There's a vast choice of high-end headphones on the market and many are fitted with myriad high-tech bells and whistles like wireless and noise cancelling. But what if you just want the purest listening experience possible?
With the emphasis firmly on sound quality, audiophile headphones are an ode to outstanding sonics – rather than sensors or streaming tech. Though of course, some of them do pack more tech-forward touches too.
We've assembled the best audiophile headphones below. And they're not necessarily prohibitively expensive – great value sound quality does exist, so don't discount more affordable options. We've put all of these through their paces in a thorough review, and each has come out with flying colours, so you can be sure they all sound fantastic.
How to choose the best audiophile headphones for you
Why you can trust What Hi-Fi? Our expert team reviews products in dedicated test rooms, to help you make the best choice for your budget. Find out more about how we test.
If you want to focus on music, you may be best served by a pair of over-ear wired headphones that offer the perfect balance of musicality and precision. And if that's the case, you might want to read all about the closed-back vs open-back headphones differences so that you can determine which type is best for you. If you want to add technology to the mix, you could opt for audiophile cans that combine state-of-the-art noise-cancelling tech with state-of-the-art sound.
So what else do you need to consider when buying the best audiophile headphones? To extract the best performance some models will benefit from a high-quality source or a headphone amplifier. Also, keep in mind that audiophile over-ears tend to be made for home listening; neither a 3m cable nor an open-back design is ideal for the train or office.
Ready to rediscover your favourite track or inject new life into a carefully-curated playlist? Our pick of the top high-end, audiophile headphones will level-up your love of music.
These are a small improvement over the 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 picked up a What Hi-Fi? Award in both 2021 and 2022.
So what's new? 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 and 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. The best audiophile headphones just got that bit better.
Read the full Grado SR325x review
While Austrian Audio is a new company, the people behind it are ex-AKG employees and some of the most experienced in the industry. That maturity shines through in its Hi-X50 on-ear audiophile headphones.
They're solid, quality-built headphones, and components like the headband cushioning and memory foam earpads can be easily replaced. So you don't need to worry about wear and tear.
To wear, they're light and easy to ignore, and they come with a 3m cable, though a 1.2m optional extra is also available – worth considering if you'll be using these cans on the move.
But be warned: they don't suffer fools gladly. Subpar source material has nowhere to hide, as every scratch and pop is exposed. But when the source material is up to standard, these headphones truly shine, unearthing lots of detail and organising it into a musically cohesive presentation. It’s a pretty even-handed sound, without much in the way of undue emphasis on any part of the frequency range. This balanced performance perfectly matches the brand's maturity beyond its years.
And if you're happy to spend a little more for a slightly heavier, bulkier, and slightly better sounding prospect, check out the Austrian Audio Hi-X55.
Read the full Austrian Audio Hi-X50 review
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 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.
Read the full Shure Aonic 5 review
These over-ears are the closed-back cousins to the open-backed Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X. Like the 900, they're aimed at content creators (being labelled as 'studio' headphones). But 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 gives music a solid foundation which the headphones can build on. 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, and you're onto a winner for creators and consumers alike.
Read the full Beyerdynamic DT 700 Pro X review
These plush, closed-back over-ears are nicely crafted from premium materials such as aluminium and carbon fibre. They're lightweight and feature ear cups swathed in soft Alcantara, making them ideal for extended late-night listening sessions. Beneath the ear cups lie 40mm neodymium drivers, which make for impressive dynamics, nimble presentation and a stunning amount of detail. Naturally musical, they're superb value for money and a great choice for the audiophile.
Read the full Shure SRH1540 review
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. 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.
Read the full Beyerdynamic T1 (3rd Generation) review
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.
Read the full Sennheiser IE 900 review
More than 30 years after the first wooden Grado creation, the fourth generation of that very model has arrived. The RS1x are the Brooklyn-based brand's first ‘tri-wood’ pair, meaning that they use three different wood species: maple sleeve, hemp core and cocobolo.
Build quality is among the very best at this money – it retains that hand-made feel – while the plumper-than-average foam earpads and neatly-stitched leather headband provide decent levels of comfort.
As you might expect, the RS1x are characterised by their distinctly open, entertainingly lean and agile sound. Compared to the first-generation Grado RS1, the RS1x presentation is not only clearer and notably more transparent but also faster and livelier.
Their open-backed design isn't for everyone, but the RS1x are a classy addition to the company's Reference Series and a strong contender for best audiophile headphones.
Read the full Grado RS1x review
The design of these high-end wireless noise-cancelling headphones might not be to everyone's taste, but their build quality and performance are nothing short of remarkable.
The Mark Levinson No. 5909 perform substantially better than the class-leading crop of cheaper competition – think the Apple AirPods Max – and wow us with their crisply detailed renderings.
A laptop feeding a Chord Mojo 2 DAC connected to Grado SR325x wired headphones (above) offers greater all-round sonic sophistication, but there's no doubt that the No. 5909 are some of the best wireless headphones we've ever heard.
For anyone who is after the convenience of wireless without sacrificing too much sound quality, the Mark Levinsons are highly recommendable.
Read the full Mark Levinson No. 5909 review
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.
Which is 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.
Read the full Yamaha YH-5000SE review
How we choose the best audiophile headphones
Here at What Hi-Fi? we review hundreds of products every year, from TVs to speakers, headphones to streamers.
We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London and Bath, where our team of expert reviewers do all our testing. This gives us complete control, ensuring consistency.
All products are tested in comparison with rival products in the same price category, and all review verdicts are agreed upon by the team as a whole rather than an individual reviewer, again helping to ensure consistency and avoid any personal preference.
The What Hi-Fi? team has more than 100 years experience of reviewing, testing and writing about consumer electronics.
From all of our reviews, we choose the products to feature in our Best Buys. That's why if you take the plunge and buy one of the products recommended above, or on any other Best Buy page, you can be assured you're getting a What Hi-Fi? approved product.