HomeThe BestThe Best Headphones for Jazz [In Depth Discussion]
March 12, 2016
The Best Headphones for Jazz [In Depth Discussion]
9/14/19. Article cleanup. Added CB-1 to entry-level closed back. Added K240 to the entry-level open back. Removed outdated HD558 and added updated HD 599. Switched 80e for 60e as it’s cheaper and sounds identical. Added Utopia to Best Open Backs in Top-Tier. Added Images.
1/25/21. Article/link cleanup.
2,985-word post, approx 7 min. read
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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!
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
Some great options
Final Word and Link to official reviews
Now without further ado, let’s get rolling!
Recently I’ve gotten a lot more into Jazz, and appreciate it’s relaxing qualities. It benefits my mood, 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:
Great stuff. 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” by John Coltrane 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 may be 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 is your budget? 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 a few models do come up quite often when people discuss the best. I also have the first-hand experience with many 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.
Do you know about the benefits of a good Soundstage?What is Soundstage? The soundstage 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 left to right. A headphone with a good Soundstage will also open up things considerably, allowing you to get more of a live flavor with your experience.
Speaking of Soundstage, let’s talk a little about it!
Perhaps the most important ingredient in a good pair of Jazz headphones! Soundstage enables you to hear each and every instrument with startling clarity and realism. It allows for good separation of said instruments and gives you a sort of 3-d surround sound experience. What is Soundstage?
Instead of feeling like the music is in your head, you may feel as though it’s surrounding you.
Generally speaking, open-back headphones do the best job of this but don’t expect miracles. 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.
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.
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 also very enjoyable from a music listening standpoint.
I did a little video on it. Leave me some love! <3
How does Soundstage help?
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. Related:Closed Back vs. Open Back Headphones!
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, it’s detail retrieval is almost unmatched at this price point. You’d be hard-pressed to find something better for mixing, 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, 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. Often times, 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, 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. It works really well for nearly everything including Jazz. It’s an open sound signature and laid back character allows for long term listening without fatigue. Learn more:Status Audio CB-1 Review!
AKG K553. 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 exceptional with Jazz. Learn more:AKG K553 Review!
Sony MDR Z1R. This is an extremely pricey offering, but well worth it in my opinion if you can get one at around $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. Learn more:Sony MDR Z1R Review!
Philips SHP9500. What makes this a great headphone for Jazz is it’s 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 HD 600, I’m finding the sound to be a lot more fully fleshed out and exposed. The 600’s by contrast tend to sound kind of clammy and boxed in. There’s more intricacy here with regard to, well everything. Learn more:Philips SHP9500 Review!
AKG K240. 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.
Grado SR60e. The Grado SR60e is a great headphone for many genres including Jazz, as it provides an extremely revealing and open sound with some nice bass texture and impact. I would say there’s more bass presence here than a 9500, but the mid-range around 2k has always been a bit problematic. Still, the 60e’s sense of quickness and effortless detail retrieval make it a headphone I frequently go back to, even despite its shortcomings. Learn more:The Budget Superstar Grado SR60e: A Review
A Step Up
Sennheiser HD 599. As far as pure warmth and relaxation go, there likely isn’t a better option than the HD 599. Comfort, Soundstage, and detail are all on point here. The 599 works for Jazz because it’s effortless and graceful sounding, with an open character that allows the instruments to breathe. The bass is lean enough to stay out of the way, and the mid-range is phenomenal. All in all, a solid choice for Jazz and one of those “can’t go wrong” options.
The AKG K702. I’ve written a ton about these headphones and their other siblings. Some called the K701’s Soundstage unnaturally wide, which was fixed in the Q701 version. The K702 basically has a bit more bass emphasis but it’s almost negligible. If it were up to me I’d probably go with the K702 and call it a day. 🙂 Probably the best overall choice for most people with regard to Jazz in this price range.
HIFIMAN HE400i/Sundara. This is a bit of a warmer affair, with a ton of clarity and detail. In fact, I’ve gone back and forth so many times between the two that it’s always hard to make an outright recommendation when people ask me. Learn more:HIFIMAN HE400i Review! I got a chance to try out the Sundara and it’s a definite step up from the 400i in pretty much every way. Some of the newer batches of 400i’s had QC issues with the headband yokes, but the Sundara improves upon build quality in all aspects. It also provides a better, more crisp overall sound. While the 400S was a bit too abrasive and grainy, the 400i was maybe a tad too glossy. The Sundara strikes a perfect balance between the two. Here’s my review: HIFIMAN Sundara Review!
Beyerdynamic DT880. A very similar headphone to the HD 600, but noticeably more of a harsh, sibilant treble range. What does sibilant mean? For Jazz, they would be a good option but are a last resort out of the headphones mentioned. They too have a leaner bass similar to the K701, but slightly meatier.
Grado GS1000e. This is an incredibly airy and open headphone, and even more open than your standard open back. What makes these special is their fit, as they make you look sort of like E.T. when you put them on. Aside from all that Jazz (no pun intended), these are remarkable for the genre. The bass is light but still has an impact, and the mid-range is phenomenal. I would say this is a detailed headphone on steroids. In a quiet studio environment, I’m able to pick apart songs with startling accuracy, to the point of being able to hear things I’ve never heard with any other headphones. Are these worth the price increase from the Grado SR60e? I would say no, but if money is no object, go for it. They will sound better, but it’s not light years better. Learn more:Grado GS1000e Review!
HIFIMAN Edition X/Ananda. This is an incredibly warm, intimate, and pleasant sounding headphone that’s perfect for Jazz. The bass is there, but it’s not overbearing, and the mid-range and treble are both extremely balanced. It’s easy listening all the way, and the headphones themselves also make you look like an Alien but are very comfortable overall. Learn more:HIFIMAN Edition X Review! The Ananda improves upon the Edition X by also improving build quality (as with the 400i vs. Sundara), and the sound is much more open, airy, and crisp in my estimation. The Edition X was a bit smoother/warmer sounding. I personally believe the Ananda represents the $100o price range almost perfectly. Here’s my review/video:HIFIMAN Ananda Review!
Audeze LCD-X/LCD-2/LCD-2 Classic (or anything from the LCD line). It’s hard not to put the LCD-X on pretty much every headphone list, and for Jazz these certainly deliver. They’ve got a buttery smooth sound signature, with almost flawless bass and an overall balanced character. The mid-range is fairly flat, and the treble rolls off fairly considerably. I would say these are a bit cooler and more analytical than an Edition X, but still not too surgical where you can’t enjoy them with a genre like Jazz. Learn more:Audeze LCD-X Review! I’m listening to the LCD-2 now and they’ve got such an amazing Soundstage. I keep hearing stuff off in the distance that sounds like it’s coming from inside my apartment!
Focal Utopia. Out of close to 100 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 minute 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 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. Can’t recommend it enough. Learn more:Focal Utopia Review
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 to be perfectly in line with what a headphone should deliver in terms of Soundstage and Jazz specifically. It’s a quintessential studio headphone that provides dynamic width and spacing between instruments, which really comes in handy for Jazz and how it kind of pans instruments hard left and right.
Add to that you won’t have an issue with the anemic/sort of lifeless bass issue present in the K701. It doesn’t roll off quite as hard. Still, choosing between the K701 and K702 is kind of like the choice between Sea Salt and Pink Himalayan; it’s still salt and still tastes almost exactly the same.
Overall, the K702 is probably the best Jazz headphone for mostpeople.
Stu is determined to help you make sound decisions, and strives to deliver the best and most in depth content on the internet! In his spare time, he likes to fish, paint, play guitar, pray, rap, make beats, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His sense of humour, coupled with a knack for excellence and strict attention to detail are what allow him to stand out in an crowded industry.