions. Their ear cups have soft pads that don’t feel too warm after just a couple of hours of continuous listening. On the other hand, they are not as portable and travel-friendly as the Dan Clark Audio Aeon Flow 2 Closed – they don’t collapse into a more compact form and lack a travel case for storage.
As mentioned, the Sundara are limited regarding accessories. Outside of the audio cable and the plug adapter, there are no other accessories included in the box. There is no travel case, tuning pads, and additional audio cables in the package. The lack of any form of storage is the most notable, as there are a lot of cheaper headphones that include at least a soft pouch.
You won’t be disappointed by the Sundara’s sound quality. They are some of the best-sounding open-back headphones under $500. Their bass performance is good for open-back headphones while their imaging is almost perfect. Their treble and mid-range are both balanced while their soundstage is wide, as expected from unsealed headphones. You can use them not only for listening to music but also for listening to other forms of media and even gaming.
However, they are best used in a quiet room because of their poor sound isolation, which can also be said for all other open-back headphones. Their noise isolation is non-existent, making them a terrible choice for blocking out ambient noise in a crowded room. Furthermore, their sound leakage is high even at moderate volume levels, which can be distracting or annoying for people around you.
On the whole, the Sundara are some of the best headphones in the current HiFiMan lineup. They are great-sounding open-back headphones that are ideal for enjoying music in a quiet room. Their build quality feels high-end, while their very comfortable design is suitable for long listening sessions. If you are limited to a $500 budget for the best audiophile headphones, check out these HiFiMan planar magnetic headphones.
Best Budget Headphones Under $100: Philips SHP9500
In the under-$100 budget category, few other headphones come close to the Philips SHP9500. They are some of the best-sounding headphones selling for $100 or less. They are extremely comfortable to wear for long hours and are decently built for the price. You can get them for just around $60 during a sale, which makes them even more appealing for audiophiles with a tight budget.
A pair of wired over-ear headphones, the SHP9500 are open-back headphones with a straightforward and minimalist design. Their all-black color scheme makes for a more discreet profile that some people will prefer. They have large, circular ear cups with left and right markers painted in contrasting color on the grilles and feature a metal-reinforced headband. Their overall build quality is decent for a pair of headphones under $100. They have a detachable audio cable that connects to the left ear cup and ends with a regular 3.5 mm analog plug for universal compatibility with most devices.
The SHP9500 are supremely comfortable to wear for long listening sessions and are comparable to the popular Bose QuietComfort 35 II regarding comfort level. They are lightweight and don’t feel too tight on the head. Due to their open-back design, they are more breathable than closed-back headphones with the same over-ear form factor. Their ear cups are generously padded with soft material, but the fabric covering the earpads feel rather cheap and might come off as a bit rough for some people.
Like the HiFiMan Sundara – and many other over-ear headphones – the SHP9500 are not the most portable, which isn’t really surprising for headphones designed for home use. In addition to their bulky design, they can’t be folded into a more compact format and don’t include a travel case. And speaking of accessories, there are no other items included in the box outside of the audio cable and the plug adapter.
Compared to premium open-back headphones like the Focal Clear and the Sennheiser HD 800 S, the SHP9500 are not as good regarding sound quality. But compared to other headphones in the same price range regardless of enclosure type, they are some of the best. Their treble and mid-range are both accurate and not too overpowering, while their bass performance is quite good, which is notable for open-back headphones. Their soundstage is also decent, but there are other headphones with a wider soundstage.
As is the case with other open-back headphones regardless of form factor or price, the SHP9500 have poor noise isolation that makes them unsuitable for listening to music in a crowded room. They are not going to block ambient noise and are best used in a quiet room. Their sound leakage is also very high, which means people nearby will hear your loud music. That’s something you need to keep in mind if you plan to use the headphones at the office.
If you are in the market for the best-sounding headphones but can’t spend more than $100, go for these open-back Philips headphones. There are similarly priced headphones that are better-built and include more accessories than the SHP9500. But only a handful of them come close to the SHP9500 regarding overall sound quality. And when you factor in their extremely comfortable design, the list becomes even shorter.
Best Cheap Headphones: Superlux HD 681
The Superlux HD 681 are cheap headphones that sound surprisingly good and are even better-sounding than some headphones selling for triple the price. They are the best choice for audiophiles who have an extremely limited budget. They sell for less than $50, with some online sellers putting them up for just under $30.
Unlike all the other over-ear headphones on this list, the HD 681 are semi-open headphones, which means their ear cups are not completely unsealed. They are wired over-ear headphones with a bland aesthetic despite the red accents on the headband and ear cups. They have large ear cups and a dual headband, with the inner strap allowing for easy adjustment. Terminating in a regular 3.5 mm analog plug, the audio cable is non-detachable and connects to the left ear cup.
Regarding build quality, the HD 681, as expected from cheap headphones, are mediocre. Their plastic construction doesn’t feel durable. But on the other hand, they are comfortable to wear despite their weak build quality. They are lightweight, more breathable than closed-back headphones, and not too tight on the head. Their ear cups are well-padded and can accommodate most ear sizes, but the earpads are not as soft as with other headphones.
The HD 681 are some of the least portable headphones listed in this product guide. While they are lightweight and include a soft pouch for storage, they are too cumbersome to carry due to their bulky frame and non-foldable design. Their circular ear cups also don’t swivel into a flat position, making the headphones unwieldy to wear around your neck when not in use.
Compared to the Philips SHP9500, the HD 681 are only marginally better in accessories. They include a gold-plated plug adapter and, as mentioned, a soft pouch. The latter puts them above the more expensive Philips headphones and is especially notable since most cheap headphones don’t include any form of container. The soft pouch protects the headphones from scratches when they are stored in your bag, but not against water damage.
It’s easy to forget that the HD 681 are low-end headphones once you put them on and start listening to music. They are some of the best-sounding headphones selling for less than $50 and are suitable for critical listening. Their bass and mid-range performance are both good – especially the former – while their treble and soundstage are both decent. However, their audio reproduction is not as good as that of actual open-back headphones, especially regarding soundstage.
While they are marketed as capable of providing passive isolation from background noise due to their partly closed enclosure, the HD 681 have poor noise isolation. They are not suitable for commuting and travel and are not a good choice for blocking ambient chatter in the office. Moreover, their sound leakage is also quite high. In short, they are not that much better at sound isolation than completely open headphones.
Despite their usage limitations and build quality flaws, the HD 681 are still some of the best audiophile headphones under $50. They are comfortable to wear for long hours and can easily connect to most devices with their standard analog plug. You’d be hard-pressed to find better-sounding headphones selling for a similar price than these Superlux headphones.
Best Wireless Headphones: Bose QuietComfort 35 II
If you prefer the convenience of wireless connectivity and are looking for the best-sounding wireless headphones, get the Bose QuietComfort 35 II. They are wireless noise-canceling headphones that are suitable for all-around use and can be used in both wireless and wired modes. They are just as pricey as the HiFiMan Sundara, selling for around $350. But they are more versatile, with their active noise cancellation (ANC) making them more suitable for listening to music in a noisy environment.
The QuietComfort 35 II are Bluetooth headphones with an over-ear form factor and closed-back ear cups for passive sound isolation. They are available in black, silver, and rose gold, with the latter being the flashiest and most eye-catching color scheme. They have a metal-reinforced headband and a pair of well-padded oval ear cups. While their construction has more plastic than metal parts, their overall build quality is good and feels durable.
Like the cheaper Philips SHP9500, the QuietComfort 35 II are extremely comfortable to wear for long hours and are some of the most comfortable headphones on the market. Their headband is flexible and easily adjustable while their earpads are soft. They are lightweight and fairly breathable and don’t feel tight on the head. But despite their looser clamp, they are quite secure, not easily sliding off when you are moving your head.
While they are bulky due to their over-ear design, the QuietComfort 35 II are quite portable and not too cumbersome to carry for everyday use. They are lightweight and fold into a more compact form, allowing them to take up less space when stored in your bag. They also include a hard case, which protects them from physical damage and makes them more travel-friendly.
The QuietComfort 35 II have on-cup controls for call and music management – a common setup for wireless over-ear headphones. Their control scheme is simply composed of physical buttons that are easy to access and don’t feel too confined on the ear cups. In addition to the call and music controls on the right ear cup, you get a separate button on the left ear cup for switching between the three ANC levels and for activating your voice assistant.
Suitable for most music genres, the QuietComfort 35 II are some of the best-sounding wireless noise-canceling headphones. They have a balanced mid-range and a detailed treble. Their bass is punchy but not too emphasized while their imaging is excellent. But on the other hand, their soundstage is mediocre. You can’t freely modify their sound profile using the companion app, unlike with the Sony WH-1000XM3, their chief rival on the market.
Out of all the headphones in this guide, the QuietComfort 35 II are the most suitable for listening to music even in a noisy environment. Their noise isolation with ANC enabled is one of the best in the business. They block a great amount of background noise, from the sound of airplane and bus engines to office chatter. They will allow you to listen to your favorite tunes in peace, whether you are in a crowded home or at the airport.
Featuring NFC technology for faster pairing, the QuietComfort 35 II can run up to 20 hours on a single charge. That’s good enough for long flights and commutes and for extended hours at the office. When the battery is low or if you want a zero-latency connection, you can use the included audio cable to switch to wired mode. The cable ends with a regular 3.5 mm analog plug for universal compatibility with most devices.
The QuietComfort 35 II is not the most natural-sounding headphones and is obviously not designed for serious audiophiles and headphone enthusiasts. But they are the best overall choice if you want great-sounding, all-around wireless headphones with excellent noise isolation. They are the most versatile headphones on this list and are suitable for listening to music in both quiet and noisy places.