Best Budget Audiophile Headphones of 2021 - How To Enjoy Your Favourite Music On A Budget
There's an incredibly vast choice of high-end headphones, and many are utilizing a myriad of high-tech bells and whistles to make your listening experience comfortable and unique.
But what if you want pure sound quality without tacked on features like companion apps, noise cancellation, leather padding, and other elements that drive up the price without making the sound output any better?
With a pure emphasis on sound quality, audiophile headphones are a testament to outstanding sonics - rather than showcases of the latest tech.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the money to buy a pair of audiophile headphones since they can cost upwards of a couple of hundred dollars. This is because these headphones feature high-quality drivers and are usually built out of premium materials.
With that said, quite a few audiophile headphones are circulating the market that won't cost you an arm and a leg. I've spent quite some time researching the best budget audiophile headphones and compiled my findings in this article.
So, if you're interested in the best budget audiophile headphones, keep on reading! As a bonus, I've also compiled a short buyer's guide!
- In a hurry? After 35 Hours of Research, We Recommend:
- Budget Audiophile Headphones Comparison List
- Top 6 Best Budget Audiophile Headphones - Reviews And Recommendations
- 1. Sennheiser HD 600 - Best Budget Audiophile Headphones
- 2. Audio Technica ATH M50x - Best Entry Level Audiophile Headphone
- 3. Grado SR80e Prestige Series - Best Open-Back Budget Audiophile Headphones
- 4. Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro - Best Closed-Back Budget Audiophile Headphone
- 5. 1MORE Triple Driver In-Ear Earphones - Best In-Ear Budget Audiophile Headphones
- 6. V-MODA Crossfade - Best Wireless Budget Audiophile Headphone
- Headphone Design: Over-Ear, On-Ear, or In-Ear
- Over-Ear Headphones - Pros And Cons
- On-Ear Headphones - Pros And Cons
- In-Ear Headphone - Pros And Cons
- Closed-Back Or Open Back Design
- Impedance And Sensitivity
- Types Of Headphone Drivers
- Planar Magnetic Drivers
- Dynamic Drivers
- Hybrid Drivers
- After it's all said and done, we recommend:
In a hurry? After 35 Hours of Research, We Recommend:
Last Updated: September 1, 2021
By Barry Allen: This article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information regarding best headphones for classical music available for those who are interested in enjoying the classic the best possible way. The best 5 available have changed, and information has been added to assist individuals in finding the best headphones for classical music currently available on the market. The FAQ has also been updated.
Budget Audiophile Headphones Comparison List
Top 6 Best Budget Audiophile Headphones - Reviews And Recommendations
Finding the best budget audiophile headphones for your needs can be quite a chore. The market is saturated with headphone models that each come with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.
But, don't worry - you're at the right place. I've done the research for you and compiled it into this nifty list of best budget audiophile headphones you can find on the current market.
So, let's begin with the best of them all and move on from there.
Our Rating: 98/100
If you've been following my recent posts, you might remember I've already talked about Sennheiser HD 600 headphones in my best headphones for classical music article. In that article, I've talked about how they're the best budget option for classical music. Well, they're actually the best budget option when it comes to audiophile headphones. Let's see why.
To ensure a low price point, Sennheiser made a couple of successions in designing these headphones. For starters, the Sennheiser HD 600 is entirely built out of plastic. Besides the drivers, the only metal component of the Sennheiser HD 600 is the metal band used to adjust the headphones to fit your head size. Thankfully, the plastic doesn't feel cheap - quite the contrary, it feels high-quality and incredibly firm.
The plastic surrounds the earcups and is also the main part of the headband. Both the headband and earcups feature velour covered memory foam for increased comfort during long listening sessions.
You might feel slight discomfort during the first few hours because these headphones have a tight clamping force. Thankfully, this is only temporary.
The ear pads feel incredibly comfortable, and I especially love how comfortable and well-padded the headband is. I'm pretty sure you won't have any trouble listening to music for hours on end with these headphones.
When it comes to performance, the Sennheiser HD 600 a clear and detailed sound stage. I've tested this headphone on a wide range of devices, and I've discovered that you need an amp for the Sennheiser HD to shine truly.
Once hooked up on an amp, you get to see what the Sennheiser really has to offer. The dynamic drivers' audio-quality is well-balanced with crisp mids, highs, and a surprisingly punchy bass for an open-back headphone. Unfortunately, the sub-bass is a bit too low. The subs are present, but I feel like they could add more to the overall audio quality if they were just a bit more present.
Since the Sennheiser HD features an open-back design, there's no noise cancellation or isolation to speak of. Coupled with the need for an amplifier to truly shine, these headphones best work as a home listening solution.
If you're looking for good audiophile headphones for enjoying music at home, the Sennheiser HD offers the best value for money.
Our Rating: 95/100
The Adio Technica ATH M50X is probably the most recommended headphone for those that are just getting their feet wet in the world of hi-fi. But why is that the case? The answer is simple; they're an incredibly versatile piece of audio equipment.
ATH M50X looks incredibly food, is incredibly comfortable, and is foldable to boot. On top of that, they're pretty sturdy, ensuring they'll last you a long time. On the other hand, the sound stage isn't entirely neutral, which is why they're my second pick.
Audio Technica ATH M50X is an over-ear closed-back headphone that's built mostly out of plastic. There are a couple of metal accents, like the headband's construction, but the rest is pretty much made out of plastic. Thankfully, the plastic feels incredibly sturdy and high-quality, and I do not doubt that the Audio Technica ATH M50X will last for many years before breaking down.
These headphones also come in two types: wired and wireless. For utility, the Audio Technica ATH M50X features a removable cable. What's more, the connector also features a security clamp that ensures that the cable won't accidentally fall out while you're out and about.
The ear pads are incredibly plushy, ensuring superb comfort. Unfortunately, the foam does get a bit too warm during prolonged listening sessions, but the case with most budget audiophile headphones.
When it comes to clamping force, just like with the Sennheiser, the Audio Technica ATH M50X will clamp down quite a bit for the first couple of hours. After that, it's all smooth sailing. Since these headphones have no active noise cancellation, having a tighter fit isn't that bad.
When it comes to audio quality, Audio Technica markets the ATH M50X as monitoring headphones. However, the ATH M50X lacks the flair to be truly considered mixing and mastering headphones. With that said, the overall audio quality will make any audiophile happy.
The bass is full and quite punchy. In fact, the bass is its main attribute, which makes them one of the best headphones for rap, EDM, and other bass-heavy music. The mids are a little bit laid back for my taste but are clear and crisp. The treble is also clear and crips.
Although they don't have the best sound stage, these budget audiophile headphones are still one of the best choices for beginners.
Our Rating: 93/100
Gardo Labs have been around for quite a while. This family-owned audio equipment company takes pride in hand-making each of its headphones to ensure excellent audio quality for their customers. The Grado SR80E are excellent budget audiophile headphones, thanks to their superb sound quality.
The build quality leaves a bit more to be desired, but at this price range, you'll hardly find another headphone with this good sound output.
Grado SR80E are open-back headphones that feature open-back earcups. The overall design of these headphones is truly unique. The SR80E design looks almost antiquated. But don't let the looks fool you; the SR80E is a part of Grado's classic line of headphones.
While there might be some people out there that might be put out by the design of the SR80E, I personally love it. The SR80E represents a great contrast to today's futurism-inspired design of audiophile headphones.
These headphones are mostly made out of plastic and feel pretty light. Unfortunately, the build quality isn't the best. The plastic feels cheap like it could crumble at any time
The ear cups can swivel 360-degrees while the headband features lightly padded leather. The headband padding could be better because it can start digging into your hair after a while. Thankfully, the headband is made out of metal, giving it a boost in sturdiness.
The ear cups feature a non-removable cable, which can be a problem when packing them. Thankfully, the cable feels sturdy and doesn't tangle that easily.
As for comfort, the padding on the earcups is serviceable at best. You will start feeling heat around your ears after an hour of listening. The clamping force is also a bit too high, so make sure you stretch these headphones until they start feeling comfortable.
For a pair of budget audiophile headphones, the SR80E offers an excellent balance in the frequency range. These headphones produce an incredibly neutral sound stage. The bass is present and punchy but not overwhelming.
The midrange is what makes the SR80E one of the best audiophile headphones for those on a short budget. Thanks to their open-backed design, you'll be amazed at how neutral the sound stage is. On top of that, imaging and instrument separation is some of the best I've heard in a while.
Unfortunately, because of their open-backed design, you won't have an excellent listening experience while commuting. There's no noise cancellation to speak of, which makes these headphones best for home use.
Our Rating: 90/100
The fourth place in my list of best budget audiophile headphones goes to Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro headphones. Beyerdynamic has an excellent reputation for producing some of the best audiophile headphones in the world. Whether you need fully-fledged studio headphones, or something more portable, Beyerdynamic has you covered.
Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro-s are one of the best budget audiophile headphones with closed-back ear cups you can find on the market. Let's see why.
Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro headphones look very similar to the rest of this company's offering. The headphones are mostly built out of metal, with only a few plastic accents. The earpads' outer case is mostly made out of plastic, but it feels very high quality and sturdy enough to withstand quite a beating.
The headband is made out of metal and features a pleather cover. The padding provides just the right amount of softness and can easily be adjusted to fit your head shape. The earcups are joined with the headband via metal bands that feel quite sturdy. Unfortunately, the hinges are made out of plastic, which means you can easily break these headphones if you're not too careful.
The overall weight of these headphones is almost negligible, which makes wearing them a joy. On top of that, the ear pads are very soft and are covered with cloth that's incredibly breathable. At first, the earpads might be too stiff, but they'll "break-in" in no time.
For a headphone with closed-back earcups, the DT770 Pro headphones provide excellent passive noise cancellation. The noise cancellation isn't that good in particularly loud environments, but it's more than serviceable for most use cases. Unfortunately, active noise cancellation comes with a premium fee.
When it comes to sound quality, I have nothing but praise. The sound is well balanced, with an emphasis on the low-end. During my first listening experience, I thought the bass is a bit too punchy, but it got much tighter after a while.
As for the mids, the sound is incredibly neutral but lacks color. Not to say that the mid-range is terrible, but I think it could be much better. The bass is a bit too present compared to the mids, but nothing too noticeable.
The treble is pleasant to the ear, and the instrument separation is quite good for closed-back headphones.
Our Rating: 85/100
So far I covered on-ear or over-ear headphone models. But what if I told you there's an in-ear headphone model that's capable of delivering high-quality audio straight into your earlobes.
The headphones I'm talking about are 1More Tripple Driver Earphones. Built by a Chinese company in the USE, these headphones offer incredible sound quality at an affordable price.
1More Triple Driver In-Ear Earphones feature a premium metallic design that just oozes style. The housing features a flared conical form with a downward pointing metal cylinder extension at the end. The nozzle is also metallic and comes with an opening with an ear wax guard.
The cable is just as impressive as the rest of these headphones. It quite lengthy and features plastic coating above the Y-splitter. Beyond the Y-splitter the coating is replaced by nylon braiding. For additional durability, both the Y-splitter and the 3.5-mm audio jack are made out of metal.
The cable features a straightforward 3 button in-line control panel. The buttons allow you to play/pause tracks, skip tracks, and adjust the volume.
When it comes to comfort, 1More Tripple Driver In-Ear Earphones is one of the most comfortable I've worn in my life. The earbuds are angled at a perfect angle so you don't feel any discomfort no matter how long you wear them.
1More Tripple Driver In-Ear Earphones feature hybrid drivers. On top of that, they utilize a dedicated dynamic driver just for bass. The bass response is nothing short of excellent. It's punchy but doesn't drown out other frequencies. With that said, I would love if the bass was just a little bit higher, but that's a personal preference.
When it comes to midrange frequencies, these headphones are incredibly neutral. This means you'll have no issues picking up the richness and the texture of the instruments and vocals.
On top of that, thanks to their innate design, these headphones offer decent noise-cancelling capabilities.
Our Rating: 80/100
The V-Moda Crossfade Wireless headphones are the first V-Moda headphone model Roland's engineers tuned since this company acquired a majority stake in V-Moda. The result is one of the best audiophile headphones V-Moda has ever produced.
If you're an avid audiophile, sound engineer, or are just a regular Joe looking for a pair of headphones with amazing sound quality and rugged design, the V-Moda Crossfade should be on the top of your shopping list.
The V-Moda Crossfade headphones are not the most subtle out there, nor are they exceptionally light. Quite the contrary, these headphones feel quite hefty when worn. Thankfully, they're incredibly comfortable, so you don't even feel the extra weight.
The earpads are very plush and create an excellent passive noise canceling seal that'll block out most of the noises from the environment. The earcups' outer panels feature a hexagonal design and can be removed and replaced with various designs you can purchase from V-Moda. I especially love the gunmetal plates because they give these headphones a tactical look.
The padded headband is built out of metal and features cloth and leather covering. You can easily adjust the headband to your head size by pulling or recessing the headband's metal braces.
Since these headphones are wireless, there are a couple of buttons that allow you to control the playback, volume, and even calls. These buttons are all located on the right earcup and feel pretty satisfying to use. The right earcup also houses the 3.5-mm audio jack, which is good news when you drain out the battery.
The audio and USB cable you get out of the box to feel pretty solid. On top of that, the audio cable also features a microphone.
When it comes to sound quality, it's decently balanced with a slight emphasis on the low end. The bass feels quite prevalent and can sometimes drown out the mids and highs.
When listening to tracks that only feature vocals, you can still feel the bass boost. This is something most audiophiles might not like. But if you want to listen to techno, drum 'n' bass, rap, or any other type of bass-heavy music, these headphones are the stuff of dreams.
I did manage to tone down the bass using mixing panel magic, but I guess not everyone has the time or the will to spend hours finding the correct sound settings.
When it comes to battery life, these headphones can last up to 12 hours on one charge. And if you end up draining the battery, you can always plug in the audio cable.
Audiophile Headphones - A Buyer's Guide
If you're planning on enjoying music in the highest fidelity possible, you need a decent set of headphones. Unfortunately, buying headphones isn't as straightforward as you might think. There are quite a few factors you need to consider before making the final decision.
This section will go in-depth on all factors you need to consider when buying the budget best pair of audiophile headphones for your needs. Let's start with the basics and move on from there.
Headphone Design: Over-Ear, On-Ear, or In-Ear
Even if you're not an avid audiophile, you already might know that headphones come in three flavors: Over-Ear, On-Ear, and In-Ear. However, most people don't know the strengths and weaknesses of these three designs.
Over-Ear Headphones - Pros And Cons
Most audiophiles prefer over-ear headphones because they offer numerous advantages over the other two types. For starters, over-ear headphones are incredibly comfortable to wear in the long run. You might feel a slight discomfort with on-ear and in-ear headphones during long listening sessions, which will (almost) never happen with over-ear headphones.
Still, just because headphones feature an over-ear design doesn't automatically translate to them being comfortable. To ensure they're as comfortable as possible, look out for the headphone's build-quality, construction materials, and the overall weight of the model you're interested in.
When it comes to sound quality, over-ear headphones are, by far, the best sounding. This is because their larger size can accommodate a bigger driver, which means you'll get better sound.
On-Ear Headphones - Pros And Cons
On-ear headphones are the most versatile type of headphones on the market. Thanks to their compact size, they're excellent for both listening to music at home and while you're out and about. Although they're not as discreet as in-ear headphones, their larger size means they can accommodate a bigger driver, which results in excellent sound quality.
Unfortunately, on-ear headphones widely vary in price. You can find a seat of cheap on-ear headphones that sound amazing, but there are also quite a few big brand headphones that are quite pricey and sound terrible.
In-Ear Headphone - Pros And Cons
In-ear headphones are the cheapest on average and the most discreet. An in-ear headphone is an excellent choice for those that like to listen to music while commuting or working out. And if you don't like having to hassle with a cable, you can find quite a few wireless headphones that offer an excellent balance of price and sound quality.
Unfortunately, due to its small size, an in-ear headphone is the worst sounding. Of course, a few headphone models have superb sound output, but they're few and far between.
Closed-Back Or Open Back Design
The three types of headphones I just discussed all come in two flavors - open-back and closed-back.
Open Back headphones, instead of a hard shell covering their back, have a mesh. Because the sound cannot reverberate, this results in a more immersive and natural sound quality. However, open-back headphones leak a lot of the sound in the environment, making them excellent for home use.
Closed-back headphones feature a closed earcup design. Because of their closed-back design, these headphones don't leak any audio, making them perfect for noisy environments. Another benefit to closed-back headphones is that they have a better bass response because the sound can reverberate in the ear cups. So, if you like listening to bass-heavy music, a closed-back headphone is the best choice for you.
Impedance And Sensitivity
Headphone impedance is measured in Ohms and represents how hard the headphone driver hinders electrical current flow. A low impedance headphone is easier to drive and doesn't require additional power from an amplifier. What's more, low impedance headphone will deliver high audio levels with very little power. This makes them perfect for those audiophiles that like listening to music while on the go.
A high impedance headphone requires an amp to work correctly. This makes high impedance headphones best for home use.
Headphone sensitivity represents how good a headphone is at converting the electrical signal into an audio signal. It's measured in Decibels of sound pressure per milliwatt abb. It indicates how loud the driver can get from a particular power source.
The higher the headphone sensitivity, the better they'll perform without the need for additional power. The lower the sensitivity, the more power they'll need to get louder, which means you'll need an amp.
Types Of Headphone Drivers
When it comes to budget audiophile headphones, there are three types of drivers they utilize. These are planar magnetic drivers, dynamic drivers, and hybrid drivers. Each comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.
Planar Magnetic Drivers
Planar magnetic headphones are becoming more and more popular among audiophile circles because they can reproduce incredible audio while remaining relatively cheap.
Planar magnetic headphones feature two magnets instead of one like in dynamic drivers and don't rely on a moving coil to vibrate the air and create sound. Instead, these drivers feature a thin diaphragm sandwiched between two magnets. When an electrical signal is introduced, the magnets induce a magnetic field, which moves the diaphragm.
Dynamic drivers are the most popular types of headphone drivers. You can find them in everything from cheap headphones to high-end headphones.
Dynamic drivers utilize a voice coil in a magnetic field to move the diaphragm. When an electrical current is introduced to the coil, it creates a magnetic field that attracts or repels it from the magnetic field. The movement of the coil also moves the diaphragm, which in turn produces sound.
The main advantage of these drivers is that they don't require a lot of power to work.
Hybrid drivers are the newest kid on the block. They utilize a new technology that combines dynamic and balanced armature drivers to produce sound. Thanks to this unique technology mix, hybrid driver headphones provide a decent balance of good bass response and good treble.