Hi friend and Welcome!
This is part 1 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!
- The Best Headphones for Jazz (This article)
- The Best Headphones for Classical
- The Best Headphones for Rock
- The Best Headphones for Metal
- The Best Headphones for Pop
- The Best Headphones for Hip-Hop
- The Best Headphones For Folk
When it comes to finding the best headphones for jazz, certain things need to be taken into consideration. Before we get into things, grab a snack, sit back and relax because…
I’m Here to Help!!
What I will bring you in this article
- Closed Backs
- Entry Level
- Final Word
Now without further ado, let’s get rolling!
If you want a quick answer, my top pick for Jazz is
Recently I’ve gotten a lot more into Jazz, and appreciate its relaxing qualities.
It benefits my mood, and productivity, and makes me feel at ease.
It has a great way of boosting concentration if you let it play for a while. Some artists I’ve been getting into:
- Miles Davis
- John Coltrane
- Bill Evans
- Thelonious Monk
- Chet Baker
- Dizzy Gillespie
- Duke Ellington
- Herbie Hancock
Coltrane has such an exciting style, I remember when I first started listening back in July/August of 2015, I was groovin’ hard in my room! 🙂 It evokes such a pleasure response in you that it’s easy to get lost in.
“Giant Steps” is still probably my favorite album from front to back. The energy, technicality, and raw talent that he displays are virtually unmatched.
If I’m feeling a bit more somber/reflective, of course, the go-to is “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis. Timeless album. I’m sure if you’re reading this, you have some experience with Jazz (and maybe significantly more than me!).
I also enjoy Bill Evans’ “Time Remembered” as well.
Being such a noob to Jazz, I didn’t even realize he was the piano player for Miles Davis’ sextet until just recently. *blush*
Anywho, when it comes down to finding a good Jazz headphone, some considerations need to be made:
What are you looking to spend? This article will outline some budget options as well as some higher-end offerings.
Are you looking for the absolute best?
This is highly subjective, but I’ve done quite a bit of research on the matter and I also have extensive experience with over 120 headphones.
A few models do come up quite often when people discuss the best.
I also have first-hand experience with all of these choices, and I have a good idea of what sound signatures pair best with this particular genre.
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 are meant for use in an isolated studio/home environment.
You aren’t really going to want to wear open-back headphones in public, as they leak sound and disturb others.
This is an important determinant in deciding whether or not a headphone will fare well with Jazz. Why?
Because the genre tends to spread out the instrumentation from left to right.
A headphone with a good Soundstage tends to space things out considerably well and separates instruments nicely, allowing you to experience more of a live flavor in your listening sessions.
It also helps to highlight those cool lost and forgotten artifacts in a recording that can make all the difference in providing a more immersive experience for you.
Instead of feeling like the music is in your head, you may feel as though it’s happening in your space – a living room, bedroom, etc. When people talk about the 3-dimensional experience with headphones, this is generally what they are referring to.
Open-back headphones tend to do the best job of this but don’t expect miracles.
As mentioned earlier, I’ve demoed countless headphones, and have come to the conclusion that while Soundstage is a real phenomenon, it’s not as realistic as people would have you believe and has a lot to do with how the track was recorded, mixed, and mastered.
In other words, the producer plays a large part in deceiving you; by arranging the song in such a way that it magnifies and almost exaggerates the effect at times.
So yes, the sound does open up quite a bit, but you’re never going to actually “feel like you’re there.” That feeling is extremely rare, as I’ve only felt it on a couple of occasions.
Good Soundstage (in most cases) does not mimic surround sound speakers no matter what anyone tells you.
It simply provides tiny glimpses into what that’s like; perhaps for a split second or 2.
What you will experience is much better clarity, instrument separation, and depth.
The Soundstage will expand, but in most cases, you’ll experience it just outside shoulder width, and in rare cases beyond that.
There will be times when you feel like the sound might have come from inside the room with you, but it’s not a constant occurrence if that makes sense.
It’s a lot more subtle, but still also very enjoyable from a music-listening standpoint.
I did a couple of videos on this. One is older and the second is more recent. Leave me some love! <3
How does Soundstage help?
A good Soundstage helps by creating space, width, and depth to the music.
With some closed-back headphones, you may feel as though the sound is boxed in and claustrophobic.
An open-back headphone has the opposite effect: It provides more air around the instruments, better separation, and more of a natural character.
There are some really great closed-back models that do an impressive job with Soundstage as well.
We’ll get into a few of those today.
A perfect example is the Status Audio CB-1.
It’s open and airy, with a great deal of space.
Because of this, its detail retrieval is almost unmatched at this price point.
You’d be hard-pressed to find many budget headphones better for Jazz, as it reveals even the most subtle nuances of a track with relative ease.
The other consideration is bass response.
The models I’m about to mention all have a good, tight, and clean frequency, but it’s never overpowering.
With Jazz, you never want the bass to drown out the other instruments.
The last consideration is adequate amplification.
Some of the headphones I’m about to discuss need an amp, while others don’t.
If you need help on how to choose, check this article out: How to choose a headphone amp!
That said, we’ll take a look at some really good budget options starting with closed-backs.
an entry-level is all you’ll need.
I’ve found them to more than suffice for all of your Jazzy goodness!
Because there aren’t too many closed-backs out there that have a somewhat open sound conducive to Jazz, this list is going to be a bit short.
Status Audio CB-1
As an entry-level with great Soundstage, this is about as good a headphone as you’ll find with regard to an open type of character in the budget range below $100.
The CB-1 works really well for nearly everything including Jazz, as it possesses an open sound signature and laid-back character that allows for long-term listening without fatigue.
One of my slight nitpicks with the CB-1 actually turns out to be an asset for Jazz.
What is the nitpick, you ask?
Well, the CB-1 sometimes has this dry, papery quality to it, but the catch is that it works incredibly well for Jazz because those subtle, feathery snare hits sound pretty awesome due to the CB-1’s open quality and propensity not to overemphasize everything.
Likewise, the bass, while certainly accentuated to an extent, ends up pairing very well with those punchy Jazz hits that you’re probably well accustomed to by now.
All in all, you can’t really go wrong with the CB-1 for around $69.
This is about as close to an open sound as you’ll get with a closed-back headphone in its price range.
I got an incredible sense of air and spacing with these, and because of their extremely balanced sound, they will also do exceptionally with Jazz.
Comfort is phenomenal as well, but do keep in mind that they are notorious for having a difficult-to-achieve seal.
This simply means you’ll have to finagle them a bit before getting a good fit on your head.
The K553 has been a long-time recommendation for many genres on this blog, and Jazz is no different.
The reason is that the 553’s resolution is really excellent; you’ll be able to hear all kinds of subtleties in the track and for Jazz, this is a must.
This is an extremely pricey offering, but well worth it in my opinion if you can get one at around $1700.
When these first came out, they were around $2,200-$2,300 if I remember correctly.
At that time,
I didn’t think that was quite worth it, but interestingly enough, they’ve since come down to around the exact price I mentioned years ago ($1700).
The sound signature is warm, open, and exciting.
The Z1R is another example of a closed-back headphone that sounds very open.
In fact, out of all the headphones I’ve personally heard, this one comes the closest to sounding like a true open-back.
Open Back – Entry Level
The years keep going by and the 9500 still remains relevant; oftentimes a best seller on Amazon and B&H and truly a remarkable achievement under $100.
What makes this a great headphone for Jazz is its Soundstage and detail retrieval, despite what some elitist snobs would have you believe.
In listening to John Coltrane’s Blue Train, I’m frequently experiencing that out-of-your-head sensation, where you pause to make sure the sound isn’t coming from the outside.
They have a consistent knack for keeping you on your toes.
Much like the 60e, the transient response is very good; attack, sustain, and decay are all above average and they do a fantastic job of keeping up.
They also have the perfect bass response for Jazz; It’s lean, textured, and nuanced.
You can actually hear individual notes which makes for a better overall listening experience.
The other thing I noticed is how much more true to life the instruments are.
After switching to the 9500 from something like an HD600, I’m finding the sound to be a lot more fully fleshed out and exposed.
The HD600, by contrast, tends to sound kind of clammy and boxed in. There’s more intricacy here with regard to, well everything.
You absolutely could almost never go wrong in purchasing a 240 for like, anything really.
The bass here is probably leaner than a 9500, but the mid-range is what really shines with these headphones.
Everything sounds extremely lifelike and natural, to the point of me wanting to go back and listen to songs I’ve long since forgotten about.
There’s a bump here around 5k, and then the treble kind of rolls off and sounds really smooth and effortless.
I wrote extensively about my excitement over these here: AKG K240 vs. Samson SR850.
It does well for Jazz because it’s open, spacious, incredibly detailed, and doesn’t overemphasize those delicate Jazz instruments which again, is key for a superb listening experience.
I wasn’t going to add this to the list until I fired up Bill Evans’s “Time Remembered” album from 1963 and got to the track called “What is this thing called Love?”
About halfway through I got up and started punching the air out of sheer excitement because let me tell you, folks, with the right source files, the 400se is another gem for Jazz.
Everything is light but still has lushness and impact.
The drum hits sound correct, the bass lines are fleshed out and hit just right, and the treble mostly stays in line.
The one issue I’ve always had with the 400se (and all 400 series headphones, really) is that gradual decline after 1kHz.
Interestingly enough, it still doesn’t cause the Piano to sound too pushed back due to the fact that Pianos typically cover a wide range of the frequency response – anywhere from 5 Hz at the lowest registers, to 500 Hz in the middle, up to around 4kHz.
Perhaps the 400se’s biggest claim to fame is its instrument Timbre, resolution, and superior tonality to most dynamics.
This, in addition to its price, is why I’m always recommending it and will continue to until something better comes along.
Everything sounds mostly correct here, Soundstage is above average, and for $109 it’s a crime that the 400se is this cheap.
I mean, they’re basically giving them away!
In other words, these are basically mid-fi headphones plus at a budget price.
As much as I bag on this headphone for sounding a bit boring, I still think it works incredibly well for Jazz because of neutrality alone.
Are you noticing a running theme in this article?
Most headphones that fare well for Jazz don’t really place too much emphasis on any one particular frequency.
This is because Jazz musicians typically don’t overpower one another, although there are some exceptions.
The 560S is another example of keeping in line with that mostly positive trend, although it does deviate slightly from the original 500 series line in that the sub-bass has now been given a slight boost + the overall sound is just a bit better and more refined.
500 series headphones like the original HD598 suffered from some distortion at higher volumes and didn’t have a very good transient response.
This is just another reason to consider the slightly more refined-than-its-counterparts HD560S for Jazz.
In addition to all that, the Soundstage remains one of its hallmark achievements and comfort is simply splendid as always.
I’ve written a ton about these headphones and have owned a pair since 2019.
As the years go by and I try more and more products, I nearly always come back to the K702 because it’s essentially a perfect sound signature.
Slightly rolled off below 40Hz, flat mid-bass, a bit of emphasis around the presence regions (2-3kHz), and a bright-ish treble that doesn’t sound too out of line.
Not only that but it’s got a marvelous Soundstage and nearly always spaces instruments and sounds apart with relative ease.
Yes, the K702, like the HD600 is one of the only headphones still talked about, reviewed, and adored decades after its release.
It’s comfortable, built well, and sounds almost perfect for Jazz.
Brush hits, bass plucks, snare rolls, and the Saxophone itself all sound marvelous, to the point where sometimes I wonder if the K702 is indeed the best mid-fi has to offer.
Hi-Fi ($500-$600+ And Beyond)
Let me start out by saying that generally speaking, anything over $500 is considered Hi-Fi to me.
This is because after demoing 120+ headphones I know from personal experience that the law of diminishing returns sets in around this price range – perhaps slightly below or above depending on who you are.
Just know that around this area is generally where I’d tell you that VERY few headphones are worth the asking retail price.
For that reason, we’ll keep it simple.
Note: I’m currently demoing and comparing the Ananda to the newer (and cheaper) Edition XS, and I think it’s ultimately a better value.
One of the problems with delving into “higher-fi” territory so to speak, is that there’s no going back.
99% of the time the lower-end model is going to sound like poop in comparison – which is exactly what happened in the case of the M60 even though I really like the headphones!
The Ananda simply provides a better, more open sound, with superior timbre and resolution to even something in the Mid-Fi range.
For Jazz? You can’t do much better if money is a concern (which it is for most people).
That is to say that if you’re looking for something a bit better than the headphones we just discussed (in the Mid-Fi category), The Ananda is probably what you’ll want to consider first.
It’s more open than a 400se and strikes all the right chords with me (no pun intended).
The bass is articulate, deep, and rolls wonderfully (there’s a nice sense of rumble), and the mid-range doesn’t roll off here.
The treble also has some nice sparkle and zip, if a tad Sibilant at times.
Still, it’s a minor nitpick to an otherwise excellent overall sound signature.
What really sets the Ananda apart from the others is its spacing – something monumentally important with Jazz.
Everything is given more room to breathe and pulsate, as you’ll notice decay is especially noteworthy here.
Instruments trail off beautifully and sound more fully fleshed out – certainly one of these headphones’ best overall qualities and one you’ll find absent in many cheaper offerings.
The LCD-2 is pretty much the only other headphone in this price range that I would consider, and just so happens to be an excellent choice for Jazz.
Like the Ananda, it’s got superior timbre and resolution vs. headphones in the lower-tiered categories and also excels wonderfully with spacing and Soundstage.
In fact, the LCD line comes pretty close to being as good as the next headphone on this list, and it’s one of the main reasons I’m keeping it here even despite the mid-range issue.
In other words,
I will caution you that an Audeze is not for everyone and you may not like its laid-back vibe.
I include it because its tonality is right up there with the best I’ve heard, and for that reason alone it will always stick out in my mind as a moment I remember vividly with the Black Label.
Out of the 120+ headphones demoed at the time of this writing, the Utopia is still the best I’ve heard and it’s really not even close.
Everything about this beauty exhibits class: from the materials to the build, to the effortlessly graceful sound signature, to the perfect comfort, and everything in between.
It works for Jazz because of its open Soundstage and propensity to deliver even the most minuscule, minute, and insignificant of details.
It does this in a way that never really feels cold, clinical, or lifeless; instead, it comes across in the most transparent of ways imaginable.
I frequently refer to this sound as “Door 3.”
While Door 2 (Mid-Fi) reveals most of what you’ll hear in a Tier-2 audiophile type of headphone, the Utopia shatters that by providing even more subtle nuance that you never knew was there.
I still vividly remember demoing these at Audio Advice’s “Music Matters” show in 2018.
At the time, it was around my 3rd or 4th demo.
Before putting them on my head, I thought to myself “Surely these aren’t as good as I made them out to be”.
No, they weren’t as good.
THEY WERE BETTER.
That’s right you heard me correctly.
I simply couldn’t believe it. It was one of the few times in my audio journey that I felt truly shocked and bewildered. Almost betrayed by my own being. My own memories. I couldn’t even trust myself anymore.
As if I was just hit in the face with a brick.
I looked to the Focal rep and said out loud “They sound better every time I hear them.” He just smiled and nodded. He knew, and most people know.
The Utopia is the best dynamic driver headphone on the planet and could be the best overall PERIOD. It’s that good.
If you can get these for around $1000-$2000, I’d say pull the trigger immediately.
$4000 is a bit high, but man, I still may fork over the money one day and never touch another headphone ever again.
So with that in mind, which of these do I personally recommend? That’s a tough one.
Overall I think you’re going to find the sound of the AKG K702 or HD560S to be perfectly in line with what a headphone should deliver in terms of Soundstage and for Jazz specifically (when considering the Mid-Fi category).
Both are excellent headphones that provide dynamic width and spacing between instruments, which really comes in handy for Jazz and how it kind of pans instruments hard left and right.
Overall, the K702 is probably the best Jazz headphone for most people and will work well in the majority of listening situations you may encounter.
If you’re looking for the best of the best, the Utopia wins by a landslide and I think I’ve done a good job of explaining why 🙂
Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this article on the best headphones for jazz, and have a better idea of what you should consider.
Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Let me know in the comments or contact me!!
Which of these headphones are you most likely to purchase? Who is your favorite Jazz composer? I would love to hear from you!
Until next time, all the best and God bless..