Home Headphone Guides The 5 Best Audiophile Headphones For Under $500

The 5 Best Audiophile Headphones For Under $500

by Stuart Charles Black
Sennheiser HD6XX Review

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Hey guys! Before we get started, check out Apos Audio. They are a great up-and-coming distributor with a phenomenal-looking website and excellent customer service. They also offer free shipping, the lowest price guarantee, a 2-year warranty, and a 45-day return.

Also, consider Sweetwater sound and/or B&H where applicable. I have been buying from them since around 2007 and don’t regret a single purchase. They both have the best customer service in the business and really care about your satisfaction. What other company (Sweetwater) calls you to make sure you’re happy with your gear? I digress.

Full disclaimer: I do make a small commission if you buy from any of the links below (and above). It really helps out the blog and channel, so if you found value here, consider supporting! It’s much appreciated. πŸ™‚

Originally posted 3/2/20.

Updates:

  • 5/18/20. Article Cleanup.
  • 12/1/20. Article Cleanup.
  • 1/24/21. Article/link cleanup.
  • 12/13/21. Article shake-up. Removed 9500/X2HR from the list, re-arranged #1 and #2, added new headphones to #5 spot.

Hey there friend, and Welcome aboard!!

Before we get into the Top 5 Audiophile Headphones Under $500, grab a snack, sit back and relax because…

I’m Here to Help!!

If this is your first foray into better audio, you’re in for a real treat! Below I’m going to list my top recommendations with regard to Headphones and Amplifiers.

If you’re new to all this and want to upgrade your sound, you’re most certainly in the right place!!

This page will be updated frequently as I garner new experiences, but do expect my top choices to more or less stay the same.

Introduction

You may have been like I was; someone who simply loves music but is unsure of where to start. If you’re coming from cheaper headphones like those you’d find in your local Drug Store (or you’ve just never heard anything good), then be prepared to have your life changed almost immeasurably.

One of my good friends had no idea what she was missing out on until I let her borrow my Sennheiser HD600 and an iFi xCAN.

“I can pair it wirelessly with my phone or use it as a desktop Amp/DAC?”

*smooth, sexy voice* “Yeah girl, you can.” πŸ˜‰ Lol. It’s extremely versatile in that sense.

Her reluctance to give me my headphones back stemmed from the sheer mind-blowing experience of it all.

“Oh my God!” “It sounded so amazing!” “I can’t believe everything I was missing out on before!” “I never want to leave my room!”

^ She actually said this too.

“I NEED THIS!”

Lol. Inside joke with that last one. <3

This is likely how you will also react if you’ve never heard more expensive headphones with a good Amplifier/DAC. What the heck is a “DAC” though?

Amps & DACs

In simple terms, a DAC is a digital to analog converter. It converts the digital 1’s and 0’s that your computer understands (binary), into the analog (sound) that your brain understands. The amplifier simply amplifies that conversion/signal to a listenable level for you to gush over, like the amazing girl in the above example. Related: Beginners Guide: What is a USB DAC?

Video Discussion

Don’t forget to leave me some love!! <3

Many Amp/DACs come as a combo (all in one), while with others you’ll purchase the 2 separately and hook them up via RCA to RCA, RCA to mini (3.5mm), etc.

Since you’re likely new, I’d almost always recommend an all-in-one to start. You can always upgrade down the road when you get the “upgrade-itis” itch. Trust me, you will. Sorry in advance. XD

With that in mind, let’s run down my Top 5 ! By the end of this article, you should have a clear idea of which headphone to go with if you’re brand-spanking new to audio! You will also get a feel for some of the best Amps & DACS on the market for these headphones.

Let’s get rolling!


#5

The Apos Caspian

Apos Caspian Review

  • Price: Check Apos!
  • Official Review: Here!
  • Highlights: Harman-y type of flavor, fantastic mid-bass, great overall sound.
  • You may not like: A bit on the warm side.
  • Best for: Most genres of music.
  • Bread and Butter: Hip-Hop, Indie Pop/rock and modern, well mixed/mastered music.
  • Amplification Needed: No.

Since I wrote this article back in 2020, there hasn’t once been a shakeup, until now.

To be frank, I wasn’t expecting to be as impressed with the Caspian as I am.

I was excited to listen and certainly looked forward to it, but I didn’t actually foresee it being added to any best-of lists. Perhaps that’s a bit unfair, but after demoing 115+ headphones at the time of this writing, I’m .. a bit jaded. Lol.

There are many reasons why it’s worth a purchase at just an eye-lash under $500: build, comfort, and sound are all nearly perfect in my eyes + it comes with a balanced cable and a really nice carrying case.

This is a warm sound signature but somehow avoids the pitfalls of traditional closed-back headphones with too much bass even though the Caspian certainly aims for a fun experience overall.

The catch is that the mid-bass – something a lot of companies ruin – sounds delightful.

There’s just enough of a rise to keep you excited, and it slams just right giving the songs that little bit of extra body that they need without going over the top or becoming overdone like your mom’s meatloaf.

Gotcha. xD

The mid-range never gets lost, and the treble – while leaning somewhat darker – fits perfectly in the mix.

In addition to all that, the music is actually enjoyable to listen to without it feeling like it’s trying too hard to impress you.

It’s rich, life-like, and the instrument Timbre feels natural and effortless.

It’s clear that Apos put a lot of time and effort into this project and it shows. I don’t get excited about gear anymore, but the Caspian was truly a breath of fresh air.

Oh, to be Prince Caspian.

 

 


#4

Beyerdynamic DT880

Image Coming Soon!

  • Price: Check Amazon! | Check Sweetwater!
  • Highlights: Ruler flat response, even sound for the most part.
  • You may not like: Somewhat bright/peaky treble.
  • Best for: Most genres of music.
  • Bread and Butter: Mixing, Mastering, and Reference.
  • Amplification Needed: Yes.

Like both the K702 and HD600 series, Beyerdynamic’s venerable DT880 has long since been a staple in studios around the world.

While other headphones claim the title of “Studio Monitor”, or “Reference Headphone”, in reality, they aren’t. A couple of examples of this include the famed Audio Technica ATH M50/50x and M40x.

The problem with advertising those as reference headphones are that their sound signature represents anything but. An elevated bass, pushed back mid-range, and somewhat exaggerated treble response in no way warrant those kinds of sentiments, and in no way are they the most ideal studio options when it comes to mixing/mastering, and reference.

The DT880 by contrast is marketed as a studio headphone and does actually fit the profile of one incredibly well.

There’s a somewhat rolled-off bass, but it’s not too lean.

The mid-range is just about as ruler flat as it gets, with no real added coloration or emphasis at any one particular part of the frequency. After about 1kHz, it does roll off a bit, but there’s a small bump in the presence region (3kHz), which is just enough to not render them lifeless.

The treble is definitely spiked at around 9-10kHz, and some people will go back and forth on whether this allows you to hear more going on in the mix vs. not being able to with a more relaxed presentation type of headphone.

The Sony MDR V6, which I have owned, has a similar peak in the treble and does resemble the overall sound signature of the 880. I tend to reach for a V6 when I’m mixing more than any other headphones because you can hear a lot going on when you’re trying to find flaws and hear the mix clearly.

The 880 is the same way, although it’s definitely more of an even sounding, smoother response.

 

 


#3

AKG K702

The 5 Best Audiophile Headphones Under $500

The Game Ready K702.

  • Price: Check Amazon! | Check Sweetwater! | Check B&H!
  • Official Review: Here!
  • Highlights: Amazing Soundstage and detail retrieval. Incredible spacing and depth. Very natural but crisp sound.
  • You may not like: Very lean bass.
  • Best for: Most genres of music.
  • Bread and Butter: Jazz, Gaming, Film.
  • Amplification Needed: Yes.
  • Recommended Album: Miles Davis – “Kind of Blue”
  • Recent Films: Primal Fear, Inception.
  • Currently Gaming: Outer Worlds, Fallout 4, New Vegas, Uncharted series.

The K702 has long since been a staple in the studio but also works well as a headphone you can kick back and enjoy some lighter genres with.

These are the type of headphones that you’ll want if you’re more of a snob like me who enjoys quieter passages like Jazz, Classical, Acoustic, Folk, etc. It works best with a glass of scotch, some caviar, and a navy blue turtle neck.

If you want to thumb your nose up at everyone while you listen to your old records, grab one today! Lol.

Look how hip and fancy I am. All I need is some caviar.

You too can be this hip and fancy for the low low price of haha just kidding. Just hold your pinky out! The higher you hold it, the fancier you are.

Silliness aside…

The K702 does work well for most types of music, but you’ll find that it fares best at lower volumes. Try to push this one and it won’t respond that well.

The absolute highlight of this headphone is its ability to reproduce a very wide and grand Soundstage. At times it becomes almost uncomfortable the amount of detail you’ll start to hear all around you.

I’m talking about extremely subtle nuances that most cheap headphones tend to gloss over. You’ll find yourself frequently taking the headphones off to check your surroundings.

“Did that come from outside, or am I just imagining things?”

“What’s going on outside?”

“Tell those darned kids to stop with all their hooplah!”

All of these phenomena and more are likely some things that you might mutter or think to yourself while you’re gaming or watching movies.

With music, it’s more of the same. You may periodically stop to simply look around, pausing the track and feeling totally batty (bat sh** crazy).

Just make sure to keep your melon on a swivel alright?! You never know when Jason Voorhees may be lurking in the shadows. πŸ˜›

Nah but seriously, the K702 has just about the best Soundstage in this price category or otherwise. Like the HD600, there’s a reason it’s stuck around in some form or fashion all these years later.

The original AKG K701 and K702 were made in Austria, and had bumps on the headband. A lot of folks complained because they became very uncomfortable over time, and didn’t really provide any sort of real padding.

The newer models don’t have any bumps and are fairly comfortable, even though they do still have the capacity to dig into your head a little over long listening sessions.

Still, it’s one of the most faithful reproductions of sound you’ll ever come across.

Nothing really stands out unnaturally, but the mid-range does have a presence bump most notably around 2kHz (basically the vocal region). I find it to be just the right amount. The headphone never sounds overpowering, but also generally doesn’t come across as dull.

There’s a nice balance here. It’s placed third because there are some people who will inevitably not really enjoy the sound signature as much as our top 2 options, both of which are more immediately enjoyable and accessible to the beginner enthusiast.

For more seasoned snobs, the K702 fits the bill quite nicely.

The K702 is just about the best option you could go with if you’re going to be listening to a lot of quieter genres and passages like Acoustic, Folk, Jazz, Classical, etc., and also plan on watching a lot of movies and doing a lot of gaming.

Video Comparison

Here I compare the K702 to the venerable HD600

 

 


#2

Sennheiser HD6XX

The 5 Best Audiophile Headphones Under $500

The HD6XX is the every man’s headphone.

  • Price: Check Drop! | Check Amazon!
  • Highlights: Fantastic instrument separation, detail, and timbre.
  • You may not like: Nothing. This is essentially a perfect headphone. Well, I can’t say that. Some people find it a bit dull sounding, but if you’re not a total whiner, you’ll love it. XD
  • Good For: All genres of music.
  • Bread and Butter: Rock.
  • Amplification Needed: Yes.
  • Recommended Album: Pink Floyd – “Dark Side Of The Moon.”

One of the best ways to avoid that “itch” mentioned above is to just cut through all the BS, snag an HD6XX, pair it with an Amp/DAC combo, and be done (more on Amps later).

The 6XX is absolutely one of the best representations of the “audiophile sound” without the audiophile price tag.

What do you mean by that?

Glad you asked. The first has to do with The Law of Diminishing Returns, something that I talk very frequently about on my blog and YouTube channel.

With a 6XX, you’re most of the way there in terms of achieving the best sound possible. While there are other better setups, the cost of them is rarely warranted.

Even despite that, you may just want to save some money long-term and cut to the chase.

Oftentimes, people will start out small as I did. My first purchase was a Sony MDR-7506 as I needed something for mixing my beats back in 2010-2011.

The 7506 is indeed an amazing experience (surely one of the best-selling headphones of all time) and will cause you to react in a similar way to the 6XX. Still, you’ll find yourself upgrading fairly quickly. Why not save some money upfront and go for the best (The 6XX). You do like to save money, don’t you?

You may have also heard of the Audio Technica ATH M50x. That was my second purchase. While not a true upgrade from the 7506, it was more enjoyable from a casual listening standpoint. Think in terms of a V-shaped sound like Beats by Dre: More bass, more treble, but a somewhat recessed (pushed back) mid-range.

The 7506 is also a fantastic sound for a new enthusiast. Its overall rating and reviews speak for themselves. Over 12,000 people have reviewed it on Amazon!

But:

The great thing about the HD6XX is 2 fold.

  1. Because it’s a Drop (Formerly Massdrop) collaboration with Sennheiser, it’s much more affordable and thus appeals to a wider demographic of people. The original HD650 still retails at around $500, and the HD600 around $400. You can of course get both for cheaper, but the HD6XX sits at a perfect price point for the average person who doesn’t really care to spend a bunch of money right away.
  2. But what about the sound, you might ask? Fret not, the 6XX retains all of the amazing qualities that the original HD650 had. I personally think it sounds like a cross between 600 and 650. While the original 600 had mid-range issues with regard to vocals and instruments, the 650 improved on that notion by making the mids more relaxed and less in your face. Even so, it kind of sounded just a tad too overly warm at times.

Wait, wait .. what the heck are you talking about?

What is a “600?” 650? I feel like I’m in math class.

Haha. Sorry about that.

Sennheiser’s HD600 and 650 are 2 of the most popular audiophile headphones of all time. They represent the initial gateway into the world of better audio, sort of like how Marijuana (pronounced Mehruh-Juwanna) is considered a gateway into harder stuff like Meth and Crack.

Fair warning: There’s no coming back from the audiophile rabbit hole. Once you’re in, you’re never coming back out.

Haha, the “rabbit” hole. Get it? Because Pooh is in Rabbit’s hous… never mind LOL

The HD6XX is simply a collaboration between Sennheiser and Massdrop. It’s a way for newer folks like you to get a taste of that sweet, sweet, audiophile sound without forking over a kidney to do so.

The average person isn’t going to want to pay retail for a headphone like the HD600, and that’s certainly understandable. I gladly paid over $300 for mine back in 2016 as a result of much research and deliberation, but:

Enter the 6XX.

The 5 Best Audiophile Headphones Under $500

The 5 Best Audiophile Headphones Under $500

The Venerable HD600, which has been in my studio since 2016.

The 5 Best Audiophile Headphones Under $500

The 650 is still one of the best-selling audiophile headphones.

The 6XX to me sits in a perfect middle ground between the 2. Do you see what I mean about cutting to the chase? I could have saved that initial $250 (that I spent on the 7506 and M50x) and just purchased a 6XX for way less cash money.

Even if you do upgrade down the road, you’ll never really outgrow the 6XX. It’s a studio staple and has been around in some form or fashion for over 20 years, dating back to 1997!

You’ll find yourself nearly always going back to it because of how true and natural it sounds. I have one on my big head right now!!

But what can you expect when you put one on your big head and listen to music?

An orgasm.

Well, maybe not an orgasm. But definitely an eargasm!

One of the best examples I ever read about the experience of an HD600 was that of an Amazon Reviewer. He described the sensation of it in terms of “rediscovering the music that had long since been forgotten about.”

That’s deep.

It’s not a direct quote, but very close to it.

Think about all of the music you’ve heard over the years. All of your favorite tracks that you know like the back of your hand.

Now imagine hearing those same tracks in a different light, as if they were fresh and new. As if they somehow sounded “foreign” to you.

This is what it’s like to experience an HD6XX with a good amplifier. It’s the indescribable feeling of putting a song under a microscope and discovering everything you had previously missed out on.

Things such as:

  • The way a finger slides across the fret-board.
  • The way a Classical composer breathes through his nose in between notes.
  • The way an electric guitar sounds in its most raw and organic form.
  • How natural an instrument sounds. How it’s supposed to sound. What it may sound like in real life vs. what it sounds like through a device.
  • The details in the background that you didn’t know were there.
  • The flaws in the recording somehow actually make it sound better.
  • The intimacy and inflection of the human voice.
  • The soundscapes and textures of backing instruments which seemed lost or non-existent before.

I could go on. These may seem like exaggerations, but I can assure you that they’re not.

When you put on an HD6XX, your reaction is likely to be something along the lines of:

“Wow, so this is what music is supposed to sound like.”

I can’t count how many times I’ve said that over the years listening with my HD600. I’ve had them since 2016 and really couldn’t imagine life without them. Out of the 10+ headphones I sold in 2019, the HD600 and Philips SHP9500 are the only ones that still remain.

There’s a reason for that.

It’s because out of the 100 or so headphones that I’ve demoed, the HD600 series stands out significantly. It’s crisp, detailed, natural, revealing, and immensely enjoyable all at the same time. It’s also really comfortable and built extremely well too!

Everything on it is replaceable, so in theory, it should last you a lifetime given proper care.

If you want to experience audio in its purest form, the 6XX is your ticket to paradise!

Video Shootout

Don’t forget to leave me some love!! <3

Interested in a more affordable alternative to the famed HD600 and 650?

 


Let’s get into my number 1 option, and the moment you’ve all been waiting for…

#1

The HIFIMAN HE400se

HIFIMAN HE400se Review

  • Price: Check Apos Audio! | Check Amazon!
  • Official Review: Here!
  • Highlights: Nearly dead neutral sound profile, superior instrument timbre, and above-average Soundstage.
  • You may not like: Treble may be just a smidgen bright.
  • Best for: All genres of music.
  • Bread and Butter: Hip-Hop, Rock, Jazz.
  • Amplification Needed: Yes.
  • Recommended Album: Led Zeppelin – “Houses of the Holy”

One of the best experiences I ever had as an AudioFILE was listening to a FLAC version of Led Zeppelin’s “Over The Hills & Far Away” through a Bryston BHA-1 Headphone Amp and the HiFiMan HE400i. Related: What is an Audiophile?

I know #1 is supposed to be the 400se, but bear with me for a sec.

I mention in a bit how there’s music that you probably know like the back of your hand, and that it will sound foreign with good headphones.

“Over the Hills” is a prime example of a song that I thought I knew, but really didn’t at all.

When you’ve listened to albums through crappy equipment all your life, it takes something like this set up to realize what you’ve missed out on.

Everything sounded different, from Robert Plants’ voice to Page’s guitars, to Jones’ bass, to the otherworldly drums of John Bonham, and everything in between.

It was as if I got a glimpse into the soul of the artists; why they were bandmates, how they interacted with each other, what made them so close.

I had read somewhere that after Bonham died, the band refused to play without him. Listening to this song during that moment in time finally made me realize why.

The 400i rendered it with such startling realism that I couldn’t help but squirm around in my seat. When the drums came in, it was the most perfect amalgam of sound I’d ever heard together on one track.

Nothing was overpowering, but nothing lacked weight or impact. Each and every note was of the utmost importance and could be dissected like a gutted frog under a microscope. It was intense, enjoyable, revealing, and raw all at the same time.

The song was rendered in such an incredible way that I knew I would never be the same. I knew in the back of my mind that even if I ended up hearing something better, I would never forget that moment for as long as I lived.

It’s like the feeling you get when you meet someone who ends up being really dear to you. Those people in your life are few and far between. You never forget them. They hold a special place in your heart.

Memory Lane

A few months ago I opened up my senior yearbook for the last time before throwing it away and moving on. As I thumbed through the last few pages and took one final glimpse at my old high school friends and acquaintances, one quote from a guy named Tyler Ballengee (who I played JV baseball with my sophomore year in 2003) stuck out:

“Many things in life will catch your eye, only a few will catch your heart … pursue those.”

-Anonymous

Fortunately, I took a picture before throwing the yearbook away.

Now I didn’t plan on getting all emotional, but the 400i was sort of like that. It was a deeply emotional experience that sort of “catches” your heart. It’s the kind of thing that really can’t be described with words, much like a soulmate or a deeply intimate relationship.

It’s been years later and I’m still talking about it, ad-nausea to anyone who will listen. Heh. I’ve said it over and over again, and my regular readers and subscribers are probably sick to death of hearing about this story.

If you’re new here, you are exactly the reason why I continue to tell the story. You’ll know it when you hear it though, so don’t fret!

It’s something that every person should experience in some form or fashion before they die. I truly believe that.

Think about how important music is to you.

Could we live without it? I’m not entirely sure. Music is a part of everyone’s life on a daily basis. It’s one of the main ways that we connect and relate to each other. If that was taken away, I don’t think mass chaos would ensue. But I also think we would be much worse off.

By this point, you may be wondering about the 400se.

It’s simply an updated version of the 400i in terms of build quality. The sound is more or less the same as the original, but now you won’t have to worry about it breaking down as it mimics the excellent build of the updated DEVA – something HIFIMAN sorely needed to fix in their mid-fi line and did.

Some of the newer 400i’s had headband issues. With the 400se, HiFiman fixed all that by constructing the product out of more robust materials and gave it a more streamlined look.

So why has the 400se replaced the 6XX for top spot on this list?

In a nutshell, because it’s a planar magnetic headphone.

Planar magnetic drivers utilize more magnets around the diaphragm that are spread out evenly. This results in lower distortion and a more natural, realistic, and spatially aware presentation.

In addition to that, the newer 400se simultaneously outperforms a 6XX and is somehow cheaper!

But wait, there’s more.

It also utilizes stealth magnets which basically means that they’re constructed in such a way (read: rounded off vs. square) so as not to impede the sound waves as they’re traveling from the driver towards your ears.

A subtle difference but surely noticeable.

All of these things caused me to make the decision to finally de-throne the 6XX. It was tough, but the 400se is a superior headphone.

There is a lot of snake oil in audio, but the transition from a dynamic headphone to a planar headphone is most certainly not a case of that.

There is a clear difference, and it manifests most prominently in what is known as Timbre; how an instrument may sound in real life vs. the way it sounds through a device, or, its unique tone. What is Timbre?

Purchase a 400se, and you’ll come to realize what makes this distinction so remarkable.

Video Shootout

Here I gather all of my impressions of the 400 Series since 2017! Note: 400se video coming soon so stay tuned and bookmark this article!

 

 


 

So.. you’ve decided on a headphone but now you need an Amp!

No problem at all. To keep you from getting confused today, I’m just going to recommend a few really good options to get you started.

AudioQuest DragonFly Red/Cobalt

The perfect solution for desktop and phone users

The Best Audiophile Headphones Under $500

DragonFly Red pictured here with the Cobalt.

This little flash drive-sized wonder is the perfect solution for that person who not only doesn’t want to deal with separate DACs but also can’t be bothered with a wire either. Enter the DragonFly Red.

Literally, just plug it into a USB slot on your PC, plug your headphones into it and you’re ready for music. It’s really that simple and doesn’t even require any drivers. Oh, you have Tidal? Even better. The DragonFly supports Tidal’s MQA (Master Quality Authenticated), so you can play master files to your heart’s content.

The DragonFly will improve your audio experience immensely across the board, providing a crisp, neutral presentation with plenty of air and spacing around the instruments. All that basically means is a smile on your face, so fret not!

If you’ll be pairing it with a phone, you will need an adapter.

The newer Cobalt does come with AudioQuest’s Type-C Dragon Tail adapter, but you also have other options if your phone has a micro USB input.

You may be wondering about the differences between the Cobalt and Red. In short, there are basically none, and I would recommend the Red because it will save you an extra $100 (roughly).

Everything you’ll need to know is in this video!

Video Shootout

 


iFi Zen DAC + Amp

For your desktop only

The 5 Best Audiophile Headphones Under $500

The Zen is iFi’s answer to all of your problems, basically. As an all-in-one combo amp/dac at a little over $100, it performs magically and has plenty of power for all of the headphones mentioned above. I have one sitting on my desk and it sounds exemplary. If you run Tidal, the Zen has you covered, supporting Tidal’s MQA as well, and up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM files. It also supports DSD! I was able to try out various tracks and get the Zen to display all of the colors.

If you’re feeling frisky, it has a balanced 4.4mm jack for any balanced headphones or cables you may purchase down the road, and comes equipped with a power match button (basically gain), and a TrueBass button if you want some extra low-end slam.

For instance, I plan on snagging this cable from Amazon for my HD600 balanced out of the Zen.

Add to that you can also use the RCA Outputs on the back to connect to separate speakers or monitors!

It’s a fantastic solution and probably the easiest way to get up and running with something like an HD6XX.

Video Review

 

 


FiiO K5 Pro

All in one combo that’s also great for gaming!

The 5 Best Audiophile Headphones Under $500

DSD.

The 5 Best Audiophile Headphones Under $500

PCM 44.1/48kHz.

The 5 Best Audiophile Headphones Under $500

Anything above 48kHz.

The FiiO K5 Pro is one of those amps that you’ll probably never get rid of because of how much it can do:

  • You can use it with your console via its optical input. So just run an optical cable from the back of your console to the back of the K5 Pro!
  • It can output to separate speakers or monitors (like the Zen) via its RCA Analog Outputs.
  • It can be used with a separate DAC via its RCA Analog Inputs.
  • You can simply use it on your desktop via its USB Type-B cable.

And lots more. Lol. Just check out this graphic from my video at the beginning:

Wow! If you plan on doing any gaming, I’d go with the K5 Pro as it can do basically anything you need it to do. You can even hook it up to your turntable or receiver and listen to records or CDs if that’s your cup ‘o tea.

Video Comparison to the K3

 

 


JDS ATOM + ATOM DAC

Perfect pairing with the HD6XX

The 5 Best Audiophile Headphones Under $500

If you decide to go with the HD6XX (and I think you should), the ATOM is a perfect match for it sound-wise. I got a chance to demo both for quite a while and I fell in love with this setup.

I would say out of everything I’ve discussed today, going with a 6XX and pairing it with the ATOM is your best bet as far as coming close to the pinnacle of audiophile sound at a fraction of the “audiophile” price.

Like the K5 Pro and Zen, the ATOM too is a preamp and can hook up to separate studio monitors or speakers.Β What are Studio Monitors? It also has a pair of RCA inputs for connection to a separate DAC like the OL DAC (which you will need as the ATOM is just an amp).

All the stuff the ATOM can do!

Perhaps the most valuable piece to this Amp is the line-in feature, which allows you to connect it to any DAC that has a line-out feature or RCA outs (pretty much all of them have a line-out, RCA out, or both).

For instance, I have both a FiiO K3 and E10K in my studio and each of them has a line out.

Notice how in the above picture the K3 is sitting on top of the ATOM. I was using the K3 as the DAC that day into the Amp (ATOM), and it sounded fantastic!

You may be asking, what about the ATOM DAC?

I would recommend the ATOM DAC to pair with the ATOM because both of them come from the same company and therefore are pretty much made for each other.

Video Comparison to the Objective 2

 

So with that, what’s the final word?

Recommendation & Final Word

Since 2020, the 6XX held the top spot, and for good reason. It’s a fantastic sounding headphone and represents the hobby well.

It’s still a good purchase today, but the 400se, to me, is a much better value at its current price and sounds better.

In all honesty though, the top 3 here can be interchangeable – that is to say that if you shuffled them around or thought one was better than the other (hence didn’t quite agree with my rankings) I wouldn’t be that mad at you and can definitely see why you’d think that.

If you’re new and don’t feel like hooking up a DAC to an Amp (understandable), then just get the Zen or DragonFly Red and you’ll be set. You won’t have to worry about choosing a separate DAC as the Zen is a combo all in one (something I mentioned at the start).

Ready to level up your listening experience?

 


Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this article on the Best Audiophile Headphones For Under $500.

Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please let me know down below or Contact me!!

If you love what I do here and want to support the blog and channel in a more personal way, check me out onΒ PatreonΒ and discover all the value I have to offer you.

Which of these headphones sounds more like you? What do you hope to achieve within your listening environment? Do you think the 400se is a better value than the 6XX? I would love to hear from you. Until next time…

All the best and God bless,

 

 

-Stu

[Xtr@Ba$eHitZ]

Can’t decide which headphones to purchase? Interested in a complete buyers guide outlining over 40 of the best options on the market? Click on over to the best audiophile headphones to learn more!!

Be sure to also check out my Reviews and Resources page for more helpful and informative articles!

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58 comments

Karthik March 13, 2020 - 7:07 pm

Very nicely written as always. I got the Zen Dac on your recommendation, thank you for that. Love the truebass as it gives some life to my AKG 712 which like the AKG 702 has lean but punchy bass, I guess. My next target would be the HD 6XX after drop decides to put some in stock for the EU market, more importantly before the Brexit transition period.

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Stuart Charles Black March 15, 2020 - 5:17 pm

Thank you so much Karthik for your continued support! And you’re welcome! Yeah man the 6XX is fantastic. Great compliment with the K702 actually. I mostly use K702 for Jazz, Classical, Movies, and Gaming, and the 6XX for general listening! Def keep me posted on everything and just to chat. πŸ™‚

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Philip SIlls May 3, 2020 - 8:49 pm

Great article. I have virtually all the kit you talk about in this article minus the HIFIMAN’s and K5 Pro. I am after both when I can get a bargain. Unfortunately the K5’s are sold out on Amazon UK so keeping an eye on that and the Hifiman’s I am keeping a watch on ebay for a pair. I am looking forward to getting both.

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Stuart Charles Black May 4, 2020 - 4:25 pm

Hey man! Thank you so much. Yeah I actually checked on the K5 Pro the other day and it was going for around $170 but now it’s gone again lol. Crazy how fast those things sell out but it’s for good reason! It’s an all around perfect solution for a desktop or home theater set up when you want to listen with headphones. I’m going to be using one in my small home theater actually when I get the entertainment center built. Super excited!

Let me know when it comes back again for sure! You will love the Sundara it’s a fantastic sounding headphone. How do you like the 6XX?

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Slobodan Ivanovic August 5, 2020 - 12:31 pm

Hey! Really nice article, thank you for your time and efforts, we really appreciated. Can I ask you something? I’ve been into music production and at the moment I have the Samson SR850 (which you recommended in amazon for Mixing & Mastering) and a Focusrite Solo Interface. I was thinking to upgrade to the HD6XX, do you think will be worth it? Will I need to get a better Headphone AMP? I was thinking about the Apogee Groove. Thank you for your time!

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Stuart Charles Black August 5, 2020 - 6:45 pm

Hey man! It’s absolutely worth the jump. I wouldn’t hesitate because 1) It’s more comfortable and you’ll be able to mix longer, and 2) The sound is more neutral and not fatiguing in the slightest. The 850 tends to be a little too bright in the treble which can cause listening fatigue, but also the headphone isn’t as comfortable as the 6XX. Getting a 6XX is an incredibly easy choice because it just sounds amazing as well. You may need a separate amp but maybe not. My advice is to try it with the Solo and report back to me how it sounds! Check the 6XX Here On Drop. I do receive a kick back if you use my link so definitely keep me posted on everything. Talk soon, -Stu

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Alex September 10, 2020 - 6:35 pm

Hey Stu, I understand your favourites. What me surprises until today, it is logical that this is our hobby, but it amazes me that we are so small group. I mean. We live in a world with 8 billion people and I try to understand that 80-90% of the population do for a big part like music, but they are not interested in : quality (128 mp3 is most used) flac or wav they never heard of it, good headphones (beats IMO crap is popular or some headphone from the local media store), try especially understand most women or girls who want a pink one with stars probably a 5 dollar headphone and guess what? those girls or women like the audio. Yeah amazing he?
Notice : They like the audio. We for sure can not handle the crap audio, we would bring the headphone to the trash.
Then who is interested in a home studio. Most do not.
Who is interested in the equipment anyway, most do not.
The amazing fact is : Those 80-90% people almost all like the same things. The bourgeois things. Imagine 80-90%!
So we musicians the 10-20% are into this.
10-20% sounds crazy maybe, but 10-20% of the 8 billion : 800.000.000 – 1,600000000 so still a lot of people. So yeah you are able to earn enough money with your hobby.
I personally like your taste, you have a quality taste and a quality site and quality videos on youtube.
So Stu, a great favourite list, I have a little different list but we yeah great list.
Guess what the favourite list is of the 80-90% of the people, especially the bougeois people.
I am putting more time you already noticed into your stuff as I promised.
Keep going what you are doing Stu. I am you see prepared to support you.

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Stuart Charles Black September 11, 2020 - 2:40 pm

Hey man! Yeah that’s a very interesting point that I never thought of. It makes me want to spread the word about good sound even more. At night I do Uber eats, and I’ve been giving my business card to most everyone I come in contact with for that very reason. I know people love music, and what a better way to help them re-discover it all over again through the lens of audiophile equipment? My aim is to inform them that no, you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to achieve a sound that can change your entire perspective of music itself. My life was changed immeasurably when I first heard a Sony MDR7506. I couldn’t believe everything I was missing prior. That only cost me $100, and looking back, it was totally worth it.

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David Krogh September 25, 2020 - 12:31 pm

Hi! I just use the bose qc35 and are aiming for a hd6xx now, to improve experience in daily listening from Spotify on the laptop. This is sold in conjunction with a Objective2 +ODAC headphone amplifier. Any opinion on this device?

Also would be interesting to get your best suggestion for something that can take calls. Would that be the Sony wh-1000xm4, as I am currently saving for?

A big thank you for the articles, love your language!

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Stuart Charles Black September 28, 2020 - 3:32 pm

Hey man! So are you going to purchase a 6XX for daily listening and have a separate headphone for calls? If not, I think an all in one solution for you would be the HIFIMAN DEVA BT version. It sounds absolutely pristine, plus you can take calls and use it in a myriad of ways: Wireless, with a separate amp/dac, with the supplied amp/dac. That’s right, the adapter that plugs into the headphone for Bluetooth doubles as a separate Amp/DAC that you can use with the wire into your PC. It’s really an incredible value.

As for your question, I love the O2 + ODAC!! Probably my go to neutral combo for those just starting out. It’s going to be an honest and accurate representation of the sound, and pairs flawlessly with all headphones.

So my recommendation for you would be to buy the DEVA right away, and then decide if you want to add an Objective 2 once you’ve had some time with DEVA. Because it comes packed with all those goodies, you have the luxury of being able to wait and see what you want to do. You may end up just being completely satisfied without the need for the O2!

The Sony’s are alright, but too bassy and bloaty sounding for me. The DEVA is going to be a sound upgrade over both the QC35 and Sony, so no worries there. It’s an eye opening sound if you’ve never heard audiophile grade equipment.

Check my DEVA Review and hit me up with any questions!

Also many thanks for your kind words!

-Stu

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Dani M September 26, 2020 - 7:18 am

Hey Stu! I just bought a pair of 4xx, the 6xx weren’t available in Canada. I was wondering what would be the best bang for the buck upgrade I could do for audio quality.
Something significant from running Tidal masters off my laptop. Nothing that will chain me to a wall (so portable), but can still drive planars well.
Would you still recommend the dragonflies for the 4xx or are there better portable dac/amp combo options. Or even a standalone battery-powered amp to work with the dragonfly? Ergonomics aren’t a concern, just not being stuck to a wall.
Thanks for your time!

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Stuart Charles Black September 28, 2020 - 3:13 pm

Hey Dani! What about a simple iFi Zen Amp/DAC combo or FiiO K5 Pro? Check out this shootout I did. Also: The Bravo Audio Ocean sounds fantastic with a 4XX. That one’s in the shootout as well, but it won’t run Tidal masters without something like a DF Red to pair (which I did). Check it out: iFi Zen vs. FiiO K5 Pro vs. JDS ATOM vs. Bravo Ocean Let me know what you think and keep me posted with any other questions πŸ™‚ If you do purchase from any of my links in the articles I do get a small kick back which helps the blog and channel out immensely. Talk soon!

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Andy Tan October 22, 2020 - 3:51 pm

Hi Stu, I like your reviews and I got a he400s based on your review. I like it but i still have this itchy feeling of buying a hd6xx since I heard so many positive things about it. Is it better than he400s? I am also looking for a side grade to watch Netflix and i will like to hear your opinion on whether the 7xx or x2hr will be better. I will love your input on it. Thanks for all the help.

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Stuart Charles Black October 22, 2020 - 5:17 pm

Hey Andy!

Yeah man. Love the 6XX. It’s a headphone you’ll hang onto for life if my experience and many others’ is any indication. I’ve had my HD600’s since 2016 and don’t ever plan on getting rid of them. The 6XX is similar as you’ve probably gathered from the article, but with a fixed mid-range at a crazy good price. I wish it was available back then!

Anywho, it’s not “better” than the 400S, just different. My friend Luke (whom I have borrowed the 400S from), has the HD600 and 6XX in addition to the 400S because they’re both just necessary in a headphone collection. I don’t think he necessarily thinks the 6XX is “better” either; he just loves the Sennheiser cans that much.

As for the 7XX or X2HR, I think that mostly comes down to sound signature. Are you craving a more realistic portrayal? If so, the 7XX. I use the K702 for gaming and film nearly everyday, and just love how open and crisp it sounds. Last night I used an SHP9600 and loved it as well (has more bass).

I think for you it will depend on what you see yourself preferring. I don’t have an X2HR here but it is more of a “fun”, V-shaped type of headphone while the 700 series from AKG is definitely neutral and wide.

So yeah, definitely pick up an HD6XX. It’s one of the easiest purchases you’ll ever make and will last you a lifetime. I still haven’t had one single issue with my HD600 and all the parts are replaceable. Same goes for 6XX.

As for the AKG, I haven’t had direct experience with the 7XX but heard it has a very similar sound signature to the classic 701/702, etc.

Also let me know if you need an Amp/DAC recommendation for the 6XX. I’d be more than happy to help you out. πŸ™‚ Hope that helps!

Talk soon,

-Stu

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Andy Tan October 24, 2020 - 4:50 am

Ooops, sorry i double posted. My comments did not appear. Ah after your glowing review, I have to get the hd6xx then haha. After what u say about the k7xx, I think i will prefer a more realistic portrayal instead so I will get that then. For amp/dac, i am still choosing between the hip dac and fiio k5 pro. Thanks for all your help. It gave me a lot more clarity. Btw, have you tried the new philips X3 and meze 99?

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Stuart Charles Black October 24, 2020 - 1:50 pm

No worries man! If you use my Drop link in this article to the 6XX I will get a kick back which helps keep the blog and channel running so thank you much! Let me know. As far as the hip-dac vs. K5 Pro, that’s an interesting one. Do you mostly listen on your phone or desktop? I love both. I keep the hip-dac plugged into a USB power hub so I never have to charge it, but keep in mind I’m mostly a desktop user. Works great with a phone as well!

I have not heard those! I’ve been meaning to try the Meze 99’s though. They are available at a local audio store here, but I just haven’t been in a while. Also may get them sent to me from another source. Would love to try the X3 soon as well πŸ™‚

Talk soon!

-Stu

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Andy Tan October 25, 2020 - 11:46 am

Sure. It is the least I could do after all your help so far. Do u think hd6xx will drop in price? I am waiting until black friday to see if there is a price drop haha. Hmmm, i mainly use my desktop to listen but I will be travelling quite a bit next year. So I think it will be better for me to get ifi hip dac. Oh btw can the ifi hip dac be used for PS4 and nintendo switch?

I will be looking forward to your review after u try it then πŸ™‚

Stuart Charles Black October 25, 2020 - 11:44 pm

Yeah man thank you! Haha “Drop” in price ? Yeah I’m pretty sure it will be on sale for under $200 here pretty soon. Bout $195 or thereabouts. Yeah the hip-dac would be perfect! Great question. Don’t have a Switch, but I will test the hip-dac with my PS4 and get back to you. Did you see my Creative G6 vs. G3 article? https://homestudiobasics.com/creative-soundblasterx-g6-vs-g3/ That one is compatible with both and I use mine with PS4 nearly every day. I know you said portable though. Just a thought. Where are you going to be traveling, man?

Andy Tan October 28, 2020 - 4:29 pm

Hey Stuart, Idk why i cant reply to ur bottom comment. Nice pun over there haha. Yeah, i did see your comparisons and i decided to get fiio k5 pro over the creative blaster instead if I am looking for a desktop option. Hmm, I will like to go to the US next year once the border open up. How about you? Any travel plans? Oh btw i will like your opinion on something. What is your thoughts on Akg k702( $129) vs akg k712( $219)? Was undecided on which to get haha. Btw, which website do u usually purchase your headphones from?

Stuart Charles Black November 9, 2020 - 6:09 pm

Hey man!

I would love to travel overseas at some point. I need to get out more. LOL.

Have you decided on K702 vs. K712?

I usually purchase from either Amazon, eBay, or Drop. πŸ™‚

Andy Tan October 23, 2020 - 4:24 pm

Hi Stu, love your reviews. I recently got a He400s based on your reviews. However, I still have an itch to get other headphones. I will like your opinion on whether AKG k7xx or X2Hr will be better for watching netflix. I will also like to know how does he400s compares to hd6xx as I am also thinking of the hd6xx and selling the he400s. Thanks for the help

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Stuart Charles Black October 23, 2020 - 4:48 pm

Hey man did you see my reply from yesterday?

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Andy Tan October 24, 2020 - 4:41 am

Oh man sorry. The webpage did not load my comment so i thought my comment was not posted. So I reposted again.

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Stuart Charles Black October 24, 2020 - 1:46 pm

No worries man! Check out my response and let me know what you think πŸ™‚

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Riccardo December 1, 2020 - 12:30 am

Hi, really interesting article. Do you think the Philips Fidelio X2HR needs amplification like the other headphones? Thank you for your time πŸ™‚

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Stuart Charles Black December 1, 2020 - 4:38 pm

Hey man! Thank you and you’re welcome! It really doesn’t need it per se, but I always like to have something. I think it really depends on what kind of PC or phone you have. Both have come a long way in providing better internals than some stuff I’ve used in the past. What do you have?

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Riccardo December 1, 2020 - 11:06 pm

I have a Honor 9, a Huawei Matebook D14 and a pc with an Asus Z170I Pro Gaming motherboard. I’m new to the world of audiophile, I only have a ’96 Denon Personal Component System D-F10 with a UPA-F10 Pre-Main Amplifier. I bought the Sennheiser HD 599, I really like them and I was considering buying the Philips Fidelio X2HR now.

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Stuart Charles Black December 3, 2020 - 2:12 pm

Yeah, man! The X2HR is def a different type of sound, so I think it would complement well. It’s a more bass-oriented sound, with lots of excitement and slam.

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yannis February 4, 2021 - 6:15 am

i bought the new mac mini m1 and its dac is superb!!!
considering to buy an hd 6xx do you believe i should go for a better dac (besides an amp), or stay with mac mini’s dac???

also, do you believe that hd 555s (the old 558/559) modded are much worse than hd 6xxs, or for the money are equally well?

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Stuart Charles Black February 4, 2021 - 8:28 pm

Yeah man! Stay put for now and see how you like it. Report back to me on sound/volume quality, etc. Also yeah, I generally do not recommend the 500 series because I believe they are outclassed. Why buy one of those when you can just get a 6XX? knowing what I know now after demoing over 100 headphones, I’d never buy a 500 series headphone. You’ll just end up upgrading later anyways.

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Kris February 14, 2021 - 11:29 am

Hey Stu. I am new to the hobby and I really enjoy your reviews, but I have a question. I’m planning to buy a Sundara and I’m looking for an amp and dac for it. I already have a Dragonfly Black, which I bought a few month ago, so I was thinking about using it as a DAC and buying a Zen CAN for more power and True Bass feature. Do you think that’s a good idea or should I get rid of my Dragonfly and buy something else, like only Zen DAC or Zen DAC + CAN? If that makes any difference, I listen to a wide variety of metal music. Thank you for your time.

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Stuart Charles Black February 25, 2021 - 10:20 pm

Hey Kris! You’re welcome! I’d just get the Zen CAN. Perfect solution for you. You won’t really need the Zen DAC for anything and it may be a waste of money. Let me know!

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Kyle February 19, 2021 - 7:51 pm

Hey Stu,

The contact form does not seem to be working is there a different form of contact we are able to chat on for advice. Tried sending your page a Facebook message.

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Stuart Charles Black February 20, 2021 - 2:50 pm

Hey man, the contact form is fine. I got the email and replied! πŸ™‚

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anto April 13, 2021 - 7:14 pm

Hi Stu,

Great article and I have been following your reviews a lot and started with Sundara + Zen Dac.
Your reviews are always spot on and no biased opinion. Please continue to do so.
I am looking for more portable setup. Do you think Chord Mojo(with Sundara) will provide an upgrade to Zen Dac and be an portable setup? How do you compare Zen Dac to Mojo? I know that price bracket is completely different. But for now, I would like to know should to spend money on Mojo or cheaper versions. Thanks a lot for your advice.

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Stuart Charles Black April 14, 2021 - 1:47 pm

Hey man! Thank you so much for the kind words. πŸ™‚ That would be an upgrade, but you may have some QC issues with the Mojo; it just depends. Check this article out: Before You Buy A Chord Mojo, READ THIS!! It’s important to note that not everyone will have these issues, but you should definitely keep it in mind before purchase. It’s a gamble is all. Let me know what you think.

As for the comparison, Zen DAC is mostly a cross between neutral and warm sounding, while the Mojo leans warmer and will sound amazing to most people (including myeslf). For me, yes it’s an upgrade and 1 of 2 dacs that I personally feel stand out above the rest in terms of sound. The other was the Bryston BHA-1. If you’d like to read my original thoughts on Mojo, check this out: Chord Mojo DAC Review [In Depth Review]

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Charlie April 17, 2021 - 12:33 am

Hey Stu,

I just wrote a comment, but I don’t think it posted for whatever reason, so I’m writing another one. If the previous post pops up, I’m really sorry for pointlessly posting.

Anyway, I wanted to pick your nose deep into your brain for information and your opinion. I figure I should start with that I live in Japan which makes availability of non-Japanese headphones a bit more difficult to come by. If they are available, they tend to be very over priced. For example, the Sennheiser HD600 57,500 yen ($530usd) and the HD6XX isn’t even available as Drop doesn’t ship to Japan.

My question: Have you listened to the HarmonicDyne Zeus, and would you pick it or the Fidelio X2HR? I did a search and it seems like the Zeus is what many people upgrade to from the X2HR. The X2HR is 19,800 yen ($180) and the Zeus is 36,900 yen ($340) out here. Considering there is less of a price difference between the two here in Japan than there would be in the US, I’m leaning towards the Zeus at the moment, but I’d like to know if you think it would be worth it. Also, I plan on buying an amp in a few months, probably an ifi Zen or Fiio K5 Pro.

Please shower me with your green nuggets of knowledge!

Much love,
Charlie

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Stuart Charles Black April 17, 2021 - 9:56 pm

Hey man! Yeah, I have a spam filter and sometimes good messages go to the trash can. Luckily I can easily retrieve them if they happen to be good ones like yours. So no worries! I haven’t heard the Zeus yet, no. K5 Pro or Zen both great choices! Check out this desktop shootout: https://homestudiobasics.com/ifi-zen-vs-fiio-k5-pro-vs-jds-atom-vs-bravo-ocean/

Really sorry to hear Drop doesn’t ship to you. They should get on that! What about Sweetwater sound

Let me know πŸ™‚ And sorry I can’t really be of much help at the moment! Forgive me if we went over this on YT, but what kind of sound signature would you most prefer? I assume a more V-shaped one?

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Charlie April 18, 2021 - 9:57 pm

Hey Stu, I checked out Sweetwater, but it doesn’t seem like they ship here. Also, I already watched the video and read your article on the amp/DACs. That’s what lead me to looking into the Zen and K5 Pro.?
In terms of sound signature, I’m not really sure. I have been using a pair of ATH-M50x’s for the past 6 or so years and really like the sound, but I found that certain high frequency sounds kill my ears with them. Not to mention I need open backs so I can hear my kids when I listen to music or game. I tried the Philips Fidelio X3 and really liked them, and most everyone said that the X2HR is better. From there, I read that the Zeus is an upgrade to the X2HR and figured it would be better to just get the upgrade and skip the step in the middle. I know this has nothing to do with sound signature, but it was my thought process up to this point. I saw people debate on whether the X3 is V-shaped, so it’s a little difficult to tell you.

Thanks again Stu!
Charlie

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Stuart Charles Black May 3, 2021 - 5:35 pm

Agh. Sorry about that. You’d think they would ship most everywhere. Where are you by the way!

And yeah man! The Philips will be more subdued in the treble for you for sure vs. that of the 50x. I know the 50x improved the treble from the original M50 (which I owned for 5 years). I totally get that about the sibilance though. You will likely fall in love with the X2HR, but yeah, you may just get the Zeus. Let me know if I can help out further though. Always here!

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Ryan July 13, 2021 - 1:51 pm

Before I say anything, just want to say a big thank you Stu. Because of you, a newbie like me was finally able to get into the world of audio and actually understand so many different aspects of audio equipment so effortlessly. Also, you’re one of the realest reviewers out there who not only has tons of experience but someone who isn’t afraid to give out his own honest opinions. With all that being said, I’m only just entering the audiophile territory, and moving away from the WH-1000XM3 to a better headphone but am pretty torn up between the top 3s you’ve listed here.

While I do mostly listen to music, I sometimes game and watch movies too (mostly singleplayer games; rarely competitive). Which one of the three would you say is a better ‘all-rounder’? Dumb question I know, since the k702 and HD 6xx both specialize in different things. I guess what I’m asking is; which one would you consider a headphone which a newbie like me would love (for mainly music and casual gaming) and would keep with him for years?
I know Sundara is definitely the more expensive option that’s really pushing my budget, but would you consider it like a middle-ground between the 6xx and the k702 in terms of soundstage? More importantly, the better soundstage and treble + bass response worth that extra $100+ on top of the HD 6xx?

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Stuart Charles Black July 14, 2021 - 2:12 pm

Thank you so much man! That means a lot especially given how much effort I put into the site and channel. πŸ™‚

The best all-rounder for me is the K702 although the Sundara is a close second. I may actually have to shake up the order of this article.

The question would be what type of music do you mostly listen to? While I personally love the 702 for hip-hop, rock, edm, etc. some people may not and might prefer more slam.

If that’s you, the Sundara may be the better option but for gaming, in my opinion, there’s really nothing that I love more than a 702 because of the wide-open Soundstage and revealing nature. I can hear anything at any time in any location; even stuff way far off. Your head is constantly on a swivel, which can actually be really scary when you’re just chilling around listening to music in an empty apt. (I’m a bachelor lol).

The 702 is my daily driver (when I’m not demoing other headphones and writing articles), and I really don’t plan on selling it ever. It makes a great complement to the HD600 as well, but if I could only have one of them, it would def be the 702.

Yeah, the Sundara is def a middle ground in terms of SS. Not as open or revealing as the 702, but not as closed in as the 600/6XX.

The 6XX is a perfect headphone but I wouldn’t ever personally use it for gaming. I just got a 58X and it seems to be a tad better for gaming with slightly better Soundstage than a 6XX, but I would still probably just get a 702. I think it’s worth the money because it’s incredibly versatile and works in pretty much every situation for every genre. Do keep in mind what I mentioned above but I think you’ll really love it.

Check out this article as well, it may help you pull the trigger: Before YOU Buy An AKG K702, READ THIS!!

Keep me posted with questions!

-Stu

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Ryan July 13, 2021 - 2:38 pm

Hi Stu,
I posted a comment a few minutes ago but it didn’t show up; so I apologize if this comment ends up being a double. I’m kind of torn up between the top 3 headphones you’ve listed. I mainly listen to music and watch YouTube videos and TV shows, but do some casual gaming (singleplayer games; sometimes competitive like in CS:GO) and watch some movies. Ideally, I would have gone for both the k702 and Hd 6xx if possible but due to budget constraints, I need to spare some cash for the amp and dac too.

As a newbie to the audiophile world, I was wondering which of the three headphones would you say is a decent ‘all-rounder’. Dumb question I know since the 702 and 6xx seem to target and focus on different things. I guess what I’m trying to ask is, which headphone is the one I would keep with me for many years no matter how much I explore the audio world?

Also, how would you compare the soundstage of the Sundara to the k702? What about it’s sound to the 6xx? I’ve heard it’s slightly better than the 6xx in the treble and bass frequencies. Sorry for asking so many questions all at once; I’ve managed to get myself even more confused over these three headphones the more I have researched into them XD

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Stuart Charles Black July 14, 2021 - 2:23 pm

Hey man! I don’t want to just delete this as it has another good question. It’s funny you mention that because I like having both my HD600 and K702 around, but lately, the 702 has become my daily driver whereas the HD600 I mostly use for referencing/comparing sound signatures. Still, it’s not going anywhere and both will be mainstays. Other headphones may come and go, but the 600 and 702 stay. Add in the 9500 there as well, but that’s neither here nor there.

Soundstage comparison. The K702’s is definitely wider and more open sounding. Better for gaming imo. The Sundara’s is sort of “out of your head” but those moments when you think you hear something going on outside happen far less frequently than they do with a 702. For a 6XX even less.

Haha! I totally know what you mean. There’s no worse feeling than that when you’re researching. Trust me, it’s happened to me more times than I can count and completely makes me feel really crappy lol. I know you know the feeling I’m talking about. You feel kind of hopeless almost, as if you’re never going to find the answer.

Fortunately, I’m here to tell you the K702 is 98.58202374930% of the headphone you’re looking for. LOL.

Keep me posted! And if you’re looking for a good Amp/DAC to go with it, check this out: Creative SoundBlasterX G6 Amp/DAC Review

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Ryan July 15, 2021 - 1:23 pm

Hi Stu,

Thanks for the reply! I actually got to demo both of the headphones! (Courtesy of a friend who’s DEEP down the audiophile rabbit hole); and honestly, I loved them and decided to pick both of them up! (Also partially due to Massdrop finally having more HD 6XX in-stock and me not having to pay a huge price for them). I found your observations spot on for both headphones; and while I feel the K702 is definitely “the one” for general usage, there’s just something about the warm sound of the HD 6xx that couldn’t keep them out of my head.

That being said, having both of them in hand, the open-back design raised some questions about cleaning, particularly for the 6XX. How do you clean the grill and the ear pads of the 6XX? Does a lot of dust get through the grills?

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Stuart Charles Black July 15, 2021 - 10:03 pm

Hey man my pleasure! Thanks for the kind words. Yes, they do get dusty! It’s not crazy or anything, but I usually just pick out the specks on the pads and then every so often I’ll take the grills off and just wipe them down/run my finger over various parts and blow the dust off. I also have this really neat brush that came with my Nikon D3200 that’s perfect for that sort of thing. It has incredibly tiny bristles meant for cleaning a lens so you can imagine it’s just fine for dusting off plastic. It kind of looks like something a girl would use for makeup lol.

That’s really cool you got both! I agree; I love having the HD600 and K702 here because they complement each other quite nicely.

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srin December 16, 2021 - 3:20 pm

Hey stu, Any recommended Amp/dac for HE400se?? Does planar headphones really need amp power?? can i buy E10K as it costs 75$ or less or should i go with ifi Zen v2??

I am not really sure if i really need an amp/dac and was also looking for some bluetooth options as well like shanling UP4 and fiio BTR5. Thanks in advance πŸ™‚

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Stuart Charles Black December 17, 2021 - 2:27 pm

Hey man! The 400se is fairly inefficient but I’m still finding a Zen or K5 Pro to be just fine. I’m listening now with the Zen actually. I’d go with a Zen V2 if you plan on console gaming. If not, the regular more affordable option is fine. πŸ™‚ I probably wouldn’t rely on an E10K in this case. For BT, yeah the BTR5 is great. My top portable option at the moment is the Go Blu which is also something to consider. Let me know if that helps and keep me posted!

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Vijey January 9, 2022 - 2:43 pm

Hey Stu, loved the article. I’m waiting for a sale to pick up the 6xx for my LG V30, which, with it’s quad dac, is known to drive high impedance headphones quite well as you probably know already. I know they would sound great with it, but I’ve read that only a dedicated amp can bring out the best out of them. Will the difference be substantial? Is it gonna be wasted on my V30? Or should I look for something else instead? I’m also considering the HE400se and the drop 58x, though I’m not sure how my phone would drive the former, since planars can be difficult to drive. Thanks for helping out!

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Stuart Charles Black January 13, 2022 - 6:16 pm

Hey man! Thanks for the tip and nice comment! I may have to take a look at that phone as I kind of need a new one in many ways. I have an older LG-X Charge.

If the LG V30 can drive high impedance cans I’d probably tell you to just stick with it and let me know what you think when it arrives. To answer your question, it depends on the internals of the phone. There are a lot of good ones out now and a lot of the time a separate dac is indeed a waste of money nowadays.

400se is my top pick now but that doesn’t take away from my love for the 6XX. I’d still lean towards 400se but with that one, you probably will want a separate amp as I’ve noticed it’s really inefficient and a bit stubborn – something you’ve alluded to.

58X is also good and you can read my thoughts on that one here: https://homestudiobasics.com/sennheiser-hd58x-review/ Still, I’d place that behind the others.

The notion of “only a dedicated amp can bring out the best of them” is kind of a myth (and a bit silly) in my personal opinion, for a couple of reasons:

1. The 600 series is incredibly easy to drive and works well with an array of different setups. “Dedicated” is just some arbitrary term and means nothing in the current dac landscape of extreme oversupply. I usually start people with an ATOM for neutrality or Zen/K5 Pro for a bit of a warmer tone. In reality, buying anything more than that is kind of a waste of time imo. I’ve demoed countless Amps & DACS with these headphones and any subtle differences don’t matter at all in the long run.
2. These headphones have been around in some form for over 30 years. I tend to think that people try and make it really complicated when it’s just not. In other words, lots of new dacs coming out means absolutely nothing because the headphones themselves haven’t changed at all. They still work well with gear released 3 decades ago.

I hope you see my point.

Keep me posted with further questions!!

-Stu

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Miko April 29, 2022 - 11:33 pm

Hey Listening Maestro!

First of all, big thank you for creating this cave of wisdom & honest and brilliant opinion. I am on the verge of deciding on new headphones after riding Bose QC 35 II, which I find way too mellow, without stage or instruments separation, bit boring. But crazy comfy!

I am wondering how you would refer to my observations about the three headphones I have laying next to me just now.

AKG K702 – the stage, the separation, comfort, freedom in sound -> they sound like I was getting additional 10 meters up of room for sound and resonance, like there was no celling. they lack bass and sometimes feel too bright though and don’t really show their strengths with harder beats. great for classical, soundtracks, opera, jazz and all music that can use sense of space, like Polly come home by Robert Plant, or Sigur Ros for instance.

HiFiMAN HE400SE – yes! amazing. it feels like you sit whereever the music was recorded, listening to Led Zeppelin feels like sitting in the studio with them, indeed. Or listening to a track with floating water gives me feeling like I was sitting just next to it, the sound kind of hugs you and surrounds you, amazing feeling not matched by the other two ‘phones. They sound the nicest and. The sound stage is nice, but not so fantastic, and compared to the other ones, they are a bit mellow, sometimes I lack separation of the instruments, bass is kind of mellow, overcovering the rest of the track. And also they seem to be in the biggest need for power as I am currently still playing music directly from my MacBook only. So maybe these issues would be solved when I got an amp (or whatever needed).

Sennheiser HD560S – they are kind of between the two above. They have stage and instrument separation that I like, sound clearer and crispier than HiFiMAN’s, but don’t have the magic, that sometimes comes through on some tracks with Hifiman and they don’t have this crazy cosmos space like AKG. So they’re kind of between and I would say they’re the most balanced. also the least comfortable, pushing pretty hard on the head, but maybe it’ll pass after a couple of weeks of using them.
(add. I changed my sitting place from sofa to the table and now I would say HE400se are as crispy as Sennheisers, but are much more round and hugging which is incredibly nice. HD560s are just way more direct and everything is kind of in front of you).

I know you put HE400se on top of your list, with HD600 as second, but also describing in your new article HD560s as a better headphone than HD600. So what I am leaning toward at the moment is keeping AKG and HiFiMAN as they complement each other so well, being so different. Hmm, or keeping Sennheiser… haha. But I also have an idea to get HiFIMAN Sundara -> do you know if they sound clearer and crisper with bigger sound stage and better instrument separation than HE400SE?

I guess I want to make the choice in the end, but I really enjoy discovering so much novelty in the music I thought I knew.

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Stuart Charles Black May 3, 2022 - 7:41 pm

Hey man!

Thank you so much and it’s my pleasure!

Your impressions were pretty much spot on!

As far as the HD560S being better, it’s one of those things that’s really hard to say one way or another and I went back and forth on it quite a bit in the article. Yeah, there are some things I think the 560S excels at but I finished out the article saying the 6XX is more resolving and that the 560S isn’t good enough to make me want to replace the K702 with it. I will say though that if I didn’t have a 702 already, the 560S would make a great complement to the 6XX due to its staging/gaming capabilities.

The other thing is that the 560S is definitely better than the others in the 500 line and I think most would agree on that. The bass is much improved and the overall sound is crisper, more refined, and ultimately superior in tone It also seems to be tuned better and if I had to guess houses higher quality drivers (don’t quote me on that). It’s just not all that exciting to me and still kind of dull as you point out. As in, I still kind of just get that ho-hum business as usual feeling when I listen to it.

If you’ll recall, the 558 and 598 were certainly good headphones but struggled to keep up at times and could sound bloomy and distorted at higher volumes. I don’t get that with the 560S so I do think it’s an upgrade from the original line.

If I were you I’d do what you said – keep the 400se and AKG and then upgrade to the Ananda when you feel it’s necessary. I’d skip over the Sundara as it’s overpriced and nothing about it is better than a 400se. It’s actually a bit warmer and veiled in the treble which is something I didn’t like all that much though I did enjoy the headphone overall. And no it’s not better or clearer and doesn’t have improved separation. It’s just way more expensive and I would never pay over triple the price when I can get a 400se.

The Ananda would be an actual upgrade from what you have now so I’d wait and get that one when the time is right.

Hope that helps!

Let me know. πŸ™‚

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Ish May 11, 2022 - 6:29 pm

How come the Hifiman Sundara isn’t on here? The Sundara is considered one of the best value planar magnetics by a lot of reviewers, you should check it out (if you haven’t).

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Stuart Charles Black May 11, 2022 - 7:09 pm

Hey,

It was on here until it got replaced with the 400se which is a much better value. Nothing about the Sundara is better than a 400se or warrants that bloated price tag in my opinion. The Sundara is also a bit too syrupy and warm sounding overall but still a good headphone. I actually think the 400se’s sound signature is handled much better and overall it’s the best mid-fi has to offer.

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JosNZ August 8, 2022 - 1:44 am

Thanks for your great reviews. I am a total newb when it comes to hi-fi and just starting my journey.
I have purchased in the last two months – the SONY WF-1000XM4s and the SONY WH-1000XM4s, the iFi Zen Dac V2 that you mention above, a Shanling M3X, a Shanling UA2. I also bought the iRiver software to be sure I was getting exclusive mode to the DAC. Have a trial subscription to Tidal and Amazon Music Unlimited, and also I’ve had Spotify for years (which is know is not HD).

The only cans I have at the moment are ATH-X50x which I’ve had for a few years, but looking to upgrade.

I purchased the SONYs because my brother had one and I liked the noise cancelling but without really thinking about it. I would have bought the 6XX instead if I’d been further along in my audio knowledge.
I am looking to buy the 6XX next (if/when the price drops on Drop from the $279 it is at the moment). I am intrigued by the 400se but worried about the reports of HIFIMAN quality control.

Do I really need an amp to do with the Zen Dac V2 or is it enough to begin with? Will it improve the sound?

Thanks again,
God Bless.
Joseph

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Stuart Charles Black August 8, 2022 - 3:33 pm

Hey Joseph!

Thank you for your comment πŸ™‚

Hey man! Yeah, you’ll be fine with the Zen DAC V2 without a separate amp. No, a DAC doesn’t improve the sound, but depending on the DAC can provide slightly different profiles – i.e. neutral (low output impedance) or warmer (higher output impedance/tubes).

I haven’t had an issue with my 400se but I can see why you’d be a bit apprehensive. I think most of their QC issues have been rectified but it is still something to keep in mind.

Please keep me posted with any questions you may have!

God Bless,

-Stu

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Ravi August 10, 2022 - 1:30 pm

Hi Stu, I am owning Fiio BTR3k which I have purchased recently. I am interested in buying the HiFiMan HE400SE, but not sure about whether BTR3k can drive HE400SE to their potential or not. I have stumbled upon your articles while google search. It seems you have used BTR3K for 400SE but no word about how it perform. Other choice I have is BeyerDynamics DT770 Pro and Grado SR80x. All are available at nearly same price of 120$. But I am interested in Open back Planar headphones and more interested in HE400SE after your brilliant ratings. Please help me on this. Thanks, Ravi

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Stuart Charles Black August 10, 2022 - 1:54 pm

Hey man!

Thank you for your comment. I’m listening now and I personally feel the BTR3K is just fine. Of course, there will be some people who scoff at this, but I don’t think you need anything beefier. I’ve heard the entire e-line but not the x line of Grado, but I still wouldn’t buy a Grado because of the 2kHz issue, comfort, and build issues. Doesn’t look like they improved anything and I generally don’t recommend Grado products anyways. DT770 is a V-shaped bass-heavy sound with essy treble so in my opinion another no-go. I think you should get the 400se. Hope that helps!

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