Hey there friend, and Welcome aboard!!
This is part 4 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
- The Best Headphones for Classical
- The Best Headphones for Rock
- The Best Headphones for Metal (This article)
- The Best Headphones for Pop
- The Best Headphones for Hip-Hop
- The Best Headphones For Folk
Before we get into the best headphones for metal, grab a snack, sit back, and relax because…
I’m Here to Help!!
What I will bring you in this article
- My First Metal Show
- Small Disclaimer
- Types of Metal
- Entry Level
- High End
- Sub-Genre Pairings
- Final Word and Link to official reviews
Now without further ado, let’s get rolling!!
Metal music is a lot like Rock, in that guitars for the most part tend to drive the song, followed by the bass.
I’ve always been into Metal to some degree, but I wouldn’t say I’m a die-hard fan of all its sub-genres.
I like a little Megadeth from time to time, some alternative metal like Rage Against the Machine, Doom metal like Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Iron Maiden, and more recently, Progressive Metal/Rock/Math Rock from artists like Chon, Plini, Animals as Leaders, Polyphia, etc.
The good news is that what works for Rock mostly does work for Metal as well, given that the genres share a lot of similarities.
- Learn more: The Best Headphones for Rock!
My First Metal Show
My experience with Live Metal is fairly limited, but a show that still stands out to me is when I saw Russian Circles with 2 of my good friends back in 2015 at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, NC.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect, as I had never heard of the band.
My friends assured me it would be a head-bangin’ good time, and so I obliged.
Loudest. Show. Ever.
As we walked out of the venue, mouths agape, we could do nothing but simply laugh hysterically.
I thought my ears were going to explode.
There was this awkward ringing feeling and I wasn’t sure if I was about to go deaf or not. Lol.
All in all, it was a lot of fun but I’m not sure if I’ll ever do it again.
My whole body was vibrating even days later, but I would say overall it was a good experience.
Russian Circles don’t F around. Kind of like Joe Pesci.
As for Metal headphones, it’s almost impossible to write an article that covers everything.
I’m also not one to write something and then let it collect dust.
I will be updating this article as frequently as needed when new information comes to light, as well as when I demo and try out new headphones.
So please, if you have a suggestion let me know, but don’t be rude about it. Thanks!
Types of Metal
That said, I’ve been doing a ton of research on Metal itself, and was surprised to find out just how many different sub-genres there are.
As a disclaimer, I’m not professing to have experience with every different type, but I still find it extremely interesting to read about it.
This allows me to gauge which types of headphones work best for the various types, including:
So with that in mind, let’s look at some considerations when deciding on a pair of headphones for Metal.
What are you looking to spend?
Today’s article will cover some more affordable solutions, as well as some higher-end options you might consider.
There is a caveat though, and we’ll take a look at that next.
Unfortunately, the general consensus is that Metal music is typically recorded badly (in most cases), and this becomes an issue when deciding on a more expensive set of headphones.
The reason is that the better the headphones, the more transparent and honest you’ll find the recording to be.
I have a pair of Sennheiser HD600s, and although they are a fantastic set, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.
You’ll find that there are a lot of songs that simply don’t sound good because they were poorly mastered, and only an honest sound signature could reveal that.
Metal tends to be overly compressed and thus loses quite a bit of detail and clarity.
A good headphone will only magnify that issue, unfortunately.
With that in mind,
we’ll try to stick to the entry-level category today but still delve into some better offerings for the sake of being concise.
Do you want a headphone that will work well out of a mobile device, or do you plan on purchasing an Amp/DAC?
- This article should help: How to choose a headphone amp!
Closed vs. Open
Do you intend on being out and about with your headphones, or staying indoors in a closed-off, isolated studio environment?
A big factor in determining is the type of sound you prefer.
- Learn more: Closed back vs. Open back headphones.
Should you get an Amp or DAC?
If your headphones have a high impedance and/or low Sensitivity, they’re going to resist power and not be as efficient.
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!
A Digital to Analog converter’s job is to convert the 1s and 0s 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 (1s and 0s).
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).
- Recommended: What is a USB DAC?
Sensitivity and low-impedance cans
For low-impedance headphones, the Sensitivity will usually be fairly high, resulting in headphones that generally do well with mobile devices.
That said, the quality of the song will still largely depend on the source file, as well as your DAC in some cases.
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, 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!
The ideal Metal bass is not too overpowering, but also not weak.
It lies somewhere in the middle and could be construed as “lean” but still not lacking impact.
A good example of this is the HIFIMAN HE400se (pictured above).
It’s definitely not for bass heads per se, but also not lacking – in my opinion of course.
It has an excellent sense of weight but never becomes out of control or obnoxious.
We’ll talk a bit more about it later since it does make the list!
We want the mid-range to be fairly flat/balanced so that instruments and vocals are heard with great clarity and detail.
Your typical V-shaped headphone (Too much bass combined with a sucked-out mid-range and overly bright treble) is not what we’re looking for.
It also helps a bit if the mids are slightly forward to bring out the crunch/liveliness of guitars and instruments.
The treble should be clean and exciting, but not overly bright or anything.
That said, I’m a bit more forgiving of a brighter character since in most cases, it does tend to enhance the sound.
The best scenario for a good treble on Metal headphones would be a bit darker, to help offset some of the compression/artifact issues that we touched on earlier so prevalent in a lot of Metal recordings.
Because Metal tends to be so guitar and vocal-driven, we want the sounds to be distinct and separate, rather than layered on top of each other like most low-grade dog food cans have shown us in the past.
- Related: What is Soundstage?
Obviously, we’ll want a headphone that is comfortable and built well.
I do tend to be more forgiving of lesser models in this regard, especially if the sound is stellar.
An example is the AKG K240.
It does feel like something you may find lying around the toy section of your local Wal-Mart, but its sound more than makes up for it.
Finally, the moment we’ve been waiting for. The Players! I will split this up into:
Entry Level ($0-100)
- Open back
- Open back
Top-Tier ($300 and beyond)
- Open back
Entry Level ($0-100)
- Related: Sony MDR-V6 vs. MDR-7506
Yes, this is the best entry-level closed-back headphone, and for good reason.
Like the Porta Pro, it’s remained relevant since the ’80s, and I don’t see it going anywhere anytime soon.
Both are considered the quintessential studio headphones, with crisp, neutral bass, balanced mid-range, and bright treble.
Standard issue sound. Can’t go wrong.
If you’ve never heard a good sound out of headphones and are accustomed to the drug store variety garbage, listening to the MDR-7506 will be a life-changing event.
I’d put a lot of money on that.
You’ll come to realize just how much of the music was missing before, and I’ll warn you upfront: there’s no going back once you hear it.
In other words,
you’re likely to venture down the rabbit hole with no hope of survival.
So plan accordingly.
Image credit to Alex over at Medium.com!
The 440 tends to be extremely revealing and crisp, and it bodes well for metal because of the immense detail it provides.
Yes, it will be a bit overly bright at times, but the sound is so clear and precise that it deserves a spot on the list.
This is a very similar sound as the above MDR-7506, only the 440 isn’t built quite as well and feels a lot bulkier.
There’s loads of plastic here and it’s a bit of a creaky affair, but the sound does make up for it which is why I included it in the list.
Koss Porta Pro
Perhaps the best “cheap” headphone you can buy, this baby has been around since the ’80s and certainly looks like it could star in a John Hughes teen angst movie.
Aside from that,
it’s got an atypical sound signature for a headphone in its price range, providing great balance in favor of the dreaded V-shape (Over exaggerated bass, recessed mid-range, bright treble).
I suppose it’s why the Porta Pro is still relevant even today.
You’ll find the bass aplenty here without going overboard, in addition to a wonderfully smooth and revealing overall sound without the overly essy treble that most headphones in the budget category fall victim to.
Handmade in Brooklyn, NY, the Grado SR60e is going to sound marvelous for detail retrieval and overall excitement.
Most regular readers and subscribers will know I trash Grado incessantly, but I’ve always said the 60e can be a viable solution in some cases + it’s dirt cheap.
For instance, I really do enjoy them with Classic Rock and Metal, hence why I still sometimes recommend them.
I don’t think there was a time when I wasn’t more excited pumping out Chon’s “Temporarily Destabilized.”
Go ahead, melt your face, do backflips, and get pumped!
- Learn more: The Budget Superstar Grado SR60: A Review
The build here is somewhat questionable, but many have reported to me that they’ve had theirs hold up for years (even decades).
others have issues with them breaking down after only a few years and Grado’s non-detachable cables are pretty annoying overall.
The reason here is simple: They’re incredibly detailed, with fantastic resolution and excellent Soundstage given that they’re on-ear headphones.
Speaking of, comfort is pretty good overall and the S-cushions feel fine.
You’ll be making some slight adjustments from time to time but I find that these don’t dig quite as much as you might expect and do rest quite well on your ears due to the softness of the pad.
My 2nd go-to Budget King in the open-back category and a headphone that I’ve been ecstatically recommending to people since around 2017.
The extra emphasis in the lower mid-range/upper treble helps a lot with crunchy guitars and vocals, and the overall sound can be described as open, airy, and incredibly revealing.
I think of these as a better version of the 60e – they don’t suffer from that ridiculous 2kHz spike but remain crisp and clear enough to make you want to do backflips.
The bass is definitely rolled off below 100Hz, but there’s no unnecessary mid-bass bloat and you’ll love how well these render your favorite tunes, guaranteed or you can make me eat a sock.
Perhaps the overall best headphone in this entire lot.
The HD25s are an intense, exciting, immensely detailed, and overall in-your-face experience, best listened to in chunks.
These aren’t the type of headphones you’re going to be able to wear all day, so let’s get that out of the way.
They will fatigue you musically as well as physically.
The comfort factor is below average, but the sound and build both more than make up for it.
This is still widely considered one of (if not the best) DJ headphones ever made, but they also work well with a variety of different genres.
I hear details and lyrics in the HD25 that I simply don’t in other headphones.
They are very transparent, but they also slam with a certain authority that must be heard to believe.
Go ahead, I dare you to throw on Killing in the Name of by Rage Against the Machine.
Prepare to have your mind blown, dog.
I love all the extra guitar sounds you can hear with these puppies.
You’ll also notice many T.V. announcers, talk show hosts, etc. donning these as well.
They’re extremely portable, durable, and convenient, and make a great travel/on-the-go companion as well!
If there were ever a headphone I believe was made specifically for Metal (even though it technically wasn’t), it’s the HD25.
Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro
This is considered a studio headphone, but like the M50x, doesn’t really live up to that moniker.
Both are headphones more suited towards pure enjoyment, and neither disappoints.
The DT770 is a little bit bass-heavier than average, but never really delves into Beats by Dre territory.
It’s got a nice slam and impact, with a shimmering treble and a slightly recessed mid-range.
The mids are in no way absent, but they do tend to take an ever so slightly downward trajectory into about 5k, before becoming brighter in the treble regions.
The comfort here is marvelous, and they’re certainly built very well.
I look at the DT770 as a bit more of an extreme HD25.
While that headphone is a bit more balanced, the 770 is V-shaped and isn’t ashamed about it.
So definitely keep that in mind before purchasing.
Audio Technica ATH M50/50x
Another great all-purpose headphone, I owned a pair from 2013-2018.
They did come out with the 50x, which sounds about the same, but with a bit more bass and a somewhat tamed down treble.
If the 770 is a bit overly flamboyant, and the HD25 is a bit more balanced, the 50x is probably somewhere in the middle.
There’s a 5dB shelf across pretty much the entirety of the bass frequencies, but it doesn’t feel overpowering and bloated as it did with the M40x.
So the M50x is fairly similar to the HD25 but with better comfort and a bulkier overall profile.
These headphones will wow you if you’re new to audiophile-grade cans for sure – similar to what we discussed with regard to the MDR-7506.
Could be the go-to in this category.
The DT880s have an incredibly clean signature, reminiscent of the HD600 but with more treble emphasis.
The Bass has punch but never gets out of line, and instrument separation is spot on as well.
These don’t sound nearly as bass-heavy or treble-happy as people like to claim, but they are bright and will be an immensely fun listen for Metal.
The differences between the 990 and 880 are slight.
The 990 is a more fun listen, with some added bass emphasis, while the 880 is more neutral.
One reason you may opt for the 880 is that it doesn’t mask the mid-range as much as the 990, due to its lean bass response.
This helps greatly aid the emergence of guitars and vocals, but do keep in mind the 880 is a leaner-sounding headphone with a bright character similar to the SHP9500.
The 600s are my Gold Standard as far as audiophile headphones, and they do work for metal because they are so balanced, detailed, and revealing.
The treble on them is darker than the 880, and thus they can sometimes sound a bit dull.
This is really only realized when A/B testing them against something like an SHP9500, which sounds a bit brighter side by side.
If you were wondering about the differences between the 600 and 650, the 650 has a bit more bass and sounds warmer.
The HD600 sounds clinical and sterile by contrast, but it’s still a similar sound regardless.
One of the reasons both of these headphones work so well for Metal, and really any genre is because of their ability to pick up bass lines with astonishing clarity.
No longer does the bass sound like a jumbled mess.
You’re able to distinctly hear each note, which can yield some extreme excitement.
Other than that, the entire signature works well for Metal because it’s transparent and detailed, but also neutral and mostly balanced outside of the slight overemphasis around 3kHz.
You also may be wondering about the HD6XX.
I do tend to recommend it over these 2 because of the price, so definitely consider that as well.
- Recommended: Sennheiser HD6XX Review
The 400 series has undergone many changes throughout the years.
The neutral profile means these will do well with most genres, with fantastic timbre and resolution; both mainstays in HIFIMAN headphones and why I tend to recommend them a lot.
For instance, Rage [Against The Machine] has a tendency of making guitars sound like nails on a chalkboard in the best way possible.
The 400se really helps to magnify how that actually sounds at its most detailed and raw.
In other words,
it almost seems like you’re listening in a studio space rather than hearing the sound through drivers.
- Related: What is a Headphone Driver?
Bullet in the Head is a great example of a track that sounds phenomenal through the 400se; the resolution is simply fantastic.
I do tend to believe that planar drivers outperform their dynamic counterparts, and nowhere is that more apparent than in a HIFIMAN headphone like the 400se.
Everything is just a bit better, but at the end of the day, the difference between the timbre of the 400se and something like a K702 is pretty close.
These will also do very well with Metal but will sound a tad more anemic as far as bass is concerned.
Some folks prefer this over a powerful bass, and your mileage will vary.
The K702 in my mind is certainly one of the top 3 mid-fi headphones ever conceived, and it just does so well with an array of genres.
The reason it works so well for metal is its clarity, incredible tuning, its open, spacious sound, and raw honest portrayal of what you’re hearing.
If you want to hear metal as it actually is, the K702 is the solution.
I use one every day because I tend to prefer that mostly flat, honest sound with a subtle emphasis on the mid-range and treble.
Top Tier ($300 and beyond)
As promised, I’m not going to go too crazy with these, as the majority of the time, it won’t be worth it to spend a ton of money on a headphone for Metal in particular (due to the problems we discussed earlier with regard to mastering issues).
I don’t currently have a closed-back recommendation for Metal in this price range. Stay tuned!
Similar to the LCD-XC, this puppy is a bit toned down in that 1-2kHz region, and just maybe my favorite Audeze headphone out of the LCD line.
The bottomless bass is there in spades, and the LCD-X, as with a HIFIMAN, tends to outperform due to its planar drivers and propensity to deliver the music in an incredibly realistic way.
Could be the best pairing in this price category, with its just-right bass response, great mid-range, and brighter-sounding treble.
This headphone honestly feels like chewing Winterfresh gum while skiing down a mountain in January sipping Lipton Brisk Iced Tea.
It’s cool and immensely detailed, with a near-perfect tonal balance and fantastic resolution.
Can’t recommend it highly enough!
Comfort is excellent and it’s built really well, but the main draw of an Ananda has always been its smooth, crisp sound with plenty of openness.
It’ll feel like the sound has finally opened up completely, with every single minute detail having a place of its own.
So get excited because it’s surely boner-inducing and will make you do backflips and then some – while having a boner at the same time as you do the backflips.
Yeah, this is the best headphone on the planet (as least as far as what I’ve heard) so I naturally put it on almost any list.
All the stuff I talked about that makes the others on the list so great?
Take that and then multiply it by 1000. All the hallmark qualities are there, but they’re even better.
Resolution, attack, sustain, decay, timbre, balance, realism. It’s simply on a different level.
The Utopia is simply a perfect headphone and nothing I’ve heard comes close to it.
In this section, I will attempt to outline which headphones go well with the different genres of Metal. Let me know if you have any suggestions, omissions, additions, etc.
Entry Level ($0-100)
- Sony MDR-7506. Best for Progressive, Alternative, and Heavy.
- Shure SRH440. Best for Doom, Power, Symphonic, and Progressive.
- Koss Porta Pro. Best for Black, Alternative, Heavy, and Progressive.
- Grado SR60e.Best for Symphonic, Progressive, Power, Alternative, Heavy, and Thrash.
- Philips SHP9500. Best for Alternative, Black, Power, Heavy, Progressive, Sludge/Stoner, Thrash, and Goth.
- Sennheiser HD25. Best for Alternative, Progressive, and Heavy.
- Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro. Best for Doom, Thrash, Industrial, Black, and Alternative.
- Audio Technica ATH M50/50x. Best for Grind-core and Industrial.
- Beyerdynamic DT880. Best for Progressive, Death, Symphonic, and Doom.
- Beyerdynamic DT990. Best for Alternative, Progressive, Heavy, and Death.
- Sennheiser HD600/650. Best for Alternative, Black, Power, Heavy, Progressive, Sludge/Stoner, Thrash, and Goth.
- HIFIMAN HE400se. Best for Progressive, Death, Alt/Funk/Rap Metal (Rage).
- AKG K702. Best for Progressive, Symphonic, Goth, Power, Grind-core, Black, Death.
Top Tier ($300 and beyond)
- Audeze LCD-X. Best for Alternative, Doom, Heavy, Black, Symphonic, Thrash, Goth, Sludge/Stoner.
- Focal Utopia. Best for everything because it’s a perfect headphone and did I mention it’s perfect?
If I had to choose one headphone for Metal that won’t leave you without a kidney, It would most definitely be the Sennheiser HD25 without question.
It’s the one that stands out from the rest rather easily because of just how lively and intense it is.
In fact, if Metal and the HD25 were people, they would certainly be happily married and having sex daily.
Multiple times, many positions, what do.
Every time I put one on and fire up some hard tunes, my face melts like pimento cheese on a hot griddle.
It’s almost like the headphone was specifically made for this genre and nothing else.
Everything about it is hardcore; from the indestructible build to the thumping bass, to the flat as a pancake mid-range, to the sparkling treble.
Yeah, the treble is bright. So what? That’s what you want, homie!
The sound signature will make you wanna slap someone; that’s how good it is.
Anyway, I’ve done enough rambling for one day.
Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this article on The Best Headphones for Metal.
Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please leave them down below or Contact me!!
Which of these headphones are YOU more likely to purchase? What do you think about the HD25? I would love to hear from you. Until next time…
All the best and God bless,