There’s a lot of information to absorb in the world of audiophile headphones. With an array of different driver technologies and styles – not to mention prices that start near $200 and go all the way up to $6000 – it can be pretty intimidating. We’ve covered some of the differences in headphone design and technology in our previous guide on choosing the right headphones, and now in this series we’ll provide some more specific recommendations across a few price ranges for open-back and closed-back headphones. If you need a refresher on terminology check out our guide to understanding audiophile jargon.
In the under $500 price range, audiophile headphones are designed to provide the best possible audio resolution and reproduction of the original recording while remaining cost effective. A handful of top picks from this price range use planar magnetic drivers which are preferred by many listeners and can provide a faster response, and a greater feeling of “slam” in the bass than typical dynamic drivers. If you’re used to popular consumer brands, audiophile headphones in the under $500 range might not have the same focus on appearance as the flagship products from Bose or Beats, as the focus is on the ultimate in sound and performance for the price.
For open-back headphones under $500, the HIFIMAN Sundara remains one of the most popular audiophile headphones in the world, but the Avantone Planar is a new player that offers a strong alternative with a cool aesthetic. The Audeze LCD-1 is another option with a similar sound signature to the Sundara and a more portable design. All three use high quality planar magnetic drivers to provide detail, resolution, and overall sound quality that is leaps and bounds above what most popular consumer brands offer.
- Detailed, dynamic response
- Incredible sound for the price
- Unique design
- Highly detailed
- Good full range extension
- Great for critical listening
- Portable design with included carrying case
The Meze Audio 99 Classics are the gold standard for an inexpensive audiophile closed-back headphone, and its little brother, the 99 Neo provide the same level of sound quality and comfort at a lower price (without the wood earcups). The 99 Series is a bit of a flip from some of our open-back recommendations as the 99 Classics in particular have a high level of attention to aesthetic design and material, and the tuning has a bit more bass in it to add a fun thump underneath the well-crafted mids and highs.
- Great bass impact
- Premium look and feel
- Sealed over-ear closed back design provides excellent natural sound isolation
- Same basic design and tuning as the 99 Classics, but without the wood finish
- Incredible sound quality for the price
$500 - $1000
In the $500-$1000 price range things get a lot more competitive. There are a number of high quality headphones which offer incredible performance. Many headphones in this range offer exceptional price to performance ratios with designs and tunings which are similar to higher end flagship models, but without quite reaching the same level of refinement and quality. Where less expensive audiophile headphones often have some tension between the sound quality and the build quality, once you get over $500, you’ll typically find excellent build quality to match the sound quality and detail they can reproduce.
HIFIMAN again gets a nod with the excellent Ananda. It takes Sundara's signature and adds a higher level of detail retrieval and better full frequency range extension. The Audeze LCD-2 provides an incredible sound with a little more bass emphasis. The LCD-2’s wood accents provide a feeling of quality of construction that befits a pair of nearly $1000 headphones.
- Neutral to analytical sound signature
- Excellent response across the full frequency spectrum
- Sounds competitive with headphones nearly twice the price
- Neutral tuning with added bass presence
- Strong sense of physical impact in the bass
- Incredible detail and craftsmanship
In closed-back headphones, the two standouts are the Dan Clark Audio AEON 2 Closed with its combination of excellent sound quality and portable convenience, and the Audio-Technica WP900 which takes the sound refinement and build quality of Audio-Technica’s flagship headphones, and brings it down to a more affordable level. Something to note is that the acoustic design in high end closed back headphones can provide a level of natural isolation which rivals active noise cancelling headphones.
- Innovative portable design and high level of sound isolation
- Sound quality that’s worth the price even without the portability features
- Great for travel, commute, or workplace listening
- Brings legendary Japanese craftsmanship down to a more affordable level
- Refined, detailed sound signature
The Bottom Line
Under $1000 you can find sound quality that blows most popular consumer brands out of the water, and many options for different types of listeners and preferences. From the incredible value of the HIFIMAN Sundara, to the portability and sound isolation of the the Aeon 2 Closed, or the impact and slam of the Audeze LCD-2, there’s a headphone in your price range that has what you need.