Best audiophile headphones 2024

Best audiophile headphones: the quick list

There's a vast choice of premium-priced headphones on the market, many of which are fitted with myriad high-tech bells and whistles like wireless connectivity and noise-cancelling functionality. But what if you just want the purest listening experience available for your particular budget? 

With the emphasis firmly on sound quality, audiophile headphones are an ode to outstanding sonics rather than sensors or streaming tech, prioritising maximum sound for your pound (or dollar).

We have tested hundreds of audiophile headphones on the market and have assembled the best of the bunch below. The good news is that they're not necessarily prohibitively expensive – indeed, great-value sound quality does exist. 

Each one has been put thoroughly through its paces in our dedicated test rooms, our offices and sometimes out on the streets, and is a class leader at its price point. If it's on this list, you can be sure you're getting fantastic sound.

The quick list

The best audiophile headphones overall

Sony NW-A306 Walkman with Grado SR325x headphones

These aren't radically different from their predecessors, but given their quality, they didn't need to be. (Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)
What Hi-Fi? Awards winner. These open-backs are the best audiophile headphones at this price

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 the retro vibe. 

Read our full Grado SR325x review

The best studio audiophile headphones

Beyerdynamic DT 700 Pro X sat on a keyboard

Pro by name... you know the rest.  (Image credit: Beyerdynamic)
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

The best audiophile headphones for all-day comfort

Beyerdynamic Amiron on a reflective surface

(Image credit: Beyerdynamic)
These headphones 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

The best premium audiophile headphones

Beyerdynamic T1 3rd generation placed on a grey table

This third-generation headphone is easier to drive for laptops and mobile devices. (Image credit: Beyerdynamic T1)
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

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

The best high-end 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

Best money-no-object audiophile headphones

Open-back headphones: Yamaha YH-5000SE

A functional design doesn't detract from the comfy fit and exceptional performance. (Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)
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

The best audiophile earbuds

Shure Aonic 5 and accessories on a white background

These are pleasingly transparent – both sonically and literally, thanks to their see-through design. (Image credit: Shure)
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

The best high-end audiophile earbuds

Sennheiser IE900 worn by a man

Sennheiser's in-ear headphones are a cut above the usual pair. (Image credit: Sennheiser)
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

Sony WH-1000XM5 on a red background

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)
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.

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.

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, 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

How to choose the best audiophile headphones for you

If you want the best sound quality possible for your budget, you'll be best served by a pair of over-ear wired headphones, which prioritise performance and aren't held back by wireless functionality or other distracting, costly features. 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. Just know that a pair of similarly-priced wired headphones will trump them in the sound department.

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'd recommend you partner them with a high-quality source or a headphone amplifier to extract the best performance from them. 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 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 Reading, where our team of expert reviewers carry out all our testing. This gives us complete control of the environment and partnering equipment these tests are conducted in and with, ensuring consistency.

All products are tested in comparison with rival products in the same price category so that market context is taken into account, and all review verdicts are agreed upon by several members of the team rather than simply an individual reviewer, again helping to ensure consistency and avoid any personal preference.

The What Hi-Fi? team has collectively more than 100 years experience of testing and writing about consumer electronics.

From all of 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 class-leading, What Hi-Fi?-approved product.

Joe Svetlik

Joe has been writing about tech for 17 years, first on staff at T3 magazine, then in a freelance capacity for Stuff, The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, Men's Health, GQ, The Mirror, Trusted Reviews, TechRadar and many more (including What Hi-Fi?). His specialities include all things mobile, headphones and speakers that he can't justifying spending money on.

With contributions from
  • 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