Full Size Headphone Recommendations
Welcome to the world of full sized headphones. These are the cans to get when you are very serious about sound quality because with bigger drivers come bigger sound.
The list starts with relatively affordable headphones in the $100 price range, but as you scroll down, you will find some headphones that cost upwards of $1,000. The price may be impressive, but remember rule #2 and #3 from the Headphone Guide article. While it’s true that more expensive headphones are usually always better technically, what you need ultimately is a headphone that plays well with your music.
The most expensive headphones are usually designed to let you hear more things, to hear things clearer than ever before, to give you the pure unaltered reproduction of the recording. While those lines would make a pretty good marketing lines, remember that the majority of music out there have awful recording quality. Unless you are listening to strictly classical music or audiophile jazz, where they tend to come with above-average recording quality, you may want to rethink your decision to buy that $1,000 headphone. Again, rule #2 and #3 from the Headphone Guide article.
The list is sorted based on price, starting from the lowest to the most expensive. The categorizing is meant to be a rough guideline, for more detailed sound impressions please refer to the reviews.
- HiFi: Warm sound signature with full midrange and bass.
- Rockin’: Aggressive forward and lively sound with fast pace, good for Rock and similar music.
- Monitoring: Precise sound lets you hear the recordings in an uncolored manner.
- Basshead: Tuned for maximum bass quantity, punch and impact.
- Open Sound: Very spacious and open presentation, almost speaker like. Tend to be weak in bass.
Sennheiser HD202 – HiFi
The entry level full size Sennheiser starts with a very low price of $19.91. Pretty amazing and probably is the best value you can get for your money. Dark and laid back sound with plenty of mid and bass body. The HD202 doesn’t wow people with treble details, but is actually very enjoyable with many different music genres. Moderate noise isolation and comfort, but the cable feels a little too long sometimes. Lower end variant: Sennheiser HD201.
Grado SR60i/SR80i – Rockin’
The Grado SR60i is an updated model of the SR60, a big headphone icon among headphone enthusiasts. The SR60i represents the entry level Grado sound with its uniquely forward, engaging, and open sound that makes Grado famous. It is one of the must-to-listen headphone and one that I’d recommend to everybody. It works very well for Rock, Indie, Acoustic, Blues, Country. Due to the fully open-back design, the Grado SR60 leaks sound big time, both in and out. But the same open-back design is also what’s responsible for creating such a special listening experience. The SR80i is a higher up model that offers better bass than the entry level SR60i, with the same magical Grado sound signature. Do give either one of these headphones a try.
Audio Technica M-50 – Monitoring
The M-50 is a relatively affordable, semi-premium studio monitoring headphone that happens to translate well to the music listening environment. This headphone is very popular among the enthusiasts. All rounder sound, medium pace, good comfort, decent noise isolation, good bass though not too punchy nor tight. Noise isolation is very good. Lower end variant: Audio Technica M-30.
Shure SRH-840 – Monitoring
The SRH-840 is another semi-premium studio monitoring headphone that also has a strong following among music listeners. At $144, it’s the M-50’s closest competitor, both with their own strengths and weaknesses. Please read the comparison article for the full details. Lower end variant: Shure SRH-440.
The headphones listed below this point require a headphone amplifier to sound best.
Audio Technica Pro700 Mk2 – Basshead
Seriously bass heavy headphone. Frequency balance heavily biased for bass and only bass. Great basshead headphone, awesome for dance and electronica.
AIAIAI TMA-1 – Basshead
The TMA-1 is a specialty headphone. It is voiced for electronic and dance music, where I find it to be one of the most amazing headphone for Trance and House. It’s also pretty good with Jpop, especially the energetic Jpop Dance/Techno stuff. Works extremely well for the recordings it’s voiced for, but not so good with other mainstream recordings. Due to the loose fit, the TMA-1 leaks sound in and out.
Audio Technica AD900 – Open Sound
This mid entry level open headphone from Audio Technica will impress you with its big, spacious sound. We did a group comparison on the full AD-line up headphones and found that the AD900 to be the most balanced model among the others. You can also try the slightly lower end AD700 and AD300 models as they offer the same sound signature for less money.
Sennheiser HD558/HD598 – HiFi
These new mid-level headphones from Sennheiser offer a step up in sound quality from the previous HD555/595 models. Very good refinement level with a generally laid back and smooth sound signature, a typical Sennheiser sound signature. Although their sound quality tend to e overshadowed by the higher end HD600/HD650 models, the HD558/HD598 are more popular for people who’s not willing to make heavy investment on a headphone amplifier and a high quality source.
From this point down you are looking at the reference-class headphones.
Beyerdynamic DT880 – Monitoring
The DT880 is the most popular full size headphone from Beyerdynamic. Originally designed for professional monitoring purposes, the DT880 is even more resolving than the Shure SRH-840 and Audio Technica M-50. In fact, there is nothing more resolving than these DT880s on the south side of $300. Keep in mind that with super-resolving monitoring headphones such as these DT880s, you have to pay close attention to the quality of the recording material, otherwise it will sound pretty nasty. They come in several variants, PRO and Premium and in 32 Ohm, 250 Ohm and 600 Ohm versions. The PRO is more affordable while the Premium has a better build quality. Between the different impedance versions, the higher impedance version offers a more linear and smoother sound, though more demanding in amplification.
Ultrasone Pro900 – HiFi
The Pro900 is one of the best models among Ultrasone’s line up. Equipped with the S-Logic technology, the Pro900 offers a wide spacious sound with clean details and an impactful bass. Great for Classical music and audiophile Jazz.
Sennheiser HD600/650 – HiFi
These are great all rounder headphone with reference qualities. The HD580/600 have forward mids, good treble and midrange detail, good bass impact. Pace is moderately fast. If you like a more laid back sound with fuller lows, and listens to slower paced songs, go for the HD650. Keep in mind that the HD580 is discontinued, so you can only get the HD600 and HD650 brand new. $314.95 (HD600) | $494.00 (HD650) | Old School Trio
Sony Z1000 – HiFi
New flagship closed headphone from Sony is a great all rounder headphone that will give you a near high-end resolution and refinement in a closed design, easy to drive package. Fairly linear frequency balance, good mids and vocals, unoffensive and smooth treble, good detail extraction and soundstage. The only weak point is the bass impact which is just okay. Medium pace and PRaT.
Audio Technica W1000X – HiFi
The W1000X is one of the most popular wood cup headphone from Audio Technica. Sublime build quality paired with a smooth HiFi sound, this headphone is excellent for mellow, slower paced jazz and female vocals.
Koss ESP-950 – Open Sound
The ESP-950 is an electrostatic headphone and it requires a special amplifier designed to drive those type of a headphone. Good thing that Koss sells the ESP-950 bundled together with the E/90 electrostatic amplifier so you don’t have to worry about sourcing the amplifier separately. The Electrostatics tend to be weak in bass, but the way it reproduces music is very special, something that you don’t find with ordinary headphones.
Grado RS1i – Rockin’
The RS1 is the classic Rock headphone. Grados have always been voiced to sound great with Rock, Blues, Country, among other things, and the RS1 model represents the best of the Grado sound. Grado have released more expensive headphones such as the GS1000 and the PS1000, but we still like the RS1 best. There is also a new model with a slightly different sound called the PS500, and though it’s also a good headphone, it’s still not quite like the RS1. You can also try the lower end SR325is, it’s a slightly downgraded sound from what you get with the RS1, but still a very good headphone and for half the cost of the RS1. (note: The RS1 has undergone several different versions, the latest version is called the RS1i).
From this point down you are looking at the flagships. The utmost best in sound quality.
Hifiman HE-500 – HiFi
Surprisingly the HE-500 takes over the HE-6 in the flagship spot. The HE-500 takes the HE-6 drivers and tweaks a few things to result in an easier to drive factor, very sweet and musical mids, and good clarity all around without being harsh. Midrange lovers will love this headphone. Recommended for Jazz, Blues, Vocals.
Audez’e LCD-2 – HiFi
Perhaps most impressive for the bass section. The reigning bass champion among the flagship headphones. Dark sounding with a sweet planar tonality, this headphone has developed a very loyal following, though many owners feel the need to use silver cabling to bring out treble levels a little bit.
Beyerdynamic T1 – Rockin’
The flagship Beyerdynamic is characterized by a brilliant, sparkly treble, fast and impactful bass passages, and relatively forward mids.
Beyerdynamic T5p – Rockin’
A closed-back variant of the flagship T1 model, the T5p is less demanding on the amplification while still offering a clear flagship-class reference sound, though slightly below the T1’s level.
Sennheiser HD800 – HiFi
The flagship Sennheiser is the most resolving headphone out there today. In real life, that actually translates to something that’s not so easy to enjoy. Don’t expect to be playing Pop music tracks with these since it’s just going to show you how bad the average pop recordings are. With a good system and a good recordings, however, the HD800 is absolutely stunning. Budget an additional $2,000 to $3,000 for a good amplifier for the HD800.
Only list the most popular products are listed here. If you feel it to be too limited, feel free to browse the reviews on the Headphones Category: