recommended ones

back to headphones

published: Mar-12-2013, last update: Oct-17-2020

 post separation

There are basically two ways to look at headphones when buying them.
You can take/use them as they are OR you can buy one(s) with the most potential and improve/modify them so they will sound even better.

There isn’t a SINGLE ‘perfect’ headphone on this planet. Not even the most expensive ones.
However, there are plenty of excellent sounding headphones that may suit your taste perfectly while other headphones on the list may not sound as good to your ears.
The list of headphones below (divided in price-classifications) are in alphabetical order.
They range from light-ish to darkish-sounding headphones (also random order !) and guarantee ALL listed headphone DO sound different but at least have good sonic qualities about them.
There are plenty headphones around that may be even better sounding to YOUR ears that are NOT listed here. This, most likely, has to do with taste.
When you can’t find the headphone you really wanted to buy amongst the recommended ones below, then I suggest you audition them anyway and if you like the sound simply buy them.
They may very well be excellent sounding but could have a treble peak, bass peak, or lack of bass or midrange I find to be ‘off’ and thus it did not end up in the lists below. The listed headphones are all ‘HiFi’ sounding in MY opinion.
If you are looking for maximum bass, very dark or bright sounding headphones or are looking for wireless or in-ear headphones you will not find these listed below, only wired on- and over-ears. They can be optimal for portable and/or home usage or both.

The listed headphones, even the best headphones around, are still not ‘perfect’.
All the listed headphones sound good/pleasant by themselves, some may be on the ‘darker’ side, some are ‘brighter’, some are fairly neutral.
The headphones listed aren’t suited for bassheads though but all sound good and ‘believable’ with little ‘annoyances’.
Only on direct comparison (side by side) differences in sonic signature will be evident. The difficult part here is a difference in efficiency (loudness).
To accurately compare headphones you need 2 amps and loudness matched headphones !
Some may have a better fit and others may not. This depends on the shape and size of the head and ears (Pinnae). What sits perfectly fine on your head may be awful to someone else or may not fit at all.
TRY to audition the headphone you are after.
It is best not to buy on someone else’s recommendation only.

Some of the better headphones can get CLOSER to perfection though, with some proper EQ or filtering.

Something to be aware off….
Some people trying out / owning headphones may find their evaluation of their headphone(s) differs considerably from those of other users.
Before blaming it on the headphone(s) or other owners/reviewers find out if you aren’t plagued by fit/seal issues.
In and On-ear headphones have the biggest chance of having a bad seal as well as over-ears with large diameter earpads or stiff earpads.
The shape of your head, amount / type of hair and ear-shape may be causing a bad seal in combination with some headphones.
If this is the case TEST if you are getting a good SEAL with your headphone(s), especially when there is less bass than ‘expected’ or the sound is nasal or otherwise ‘coloured’ in a way that isn’t usually associated with these headphones.
To test if you have a good seal simply press the earcups more firmly onto your ears/head. When the sound changes dramatically (most obvious in the bass) then experiment with other pads and or clamping force to address that issue, or find another headphone that doesn’t have sealing issues.

When you are unsure a headphone may suit your taste (this is VERY personal to say the least !) try to audition them.
If this is not possible you can try to find one second-hand or if one is on sale somewhere.
IF you did not like the sound, or perhaps equally important, the comfort, then send it back to the seller (if possible).
Inform upfront with the seller IF this is possible, not all on-line shops offer this service or exclude headphones.

which headphones are ‘hard to drive’?

There are only a handful of headphones that are ‘hard to drive’.
There are a lot of headphones that are said to be hard to drive but in reality aren’t.
It’s just that some headphones require a higher maximum output voltage swing (gain related) than others.
Usually these are high impedance headphones (> 150 Ohm)
These headphones have a low dB/V efficiency rating but because of their high impedance may well have a high dB/mW rating.
They thus require a higher voltage (and gain) to play loud and still sound good.

When an amp does not have enough gain or a too low max. output voltage for a particular headphone it will not go as loud as the owner wants or starts to sound less nice at too low levels.|
This is the point where folks claim they are hard to drive.
They are not, they are just not using a suitable amp.

Then there are low impedance headphones which usually have a high dB/V efficiency and thus require very little voltage to be driven quite loud.
Still here too there are some (usually inefficient planars) that have a low dB/mW efficiency and require the used amp to provide more current than what a device, like a phone or dongle, can provide.

When an amp is limited in their max output current capabilities for a particular headphone it will not go as loud as the owner wants or starts to sound less nice at too low levels.
This is the point where folks claim they are hard to drive.
They are not, they are just not using a suitable amp.

So whenever it appears or is said a headphone is hard to drive they are just using an amp that is not suited to drive those headphones.

Basically when you have a high impedance headphone your amp has to have a high power output rating at 300 Ohm.
With ‘high’ I mean > 100mW (0.1W)

When you have a low impedance headphone you need to look for an amplifier that has a high power output rating at 32 Ohm.
High can be >200mW (for some 20mW is already too high, these have a high dB/mW rating) to 2W or 3W (low dB/mW rating but high power rating)

This means that when you buy an amp that has a high power rating in 32 Ohm (and low gain option) and a high power rating (and higher gain option) you can drive any headphone you like.

This is where this table comes in handy when you want a certain (over- or on-ear) headphone and/or an amplifier and you want to find out if you can drive it properly.


post separation

Recommended headphones

For those that do not want to open up nor modify headphones and simply buy and use stock headphones there are quite a few good ‘hi-fi’ sounding headphones around.
Below a selection of the better hi-fi headphones in 3 price classes in alphabetical order so NOT in order of preference or sound quality.
ONLY on-ear and over-ear headphones are listed. No earbuds or IEM’s.

You can buy seriously better headphones at lower prices when buying second-hand. In some cases all that needs to be done is replace the pads.
DO check for proper operation and wiggle the headphone wires/plug when testing.

In general the sound quality goes up with the price range but some of the cheaper ones may sound much better than the more expensive ones.
All headphones have different sonic signatures which may or may not be your personal preference.
Never buy a headphone based on recommendations of others. Always try to audition headphones. The headphones listed below are the more realistic sounding ones and may range from ‘dark sounding’ (bass more prominent and or treble rolled off, a bit speaker like) to ‘clear’ or ‘bright’ sounding (some may think bass-light or bright)

Cheap price point  €15 – €50 (in alphabetical order):

Beyerdynamic DT235 (lacks treble finesse)
Koss KSC35 / KSC75 / PortaPro (top pick in the portable on-ear class)
Presonus HD7 (somewhat bright)
Samson SR850 (slightly boring)
Sennheiser PX100 / PX100-II (lacks subbass)
Superlux Superlux HD681-EVO with Chinese pads, HD662-EVO
NOTE: When buying Koss PortaPro headphones beware there are fakes out there that do not remotely sound anything like the original and are very bassy and lack highs.

Medium price point  €50 – €200 (in alphabetical order):

AKG K181 (quite neutral) / K551 / K553 (fairly neutral slight treble peak) K361, K371
Audio Technica ATH-M40X (NOT the M40fs version !), Audio Technica ATH-M50X or ATH-M50 >2012 (beware there are fakes), ATH-TAD500
Beyerdynamic DT250-250 Ohm version (very neutral, some product variances, lacks treble finesse), Custom One Pro (but only on setting 2 and 3 when using EDT770V(B) pads, DT990 (a bit treble happy)
Creative Aurvana Live (a bit on the ‘warm’ side)
Denon DN-HP700
Fischer Audio FA-003 = NVX XPT100 = Brainwavz HM5 = Jaycar AA2065 = Studiospares M1000 = Lindy HF-100
Fostex T50RPmkIII, T40RPmkIII (lacks ‘air’ in the treble and subbass)
Goldring DR150 (only 2nd hand)
Grado SR60i/SR60e (a bit bright and lacks subbass, not very comfortable)
Philips SHP9500 (neutral, slightly lacks presence), SHL9505-uptown with SRH-940 pads
Roland RH300 (but only with Brainwavz HYBRID pads fitted)
Sennheiser HD555 / 558 / HD559/ HD560S / HD58X / 595 / 598 / 599 / 238 / 239 / 439 / 569/ 58X Jubilee / 580* (* only 2nd hand)
Sony MDR-1RA (with ports closed) / MDR-100AAP (on the warm/bassy side)
Skullcandy Aviator (warm/bassy)
Takstar PRO 82
V-Moda M80
Yuin G1A/G2
Zoro II HD

Higher price point  €200 – €500 (in alphabetical order):

AKG K550 / K551 / K267 / K712 / K7XX
Audio Technica AT-R70X / ATH-MSR7b (fakes exist of the non-b version)
B&W P7
Beyerdynamic DT880 / DT990-edition / DT1350 (MUST try before buy) / DT1770, Amiron (most of these have a bit of a peak in the upper treble), DT1990
PSB M4U-2 (noise cancelling)
Denon D2000 (only 2nd hand)
Focal Spirit Professional (mechanically not the best)
Fostex TH-X00 (Massdrop only)
HifiMan HE400i / HE4XX (massdrop) / Sundara
Klipsch Image One
Meze 99 Classics (warm and bassy)
Philips Fidelio L2, X2HR (you need to be lucky with these)
Sennheiser HD600 / HD650 (> 2013) / HD630VB / HD660S
Sony MDR-100ABN / MDR-1000X
Shure SRH840 / SRH1540
Thinksound ON-1
Verum 1

Those looking for a ‘flat as possible’ headphone; the Sennheiser HD600 is the best possible option but does lack in subbass.
It can also be found in the second hand market. With a set of new pads they sound like new again. The HD580 (second hand only) is almost the same headphone.
A truly ‘flat’ headphone is not liked by everyone and may even sound boring to some.
Flat measuring headphones in general only sound excellent on well made recordings. In general TOP40 songs aren’t amongst those (with a few exceptions).
To many it will not be considered THE best sounding headphone, but it is one of the most ‘honest’ ones. It does lack sub-bass though.
A good option is the AKG K361 and K371, these are closed headphones but very neutral.

Expensive stuff  €500  to €2000 (in alphabetical order):

AKG K812
Audeze LCD2.2(Fazor > 2015) / LCD3 (Fazor > 2015)/ LCD-X (brand is known to have failing drivers and cracking wood cups in older models)
Audio Zenith PMx2
Beyerdynamic T5(P), Amiron Wirelss
Denon D5000 / D7000 (only 2nd hand)
Focal Clear
Fostex TH900
HiFiMan HE500 / HE560 / HE5 / HE6 / Edition X / Ananda
Kennerton Magister
Koss ESP-950
Mr. Speakers ÆON closed, Ether C Flow, ETHER
Sennheiser HD800S
Stax SRS-5100
ZMF Atticus / Eikon / Auteur

Obscenely expensive > 2000 (in alphabetical order):

Abyss AB-1266
Audeze LCD4 / LCDMX4
Focal Utopia, Stellia
Final D8000
Grado HP1000 / HP2 (only 2nd hand)
Hifiman HE1000, Susvara, Shangri-La, Jade-II
Kennerton Odin
Meze Empyrean (bassy and subdued clarity)
Raal SR-1 (lacks subbass extension)
Sennheiser HD820 / Orpheus / HE60 / HE90 (only 2nd hand) / HE1060 (Orpheus-2) = HE1
Sony MDR-R10 (bass-heavy) (only 2nd hand)
Sonoma Acoustics model One
Stax SR007 / Omega 2 / SR009 + amp / SR-L700 + SRM-353X

post separation

back to headphones


  1. Hamilton says:

    Beyerdynamic T90 for example?

    • Solderdude says:

      The T90 has a +8dB treble peak which is a bit too much for my taste without EQ or modifications.
      It certainly has some very decent sonic properties (and comfortable) but still isn’t one I thoroughly recommend for the money.
      For the same reason the T1 isn’t on the list.
      The T5(P) is on the list even though it is twice as expensive, but it doesn’t have the peak but may sound a little too dark to some.
      It is easier to listen to ‘warm’ headphones for longer periods at a time than too overly bright ones.
      I personally like ‘brighter’ headphones initially but after a while it starts to bug me.

      Agreed though that many may find the T90 (and T1) an excellent headphone.
      The same is true for the K701/K702, a lot of Grado’s, Audio Technica’s and some K550’s for instance.
      They just aren’t on my recommended list.

  2. Hamilton says:

    Fair enough 🙂 I’m just about to buy the T90’s after extensive reading of people’s adulation. As a man in his mid 40’s with a history on loud constuction sites, my hearing above 14khz leaves everything to be desired, so a wee treble boost is no bad thing.

    • Solderdude says:

      Some people with hearing damage may not just have a ‘roll-off’ in the treble and automatically benefit from boosted treble, they may actually be more sensitive to boosted treble in a ‘negative way’ where it may sound uncomfortable after some time and ‘listening’ fatigue could set in sooner than expected after being ‘wowed’ initially.
      Of course, it may well be beneficial to have some boost in that area.

      I would try to buy from a shop with a return policy or try to audition it and listen for quite some time on familiar music, not to the demo stuff they use in shops.
      The T90 is kind-off bathtub shaped thus having ample bass and hyper/overly done detail.
      Not unlike the DT990…

      The HD800 also shows hyper detail (treble boost in the same area but less in amplitude) and is less ‘offensive’ to some.

      There are lots of T90 fans so it certainly isn’t a bad headphone by a long shot.
      I would just not recommend it to everyone.

  3. Hamilton says:

    Thanks again, I appreciate your comments. I’m going open backed for the benefits to be found there and I am happy to use a little DSP if I need to. I use the mini dsp “nano digi” before a havana DAC and then a home made headphone adapter for my F5. I also have the Asus stx to use.

    This is my very first foray into serious cans so a bit of experimenting is to come. I have the Botlehead Crack on my shopping list also, but time and funds play a role 😦

    Give me a week or two listening and I’ll report back if you like.

  4. Solderdude says:

    Just in case the brightness is an issue I created a passive filter for it a while ago:

    Click to access T90_passive_filter.pdf

  5. Tim says:

    I see you’ve included the HD800s. I would have expected you to list the HD800 with filter module vs. the HD800s, as the HD800 will likely be much cheaper used.

    • Solderdude says:

      The list is all about using ‘stock’ headphones without any EQ. The HD800S is better in that regard than the HD800 when you like the ‘tonal’ balance of the stock HD800.
      When filtered (EQ, Sonarworks, Kameleon) the tonal balance changes quite a bit altering the sound of the headphone as well as other aspects.

  6. donjoe0 says:

    Any plans to evaluate the “Verum 1” planar? Reviews so far are raving about how it’s comparable to the HD650 in most FR qualities while also offering that Audeze-type bass that none of the Sennheiser dynamics can manage (and at quite a non-Audeze price too).

  7. juancar02 says:

    Hello, Solderdude,

    Will you add to this list of recommended headphones the recently reviewed Philips Fidelio X2HR?

    Thank you for this wonderful website.


    • Solderdude says:

      That will depend on whether or not the 3rd one that is on its way doesn’t have imbalance issues.

      • juancar02 says:

        I understand. Thank you.

        • Louis Poh says:

          Hi Solderdude, I would like to ask if Cooler Master MH752 which is based on the Takstar Pro 82 would be a good choice for around 75 USD.

          I’m still hesitant on the purchase because I’m think I’m quite sensitive to highs. Previously I bought the Tin T2 and it felt like the sound was stabbing my ear, I do have tinnitus.

          What is your opinion?

  8. Solderdude says:

    The Cooler Master MH752 seems to be slightly different from the Pro82. I haven’t measured heard it myself so have no idea.

    I hate sticking things in my ear so don’t review IEM’s.
    Some headphones have substantial peaks that can trigger or worsen Tinnitus.

    • Louis Poh says:

      Thanks for your swift reply, I think I might skip this price range and save up more for a higher end headphone like the HD6XX which I think is known to be a warmer sounding headphone.

      Thanks for your reply. Really informative site.

  9. Chris says:

    Hi, I was reading through the Hifiman range and was thinking about the edition X. The V1. They seem inexpensive to what they are and the sound signature seems very close to the Higher 1000/ susvarna. However all hifiman headphones seem to have a 8khz peak. My tinnitus is around 8khz. Does the peak will make it worse or vanish it? There seems to be a lot of options without the 8khz peak.

    • Solderdude says:

      I haven’t measured Edition Xv1 so don’t know about those. Looking at plots from Innerfidelity I would say the v2 has a higher peak than the V1.

      The second question about Tinnitus is difficult to answer. This is because Tinnitus can be caused by a lot of different causes/reasons. So it could be that a peak sets it off or may actually be beneficial or could have no influence.

  10. ARTHUR H PONTOW Pontow says:

    Why the comment “you need to be lucky” regarding Philips X2HR headphones

    • Solderdude says:

      Because some of them have substantial and audible L-R imbalance in the lows. In the X2HR review I expand on this a little more.

  11. Obscenely expensive😂

  12. I am searching for mixing headphones and read through this. Thanks. Good stuff.

  13. Oliver says:

    Is it worth to pick a LCD 3 (Fazor) over a LCD 2 (Fazor) if listening purley with EQ (oratory)?
    If so, what are the differnces if both eq’ed to Harman Target with Oratory Preset?

    Thank you very much!

    • Solderdude says:

      I honestly cannot say as I never EQ’ed them to have a similar response. Furthermore when differences above 8kHz are not properly EQ’ed (Oratory’s test fixture is not accurate there) there can still be audible differences in ‘air’, ‘detail’, ‘coarseness’ and smoothness of treble.

      As can be seen on this plot there are substantial differences between LCD3 and 4 in the treble which are not EQ’ed in Oratory but do affect treble quality.
      (LCD4 = orange)

      • Oliver says:

        Thank you for the Info, but can it be said that for the mentioned attributes: LCD 4 > LCD 3 > LCD 2 when using oratory eq or is it rather a matter of preference?

        I cannot decide between an LCD 2 (Fazor from 2016) or an LCD 3 (Fazor from 2018, 500€ more expensive). So far I have owned a Empyrean, HD800, Clear. I really like the Clear and 800 with the Oratory preset.

        • Solderdude says:

          IME the LCD3 sounds ‘better’ than LCD2 (without any EQ). The Empyrian is too ‘warm’.
          HD800 (with EQ) is excellent. Clear doesn’t need much EQ but some of them can’t play loud bass (Audeze can).

          • Oliver says:

            I absolutely agree about the Empyrean. Also way to warm for my taste, hence why I sold it (With EQ it was better, but not perfect). I also encountered base clipping/crackling on my Clear with Oratory EQ. I am looking to replace it with an EQ’ed LCD 2/LCD 3, as I need a headphone with lots of “impact” to complement the HD 800. I think I will go for the LCD 3 or an LCD 4 if one comes up for sale used.

            Thank you very much for your advice!

  14. xplosiv says:

    Is a review for Yuin G1A/G2 coming?

  15. plokko says:

    Are Superlux HD662-EVO better than HD672?
    I found the HD672 at a bargain price and i get some mixed reviews about them.
    Also how they compare to a Koss KS75? (I know, they’re better but cost a little more)

    • Solderdude says:

      The HD672 has silicone pads that not everyone finds pleasant, the are sweaty.
      The sound quality is decent but kind of sharp but sounds very dynamic.

      The HD662-EVO has more bass and can be modified easily. Treble is not as sharp. The cable ‘dongle’ has a tendency to break after a while.

      They differ in comfort and build quality and sound signature.

      The KSC75 has an excellent upper bass to and mids and good treble but is very positioning dependent.

      • plokko says:

        So the HD672 are generally worse than the HD662-EVO even after mods and pad replacements? ( some reviews of the 672 give a good impression but they do not directly compare them to the EVO)
        Can you give me a personal opinion on what are the best of the three?

        I do like neautral headphones as they do not distort the audio but i do not need them for professional work: i just want to have a good sounding pair without spending too much;
        I do not have an amplified but i may add it if needed.

        Now i have a pair of Audio-technica ATH-SR30BT and they’re great; i also have a pair of Superlux HD660 but they’re too hot for me and they’re a little hard to drive.

        I found the HD672 at HALF the price of the HD662-EVO but if the evo are better i may just buy them; the KSC75 are in the same price range of the evo.


        • Solderdude says:

          I can’t say which you will like most. When HD660 are too sharp the 672 is not for you.
          The HD662-EVO will be a better bet.
          KSC75 is a nice headphone. Be prepared to replace the foamies regularly and hope your pinna shape allows a good seal.
          Currently testing HD330. Also way too sharp but there are ways to improve on that making them way more pleasant.

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