Hi friend and Welcome!
The best headphones for classical? Good question! There are a few things to take into consideration before diving in head first. Before we get into things, grab a snack, sit back and relax because..
You’ve come to the right place!!
What I will bring you in this article
- Some great options
- Final Word and Link to official reviews
Now without further ado, let’s get rolling!
Ah, Classical music. Some say it’s only for snobs. I would tend to disagree. If you listen to classical music 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 bollocks and anyone can enjoy it. Lol. Who knows, but right now I’m listening to Moonlight Sonata (Piano Sonata no. 14 “Quasi una Fantasia”) from none other than the 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 those compositions that really takes me back and makes me feel a bit nostalgic.
That said, there are a few things that need to be addressed in determining “the best.”
- Budget. What are you looking to spend?
- Comfort. Generally classical compositions are pretty lengthy. You will want to make sure your new buddy can be worn for long periods of time without discomfort.
- Are you looking for the absolute best? This is highly subjective, but I’ve done quite a bit of research on the matter, and a few models do come up quite often when people discuss the best.
- 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.
- Do you know about the benefits of good Soundstage? What is Soundstage? Also detail plays a big role here as well. Given that the instrumentation in classical music is very subtle and delicate, you’re going to want to hear all the intricacies of the composition.
Within my research, I tried to narrow down the options according to the criteria above. I frequently came across the following options. I will try and categorize them according to price, and type (open vs. closed back). Closed back vs. Open back headphones.
- Flat, neutral response. None of the frequencies are over-hyped, or overpower each-other.
- Lean bass. The bass isn’t in your face, and knows it’s place.
- Good clarity and mid-range. You want to be able to hear all of those juicy details!
- Great sound-stage. You want to feel immersed in the music.
That said, here’s what I came up with:
Best open backed/semi open (entry to mid-level)
- Philips SHP9500. This is currently my favorite budget open back, and it’s shocking how good it is. In fact, I A/B tested it against an HD600 and found it to be just as good. The only real difference is that these are a bit brighter somewhere in the upper mid-range/treble. For me, this makes them more exciting but they do have a tendency to become ever so slightly grating at times. Just know that this is a hugely minor caveat, and for $54 is totally forgivable without question. Learn more: Philips SHP9500 Review!!
- Sennheiser HD 558. This is one of my go to open back entry level all purpose headphone. Great sound-stage, neutral response, immensely enjoyable to listen with, lean, tight bass that’s not overpowering. Perfect for Classical. With the rubber strips taken out these really shine, and the sound becomes fuller and more detailed, with slightly more bass impact. Do be aware that the sub-bass on these is lacking, but since you’re listening to Classical it won’t matter too much. Learn more: Sennheiser HD558 Review!
- Grado SR80e. This is a great introduction into a headphone for Rock and Classical, as it’s magnificently detailed but also intense and fun enough to work well for faster genres. I would currently put this 3rd behind the 558 and 9500 due to problems in build quality and comfort. Because these use the S cushions, they are a bit more comfortable than Grado models using the L’s, but still have a tendency to become irritating after awhile. Learn more: Grado SR80e Review!
- Beyerdynamic DT880. Perhaps not as good of a sound-stage as the HD 558, being that it’s semi-open rather than completely open back. Despite that, these do have a flatter response overall, so they may pull out some more details that you are craving. Some complain of a harsh/bright, or sibilant top end (treble range). What does sibilant mean?
- AKG Q701. You may be familiar with the K701 and K702, which are both great headphones as well. AKG K701 vs. K702. The Q701 simply improves upon all of the shortcomings present in those earlier models – most notably an improved sound-stage that isn’t unnaturally wide, and a bit more bass impact. A lot of folks complained that the bass was simply not there in the K701. They did improve upon it with the K702 however as well.
- AKG K612. Another great AKG model, this one flies under the radar a lot. I hadn’t heard much about it but when I started doing research, people really swear by it. Great for gaming as well. Similar to the options above. Check out: AKG K612 vs. K701.
- Audio Technica ATH AD900x. Great mid-range, and perfect for classical as well as rock. Learn more: Audio Technica ATH AD900x Review
Best closed back
- Beyerdynamic DT660. I kept ignoring these when people would mention them, but they kept popping up over and over, so I had to include them. A lot of people love these specifically for Jazz/Classical and not much else. In fact most of the amazon reviews explicitly state say that they are perfect for these genres. Just be aware that the build quality isn’t quite where it should be, and they won’t work for other genres. If you need one headphone only for Classical and nothing else, this is still the headphone to get. Because it’s so flat and neutral, the wow factor won’t be there, and the treble does roll off. That said, because of this you’ll be able to listen for longer periods of time without fatigue. Check out this post about the 660’s and Classical music.
- AKG K550. This is a great example of a closed headphone that has an open, airy sound that’s great for Classical. The room has plenty of sound to breathe, and the bass isn’t overpowering. It also has an immense amount of detail and clarity. A great all purpose headphone as well. Learn more: AKG K550 Review!
Best open back (Mid-level to Top tier)
- Sennheiser HD 600/650. I’ve talked about these ad nausea, but they really are some of the most reliable headphones on the planet, and have been since 1997 and 2003 respectively. Sennheiser HD 600 vs. 650. The HD 600’s are known more for being the go to mixing/reference headphone, but because of that they also get numerous acclaim as a great Jazz/Classical/Symphony can. The best headphones for Jazz. The difference between the two is subtle: The 600 is more neutral overall, while the 650 has a meatier bass and is more mellow/laid back. Both have been accused of being veiled. What is the Sennheiser veil? That said, the HD600’s represent everything you need as a beginning audiophile headphone, and may be your end game depending on your propensity to blow money. 😛 Learn more: Sennheiser HD600 Review!
- Sennheiser HD 800/800S. These cans can only shine with the proper amplification. Just know that ahead of time. How to choose a headphone amp! With the right one paired, they truly shine, but have been accused of being too harsh in the treble, which is odd considering their younger brothers (600 & 650) had the opposite problem according to some. The best headphone amp for the Sennheiser HD 800. The good news is that Sennheiser listened to user feedback and tamed the treble with the inclusion of the new HD800S.
- Sony MDR Z1R. 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 in that it feels more like an open back rather than closed. The overall signature is stunning and incredibly natural to the point where absolutely nothing is forced, but still somehow sounds immensely grand and spacious. It’s hard to explain, but these are perfect for Classical. Learn more: Sony MDR Z1R Review!
Planar Magnetic Offerings
This list wouldn’t be complete without some planar magnetic headphones. 🙂
- The HIFIMAN HE400i. Great for pretty much any genre. If you’re confused about what the heck Planar Magnetic means, check this out: What is a headphone driver? Also, check out my official HIFIMAN HE400i REVIEW!
- Audeze LCD 3. One of the most naturally transparent cans you will ever come across, this beast has an incredibly textured bass with an overall flat frequency response. If you’re wondering what music truly sounds like, this is one of the headphones to try. Learn more: Audeze LCD 3 Review!
- Grado GS1000e. This headphone is astounding in terms of detail retrieval and crispness, and is quite possibly the most open sounding can I’ve personally heard. Bass is there, but it’s not overwhelming. Some would call it light, but I prefer to think of it as lean. It’s going to thump when called on, but you definitely won’t feel it. You’ll enjoy it more because it’s more textured, detailed, and articulate than your average bass head affair. Learn more: Grado GS1000e Review!!
My goal for this was to keep it simple and concise, while outlining the headphones that I have experience with as well as provide some research based options. That said:
If you’re after a headphone strictly for Classical music and nothing else, the DT660 is the way to go:
If you’re after an all around audiophile headphone that does well with most genres, but excels specifically with Classical, Jazz, and Rock, I would go with the Gold Standard HD600. Learn more in my:
If you’re after a more expansive sound, with a wider Soundstage, the Q701 would be the ideal choice.
What about my favorite budget option in the SHP9500? If you’re not interested in purchasing an amp, but need an audiophile sound at a ridiculously low price, the 9500 should be purchased without even blinking.
Well that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you now have a better idea of what the best headphones for classical are.
Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Let me know down below or Contact me!
Which of these headphones tickles your pickle based on what I’ve written? I would love to hear from you. Until next time..
All the best and God bless,
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