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Buying Guide Headphones By Price Range

Use in combination with:

A Hopefully Helpful Headphone Buying Guide for Newbies By Boomana

 

 

AMP #

0 - amp useless, or worse

1 - amp unnecessary

2 - amp recommended

3 - amp needed

4 - amp included

 

PREFIX

!!! - specific version(s) have problems

DC - discontinued

XE - fakes are common

CO - must be Custom Ordered from manufacturer

DJ - good for DJ work: Good seal, rotating cups, stands up to abuse

 

Format: PREFIX - AMP # - Full Name (version) [price range in USD]: notes


Under $20

IEM

  • 1, 2 - Kanen KM-92 Wooden IEM [$5-$12]: Very low price point and good SQ for the price. Bass is fairly prominent, and the fact the headphones are made out of wood are nice perks as well.

 

Clip-On

  • 1 - Koss KSC75 [$13-$15]: Best bang for buck phones anywhere. Very good for modding.

 


$20 - $70

 

IEM

  • 1 - Brainwavz Beta (v2) [$30]: Punchy bass, lively mids, slightly grainy highs. Excellent sound imaging. One of the best deals around.
  • 2, 3 - Brainwavz M1 [$39.50]: More balanced Dynamic driver IEM. Less bass than it's more expensive relative, the Brainwavz M2. Less definition in the trebles as well. Really requires an amplifier more than any other IEM in this price range, but sounds more laid-back.
  • 1, 2 - Soundmagic PL-50 [$52]: Phenomenal sound at a bargain price. Somewhat analytical sounding with great detail for the price-point.  Not biased toward any genre of music.  A great deal especially considering these are balanced armature IEMs.
  • 1, 2 - Brainwavz M2/ViSang R03 [$59.50]: Another great sounding headphone at a fairly good price. Not as analytical as the SoundMagic PL-50's, M2 has warmer and smoother, and there is more bass. These are not balanced armatures, however, if that makes any difference.

 

Portable

  • 1 - Koss PortaPro [$35]: Grado-like sound at a cheap price. Takes mods very well, such as Kramer's mod. KSC75 clips improve sound and portability. In recent years the cable has become super thin and useless, recabling would be ideal. Leaks sound due to semi-open design though. Has a great lifetime warranty (where applicable).

 

Open On Ear

  • 1, 2 - Superlux HD668b [$50]: Very good price to quality ratio. Fantastic clarity for the price with great balance that makes these good for studio monitoring. These are semi-open but surprisingly isolate more than average. Average build quality, removable cable.

 

Closed Full-size

  • 1 - JVC HA-RX700 [$35]: An inexpensive version of the A700. A fairly balanced signature for its price range, albeit a little laid back. Large, not great at isolating, a slight recessed midrange and possibly boomy bass, but for the price, the detail and overall sound balance is absolutely great.
  • 1 - Sony MDR-XB500 [$50]: Excellent budget basshead headphone. Excellent comfort and decent build quality. Leaks some noise and lacks in the upper mids and highs.
  • DJ, 1 - Sony MDR-V6 [$65]: King of the price range and category since the 80's. Dependable buy with great bass response and nicely detailed highs. Very comfortable and makes a good seal. Can Upgrade to Beyerdynamic DT250 velour earpads very easily for only $20. Single entry, Coiled Cable, nickel plated connector. Can be found refurb'ed occassionally for $35, which is a must buy.

 


$70 - $150

 

IEM

  • 1, 2 - Head-Direct RE0 [$79]: Amazing bang for buck, great mids and all around very solid performer with no major flaw, male vocals sound slightly sucked out or recessed, decent isolation.
  • 1, 2 - Spider Realvoice [$80]: beautiful and silky mids and deep and controlled bass, crispy high, great for vocals, instrument, decent isolation.
  • XE, 1, 2 - Monster Turbine [$90]: Great bang for buck. Small soundstage but gets better after a good break in.
  • 1, 2 - Head-Direct RE-ZERO [$99]: Much like the RE0, this 'updated' version features better bass, and less agressive highs. Worth considering if too much treble bothers you.

 

Portable

  • XE, DC, 1 - Audio Technica ATH-ES7 [$100]: Closed. Poor isolation. Fun sound, very stylish but easily scratched. Folds flat and comes with velour bag.

 

Closed Full-size

  • 2 - Fostex T50RP [$75]: Fantastic intro to orthodynamic headphones. Very flat, clean, sound that benefits from an amp. This headphone is a DIY modder's dream. Well built with a removable cable.
  • DJ, 1 - Shure SRH-440 [$75]:  Relatively flat response comparable to the Sony MDR-V6, possibly overthrowing it. Very good seal; Bulky and comfort is hit or miss as with all Shure headbands. Can upgrade to SRH840 memory foam pads for more comfort. Collapsible design with detachable cable.
  • 2 - AKG K271 MKII [$140]: Great mids. Comfy and decent isolation. Bass light for some, blu-tack mod recommended for those who think bass is not enough.
  • 2 - Ultrasone HFI-580 [$140]: Initially clamps hard. Great highs. V-shaped EQ means fun sound but recessed mids. Epic bass. BeatsbyDre-killing bass. Tight bass but capable of deep rumble. Not as transportable as M50 but does fold up. If purchased, do listen to the Ultrasone sample CD: S-Logic Plus adds interesting twist to sound. Good isolation. Doesn't need amp but benefits greatly from one.

 

 

Open Full-size

  • 1 - Grado SR-60i [$79]: Bright and aggressive headphones that have a tendency to cause fatigue. Excellent for rock music and long considered a fantastic price to quality ratio. Some users find these uncomfortable. These are fantastic for DIY modding.
  • 1 - Audio Technica ATH-AD700 [$85]: Good for Gaming, Movies (very open soundstage). Good bass response but not bass presence (not thumpy). Comfortable and very very very large.
  • 1 - Grado SR-80i [$99]: A slightly more refined SR-60i. Many users either choose these or the 60i to start with if they're looking for a bright and aggressive headphone. Another fantastic headphone for those into DIY modding.
  • 1 - Alessandro MS-1 [$99]: Considered as being slightly better than SR80i and a bit under SR125i, based off SR80, not super comfortable. Less aggressive than "pure" Grado headphones, more versatile, forward sound. Great Value.
  • DC, 3 - Sennheiser HD580 [~$150]: Very similar to the HD600, especially if you change the grills. Somewhat laid back sound with very good mids, slightly rolled off highs and solid bass. Comfort can be lacking for some due to clamping, but this can be fixed.

 


$150 - $250

 

IEM

  • 2 - Ultimate Ears TripleFi 10 [$215]: Strong bass for a BA iem. These have some sibilance with some songs. More 'fun' than analytical.
  • 1, 2 - JAYS q-JAYS [$220]: Very clean, detailed and rather bright. Includes a wealth of accessories including Comply T300 tips. Sound stage is airy. Bass is quick with nice upper bass impact but not much sub-bass presence. Mids are clean and slightly forward. Highs are sibilant until burnt in, then they are very detailed and sparkle. Similar to Ad900 or AKG K701 in sound.

 

Portable

 

Closed Full-size

  • 1, 2 - Shure SRH840 [$150]: Relatively neutral overall, with ample bass. Similar build to the SRH440, with better stock memory foam pads. Might have some comfort issues with headband and weight.
  • 1 - Ultrasone HFI-780 [$160]: Tight, punchy bass, crisp highs with an aggressive, upfront sound. Lots of bass. Good isolation. Great with trance and bass heavy music.
  • DJ, 1 - Audio Technica M50 [$160]: Great bang for buck, good isolation, fun sounding but not overly colored, folds up for easy transport. VERY good bass response/impact which adapts well to the music.
  • 2 - Fisher Audio FA-003 [$167]: Neutral sound signature with lots of detail and great soundstaging. Sound is very fast and fun. Versatile and works well with many genres.  Also available as FA-002w if you want wooden cups.
  •  - Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro (80 ohm) [$175]: BASS!!! Great soundstage for a closed can. Very good movie and gaming can.
  • 2 - Denon AH-D2000 [$250]: Great bass and decent soundstage with a laid back sound. Doesn't isolate well. Top notch comfort. Great with trance and bass heavy music but a good all around can.

 

Open Full-size

  • 1 - Grado SR225i [$200]: Treble heavy Gradoish sound that is brilliant for rock music although some may find it too bright.
  • 1 - Audio Technica ATH-AD900 [$220]: Fantastic price to quality ratio here. Well built, comfortable and light on the head. Bass is adequate for non-bass heads extending decently with nice mid bass impact. Mids are slightly forward and very lively. Highs are very lively as well with nice sparkle to them. These are very musical headphones.

 


$250 - $500

 

IEM

  • 1, 2 - Monster Turbine Pro Copper [$320]: Great dynamic range, sound stage, presence with incredible bass presentation. Mid foward. Very cool looking.

 

Portable

  • DC, 1 - Audio Technica ESW10 [~$500]: Warmish natural sound. Great looks and good comfort. Only little isolation, good in the city but not for subway use. Considered one of the best portable headphones around but is overpriced when you consider the fact that the M50s provide similar sound for around 120 dollars.
  • 1, 2 - Audio Technica ATH-ES10 [$440]: Strong visceral bass, neutral mids, smooth and sparkly highs (though not grado-ish). So-so isolation, comfy (not so much as denon d1001), big soundstage, simple but elegant design. Good build quality. One of the best portables present to date (2010)

 

Closed Full-size

  • 1, 2 - Bose QC15 [$299]: The best active noise canceling headphone by far. Good sound stage and presence. Light on the bass. The noise cancellation might distort the music though.
  • 2 - Ultrasone Pro 750 [$300]: Good bass not overbearing but with plenty of slam (an all around more refined version of the HFI-780). Good comfort. Great with trance and bass heavy music.
  • 1, 2 AKG K550 [$300]: Neutral headphone, similar to the Denon D2000 but with better mids and less bass. Very comfortable, great isolation. Best with Vocals, however is a good all-rounder. May need to mod (stuff cotton and bend headband) to get a tighter fit. Large soundstage. 

 

Open Full-size

  • 3 - AKG K701 or 702 [$250]: Extremely detailed with a large soundstage. Some feel anemic bass dependent on amping. 
  • 3 - Beyerdynamic DT880 [$310]: Very flat, neutral sound. Excellent and accurate soundstage. Very good for gaming.
  • 2 - Audio Technica AD2000 [$500]: Open, airy soundstage with very lush forward midrange and great speed. One of the best for female vocals.
  • 3 - Beyerdynamic DT990 [$300]: Semi-Open, great soundstage, natural sound especially when paired with tube amp, present but controlled bass.

 


$500 +

 

IEM

  • 2 - Westone ES3X [$850]: Warm, lush sounding custom IEM. Forward sound signature places you on the stage together with the instruments.

 

Closed Full-size

  • 3 - Denon D5000 [$600]: Warm, bassy sound. Wood finish
  • 3 - Denon D7000 [$675]: Warm, bassy sound. Wood finish

 

Open Full-size

  • DC, 3 - Stax SR-404LE [$700]: Electrostatic headphone. Limited edition of the Lambda design, with real leather and new cable. Good natural sound, slightly warm, detailed. Very comfortable. 

 


$1000+

IEM

  • CO, 2 - JH13 Pro [$1,099]: Incredibly detailed reference sounding custom IEM's. Natural and open sound. 
  • CO, 2 - JH16 Pro [$1,149]: Stupendous bass presentation while retaining all of the positives from the JH13 Pro's.

 

Open Full-Size

  • DC, 4(2) - Sennheiser HE60 [~$1800]: Electrostatic headphone. Nice natural sound, very detailed, slightly bass light. Normally comes with HEV70 amp but using another amp is recommended. Very comfortable.
  • 3 - Stax SR-007 "Omega II" [~$2150]: Open-Back Electrostatic Earspeaker.
  • 3 - Stax SR-009 [~$5250 USD]: Top-of-the-line electrostatic earspeaker. Latest production model.

 

Closed Full-Size

  • 3 - Stax 4070 [$2000]: Electrostatic headphone. Designed for monitoring, very detailed and unforgiving. A bit heavy but good comfort.

Comments (43)

cool guide. just wish these prices were reflected in canada.
2 suggestions:1.earpads should be added to this list. 2. Updates should be done.
Would recommend putting some Superlux headphones on
I'd like to see a little more diversity included, in this buying guide. JH audio, Westone and Ultimate Ears make a LOT more products than the ones listed here.
why isnt my Sennheiser HD 598 on there?
what about Sennheiser IE8, it's pretty good though.....
hd 25's? :( biased agianst sennheiser? lol jk
great information
Audio technica ATH-M50? It's the most common headphone around here, right?
And Brainwavz M3 are not worth being mentioned? I was thinking about getting them, are they bad in price performance?
how are these prices so low haha? where can you get turbines for $109?
Prices are way outdated and there's a lot of big names missing.
^ Agreed. The prices for the Monster Turbine Copper Pro's are waaaaaaaay outdated haha. They run in the $350-400 range. Also, IMO, good starter headphones need not be as expensive as the original Turbines. Klipsch Image S4-i's will run you $100 and Sennheiser CX-II will run you about $115. Bass enthusiasts can opt for the S4's whereas more rounded people can go for the CX-II's. Don't get me wrong, Turbine's are good, but those Europeans know what they're doing ;)
No description for the HD 600?
DT990 are incorrectly described as semi-open. The DT880 are the semi-open ones in that line.
The JVC HARX700 aren't $34 anymore. This guide needs to be updated. M50s are no where to be found at $120
I updated some prices and added some new headphones I've personally used that are fantastic. There's way too much mess in here though, many items added with no descriptions or laughable descriptions...
how about the Panasonic RP HTF600 S for a budget [~$60] basshead 'phone, i've seen nothing but praise for them or do they have too small a user base here that it may not be a solid recommendation? also what about the srh940s+750djs, CAL/Denon1001(obsolete possibly), SC aviators, KRK KNS6400?

i'd like to help clean this up if you guys don't mind, though admittedly i have little to no 1st hand impressions of all these cans
edit: cleaned up a bit
Interesting list. Thanks for sharing.
What about Grado? I have the RS1i and it's top for rock.
Objection. The D2000's amp # should be a (1) or a (1, 2) at most. Really doesn't need amping.
I have the Beyerdynamic DT880 and while I love it, I would not call it flat or neutral. The high mid to low treble section is a bit accentuated and the mids are a tad recessed. However, resolution and extension are truly great, and the high mid to low treble accentuation is fairly easily EQ'ed out.
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