Before we get into the best audiophile headphones under $200, grab a snack, sit back and relax because..
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What I will bring you in this article
Link to The Best Audiophile Headphones
Link to The Budget Kings
Finding the best audiophile headphones under $200 should not be an exercise in futility, nor should it be confusing in the slightest.
My goal for myself, as well as you is to narrow things down to a manageable size with the intention of weeding out the bad apples and focusing primarily on high quality headphones. Learn more about my process here!
That said, let’s outline the options you should be considering first, before getting into specifics!
Sub $100 Range
Best Closed Backs
Sony MDR V6/7506. This is just about the perfect headphone, and has been around in some form or fashion since the 80’s. Newer models aren’t made in Japan anymore, but the sound quality is still fantastic. This closed back wonder should have a place in every engineer’s cabinet. Learn more:Sony MDR V6 Review! The 7506 is similar but has a bit more bass. Check out the differences here:Sony MDR V6 vs. 7506.
Audio Technica ATH M40x. I absolutely love this headphone for general listening, as it works well with pretty much any genre and strikes a phenomenal balance between reference quality and fun. Bass is exciting but rarely gets out of line, mid-range is very clear and detailed (if a tad recessed), and treble is very good despite it’s tendency to sound a bit scratchy/metallic at times. Learn more:Audio Technica ATH M40x Review!
Status Audio CB1. If you’re looking for a headphone with incredible Soundstage for a closed back, look no further. The CB1 is far from a perfect headphone, but they without a doubt got the Soundstage right on these. Incredible. Learn more:Status Audio CB1 Review!
Shure SRH440. This is another great option for mixing/reference, and it makes the list because it’s fairly balanced, with a great mid-range, articulate bass, and somewhat bright treble. The only issue I had with it is that the treble can sometimes be smidgen harsh. It’s very minor though. Learn more: Shure SRH440 Review!
Sennheiser HD280 Pro. This was a great headphone for me during the time I had it. I would consider it for mixing/reference though above pure listening enjoyment. It tends to be on the flatter side, and has a fantastic build and pretty good comfort. It seals extraordinarily well and blocks out a significant amount of sound. Learn more:Sennheiser HD280 Pro Review!
Best Open Backs
Philips SHP9500. This bad boy is my overall top recommendation, and should satisfy 99% of your desires without question. Potential flaws include a rolled off bass and somewhat metallic/raspy sounding treble (at times). I’ve gone into this in much depth with regard to the much discussed/debated Sennheiser HD600 comparison. Learn more:Sennheiser HD600 vs. Philips SHP9500. Link to my official Philips SHP9500 Review!
Grado SR80e. Perhaps my favorite behind the 9500, the 80e’s will likely blow you away upon first listen. They have an airy, open sound signature with a really impressive amount of bass thump for an open back. Build is a bit of a mixed bag. I’ve heard of people owning these for upwards of 23 years. Others have a hard time with their somewhat flimsy build. Learn more: Grado SR80e Review!
Sennheiser HD558. An insanely comfortable headphone with a polite character and a propensity to reveal much detail without coming across harsh in the least. I prefer it with the rubber strip/foam pieces out, but your mileage may vary. Learn more about all of this: Sennheiser HD558 Review!
Samson SR850. A fantastic feather weight headphone with a crisp, articulate sound. Great for Gaming, reference, and general music listening enjoyment. The SR850 is similar to an AKG K240 and SuperluxHD668B. Learn more about the 850:Samson SR850 Review!
Koss Porta Pro. If you only have a few bones to spend, the Porta Pro is an easy choice. These guys, like the V6, have been around for ages and continue to remain a staple in any serious audiophile nerd’s collection.
$100 – $200 Range
Best Closed Backs
AKG K550/553. This is my default recommendation in this price range, as it does nearly everything right and has an amazing Soundstage for a closed back. What is Soundstage? The overall sound is crisp, open, honest, and revealing. Learn more:AKG K550 Review!Note: The updatedK553 is said to be a very good upgrade. I’ve had the chance to listen and I would agree.
Sennheiser HD25. I don’t care what anyone says, the HD25 is one of the best headphones money can buy. I’ve talked about why ad nausea. The sound is immaculately clean, accurate, intense, enjoyable, and lively. It’s just incredible how well these do for Metal, Rock, and generally anything crunchy and fast. They handle all genres with ease. Learn more about them:Sennheiser HD25 Review!
Sennheiser HD380. If you’re looking for a step up from the 280, look no further than the HD380. Here’s my comparison article:Sennheiser HD280 vs. HD380.
Beyerdynamic DT770. A phenomenally open, airy sounding headphone with excellent comfort and a fantastic bass response. It’s a V-shaped sound, but to me doesn’t really get out of line or come across as harsh/sibilant. A fantastic bass head option!
Best Open Backs
Beyerdynamic DT880. This takes top honors here, as it’s the second go to behind the HD600 if you’re a bit strapped for cash. The sound is very clinical and clear, and comfort is exemplary. Learn more about the big 3 in my article on the Best Studio Headphones for Mixing!
Beyerdynamic DT990. A great open back bass head sound with a crystal clear sound signature. The only caveat is the bright treble which has given people problems although I didn’t find them to be problematic. Learn more:Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro vs. Premium.
HIFIMAN HE400S. You’d be hard pressed to find a more “pro” headphone than the 400S at this price range. I’ve compared the trio of the 400I, 400S, and Sundara, and came to the conclusion that although I like the Sundara best, the 400S is still a great option and makes a fantastic entry into the planar magnetic scene as well as a good first foray into higher end audio. Learn more:HIFIMAN HE400S Review!Comparison:HIFIMAN HE400I vs. 400S!
More detailed analyses
The Best Audiophile Headphones
If you would like a more detailed rundown of The Best, I go into much more depth here:
Stu is determined to provide the truth about all things audio, and strives to deliver excellent content to you the reader! In his spare time, he likes to fish, paint, play guitar, attend church, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His attention to detail and perfectionist attitude are what allow him to excel, but it can be both a blessing and a hindrance at times.