Best audiophile headphones 2024: the 9 best-sounding hi-fi pairs

Best audiophile headphones: the quick list

We aren't short of choice when it comes to premium-priced headphones, many of which are fitted with high-tech bells and whistles like wireless connectivity and active noise cancellation. But what if you just want the purest listening experience available for your particular budget?

With the emphasis firmly on sound quality – hence why all but one are wired models! – our pick of the best audiophile headphones is an ode to outstanding sonics rather than sound-blocking or spatial audio technologies, prioritising maximum sound for your pound (or dollar). These are headphones worth connecting to DAC / headphone amplifiers or hi-fi systems. Want something for your phone? Check out our best headphones list instead.

We have rigorously tested audiophile headphones in their hundreds and hand-picked the very best of the bunch below, covering a wide range of budgets. Indeed, the good news is that they're not necessarily prohibitively expensive – great-value sound quality worthy of the 'audiophile' label does exist.

If it's on this list, you can be sure it's a class-leading performer.

The quick list

Written by
Becky Roberts
Written by
Becky Roberts

I am What Hi-Fi?'s managing editor and have been reviewing and writing about headphones for over a decade. I'm a massive head-fi (headphones and the like) fan, and while I like wireless headphones for everyday use, nothing beats listening to music through a pair of wired, sound-first audiophile headphones. I'd argue it is often preferable to a hi-fi system! I've heard every pair below – and live with two of them – and can assure you they represent the best value for money in their fields. Unsure which is right for you? Check out my how to choose advice below.

Best value audiophile headphones

What Hi-Fi? Awards winner. The best audiophile headphones for most people

Specifications

Style: Open-backed
Cable length: 2m
Noise-cancelling: No
Connector: 3.5mm (with 6.35mm adapter)
Weight: 340g

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent detail and dynamics
+
Hugely entertaining performance
+
Rugged build

Reasons to avoid

-
Noise leakage
-
New earpads won’t suit all

The best audiophile headphones just got that bit better. Grado's SR325 headphone model has been leading its field for years. The latest SR325x are only a modest improvement over the previous SR325e, but considering those previously topped this list of best audiophile headphones, any improvement is an achievement in itself. 

What's also an achievement is that these latest SR325x picked up a What Hi-Fi? Award in 2021, 2022 and 2023. Indeed, nothing has beaten them since they arrived three years ago.

So, for those familiar with previous SR325 iterations, what's new here? On the surface, not much. There are flatter foam earpads, an updated cable and lighter-coloured stitching on the firmly padded headband. But the real work has gone on under the hood.

The 44mm drive unit has a revised motor system, new diaphragm and upgraded coil, all to improve efficiency and reduce distortion. And the new 8-conductor cable uses 'super' annealed copper to deliver a purer sound.

The result is a smoother listen, more authoritative bass and an overall cleaner, clearer sound. They take precision and insight to another level while delivering rhythms with enthusiasm and plenty of punch. Just note that they are open-backs and so leak sound in and out like a sieve. If you don't mind that because you're after a pair primarily for private listening in a quiet room in your home, you'll be rewarded.

Got a smaller budget? The next-model-down Grado SR80x are equally impressive for their lower price level, while the Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X are worthy alternatives for those who don't dig Grado's retro vibe. 

Read our full Grado SR325x review

Best studio audiophile headphones

Closed-back 'studio' headphones that truly sing

Specifications

Style: Closed-back
Cable length: 1.8m, 3m
Noise-cancelling: No
Connector: 3.5mm
Weight: 350g

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent detail
+
Musical and articulate
+
Robust build

Reasons to avoid

-
Some rivals sound more exciting

These over-ears are the closed-back cousins to the open-backed, five-star Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X. Like the 900, these headphones are aimed at content creators, being labelled as 'studio' headphones. But 'studio' or not, they have plenty to offer content consumers too.

At their heart is Beyerdynamic’s new Stellar.45 drive unit. It’s designed and manufactured in-house and uses a layered Peek polymer diaphragm, with a damping material sandwiched in between, and a Neodymium motor system. The aim? To deliver a detailed sound with an easy load which will allow the headphones to be driven by laptops and smartphones without any problems.

And it works. The 700 sound effortlessly composed – the order and precision with which instruments are presented give music a solid foundation on which the headphones can build. It's not the most exciting presentation we’ve ever heard, but the honesty in the execution is second to none at this price and the headphones still communicate dynamic shifts of percussion, strings and wind instruments extremely effectively.

Add to that the lack of sound leakage inherent to their closed-back design (their open-back siblings are worth considering if that's your preference), and you're onto a winner for creators and consumers alike.

Read our full Beyerdynamic DT 700 Pro X review

Best audiophile headphones for comfort

These audiophile over-ears sound every bit as good as they feel

Specifications

Style: Open-back
Cable length: 3m
Noise-cancelling: No
Connector: 3.5mm, 6.3mm
Weight: 340g

Reasons to buy

+
Nice bass detail
+
Clear and organised
+
Handles treble well
+
Insightful midrange

Reasons to avoid

-
Nothing of note

Beyerdynamic’s Amiron are the headphone equivalent of a nice, warm pair of slippers. With a headband and earcups covered in Alcantara microfibres and microvelour, you can wear these open-backed cans for hours on end without needing to give your ears a rest.

It’s not just those feather-soft materials that allow that either. The pads that surround the 45mm drivers give your listening gear plenty of space, and they weigh just 340g without the 3m cable attached, so they won’t weigh your head down too much either. 

Fortunately, they also sound so good you’ll never want to take them off, with a large, spacious sound that takes the whole frequency range in its stride: the mids are insightful, they handle treble well, and there’s nice bass detail. Everything sounds well-organised and rhythmic, with a level of transparency and range that means if you put high-quality ingredients in, you’ll always get high-quality results.

As always with open-backed headphones they leak like a bottomless bucket, but you’ll be too busy luxuriating in their unrivalled comfort and sumptuous sound to care. Alternatively, Shure’s SRH1540 are similarly snug, but they are much longer in the tooth.

Read the full Beyerdynamic Amiron review

Best premium audiophile headphones

More audiophile sound quality than most people will ever need

Specifications

Style: Open-backed
Cable length: 3m
Noise-cancelling: No
Connector: 3.5mm
Weight: 360g

Reasons to buy

+
Clean, balanced presentation
+
Even-handed, informative nature
+
Comfortable and well made

Reasons to avoid

-
Needs top-class partnering kit to truly shine

It’s been over a decade since we first laid ears on the original T1 model, and they have since become something of a touchstone for us as far as premium headphones go. The main change between this third-generation model and its predecessor is that the new pair is easier to drive for laptops and mobile devices. But be under no illusions – high-quality source material is still vital.

They're open-backed, so the usual provisos about leaking sound apply (try the Beyerdynamic T5 if you'd prefer something closed-backed). They're intended for home listening, which is aided by the 3m-long cable. This is easily detachable, so if it ever does break or get damaged, swapping to a replacement will take a matter of seconds. And it doesn't make much mechanical noise as you move around – always a plus.

Sound-wise, they're a little cleaner and clearer than their predecessors, sounding a little less bright and more rounded in the treble. It makes them a bit more forgiving of aggressive electronics and recordings, but they're still admirably even-handed and balanced. We’re pleased to report that Beyerdynamic hasn’t over-egged the bass frequencies either, with the T1 (3rd Gen) sounding as tonally convincing as ever.

For around the same price, you might also want to consider the Grado RS1x, but their wooden design might put some people off.

Read our full Beyerdynamic T1 (3rd Generation) review

Best luxury audiophile headphones

Focal Clear Mg

(Image credit: Focal)
Open-back headphones that live up to their name

Specifications

Style: Open-back
Cable length: 1.2m (3.5mm), 3m (XLR)
Noise-cancelling: No
Connector: 3.5mm (with 6.35mm adapter), 4-pin XLR
Weight: 450g

Reasons to buy

+
Expressive and entertaining presentation
+
Excellent comfort
+
Terrific build and finish

Reasons to avoid

-
Standard cable is just 1.2m long
-
Lots of sound leakage
-
Lack of isolation from noise

Focal made its name with loudspeakers, but the French company is now equally admired for its headphones – and the Clear Mg are some of its finest yet.

Before you even open the box it’s clear that these are high-end headphones. The packaging is suitably luxurious and there’s no denying the high-quality materials and standard of build, even if the appearance might not be to everybody’s tastes. A carry case is included, but for the price you’d expect a slightly longer standard cable in the box as well.

Stick the Focal Clear Mg on your head and they’re every bit as comfortable as you’d hope. Their 450g weight is distributed well, with the thick, leather-cushioned headband and microfibre earpads ensuring that there’s not too much inward pressure. 

They’re open-backed, so better-suited to home listening than taking out and about, but that lack of an enclosure means they excel when it comes to transparency and dynamic expression. Their presentation is expressive and entertaining, with plenty of clarity, texture and punch. You can also expect full-bodied tones, precise stereo placement and rhythms that are surefooted and controlled.  

If the design isn’t for you, Grado’s GS3000x are also worth considering if you can find some extra cash, but in performance-per-pound terms the Focals are our undisputed high-end champs.

Read the full Focal Clear Mg review

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About Us
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Becky Roberts

In a relatively short time, loudspeaker stalwart Focal has built itself a reputation for producing wired headphones that don't just sound fantastic but, unlike many pairs, look it too. The Clear Mg are proof of that, and you'll benefit most from their sonic luxury by pairing them with a price-suitable DAC such as the Chord Mojo 2, or a source of equivalent talent. Just avoid aggressive-sounding electronics, as this will only emphasise the Focals' forward nature.

Best money-no-object audiophile headphones

What Hi-Fi? Temptation Award winner. Expensive, yes, but their performance is truly exceptional

Specifications

Style: Open-back
Cable length: 2m
Noise-cancelling: No
Connector: 3.5mm (with 6.3mm adaptor), 4.4mm balanced
Weight: 320g

Reasons to buy

+
Exceptional detail and dynamics
+
Spacious presentation
+
Fine build and comfort

Reasons to avoid

-
Pricey 
-
You can’t skimp on partnering electronics

What with Yamaha's broad range of musical products, its headphones tend to get overlooked. These are an attempt to change that. The YH-5000SE are top-of-the-range open-backed headphones built for audiophiles. And they're excellent.

They're made of lightweight materials, which combine with the soft leather earpads to make some of the most comfortable headphones we've ever worn. The design is a little more functional than some of the 'wow' headphones you get at this price level, but that's fine by us. What matters is performance, and fortunately that's exceptional.

They come close to equivalently-priced Stax electrostatics when it comes to outright resolution and clarity, but in our opinion deliver the sound with greater verve, which makes them a more enjoyable listen.

The one downside (apart from the price) is that you'll need to buddy them with sufficiently high-end partner kit, otherwise you won't hear them at their best. And that would be a crime.

If you want to audition some others before taking the plunge, take a trip to your nearest Focal dealer and ask to try the Utopia and Stellia

Read our full Yamaha YH-5000SE review

Best audiophile earbuds

Our pick of the best audiophile headphones for in-ear fans

Specifications

Style: In-ear
Cable length: 1.27m
Noise-cancelling: No
Connector: 3.5mm
Weight: 24.5g

Reasons to buy

+
Sophisticated, mature sound
+
Superb levels of detail
+
Exceptional sense of timing

Reasons to avoid

-
Require suitable content and amplification
-
Unforgiving of poor recordings

The Aonic 5 are the top in-ear model in Shure’s Aonic range. On paper, their design credentials look suitably impressive. The Aonic 5 use three high-definition balanced armature drivers in a dual woofer and single tweeter configuration.

You can actually get a closer look at the inner working of the buds through the clear section of each earpiece. It acts as a window and makes a welcome change to the dull black plastic used to cover the majority of headphones that pass through our test rooms. The Aonic 5 are available in three different finishes – Matte Black, Gloss Red and Crystal Clear.

They can also work as a wireless pair, using Shure's true wireless secure fit adapter, which costs an extra £175/$179/AU$309.

While they will work with a phone (providing it has a 3.5mm headphone jack), to hear them at their best you really should feed them quality audio files from a quality source. Using a laptop and streaming in lossless CD quality? We’d seriously suggest using the Shures with a dedicated external DAC/headphone amp

Trust us, a good time awaits. But if your budget doesn't quite stretch, be sure to check out the Shure Aonic 3, which are more affordable and, yes, inferior-sounding – but still class leaders at their price point, hence their What Hi-Fi? Award.

Read the full Shure Aonic 5 review

Best high-end audiophile earbuds

Sennheiser’s wired flagship earbuds set sky-high standards at this exclusive price point

Specifications

Style: In-ear
Cable length: 1.2m
Noise-cancelling: No
Connector: 3.5mm, 2.5mm, 4.4mm
Weight: 4g each

Reasons to buy

+
Detailed, articulate sound
+
Refined, entertaining presentation
+
Clever engineering

Reasons to avoid

-
Cable transmits noise
-
No in-line remote

Sennheiser’s IE 900 will appeal to purists who want to get the best audio possible from a high-quality source. It's a suitably premium package befitting the best audiophile headphones, with six ear tip options and three cables with a choice of normal 3.5mm and balanced 2.5mm and 4.4mm connectors. The only thing they don't have is an in-line remote.

Sennheiser's engineers have chosen to go with a single driver rather than the more fashionable multiple-unit approach that many rivals take and it's made with rigidity and low resonance in mind. The results are fantastic. They’re impressively clear and open-sounding, able to dig deep into the production of a recording. They sound confident and insightful too, revealing layers of low-level information and organising every track they're faced with into a structured and cohesive whole.

Partner them with a high-quality outboard DAC, such as the Chord Mojo, and use good-quality files and you'll hear just why the IE 900 justify their hefty price tag.

If you've got even more to spend, you might also want to consider Shure's KSE1200.

Read our full Sennheiser IE 900 review

Best wireless audiophile headphones

These noise-cancelling cans combine audiophile sound with everyday convenience

Specifications

Style: Closed-back
Cable length: 1.2m (optional)
Noise-cancelling: Yes
Connector: Bluetooth, 3.5mm
Weight: 250g

Reasons to buy

+
Sensational sonic clarity
+
Punchy delivery
+
Precise, agile bass
+
Nice to use

Reasons to avoid

-
Build seems a little less premium than previous model
-
Don’t fold away completely

You might not think of Sony as a true audiophile brand, but it’s a sign of just how good the WH-1000XM5 are that they’re our pick for the best wireless headphones on this list. They trump their closest rivals for outright value, including the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 4 and pricier Sonos Ace, Bose QC Ultra and Apple AirPods Max.

The design might be more mundane than a lot of the others here, but these are headphones that are designed for the everyday audiophile – and the WH-1000XM5 are very much meant to be used every day. It doesn’t matter whether you’re sitting at home or on the bus, these will deliver top-quality sound and effective noise-cancelling wherever you are. In fact, they are among the best noise-cancelling headphones out there too.

They’re made of ABS plastic, which is the same stuff they make Lego bricks out of, so they’re nice and light, with simple sliders to adjust the fit. Memory foam and synthetic leather is used to ensure they remain comfortable for long periods without feeling like your head’s being squeezed.   

So how about that sound quality? Like their predecessors, the WH-1000XM5 are effortlessly musical, but there’s also sensational sonic clarity, an excellent sense of rhythm, and precise, agile bass. Noise-cancelling is up there with the best, too, plus they’re packed with extra features that make them a breeze to use when you’re out and about.  

If they look too prosaic for you, B&W’s PX7 S2e offer more of an aesthetic flourish while delivering highly competitive sound quality, but if it’s all-round sonic excellence and day-to-day usability you’re after, the Sony WH-1000XM5 are our primary choice.

Read the full Sony WH-1000XM5 review

Also consider

Since our last update, we've tested three pairs that fit the audiophile profile. The four-star Meze Audio Empyrean II mostly impressed but fall short of class-leading dynamic levels. Sennheiser’s first closed-back HD 600 headphones, the HD 620S, also found favour with our reviews team but lacked the punch and dynamic skill to trouble their Grado and Beyerdynamic rivals.

The ambitiously priced Sonos Ace proved, in a word, disappointing, lacking the sonic talents of their best wireless headphone competitors in more areas than one.

Looking for an alternative to the audiophile headphones above? Below are models that come close to being included but don't quite make the final cut. They could be five-star (or sometimes four-star) performers that we think still deserve your consideration. They might even be a better fit for certain people with certain circumstances.

  • Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e: As more affordable alternatives to the wireless Mark Levinsons above, Bowers & Wilkins' premium Bluetooth noise-cancellers offer a more luxurious design alongside dynamic expression and detail that, while comparatively inferior, are highly competitive at their lower price point.
  • Grado RS1x: For many of the price brackets above is invariably a Grado competitor that is just as good as the entry we've chosen. The RS1x are one example, massively transparent and musical performers. If you don't mind their leakiness and dated design, they're mighty strong alternatives to the Beyerdynamic T1 3rd Gen above.
  • Austrian Audio The Composer: Austrian Audio is another manufacturer whose sound-first headphones have consistently impressed. Its latest, The Composers, are worthy picks if you're serious about hearing as much detail in your music as possible but cannot stretch your budget to the aspirational Yamahas in our list.

How to choose the best audiophile headphones

If you want the best sound quality possible for your budget, which seems likely considering you've landed on an audiophile headphones buying guide, you'll be best served by a pair of over-ear wired headphones. These prioritise performance and aren't held back by sound-limiting wireless functionality or other distracting, costly features such as active noise cancellation. If that's the case, you should read all about the differences between closed-back vs open-back headphones so that you can determine which of the two types available is best for you. In short, open-backs leak sound in and out and tend to sound more spacious and precise than traditional, non-leaky closed-backs.

If you do want to add modern-day convenience to the mix, you could opt for audiophile headphones that combine state-of-the-art noise-cancelling technology with state-of-the-art Bluetooth performance, like the Mark Levinsons in our list above. Just know that a class-leading pair of similarly priced wired headphones will trump even the best wireless models in the sound department. Our wired vs wireless headphones article outlines the pros and cons of each style.

So what else do you need to consider when buying audiophile headphones? If you're spending north of around £300/$300/AU$600 on a pair, we recommend you partner them with a high-quality source, such as a portable music player, or a quality headphone amplifier (whether that is one built into, say, a stereo amplifier or an external dedicated one) to extract the best performance from them. Want to primarily plug your pair into an (inherently poor-sounding) laptop? You should certainly consider connecting them to a DAC

Also, keep in mind that over-ear audiophile headphones tend to be designed primarily for home listening; neither a supplied 3m cable nor an open-back design is ideal for the train or open-plan office.

Or perhaps you want the best in-ear audiophile headphones, in which case you can expect a discreet design and a performance that majors on clarity, directness, precision and musicality, with little in the way of features – many don't even have an in-line remote for answering calls. Again, wired earbuds will sound significantly better than wireless earbuds that cost a similar amount. 

How we test audiophile headphones

With over 150 years of collective testing experience, What Hi-Fi?'s in-house reviews team tests over 100 pairs of headphones every year, many of which are what we would call 'everyday' wireless headphones, but also plenty that are worthy of the 'audiophile' label.

We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London and Reading, where our expert reviewers carry out all our testing, giving us complete control of the environment and partnering equipment these tests are conducted in and with. We test audiophile headphones with various source equipment – from laptops connected to USB DACs, to our reference hi-fi system – depending on their cost and design type, to see how they work in their most likely real-world setups. Each pair is given plenty of running in and testing time, with various music genres and recording quality making up our test tracks. Importantly, we compare each audiophile headphone under review with the current class leader(s) at their price point – often a What Hi-Fi? Award winner – to ensure we can place its talents within the market.

As with all our review verdicts, the star rating we give each pair of audiophile headphones is agreed upon by several team members rather than simply an individual reviewer, helping to ensure consistency and avoid any personal preference.

From all our reviews, we only choose the very best products to feature in our Best Buys, like this one. That's why if you take the plunge and buy any of the audiophile headphones recommended above, or something else on another Best Buy, you can be assured you're getting a best-in-class, What Hi-Fi?-approved product.

Audiophile headphones FAQ

Recent updates

  • April 2024: We added an 'Also Consider' section above to give you further choice if nothing in our handpicked list suits your requirements.
  • February 2024: We broke down picks into price- and design-related categories to help you more easily find a pair that's right for your priorities and budget.
  • November 2023: We labelled headphones on this list that had recently won a What Hi-Fi? Award 2023, such as the Grado SR325x. This label indicates a class leader.

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Becky Roberts

Becky is the managing editor of What Hi-Fi? and, since her recent move to Melbourne, also the editor of Australian Hi-Fi magazine. During her 10+ years in the hi-fi industry, she has reviewed all manner of audio gear, from budget amplifiers to high-end speakers, and particularly specialises in headphones and head-fi devices. In her spare time, Becky can often be found running, watching Liverpool FC and horror movies, and hunting for gluten-free cake.

  • Stefan
    Wow.. such a long list with many headphones that are not really 2020 new releases like the SE425 and SE846 from Shure.. but no Audeze mentioned, which I bet the iSINE20 or any LCD offer better sound quality than many of those mentioned by you.
    Reply
  • EMMOORE
    Although I know many of the headphones in this article are good, I do find it odd that Audez LCD headphones are not represented.

    When I purchased my LCD 2, I was initially allowed to try various headphones including Focal and Grado at a similar price. I am a musician and I found the LCDs to be more natural reflecting how I would hear instruments live and I also felt they had a more spacious sound-stage so that each instrument could be picked out easily. The bass also sounded more realistic. So it surprised me when I did not see them listed. Is there a reason?

    If anyone is interested, I also own a Chord Mojo and that is so good with the LCDs.
    Reply
  • Friesiansam
    Stefan said:
    Wow.. such a long list with many headphones that are not really 2020 new releases like the SE425 and SE846 from Shure.. but no Audeze mentioned, which I bet the iSINE20 or any LCD offer better sound quality than many of those mentioned by you.
    This is a "round-up of the best audiophile headphones you can buy in 2020 " not a list of new headphones released in 2020. Also, we can all think of headphones we think should be included, eg Beyerdynamic T5Ps but, you can't expect everything to be included.

    BTW, the Shure SRH1540s are great for the money, especially if you take the trouble to find a good price.
    Reply
  • Winter
    Friesiansam said:
    This is a "round-up of the best audiophile headphones you can buy in 2020 " not a list of new headphones released in 2020. Also, we can all think of headphones we think should be included, eg Beyerdynamic T5Ps but, you can't expect everything to be included.

    BTW, the Shure SRH1540s are great for the money, especially if you take the trouble to find a good price.
    Reply
  • Winter
    Paint it any way you want guys ! You simply can not ignore audeze . I have lcd x / lcd 3 . Both will blow this lot out of the water . Bit like an headphone amp lineup without the word chord ? Come on !
    Reply
  • soswishy
    Friesiansam said:


    BTW, the Shure SRH1540s are great for the money, especially if you take the trouble to find a good price.

    They get my vote too. Supremely comfortable and fabulous sound.
    Reply
  • This is really a horrible list. I think it's a list of 'the headphones we tested' more than anything. The HD820 over the 800/800S? Really? Grado ear murder as number 1? The reviewer must have some high frequency hearing loss. :LOL: Amiron over the 1990 Pro, T1 or T5P? No Audeze? No HiFiMan?
    Reply
  • rupert3k
    Like others i'm surprised Audeze didn't make the list. I've never heard and certainly can't afford a pair yet based on reputation they are the headphones I aspire to. I own an older pair of polished 325's which I pulled the badge off and fitted donuts to mimic PS1000 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
    Reply
  • toymotor
    I bought grado sr80 and the sound was pleasing. However the gimbals snapped very soon. I can't say I'm rough on my kit but they were always coming apart. They are very flimsy with some really cheap brittle plastic. I wish someone would make a middle of the range Headphone that sounded good and was robust enough for everyday use.
    Reply
  • kdbur
    Someone's got a Grado, fetish...
    Reply