3,613-word post, approx. 9 min. read
- 9/14/19. Article cleanup. Removed the outdated HD558. Added Ananda to Open Back, High-End Category.
- 1/25/21. Article/link cleanup.
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 (Coming Soon!)
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 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 if you’re rude about it, expect to have your comment deleted or for me to be rude right back. I’m not perfect and the site isn’t perfect, but we’re always striving for 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, to kind of gauge which types of headphones work best for the various types, including:
Whew! So with that in mind, let’s look at some considerations when deciding on a pair of headphones for Metal.
- Budget. 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.
- Mastering quality. 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 it is. For example, I have a pair of Sennheiser HD600’s, 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.
- Source. 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?
- 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!
- 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?
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. What is Sensitivity in Headphones? 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!
- Bass. 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 HE400i. Definitely not a bass head affair, but also not lacking. It has an excellent sense of heft but never becomes out of control or obnoxious. We’ll talk a bit more about it later since it does make the list!
- Mid-range. 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.
- Treble. 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 a Metal can 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.
- Soundstage/Instrument Separation. 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. What is Soundstage?
- Comfort/Build. 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 literally 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. Learn more: AKG K240 Review!
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)
- Sony MDR V6. 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. It’s the quintessential studio headphone, with crisp, neutral bass, balanced mid-range, and bright treble. Standard issue, can’t go wrong sound. Learn more: Sony MDR V6 Review!
- Shure SRH440. 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. Learn more: Shure SRH440 Review!
- 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 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.
- Grado SR60e. Handmade in Brooklyn, NY, the Grado SR60e is going to sound marvelous for detail retrieval and overall excitement. 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, get pumped! Learn more: The Budget Superstar Grado SR60: A Review
- Philips SHP9500. My go-to Budget King in the open back category, and slightly edging the V6’s overall. Much has been discussed about these puppies, and in my mind, they sound just as good if not better than the venerable HD600. A bold statement, but it’s the truth. The extra emphasis in the lower mid-range/upper treble helps a lot with crunchy guitars and vocals. Learn more: Philips SHP9500 Review!
- Sennheiser HD25. 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 within chunks. This isn’t the type of headphones you’re going to be able to wear all day, so let’s get that out of the way. It 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 it also works 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. 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! Learn more: Sennheiser HD25 Review!
- Shure SRH840. Following a similar sound signature to the 440, these may be even better due to the tamed down treble. Other than that, it’s a very similar overall sound and a perfect pairing for the Metal genre.
- Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro. This is considered a studio headphone, but like the M50, doesn’t really live up to that moniker. Learn more: Audio Technica ATH M50 Review! 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 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.
- Audio Technica ATH M50/50x. Another great all-purpose headphone, I’ve had my 50’s since January of 2013 but have since given them away. They did come out with the 50x, which sounds about the same, but with a bit more bass and a somewhat tamed down treble. Similar to the HD25 but with better comfort. These headphones will wow you if you’re new to audiophile-grade cans for sure. It does well for many genres including Metal. Learn more in my review: Audio Technica ATH M50 Review!
- Beyerdynamic DT880. Could be the go-to in this category. The DT880s have an incredibly clean signature, reminiscent of the HD600s but with more treble emphasis. Bass has punch but never gets out of line, and instrument separation is spot on as well.
- Beyerdynamic DT990. 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. Learn more: Beyerdynamic DT990 Review + Comparison to the Premium version. 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 more lean bass response. This helps greatly aid the emergence of guitars and vocals.
- Sennheiser HD600/650. Sennheiser HD600 vs. 650 The 600’s 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.
- HIFIMAN HE400i. Another mid-level gem, these are warmer than the HD600, with more bass emphasis similar to an HD650. Learn more: HIFIMAN HE4ooi Review!
- AKG K702/Q701. These will also do very well with Metal but will sound more anemic as far as bass is concerned. Some folks prefer this over a powerful bass, and your mileage will vary.
- Audio Technica ATH AD900x. This is an extremely airy sound and will work very well with Metal. It’s got a smooth bass response (there is a bit of roll-off, however), a flat mid-range, and a bright treble. Another standard option. I put it near the bottom of this category because I feel as though it’s lacking “life” at times. Still, a consideration.
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).
- Audeze LCD-XC. Just has a fantastic sound signature, but can be a tad bright between 1-2k. Still, this is an extremely clean signature and bodes very well for most genres, Metal included. Learn more: Audeze LCD-XC Review!
- AKG K712. Better than the Q701, and perhaps AKG’s best, the K712 is one of the smoothest, flattest frequency responses out there. Smooth, neutral bass, balanced mid-range, and a nice crispy treble for good measure.
- Grado GS1000e. The GS1000e is an extremely spacious, wide, and revealing experience best heard in a dark, quiet environment with a good amp. I would describe the sound as a flower opening up. You start to realize how closed off things get in lesser headphones. Learn more: Grado GS1000e Review!!
- Audeze LCD-X. 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. Learn more: Audeze LCD-X Review!
- HIFIMAN Ananda. 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 and 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! Learn more: HIFIMAN Ananda Review: Best $1k Planar?
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 V6. Best for Progressive, Alternative, Heavy.
- Shure SRH440. Best for Doom, Power, Symphonic, Progressive.
- Koss Porta Pro. Best for Black, Alternative, Heavy, Progressive.
- Grado SR60e. Best for Symphonic, Progressive, Power, Alternative, Heavy, Thrash.
- Philips SHP9500. Best for Alternative, Black, Power, Heavy, Progressive, Sludge/Stoner, Thrash, Goth.
- Sennheiser HD25. Best for Alternative, Progressive, Heavy.
- Shure SR840. Best for Doom, Power, Symphonic, Progressive.
- Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro. Best for Doom, Thrash, Industrial, Black, 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, Goth.
- HIFIMAN HE400i. Best for Progressive, Death.
- AKG K702/Q701. Best for Progressive, Symphonic, Goth, Power, Grind-core, Black, Death.
- Audio Technica ATH AD900x. Best for Black, Heavy/Speed, Symphonic.
Top Tier ($300 and beyond)
- Audeze LCD-XC. Best for Alternative, Doom, Heavy, Black, Symphonic, Thrash, Goth, Sludge/Stoner.
- AKG K712. Best for Symphonic, Power, Industrial, Sludge/Stoner, Black, Progressive.
- Grado GS1000e. Best for Symphonic, Progressive, Power, Alternative.
- Audeze LCD-X. Best for Alternative, Doom, Heavy, Black, Symphonic, Thrash, Goth, Sludge/Stoner.
If I had to choose one headphone for Metal, 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. I’m serious.
Every time I put one on and fire up some hard tunes, my face melts. 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. Check out Tyll’s graph real quick. Yeah, the treble is bright. So what? That’s what you want homie! The sound signature will make you wanna slap ya momma; 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,