The best audiophile headphones (part IV) | A COMPLETE BUYERS GUIDE!!

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Updated January 15th, 2019

  • Part 1: 2,108 words, approx. 5-6 min. read
  • Part 2: 5,127 words, approx. 8-9 min. read
  • Part 3: 5,901 words, approx. 8-9 min. read
  • Part 4: 7,176 words, approx. 9-10 min. read (You are here)

To send me a pair of headphones for demo, for the purpose of potentially adding it to this list: Click Here!Just use the form “all other inquiries & questions”

1/15/19 Update: Retired HIFIMAN HE500, replaced with the Ananda.

To request an update, addition, or omission, please fill out the following form:


($300-600)


First:

  1. Top-tier ($300-600)
  2. Critical listening
  3. Closed back

Audeze Sine

Specifications

  • Price: Amazon! | Check eBay!
  • Type: Closed back.
  • Fit: Supra-Aural (On-ear).
  • Impedance: 20 Ohm.
  • Frequency Response: 10 – 50kHz.
  • Sensitivity: 100dB/mW.
  • Driver size: Not specified.
  • Material: Aluminum, authentic leather.
  • Color: Black.
  • Cable replaceable/detachable: Yes.
  • Cable coiled: No.
  • Cable length: 8.2 ft.
  • Comes with straight cable: Yes.
  • Ear-pads replaceable: Yes.
  • Rotating ear-cups: Yes
  • Headband Padding: Yes.
  • Headband Style: Traditional.
  • Fold-able: 
  • Weight: 230g.
  • Accessories Included: 1/4″ adapter, large felt pouch, lightning cable.
  • Amp needed: No.

Summary

The Audeze Sine is the worlds first on-ear planar magnetic headphone, and boy howdy do they deliver. The bass digs deep and has a lot of texture, is tight and clean, but also remains lean and not too overbearing. It seriously is the perfect amount. Metal gushes quite a lot over this can, and he’s got every reason to. The mid-range is uncolored, smooth, and correct in Timbre. What is Timbre?

It’s an accurate headphone by and large, and does very well for mixing/mastering purposes. In demoing the Sine at my local Audio Advice, I found the overall sound very crisp and sparkly, with a beautifully controlled slam. It’s just a grand sound overall. Metal571 describes it as shimmery, glassy, etc. and I would have to agree with him. It left me very impressed. Try Metals EQ settings if you want to bring the treble down some. He mentions them in the video below. 🙂

These really have an exceptional transient response, and handle fast guitars extremely well. Female vocals are very present and alive as well, and I feel like the mid-range is a hare forward. It’s a near perfect balance, and I really got a sense of honesty with these guys. Separation and instrument placement were spot on as well, and I started to hear even the smallest of details. Stuff like echoes, extra voices, and seemingly insignificant sounds that really made my listening experience all the more enjoyable.

Comfort is a bit awkward, as the cans are On-ears and the cups aren’t quite large enough. You will be adjusting these quite often I’m sad to say, as they will get hot around your ears. Build is phenomenal however.

Things to be aware of

  1. I agree with Headfonics about the leather on the ear pieces. It looks a bit tacky and is prone to scuff marks, dings, scratches, etc. They would have been better off just using a matte black finish, which would have rendered these babies perfect.
  2. To me, the Soundstage was pretty darn good for a closed back. In comparing with the open backed Grado SR225e, I honestly didn’t hear that much of a significant difference between the two.
  3. The angle on the cable provides a really impressive amount of strain relief due to it’s design. More on that in the video.
  4. The treble is missing a little bit of shimmer around 4-8k, but is a bit over accentuated above 10k which both Tyll and Metal571 talk about. I agree, and upon demoing them a second time, there is definitely an ever so slight piercing in the high treble area. It’s nothing to be overly concerned with, but it is there.

Video Review

Credit to @Metal571. Check him out on twitter!

SEE THEM FOR YOURSELF ON AMAZON!!


Second:

  1. Top-tier ($300-600)
  2. Critical listening
  3. Open back

Sennheiser HD600

Note: The HD600 frequently dances around the $300 line, either a little more or a little less on any given day. I decided to put them in the $300 – 600 category because 1) I believe them to be top tier headphones, 2) because at retail they sit comfortably in this price range, and 3) These truly are Top 3 in terms of Price to performance ratio, and in my opinion one of the only headphones you need to consider at this price point and in this category. The other being the HIFIMAN HE400i.

Specifications

  • Price: Check Amazon! | check eBay! | Check zZOUNDS!
  • Type: Open back.
  • Fit: Circumaural.
  • Impedance: 300 Ohm.
  • Frequency Response: 12 – 39000 Hz.
  • Sensitivity: 97dB/mW
  • Driver size: 40mm.
  • Material: metal grilles, carbon fiber, velour ear pads, plastic.
  • Color: speckled blue finish, black
  • Cable replaceable/detachable: Yes.
  • Cable coiled: No.
  • Cable length: 10 ft.
  • Comes with straight cable: Yes.
  • Ear-pads replaceable: Yes.
  • Rotating ear-cups: No.
  • Headband Padding: Yes.
  • Headband Style: Traditional.
  • Fold-able: No.
  • Weight: 9.2 oz.
  • Accessories Included: 1/4″ adapter, fancy box. 😛
  • Amp needed: Yes.
  • Amp recommendation: Schiit Magni/Modi combo, Bottlehead Crack, or a JDS Labs Objective 2.

Summary

Ah, some of my favorite headphones. So much has been said about these babies that it’s almost like beating a dead horse. They’re simply some of the finest dynamic headphones on the planet, and have been for over 20 years (1997). Not much has changed in that time span, and it’s easy to see why they’re still highly regarded to this day. If you look around the internet, these are probably the only can that consistently receives almost perfect marks everywhere you look. If I had to recommend one single headphone for the rest of your life, it would be the HD600. It’s the one you would take on a deserted island if you could only choose one.

The build is very solid, and comfort is exemplary. I never have to adjust these or take them off when I sit down for a listening session.

Sound is pristine as well. You’re getting an articulate bass, and while it doesn’t have a ton of impact, I’m never craving more. It’s just right, digs deep, and has a lot of texture. The mid-range is this cans bread and butter, and it’s a bit forward which gives vocals and instruments that extra sizzle and presence. Many people talk about the treble being dark, but I just don’t see it. What is the Sennheiser veil?

Things to be aware of

  1. While the build is good, the headphones have been known to snap if you aren’t gentle when breaking them in and fitting them to your head. They do need some stretching, but do it wisely. I would use something like a big book.
  2. The chord is fairy cheap and flimsy. It doesn’t really bother me, but I did notice it. It honestly looks like it should be on a $20 set of headphones. It’s much too long for my tastes, but again, this is a nitpick.
  3. There is a bump in the mid-range between 3-4kHz, but to me it’s what gives them their character. I will admit that I sometimes find myself turning down the volume a tad, as it can be a little harsh at times. Still, this isn’t a headphone you want to blast, and I have a tendency to do just that because I like my music loud. Just something to keep in mind. If you need to, just EQ that area down by about 3dB. 🙂

My Video Review

Don’t forget to like, comment, and subscribe to my growing channel. Any support is much appreciated!! 🙂

SEE THEM FOR YOURSELF ON AMAZON!!

AND

CHECK OUT MY OFFICIAL SENNHEISER HD600 REVIEW!!


Third:

  1. Top-tier ($300-600)
  2. Casual listening
  3. Closed back

Oppo PM3

Specifications

  • Price: Amazon | Check eBay!
  • Type: Closed back.
  • Fit: Circumaural.
  • Impedance: 26 Ohm.
  • Frequency Response: 10 – 50kHz.
  • Sensitivity: 102dB/mW.
  • Driver size: 55mm.
  • Material: Brushed Aluminum, pleather.
  • Color: Black, silver.
  • Cable replaceable/detachable: Yes.
  • Cable coiled: No.
  • Cable length: 3m detachable cable (3.5mm with 6.35mm adapter), 1.2m detachable cable (3.5mm).
  • Comes with straight cable: Yes.
  • Ear-pads replaceable: Mod only, do so at your own risk.
  • Rotating ear-cups: Yes, for added flexibility with regards to fit. See video for more details. 🙂
  • Headband Padding: Yes.
  • Headband Style: Traditional.
  • Fold-able: No.
  • Weight: 320g (Black/White), 310g (Cherry Red/Steel Blue).
  • Accessories Included: Denim Carrying case, User manual.
  • Amp needed: No, but will benefit.
  • Amp recommendation: Oppo HA-1.

Summary

I would consider the Oppo PM3 just about the best all around headphone you can buy, and I don’t say that lightly. I believe this to be true because of two distinct types of sound coming together beautifully. It somehow achieves the perfect balance of warmth and detail, and thus far in my headphone listening journey, I haven’t been able to say that about any other model.

Most headphones either have too much bass, not enough bass, too much treble, no mid-range, etc. The PM3’s treble is never harsh or sibilant, but it’s bass is also never overblown or muddy. It’s an incredibly textured low end, with just enough added impact to remain enjoyable and exciting. I’ve heard detail in songs that I never knew existed.

There’s no “essy” quality to the sound, but they lift the veil off of the sound in a way that reveals all the little things you’ve been missing. I refer to these in my official review as the “missing puzzle pieces.” They may seem insignificant at first, but they really tie the song together. Think of the Big Lebowski: “That rug really tied the room together man.” That’s the PM3. It brings everything nicely into a cohesive whole.

As far as comfort, don’t even get me started. This is probably the most comfortable headphone I’ve personally ever worn. There’s really nothing else to say. It’s not a headphone that you will be taking off any time soon.

Build is incredible. They aren’t too light or heavy, but feel expensive in your hand. I’m digging the no plastic approach here. The fact that Oppo somehow made a Planar Magnetic headphone not weigh a million pounds is no small feat.

Things to be aware of

  1. The pads are a bit shallow, but it hasn’t bothered me yet. I’m going from my research here, and what may bother you.
  2. The pads may become warm and sweaty after prolonged wear due to the synthetic leather.
  3. The treble does roll off a bit and lacks some extension. In all honesty I don’t have any qualms about it because it’s still detailed, and I can still hear so much going on that it really doesn’t matter all that much. Put it this way, would you rather have to take the headphones off because of sibilance, or keep them on because of A) how freaking comfortable these are, and B) the relaxing, not harsh treble character.

Video Review

SEE THEM FOR YOURSELF ON AMAZON!!

AND

CHECK OUT MY OFFICIAL OPPO PM3 REVIEW!


Sennheiser Momentum 2.0

Specifications

  • Price: Amazon | Check eBay!
  • Type: Closed back.
  • Fit: Circumaural.
  • Impedance: 16 Ohm.
  • Frequency Response: 16Hz – 22kHz.
  • Sensitivity: 113dB.
  • Driver size: Not specified.
  • Material: Plastic, brushed metal, faux leather.
  • Color: Black, Brown, or Ivory.
  • Cable replaceable/detachable: Yes.
  • Cable coiled: Yes.
  • Cable length: 4.5 ft.
  • Comes with straight cable: Yes.
  • Ear-pads replaceable: Yes.
  • Rotating ear-cups: Yes, for added flexibility with regards to fit. See video for more details. 🙂
  • Headband Padding: Yes.
  • Headband Style: Traditional.
  • Fold-able: Yes.
  • Weight: 190g.
  • Accessories Included: Hard-sided travel case covered in a felt like material, headphone pouch, 4.5ft. miked headphone cable with 3-button Apple or Android controller.
  • Amp needed: No.

Summary

The Momentum 2.0’s improved upon many of the shortcomings apparent in the first generation model. The ear-cups have been improved and are now large enough to cover most sizes, the pads are softer, the headphones can now fold up for added portability, an upgraded bass response, as well as increased clarity in the mid-range and treble.

The bass on these is very clean, punchy, but not overdone. It’s definitely not an M100 type of bass, but it’s clear and textured. The mid-range and treble are most certainly the highlights of this can. There aren’t any issues with sibilance or fatigue, only a pristine clarity and sparkle which you will love. This is a prime example of a headphone that places more emphasis on the mid-range, which I have come to appreciate more and more over the years as opposed to a V-shaped sound.

Overall, the sound is phenomenally detailed, with some very good instrument separation and precision.

Things to be aware of

  1. The bass isn’t in your face, nor is this a bass-heads headphone. Just something to keep in mind.

Video Review

SEE THEM FOR YOURSELF ON AMAZON!!


Fourth:

  1. Top-tier ($300-600)
  2. Casual listening
  3. Open back

Sennheiser HD650

Specifications

  • Price: Check Amazon! | check eBay!
  • Type: Open back.
  • Fit: Circumaural.
  • Impedance: 300 Ohm.
  • Frequency Response: 12 – 39000 Hz.
  • Sensitivity: 103dB/mW.
  • Driver size: 40mm.
  • Material: Plastic, OFC copper (kevlar reinforced), velour ear pads.
  • Color: Grey and Black metal flake finish.
  • Cable replaceable/detachable: Yes.
  • Cable coiled: No.
  • Cable length: 3m.
  • Comes with straight cable: Yes.
  • Ear-pads replaceable: Yes.
  • Rotating ear-cups: No.
  • Headband Padding: Yes.
  • Headband Style: Traditional.
  • Fold-able: No.
  • Weight: 259g.
  • Accessories Included: 3.5mm adapter.
  • Amp needed: Yes.
  • Amp recommendation: Schiit Magni Modi, Bottlehead Crack.

Summary

The HD650’s are the younger brother of the 600’s, and don a more relaxed sound. They are so chill that they have actually been accused of lulling you to sleep! The bass is also a bit heavier and more extended, but by and large these are really made for rest and relaxation. While the HD600’s sport a snappier, crisper response, the 650’s are very warm and inviting, with not as clean of a bass response and a somewhat darker treble.

As for technical stuff, Sennheiser did update the cable. The HD600’s is pretty awful, as I’ve already mentioned. The 650’s is a lot thicker, and terminates differently as well. Lastly, the headband cushioning on the two is slightly different. The 600’s have 4 pads, while the 650’s have two larger ones.

Build and comfort is pretty much identical to the 600. Both have the same driver and both are open back dynamic headphones made for reference. So yes, you can mix with the 650, but it won’t be as effective as the 600.

Things to be aware of

  1. The same thing applies with the 650. Clamp force is a bit tight at first, but opens up over time.

Video Review

SEE THEM FOR YOURSELF ON AMAZON!!

AND

CHECK OUT MY OFFICIAL SENNHEISER HD650 REVIEW!!


Before I discuss the 400i, I would like to mention that after much research, I finally figured out why other people have been having issues with the poor build of the headphone when I have not had any. I frequently demo both this model and the 400S at my local Audio Advice, and both have likely been through hundreds (if not thousands) of hands and demos during their lifespan. Aside from some minor cosmetic blemishes, both cans are in perfectly great condition and have never broken.

Apparently HIFIMAN started cutting costs with a new batch of 400i’s that had modified yokes with cheaper materials. This explains a lot of the newer customers having issues with them breaking and thus leaving negative reviews on Amazon. As per my own criteria I never endorse a product with less than a 4 star rating but in this case it’s tough because the early models are perfectly fine whereas the newer ones have a clear defect and some QC issues. So I would say try and get an older model because the 400i really is one of the best mid-tier audiophile headphones.

My response below his post is basically thanking him since I hadn’t come across one person before that shed light on the matter.

So my advice is to be cautious about where you buy this one from. Not sure if there’s anyway to really know for sure if it was an old model or new, so you’re basically taking a gamble. The metal yokes he was describing are in fact used on another of my favorite headphones from them, the HIFIMAN Sundara. I will probably add that headphone to this list so stay tuned! In the meantime, check out my official HIFIMAN Sundara Review.

HIFIMAN HE400i

Specifications

  • Price: Amazon | Check eBay!
  • Type: Open back.
  • Fit: Circumaural.
  • Impedance: 35 Ohm.
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz-35kHz.
  • Sensitivity: 93dB.
  • Driver size: Not specified.
  • Material: ABS Plastic, Polymer, velour padding.
  • Color: Black, some purple.
  • Cable replaceable/detachable: Yes.
  • Cable coiled: No.
  • Cable length: 1.5m.
  • Comes with straight cable: Yes.
  • Ear-pads replaceable: Yes.
  • Rotating ear-cups: Yes.
  • Headband Padding: No.
  • Headband Style: Hammock, self-adjusting.
  • Fold-able: No.
  • Weight: 370g.
  • Accessories Included: 1/4″ adapter.
  • Amp needed: No, but will benefit.
  • Amp recommendation: Schiit Fulla, Audioquest Dragonfly, Oppo HA-2 or JDS Labs Objective 2.

Summary

This is the warmer brother of the HE400S. I think the 400S comes across as brighter and slightly more abrasive sounding than the 400i. You’re able to discern the elements of the song in an enjoyable way with both, but with the 400i it’s less in your face I guess.

The only exception is when I heard David Gilmour’s backing guitar on “Time.” You know, that jangly thing that no one ever pays attention to. The HE400i’s render it with absolute startling clarity, to the point of me getting a bit uncomfortable. I swear to you, as sure as I sit here typing that I got a strange feeling in my local Audio Advice listening to it. Perhaps it was the amazing Bryston BHA-1 headphone amp, but man I’m telling you: pristine clarity. You can feel his soul strumming that thing. It’s the best way I can describe it.

Other than that, the sound is pretty similar to an HD600, but overall they sound a bit warmer. So the 400i is cooler than the 400S, but warmer than the 600. When I talk about warm vs. cool, all I mean is a lush (warm) sound vs. a more analytical/clear (cool) one. Simply put, this is a clean, detailed, and articulate sound, with a bass that digs very deep. Being a planar magnetic bass, it will allow you to hear individual notes much better than a traditional dynamic headphone.

Build quality is definitely better than the HE400S, and comfort is about the same. They’re very comfortable, but the fit can be awkward at times. Maybe it’s because I’m used to the HD600’s extreme vice grip clamp pressure. 😛

Things to be aware of

  1. The pads will deflate over time, and you’ll need to replace them.
  2. QC issue we discussed above.

My Video Review

Please don’t forget to like, comment, and subscribe to my growing channel. Any support is much appreciated! 🙂

SEE THEM FOR YOURSELF ON AMAZON!!

AND

CHECK OUT MY OFFICIAL HIFIMAN HE400I REVIEW!!


($600 and beyond)

  • 11/22/17: Added Sony MDR Z1R to Casual listening, closed back.
  • 11/25/17: Added Grado GS1000e to Casual listening, open back.
  • 2/20/18: Added Focal Utopia to Casual listening, open back.
  • 8/31/18: Added the fantastic MrSpeakers Aeon Flow to Closed Back/Casual.
  • 1/15/19: Added the phenomenal HIFIMAN Ananda to Open Back/Casual.

First:

  1. Upper echelon ($600 and beyond)
  2. Critical listening
  3. Closed back

Note: Currently I can not make a recommendation for a headphone in this price range. I pride myself on research and experience, and if I wouldn’t purchase a headphone myself, I won’t recommend it to you. Keep checking back though, as I will be updating this article periodically as mentioned in the open. I will continue my research and headphone testing until I come to a conclusion.


Second:

  1. Upper echelon ($600 and beyond)
  2. Critical listening
  3. Open back

Beyerdynamic DT1990

Specifications

  • Price: Amazon! | Check eBay!
  • Type: Open back.
  • Fit: Circumaural.
  • Impedance: 250 Ohm.
  • Frequency Response: 5-40,000 Hz.
  • Sensitivity: 102dB/mW.
  • Driver size: 45mm.
  • Material: Leather, velour, metal.
  • Color: Black.
  • Cable replaceable/detachable: Yes, mini XLR.
  • Cable coiled: Yes.
  • Cable length: 9.8 ft. straight, 16.4 ft. coiled.
  • Comes with straight cable: Yes.
  • Ear-pads replaceable: Yes, and comes with 2 sets: Balance pads (Velour), and Analytical pads. The balance pads are stiffer and larger.
  • Rotating ear-cups: Somewhat. They have a smaller range of motion.
  • Headband Padding: Yes.
  • Headband Style: Traditional.
  • Fold-able: No.
  • Weight: .81 lbs.
  • Accessories Included: 1/4″ adapter, hard case.
  • Amp needed: Yes.
  • Amp recommendation: Darkvoice 336SE tube headphone amplifier. Tube amp vs. Solid state

Summary

The comfort is amazing, which is pretty standard when it comes to Beyerdynamic headphones.

The bass is clean and well extended, with some nice clarity and definition. The analytical pads will sound much more true to life, while the balance pads will come across similar to the DT990’s pronounced signature. The mid-range is very true to life, with accurate Timbre and a clean overall character. Treble is very good if a bit bright, which is another thing we’ve come to expect from Beyer headphones.

What you’re getting with the 1990 is the full package, and it makes an excellent upgrade from the DT880 should you purchase that first. I consider the DT880 a close second behind the HD600 in terms of overall price to performance for an open backed reference in that general price range.

So, if you like a fun sound and a critical one, you can have both with the 1990, as the 2 separate sets of pads allow you to enjoy the fun sound of the 990’s, and the more reference type with the 880’s.

Things to be aware of

  1. Because the headphones are made of high quality materials, they are heavy and might fatigue you after awhile.

SEE THEM FOR YOURSELF ON AMAZON!!


Sennheiser HD800/800S

Specifications

  • Price: Check Amazon! | Check eBay!
  • Type: Open back.
  • Fit: Circumaural.
  • Impedance: 300 Ohm.
  • Frequency Response: 6–51,000 Hz (-10 dB); 14–44,100 Hz (-3 dB).
  • Sensitivity: 102dB.
  • Driver size: 56mm.
  • Material: Alcantara, Stainless steel, Teflon, Velour.
  • Color: Black & Silver.
  • Cable replaceable/detachable: Yes.
  • Cable coiled: No.
  • Cable length: 3m.
  • Comes with straight cable: Yes.
  • Ear-pads replaceable: Yes.
  • Rotating ear-cups: No.
  • Headband Padding: Yes.
  • Headband Style: Traditional.
  • Fold-able: No.
  • Weight: 11.6 oz.
  • Accessories Included: 1/4″ adapter.
  • Amp needed: Yes.
  • Amp recommendation: Woo Audio WA2, SPL Phonitor.

Summary

This is Sennheiser’s flagship headphone, and it does not disappoint. Out of all the flagships available, I think the HD800 has got to be the most covered and reviewed. This is pretty astonishing it’s price. Normally when you get into these higher ranges, the reviews kind of diminish quite a bit. The 800 is that exception.

It’s of course got a very neutral sound signature, with emphasis on the treble and perhaps a bit too much at times. Sennheiser took those complaints about it’s unnatural character into consideration and came out with the 800S, which fixes that spike at around 6kHz.

Build quality is immaculate to say the least, and comfort is out of this world. Enough said.

The bass extends plenty deep, is very detailed, and in fact may surprise you just how much range it has. The mid-range is also phenomenal, and comes across as very natural, smooth, accurate, and relaxed. It’s very genuine and not forced.

Soundstage is right up there and probably the best all around, with laser like precision accuracy with regards to instruments.

Overall it’s the quintessential headphone, and would be perfect if not for that 6k peak.

Things to be aware of

  1. This headphone is very amp picky, so before purchase I would highly advise you to be prepared to dish out some money for the right amp. The Woo Audio WA2 is a great option. Please don’t buy this headphone if you’re not ready to also get a good amp. I can’t drive this home enough. The best headphone amp for the Sennheiser HD800.
  2. There is a spike in the treble around 6kHz. The 800S improves upon this, but you could always EQ the original down as well.

Video Review

Credit to @Metal571. Check him out on Twitter!

Metal 571’s second review

SEE THEM FOR YOURSELF ON AMAZON!!


Third:

  1. Upper echelon ($600 and beyond)
  2. Casual listening
  3. Closed back

Sony MDR Z1R

Specifications

  • Price: Amazon | Check eBay!
  • Type: Closed back.
  • Fit: Circumaural.
  • Impedance: 64 Ohm.
  • Frequency Response: 4Hz – 120kHz.
  • Sensitivity: 100dB/mW.
  • Driver size: 70mm.
  • Material: Beta Titanium Alloy.
  • Color: Black.
  • Cable replaceable/detachable: Yes, comes with 2. A 3 meter (9.8′) cable terminated with a straight 3.5mm TRS plug with 1/4″ adapter, and a 1.2 meter (3.9′) cable. Cables are comprised of silver coated oxygen free copper conductors and gold plated connectors.
  • Cable coiled: No.
  • Cable length: 9.84 ft.
  • Comes with straight cable: Yes.
  • Ear-pads replaceable: Yes.
  • Rotating ear-cups: No.
  • Headband Padding: Yes.
  • Headband Style: Traditional.
  • Fold-able: No.
  • Weight: 385g.
  • Accessories Included: Hard Case.
  • Amp needed: No.

Summary

The local Audio Advice in town has a few walls of headphones that I frequently A/B test and compile notes for in my reviews and comparisons. They have the Z1R away from the rest of the headphones on it’s own little table, minding it’s own business.

Nirvana & The Ginger

I had ignored it for awhile, because it seemed like a reject. You know, the kid in school who everyone made fun of because he was different. Perhaps he was a ginger. Perhaps his glasses resembled goggles and he was obsessed with Nirvana (I knew a kid like that).

Perhaps it’s the opposite: he’s the privileged rich kid in high school that drives a BMW. Yeah, the Z1R has it’s own headphone stand, with it’s own MP3 player, and it’s own personal special little amp. Maybe we should pamper it some more.

Seriously though, as soon as I picked the headphones up I knew I was in for a treat. They’re rugged, durable, and feel very solid in your hand. Though they are ginormous in stature, their weight is ideal. Not to heavy, not too light.

Dave Matthews

So I put ’em on and fired up “Ants Marching” by Dave Matthews. Wow. It was nostalgia city for me. I don’t remember the last time I heard the song, but it was like hearing it for the first time. This is a common theme you’ll notice with some of these high end headphones. Everything sounds foreign. It’s hard to explain, but it’s like you’re hearing the music as it was intended: no veils, no mud, no fuss, no muss.

It’s as if the sound was overtaking me, but in the best way possible. I don’t think I’ve ever heard such an open sound in a closed back model. This makes the Z1R incredibly versatile. You can theoretically take it with you instead of keeping it cooped up in the studio.

To sum it up, it’s a mellow sound with a lot of air, body, instrument separation, and clarity. It’s a big sound, but never intrusive. It excites you, but doesn’t overwhelm you. You start to actually understand vocals rather than just hear them.

Things to be aware of

  1. They are going for a pretty penny. Are they worth the price tag? At $1,700, yes. At retail it becomes a bit harder to justify, but everything in me wants to say yes. 🙂

Video Review

SEE THEM FOR YOURSELF ON AMAZON!!


MrSpeakers Aeon Flow

Specifications

  • Price: Check Amazon! | Check eBay!
  • Type: Closed back.
  • Fit: Circumaural.
  • Impedance: 13 Ohm.
  • Frequency Response: Not specified.
  • Sensitivity: 92dB/mW.
  • Driver size: Not specified.
  • Material: Protein leather, carbon fiber, leather, NiTinol, cast aluminum.
  • Color: Black & Blue.
  • Cable replaceable/detachable: Detachable, yes. Replaceable? Not sure.
  • Cable coiled: No.
  • Cable length: 2m.
  • Comes with straight cable: Yes.
  • Ear-pads replaceable: Not specified.
  • Rotating ear-cups: No.
  • Headband Padding: No.
  • Headband Style: Hammock, easy adjust.
  • Fold-able: No.
  • Weight: 12 oz.
  • Accessories Included: carrying case, foam-pad filters, detachable fabric-covered headphone cable with “Hirose-style” connectors at headphone end and ¼” and 3.5mm dual-tip plug at other end.
  • Amp needed: Yes.
  • Amp Recommendations: Oppo HA2, Audioquest Dragonfly Red, FiiO E10K, JDS Labs Objective 2, Audioengine D1.

Summary

The sound of the Aeon Flow really reminds me of the wonderful open back Audeze LCD-X. It’s just buttery smooth and balanced across the spectrum, with a fantastic bass and darker sounding treble. Totally non fatiguing and wonderful.

The bass is neither rolled off or too heavy. There’s a perfect amount, and it’s immensely detailed and also enjoyable. This could be your end game closed back headphone, and in fact just may be the best closed back I’ve ever heard.

Things to be aware of

  1. The only small minor gripe I have with these is that the treble can come across as slightly metallic. It’s such a nit pick though. Learn more about these in my review!

My Video Review

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SEE IT FOR YOURSELF ON AMAZON!!

AND

CHECK OUT MY OFFICIAL MRSPEAKERS AEON FLOW REVIEW!!


Audioquest NightOwl Carbon

Specifications

  • Price: Amazon | Check eBay!
  • Type: Closed back.
  • Fit: Circumaural.
  • Impedance: 25 Ohm.
  • Frequency Response: Not specified.
  • Sensitivity: 99dB/mW.
  • Driver size: 50mm.
  • Material: Liquid wood, nylon fiber, protein leather, suede.
  • Color: Black.
  • Cable replaceable/detachable: Yes.
  • Cable coiled: No.
  • Cable length: 1.3m.
  • Comes with straight cable: Yes.
  • Ear-pads replaceable: Yes.
  • Rotating ear-cups: No.
  • Headband Padding: No.
  • Headband Style: Hammock, self-adjusting.
  • Fold-able: No.
  • Weight: 12.2 oz.
  • Accessories Included: Soft leather case, Micro-fiber headphone carrying pouch, 3.5mm to 6.3mm adapter, 3.5mm cable, Extra earpads, Earpad micro-fiber carrying pouch.
  • Amp needed: No.

Summary

This headphone is about as buttery smooth as it gets. It’s warm, inviting, lush, detailed, and the bass really digs down deep. I got an overwhelming sense of tingle when I put them on. I could imagine this is what it feels like when someone shoots heroin for the first time. Okay maybe it’s not that good, but you’re really going to love them. I would classify the sound as a touch above neutral, just enough to get you excited and not balanced enough to leave you bored.

Comfort and build are both magnificent, and while the headphones themselves feel and look a bit bulky, they rest on your head quite comfortably.

I also got a chance to try the Audioquest NightHawk, and while I felt there was something odd going on in the mid-bass, I don’t get that here. The Hawk’s bass felt kind of jabby and needly, almost as if it was too punchy. With the Owl it feels more natural, while still retaining that awesome detail and clarity.

What I loved most was the treble. Not sibilant, not spikey, just right baby. There’s a very natural character about the Owl that I really appreciated.

Things to be aware of

  1. These can get a bit essy at times, but it’s nothing too crazy.

 Video Review

SEE THEM FOR YOURSELF ON AMAZON!!

AND

CHECK OUT MY OFFICIAL AUDIOQUEST NIGHTOWL CARBON REVIEW!!


Fourth:

  1. Upper echelon ($600 and beyond)
  2. Casual listening
  3. Open back

Audeze EL8

Specifications

  • Price: Amazon | Check eBay!
  • Type: Open back.
  • Fit: Circumaural.
  • Impedance: 30 Ohms.
  • Frequency Response: 10Hz – 50kHz.
  • Sensitivity: 102dB/mW.
  • Driver size: 100mm.
  • Material: Die cast metal, protein leather, wood accents.
  • Color: Black, Brown.
  • Cable replaceable/detachable: Yes.
  • Cable coiled: No.
  • Cable length: 6 ft, and flat.
  • Comes with straight cable: Yes.
  • Ear-pads replaceable: Yes.
  • Rotating ear-cups: Yes, inward allowing you to lay them flat on your desk.
  • Headband Padding: Yes.
  • Headband Style: Traditional.
  • Fold-able: No.
  • Weight: 16.2 oz.
  • Accessories Included: 1/4″ adapter.
  • Amp needed: No, but will benefit.
  • Amp recommendation: Oppo HA-1, Emotiva Little Ego DAC, Audeze Deckard.

Summary

This is a very honest set of cans, but at the same time they sound very relaxed and pleasant. One big thing I noticed is that you can really tell a bad recording from a mediocre one to a good one. You’ll start to hear exactly how a song was mastered, and it’s very revealing.

I would characterize the sound and detail as a light drizzle of raindrops. They may seem insignificant at first, but you still feel them. It’s the same with the EL8. Those small details become very apparent once you spend some time with the headphones and get to know their personality.

Overall these headphones are about definition and accuracy as opposed to impact. Lyrics are also easier to understand. Instead of sounding muffled and distant, you’re able to follow the words better. There’s a nice sense of clarity and space going on.

Things to be aware of

  1. These can sound a little boxed in at times, even a bit distant. I didn’t find it to be a huge deal, but it is something that I noticed.
  2. From song to song, I noticed that certain mixes sounded much better than others. I believe this to be the honesty of the cans. I would try to focus on listening to the best sources possible; stuff like FLAC, WAV, and generally anything 320kbps and up. With both Deezer and Spotify these sounded great, but you could definitely discern the bad tracks from the good ones.

Video Review

SEE THEM FOR YOURSELF ON AMAZON!!

AND

CHECK OUT MY OFFICIAL AUDEZE EL8 REVIEW!!


HIFIMAN Ananda

Specifications

  • Price: Amazon | Check eBay!
  • Type: Open back, Planar Magnetic. What is a Planar Magnetic Driver?
  • Fit: Circumaural.
  • Impedance: 25 Ohm.
  • Frequency Response: 8 Hz – 55kHz.
  • Sensitivity: 103dB/mW.
  • Driver size: Not Specified.
  • Material: Fabric, Foam, Leatherette, Metal.
  • Color: Black/Silver.
  • Cable replaceable/detachable: Yes. 3.5mm.
  • Cable coiled: No.
  • Cable length: 4.92 ft. (1.5m)
  • Comes with straight cable: Yes.
  • Ear-pads replaceable: Not Specified.
  • Rotating ear-cups: No.
  • Headband Padding: Minimal.
  • Headband Style: Traditional.
  • Fold-able: No.
  • Weight: 14.07 Oz. (399g)
  • Accessories Included: 1/4″ Adapter.
  • Amp needed: No, but will help the sound open up.
  • Amp recommendation: JDS Labs Element, Audioquest Dragonfly

Summary

The Ananda represents the $1000 range absolutely perfectly.

This is a headphone with an incredible amount of air, spacing, Soundstage, and near perfect dynamics and resolution.

You’ll start to hear even the most intricate of detail, and in all honesty it reminds me a lot of a Focal Utopia.

If you don’t have the cash, or don’t want to spend $3-4k on that headphone (and I don’t blame you although the Utopia is the best I’ve heard), the Ananda is just about the next best thing with regard to this general type of sound signature.

Think of the Utopia and Ananda being somewhat similar with regard to crispness and freshness, while something like the LCD line from Audeze is a bit darker in the treble, but still incredible as well.

The Ananda is an absolutely beautiful headphone worth every penny in my estimation due to it’s rugged build, fantastic comfort level (for the most part), and phenomenal sound.

If you have a grand to spend and want an open back Planar, this is the headphone to consider first.

Things to be aware of

  1. I did have an issue with the sound cutting out due to a faulty cable, but I was told by a guy at Audio Advice that the demo unit was the only one with issues. I brought the problem to their attention and they are repairing it. He said that they’ve sold a bunch of Ananda’s online and had no QC issues.

My First Impressions Video

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CHECK OUT MY OFFICIAL HIFIMAN ANANDA REVIEW!!


Grado GS1000e

Specifications

  • Price: Amazon | Check eBay!
  • Type: Open back.
  • Fit: Circumaural.
  • Impedance: 32 Ohm.
  • Frequency Response:  8Hz – 35kHz.
  • Sensitivity: 99.8 dB/mW.
  • Driver size: 50mm.
  • Material: Leather, Mahogany, Foam.
  • Color: Black, Brown.
  • Cable replaceable/detachable: No.
  • Cable coiled: No.
  • Cable length: 2m.
  • Comes with straight cable: Yes.
  • Ear-pads replaceable: Yes.
  • Rotating ear-cups: Yes.
  • Headband Padding: Minimal.
  • Headband Style: Odd.
  • Fold-able: No.
  • Weight: 312g.
  • Accessories Included: 3.5mm adapter.
  • Amp needed: No, but will benefit.
  • Amp recommendation: Really any amp will do. Try the Oppo HA-2.

Summary

The Grado GS1000e is a special animal indeed. Out of all the Grado models that I’ve tried, I think they really got it right with this one.

Comfort is good, but awkward at first. They don’t sit on your head in the way that you might expect. If a headphone ever felt like air, this is it. “You’re going to wear these for the rest of your natural born life if you don’t watch your step!”

Aside from that, build is pretty standard of a Grado. It’s not really good or bad. It sits somewhere in the middle. This is actually my main gripe, as the build quality doesn’t change at all regardless of price. This should definitely be remedied but isn’t for whatever reason.

I will say that the hand crafted mahogany is a thing of beauty, but the rest of the headphone could feel a bit more durable.

Soundwise these are a dream. They really open things up considerably, and you’re going to be swooning over all of the fine details. This is a detailed headphone on steroids really.

Bass is fine for me, but just be aware that this is nowhere close to a bass-heads headphone. The bass is articulate, textured, and easily understood. You can actually hear every note being played, which adds to the realism.

This is simply one of the most artistic and true to life headphones I’ve ever heard. Everything is so immediate and accessible. The better the source file, the better they’re going to sound. Old songs revealed so many new extra layers, that I found myself overwhelmed. It’s an extremely satisfying listening experience. It’s like each sound is given context, and you start to understand why and how it fits into the overall big picture.

Things to be aware of

  1. You’re gonna look like ET with these on. 😛
  2. They terminate in a 1/4″ jack. Grado wants you to use an amp or something similar, but they will sound great out of your phone just the same.

My Video Review!

Please don’t forget to like, comment, and subscribe to my growing channel. I would really appreciate any support!! 🙂

SEE THEM FOR YOURSELF ON AMAZON!!


Audeze LCD-3

Specifications

  • Price: Amazon | Check eBay!
  • Type: Open back.
  • Fit: Circumaural.
  • Impedance: 45 Ohm.
  • Frequency Response:  5Hz – 20kHz.
  • Sensitivity: 91dB/mW.
  • Driver size: Not specified.
  • Material: Wood, lambskin.
  • Color: Black, Brown.
  • Cable replaceable/detachable: Yes.
  • Cable coiled: No.
  • Cable length: 8 ft. (both)
  • Comes with straight cable: Yes, 4 pin mini XLR.
  • Ear-pads replaceable: Yes.
  • Rotating ear-cups: No.
  • Headband Padding: Yes.
  • Headband Style: Traditional. They kind of resemble the Grado style.
  • Fold-able: No.
  • Weight: 19.2 oz.
  • Accessories Included: 1/4″ adapter, waterproof road case.
  • Amp needed: Yes.
  • Amp recommendation: Benchmark DAC1 HDR, Woo Audio WA7, Woo Audio WA6 SE, Bryston BHA-1, NAIM DAC V-1.

Summary

Listening to the LCD-3’s is like putting a magnifying glass up to a fire ant, or a microscope to literally anything that has dimension. 😛 Everything becomes so crystal clear that it kind of makes you feel really weird. It’s hard to explain, but imagine music in it’s most raw state. That’s what I mean. Guitars sound crunchy to the point of you being able to see through the artists soul.

I listened to Yes’ Starship Trooper and I was completely blown away. It’s not so much that the music was orgasmic, but more just so incredibly revealing. You can hear exactly, and I mean exactly what an electric guitar sounds like at it’s absolute core. I never knew a guitar could sound like that. This is actually a running theme with all Audeze headphones from the LCD line, so really it’s pick your poison.

I also heard an extra bonus guitar that I had never heard before, and keep in mind I’ve heard Starship Trooper about a thousand times.

There’s a great sense of instrument separation and air, and the Soundstage really breathes. Think of how music normally sounds through headphones; it’s kind of tight and bunched up. A headphone like the HD600 spreads it out a little, and a headphone like the LCD-3 spreads it out even further, but not too far where it sounds unnatural. It’s like you can block out parts of the song, and simply focus on one thing at a time. That’s how present the music is.

Small, insignificant stuff becomes more apparent, which has been a running them in this article. The personality of the voice also comes through so well, that you get a sense of that persons true character almost. You can feel their emotions better, and may identify with them on a deeper level.

Things to be aware of

  1. These babies are heavy as crap. It’s like a bowling ball for your melon. Just kidding, but they are heavy. Hit the gym and do some heavy Rack Pulls before you buy a set of these puppies! You’re gonna need that neck and trapezius strength!

Video Review

SEE THEM FOR YOURSELF ON AMAZON!!


Focal Utopia

Ratings/Price

Check Amazon! | Check eBay!

Specifications

  • Type: Open back, dynamic.
  • Fit: Circumaural.
  • Impedance: 80 Ohm.
  • Frequency Response:  5Hz – 50kHz.
  • Sensitivity: 104dB/mW.
  • Driver size: 40mm.
  • Material: Lambskin leather, Memory foam, Carbon fiber, Beryllium, black anodized aluminum, Black metal mesh, brushed aluminum.
  • Color: Black, Silver.
  • Cable replaceable/detachable: Yes.
  • Cable coiled: No.
  • Cable length: 13.1 ft.
  • Comes with straight cable: Yes, 2 pin lockable ®Lemo.
  • Ear-pads replaceable: Yes.
  • Rotating ear-cups: No.
  • Headband Padding: Yes.
  • Headband Style: Traditional.
  • Fold-able: No.
  • Weight: 1.08 lb.
  • Accessories Included: 1/4″ adapter, Huge box, various small booklets/documentation.
  • Amp needed: Yes.
  • Amp recommendation: Naim DAC V-1, Bryston BHA-1. If you’re on a budget, the Magni will suffice.

Summary

These are some of the most transparent headphones on the planet, but they also happen to be extremely pleasurable and fun to listen to. I would say they work well as both a casual and critical headphone, but more so casual because they are a bit more laid back in the treble regions.

The main takeaway with the Focal Utopia is complete transparency. Be prepared to hear everything. I talk much more about these in my official review. Link below!

Things to be aware of

  1. The cable is extremely thick and cumbersome. Plan to use these in studio only.
  2. Despite their low impedance and high sensitivity, a good amp should be paired with these. An amp/DAC combo really won’t suffice because of how bulky the cable is. It’s not really ideal for that kind of a set up.

My Video Review

Please don’t forget to like, comment, and subscribe to my growing channel. I would really appreciate any support! 🙂

LEARN ALL ABOUT THEM IN MY OFFICIAL FOCAL UTOPIA REVIEW!!


Final Word

This should give you a great idea of what exactly you’re looking for. All of these headphones have been reviewed very favorably, and my experience with them has been extremely positive.

After reading this, I’m sure you also got a sense and understanding that truly no headphone is perfect. Even the best headphones have flaws, and like I said in the beginning, it’s a trade-off and something you’ll have to live with in any purchase that you make.


Wow! That’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this article on the best audiophile headphones, and came away with some newfound knowledge.

Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you spot something that’s not accurate. This was a fun article to write, but got pretty grueling towards the end. I’m bound to have made a mistake or two with specifications especially. Though the majority of them online are correct, no one’s perfect and I myself have spotted inaccurate numbers in my own research. So please leave a comment or Contact me if I need to fix anything. 🙂

That said, which one of these tickles YOUR pickle? I would love to hear from you. Until next time..

All the best and God bless,

 

 

-Stu

[Xtr@Ba$eHitZ]

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


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