Best Audiophile Headphones of 2020

Investing in audiophile high quality headphones will serve you for many years to come. More often than not, gear targeted towards the audiophile community offer a higher sound fidelity than those aimed at the mass market. Below is a comprehensive guide on the current high-end options available from $300 to $6000 +.  

Open-back Headphones

1. HiFiMAN Susvara ($6000)

Driver Type: Planar

Impedance: 60 Ω

Sensitivity: 83 dB

The HiFiMAN Susvara incorporates flagship planar technology to deliver outstanding transients, detailing and separation like no other. The reason why this is the crème de la crème is because of its electrostatic-like speed with the added weight of notes to deliver an ethereal sound rich with both micro and macro-dynamic prowess. The precise and expansive soundstage also offer an immersive and engaging listening experience. In addition, the use of high resistance 24K gold voice-coils lowers the weight of the thin diaphragm as well as the sensitivity of the device. Build quality and design raise the benchmark with an exotic and refined aesthetic. For those seeking the best then, the Susvara should be a no-brainer consideration.

2. HiFiMAN HE-1000Se ($3499)

Driver Type: Planar

Impedance: 35 Ω

Sensitivity: 96 dB

Fang Bian’s mantra to not settle has culminated in the release of the HE-1000se. These headphones employ trickle-down technology from the Susvara model to deliver a high-quality sound at a relatively more affordable price. The pitch here is that the HE1000se are easier to drive from any source compared to Susvaras. The overall sound here is excellent with abundant extension of bass, clean and detailed mids and extensive highs. Soundstage is spectacular and music sound rich with detail and micro-dynamics. Though the ear-cups are slightly larger than those of the Susvara, the headphones are very comfortable and can be worn for extended listening. For a lower budget, the HE1000se offer stellar performance with top-to-bottom transparency and texturing.

3. ZMF Verité Open ($2499)

Driver Type: Dynamic

Impedance: 300 Ω

Sensitivity: 99 dB

The ZMF Verité Open headphones represent Zach Mehrbach’s most complex acoustic design to date. Featuring a beryllium-coated dynamic driver, the Verité are surprisingly fast and punchy while delivering a vocal-oriented affable signature. For these reasons, the Verité offer a very compelling listen with detail combined with musicality in a multi-layered soundstage. The ability to change pads to change the tuning to slightly livelier or slightly more relaxed is a very welcomed addition for users who love options. For these reasons, along with the fantastic build and use of beautiful exotic woods, the ZMF Verité ranks highly amongst the arena of high-end headphones.

4. Meze Audio Empyrean ($2999)

Driver Type: Isodynamic Planar

Impedance: 31.6 Ω

Sensitivity: 100 dB

The Meze Empyrean is an incredibly accomplished set of headphones especially as it is the company’s first stab into the high-end headphone market. It is evident to see Antonio Meze’s years of experience as a product designer come into fruition with a unique and truly stand-out design. This, married with its comfort, puts the Empyrean into the category of best aesthetic and ergonomic headphones to date. With an isodynamic hybrid array driver, the overall sound is incredibly balanced and musical while still retaining plentiful level of detail and clarity. The craftsmanship combined with the engaging, versatile sound signature and pleasant tuning earn it a place in summit-fi territory.  

Closed-back Headphones

1. ZMF Verité Closed ($2499)

Driver Type: Dynamic

Impedance: 300 Ω

Sensitivity: 99 dB

The ZMF Verité Closed headphones are the closed-back alternative to Zach Mehrbach’s flagship dynamic headphones. Like the open-back, the Verité Closed captures the ZMF house sound of a tonally rich signature with incredibly fast transients and detailing. The soundstage is remarkably close to the open-back version which is pleasantly surprisingly given the inherent limitations of closed-back designs. There are slight differences between the versions however, with the closed version offering a slightly more forward midrange and livelier sound. For these reasons, these headphones are a highly recommended purchase.

2. Focal Stellia ($2999)

Driver Type: Dynamic

Impedance: 35 Ω

Sensitivity: 106 dB

The Stellias are a high class offering from the French audio brand originally versed in loudspeaker technology. Combining luxury build and top-quality sound, the Stellia are amongst the best in closed-back designs. Like the Verité, they offer a surprisingly good soundstage for its design. The sound can be described best as linearly balanced with some tonal warmth and outstanding resolving ability. Taking inspirations from their Utopia, the French brand offer unparalleled sound and build.

Wireless Headphones

1. Master & Dynamic MW65 ($499)

Driver Type: Planar

Impedance: 32 Ω

Sensitivity: N/A

Master & Dynamic hail from New York and offer premium headphones with an interest in wireless technologies. The MW65 incorporate 4.2 Bluetooth technology (with AptX and SBC support) as well as Active Noise Technology (ANC). Sound wise, the MW65 render a rich and natural house sound with plentiful air and clarity. The tuning leans towards warmth with good levels of separation and detailing. For a wireless offering, the MW65 offer a remarkably good sound on the move with an abundance of user options all in an elegant form factor.

Best Value for Money

1. Sennheiser HD600 ($349)

Driver Type: Dynamic

Impedance: 300 Ω

Sensitivity: 102 dB

The Sennheiser HD600 still stands the test of time as an outstanding choice for both the budding or hardcore audiophile. While not as modern as some other offerings, the HD600 produces an extremely natural sound, fantastic comfort and exceptional scalability. In terms of their sound signature, they offer a neutral and balanced tone with well-reasoned bass and detail. Their ability to scale with top-of-the-line headphones is a welcoming feature for those seeking high-end from a small price. Hence, at $349, the HD600s represent excellent value for money and are a must in any audiophile’s inventory.

2. Meze Audio 99 Classics ($309)

Driver Type: Dynamic

Impedance: 32 Ω

Sensitivity: 103 dB

Meze have earned another entry on this guide with their spectacular 99 Classic offerings. The great wood grained outer earcups paired with their robust headband and metallic accents exude the definings of a luxury product. However, this does not stop there as the sound is equally impressive. Meze have crafted a musical presentation which evades any harshness and glare in a relaxed listening style. For $309, the 99 Classic represent outstanding value and harmonious dynamics worthwhile of a listen.

Honorable Mentions

1. T + A Solitaire P ($6400)

Driver Type: Magnetostatic

Impedance: 80 Ω

Sensitivity: 104 dB

The release from speaker veterans T + A took the world by storm with their expensive $6400 headphones. The magnetostatic headphones take a leaf out of Sennheiser’s book with a design resembling the HE-1 and a sound philosophy to match. Overall, the incredibly cohesive and nuanced tonal profile offers something different in the high-end scene. While some headphones such as the HiFiMAN Susvara and HE1000se offer more air and soundstage, the Solitaire P masters spatial localization and cohesion. Combined with the HA 200 headphone Amp/DAC, they are a powerful combination provided you have deep wallets.

Further resources:

Headphone Driver Types

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