Further below, the types of headphones are described and then headphones are grouped by price via the orange header. It's a long list so just find the orange header for the price range you want to stay within. The ranges are:
Budget Headphones: $0-$75
Entry Level Headphones: $75-$150
Mid-Range Headphones: $150-$300
Upper Mid-Range Headphones: $300-$500
Audiophile Headphones: $500+
There are important things to consider when buying a new set of headphones and this information will be highly helpful to provide when asking for advice:
1: Location: Where do you intend on using these? If you're looking for a portable solution, a pair of open full sized circumaural headphones may not be for you. Consider the most practical option, not the flashiest.
2: Budget: A budget is very important to set-up before you consider your purchase. Some headphones are known to "need" amps to shine. The headphones will still work without an amp, but some headphones won't be up to their potential without one.
3: Music: The type of music you listen to will be very important when looking for a new pair of headphones. If you like bass heavy music then you're going to want something that has some bass impact.
Before I get into the guide I would like to give a quick explanation of the types of headphones.
|IEMs: Otherwise known as in-ear monitors. These are headphones that go into your ear similar to ear buds, but they go a step further by nesting into your ear canal. They generally provide a higher level of isolation than earbuds.|
|Earbuds: These are the headphones that you'll see come with an iPod. They sit in the outside of the ear, and don't provide much isolation. These aren't very popular in the audiophile world and generally you won't find many higher end ones.|
|Full-Sized, Circumaural: These can be open or closed headphones, it doesn't matter. The defining characteristic of these is that they will completely cover your ear inside the pad. The pad of the headphone generally won't touch the ear, rather make a seal around the outside of the ear. These headphones tend to be large and are generally not ideal for portable use.|
|Full-Sized, Supra-aural: These can be open or closed headphones, it doesn't matter. The defining characteristic of these is that they sit on the ear, rather than cover your ear.|
Head-Fi - Many of you may already know about this site, overall it's fantastic. Be weary of audiophoolery though, a lot of people tend to get caught up in searching for the perfect sound and lose sight of what's important, the music.
Multi IEM Review - A very nice guide to many IEMs in many price brackets with more added regularly.
Beyerdynamic Reference Chart - This is an amazingly useful post on the varieties of the Beyerdynamic Dt770, 880, and 990, models that any user considering these models should purchase.
Portable Headphone Shootout - This is an incredibly useful guide for headphones on the go for multiple price brackets and many headphones with more added regularly.
MLE's Gaming Guide - An excellent guide to gaming headsets.
Anything But iPod - Features information and reviews on not just headphones but other audio equipment with some trusted reviews.
HeadRoom - A nice site with some fantastic resources. Headphones tend to be a bit overpriced here though.
InnerFidelity - Great unbiased reviews.
When considering your headphone purchase it's always best to attempt to find a place to demo them yourself to try your own music on them and see if they suit your ears. Remember sound is subjective and one headphone that I enjoy the next person may not. This is meant to help guide you into the more popular and well received models available to further research.
Things to avoid:
In general it's best to avoid products made by Skullcandy, Bose, Beats, or Monster unless otherwise specified here. These companies spend a lot of money on advertising and looks rather than quality. That isn't to say these companies haven't put out headphones worth buying, the Monster Turbine Coppers are actually fantastic IEMs, it's just that a lot of the time you're paying a premium for the name when you can get a comparable sounding headphone for considerably less or a much better sounding headphone for the same price.
Active Noise Canceling is also something else you'll want to avoid. In-general the average person will get the isolation needed from IEMs or other full-sized headphones. With active noise canceling you're going to pay a premium on the noise canceling tech, rather than the sound quality. Plus they "color" (modify) the sound and they absolutely will not provide the best sound quality over headphones that don't use active noise cancelation. This is fact. Only buy these, or even consider them, if you absolutely need them.
(1) Denotes amp is not required and the headphone will probably not see any change with one.
(2) Denotes amp is not required, but one is recommended.
(3) Denotes amp is required. Using these without an amp will leave much to be desired.
Any headphone with a B next to the number, IE:
(2-B) indicates that it's a bass heavy headphone.
Any headphone with an S next to the number, IE:
(2-S) indicates that they are made for studio monitoring, though may also be good for listening.
Budget Headphones: $0-$75
Looking for a pair of headphones for travel, something cheap to throw around? Or perhaps you can't justify spending much on a pair of headphones but want something of decent value? Look here!
(1-B) JVC Marshmallow, $10-$14. Strong bass, recessed mids, tinny highs. Good for exercising.
(1) MEElectronics M6-BK Sport Sound , $20-$30. Good controlled bass with good extension, slightly aggressive, but clear, mids, clear highs. These IEMs are highly regarded for budget IEMs.
(1-B) Meelectronic R1, $25-$30. Cheap woodies. Deep extended bass with good impact, perhaps too much at times. Warm mids, though somewhat grainy. Rolled off highs that are pleasing to the ear.
(1-B) SoundMagic E30, $40. Strong bass, slightly pushy. Mids are slightly forward, great attack and clarity. Highs extend well, not fatiguing but slightly sibilant. Great for bassheads who don't want the rest of their sound compromised.
(1) Maximo iMetal iM590, $40-$50. Rather balanced sound, rather clear throughout.
(1) MEElectronics A151-BK Balanced Armature , $45-$60. Full warm sound. Full bass, clean smooth mids, clean highs. Build quality is great, no microphonics. One of the best, if not the best option under $100
(1) Soundmagic PL-50, $50-$65. Decent bass but not much impact, great mids, clear highs. A very good value.
(1) Apple Dual Driver IEM, $65-$75. Warm bass with some impact, clear mids and highs. Rather detailed for the price. Has inline remote/mic for iPod/iPhone.
(1) Dunu Ares, $70-$85. Decent overall balanced sound, leans slightly to the warm sound. Bass is adequate, nothing special, mids and highs are lush, but slightly grainy. These are excellent for those who want a good looking IEM while having decent sound.
(1) Good for portable use., $10-$20. Bloated bass, decent mids, clear highs. *These are clip-ons*.
(1) Superlux HD681, $30-$40. Good Bass, mids, and highs.
(1-S) Superlux HD686b, $30-$50. Neutral, slight emphasis on treble.
(1-B) Koss PortaPro , $30-$40. Strong, slightly, muddy, bass, recessed mids, slightly rolled off. Good for portable use.
(1) Samson SR850, $40-$60. Good punchy/slightly deep bass, slightly recessed clear mids, detailed and clear highs.
(1) JVC HARX700, $30-$40. "A poor mans A700." Thumpy/muddy bass, decent mids, decent highs.
(1-B) Sony MDR-XB500 , $50. Comfortable. Strong bass, recessed mids, decent highs. Good for portable use.
(1) JVC HARX900, $50-$60. "A poor mans A900." Decent soundstage. Tight/deep bass, recessed mids, bright/fatiguing highs.
(1) Beyerdynamic DT231, $45-$60. Slightly boosted lows, clear mids, slightly boosted, but clear, highs. Considered to be one of the best closed headphones under $100.
(1-S) Sony MDR-V6, $60-$70. Clear sound with a rather flat response.
(1) Sennheiser HD 448, $50-$60. Rather weak bass, overall balanced clear sound.
Entry Level Headphones: $75-$150
These headphones are for people who want to take the next step up and possibly enter the audiophile world. The low price-tag does not mean these headphones aren't serious about sound!
Entry Level Headphones:
(1) Spider Realvoice, $75-$85. Balanced. Lows are controlled and punchy, clear, prominent, neutral mids, highs sparkle with good extension. Good all-rounder.
(2) HiFi Man RE0, $80. Clear with fantastic highs and mids, low end is lacking.
(1) Etymotic HF5, $90-$100. Excellent isolation with a rather neutral/natural sound. Anemic, yet punchy, bass. Clear, detailed and neutral mids. Sparkling highs. Very clear.
(2) HiFi Man RE-ZERO, $100. Clear, fantastic highs and mids, low end is alright.
(1) Shure SE215, $100. Removable cables. Strong punchy bass, warm powerful mids, rather weak highs.
(1) Fostex t50rp, $75-$120. Deep bass, clear mids, slightly rolled off highs.
(1) , $79. Bright forward headphones. Bass is punchy but overshadowed by the forward mids, bright, potentially fatiguing highs. Great value headphones.
(1) Audio Technica ATH-AD700, $85-$100. Weak bass though it has some impact, detailed mids and highs with no fatigue. The best soundstage in the price range.
(1) Sennheiser HD555, $95-$110. Warm laid-back relaxed sound. Bass is somewhat lacking, mids are full, highs roll off fast.
(2-S) AKG K240S, $100. Good build quality, detachable cable. Tight natural highs, slightly forward mids and highs. Great value.
(1) Alessandro MS-1, $99. Decent natural sounding bass, good warm mids, good detail in the highs with decent extension.
(1) Grado SR80i, $99. Decent lows, though the aggressively forward mids overshadow them. Shrill highs, very bright headphone. Excellent for Rock, possibly the best headphone under $100 for the genre. Highly regarded. Comfort and fatigue are potential concerns.
(2-B) Fischer Audio FA-011, $118. Comfortable with a good sound stage. Deep tight bass, smooth clear mids, somewhat bright highs.
(1-B) Sony MDR-XB700, $80. Deep boomy bass, recessed mids, decent highs. This is a bassheads dream. Good for portable use.
(1) Shure SRH 440, $75-$85. Great isolation and detachable cable. Clean sound, somewhat neutral. Good for portable use.
(2) Koss PRODJ 100, $80. Solid build quality, coiled cable. Natural, clean, sound. Good for portable use/
(1) Sennheiser HD280 Pro, $85-$100. Rather balanced sound though slightly recessed mids and rolled of highs. Only buy these if you need a lot of passive isolation.
(1-S) KRK KNS-6400, $100. Accurate, detailed and comfortable. Accurate bass, good mids and smooth treble. Great soundstage for a closed headphone. Detachable cables. Good for portable use.
(1-B) Ultrasone HFI-580, $130-$150. Fun, clean, V shaped sound. Deep punchy clean bass, slightly recessed mids, bright, sometimes fatiguing, highs. Some sibilance. Decent isolation. Good for portable use.
(1) Shure SRH840, $130-$150. Accurate/punchy bass, great mids, highs are somewhat lacking. Detachable cord. Good for portable use.
(2-S) KRK KNS 8400, $150. Accurate and detailed. Good lows, good mids, good highs. Detachable cable. Very accurate. Good for portable use.
Mid-Range Headphones: $150-$300
Don't let the title fool you, these headphones are serious about their sound quality and many users will be completely satisfied stopping here in their quest for their sound. Perhaps you're looking to upgrade, sidegrade, or enter the grade at all, these are excellent headphones that will satisfy most.
(2) Fischer Audio DBA-02, $160. Balanced sound, very good value. Good airy soundstage, bass has good impact, mids have good texture, and highs are well detailed and extended.
(1) Panasonic RP-HJE900, $250. Good build quality, detachable cables. Impressive bass with good extension, lush detailed mids, decent highs. Great balance and fun to listen to.
(1-B) Monster Turbine Pro Copper , $250. Warm smooth sound. Strong textured quick hitting bass, slightly forward smooth mids, good extension on the highs. Lifetime warranty.
(1-B) Monster Turbine Pro Gold, $250-$280. Comes with a multitude of accessories, great build quality, and good isolation. Hard hitting quality bass, smooth accurate and lush mids, good highs. Very smooth sound. Lifetime warranty.
(1) Klipsch Custom 3, $290. Shoddy cabling ruins an otherwise solid build quality. Slightly warm sound signature. Punchy bass, accurate balanced mids, clean smooth, but laid back highs. Overall a balanced and accurate sound. Good all-rounder.
(2) Audio Technica CK6W , $290-$350. Amazing build quality, sets the bar, with good isolation. No microphonics and excellent comfort. Almost perfectly balanced. Smooth, detailed, extended lows, detailed mids, highs sparkle and are very detailed. A great value even at this price.
(2)Sennheiser HD595 , $150-$175. Decent comfort, potential clamping. Good sound stage and imaging. Bass can't keep up with fast music, good full mids, decent highs that roll off a bit too early. Relaxed sound.
(2) Sennheiser HD 558 , $170-$180. Warm bass, though not much impact, slightly recessed mids, and rolled off highs. Very relaxed sounding.
(1) Grado SR225i, $199. Bright headphones with great mids and highs. These are considered to be the least fatiguing of the SR line while maintaining the Grado "house" sound. Potential comfort issues.
(1) Audio Technica ATH-AD900 , $210-$250. Amazing clarity, lush balanced mids and highs, punchy accurate bass. Amazing soundstage, though not much bass extension. Very comfortable. One of the top choices for this bracket
(2) Sennheiser HD598, $235-$250. Looks fantastic, good comfort. Warm laid back sound signature. Decent bass impact and extension, smooth mids, slightly rolled off highs.
(3) AKG K701/702, $265-$280. Amazing detail and clarity, bass is adequate and precise. Largely considered the most detailed headphones in the price range, though also considered the hardest to amp. The K702 offers a detachable cable.
(3) Beyerdynamic Dt880 (avoid the Pro model), $220-$300. Be wary there are 3 models of the Dt880: 32ohm, 250ohm, 600ohm. Each has it's own differences but the general sound of these are rather neutral with an emphasis on the treble, more so than the Dt770. *These are semi-open.*
(3-B) Beyerdynamic Dt990, (avoid the Pro model), $200-$300. Be wary there are 3 models of the Dt990: 32ohm, 250ohm, 600ohm. Each has it's own differences but the general sound of the Dt990s are rather bass heavy with a lot of treble, most recessed mids of any of the Dt series.
(2) Grado SR325i, $295. Considered the brightest and most aggressive of the SR line, but also very detailed.
(2) Alessandro MS2, $299. Good balance throughout. Good clarity, rather congested sound. Easy to drive.
(1-B) Audio-Technica ATH-M50 , $150-$160. Punchy deep bass, with slightly recessed mids. Good passive isolation. Good for portable use.
(2) Fischer Audio FA-003, $170. Very neutral headphones with great clarity throughout. Well controlled bass, sparkly highs. Good all-rounders. Great value, comparable to more expensive offerings.
(2-S) AKG K271 MK II, $180-$250. Neutral headphones makes them good for studio monitoring. Detailed, but lacking in bass. Detachable cable.
(1-B) AiAiAi TMA-1, $199. "Dark" sound, great bass from the extension to the impact, mids are good, highs rather recessed. These are designed with minimal techno in-mind, though they work well with other genres. Good for portable use.
(1-S) Sennheiser HD25-1 II , $200. Durable with good isolation. Well defined lows, neutral mids, and smooth highs. Good for portable use.
(1) Audio-Technica ATH-ESW9A, $200-$220. Very smooth, warm, sound. Good bass, sslightly recessed mids, decent highs. Good for portable use.
(1-B) Ultrasone HFI-780, $249. Good isolation, iffy build quality, easy to drive. Strong clear bass, slightly forward mids, bright highs. Good for portable use.
(3) Beyerdynamic Dt770 (avoid the Pro model), $200-$250. Be wary there are 3 versions of the non-pro version: 32ohm, 250ohm, and 600ohm. Each has it's own differences but the general sound of these are rather balanced with an emphasis on the highs.
(2) Denon D2000, $225-$240. Comfortable. Tight punchy bass, smooth mids, smooth clear highs.
(2) Ultrasone Pro 750, $235-$250. Good bass not overbearing but with plenty of slam (an all around more refined version of the HFI-780). Good comfort. Great with trance and bass heavy music.
(2-B) Sony MDR-XB1000, $259. Very comfortable with a decent sound stage and good isolation. Strong but slow and bloated bass, mids are recessed, smooth highs. Often said to simply be a woodied D2000.
(2) Beyerdynamic T50p, $270-$300. Excellent build quality. Balanced, accurate, and a good soundstage. Tight accurate lows, smooth mids, sparkly highs. Great for portable use.
(2) Beyerdynamic DT1350, $299. Excellent build quality. Very neutral, detailed, sound. Tight accurate bass with great clarity throughout. Good for portable use.
(1) Bose QC15, $299. The best active noise canceling headphone by far. Good sound stage and presence. Light on the bass. The noise cancellation might distort the music though. These are only to be considered if you actually need active noise canceling.
Upper Mid-Range Headphones: $300-$500
You've perhaps have gotten a taste of some other headphones and wanted to see what the upper tiers are like, or you're a risk taker and are spending "big" on your first pair. Either way these are part of the upper echelon of headphones and are highly regarded for their sound quality.
Upper Mid-Range Headphones:
(2) Westone UM3X, $320-$350. Good build quality, comfort, isolation, and nearly no microphonics. These are built extremely well. Impactful well extended bass, warm smooth forward mids, smooth detailed highs. Also includes a detachable cable.
(2-B) Sennheiser IE8 , $340-$400. Great list of included accessories and great build quality including a detachable cable. No microphonics, but isolation is poor. Adjustable bass with included screwdriver, bass can be present and impactful, or bloated and pushy, though some of the best bass in any IEM. Mids and highs are relaxed, but clear. Huge soundstage
(2) Shure SE535-V , $400-$420. Excellent build quality, comfort, isolation and no microphonics. Punchy well extended bass, lush full forward mids, slightly forward highs.
(3) Audio Technica ATH-CK100 , $420-$500. Unrivaled build quality, great isolation, nonexistent microphonics, and fantastic comfort. Tight and fast bass, very forward detailed mids, smooth and energetic highs. Amazing imaging and instrument separation. These are picky with their source.
(3) Sennheiser HD 600 , $310-$315. Very neutral balanced, quick and clear headphones.
(3) Sony MDR-SA5000 DJ , $345. Very detailed. Fantastic highs with excellent extension, clear analytical mids, light detailed bass. Fast headphones with excellent sound imaging.
(3) AKG K601, $349. Rather balanced with a good soundstage. Slightly bass light, excellent mids, clear detailed highs.
(3) Sennheiser HD650, $360-$380. Well built and comfortable, but slight clamping. Warm relaxed sound signature. Great bass and lows, mids and highs seem rather uninspired or veiled.
(1-B) Audio Technica ATH-ES10 , $350-$370. Warm balanced sound overall with decent isolation. Strong hard hitting bass, neutral mids, smooth sparkling highs. One of the best portable full-sized to date.
(3-B) Denon D5000, $350-$430. Rich and involving, forward signature. Boomy uncontrolled bass, smooth involving mids, rolled off highs. Some issues with build quality, but comfortable.
(2-B) Ultrasone Pro 900, $400-$600. Deep bass that's slightly uncontrolled without an amp, slightly recessed mids, bright highs. Recommended to have an amp and to do the Kees Mod.
Audiophile Headphones: $500+
These headphones are the end of the line, the cream of the crop, the absolute "best" available. Chances are if you've moved on to a headphone in this price range you already know what you want, but here's some of the top picks!
(2) Westone ES3X, $850. Custom Fit. Warm, lush sounding custom IEM. Forward sound signature places you on the stage together with the instruments.
(2) JH13 Pro, $1,099. Custom Fit. Incredibly detailed reference sounding custom IEM's. Natural and open sound.
(2) JH16 Pro, $1,149. Custom Fit. Stupendous bass presentation while retaining all of the positives from the JH13 Pro's.
(2) Audio Technica ATH-AD2000 , $570-$730. Light, well built, comfortable. Tight, punchy, fast, detailed bass, not much sub-bass though. Mids are forward and slightly aggressive though said to be one of the best for any headphone, very natural sounding detailed highs. These are said to be "fast" headphones. Some even go as far as calling these the best dynamic headphone out there with the right amp/dac.
(2) Grado RS1i Reference , $695. Incredibly detailed and smooth. More of a neutral sound signature. The lows are textured and punchy, the mids and highs have excellent resolution.
(2) Alessandro MS-Pro, $699. Neutral, very detailed with great clarity. Aimed at classical music listeners.
(3) Audeze LCD2, $945-$995. Amazing soundstage and imaging, Balanced highs, slightly heavy, but detailed bass, very natural mid-range.
(2) Grado Statement Series GS1000i , $995. Very detailed and accurate. Deep quality bass (possibly best in Grado line), rather bright sound. Great soundstage. Very analytical.
(3) Beyerdynamic Tesla T1, $1,295. Rather neutral with amazing clarity and detail. Very natural sounding
(3), $1,499. Well defined bass with amazing clarity, fantastic mid-range, slightly artificial highs with some pronounced sibilance. Excellent soundstage and imaging.
(2) Grado PS1000, $1,695. Strong quality bass, fantastic mids and highs.
(3) Stax SR-007 "Omega II", $2,199. Requires a special electrostatic amp. Open-Back Electrostatic Earspeaker.
(3) Ultrasone Edition 10, $2,749. Neutral/airy sound. Deep/well defined bass, very natural mids, accurate highs.
(2) Audio Technica ATH-W1000X , $580-$600. Detailed slightly bright highs (sibilance), great mid separation and detail, smooth detailed punchy bass. Amazing soundstage.
(3) Audio-Technica ATH-W5000 , $640-$650. Notoriously picky with amps. Fantastic clarity and balance through the mids and highs. Lows are punchy and accurate without overextending. Spacious soundstage similar to open headphones with a lot of detail. Great for classical.
(3) Denon D7000, $715-$1,000. Great detailed bass with good extension, clear detailed, though slightly, recessed mids, very detailed and clear highs, though potentially slight sibilance. Rather natural sounding headphone.
(3-S) Stax 4070, $1,824. Requires a special electrostatic amp. Electrostatic headphone. Designed for monitoring, very detailed and unforgiving. A bit heavy but good comfort.
These headphones are all pretty much unobtainable, even if you do have the money, due to the extreme rarity of them. You can look, but you can't touch.
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Audio Technica W10VTG, W11JPN, W11R, W10LTD, W2002
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