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The best high-end headphones

These are the headphones that ears dream of.

The best gaming headsets

Looking for more affordable headphones with a mic built-in? Check out our guide to the best gaming headsets.

After months of testing and retesting more than 30 popular headphones including over-ear open and closed models, affordable headphones and high-end audiophile headphones, I've come up with the best headphones that deliver exceptional audio performance for gaming, music, and movies.

Contrary to popular belief, a good pair of headphones for music is also a good pair of headphones for gaming. At their bare basics, a gaming headset and headphones are simply two drivers mounted on a head piece. The drivers are full-range and either do a good job of reproducing the entire frequency range, or a poor one. A pair of headphones that don't perform well in general isn't going to perform well in games either.

Within the headphone category you can either go open-back or closed-back. Both come with their own advantages and caveats. If you want an open and spacious sound-stage, you'll want open cans. The only problem is you'll have to deal with sound leak. This means that anyone within your vicinity will be able to hear what you're listening to. Closed headphones don't have a sound leak issue, but also don't provide the same spacious sound-stage and in some cases make the audio sound slightly compressed.

There are clear camps pitched on both sides of open and closed designs, but in the end, it depends on what you want, and what environment you'll be in most of the time. The following headphones are the high-end cream of the crop, ranging in price from $300 to more than $4000, tested on a $50,000 head and torso simulator. Whether you go open-back or closed-back, your ears will thank you.

I performed listening tests using the following equipment:

Schiit Audio Gungnir multibit DAC
Schiit Audio Mjolnir 2 headphone amp
STAX SRM-007tII electrostatic headphone amp

If you're looking for gaming headsets specifically, check out our top picks here.

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The best overall high-end headphone

  • Excellent frequency response
  • Excellent sound-stage
  • Feather light and very comfortable
  • Doesn't require significant amp power
  • People will hear what you're listening to
  • Requires a good amp/DAC to appreciate

After months of testing various headphones in all price ranges, the Ether from MrSpeakers is the best overall high-end headphone. The Ether has all the right ingredients: sound quality, comfort, construction and materials, and utility.

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The best headphone under $300

  • Excellent audio performance for the money
  • Incredible bass and clarity
  • Easily powered by a smart-phone
  • Comfortable once adjusted
  • Construction quality needs some attention
  • Headband adjusts in a stiff manner

The HiFiMAN HE400S is not only raved about by reviewers and customers—I also thought its performance was incredible for the price. At slightly under $300, you're essentially getting the audio quality of an $800+ pair of headphones. In fact, even some headphones that cost well above $1000 don't sound quite as good or measure as well as the HE400S.

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The best ludicriously high-end headphone

  • Pinnacle levels of audio performance
  • Awesome sound stage
  • Excellent construction and comfort
  • Requires an expensive electrostatic headphone amp
  • Ideally pairs with high-end DAC

If you're looking for the absolute best headphone on the market, my pick goes to STAX for its SR-009. Essentially, you're not going to find a better audio experience elsewhere. The only caveat is whether or not you're willing to shell out the money for a pair and an accompanying amp to power these electrostatic ear muffs of audio ecstasy.

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There's no question about it, all of the recommended high-end headphones are pricey, save for one or two options. However, in the given price ranges, you're not going to go wrong with any choice. All of the above headphones will leave any "gaming headset" literally in the dust in terms of audio performance in both games and music.

If you plan on using a pair of headphones for gaming duties and need a microphone, there are two ways: pick up a high-quality standalone microphone that you can either let stand freely on your desk or mount on an arm, or, grab a Modmic by Antlion Audio. The Modmic is a route that's popular with many gamers who choose to use headphones rather than gaming headsets. Setup is easy, and the quality of the mic input is excellent. In our experience, the uni-directional Modmic is better than the omni-directional version only because it doesn't pick up clicks and clacks of the keyboard.

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