Hello there friend and Welcome aboard!!
This is part 3 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 (This article)
- The Best Headphones for Metal
- The Best Headphones for Pop
- The Best Headphones for Hip-Hop
- The Best Headphones For Folk
Before we get into the best headphones for Rock music, grab a snack, sit back, and relax because…
I’m Here to Help!!
If you want to read my ex-stoner ramblings, they’re at the very end! 🙂
For now, let’s dive right into the meat of this thing.
What is your budget?
What are you looking to spend?
Today we’ll cover some entry-level budget options as well as some higher-end offerings.
Are you looking for the absolute best?
If so, you may have to spend more.
That said, we’ll cover the best in specific price categories to give you a better idea of the overall picture.
It’s also important to remember that “best” is a highly subjective term.
What my best is may be different from another.
Regardless, these options will start you off on the right foot.
As I always say to people, if it’s your first foray into what’s considered “good”, you’ll likely be satisfied with any of the options I’m about to go over.
Portable vs. Studio.
Are you looking for a Rock headphone that will pair well with a portable device, or do you plan on investing in an Amp, DAC, or both?
More on that in a bit.
Closed vs. Open.
Going off of that, there are some great closed-back headphones for Rock as well as open ones.
Keep this in mind as well.
An open back will provide a better overall experience, but you’ll want to be in an isolated environment free from any noise or distractions.
Because I don’t know your specific situation, I’m going over both today.
Let me know if you have any questions!
Mid-range & Treble.
For the most part, these are the two key ingredients to a good Rock headphone.
You want clarity and vocal presence, as well as good resolution when listening to this genre.
A good Rock headphone will provide both. The treble will be crisp and bright, and the mid-range very revealing.
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 (i.e. the Soundcard from your PC or mobile device). You’ll know because it either won’t be loud enough or just generally sound bad (noise, crackling, etc).
- Related: 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.
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 only 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.
What about criteria? Certainly, there are things to consider.
A good Rock headphone will provide all of the following:
Not too deep, not too light. With Rock, you want there to be a happy medium.
It sits down low where it should, and provides plenty of detail, accuracy, and articulation without becoming overbearing.
This is perhaps the most important ingredient, as it will provide clarity to the vocals and instrumentation.
The mids can make or break a Rock headphone.
It’s bright, but not too Sibilant.
- Related: What does Sibilant mean?
It should provide a nice crispness at the top, which ends up delivering excitement to the music. Very important.
I’ve found that the better the instrument separation, the more effective the details in the song become.
This is true for most genres, but with Rock, it’s especially important.
- Related: What is Soundstage?
Type of Rock.
Generally speaking, the best Rock headphones should do well with a plethora of different types.
Up for consideration here are Classic Rock, Indie Rock, Alternative Rock, some forms of Metal (and all associated acts), and Progressive Rock (bands like Yes, Chon, Plini, etc.)
I believe that covers most of it, but if you have any additions please let me know!
Comfort and Durability.
I put this last as it kind of goes without saying.
I’m generally not going to recommend a headphone that fails to deliver on these counts unless the sound is just so good that I have no choice.
A good example of this is the AKG K240 Studio.
It’s extremely flimsy and almost feels like a toy, but the sound is absolutely magnificent so I will recommend it in certain instances.
Okay, now we can discuss options. 🙂
Entry-level ($0 – 100)
Note: I didn’t have any pictures of the 7506 from my time with it in 2010-2011, but by and large these are the same headphones.
- Recommended: Sony MDR-V6 vs. MDR-7506; Identical Twins?
In all honesty, the 7506 tends to make a lot of my “best-of” lists; and for good reason.
It typically works for many different genres and Rock is no different.
In fact, out of all the genres, this 1991 offering from Sony just may work the best for Rock music specifically (if you don’t happen to be mixing down a track).
The bass has nice impact but feels neither too rolled off nor too boosted, the mid-range is just about perfect, and the treble sizzles like Outback Steakhouse.
Things to be aware of
The treble may be a tad on the spicy side for some, but like I always say, for the price, it’s darn forgivable.
In other words, yes, you will hear some sibilance around 8-10kHz, but for the most part, it works well for that extra bit of detail that you may miss out on with other, darker offerings.
I also had a discussion with someone recently who made a great point: It largely depends on the track.
If the track was mixed with a heavy emphasis on the treble, you’ll hear it more than you otherwise would, but most tracks that were recorded well don’t sound sibilant out of a 7506.
Comfort is hit and miss, and if I’m honest probably average to slightly below average.
When I was younger, I mixed on these until about 2-4 a.m. most nights, but I’m not sure I could do that nowadays.
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.
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.
The 9500 makes almost every shortlist for best headphones and it doesn’t really matter what the category is.
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.
All jokes aside,
the resolution here for the price is simply splendid, the headphones themselves are extremely lightweight and comfortable, and for rock, you’d be hard-pressed to do much better in the budget category.
Things to be aware of
- The lack of bass will inevitably bother some people, but being a former bass head I’ve come to appreciate its subtle texture and nuance.
- The treble can get a bit hot and hissy at times, but it’s in no way “grainy” as some people have claimed.
Most of my regular readers will know my disdain for Grado at this point, but it should be noted that the 60e still works incredibly well for Rock outside of the 2kHz issue.
Rock and Hip-Hop seem to be their bread and butter, and I won’t deny that they do sound very good with both of these genres.
They will provide a bit more bass slam over the 9500 but still have an incredible amount of detail for a headphone at this price point.
I’ve talked ad nausea about how this one provides about 95% of the Grado sound at a fair price.
- Recommended: 10 Grado Headphones Ranked Worst To Best
As you spend more and more,
you’re getting less of a jump in sound quality due to the law of diminishing returns.
Still, transient response with the 60e is probably its best quality, and why I still tend to recommend it even to this day.
It’s not perfect but does a lot of things right and sounds pretty marvelous with older Classic Rock recordings.
Things to be aware of
- The 2kHz peak is pretty obnoxious and I’ve discussed this ad-nausea in a lot of articles.
I include the venerable K240 for a simple reason; clarity and overall resolution at this price point are absolutely insane.
They work so well for older rock, progressive rock, and Motown recordings and I can’t quite put my finger on why.
I think it’s because the sound signature gets almost completely out of the way and lets the music do its thing.
You’ll start to hear all sorts of intricate details that you had no idea were there.
the K240 experience is another one of those vivid moments I remember because of how incredible the resolution was.
It’s like I could hear almost everything that went on in the studio that day.
The best way I can describe it is like unraveling a tangled-up vacuum chord.
No, that’s stupid.
Think of it like a flower opening up. That’s kind of what the sound does here.
Things to be aware of
- Comfort on the K240 has always been sub-par to downright bad. Because the cups are incredibly shallow, your ears will touch the drivers over top of the cloth material and it starts to hurt after about 30-45 minutes.
- Some will find the bass roll-off to be a bit too anemic.
What about mid-tier?
Mid-tier ($100 – 300)
I 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, lump rock in there too because they’ll melt your f’in face off, homie!
you need to be fully aware of what you’re getting yourself into with these.
They’re intense, exciting, and colored – but it’s not overdone like your mom’s meatloaf.
Okay, it’s slightly overdone but still works incredibly well.
In other words, you won’t care.
There’s plenty of bass slam, but it’s not bloated.
This headphone absolutely destroys when it comes to rendering electric guitars as well (and really anything crunchy).
The mid-range is done exceptionally well also, and the treble has plenty of sparkle and zip.
these are almost perfect rock/metal headphones, but they work well for other genres like hip-hop as well.
Potential Caveats/You May Not Like
I don’t care and neither should you. Just buy them!
They’re pretty uncomfortable and you’ll likely be making frequent adjustments and/or taking a break every so often.
What can I say? The HD600 is probably the most covered headphone on this site.
Great for all genres including Rock, but perhaps a bit too laid back for the aggression present in Metal.
As far as an all-around buddy, it may be the only headphone you’ll ever need but I may recommend you save some money and get the 6XX.
The differences between the 600 and 650 are very subtle.
The 650 is warmer and has a more lush sound with a bit of a meatier bass. That’s pretty much it.
Things to be aware of
- Some have accused the treble of being “veiled” or “too dark”, and I can certainly empathize with those people to an extent. Related: What is the Sennheiser Veil? | Is It A Myth?
- The mid-range can become a bit shouty at 2-3kHz, and that is something that I’ve personally experienced. Many others will agree here as well.
I’ll never forget the first time I heard “Over the Hills and Far Away” through the Bryston BHA-1 and a pair of the original HE400i.
It was almost otherworldly.
Everything came through so crystal clear that it sort of made me feel a bit uncomfortable.
It was as if I got a glimpse of Led Zeppelin’s collective soul, how they related to each other, and what they were like at their absolute core.
For rock, these are a real treat.
Part of the reason the initial experience was so mindblowing had almost everything to do with the planar drivers.
There are many things in this hobby that I would consider snake oil, but the transition from a dynamic headphone to a planar is certainly not one of those things.
Listening to a planar for the first time will be a life-changing experience for you.
This is in part why delving down the rabbit hole mostly ends in despair and sadness.
It’s because you can never experience those amazing moments for the first time again, but still end up chasing the feeling – sort of like a crackhead.
In all seriousness,
it’s kind of like what I would imagine a drug addiction to be like.
You’re constantly chasing something (the first time) that you’ll never be able to replicate again.
This is how I feel about planar headphones.
I’m spoiled to the max now, but there was a time when it was all fresh, new, and exciting.
If you’re at that stage, enjoy it while it lasts – because one day you’ll be like me, sad and lonely with lots of headphones lying around that you never use. Lmao.
Now go ahead and share this. You know it’s the right thing to do. XD
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 Rock.
Bass lines, vocals, instruments, etc. all sound spectacular to the point where sometimes I wonder if the K702 is indeed the best mid-fi has to offer.
Things to be aware of
- I will concede that at times, the 702 can be a tad sizzly and a bit thin sounding. But other than that, this is a nearly perfect set of headphones.
Let me start out by saying that generally speaking, anything $500 and up 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 with only 2 options I’d consider:
HIFIMAN Edition XS
The Edition XS takes the mid-fi concept and kicks it up a notch like Emeril Lagasse.
In other words,
everything is just a bit better: Timbre, Resolution, spacing, decay, bass response, etc.
The biggest difference you’ll notice right away is the spacing between instruments and voices, followed by the slightly more refined (and deeper) bass.
The spacing tends to add another layer of subtle resolution that you may not have noticed in a typical mid-fi headphone.
Another huge benefit of stepping up to an Edition XS is overall clarity and decay.
Notes, voices, instruments, etc. trail off much better and sound a lot more realistic than they would when listening to a 400se.
In addition to that,
you’ll also notice you can understand lyrics better.
Before, you might’ve had trouble discerning what that vocalist was saying at a particular moment in the song.
With the Edition XS, it becomes that much easier.
Those missing gaps are filled for you, and it makes the experience of listening to music all the more fun and enjoyable.
Things to be aware of
- The mid-range issue that I harp on a lot with 400 series headphones (gradual decline after 1kHz) is still there, but less problematic to me due to the more open nature of the headphones.
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.
If there were ever a such thing as a “perfect headphone”, this would be it in every sense of the word.
There are a lot of strange, borderline bizarre-sounding names for headphones these days, but Focal naming this one the Utopia makes complete sense when you sit down and listen to it.
It’s luxurious. It’s sumptuous. It’s superb.
It’s everything you ever imagined a headphone to be, but it will cost you a pretty penny. A really pretty one.
In fact, it’ll cost you roughly 400,000 pretty pennies if my maths are correct.
That’s $4,000 for you math nerds, but if you can get this headphone for around $1000-$2000, I’d say drop everything, purchase it, and never buy another headphone ever again.
Things to be aware of
- For as perfect as everything else is, the bulky cable is a tad cumbersome. Again, a minor nitpick. As much as I make fun of the whole “synergy” crap, I would absolutely plan to invest in a good Amp with these given how expensive they are. Still, you don’t have to go too plum-crazy. A K9 Pro will do the trick.
If I had to recommend one headphone from this entire list (that won’t leave you homeless), I would go with the HIFIMAN Edition XS.
It’s really the perfect headphone for Rock in every aspect.
While all of the others excel, there are caveats and potential issues with each.
In thinking it over,
I kept going back to these headphones because they do everything right.
Bass is neither rolled off nor overly boosted, which is what you want listening to the genre.
You get a perfect amount of impact.
The mid-range has an emphasis on 3kHz, which is great for bringing out vocals and instruments.
The treble issue apparent in the Ananda has been fixed and is crisp without sounding strident.
The Soundstage is spot on, as the headphone is given ample room to breathe and express itself.
The headphones are open, airy, and spacious, but still don’t sound anemic or lifeless.
There’s weight and body to the music.
Along with comfort, tonal balance, and resolution are also on point.
Are you ready to get the best mid-fi has to offer?
Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this article on the best headphones for Rock music.
Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Do you have a headphone to add? Please let me know down below or Contact me!!
Which of these are you most likely to go with? I would love to hear from you! Until next time…
All the best and God bless,
Can’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!!
Time for a Flashback…
What is it about Rock music that enamors us?
Ever since I can remember, I was a fan of it. Heck, I was raised on it! A guy I knew from college once joked that I heard the Rolling Stones’ “Rock and a Hard Place” in my mother’s womb, and that was the only reason I liked it. Haha.
Get it? Because being in my mother’s womb to me was like being in between a rock and a hard pl .. nevermind.
He was kind of a snob in a musical sense.
That could have been one of the reasons that my music tastes changed from primarily listening to Rock to more Indie as I got a bit older.
That said, I like Indie for what it is, as it satisfies me in a way that older Rock doesn’t anymore.
I’m also older.
There was a time when Classic Rock was it for me.
But I think to some extent we kind of grow out of that phase, though I will always have a soft spot for bands like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin for what they symbolized as a teenager growing up.
Regardless, I’ll never forget my mom’s “Flashpoint” album, which had some of the Stones’ hits performed live.
I actually like the album still, but it never received high praise from anyone in particular. I mean it’s just so ’80s, man.
You can’t deny that the graphic design on the album is extremely eye-catching. It’s not an image that’s easily forgotten, and I haven’t in over 25 years.
When I really got into Rock, it was because Marijuana. Haha.
We all know the story. Get really baked, listen to Dark Side of the Moon.
It’s a cliche now, but back in the day, it was just what you did.
I’m sure there are plenty of kids coming up that are doing the same thing, so in that sense, it will never truly die out.
Some other favorites included Wish you were here, and the spacey jam “Shine on you crazy diamond.”
Perfect stoner song really, but it has a tragic backstory that I may write about in a future edit.
I remember sitting in the car with some friends on a dark night.
We were waiting for some weed of course, and someone had gone inside the dealer’s house. We literally sat there for what seemed like an eternity, listening to the entirety of the song. It was pure bliss. Lol. You know that feeling;
When time slows down so much that you kind of just get lost in a trance, and then sort of “Come to.” When Christopher W. got back to the car, he was all like “What’s going on here?” And this is how we responded:
Go ahead, lose yourself. 😛
What I really like about stoner movies like Friday is that they depict this sensation so accurately.
Well minus the whole talking head thing. Haha.
When Ice Cube rummages through the pantry for a snack, time slows and when he comes to it feels like it’s been forever.
This is one of the first noticeable side effects of being high for the first time, and “Friday” pretty much nailed it.
The Ice Cube Moment
I remember one time when I got my first apartment in College. I was playing Fallout New Vegas and had met this guy earlier in the day.
He was kind of a burnout and was crashing at his girlfriend’s place right next to me for a while. He was a pretty down-to-earth dude but seemed lost.
Later that evening as I was having the time of my life trying to figure out how to defeat the Death Claws at Quarry Junction, I hear a knock at the door.
“It’s like 11 p.m. on a school night, who the heck is bothering me at this hour? I’m trying to play a video game!” As I open the door, the skinny dread headed fella from earlier literally hands me a fat blunt without even saying a word.
I be like:
So we smoked that fatty and I was so gone it’s not even funny.
I walked back inside and over to the Freezer for my Ice Cube moment, no pun intended. Lol.
I wasn’t even hungry yet, but I opened the freezer door and stared into it for what seemed like an eternity.
When I came to, it was like I had woken up out of a sound sleep. No lie. I then began to chuckle out loud, you know that moment when you’re like “Man I am toasted, heh.”
The first time I got High
I will never forget it.
Halloween night 2003.
I was at my friend Joe’s house just chilling, waiting for the effect to kick in.
Some people don’t get high their first time, but I sure wasn’t one of those people.
So we were just hanging out when the phone rings. “Ah heck, I’ll answer it. It’s not like it’s the cops or anything.”
I pick up the phone and it’s my friend Dennis’ mom. I was all like:
Hahaha I can’t even write this without laughing.
I liked his mom just fine, but it’s almost like a trigger went off.
I wasn’t high before I picked up the phone, but when she was like “Hi Stu how are you?” I immediately got extremely high, and not in a good way. Lmao.
We talked for what seemed like hours. I swear it was at least 25-30 minutes. Not exaggerating. It was like the conversation was dragging on forever and ever and I got increasingly more paranoid the more we talked.
“She knows I’m high. There’s no way she doesn’t think I’m completely baked right now.”
The more she talked, the more I couldn’t even register what she was saying.
All the words were completely jumbled and it was like she was speaking in a foreign language.
At this point,
I started panicking because I had no idea what to say or how to respond because I was having so much trouble paying attention because I was so high and Oh my God “I gotta go bye.”
Those were my last words to her as I hung up the phone faster than the speed of light.
“Who was it?” Dennis asked.
“It was your mom dude!”
“Oh crap you hung up on her and now she’s probably on her way over!”
HAHAHA. Luckily she never found us out and didn’t drop by.
WHEW!! We can continue getting high! Lol.
“How long was I on the phone with her dude?!”
“About 30 seconds, why did you hang up so fast?”
Hahah case and point. It felt like an eternity.
I have many more stories but it would take forever and this article would be like a million words long.
While I don’t smoke anymore, some of the best times of my life (thus far) were when I was high.
I know it sounds ridiculous, but when you’re stoned you remember those times vividly even though your short-term memory gets completely jacked. Kind of ironic in a way.
But I digress…
When it came to Classic Rock and the sounds of the ’70s, I was all over it for a certain time period of my life.
God knows I was the Pink Floyd fan. Even my mom still reminisces on it to this day. I think at one point I had every single album they ever released for a little while.
Funny enough, I was never a huge fan of the Stones, but there was an album in particular that I thought stood out from the rest:
Man what a perfect album from start to finish. It’s got so much variety. From the dreamy and melancholy “Wild Horses”, to straight-up rockers in “Can’t you hear me knocking”, it was in my opinion their magnum opus.
Dennis and I used to listen to it on the way home from school while not getting extremely baked. Heh. Ahem.
Front to back, it’s probably one of the best albums I’ve ever heard.
Many will disagree, but I just never got the same feelings from any of their other stuff.
It might’ve been due to the fact that original guitarist Brian Jones was not featured, instead replaced by Mick Taylor. Even Jagger had some contributions on the guitar! It just had this vibe, man.
Reminds me a lot of Santana.
I used to replay the Can’t you hear me knocking intro until Dennis was like “Alright that’s enough! Play the song!”
Good times, man.
Rock music will always hold a special place in my heart, and I hope you enjoyed a taste of some of my experiences with the genre.