Home Genre Series The 16 Best Headphones for Hip-Hop [In Depth Guide]

The 16 Best Headphones for Hip-Hop [In Depth Guide]

by Stuart Charles Black

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Originally published 1/27/18.

Updates:

  • 9/13/19. Article clean up. Removed outdated HD558 and replaced it with SR60e. Added CB-1 and Superlux HD330 for closed back under $100 options. Added Aeon Flow Closed to High End.
  • 1/25/21. Article/link cleanup.
  • 3/27/22. Article overhaul and refresh.
  • 5/3/22. Improved readability.

Kalimera friend and Welcome aboard!!

This is part 6 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
  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 (This article)
  7. The Best Headphones For Folk (Coming Soon!)

Before we get into the best headphones for Hip-Hop, grab a snack, sit back and relax because…

I’m Here To Help!

This is my boom box. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

Table Of Contents

Introduction & History
General Considerations
Bass Head Criteria
Entry Level
Mid-Tier
High End
Final Word

Before we get started, just know that I’m bound to get long-winded in this one. So grab a couple of snacks and a drink, because depending on how much you enjoy hip-hop music and the culture as a whole, you may enjoy my ramblings and nostalgia!

If not, you can just skip it using the above skipper-arounder-thingie-mah-bob. ๐Ÿ˜€

Introduction

I’ve always been a fan of Hip-Hop music, but my tastes have definitely changed since I was a lad.

I was first introduced to it in middle school. It’s interesting in that I never even knew what Hip-Hop was from a baby up until about 5th grade.

I was never exposed to it, in part because I came from a Rock n’ Roll household. Learn more: The best headphones for Rock music.

It wasn’t until about 6th grade did I start listening to it, and for the most part, the material was

Flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood.

vulgar to say the least.

My first real experience with Rap music was DMX’s 1998 album Flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood.

In fact, to this day I have inadvertently memorized pretty much the entire album. As a man of God, I’m not really proud of that, but it is what it is.

I was young and naive and thought that the lyrics were cool. It’s amazing that our minds can process stuff like that and keep it stored for a lifetime!

It’s also encouraging to hear that Earl Simmons (DMX) has indeed found God, and abandoned his former lifestyle (or is trying to).

He still has some issues including a drinking problem, but I pray that God is working it out in his life. I feel deep down that he still has a calling, and hope that he does get it together. The most important thing is that he’s striving.

2022 Update: R.I.P. Earl Simmons aka DMX (1970 – 2021). Gone but not forgotten!

It’s been said that at a young age, Simmons was given a cigarette laced with crack and that’s how his addiction began – which turned into a lifelong battle and something he struggled with until his death in 2021.

It’s also important to note that despite all of the over-the-top cursing, vulgarity, and despicable subject matter, there was a track at the very end of Flesh that acknowledged God in his life.

Called “Ready to meet him”, Earl Simmons pours his heart out to God in prayer and then proceeds to deliver a powerful message over a metaphysical and divinely inspired instrumental.

Anyhow, I digress. Much of the Rap I listened to in the early days was very commercialized. I’ll admit it. But here’s the thing: A lot of it is now actually considered good because the current crop of mainstream artists is even worse!

It’s scary to think that at one time, Outkast was considered mainstream. Nowadays they’re what people really miss about Hip-Hop.

Most of the music that came from these artists is still pretty good and stacked against what’s out now, it really fares extremely well.

There are a few here that I’m a bit embarrassed about, including Sisqo and the “Thong Song.” But a lot of it has stood the test of time, with some instant classics sprinkled in. Ja Rule in particular was always a guilty pleasure for me. He emerged at a time when the fusion of Rap and R&B actually sounded quite good.

Some artists I was exposed to:

  • Ja Rule
  • DMX
  • Ludacris
  • Nelly
  • Usher
  • Destiny’s Child
  • Donnell Jones
  • TLC
  • Jennifer Lopez
  • Akon
  • Ashanti
  • Sisqo
  • R Kelly
  • Jagged Edge
  • Big Tymers
  • Twista
  • Cam’ron
  • Three Six Mafia
  • Fat Joe
  • Big Pun
  • Pharrell
  • Jadakiss and the L.O.X.
  • Dru Hill
  • Jay-Z
  • Birdman
  • Clipse
  • Jermaine Dupri
  • Nappy Roots
  • Puff Daddy
  • Fabolous
  • Project Pat
  • Nas
  • Tupac
  • Notorious B.I.G.
  • Big Pun
  • Timbaland
  • Tyrese
  • Snoop Dogg
  • Eminem
  • Shyne

These are some of the artists and groups that I grew up on.

Hip-Hop has changed a lot, and what’s now considered good pales in comparison to even the worst of these artists! You can’t deny that the quality has gone down considerably since then.

Kind of prophetic actually.

Gravitating towards better music

As I got a bit older, I realized how much I was missing out on. True hip-hop has never died, contrary to popular belief. In fact, I was that person at one point.

I thought that just because the mainstream seemed to be watering everything down to the point of Rap becoming unrecognizable, that meant that there weren’t true artists out there still thriving and making good music.

There was even a point in time when I was a complete snob about it in some ways. I wanted to discover the most underground artists (or even some old-school hip-hop that people hadn’t heard) and tell people about it.

But I also wanted people to know that I had the best taste and knew about the best hip-hop. Looking back, it was completely ridiculous, but I have to admit that I was a bit immature about the whole thing in some respects.

That was around my late teens and very early 20s.

I discovered artists like:

  • Saul Williams
  • The Pharcyde
  • Cunninlynguists
  • Del tha funkee homosapien/Deltron 3030
  • Souls of Mischief
  • Hieroglyphics
  • Jurassic 5
  • The Roots
  • Royal Flush
  • Binary Star
  • People Under the Stairs
  • J Dilla/Slum Village
  • 9th Wonder/Little Brother
  • Pete Rock & CL Smooth
  • Masta Ace
  • Dead Prez
  • Big L
  • Lord Finesse and the D.I.T.C.
  • The Wu-Tang Clan
  • Immortal Technique
  • Eyedea & Abilities
  • Blackalicious (with Chief Xcel) & Gift of Gab (Solo)
  • Non Phixion
  • Guilty Simpson
  • Stoupe The Enemy of Mankind/Jedi Mind Tricks
  • Kev Brown
  • MF Doom
  • Crooklyn Dodgers
  • Jeru the Damaja
  • DJ Premier & Guru (Gangstarr)
  • Elzhi
  • Jake One
  • Dilated Peoples
  • De La Soul
  • Camp Lo
  • Jigmastas
  • Blackstar (Mos Def & Talib Kweli)
  • Group Home
  • Smif-N-Wessun
  • Black Moon
  • Common Sense (before he was just Common)
  • Planet Asia
  • Slick Rick
  • Skyzoo
  • Statik Selektah
  • Canibus
  • Percee P

Some of these artists may not be considered underground, but to me, they were since I had never been exposed to them before.

For instance, Big L was fairly well known while he was alive, but not as known as say Notorious B.I.G. or a rapper like Big Pun.

These are my boom boxes. There are many like them, but these ones are mine.

Nowadays

After that phase was over, I gravitated towards just instrumentals. To this day I prefer beats over rhymes, and I think to an extent it’s always been that way.

Once I started making my own beats and sampling in 2009, my priorities changed from listening to creating.

There came a point when my perception of Hip-Hop got more and more cynical, as I saw artists basically re-hashing the same lines in different ways, with no one truly setting themselves apart (Flying Lotus is one exception on the production side of it).

There are only so many ways you can say how cool you are, you know?

I do still appreciate and respect artists that put their hearts and souls into it, relating life experiences through their music, and talking about real subject matter that people can relate to.

But by and large, I think the culture has gotten extremely gimmicky, even on the underground side of things.

Let me know if you like any of these artists. I would love to hear about your own experiences and opinions on Hip-Hop! I don’t live and breathe it like I used to, but I still enjoy it from time to time. ๐Ÿ™‚

Whew! So…

Regardless of if you’re listening to mainstream or indie/underground hip-hop, the same principles apply when deciding on a good headphone. Let’s get into some of those considerations now!

I will be updating this page frequently as I try out new headphones, add to, and take away from this list. Think of it as a constantly changing guide that will ebb and flow with the times!!


Considerations

What is your budget?

There are plenty of entry-level models that will get the job done extremely well, but we’ll also cover some higher-end stuff too!

Are you looking for the absolute best?

Aside from that being fairly subjective, you will have to be willing to part with more money if you want something really stellar.

That said, the law of diminishing returns does tend to kick in after around the $300 mark, so we’ll try to stay realistic today. ๐Ÿ™‚

Portable vs. Studio.

Will you be using these on the go or in an isolated studio environment? Very important to consider this before making a decision.

Closed vs. Open.

In that same vein, it’s important to know whether or not you will prefer an open back headphone vs. a closed one. Closed back vs. Open back headphones.

Bass.

It goes without saying that a good Hip-Hop headphone should have a strong bass response. However, it’s not as crucial as you might think.

There are plenty of bass-heavy headphones out there that don’t sound good because they place too much emphasis on the low end.

Today we’ll try and focus on headphones that have a good impact but don’t come across as bloated, muddy, or artificial. This will help bring out the mid-range detail and clarity tremendously and makes for a significantly better listening experience as a result.


Should you get an Amp or DAC?

An Amp:

If your headphones have a high impedance and/or low Sensitivity, they’re going to resist power and not be as efficient.

Impedance is a measure of resistance and Sensitivity is a measure of efficiency.

Generally speaking, anything around 97dB and lower is not very efficient and needs more power from the amp to perform optimally.

Anything with an Impedance over 100 generally tends to resist power quite a bit. It really just depends on the headphone in question. Contact me for clarification! ๐Ÿ™‚

A DAC:

A Digital to Analog converter’s job is to convert the 1’s and 0’s from your computer, into an analog sound that you hear (and vice versa).

During a microphone recording, the computer takes the analog (your voice) and converts it into data that it can understand (1’s and 0’s).

Basically, either of these exchanges is always happening depending on what you’re doing. The only reason you would upgrade a DAC is if your existing one is crappy.

You’ll know because it either won’t be loud enough or just generally sound bad (noise, crackling, etc). What is a USB DAC?

Great Resources:


Sensitivity and low impedance cans

For low impedance headphones, the Sensitivity will usually be fairly high, resulting in a can that generally does well with mobile devices. That said, the quality of the song will still largely depend on the source file, as well as your DAC.

For instance, if you have a bad DAC and buy an amp, you’ll only be magnifying bad sound by raising the volume level. This is why it’s important to consider just what you will need and not need.

At the end of the day though, I’m nitpicking a little. Most entry-level closed backs will sound great and the discrepancies in sound quality are somewhat marginal when you’re starting out.

Now let’s get into the meat of it!


Criteria

A good Hip-Hop headphone will provide all of the following:

Bass.

As discussed earlier, this is arguably the most important component of a good Rap headphone but isn’t the end all be all. There comes a point where too much bass results in overkill, and we want to avoid that at all costs today.

Good mid-range.

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to be able to hear some micro-details going on, as well as be able to discern vocals and instruments better. Hip-Hop isn’t all about the bass.

There are many artists who incorporate a lot of different sounds into their music. The Roots comes to mind as a group that has always placed heavy emphasis on live instrumentation and subtle experimentation.

A good mid-range will go a long way in revealing the nuance going on behind the scenes that you may have missed before with other low-grade dog food headphones.

Treble.

Treble is important too. We want that sparkle at the top that gives the music some extra flavor, zest, and overall excitement. Even so, sometimes a bright treble isn’t all that necessary and a headphone can still sound excellent without too much emphasis.

Instrument Separation and Soundstage. What is Soundstage? This is still important with Hip-Hop because it gives added clarity and depth to the music.

The first time I put on the Audio Technica ATH M50, I was blown away. The music had so much life, and not only that but the Soundstage was also very good for a closed back.

When you start to think that the sound is coming from the outside, it’s a sign of very good headphones but also has much to do with the track in question and how it was recorded, mixed, and mastered.

Comfort and Durability.

This kind of goes without saying, but I like to be able to wear my headphones for an extended period of time.

That said, I personally am a bit more forgiving of comfort than some. Unless the headphone is particularly bad, I can let it slide a little bit and just relegate myself to frequent rest periods.

An example of a headphone that I simply cannot recommend because of comfort is the Grado SR325e. When it becomes painful to wear, that’s a no-go.


Now we can finally discuss some options! ๐Ÿ™‚

I let my tape rock ’til my tape popped.


Entry Level (Below $100)

#6

Koss KPH30i

Price: Check Amazon! | Official Review: Here!

Koss KPH30i Review

What’s not to love about the 30i?

It’s dirt cheap, it sounds better than the majority of headphones I’ve ever tried, and it boasts one of the best overall sound signatures you’ll ever find in any headphones ever.

EVER.

In fact, you may not even want to upgrade after these.

Heck, what am I saying? Of course you will. You’re a budding audiophile after all.

If you’re looking for a bass with impact that doesn’t sound forced, the 30i is perfect for hip-hop and happens to work with the majority of genres as well.

Potential Caveats/You May Not Like

Nothing, really. Some have complained of its “cloudy” sound, but I just had to laugh at that one and found it to be mostly sunny with a chance of awesome.


#5

Grado SR60e

Check Amazon! | Official Review: Here!

Grado SR60e vs. 80e

Some of my regular readers may read this and go EEEEEWWWWWHHAAAAAAA?!!!?

Some Grado fanboys may wet themselves with delight. Whatever.

Grado Grah-do, potato pot-ah-to.

I’ve said it for a few years and still stand by it; I don’t hate Grado headphones. I just think that for the most part, they’re overpriced and a perfect example of diminishing returns.

In other words, as you go up the line the sound doesn’t improve at all, and if it does even a little bit, you’re still paying exorbitant prices for what may just be a placebo.

That said, I’ve always liked the 60e because it’s pretty cheap and sounds excellent FOR THE MOST PART.

The 2kHz issue has always been there, but these do work incredibly well for Hip-Hop all things considered. In fact, I think these are great for a few genres specifically: Rock, Metal, and Hip-Hop, with Jazz/Classical close behind.

The bass is really articulate and has nice impact without sounding bloated, the transient response is extremely fast and snappy, and the treble is very good all things considered.

The Soundstage is also above average, but don’t expect K702 width or anything. I’d say it can be slightly “out of your head” at times but the spacing between instruments is very good.

Potential Caveats/You May Not Like

2kHz.

Yes, it’s over the top.

Yes, it’s too much.

Yes, it almost ruins these headphones, but you can always EQ it down. A 10dB boost at basically one frequency in the entire spectrum is asking for problems down the road.

#4

Sony MDR-7506

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

The Best Headphones For Hip-Hop

This is actually the 7506’s older brother V6, but just pretend like it’s not. ๐Ÿ˜›

Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the 7506 from back when I owned them in 2010/2011, so the above picture will have to do.

That’ll do, pig.

You can read all about my experiences in the article linked above as well. ๐Ÿ™‚

The 7506 is a headphone that has been around for decades and still remains relevant due to the fact that it’s just an incredibly solid option and won’t break the bank at around $100.

It does well for a variety of genres, but I like it for Hip-Hop because of the simple fact that it has an extremely good bass response without becoming overbearing.

It’s got a ton of impact as well as clarity in the mid-range, in addition to a sparkling treble. Makes for quite an easy recommendation.

If you’re into Hip-Hop but don’t want something that’s going to rattle your ears into oblivion, the 7506 is a fantastic solution!

Potential Caveats/You May Not Like

The 7506 is a fantastic value, but be aware of some potential pitfalls:

Comfort

Comfort is hit and miss, and if I’m honest probably average to slightly below average. When I was younger, I mixed on these ’til about 2-4 a.m. most nights, but I’m not sure I could do that now that I’m older.

Pads

The pads will flake and peel over time which can be incredibly annoying. Fortunately, they are replaceable. The pads on my 7506 also came loose from the headphones themselves, so keep that in mind as well. I didn’t have any issues with my V6, but I also didn’t use one every day given how many headphones I had at the time.

Cable

The coiled cable is a huge pain in the ass and will start to tangle in on itself after about a year or so. I would love to see Sony come out with a revamped version of this headphone, making the cable detachable and adding a straight version in addition to upgrading the pad material.

Treble

Some call the treble unnaturally bright and I will say it can be a bit much at times but is still forgivable at this price point.

#3

Philips SHP9500

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

Philips SHP9500 vs. 9600

The 9500 makes almost every shortlist for best headphones and it doesn’t really matter what the category is.

Why?

BECAUSE I SAID SO!

No, it’s because it works for a wide variety of genres and applications thanks to its open nature, crisp sound, neutral profile, and overall insane value.

I’ve had countless people message me about their first time with these and thank me profusely for recommending them. If you come across some schmuck who doesn’t like the 9500, I’d be very wary of taking advice from that person as he’s probably a shill.

Haha jk.

But seriously.

It’s astounding how good this puppy really is, especially considering I got one for around $54 back in 2017.

Yes, the bass does roll off, and you may be wondering why I’ve included it here. Because it’s an open back some roll-off is to be expected, but this is likely the only headphone you will need for quite a while, in the open back category or otherwise.

The level of detail it provides is mind-blowing, and dare I say it could be a better overall buy than the venerable HD600. Some people may scoff at that notion, but I’m telling you, this is the real deal.

It’s about as close as you’ll get to a headphone in the upper echelon and comes uncomfortably close to providing just as good of a sound. I mean they’re basically giving them away.

This is definitely one of those “rediscover your old favorites/pee your pants” type of headphones, and if peeing in your pants is cool, consider ME Miles Davis.

And I’m out!

Potential Caveats/You May Not Like

You already know. The treble has been accused of being overly bitey/hot/sibilant/insert word salad here.

Again, excusable at this price point and to be quite honest, I’ve always thought that claim was grossly overexaggerated.


#2

Status Audio CB-1

Price: Check Amazon! | Official Review: Here!

The Best Headphones for Gaming

The CB-1 is a fantastic open sounding headphone.

The Status CB-1 was something of a surprise when it first came out even despite its obvious similarities to the M50. We’ve got pretty much the same design although these headphones are a bit bulkier than those and are made of 99% plastic (I believe the outside of the cup is metal or something).

They are also much more comfortable and don a different overall sound profile; one that opts for a larger Soundstage and a more toned down signature.

Listening to the CB-1 actually feels like you’re hearing an open back and that’s always been one of its biggest selling points and why I continue to recommend it to this day.

The other reason is its transparency and detail retrieval. I firmly believe the CB-1 to be one of the best overall headphones for mixing as it reveals artifacts in music that I’ve simply never heard before in other headphones.

It works well for Hip-Hop because of the reasons above and you’ll love discovering elements to your favorite songs that were previously lost and/or thought absent.

The bass here hits just right as I don’t find it out of line and I can listen to my favorites for hours without fatigue. A real treat indeed, you better believe.

Potential Caveats/You May Not Like

As much as I love the CB-1, it sometimes has this thin/hollow/papery quality to it and it’s quite difficult to explain. Almost as if the headphones are missing a sense of “lushness” about them or something. Still, it’s minor and can be largely overlooked at this price point.

#1

Superlux HD330

Price: Check Amazon! | Check Ali Express! | Official Review: Here!

The HD330 is a bit of a DT770 copycat, but it’s cheaper and the version I demoed is open back and sounded fantastic.

I wouldn’t it a “head rattler” per se, but it’s definitely got more bass than a 7506.

I was shocked at not only its striking resemblance to Beyerdynamic’s DT770 but also its fantastic bass head sound. This is a headphone that benefits from the velour pads that my friend Cory has employed, but oh my gosh oh man I had some fun jamming out with these.

Would also make great Rock headphones as well.

Potential Caveats/You May Not Like

Not much. I don’t remember having any glaring reservations about this one, but some would probably complain that it can sound a bit recessed in the mid-range at times; a fair gripe.


Mid-tier ($100 – 300)

#5

HIFIMAN HE400se

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

HIFIMAN HE400se Review

The 400se is a headphone that tends to do well for most genres but also should be considered for hip-hop due to its PHAT bass response (for an open back) as it neither sounds too aggressive nor too rolled off.

This is the point where we’re starting to delve into deeper bass reproduction that you can clearly hear is superior to stuff in the lower-priced tiers.

In fact, the 400se is my top overall recommendation in mid-fi and should be high on your list of considerations.

I think if you’re a Hip-Hop head who is looking for a more neutral and natural response out of your listening experience, the 400se is likely your best bet as you’ll be able to listen for hours without fatigue.

Potential Caveats/You May Not Like

HIFIMAN’s mid-range has always been somewhat of a minor complaint amongst users, and I can certainly empathize with that notion as I felt like the Sundara suffered from that quirk.

In other words, the mid-range sometimes feels as if it’s too laid back, almost lulling you to sleep. Voices and instruments can sound a bit distant and lack certain energy. Not only can this be heard, but it can clearly be seen on pretty much every graph no matter the headphones, and the 400se is no different.

After 1kHz is usually when they opt for a gradual decline into 2kHz, which then comes back up around 3.

This may or may not bother you, but it’s something to keep in mind.


#4

Beyerdynamic DT770

Price: Amazon! |ย  Check Sweetwater! | Official Review: Coming Soon!

Beyerdynamic DT 770 80 Ohm vs. 250 Ohm

This is likely the closest direct competitor to the M50x and has also soared in popularity in recent years.

I’d say that the DT770 is the audiophile version while the 50x is geared more towards the average consumer.

My issue has always been that audiophiles tend to scoff at the 50x while obsessing over the 770 as if it’s God’s gift to headphones.

It’s weird and bizarre how much group think goes on in this hobby.

When you look at graphs of both headphones side by side it doesn’t really make sense that someone would criticize the 50x for being “terribly unbalanced” and in the same breath not even touch on the fact that the 770 is actually worse in that regard.

I mean, who cares if it’s not perfectly balanced? Sometimes, that’s not what we’re looking for.

In fact, the 50x isn’t really all that unbalanced at all (for what it is), which goes right back to people who parrot things they hear on the internet without having much first-hand experience.

I’ve been guilty of this in the past as well, but the 770 is still a phenomenal choice for Hip-Hop. They’re also light years more comfortable and utilize velour padding vs. the faux leather of the 50x.

Even despite everything I’ve said, the 2 headphones are similar in many ways although the 770 is a little more V-shaped and isn’t ashamed at all about its bass shelf, this time opting for a 10dB bump around 50-60Hz and some form of elevation with regard to the entirety of the low-end response.

Is it a bit overdone like your mom’s meatloaf?

Sure, but it works for Hip-Hop for obvious reasons.

Potential Caveats/You May Not Like

The mid-range is mostly flat and not pushed back, but you’ll notice a weird dip around 4kHz which can be a bit off-putting and make the headphones sound a bit wonky.

The treble is also bright-ish but surprisingly I didn’t find these completely over the top or jarring.


#3

Audio Technica ATH M50x

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

The Best Headphones for Hip-Hop

There’s nothing quite like your first love.

Yep, that’s right.

I don’t care what “audiofile” doesn’t approve of these.

As the years go by, I still can’t think of many headphones I’d rather have for Hip-Hop than the venerable M50x. It’s the one product I think of most when I think of the genre as it represents everything I love about Rap and specifically instrumentals.

It’s everything Beats by Dre should have been. In fact, I remember scoffing at all the wannabes at my old job with the Candy painted Beats on their heads looking like complete ass hats.

What a time to be alive.

The 50x is the type of headphone you hand to someone like that and then slap them in the face as you run away, sort of like this:

You know how, as you get older, there are moments that stick out in your mind? They’re the ones you remember most vividly. You may not remember why you just walked into that room, but gosh darn if I don’t remember something in great detail that happened 50 million years ago.

My first experience with the original M50 was like that. I even remember I was listening to a J Dilla beat and couldn’t believe how crisp and snappy everything was. It was polished to an absurd degree.

Sure, it was 2013.

I was still in college, and the M50 was only the second “good” headphone I’d ever heard (the first being the MDR-7506).

Still, I remember how they made me feel, and like the 9500, plenty of people have come back to me saying how much they love them even despite the barrage of hate they’ve gotten in recent years.

In fact, one of my Patrons just reached out to me saying he had bought a pair and fell in love instantly.

I think both the 50x and 7506 are perfect examples of warranted hype.

Yes, they are “overrated” in the sense that almost everyone has at least heard of them in passing and many people have owned or tried them. Hundreds of thousands of people. Millions even.

But they are actually good!

Especially for hip-hop.

There’s a 5dB bass shelf across 20Hz – 200 that’s just perfect for the genre and even despite that, the mid-range doesn’t really sound recessed or sucked out.

In addition, the 50x improved upon the overly bright treble present in the original model.

Seriously, what’s not to love? They’re compact, durable, and sound incredible.

Potential Caveats/You May Not Like

Well, as it turns out, there are a few things “not to love” I suppose.

  1. Comfort is hit and miss and I’d say about average.
  2. As with the 7506, these pads not only flake and peel, but they harden which can be a nightmare if a rough edge happens to penetrate your ear while you’re listening to music. Fortunately, you can also replace these as well.

And really, that’s it. As mentioned previously, the original M50’s treble was very bright, but they fixed that with the 50x. I have never owned a 50x, but I demoed one that my friend bought the year it came out and owned the original for 5 years from 2013 to 2018.


#2

Sennheiser HD25

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

Sennheiser HD25 ReviewI joke often that the folks at Sennheiser sat down at the roundtable one day and were like “We need to make a headphone for those headbanger bros who listen to lots of metal.”

Well, if metal was the first genre I’d recommend these for, Hip-Hop is certainly a close second.

As with the M50x, the HD25 from Sennheiser is a headphone you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

Even so, unboxing this thing is somewhat underwhelming. I remember sitting at my parents’ house back in 2017 or thereabouts anticipating all this cool stuff and finding a cheap-looking pair of headphones in a boring box with a crummy 1/4″ adapter.

That’s. it.

Big f’ing deal, right?

WRONG, BUSTER!

The payoff is most certainly the sound that makes up for all of that and then some.

Listening to an HD25 can only be described as what it may feel like to be high on cocaine for the rest of your life.

Drivin’ that train, high on cocaine, Casey Jones you better, watch your speed.

Haha, see what they did there? Becaus.. never mind.

Everything about the experience is super f’ing-omg-intense and really makes you want to rip your clothes off and bang your head into a wall repeatedly.

It’s like speed for your ears, and should only be used in short bursts.

In fact, you’ll almost have to take frequent breaks with these as the comfort level isn’t all that.

The sound however is almost perfect in my estimation and does edge out both the 50x and DT770 if someone held a gun to my head and forced me to decide between the 3.

If the bass on those 2 was a bit much, the HD25 opts for an insanely good middle ground. There’s just enough slam to keep you satisfied without ever feeling like it’s over the top (let’s be honest, it still kind of is) and this is in part due to some roll-off below about 50-60Hz.

Yes, the mid-bass is eerily close to toeing that look-at-me-I’m-a-audio-manufacturer-who-places-too-much-emphasis-on-the-bass line, but gosh darn what makes it okay is that Sennheiser actually knows how to tune headphones properly.

In addition to that, the mid-range is damn near perfect and the treble sizzles like a steakhouse without sounding all that sibilant.

Okay, it’s a bit sibilant but who cares, by that time you’ll be naked anyway.

Potential Caveats/You May Not Like

I don’t care and neither should you. Just buy them!


#1

Beyerdynamic DT990

Price: Check Amazon! | Check Sweetwater! | Official Review: Coming Soon!

If the HD25’s bass is bordering on out of control (I said bordering, it’s still awesome sauce), the DT990 is like, “leeeeeeeet’s just bring this down a notch or 2.”

In fact, I firmly believe that the 990 takes all of the great qualities of the above headphones and packages them into one great headphone. No sacrifices, no compromises, and hardly a bad thing to speak of.

So think of the HD25 as the juiced-up meathead while the 990 is taking something like creatine and you’ll get a good idea of why it makes sense to rank them this way.

I think this is the quintessential open-back headphone for Hip-Hop in the mid-tier range, with a strong (but controlled) bass and an overall airy type of character, which lends itself well to detail and accurate placement of instruments within the song.

They are a bit on the bright side, but I didn’t really notice it as much as others have and a good graph backs up my sentiment.

Not only that, but the 990 is certainly the most comfortable headphone on this list (along with the 770), so in my estimation, it’s an easy choice and the perfect A number 1 solution for all of you out-of-control hip-hop homies out there.

Potential Caveats/You May Not Like

Many complain about the treble, but I think those claims are overexaggerated. Admittedly, I only demoed these once, but they didn’t sound anything like people were saying with regards to being “ZOMG it’s so bright lol.”


High End ($300+)

#5

Apos Caspian

Price: Check Apos! | Official Review: Here!

Apos Caspian Review

Apos’ Caspian is certainly a headphone that caught me by surprise, meaning, I wasn’t really expecting much from it. That may not sound fair, but after demoing 115+ headphones, you get a little jaded.

Color me crazy.

I think the Caspian does what most consumer products can only dream of doing; that is, placing emphasis on the mid-bass without muddying up the sound.

No, the Caspian is as pure as it gets with regard to that general bass-head sound signature that so many manufacturers try and fail miserably at. I’m looking squarely at you, M40x.

In fact, at this point, I don’t think companies are even trying. They know that most new people are going to lap up all that cheap dog food regardless, so I’m of the opinion that very little effort goes into making a good product anymore – at least at the very low consumer level.

In other words, these types of headphones are a dime a dozen now and the market has become horribly oversaturated.

By contrast, it was obvious to me from the get-go that Apos put forth a considerable amount of effort with the Caspian and it really shows.

This is as complete of a package as you’ll get in this price range, but the sound coming from the Caspian is what’s most welcome. It’s buttery smooth and still retains a sense of weight and impact without all the bloat that accompanies the all-important 100-200Hz area.

In addition to that, the headphones are supremely comfortable and the treble isn’t overly bright or essy.

I can wear these for hours without fatigue, and in addition to that, Apos even included a balanced cable in the package if I want to be especially daring like Herbert Daring Dashwood.

Potential Caveats/You may not like

As good as these sound, if I had to nitpick I would say they play it a little on the safe side at times. In other words, the sound signature is almost too smooth if that even makes sense.

It doesn’t make me want to take all my clothes off and shake my butt.

At times I feel like they’re missing a bit of the liveliness and recklessness that comes with something like an HD25, but again, this is an incredibly minor nit.


#4

HIFIMAN Ananda

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

The Ananda is what those Beats by Dre geeks at my old job would love if they could just stop dressing like they’re covered in cotton candy for 5 seconds.

In other words, GROW UP!!

Planar bass has always been superior to dynamic driver bass, and the Ananda is no exception.

If the 400se was gravitating towards that, the Ananda is full-blown there, holmes.

It’s rolling and rollicking and galloping and deep and smooth and frolicking and walloping and sweet.

It reaches down, scoops up those deep sub-bass hits, and assaults your ears with them in the most gentle and amazing way possible.

The raspberries do indeed taste like raspberries.

It’s pretty much exactly like Ken Rockwell describes below with regard to the EL8. In fact, I’ve always found it really hard to decide which planar bass I like better; Audeze’s? Or HIFIMAN?

In any event, once you hear bass like this, you’ll never look at regular dynamic headphones the same ever again.

As with the 400se, we’re not getting a bass response that’s overly accentuated nor does it roll off a cliff like the KSC75.

In other words, these are headphones for true bass heads, not those wannabes who wet themselves over awful 10dB bumps at 100Hz.

This is bass for the extreme pinky-out connoisseurs; you know, the ones that listen to Flying Lotus or Thundercat instead of Gucci mane or some other similar rapper with chains hanging out of his big nose.

The Ananda is an open, spacious affair that, you guessed it, feels like skiing down a mountain in January while chewing Winter Fresh gum.

I’m sorry, I had to.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know I make that stupid analogy a lot, but hey, people have come back to me saying it was perfect so whatever. Sue me.

Potential Caveats/You may not like

  1. The treble on the Ananda to me was juuuust a tad essy, but this is a pretty minor nitpick.
  2. Comfort is good, but you will notice these slide around a bit on your melon and require some minor adjustments from time to time.

#3

Dan Clark Audio Aeon Flow

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

The Best Headphones for Hip-Hop

The Aeon Flow is about as close to perfection as you’ll find.

This is honestly in my Top 5 of best headphones I’ve personally ever heard, and certainly, the best closed back I’ve tried.

Pair this puppy with a Chord Mojo and prepare to have your face melted off. It’s really that good. It has this warm detail that strikes an absolutely perfect balance, and you’ll really blow your load listening to Hip-Hop. But don’t take my word for it, try it yourself!

Add to that its comfort is probably the best I’ve ever experienced and you’ve got yourself a winning combo.

Way back before Inner Fidelity was still around, Tyll agreed:

Simply put: This is the best sounding around-ear, sealed, headphone I’ve heard to date. Tonal balance is spot on but for a very slight emphasis 5-10kHz. Bass is tight, well balanced and does not bleed into the mids. Transition to mids is seamless and excellent. Midrange is excellently balanced; vocals and overtones are very well proportioned giving voices just the right sense of presence and ease simultaneously. Treble is terrifically proportioned as well; cymbals and snares sound very natural. Tyll Herstens, Inner Fidelity

One of Aeon’s greatest strengths, and a huge reason why I love and recommend them so often, is their Soundstage. I have no idea how Dan was able to make a closed-back sound so open, but that’s exactly what you’re getting here.

In fact, I was talking with someone recently about how my over-the-top obsession with the Mojo may have actually been more the Aeon Flow making it seem like the artist was in front of me and not the DAC.

Because when I tell you that it actually felt like she was singing to me about a foot or 2 away, I’m being dead serious.

Potential Caveats/You may not like

Some will complain that these have a bit too much warmth to them, at times sounding overly radio-broadcast-ey and syrupy, and while I can understand the sentiment, it’s not something I really care about.

Your mileage may vary, and I do think the Aeon is either a love it or hate it type of thing with not much middle ground.


#2

Audeze EL-8

Official Review: Here!

The Audeze EL-8 was one of the most eye-opening experiences I’ve ever had; with Hip-Hop specifically.

As with the Ananda, a lot of this has to do with its incredibly well-reproduced bass response and realistic portrayal of said low end, and you can thank planar magnetic drivers for that.

Ken Rockwell really hit the nail on the head when he talked about these:

The Audeze EL-8 have buttery smooth sound with extraordinarily well reproduced bass. The EL-8 will sound duller than most conventional headphones that tend to add glare; these are perfect if you want to get rid of excess harshness. The Audeze EL8 sound big, smooth and solid. They are somewhat recessed in the upper midrange โ€” a hallmark of their smoothness. They have extremely solid and bottomless bass. The Audeze EL-8 use planar magnetic technology, which is completely different from 99% of other headphones. These have much smoother sound than conventional headphones, and have much deeper bass as well. Ken Rockwell

Bottomless bass is exactly right, just as I attempted to describe above with the Ananda.

It’s insane how smooth and impactful it is, especially if you’re after more of a detailed, effortless sound without the glare and/or sibilance that may accompany the cheaper sets we discussed earlier.

I found this beat on Soundcloud to be particularly revealing with these on, as I could hear some micro details that I was missing before. You can even see my comment second from the top! (Xtr@Ba$eHitZ) ๐Ÿ˜› Bass is like butter homie!

#1

Focal Utopia

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

The Best Headphones for Hip-Hop

The King.

The Utopia is a headphone that I’ve talked about, and talked bout, and talked about … for years now!

In fact, it’s hard to believe that the first time I put these on my head was all the way back in 2018.

Where does the time go?

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced (read: I have NEVER experienced) anything quite like the Utopia.

This headphone rendered The Roots’ The Next Movement with startling accuracy, precision, detail, and clarity, to the point of simply being unbelievable. It sounded completely different than I had ever heard it, in the best way possible.

I remember chatting with a Focal rep at one of Audio Advice’s “Music Matters” shows and it was around the third time I demoed them.

As I put them on my head, I thought to myself, “Surely these things can’t be as good as I originally thought. I must have somehow overhyped them.”

Nope, they weren’t as good.

They were BETTER.

That’s right you heard me correctly.

This is the only headphone out of the 115+ I’ve demoed at the time of this article that actually gets better with each successive listen.

I guess there’s a reason they named it the Utopia, given how close it comes to perfection.

If there were ever a pair of headphones perfect in every way, the Utopia is most certainly it and it’s not even close. Comfort, build, sound, instrument timbre, resolution, attack, sustain, decay, driver matching, you name it. It’s all head and shoulders above everything else.

They’re the best headphones I’ve personally heard to date. Looking for your forever cans?

These are it, hands down.

They take everything great about all of the other headphones we talked about and package them into one amazing-sounding product.


Final Word

Well, my friend, I hope you’ve enjoyed this comprehensive guide to the best headphones for Hip-Hop. Please let me know if you would like me to add/demo anything, and I will definitely do so if I can!

Also, I will be updating this page frequently as I try out new headphones, add to, and take away from this list. Think of it as a constantly changing guide that will ebb and flow with the times!!

That said, this should get you started in the right direction. If I had to choose one on this list for you that? I’d probably go with the DT990.

 


Well, thatโ€™s about it for today my friend! I hope youโ€™ve enjoyed this article on the best headphones for Hip-Hop.

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

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Which of these headphones are you most likely to purchase? I would love to hear from you! Until next time…

All the best and God bless,

 

 

-Stu

[Xtr@Ba$eHitZ]

Canโ€™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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