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As music lovers, a pair of audiophile headphones recreates the experience of listening to music through a high-end pair of speakers in a room that’s been treated to optimize audio quality.
What separates this class of headphones from the rest is the use of custom hardware and engineering in the pursuit of recreating your music — analog or digital — as accurately as possible. This comes at the expense of convenience features, like noise cancellation and Bluetooth support. Circuitry for those extras take up valuable space and technical effort, which ultimately reduce audio fidelity.
Don’t get us wrong, Bluetooth headphones can sound excellent, and definitely have a place in your life as a music lover, but the recommendations in this guide are a cut above. They’re meant to be worn at home, connected to a nice DAC (digital analog converter) while you stream high resolution music. You can also plug them into your A/V receiver or amplifier’s headphone jack, and listen to albums from your turntable late at night, or early in the morning.
It’s always tempting to upgrade your gear, but the headphones below are meant to be a staple of your home or office music listening station for a long, long time.
What Are the Best Audiophile Headphones?
There are many factors to consider when choosing the best audiophile headphones for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
Style: All of the headphones in this guide are over-ear pairs, which means they have big, plush earpads that go over your entire ear. The ear cups form a light seal that reduces the amount of outside sounds from leaking in, and your music from leaking out.
Weight: Over-ear headphones provide the most immersive listening experience, but they’re also the biggest and heaviest style of headphones. Our recommendations all weigh around a pound, which is standard for headphones of this caliber, but may feel heavy if you’re used to earbuds, or lighter Bluetooth pairs.
1. Andover Audio PM-50
Andover Audio’s PM-50 is the perfect pair of audiophile headphones if you’re just starting to get into high-end audio gear.
The headphones benefit soncally from their use of Planar Magnetic Technology, which the company developed for its Modal One Turntable. The PM-50’s drivers (the part of headphones or speakers that produce sound), are built into a magnetic strip that’s sandwiched between a pair of tweeters. This differs from the driver system in almost any other headphone, which use a cone structure instead. The difference is that cone drivers produce sound from a central point, rather than distributing it over a greater area. The result, according to Andover Audio is a purer, more “open” sound.
Speaking of, the PM-50s are open headphones, which means the back of the ear cups have vents, where sound can escape. The upside is that the music you’re listening to won’t bounce off the back of the headphones and toward your ears, which can distort the sound. The downside is that music will, by design, leak out of the headphones, so everyone around you will hear what you’re listening to. This isn’t a problem if you primarily listen to music alone, but may interrupt others, so it’s something to be aware of.
The PM-50 headphones come with two sets of earpads, one 3.5mm audio cable, and a 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch adapter, so you can connect them into a DAC. Because the headphones use an external cable, you can replace it if the first one breaks. If your big home audio upgrade this year is a really nice headphone-based system, Andover Audio’s PM-50s are well worth considering.
2. Klipsch Heritage HP-3
Klipsch distilled all of the technical knowledge it discovered while developing its audiophile speakers and used it to make the Heritage HP-3 headphones.
The headphones have a 52mm biodynamic driver, which has been recessed to put some additional distance between your ear and the sound. Klipsch also opted for a “semi-open” headphone design, which means some audio will leak through its back vents. This theme of additional space is done in service of better approximating the experience of listening to music on speakers in an open environment.
The company used a mix of biocellulos and inorganic fibers for the HP-3’s drivers, and insulates them using urethane rubber, which the company says keeps them from moving around too much. Klipsch says this mechanism improves the overall clarity of the HP-3’s sound. While it’s what’s on the inside that counts, Klipsch also went deluxe with the outer materials. The headphones are made out of die-cast steel, solid wood, and premium leather. Its ear cups are made out of Sheepskin, while its headband is made out of hand-stitched cowhide. In fact, the entire pair of headphones is completely hand-assembled.
Klipsch’ Heritage HP-3s are packaged with a pair of detachable braided cables (4.5 feet and 8.2 feet) and a custom-fit 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch adapter. The company also includes a stainless steel headphone stand, which is its way of letting you know these headphones are best used on a desk. If you’re a serious music listener hoping to get even more performance out of your digital music library, the Klipsch Heritage HP-3s are an excellent pair of headphones to get you there.
3. Meze Audio Empyrean
Meze Audio’s Empyrean headphones are the ultimate pair if you’re an audiophile dedicated to hearing every last detail in each song you hear.
The company partnered with fellow audio company Rinaro to develop a hybrid magnetic driver array, which works similarly to the mechanism found in Andover Audio’s PM-50s. The difference is that the system in the Empyreans is a lot more sophisticated. The bottom of the driver uses a rounded spiral array, while the top uses a more traditional switchback array. This hybrid approach directs sound waves directly into your ear canal, rather than sending it to your entire ear. The spiral coil is better at recreating high frequencies, while the switchback coil is better at handling midrange and low frequencies, so what you get is a balanced, speaker-like listening experience.
Meze made two important physical design decisions that help its Empyrean headphones stick out. First, it made its ear cups ovoid shaped, which means it contours more naturally to the shape of the human ear. Second, the headband features a pair of “suspension wings,” who distributes pressure more evenly when you’re listening to music. The result is headphones that feel like they’re supposed to be on your head. The headphones are hand-assembled, which will give them an even more lux feeling.
Meze Audio’s Empyrean headphones come in an aluminum suitcase that contains two sets of ear cups, and one of three cables. Your cord choices are: a 4-pin XLR to 6.4mm, 4-pin XLR to 3.5mm, or 4-pin XLR to XLR cable. As for the ear cups, Meze Audio includes one set made from of genuine leather (a vegan option is available) and another made from synthetic Alcantara.
The Empyrean headphones from Meze Audio will offer an exceptional aural experience, and they’re the right choice if you’re looking for the last audiophile pair you’ll need.