Home Genre Series The 10 Best Headphones for Classical Music [In Depth Guide]

The 10 Best Headphones for Classical Music [In Depth Guide]

by Stuart Charles Black
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Hi friend and Welcome!

This is part 2 in a 7-part series on Genre, which takes a nostalgic look at some of my personal experiences with various types of music, games, and pop culture over the years. Check out the others if you would like! Suggestions for how to improve? Contact me or leave a comment below!

  1. The Best Headphones for Jazz
  2. The Best Headphones for Classical (This article)
  3. The Best Headphones for Rock
  4. The Best Headphones for Metal
  5. The Best Headphones for Pop
  6. The Best Headphones for Hip-Hop
  7. The Best Headphones For Folk

The best headphones for Classical?

Good question!

There are a few things to take into consideration before diving in headfirst.

Before we get into things, grab a snack, sit back, and relax because…

I’m Here to Help!!

Now without further ado, let’s get rolling!

Considerations

There are a few things that need to be addressed in determining “the best.”

#5

Portable vs. Studio

Do you want to be able to plug and play into a portable device, or use your headphones in a home studio environment?

The headphones in this article have some of both.

You aren’t really going to want to wear open-back headphones in public, as they leak sound and disturb others.

#4

Budget

What are you looking to spend?

We’ll go over my best options in the entry-level, mid-fi, and hi-fi categories today while keeping it really simple and straightforward.

#3

Soundstage

This is pretty high on the list because Classical music typically sounds best when the composition plays as if it’s in a wide open space rather than a smaller area.

You could claim this is true for all genres of music, but I really feel as though with Classical it’s super important.

Why?

Well, think of where it’s generally played.

The orchestra is almost always in a gigantic open room rather than a small venue or a studio.

Thus,

headphones that have great Soundstage capabilities are always going to do the best job of mimicking these effects; at least as best as can be expected given they are in fact headphones and not speakers.

#2

Comfort

Generally speaking, many classical compositions are pretty lengthy.

You will want to make sure your new buddy can be worn for long periods of time without discomfort.

#1

Volatility

This is hugely important and perhaps the #1 consideration to make.

I’ve listened to thousands of hours of Classical on audiophile-type headphones and can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that because it goes from super quiet to really loud in a hurry, you’ll want a headphone that doesn’t overemphasize the mid-range and treble.

Why?

Well, because when a composition heats up, you’ll absolutely be tempted to remove these types of headphones that aren’t tuned properly.

You’ll also be fiddling with the volume knob more often than not, and we want to avoid that at all costs.

This has happened to me countless times, but fortunately for you, the options mentioned today mostly circumvent those issues (no headphones are perfect).

While I would consider Jazz a fairly delicate genre to recommend a headphone for, Classical is even more so.

Its sounds are extremely subtle, and any headphones with too much emphasis on a particular frequency kind of ruin the experience (at least for me it has).

I find myself turning my nose up at headphones I otherwise enjoy with other genres! Very tricky indeed.

That said,

I can forgive a little brightness here and there, as well as some mid-range shout.

As long as I’m still enjoying the headphones overall, I can’t complain too much.

With that in mind, here’s what I came up with:

Entry-Level

#3

Philips SHP9500

Price: Check Amazon! | Check B&H! | Official Review: Here!

Philips SHP9500 vs. 9600This is currently my favorite budget open back, and it’s shocking how good they are.

For Classical, it adds a bit of zest but not to worry; the overall sound is pretty balanced for the most part.

It’s got a fantastic mid-range and overall stunning clarity.

The Soundstage is above average here as well with out-of-your-head moments aplenty and a nice wide-open soundscape.

Do be aware that they have a tendency to become a bit bright at times. Just know that this is a minor caveat, and for the price, it is forgivable.

#2

AKG K240

Price: Check Amazon! | Check Sweetwater! | Check B&H! | Official Review: Here!

AKG K240 Review

Everything about the headphones represents pure transparency with a wonderfully open and detailed sound signature.

The K240 is a headphone that makes most “best-of” lists, and for good reason:

It’s simply one of the most revealing headsets I’ve ever listened to and still remains relevant decades after its initial release.

The rolled-off bass may not be perfectly ideal in every single instance, but the rest of the sound more than makes up for it.

In short,

the resolution here is simply phenomenal and there aren’t too many headphones in the lower-tiered category that outmatch.

#1

Philips SHP9600

Price: Check Amazon! | Check B&H! | Official Review: Here!

Philips SHP9500 vs. 9600

It seems strange to say this, but the 9600 could be the best headphone on this list for Classical, at least in the budget category.

Truth be told, I don’t particularly like or recommend these headphones.

In fact, I actually sold them some months back.

You may be wondering, “Well then why the heck are they on this list?!”

Bear with me.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think they sound terrible or anything, but I found myself not using them at all and they ended up collecting dust in my studio so it made sense to let someone else have a go.

That said, their sound signature is a near-perfect match for Classical.

Why do you ask?

Some years ago I read somewhere that Classical music actually needs more bass emphasis and it wasn’t until I tried these that I understood why.

It really helps to mitigate the pitfalls of the genre – namely the volatile nature of the instruments and how everything can go from quiet as a mouse to Oh-My-God-a-symphony-is-playing-in-my-room-and-I’m-gonna-die.

In addition to that,

the somewhat pushed-back mids actually help its case even further, as said symphony from above’s instruments doesn’t feel like someone’s vigorously rubbing sandpaper in your ears.

Finally,

the treble on the 9600 is subdued (for the most part), so you’re not getting that sizzle/bite as you would with other headphones.

This really could be a match made in heaven.

How about a step up?


Mid-Tier

#4

Sennheiser HD6XX

Price: Check Amazon! | Check Drop! | Official Review: Here!

Sennheiser HD6XX Review

The 6XX finds that perfect balance between the too-forward mid-range on the 600, and the sometimes too-relaxed sounding HD650.

This has been the subject of much debate, but I’m sticking to my guns until I give all 3 another listen.

Do keep in mind Soundstage though.

It’s not going to be particularly wide with either, as they both have a more narrow image, and thus why this is a bit further down the list for mid-fi.

Still,

the instrument separation is great, and they hit on all other marks: The bass thumps without sounding muddy or overbearing, the mid-range has zest and detail without getting out of line, and the treble is nice and relaxed.

The 6XX would be great for long listening sessions as its sound signature is never really going to get out of line despite the volatile nature of Classical music.

#3

HIFIMAN HE400se

Price: Check Amazon! | Check Apos Audio! | Official Review: Here!

HIFIMAN HE400se Review

The 400se is one of the best all-around headphones in the mid-fi category, and like the 702, has an almost ruler flat sound signature with a bit of extra zest in the treble.

The catch is that HIFIMAN didn’t overdo it this time.

Past models saw a hissy, sometimes overly bright top end that became annoying after a while and/or needed EQ.

The 400se finally fixes that and while bright-ish, it falls more in line with bright neutral and still sounds wonderful – i.e. there’s still sparkle but it never feels over the top.

It can’t take top honors because the Soundstage isn’t quite on the level of a K702 or 560S, but this is still absolutely a headphone you should consider for the genre.

#2

AKG K702

Price: Check Amazon! | Check Sweetwater! | Check B&H! | Check eBay! | Official Review: Here!

AKG K702 vs. Sennheiser HD600

This headphone does wonderful with Classical.

It’s got a flat signature, an almost perfectly flat bass response (read: it’s a tad rolled off but nothing crazy), an almost perfect mid-range, an amazing Soundstage, and just enough brightness in the treble to remain lively without getting too essy.

The K702 has long since been a mainstay in my own home and I nearly always reach for it when I want a grand Soundstage, exemplary resolution and detail, as well as superb instrument separation and clarity.

In short,

these are some of the best headphones money can buy in mid-fi and I’ve had a pair since 2019.

The only reason they can’t take the top spot is because of the mid-range bump at roughly 2kHz.

In the majority of cases, it’s going to be completely fine and help with instrument presence, but the volatility issue we mentioned at the start may creep up from time to time.

Even still,

this is a fantastic option and one you should consider highly.

#1

Sennheiser HD560S

Price: Check Amazon! | Check B&H! | Official Review: Here!

Sennheiser HD560S Review

I may enjoy the K702 a bit more than these for a wider variety of genres, but darn if the 560S isn’t absolutely perfect for this genre.

Perhaps one of the most comfortable you’ll ever wear, it’s light and perfect for long Classical listening sessions.

The sound you ask?

Mellower than Cheech and Chong, homie!

This is a very crisp, open, and detailed affair with great Soundstage and phenomenal detail retrieval.

Why is it great for Classical?

Because it’s meant to be listened to at quieter volumes and provides loads of subtle detail, but can still be listened to loud without suffering from the volatility issues we mentioned earlier.

No worries though, I don’t expect you to be blasting Mozart at ear-piercing levels.

In addition to that,

its sound signature is perfect for the genre: there’s an outstanding bass shelf from 20Hz to about 100-200, the mid-range is perfect, and the treble has sparkle without becoming sibilant or essy.

The same thing we discussed with regard to the 9600 and that overall reasoning/research applies here as well.

In other words,

I had read long ago that a bit more bass emphasis for Classical really helps and the 560S absolutely nails it.

It’s as if the folks at Sennheiser sat around the table and said,

“You know what, I think we should make a perfect classical headphone for those turtle-neck-wearing homies who like really expensive coffee.”

And that they did, my friends.

It wasn’t until I actually experienced it for myself did it make complete sense – turtle neck and all.

A lot of people will tell you the bass response has to be lean, but a bit of extra low end actually gives the compositions some meat and makes them sound fuller and more complete.


Hi-Fi

#3

HIFIMAN Ananda

Price: Check Apos Audio! | Check Amazon! | Official Review: Here!

The Ananda picks up where the 400se left off and provides an even more open, crisp sound with plenty of fantastic instrument separation and excellent bass response.

The Soundstage here is also above average and better than a 400se, and the open soundscape really helps to ensure that Classical music sounds like it’s being played in a space rather than through drivers – something we touched on in the beginning. 

If you’re looking for a true step-up from mid-fi but don’t want to mortgage away your kidney in the process, the Ananda is a perfect solution and also happens to sound great with Classical music.

Note: you may opt for the more affordable Edition XS; a fantastic value and likely better than the Ananda for Classical because the treble is a tad more subdued.

#2

Sony MDR-Z1R

Price: Check Amazon! | Check B&H! | Official Review: Here!

This is an absolutely stunning headphone, in both price, weight, and pure musical bliss.

Size-wise, you may think that these weigh a lot, but they are relatively light and feel supremely comfortable on your melon.

The sound is similar to a K550/553, in that, it feels more like an open back rather than a closed one.

The overall signature is splendid and incredibly natural to the point where absolutely nothing is forced, but they still somehow sound immensely grand and spacious – almost as if you’re listening to music in a concert hall.

*wink wink*, that’s what we’re going for, right?

It’s hard to explain, but these are perfect for Classical because of their calm demeanor yet grand expansiveness.

They’re like a warm breeze on a Summer Day in Greece.

The sound signature loosely follows the Harman target which could explain exactly why they work so well.

That is to say that there’s an excellent bass emphasis, the mid-range is almost perfectly done, and the treble never gets out of line.

If the 560S was for turtle-neck-wearing homies drinking overpriced coffee, the Z1R is that + it adds glasses and a mustache.

REAL TALK!

#1

Focal Utopia

Price: Check Amazon! Check Sweetwater! | Check B&H! | Official Review: Here!

Focal Utopia Review

Is this the best headphone money can buy?

In terms of the headphones I’ve heard, I’d have to say yes.

Everything about it is perfect, hence its name.

Not only is it tuned better than 99% of headphones, but everything comes across with startling clarity and it provides the most detail I’ve heard in a headphone to date.

In addition to working well with any genre,

the Utopia has unmatched realism and instrument timbre that must be heard to believe.

Every time I go back to this one thinking it’s not going to sound as good as I initially thought, it ends up sounding better.

Yup, that’s right you heard me correctly!

That said, what’s my top overall recommendation?

Final Word

My goal for this was to keep it simple and concise, making sure all headphones I’ve included are ones that I personally feel are best for the genre via over 130+ demoed and thousands of hours listened to.

In truth,

you really can’t go wrong with any of these, but if I had to choose one headphone on this list that won’t break the bank and sounds the most balanced, I’d probably go with the HD560S.

It combines all the qualities we need:

  • It has a perfectly tuned sound signature and just the right amount of bass shelf for that extra meat we discussed earlier.
  • It’s got a near-perfect mid-range, with just the right amount of clarity and emphasis around the presence region.
  • It’s got a crisp, bright-neutral treble that never gets out of line or sounds Sibilant. What does Sibilant mean?
  • It’s got a nice wide Soundstage (but not too wide), with plenty of depth and spacing so as not to sound muddy, claustrophobic, or boxed in.
  • It’s supremely comfortable and will stay on your head for a long time without discomfort. The headphone is light and won’t dig into the top of your skull, and quite easily makes my most comfortable headphones of all time article.

There’s simply nothing more we could ask for in perfect Classical headphones.

Learn More:

 

My Experiences with Classical Music

Ah, Classical music.

Some say it’s only for snobs.

I would tend to disagree.

If you listen to Classical there’s a chance you’re a bit of a unique specimen. Perhaps a bit introspective, very intelligent, logical, etc.

Maybe what I just said is complete rubbish and anyone can enjoy it. Lol.

Who knows, but right now I’m listening to Moonlight Sonata (Piano Sonata no. 14 “Quasi Una Fantasia”) by none other than Beethoven.

I love the names that they gave to some of these songs by the way.

I’ve just recently gotten into Classical more, and one artist that has stood out to me so far is most definitely Claude Debussy. There’s something about his compositions that really takes me back and makes me feel a bit nostalgic.

In my hometown, we have what is known as The Classical Station 89.7, which actually extends its reach to quite a few cities including my hometown of Raleigh, NC, as well as a bunch of other places including New Bern, NC, Bassett Forks, VA, Buxton, NC (Outer Banks), Waynesville, NC (Frog Level), Foxfire Village, Aberdeen, Fayetteville, and many more.

I listen to Classical Music pretty much non-stop daily when I’m in the studio working, as it’s become a staple in helping me to concentrate and stay motivated.

Because of this, I’ve become quite familiar and pretty well versed with an array of different artists including, but not limited to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig Von Beethoven, Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky, Johannes Brahms, Claude Debussy (a personal favorite), Antonio Vivaldi, Franz Schubert, Giuseppe Verdi, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Antonín Dvořák, Joseph Haydn, Edvard Grieg (another favorite), and many others!

The Best Headphones for Classical

And I’ll be Beethoven. I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist.

I also love how the announcers pronounce these names, as many of them have really cool accents and/or annunciations. I find myself walking around my apt. attempting to emulate their voices as I announce the next artist & song in my underwear. 😛

If there’s one thing I can tell you about Classical, it’s that it is very picky about which headphones will sound good (even more so than Jazz I would say).

Some of the other genres in this series are easy to make good recommendations for; Classical is not one of those genres.

That said, I look forward to continuing my journey and hope you got a lot out of this article while laughing a little along the way.


Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you now have a better idea of what The Best Headphones for Classical Music are.

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

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

Which of these headphones are you most likely to purchase? Does the HD560S sound like the best option? 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!!

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18 comments

Funkydunc May 26, 2016 - 3:44 am

This is a very comprehensive review of some amazing cans. I have a set of lower level Sennheiser headphones and love them.
I guess, though, I am only using them to watch TV so that the football commentary doesn’t annoy others in the home. I don’t use it for high end stuff like you are.

Still quality cans are crucial to any music purist. Good article.

Reply
Stu May 27, 2016 - 1:13 am

Hey Funky! Thanks for stopping by!

Which Sennheiser model do you have?

-Stu

Reply
Amberlee May 26, 2016 - 3:48 am

Great article! I hate that people think that classical music is for snobs. I’m not one, I just like classical music because it calms your mind enabling you to see the beauty within it.

And I have to thank you as you helped me realise that I’m not crazy. You see I had no idea what soundstage was and your post explaining it is brilliantly written. Like you, there have been many times that I’ve pulled off my headphones confused by where the sound has come from. Yet now I understand that was a reflection of how great my headphones were!

Reply
Stu May 27, 2016 - 1:12 am

Hey Amberlee!

Thanks for stopping by.. I don’t listen to as much classical as I do Jazz, but a lot of the same headphone that work for one also work for another given the comparable qualities in the sound. Bass light, nuanced, textured, and usually free of lyrics.

Soundstage is quite a wonderful thing isn’t it?

-Stu

Reply
Benjamin August 3, 2020 - 3:09 am

Unfortunately, as of today, Tyll’s graphs are not available anymore at Innerfidelity 🙁
I wish I had downloaded the compendium file with all the measurements to compare and study.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black August 3, 2020 - 2:50 pm

Hey man nice timing! I actually am downloading all of them now and plan to make some sort of book. Getting to the actual page in the Way Back Machine on archive.org can be a bit tricky. Also, as I’m downloading the PDF’s, it wants to fight me so I have to keep refreshing until it comes up. Def worth it though. Would you be interested in a book? I obviously would not sell them as it’s not my work but I’m going to reach out to Tyll and see what he thinks about making copies. I know I rely on them for reference and so it was super depressing to find out the news that Inner Fidelity basically got torched.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black August 3, 2020 - 2:57 pm

Hey man I also updated this article to reflect the change (at the top). There you can find the link! 🙂

Reply
Ubail March 10, 2022 - 2:02 pm

Classical music is my work and also my pleasure. The AKG K702s and Sennheiser HD 600s are almost great, each in its own way. The union of both would give the perfect headphone for classical music. The soundstage of the first together with the realistic tonality of the second would make the ideal mix. AKG’s open sound is perfect for orchestral music and opera. Vocal recitals accompanied by few instruments and chamber music shine in the Sennheiser. Thanks for this post. Great selection.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black March 11, 2022 - 4:09 am

Hey Ubail!

Exactly. That’s actually why I keep both around; they complement each other perfectly though I have to say the K702 has become my all-purpose headphone along with the 400se.

There’s something about the 702 that is just so incredibly good and it’s hard to put into words.

What are some artists you enjoy? My favorites are Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Gustav Holst, etc. I’m curious to know yours because I’m not a huge fan of chamber and don’t know exactly why. It tends to really bore me. And while I appreciate the works of Mozart and Haydn, it just doesn’t do much for me as crazy as that sounds.

And you’re welcome! I appreciate your kind words.

Reply
Debabrata Ghosh March 13, 2022 - 10:05 am

91 y old. Around 45 years strictly amp/avr (highish end) man always with 3 way high brand floorstanders. Huge hearing loss forced to abandon marantz -Dali combo and forced to headphones. Got senn 599, 660s, and ath 50x (movies thru airplay). Love Senn neutral sound. Music listened is bizarre- concert recordings stealthily made between 1970 to 95 of maestros of indian classical (alien monster to u) then digitized between 2005-07 in mp 3 format to save storage space – tonnes of them . Some clean and pleasant some just collectors item. Use headphone jack of marantz 6014 or fiio q 3.
Want to experience how planar sounds before I breath my last. Any time now any day. Hence Don’t want to spend$$$.
Thought about Sundara but now coming down to 400 se after reading your review. Won’t pinch me hard yet planar experience. ( repeat have grown fond of Senn sound).
Like your insightful reviews, hence seek your advice rather urgently as time is running out for me.
Regards and best wishes.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black March 14, 2022 - 6:06 pm

Hey there!

I would absolutely recommend a 400se. Can’t really go wrong at that price, to be honest. You won’t miss out on anything getting a 400se over a Sundara either.

Let me know what you think 🙂

Reply
Ubail March 14, 2022 - 5:14 am

You know? you have a very particular taste not to be a fan of classical music. catches my attention. but seeing your taste for jazz and certain rock it doesn’t surprise me. Currently the engineering of many classic recordings has gone really far and has greatly benefited this market with lovers of sound. Find recordings by your favorite composers on the Telarc and Pentatone labels who have done wonders. Outside of them I invite you to listen to baroque music, especially Vivaldi, Handel, Corelli, Albinoni… the recordings starring Fabio Biondi and Giuliano Carmignola are of reference and are magnificently recorded. the baroque resembles jazz because the interpreters recreate the written lines adorning them with improvisations. For orchestral music try listening to the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony conducted by André Previn. I also invite you to listen to the first movement of the Korngold violin concerto, also conducted by Previn and featuring violinist Gil Shaham. I hope you enjoy it. That music was made for the AKG K702.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black March 14, 2022 - 6:24 pm

I do like some Vivaldi. I listen to the Classical Station a lot in the car actually and they play many of his works.

As for the ones you recommend, do you have a link because I can only find this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ush1Owo5fgQ

Can’t find the second as well.

Reply
Ubail March 14, 2022 - 7:41 pm

Vivaldi by Carmignola
https://youtu.be/EkSuDn6Qvus

Vivaldi by Biondi
https://youtu.be/Ize_UMsyB40

Korngold by Shaham
https://youtu.be/2O4pWZ211wo

Debussy for Harp & Orchestra
https://youtu.be/Frq-fxfy2fc

Tchaikovsky great fun recording
https://youtu.be/-ogotVeBO6M

Albinoni by Dombrecht
https://youtu.be/LjgndGuy77o

Enjoy!

Reply
Stuart Charles Black March 15, 2022 - 2:05 pm

Thank you kind sir!

Reply
Liam June 8, 2022 - 6:17 pm

Hi. Thanks for the excellent review. Do you by any chance know Focal elegia ? Is the sound signature similar to utopia and are they good for classical music as well ? Asking as they are on sale right now.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black June 13, 2022 - 10:45 pm

Hey Liam!

Thanks for the love my friend!

I have heard it but haven’t reviewed it yet. Absolutely hated it though lol. If you want to know why I’ll just say that the way I feel about the Elear is basically how I feel about the Elegia only with the Elegia it’s way worse. Sucked out mid-range and a grainy, pretty bad sound. Vocals and instruments tend to get lost and overall it’s a really wonky-sounding headphone. In fact, I demoed one right in front of a Focal rep and almost cringed when he asked me how I liked it. xD Keep in mind this was around 2018 or 2019 right around the time it came out. Here’s the Elear review: https://homestudiobasics.com/focal-elear-review/

The reason they are on sale is that they’re bad. Lol. Keep me posted. If you want my rec, I’d go with an Ananda. Talk soon!

Reply
Stuart Charles Black June 13, 2022 - 10:46 pm

Hey Liam!

I have heard it but haven’t reviewed it yet. Absolutely hated it though lol. If you want to know why I’ll just say that the way I feel about the Elear is basically how I feel about the Elegia only with the Elegia it’s way worse. Sucked out mid-range and a grainy, pretty bad sound. Vocals and instruments tend to get lost and overall it’s a really wonky-sounding headphone. In fact, I demoed one right in front of a Focal rep and almost cringed when he asked me how I liked it. xD Keep in mind this was around 2018 or 2019 right around the time it came out. Here’s the Elear review: https://homestudiobasics.com/focal-elear-review/

The reason they are on sale is that they’re bad. Lol. Keep me posted. If you want my rec, I’d go with an Ananda. Talk soon!

Reply

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