Top Picks Headphones

Headphones
Koss Pro4S: $150
Koss invented the high-fidelity headphone way back in 1958 and continues to honor that legacy with the Pro4S, a comfortable closed-back headphone that delivers refined sound. Headphone guru Steve Guttenberg was impressed with the 4S’s ability to put out prodigious bass without shortchanging definition. “The sound was right on the money,” he wrote. “The Pro4S lets the music speak for itself.” Did we mention the Pro4S is covered by a rare limited lifetime warranty? (July/August 2015, Read Full Review)
Onkyo ES-HF300: $179
When you think of Onkyo the first thing that comes to mind is AV receivers, so it may come as a surprise that the company makes headphones. The ES-HF300 actually marks the company’s debut in this bustling category—and what a debut it is. Calling them “near perfect, audio expert Steve Guttenberg wrote: “The ES-HF300s proved to be a remarkably transparent-sounding device; no other headphone near its price can touch it for clarity or resolution of fine detail.” (November 2013, Read Full Review)
Bowers & Wilkins C5 Series 2 In-Ear: $180
B&W has revised and tweaked its C5 Series 2 in-ear headphone to give it a snugger fit and make it sound better than ever with imaging that is more open that most in-ear designs, many of which sound claustrophobic. In comparing the new C5 with the original, reviewer Steve Guttenberg wrote: “I was taken aback by how different the new C5 S2 sounded…[It’s] more transparent, clear, and accurate, so the best recordings reveal more of their true sound.” (May 2015, Read Full Review)
Here Active Listening In-Ear Monitors: $199
An ideal gift for the inveterate concert-goer, Hear Active in-ear monitors are not just another pair of earbuds—not even close. These sophisticated, app-controlled ’buds let you control what you hear during live musical performances. Using a five-band equalizer with multiple presets, you can raise and lower the bass, mids, and highs in real time, whether you’re rocking out to Skynyrd or enjoying a night at the symphony. There’s even a Crowd setting to “turn down” audience chatter. (November 2016, Read Full Review)
V-Moda XS: $199
Looking for that rare combination of high style, comfort, bullet-proof construction, and detailed, open sound? The XS offers that and more in a sleek, foldable headphone that makes the competition seem big and bulky. In a head-to-head comparison with B&W’s $300 P5, reviewer Steve Guttenberg judged the XS’s imaging to be more clear and focused and its bass to have more low-end punch: “It’s a difference you can feel.” (November 2014, Read Full Review)
Audio-Technica ATH-M50: $199
Don’t let the ATH-M50’s modest looks fool you (although you should check them out in white or red if style is important). They are solidly built by a company that’s been around since 1962, covered by a generous two-year warranty, and sport supremely comfortable oval cushions that produce a tight seal around your ears. Most important, they deliver open, easygoing sound with substantial—but not overdone—bass. Reviewer Steve Guttenberg wrote: “The uninhibited dynamic oomph on an action film like Avatar was impressive. After a few minutes, you forget you’re wearing headphones." (May 2013, Read Full Review)
NAD Viso HP30: $229
NAD has done it again. The Viso HP30’s plush midrange and punchy bass supply a visceral kick that’s beyond the reach of most on-ear headphones—especially ones this compact. As reviewer Steve Guttenberg put it: “The HP30…kicks harder than any audiophile-oriented on-ear I’ve heard to date.” (April 2016, Read Full Review)
Focal Spirit One S: $249
From France’s largest speaker company comes the Spirit One S, its third and least expensive headphone to date. A semi-compact, sturdy design, the One S delivers a sweet tonal balance without compromising resolution. Reviewer guru Steve Guttenberg wrote: “The sound was transparent and very open for a closed-back headphone, with solid, clearly defined bass. The One S’s keen balance was beyond criticism.” (June 2015, Read Full Review)
KEF M400 Headphone: $250
Apart from being stylish (and available in four colors), the M400 weighs only 6.2 ounces, boasts replaceable cables with earpads that swivel to conform to your ears, and projects a huge soundstage with impressive clarity. Headphone guru Steve Guttenberg wrote: “All in all, the M400 sounds refined and clear, with bass that is (tastefully) goosed up just a tad…The M400 strikes a perfect balance of comfort, value, sound quality, portability, and style.” (May 2016, Read Full Review)
Sennheiser HD 598: $250
The affordable Sennheiser HD 598 might be styled differently from its famous and more costly sibling, the HD 600, but it is just as beautifully voiced and just as insanely comfortable. Headphone guru Steve Guttenberg wrote: “This music-maker has a knack for telling the truth and making you like it for hours and hours of fatigue-free listening. I don’t intend to stop using the review sample when I hand in this review. I love this thing!” (February/March 2016, Read Full Review)
NAD Viso HP50: $299
Long-time NAD fans will be pleased to know that the venerable hi-fi brand makes full-size headphones that sound every bit as good as its speakers. Headphone maven Steve Guttenberg wasted no time getting right to the point in his review: “The NAD Viso HP50 sounds as smooth as silk, with excellent detail retrieval, a big soundstage, and bass with the perfect balance of speed and low-end oomph.” What’s more, these 'phones look great, sport custom-built drivers, and are comfy to wear. (June 2014, Read Full Review)
Philips Fidelio X1: $299
Philips showed that it was serious about headphones when it revamped its lineup in 2012. The impeccably designed Fidelio X1, with its leather-wrapped headband and sinfully comfy ear cushions, is the company's best model to date. Noting that the “bass is awesome,” reviewer/headphone connoisseur Steve Guttenberg wrote: “The X1 is easy to listen to for hours at a time, because it’s one of the rare headphones that makes everything sound good.” And its open-back design won’t seal you off from the rest of the world. (July/August 2013, Read Full Review)
Bose QuietComfort 25 Noise-Canceling Headphone: $300
The ultra lightweight and super comfortable QC25 is one of the best noise-canceling headphones available. Add to that an ultra lightweight collapsible design that’s so comfortable you might forget you have headphones on. Marveling at their ability to eradicate external noise, reviewer Steve Guttenberg wrote: “The QC25 instantly quelled the screeching, metallic racket of the New York City subway.” If noise-cancellation is the top feature on your hit list, the QC25 comes highly recommended. (SoundandVision.com, Read Full Review)
Sony MDR-1: $300
Does comfort trump sound when it comes to headphones—especially ear-covering full-size models? Probably not but it comes darn close. The MDR-1 strikes a perfect balance between plush comfort and sweet sound optimized for iPods and iPads. “The Sony MDR-1R is brilliant at its chosen mission of making mobile devices sound as smooth and listenable as possible,” wrote Reviewer Mark Fleischmann. “I plan to get a lot more casual use out of my pair. Feeling good is good.” (SoundandVision.com, Read Full Review)
Meze 99 Classics Headphones: $309
It’s hard to not be seduced by the extraordinary fit and finish of the Meze 99 Classics headphones with their solid wood earcups—available in maple or walnut—stainless steel headband, and sumptuous earpads. But do they sound as good as they look? Yes! The 99’s impressed headphone guru Steve Guttenberg with their rich, full sound. “Once I settled down for long-term listening, the sound was easy on the ears, even with some of today’s overly bright and compressed music.” (November 2016, Read Full Review)
Audeze iSine 10 Headphones: $399
The Audeze iSine 10 earphones break new ground as the first in-ear designs to use thin-film planar magnetic drivers. While they don’t provide much isolation from external noise, they deliver a huge payoff: Sound that’s dynamically alive, spacious, and more transparent than other in-ear headphones. Calling them a “stunning achievement,” headphone guru Steve Guttenberg wrote: “The Audeze iSine 10’s sound will be a revelation to even the most experienced in-ear headphone buyer.” (May 2017, Read Full Review)
Logitech Ultimate Ears UE900s In-Ear: $399
Logitech is not known for headphones but boy does it deliver with the UE900s. First off, the earphone comes with a unique selection of different size and type tips to ensure a perfect fit with virtually any ear. And then there’s its transparent sound—on the warm side of neutral with just the right touch of extra bass. Headphone guru Steve Guttenberg wrote: “Eric Clapton’s Unplugged album was so clear, I could hear his band’s instruments filling the studio. I felt like I was in the room with the guys.” (July/August 2015, Read Full Review)
HiFiMan RE-600 In-Ear: $399
Is it possible to achieve big, transparent sound from super tiny, lightweight ear buds? In the case of the RE-600 it is. Besides serenading your ears with a wide open soundstage and natural tonal balance, the 600 is crazy comfortable. Comparing it with the comparably priced UE 900 from Ultimate Ears, reviewer Steve Guttenberg concluded: “It was clear from the get-go that the RE-600 was more transparent and produced a bigger, yet more precisely focused soundstage.” These in-ear marvels deserve a place on your short list. (SoundandVision.com, Read Full Review)
Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay H6: $399
Are you drooling over the gorgeous lambskin headband and ear pads yet? Wait until you slip them over year ears. The BeoPlay H6 ’phones sound as good as they look, according to reviewer Steve Guttenberg, who points out something you may not know: B&O has been making headphones since the ’70s. Who knew? All that experience is abundantly evident in these latest headphones, which besides looking and sounding great, feel great. Listening to the rip-roaring dynamics and enveloping orchestral score of Hans Zimmer’s “Man of Steel” soundtrack, Guttenberg wrote: “The BeoPlay H6 put me inside the music.” (October 2013, Read Full Review)
Sennheiser RS 185 Wireless Headphone System: $400
Let’s face it: Cables are a hassle, especially when it comes to headphones. The RS 185 puts a new audiophile-quality wireless technology to work and lands a 4.5 star rating for performance from veteran headphone reviewer Steve Guttenberg: “The bottom line for me is this: How close can the sound of a wireless headphone come to that of a wired headphone costing around the same dollars? By that score, the Sennheiser RS 185 does very well indeed.”(January 2016, Read Full Review)
Bowers & Wilkins P7: $400
Legendary speaker maker B&W continues its evolution as a world-class headphone maker with its first over-the-ear headphone, the P7. From the sheepskin leather headband and magnetically attached ear pads to the over-sized 1.5-inch drivers, build quality is as impressive as its sound quality. Compared with the previously released on-ear P5, the P7 delivers more expansive sound. As headphone guru Steve Guttenberg put it: “Soundstage dimensions expand, dynamic contrasts grow wider, and the bass plumbs deeper, so when I switched back to the P5, the sound felt a little cramped.” (May 2014, Read Full Review)
HiFiMan RE-400i: $499
If you’re a fan of planar magnetic speakers, you simply must audition the RE-400i. And if you love listening to vinyl, add an exclamation point to that statement. A lower-cost version of HiFiMan’s flagship HE-560 headphone, these beautifully crafted ’phones incorporate much of the same technology and a similar design but cost $400 less. All of which translates into sound that is warm, musical, and detailed with a sense of space that you simply won’t experience with most headphones. (SoundandVision.com, Read Full Review)
Sony MDR 7520: $499
Beats disciples and fashionistas who ignore the MDR 7520 for its workmanlike studio looks will be cheating themselves of seriously potent bass and exceptionally neutral sound from a headphone that until recently was available only to the professional market. The 7520 excels with music and movies: Reviewer Steve Guttenberg described the terrifying crash scene from Flight as “remarkably realistic.” (December 2014, Read Full Review)
Shure SRH1540: $499
With its carbon-fiber ear cups, aluminum accents, Kevlar-reinforced cable, and “sinfully comfy” Alcantara cushions, Shure has struck just the right balance of rugged build quality, elegant design, comfort, and performance with the SRH1540. Comparing it with the B&W P7 he reviewed a few months earlier, headphone guru Steve Guttenberg wrote: “The Shure is less immediate and detailed, but sweeter and rounder, with a more spacious soundstage.” If that’s not enough, the 1540 is covered by a generous two-year warranty and comes with a travel case. (SoundandVision.com, Read Full Review)
V-Moda Vamp Verza Headphone Amp: $598 (Metallo case, $101)
For most of us, the smartphone is a constant companion and a sort of electronic swiss army knife that puts almost any form of entertainment and communication at our fingertips. Problem is, it can’t excel at everything and audio quality usually gets short shrift. Verza is certainly not cheap but it will upgrade your phone’s audio so you can enjoy high-resolution music without having to reach for an iPod or other dedicated player. (SoundandVision.com, Read Full Review)
AudioQuest NightHawk: $599
AudioQuest has hit it out of the park with a maiden headphone that gets just about everything right. It’s richly finished yet made of sustainable materials, super comfortable thanks to a unique suspension system, and keeps the music real with its natural tonality. As Steve Guttenberg put it: “NightHawk has more lifelike body and soul than most headphones, with no midrange ‘push’ or high-frequency emphasis.” (January 2016, Read Full Review)
MrSpeakers Alpha Dog: $599
Alpha Dog is probably the strangest name for a headphone you will encounter but its plush, leather-covered ear cushions and big, highly dynamic sound set it apart from other high-end ’phones. Comparing the Dog with a well-known and respected headphone that costs twice as much, reviewer Steve Guttenberg wrote: “When I played Phoebe Killeer’s “Weather’s Coming,” the Alpha Dog unfurled a deep soundstage, considerably deeper and more spacious than what I got from my Grado RS-1 open-back headphones. Frankly, there was no comparison.” (October 2014, Read Full Review)
Grado RS1e: $695
We know what you’re thinking: Grado? Didn’t they make phono cartridges once upon a time? Yes, they did and still do but the family-owned-and-operated company also makes outstanding headphones and has been doing so for years. An update of the RS1, the classy RS1e rests comfortably on your ears while delivering a huge soundstage with clear, detailed sound that can’t be beat in this price class. (September 2016, Read Full Review)
Oppo PM-2: $699
Not content to rest on its laurels as a producer of state-of-the-art Blu-ray players, Oppo has expanded its headphone offerings with a follow-up to the exquisite PM-1 planar-magnetic headphone it introduced in 2014. Though the PM-1 costs $400 less than its impressive sibling, it possesses the smooth, sweet sonic signature you expect from planar-magnetic ’phones. (May 2016, Read Full Review)
Audeze EL-8: $699
The EL-8, available in open- and closed-back versions, delivers the transparency and detail audiophiles expect from planar magnetic headphones in a lightweight package designed with portable music players in mind. In the words of veteran headphone reviewer, Steve Guttenberg: “The EL-8 sounds scary good with my humble little iPod classic.” (September 2015, Read Full Review)
Woo Audio WA6 Headphone Amplifier: $699 ($899 as reviewed)
There’s no denying the allure of the WA6’s glowing tubes but this one-of-a-kind component is more than a conversation piece. The impeccably designed Class A amp, reviewed with upgraded tubes, delivered warm sound, featuring a smooth, mellow midrange and top end that could be a tad too reticent with some ’phones. Calling its sound sweet and euphonic, reviewer Mark Fleischmann concluded: “With the right playmates, the WA6 delivers a creamy, grit-free tone that’s not likely to be heard with any solid-state amp.” (November 2014, Read Full Review)
AKG K712 Pro: $699
AKG has found the perfect balance of sound and comfort with the beautifully hand-crafted K712. Reviewer Steve Guttenberg described listening to the 2012 remaster of the Beach Boy’s classic "Do It Again" as a breath of fresh air. “The soaring harmonies and the band’s funky groove never sounded better. The K712 Pro’s neutrality just lets the music speak for itself, which is a surprisingly rare commodity in headphones.” Add to that earcups so comfy that you forget you’re wearing headphones and you have a winning combination. (April 2014, Read Full Review)
Sony MDR-Z7: $700
This impeccably built black beauty, featuring thickly padded leather ear cushions and headband and a 6.5-foot balanced audio cable for use with Sony’s PHA-3 headphone amp, delivers sound that is highly detailed with a sonic balance reviewer Steve Guttenberg described as “warmer than neutral.” The upshot: You’ll be able to actually enjoy harsh sounding contemporary recordings that would be unlistenable on other headphones. (SoundandVision.com, posted 3/23/15, Read Full Review)
HiFiMan HE-560: $899
If you you’re a fan of flat-panel planar-magnetic speakers, you owe it to yourself to check out the HE-560. But listener beware: The sound is so intoxicatingly real that you might find yourself pulling out your credit card. Reviewer Steve Guttenberg paid the 560’s the highest compliment when he used them for a live recording session: “This rarely happens, but I have to say the headphone’s sound was better balanced than what I heard…sitting about 20 feet from the band.” The HE-560’s aren’t cheap but they really deliver. (February/March 2015, Read Full Review)
Focal Elear: $999
The Focal Elear is a world-class design that holds its own against the very best headphones. It’s also a top contender for “best in class” accolades and recipient of Sound & Vision’s prestigious 2016 Top Picks of the Year designation. The Elear is beautifully crafted, super comfortable, and sounds amazing. Headphone guru Steve Guttenberg described the sound as “hypertransparent”—like you’re listening to a direct feed from a live recording session. What more can you ask? (January 2017, Read Full Review)
Sony PHA-3 Headphone Amp: $1,000
The PHA-3 is a rare-bird-of-a-headphone-amplifier that offers the choice of standard or pro-style balanced outputs. The diminutive amp is adept at handing ultra-high-resolution files, including 384-kHz/32-bit PCM and 2.8- and 5.6-MHz DSD. It sounds terrific with any headphones but really pushes the sonic envelope when mated via a balanced connection with Sony’s new flagship headphone, the MDR-Z7. (SoundandVision.com, posted 3/23/15, Read Full Review)
Sennheiser IE 800 In-Ear: $1,000
Yes, the IE 800s are pricey, but if you’re looking for a no-compromise personal music experience they are meticulously crafted with a two-piece Kevlar-reinforced cable, comfortable to wear, and—most important—one of the best sounding set of in-ear headphones you can buy. Our resident headphone guru Steve Guttenberg wrote: “The IE 800 makes nearly every recording sound better than I thought it would. That almost magical ability to render iffy MP3s or ragged-sounding CDs palatable is, in and of itself, astonishing.” (January 2014, Read Full Review)
Shure SE846 In-Ear: $1,000
State-of-the-art engineering and rare musicality in a comfortable set of earphones with removable, snap-in cables is what you can expect from the SE846. You even get three sound-shaping filters so you can tailor the sound. Smitten with their performance, headphone maven Steve Guttenberg wrote: “The SE846 is a high-resolution device, so it reveals nuance with rare precision…The sparkling percussion on David Chesky’s The Zephyrtine ballet score, in 192-kHz/24-bit audio, perfectly demonstrated the SE846’s airy transparency. I’ve never heard better sound from a set of earphones.” (SoundandVision.com, Read Full Review)
Oppo PM-1: $1,099
No, you’re not seeing things. Oppo Digital, the company known for making some of the best Blu-ray players on the planet, has tried its hand at making headphones. But not just ordinary ’phones: high-end headphones with lambskin-covered latex ear cushions and oversized planar-magnetic drivers. Describing them as “luxuriously well-made,” reviewer Mark Fleischmann did not mince words in recommending Oppo: “If you want headphone listening at an epic scale, hearing the PM-1 is like dying and going to headphone heaven.” Kinda sums things up. (SoundandVision.com, Read Full Review)
Audeze LCD-XC: $1,799
Yes, these are real-deal high-end headphones. They’re built like mini tanks with ear cups made of exotic Bubinga wood and use advanced planar-magnetic drivers that will send shivers up and down your spine. As headphone maven Steve Guttenberg put it, “Dynamic impact is astonishing, and you never get the feeling you’re approaching the limits of what the LCD-XC can do. If you take your private listening time seriously, you need to check out these game-changing ‘phones. (July/August, Read Full Review)
Audeze LCD-4 Headphone: $3,995
If you’re a fan of planar-magnetic technology and are working with a four-figure budget, you owe it to yourself to audition the LCD-4. It may not look radically different from other models in the LCD series but its new carbon fiber and leather headband and gorgeous Macassar ebony wood earcups with gleaming metal faceplates are serious upgrades (as you can tell from the price). But the most serious upgrade is what you’ll hear: Sweet delicate sound with extreme clarity and a soul satisfyingly rich balance that’s about as natural and organic sounding as you can get. (June 2016, Read Full Review)