Top Picks Headphones

Earbuds & In-Ear Headphones
EarFun Free Pro Noise-Cancelling Wireless Earbuds: $60
Is it possible to a great sounding set of noise-canceling wireless buds for only 60 bucks? Absolutely, as long as you’re willing to forgo app control and settle for less-than-ideal noise cancellation. EarFun’s Free Pro earbuds boast a respectable 6-hour battery life with active noise cancellation (ANC) turned on and will treat you to surprisingly decent sound quality. They’re also super light and compatible with Qi wireless charging. As reviewer Stewart Wolpin put it, “I was quite frankly stunned by the robust sound the cheap EarFun Free Pros provided.” (June/July 2021, Read Full Review
JVC HA-A50T Noise-Cancelling Wireless Earbuds: $100
JVC's HA-A50T earbuds are comfortable and excel at noise cancellation, making them ideally suited for inveterate travelers who value effective noise cancellation over tip-top sound quality. Reviewer Stewart Wolpin was most impressed with the buds ability to combat external noise, putting it on par with models costing twice as much. The buds are also water-resistant and have a battery that provides 6 hours of playback with noise cancellation engaged or 8 hours with it off. (June/July 2021, Read Full Review
Sudio E2 Noise-Canceling Wireless Earbuds: $129
Like many of you, we never heard of Sweden’s Sudio but we decided to give their E2 earbuds a listen since they were one of the first to include a secret weapon that sets them apart from dozens of seemingly similar ’buds: Dirac Virtuo processing. Virtuo makes an already good sounding set of earbuds sound even better. Add to that active noise cancellation and an app-based equalizer and the E2s are an excellent choice for on-the-go music lovers who value sound quality at a reasonable price. (August/September 2022, Read Full Review)
Monolith by Monoprice M-TWE True Wireless Earbuds: $130
The M-TWE earbuds boast a robust battery life and are packed with features, including three modes of noise cancellation and compatibility with Sonarworks’ excellent SoundID technology. Once you download the app and conduct a short listening test, the system generates a unique sonic fingerprint that improves and personalizes your listening experience. In short, the sound is balanced with robust imaging and a wide open soundstage. The earbuds are also sweat-resistant and super comfortable, even after hours of listening. (April/May 2021, Read Full Review
Amazon Echo Buds Noise-Canceling Earphones: $130
In a face-off comparing nine noise-canceling wireless earbuds, the Echo Buds were the undisputed value leader. They use technology developed by Bose to limit background noise, resist water and sweat, and provide 5 hours of listening per charge with the ability to adjust ambient sound levels through Amazon’s Alexa app. You also get a generous selection of ear tips and wing bands to ensure a tight fit while you’re enjoying an open, airy soundstage with ample bass. Though reviewer Stewart Wolpin found the app a bit cumbersome and missed having single-tap controls on the buds, the virtues outweighed these shortcomings in the final analysis. (Summer 2020, Read Full Review
1More True Wireless ANC Noise-Canceling Earphones: $200
Does it make sense to pay more than two hundred bucks for noise-canceling wireless earbuds? Not necessarily. In a face-off of nine earbuds, the True Wireless ANC netted a Top Pick with four- and five-star ratings in every category. Reviewer Stewart Wolpin was captivated by the ANCs detailed, “silky smooth” sound and ability to keep external noise at bay. On the other hand, they aren’t designed to resist water or dust and can’t play super loud, so sports enthusiasts and headbangers might need to look elsewhere. For everyone else, though, 1More’s earbuds are a great choice. (Summer 2020, Read Full Review)
Technics EAH-AZ60 Noise-Canceling True Wireless Earbuds: $230
It may come as a surprise that the brand that gave us the iconic SL-1200 turntable, makes earbuds. Indeed, the Technics EAH-AZ60 noise-canceling wireless earbuds live up to a stellar reputation that has been cultivated over more than 50 years. Priced just above the comparable Jabra Elite 85t ‘buds that that triumphed in our 2021 face-off, the AZ60s sound great and are resistant to water, compact and comfortable to wear for long periods of time, and designed to provide more than 7 hours of continuous listening on a single charge. They also offer an adjustable ambient mode and noise control. If you’re looking for a “level of hi-fi-ness” not often associated with earbuds — warm, lifelike sound, deep bass, and an enveloping soundstage — start here. (April/May 2022, Read Full Review)
Jabra Elite 85T Noise-Canceling Wireless Earbuds: $230
The Jabra Elite 85t earbuds are packed with features and deliver the best of all words. They’re compact and light, making them comfortable to wear and easy to tote, provide effective noise cancellation with an excellent HearThrough ambient-sound mode, and include a robust app. They also support Qi wireless charging and provide 5.5 hours of playback with noise cancelling turned on and 7 hours with it off. Most important, they sound amazing, delivering a spacious yet detailed and neutral sound out of the box. (June/July 2021, Read Full Review
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) Noise-Canceling Wireless Earbuds: $249
With the AirPods Pro Apple has stepped up its earbud game. Big time. Though they look the same as their predecessors, the updated ’buds bring improved sound quality thanks to a new driver/amp combo — which is to say they sound great — a more secure yet super comfortable fit, and noise cancellation that can hang with the best full-size travel headphones. There’s also an outstanding Adaptive Transparency mode and spatial audio with ear-modeled head-tracking for a more accurate rendering of Dolby Atmos surround. You don’t need to be a full-on Apple user to appreciate the updated AirPods Pro but, if you are, get ready to fall in love. (December 2022/January 2023, Read Full Review)
Sony WF-1000XM4 Noise-Canceling True Wireless Earbuds: $280
Sony’s new flagship earbuds are the real deal, offering just about everything you could want in an ear bud: best-in-class sound quality, excellent noise cancellation with an adjustable ambient noise mode, above-average battery life, sweat/water-resistance, and a robust app loaded with features for customizing operation. Among those features: a speak-to-chat mode that automatically pauses music playback and a five-band equalizer with two presets for storing your own custom curves. Reviewer Stewart Wolpin summed up his experience this way: “To my ears, the Sony WF-1000XM4 ranks alongside the Bose QC as the best-sounding noise-canceling bud option available.” (Posted 10/26/21, Read Full Review
Over-Ear Headphones
Cleer Alpha Noise-Canceling Headphones: $250
San Diego’s Cleer Audio is known for making wireless headphones with an extended battery life and the over-ear Alphas are no exception, bringing app-control, smart noise cancellation that adjusts automatically to external noise, and Dirac Virtuo spatial processing into the fold while maintaining a respectable 35-hour battery life. They’re comfortable to wear for extended periods, provide a handy conversation mode, and deliver a more expansive and realistic listening experience when Virtuo is engaged. All in all, a great value for the money. (June/July 2022, Read Full Review)
Bowers & Wilkins Px8 Noise-Canceling Headphones: $699
Reviewer Leslie Shapiro wrote: I tried, honestly, I did. I closed my eyes; I listened in the dark. However, try as I might, I could not separate the absolutely stunning fit and finish of the Bowers & Wilkins Px8 headphones from their sound quality. That initial feeling that this would be something special pervaded throughout my review experience. Bottom line: the Px8 sounds exactly as good as you would expect from something that looks and feels so luxurious. (February/March 2023, Read Full Review)
Focal Bathys Wireless Headphones: $799
Style over substance? Not a chance. The Bathys wireless headphones are both a work of industrial art and an engineering achievement — something we have come to expect from France’s Focal. Beyond the luxurious looks and impeccable build quality, is a highly capable set of over-ear ’phones built around homegrown 1.5-inch drivers that not only sound great but provide an excellent app with EQ options, long battery life (about 30 hours), and active noise cancellation. Mark Henninger praised the Bathys for their balanced, dynamic sound, exceptional imaging, and wide soundstage. (December 2022/January 2023, Read Full Review)
Earbuds & In-Ear Headphones Archive
Monoprice TripleXXX In-Ear: $49
Don’t let the low price throw you. The TripleXXX’s may not be the fanciest looking earbuds but they prove that you don’t have to pay big bucks to get really good sound. Reviewer Steve Guttenberg even went so far as to describe them as “plenty good enough for audiophiles looking for a set of budget-priced travel headphones.” Simply put, they don’t sound like a cheap set of headphones. Instead, “the bass-mid-treble balance is reasonably smooth, and the sound is clean as a whistle.” (July/August 2017, Read Full Review)
Periodic Audio Mg In-Ear Headphones: $99
Periodic Audio may be a new company but its founder Dan Wiggins’ brings an impressive history of designing microphones, headphones, and speakers to the table. And it shows. The least expensive of three Periodic Audio earbuds we tested, the Mg was the standout for headphone guru Steve Guttenberg, who noted the clear, efficient sound and solid bass you get for $99. Throw in the company’s remarkable 5-year warranty and you have a winner. (December 2017, Read Full Review)
Etymotic ER3 Extended Response Earphones: $179
Etymotic invented “in-ear monitors” way back in 1984 so it knows a thing or two about high-fidelity earphones. First and foremost, the company prides itself on building sonically transparent ’phones that convey the sound of the original recording without pumping up the bass and goosing the highs. The ER3XRs tell it like it is, although in this case Etymotic added a slight bass boost for “listeners who prefer a stronger low-end response.” They also excel at isolation, making them perfect for noisy environments. (August 2018, 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)
1More Quad Driver In-Ear: $200
Chances are you’ve never heard of 1More and might even be inclined to write them off. That would be a mistake. More than just marketing hype, the Quad Driver moniker refers to an innovative multidriver design that truly makes a difference. Which is why reviewer Steve Guttenberg opened his review with a declarative statement: “There’s something really special happening here” and went on to describe the Quad Drivers as “the most transparent, best-imaging headphone I’ve heard for $200.” (July/August 2017, Read Full Review)
Astell&Kern Michelle Limited Headphones: $399
Astell&Kern’s Michelle Limited is, indeed, a belle, offering superb comfort and vibrant sound at an affordable price — the brand’s lowest ever. Designed by audio wiz Jerry Harvey — pioneer of in-ear stage monitors used by touring musicians — the ’phones use three balanced armature drivers in each earpiece to paint a beautiful sonic picture that reviewer Steve Guttenberg hailed for transparency, precise imaging, and ample bass. Icing on the cake: Michelle is one of Sound & Vision’s 2017 Top Headphone Picks of the Year. (February/March 2018, Read Full Review)
Audeze iSine 10: $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. (, Read Full Review)
Beyerdynamic Xelento Remote Earphones: $999
Beyerdynamic has a long, storied history that dates back to the 1937 when Eugen Beyer developed the first dynamic headphones. The company has been making them ever since and has gotten very good at it. At the high end of its range is the impeccably crafted Xelento Remote in-ear model, which boasts miniaturized versions of the Tesla drivers Beyerdynamic uses in its high-end over/on-ear headphones. Steve Guttenberg praised them for their comfort and “spectacular” sound. (July/August 2017, 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.” (, Read Full Review)
Audeze LCDi4 In-Ear: $2,495
Make no mistake about it, the Audeze LCDi4 earphones are expensive. They also kick ass, thanks to a brilliantly executed open-back planar-magnetic design. Resident headphone guru Steve Guttenberg was blown away by their performance: “The Audeze LCDi4 are hands down the best-sounding in-ear headphones I’ve heard.” (February/March 2018, Read Full Review)
Over-Ear Headphones Archive
Mixcder E9 Wireless Noise Canceling Headphones: $80
Looking for noise-canceling wireless headphones you can take along with you when you travel but discouraged by high prices? Take the Mixcder E9s for a test drive. Eighty bucks gets you a set of comfortable headphones that deliver satisfying sound and active noise cancellation that does a good job of suppressing the most egregious noise. All this for two to three times less than many comparably equipped name-brand headphones. Best part: The company has a 30-day return policy. (Posted 9/23/19, Read Full Review)
Sennheiser HD 569 Headphones: $149
If you think audiophile sound quality is beyond the reach of headphones that cost a hundred and fifty bucks, think again. Sennheiser has made all the right choices with its new HD 569, featuring a rugged plastic design with black suede accents, super comfortable memory-foam earpads, and two cables — a 10-footer for home use and a 4-footer with an in-line remote/microphone and minijack for use with a phone. Impressed with its sweet tone and neutral sound, headphone maven Steve Guttenberg wrote: “Don’t underestimate the HD 569; this is an audiophile-oriented design.” (December 2018/January 2019, Read Full Review)
Cleer Enduro 100: Wireless Headphones: $180
They don’t call these wireless ’phones Enduro 100 for nothing. In a stroke of genius, the engineers at Cleer have figured out how to extend battery life to upwards of 100 hours. In other words, you can listen wirelessly for a good week (or more) without having to worry about charging. And listen you will — the Enduro’s are comfortable to wear for long periods and produce smooth, detailed sound. All in all, a great value. (Posted 10/22/19, Read Full Review)
Meze Audio 99 Classics Headphones: $309
The 99 Classics from Romania’s Meze Audio check all the right boxes. Apart from being beautifully built (those solid walnut earcups are to die for), the headphones are light, extremely comfortable, and deliver outstanding sound. And if three-hundred bucks is more than you want to spend, no worries. Check out the near identical 99 Neos, which forego the wood earcups for textured plastic, at two-thirds the price ($199 on with free shipping as of this writing). (Posted 12/5/19, Read Full Review)
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)
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
[Replaced by the ATH-M50x ($149)]
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: $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: $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. (, 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.” (, 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: $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. (, Read Full Review)
HiFiMan Sundara Planar-Magnetic Headphones: $499
If you haven’t experienced the sweet, clear sound of planar-magnetic headphones, HiFiMan’s Sundara is an excellent place to start. They’re comfortable to wear for long periods of time, sound great — thanks to the use of a new super-thin diaphragm — and are affordably priced. Resident headphone guru Steve Guttenberg praised these headphones for their natural imaging and high-resolution capabilities. (June 2018, 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. (, Read Full Review)
Acoustic Research AR-H1 Headphones: $599
Acoustic Research is getting back to its roots as an audio innovator with the elegant AR-H1’s, a reasonably priced set of planar magnetic headphones that delighted headphone guru Steve Guttenberg with their comfortable fit and accurate sound. As he put it, “I was knocked out by Tony Williams’ drumming on Miles Davis’s The Complete In a Silent Way Sessions album. His powerhouse rhythms ignited the band, and Dave Holland’s bass was no less revelatory...Oh, and Davis’s trumpet cut through the dense mix with startling precision.” (, 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)
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. (, posted 3/23/15, Read Full Review)
MrSpeakers Aeon Headphones: $799
The closed-back, planar-magnetic Aeons are MrSpeakers’ least expensive headphones and might be their most accomplished design. Headphone guru Steve Guttenberg wrote: “I’ve reviewed a number of more expensive MrSpeakers headphones in these pages, but the Aeons are my favorite…There’s just something about the Aeons’ sound, style, feel, and comfort that clicked with me. The Aeons truly are more than the sum of their parts.” (October 2017, 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)
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. (, Read Full Review)
Focal Clear: $1,499
France’s Focal reached high when it introduced the $4,000 Utopia headphones in 2016. The company has borrowed key technology from that masterpiece and applied it to the Clear headphones. “The Focal Clear is an exquisite-looking and brilliantly executed pair of headphones,” concluded reviewer Mark Fleischmann. “Its extremely well-balanced performance will provide long-term satisfaction for an overwhelming majority of listeners.” Oh, and did we mention that they’re super comfortable? (, 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)
MrSpeakers Ether Flow: $1,800
Goofy company and product names aside, MrSpeakers’ Ether Flow open-back headphones are super comfortable and combine clarity with an effortless, non-fatiguing sound that ensures long-term satisfaction. “Vibrantly alive” with a naturally balanced midrange is how headphone guru Steve Guttenberg described the sound of their large planar-magnetic drivers. (June 2017, 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)
Focal Utopia: $3,999
It takes courage to name a product Utopia but Focal has done it and managed to live up to the title with super comfortable, impeccably built headphones that deliver a near-Utopian experience. “The Utopia has an extraordinarily refined top end and a carefully detailed midrange that equals or beats that of any headphone or speaker I’ve heard,” wrote reviewer Steve Guttenberg, adding that “bass is deep and unexaggerated.” High praise from a guy who reviews dozens of headphones a year. (July/August 2017, Read Full Review)