Resolve's Headphone Ranking List

A lot of folks have been asking me for something like this. I’m still on the fence about this post because I’d much rather readers make considered purchases with all the information for what best suits them, rather than making a choice based on a snapshot of what suits me. There are far too many reasons to prefer one headphone over another that don’t line up in a straightforward ranking system. For example, some might care a lot about soundstage, others might care more about punch, others still might care more about detail… you get the idea.

With that in mind, here’s what I personally index for and how I weight my preferences - you of course may weight things differently:

Weighting - To be clear, all of this could be captured by existing metrics like FR, just that as of right now it’s not possible to interpret FR in terms of some these qualities the way it is with others.

  1. Tonal Balance - The headphone achieves an appropriate balance between fundamental and harmonic tones
  2. Detail/Resolution - The headphone is incisive, well-controlled during busy passages, and retains good clarity for the finer nuances in the music
  3. Separation and sense of space - Being able to isolate individual instruments in the mix is more important to me than overall ‘soundstage’, because headphones won’t ever get to be like speakers. But it still counts.
  4. Contrast/Punch - The headphone has good contrast for large volume swings, the opposite being a compressed kind of sound.
  5. Timbre - The headphone sounds sufficiently ‘natural’, whatever that means.

Caveat all of this with a consideration for whether or not it’s reasonably comfortable, because there many times where these choices are based around weight and long-term listening potential.

This list is all subject to change, as opinions do, and so treat this as a personalized ranking that evolves over time. Of course, I also haven’t had the opportunity to listen to everything out there, so if something isn’t on this list, then it could also just be that I haven’t spent time with it - or I just forgot about it and I’ll add it in eventually. These lists also won’t include all products though either, since there are a lot of really bad sounding headphones out there that aren’t worth taking seriously.

Lastly, to state this as loudly and clearly as possible - this is not an ordered ranking of overall sound quality - but rather a personalized list of headphones with qualities I find desirable and the reasons I’d choose them or not choose them. You can think of it like a ranking based on what I’d personally purchase if I had the money if that makes it easier.

Headphone Measurements
For measurements of most of the headphones listed in this ranking, check out this thread graciously put together by @deafenears - big thanks for putting it together:

For more on headphone measurements, watch this video here:

I will have noted ‘EQ’ for whether or not I needed to make meaningful adjustments to get it to sound the way I like. Keep in mind that I EQ just about everything to taste, but some are more required than others. The EQ tag doesn’t mean I matched it to Harman, merely that I felt the need to make some key adjustments in order for it to be sufficient at satisfying criteria 1).

For more information on the limits of EQ, watch this video:

NO EQ Picks
I totally get it, EQ is the devil’s lettuce - and in my view it’s also a crutch. The huge caveat with this tier is that the index dramatically changes in favor of tonal balance. Note that this is not based on target adherence (especially down low), but rather it’s based on the balance between fundamental an harmonic tones being appropriate, the way instruments sound in real life in a good room for example.

In my view, for ear gain, overall level isn’t as important as the balance or shape of the ear gain, meaning it could be over the target or under the target, as long as there are no tones that sound like their fundamentals are being elevated over their resonant harmonics, or lower harmonics boosted over upper harmonics and so on. And, I get that this is contrary to Harman’s statistical model that predicts listener preference, but to me certain deviations can actually ‘fix’ or balance out other deviations, yielding an overall positive result.

Additionally, I’m not going to put everything on this particular list for now, mainly because I’m quite picky with tonal balance and have a preference for a generally more ‘neutral’ sound signature, and there are many that simply wouldn’t be to my taste if EQ wasn’t an option. But just because a headphone isn’t on this list, that doesn’t mean it’s bad.

The other lists are more indicative of my overall preferences, this is just a list for those who aren’t comfortable with EQ, and reflects the conjunction of tonal balance and technical performance to my taste. Moreover, I’m just one person, for those who prefer a different type of sound signature - as I expect people will - that’s perfectly fine as well.

NO EQ TIER - I recommend all of these

  1. HiFiMAN Susvara - Neutral
    The right combination of great tonal balance and detail, separation and space for my taste. It could be a bit more punchy, but these are the qualities I care most about. Also it’s very comfortable.

  2. Focal Utopia - Neutral with slight mid forwardness
    Also a great tuning, but really punchy and impactful. For some reason there’s a narrative that this headphone is bright, but it’s not. If you look at the FR it’s actually even lower than the target in the treble. Maybe this is to do with pad variance or something again, I’m not sure. But none of the ones I’ve evaluated have sounded nor measured bright.

  3. Warwick Acoustics Bravura System - Neutral
    A spectacular blend of great tuning with a high level of technical performance. This is also an e-stat that has strong capable bass, which is a rare thing. While it lacks contrast and dynamism when compared to the Utopia, it makes up for that with a more even tonal balance and improved instrument separation. The only reason this isn’t higher is the fact that it’s a full system, making it a bit of a barrier to entry and inflexible with respect to source options.

  4. Focal Utopia 2022 - Neutral with slight mid forwardness
    Like the original, just about 2dB warmer. I find the new one to be more of a sidegrade than an upgrade, but for those who found the original bright (I didn’t), the new one might be the better option.

  5. HiFiMAN Shangri-La Jr. - Neutral with slightly forward upper mids and treble
    Similar to Stax just with a bit more upper mid and mid treble presence. Also very impressive for technicalities, they just lack the sense of contrast. So it’s more about refinement and detail.

  6. Stax SR-007 2.9 - Neutral with upper treble shimmer
    Slightly more esoteric tuning throughout but still generally balanced. Also very technically impressive, and it’s an estat that has decent bass extension.

  7. HiFiMAN Arya V3 - Neutral bright
    The Arya has a bit much ear gain for my taste, but at the same time it still has the right harmonic balance. If I’m listening to jazz and acoustic, it works fine, I just wouldn’t use it for other genres. Alternatively, this is one where I might look towards a tube amp for a pairing, although I haven’t tried enough yet with it.

  8. Focal Clear / Elex / Elear with alt pads - Neutral with slight mid forwardness
    Just like the Utopia, these have a generally balanced tuning, and for those who index harder for contrast, these are both solid choices. At the moment my daily go-to is the Elear with Utopia pads, which significantly improve the FR. I’ve been running it with the Ampsandsound Kenzie as well (32 ohm out), lovely combo.

  9. Audeze MM-500 - Mid-forward
    One of the best tuned Audeze headphones with a hint of mid forward character with relaxed treble. This is essentially a planar HD650 with better bass extension and technical performance. Unfortunately it’s got a strong clamp force making it less than comfortable for people with large heads.

  10. Audeze LCD-X 2021 - Neutral-Warmish but still somewhat esoteric upper mids
    While it’s not perfect, the 2021 pad update made significant improvements for the LCD-X, to the point where even without EQ I don’t feel like its technical performance is being held back or prevented from coming through all that much.

  11. ZMF Auteur - Neutral
    I love this sound signature. It’s super well balanced overall, with a good sense of space and width. The only downside is that it’s not as technically impressive as others in the price bracket. I wish I could have a Verite with this tuning. Maybe one day Zach will bless us with such a creation.

  12. HiFiMAN Ananda - Neutral
    Simply one of the best tunings out there. I think just ever so slightly more ear gain than my preference, but for my preferred genres it’s great. Not quite as technically capable as the Arya.

  13. HiFiMAN Edition XS - Neutral with a slight midrange dip and upper treble boost
    Probably the best headphone around $500 at the moment. While I personally do EQ this headphone, this is by no means required, and certainly for older listeners the upper treble boost won’t be an issue whatsoever.

  14. Moondrop Venus - Neutral with a slightly brighter tilt
    Moondrop’s first over-ear planar is extremely competent, with a tuning similar to many HiFiMAN headphones. It’s still a bit splashy or zingy in the treble with a bit more energy around 10khz, but I do find it to be competitive. It’s only lower than Edition XS for me because the latter is a bit more comfortable.

  15. Focal Radiance - Neutral
    The Radiance is one of the better tuned Focal closed-back headphones, and for me it’s also one of the more comfortable ones. Over time I found that the Celestee simply has too much clamp for my liking, so that’s why I go with the Radiance as my current recommendation between the two.

  16. DCA Aeon 2 Noire - Neutral with a slight upper mid unevenness
    One of the best tuned closed-backs out there. Also has great detail and instrument separation, and it’s comfortable for long-term use. The only downside is that it lacks a bit of contrast.

  17. HiFiMAN Sundara 2020 - Neutral
    Of course it makes the list. This is the new reference in my opinion with one of the best and most balanced tunings out of any headphone available at any price. So why isn’t it higher up? While it’s technical performance is good for the price, I’d probably gravitate to the Elear/Elex for the punchiness if given the choice, even though the Sundara’s tuning is slightly more to my preference.

  18. DCA Aeon X Closed - Neutral
    Possibly the best tuned closed-back out there, certainly the best tuned planar for my taste. It’s held back by a slight blunted character to trailing ends of tones and lack of contrast, but the tonal balance is outstanding.

  19. Sennheiser HD 600, HD6XX, HD 660 S (from most to least preferred) - Neutral, with a bit of mid forwardness
    I actually think the HD 600 and HD 6XX are more detailed than the Aeon X Closed, and they also seem to change a lot depending on the upstream equipment. The downside is that they have a somewhat tight and intimate presentation, along with a somewhat ‘3-blob’ effect. They are a bit mid forward, but that doesn’t stop them from having a pleasant tonal balance - it’s not enough to skew towards fundamental tones or anything like that.

  20. AKG K371 - Neutral with a slight bass boost
    One of the best values in all of audio, only held back by lack of detail and a bit of a rickety build. But at that price it’s already far better sounding than anything else.

  21. HiFiMAN HE-400se (or Drop HE-X4) - Neutral with a mid cut
    Apart from the slight bass roll off, this has a really solid tuning overall, and as mentioned above this is now the defacto entry-level planar to consider. I think at one point I called this a baby Sundara, even though it has some treble issues that the Sundara improves on.

  22. Sennheiser HD 560 S - Neutral with 4-6khz boost
    The only reason this isn’t higher up is because I personally do reduce the lower treble boost. But, even if you don’t do that, it’s got a generally well-balanced tuning with good bass extension and a spacious presentation overall.

The following rankings include the possibility of doing EQ, which is also how I personally use headphones.


Tier 1 - End game potential

  1. HiFiMAN Susvara
    This is only higher than the LCD-5 at the moment because it’s not as clampy, but I didn’t try the wider headband, so maybe it’s a wash. Crazy detailed, open, well balanced, comfortable.

  2. Audeze LCD-5 - EQ
    Probably should be #1 but the clamp is too strong for me and in my view requires some EQ. I hope they make a larger headband for people like me. Better bass than Susvara.

  3. Focal Utopia
    Reallly punchy, and the most detailed moving coil headphone out there. It’s not as detailed as some of the planars in this tier, but it’s also more comfortable than many of them.

  4. Warwick Acoustics Bravura System
    A spectacular blend of great tuning with a high level of technical performance. This is also an e-stat that has strong capable bass, which is a rare thing. While it lacks contrast and dynamism when compared to the Utopia, it makes up for that with a more even tonal balance and improved instrument separation. The only reason this isn’t higher is the fact that it’s a full system, making it a bit of a barrier to entry and inflexible with respect to source options.

  5. HiFiMAN Shangri-La Jr
    Underrated estat - I was surprised. Might be held back by the energizer a bit but it’s very impressive. Also, really comfortable. Similar to Stax just with a bit more upper mid and mid treble presence. Also very impressive for technicalities, they just lack the sense of contrast. So it’s more about refinement and detail.

  6. Stax SR-007 2.9 - EQ
    This could also be higher up depending on the source as I have limited experience with that, but this is one of the best estats out there.

  7. Focal Utopia 2022
    Like the original, just about 2dB warmer. I find the new one to be more of a sidegrade than an upgrade, but for those who found the original bright (I didn’t), the new one might be the better option.

  8. Raal Requisite CA-1a - EQ
    While not quite as technically impressive as some of the other headphones in this tier, the CA-1a is light enough to be an all-day kind of headphone, and it’s still very subjectively enjoyable for all of the qualities I care about.

  9. Audeze LCD-4 - EQ
    This would be ranked higher if not for the weight, still amazing technicalities

  10. Final Audio D8000 Pro - EQ
    Slightly behind the LCD-4 for detail and sense of impact, but timbre unlike other planars.

  11. Abyss Diana Phi DMS Pad Mod - EQ
    Very detailed, and it would be higher if it were easier to EQ, but the positioning variation makes it actually quite difficult. DMS pad mod made it very comfortable though, so I’d legitimately consider it.

Tier 2 - High end value (higher on the list = better value IMO, not necessarily better headphone, these are all great for one reason or another)

  1. Original HiFiMAN HE-6 if you can find one (6-Screw)
    EQ not required depending on the pads. Original pads is EQ required, but Sundara 2020 pads bring it a lot closer. Still one of the best planars out there when driven properly, clearly ahead of the new versions - intense, punchy and ‘angry’ kind of sound.

  2. Audeze LCD-X 2021
    High end value, and really shines when you add a bass shelf. It’s also lighter than the previous versions but still a bit heavy.

  3. HiFiMAN HE6se V2
    Exceptional value if you can get it at the sale price. Not as engaging as the original but still really solid driver with potential.

  4. Focal Clear & Elex (or Elear with alt pads)
    These are both very punchy, detailed and engaging headphones that also have a generally well-balanced tuning, but with a somewhat narrow stage.

  5. HiFiMAN Arya - EQ
    Demonstrating that good sound is less about ear gain level and more about balance between fundamental and harmonic. Still kinda bright, but great separation and technical performance. V3 is slightly punchier as well.

  6. Sennheiser HD 800 S - EQ
    The only reason this isn’t higher is because the bass quality and sense of impact is a bit lacking when compared to the Clear and Elex, but the detail and comfort are both even better on the HD 800 S.

  7. Audeze LCD-2F - EQ
    The blank canvas to achieve whatever tuning you like. Also not as heavy as the LCD-X. 2021 version may have a better tuning than the one I evaluated, but I still need to get one in to double check.

  8. Aurorus Audio Borealis - EQ
    Generally pleasant tuning with a uniquely distinct bass shelf unlike what you commonly find in open-back headphones. Punchy, spacious, engaging. Maybe a touch fatiguing for me at 5.5khz but it wasn’t difficult to dial in. I think the main downside with these is availability and the more esoteric build/design.

Tier 3 - I really like them but…

  1. HEDD Audio HEDDphone
    It would be higher if it were lighter or had some sort of head band that made it easier for me to wear for long periods of time. For its sonic characteristics, it probably belongs higher up.

  2. ZMF Verite Open - EQ
    Not quite as impressive as the Utopia for detail and punch but not far off - and better in other areas, like sense of space. Also more comfortable, and you can pad swap a lot. The only ‘but’ here for me is that I think I’d prefer the closed-back for use case benefits

  3. Audio Technica ADX5000 - EQ
    Similar to HD 800 S, I just found it less comfortable and more expensive.

  4. Focal Clear MG
    While I can see reasons to get this over the original, as it improves the mid treble, it comes at the cost of too much upper treble for me. Also it costs more, so of course not as good value.

  5. Audeze MM-500 - EQ
    One of the best tuned Audeze headphones with a hint of mid forward character with relaxed treble. This is essentially a planar HD650 with better bass extension and technical performance. Unfortunately it’s got a strong clamp force making it less than comfortable for people with large heads.

  6. Meze Audio Elite - EQ
    Exceptionally comfortable and well built, this would be an all-day wear kind of headphone for me. It just doesn’t have the technical chops to compete for sound quality.

  7. ZMF Auteur
    Really pleasant and clear tonal balance, also good soundstage. Only lacking slightly in terms of detail compared to others at its price.

  8. HiFiMAN Ananda
    Great for clarity, space and openness. One of the best tuned headphones for jazz and classical - one of the best tunings period in my opinion. It just lacks a bit of punch, and it’s not really that much better than the Sundara 2020 for technicalities to my ear.

  9. Meze Audio 109 Pro - EQ
    This is one of the more competitive Mezes that I liked a lot. It’s got a generally balanced tuning that’s a little bit forward in the midbass and airy, boosted upper treble above 10khz. The only thing that keeps it from being higher is that it’s not quite as technical for the qualities I’m after as the competition - but really not far off! The comfort is also spectacular on this one, so it’s one I’d personally consider owning.

  10. Moondrop Venus - EQ
    Moondrop’s first over-ear planar is extremely competent, with a tuning similar to many HiFiMAN headphones. It’s still a bit splashy or zingy in the treble with a bit more energy around 10khz, but I do find it to be competitive. I would rank it higher for personal use if the headband elastic weren’t so stiff.

Tier 4 - Bang for the buck.

  1. HiFiMAN Sundara 2020
    Sound quality benchmark for the price, all around great. Needs an amp
  2. Sennheiser HD 6X0
    Some of the best value in all of audio… if you have an amplifier and don’t mind the tighter stage.
  3. HiFiMAN Edition XS
    Basically an Ananda with cup swivel, lower Fs for better bass when the front seal is compromised, and slightly more shimmer up top in the ‘air’ frequencies. It’s not cheap but given the competition, it’s very aggressively priced.
  4. Sennheiser HD 560 S
    Similar advantages to R70x with slightly spicier lower treble. Good sense of space and even imaging.
  5. HiFiMAN HE400se (or HE-X4)
    The default entry-level planar at this point. Solid tuning.
  6. Beyerdynamic Tygr 300 R - EQ
    Surprisingly detailed, it just really needs the EQ to fix some of the issues. It’s also comfy, lightweight, and cheap.

Tier 5 - I can see why other people like them

  1. Abyss AB1266 Phi TC - EQ
    Extremely detailed and engaging. This would be in tier 1 if it weren’t for A) the weight and awkward fit style, and B) its EQ potential is a bit limited as it has some strangely high harmonic distortion going on, potentially audible if you start adjusting things too much - and it definitely needs the adjustment in my opinion.

  2. HiFiMAN HE1000se - EQ
    Top level detail, fantastic soundstage, but also too bright and requires EQ in my opinion. Also, while it was comfortable, I found that the inner mesh wasn’t pulled tightly enough and it would occasionally tickly my ears in an unpleasant manner. Not in a nice way.

  3. Audeze CRBN - EQ
    This would be a good pick for an estat with far more ‘natural’ timbre - and I think if that were a higher priority for me this would be a stronger consideration. But apart from that, I just didn’t hear any other category where the CRBN performed better than the LCD-5.

  4. Raal SR1a - EQ
    Very detailed, but two things keep it from being something I’d personally consider. A) the earspeaker design is a bit awkward and hard for me to deal with, along with the need for a unique source, and B) the tuning is a bit shouty in the upper mids, and it lacks bass - now maybe a different source improves the bass, but on the Jot-R it wasn’t great.

  5. Audeze LCD-GX
    A slightly more comfortable full sized Audeze that doesn’t quite have the technical chops of the double-sided ones.

  6. DCA Aeon X Open
    A bit on the blunted side, but it has really smooth and enjoyable treble for a planar. Slightly too compressed sounding for my taste but at the same time ergonomically excellent. Tuning also makes sense for certain genres.

  7. Beyerdynamic DT 880 - EQ
    The main issue with the DT-880, apart from the somewhat harmonically imbalanced treble, is that it gets a bit smeary for the instrument separation, and not quite as technically competitive as similarly priced headphones anymore.

  8. HarmonicDyne Zeus - EQ
    Good detail and reasonably comfortable, just lacks a bit of contrast and feels cheap. My unit also had some channel imbalance that was driver-based, and not pad-based - so I’m unsure how the tolerances are there. Of course, this can happen to anyone.

  9. Audio Technica R70x
    Great tuning with excellent sense of width and space to it, only held back by lacking a bit of detail and technical chops.

  10. HarmonicDyne G200 - EQ
    There are some build and design quirks with this one that lead to it being ergonomically unsuitable for me and both sets of stock pads make this one very dark and veiled sounding, with practically zero ear gain. With that said, this has surprisingly good technical performance, so for the EQ gang there’s something interesting here.

Tier 6 - I don’t like them, but who cares what I think if you do.

  1. Meze Audio Empyrean - EQ
    Similar to Elite, just slightly not as good, and simply not competitive enough for its sonic characteristics at its asking price.

  2. DCA Expanse - EQ
    The Expanse measures well on the rig, but just like the Stealth, no matter what I do for positioning, I can’t seem to get it to sound good on my head. I reaallly wanted to like this one because it’s one of the few comfortable flagships out there, but sadly it’s just not for me. The main drawback to my ear is that there’s something very wonky going on with the staging on the Expanse, as lateral definition is almost entirely nonexistent, and this doesn’t seem to change with any adjustment for me either.

  3. DCA Ether 2 - EQ
    Great ergonomics but it didn’t work with my head shape for some reason. No matter what I always get the planar crinkle effect with these. But for those who didn’t have that issue, it’s got a good sense of separation to it. Weirdly dark tuning though with all pads.

  4. Thieaudio Wraith - EQ
    A warm yet uneven tonal balance that’s particularly challenging to EQ. It’s got a great look to it, with solid ergonomics, but unfortunately the tuning leaves a bit to be desired. Tones that token midrange fundamentals are drawn very forward and intimate, but come across slightly muffled. Still, not it’s not the worst by a long stretch.

  5. Goldplanar GL2000 - EQ
    Really strange tuning, but after EQ it has similar performance to that of the Sundara, I just don’t find it as comfortable as the Sundara or Aeons because it’s a bit heavier.

  6. Ultrasone Edition 15 - EQ
    Great build quality and comfort, but their bottom up angle drivers don’t have the intended space enhancing effect on me that I think they’re meant to, and that’s even without EQing anything. The technical performance isn’t anywhere near its asking price and the tuning is also a bit too strange to be competitive.

  7. Beyerdynamic DT 1990 - EQ
    I need to review one again at some point, but I do not understand the attention this headphone has received. Not as comfortable as the Tygr, and more difficult to EQ. Detail isn’t anything particularly special either apart from the 8.khz sibilance that can fake it I suppose.

  8. Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X - EQ
    Crazy good bass extension, but a bit sibilant still and sounds a bit overdamped and dull. Clamp is also a bit much for me.

  9. Grado Hemp - EQ
    The typical Grado sound signature leaves a lot to be desired, with nonexistent sub-bass and a series of intense treble peaks, but more importantly, the stock pad design is so uncomfortable as their stiffness always crushes my ears into the side of my head almost like an on-ear. Geekria pads are a must for both sound quality and comfort, still feels super rickety though.

  10. HarmonicDyne Poseidon - EQ
    Dull, compressed, and heavily bloated upper bass that dominates the mids. The Zeus is simply better sounding for that type of signature.

  11. Sendy Peacock - EQ
    To quote DMS, “muddy slugs banging on a tin drum”. Neither the acoustic nor mechanical design make all that much sense, with heavy front damping and a very blunted character to it.

  12. Ovidious TX-901 - EQ
    This has one of the strangest frequency responses of any headphone I’ve come across. I will give it some credit in that it has full bass extension, but that’s where any praise this headphone could possibly get has to stop. The mids on this one in particular are just out of left field.

  13. Andover PM-50 - EQ
    One of the worst sounding headphones I’ve come across, which may be the result of a misunderstanding of how compensated vs raw measurements differ and what they mean.


Tier 1 - End game potential

  1. Audeze LCD-XC 2021 - EQ
    Yup, this absolutely belongs here after EQ (before EQ, not so much). It’s at least as detailed as all other closed-backs on this list, if not slightly more technically impressive. It also takes a bass shelf like a champ, and once the EQ is dialed in, instrument separation and control during busy passages is top tier. The only downside is the weight, but this is a use case that’s not all the time for me.

  2. ZMF Verite Closed - EQ
    I haven’t reviewed it, but I have spent a decent amount of time with them at shows and meetups to get a sense. High level technical performance for a moving coil headphone. It has some issues in the lower treble that I’d with EQ and then it’s a solid all-rounder.

  3. Focal Stellia - EQ
    Very detailed but I think I’d pick the VC because it’s a bit more flexible with source equipment. You heard that right - the lower impedance Focals don’t pair so great with high output impedance stuff like many tube amps are.

Tier 2 - I could be happy with…

  1. DCA Aeon 2 Noire
    Very comfortable, and the best image separation and control during busy passages of this tier. The only downside is that it lacks the contrast of the others, so between the Noire, Celestee and Radiance, I can see a reason to prefer each.

  2. Focal Radiance - EQ
    The Radiance is one of the better tuned Focal closed-back headphones, with a kind of warm-neutral tilt with a bass lift. For me it’s also one of the more comfortable ones. Over time I found that the Celestee simply has too much clamp for my liking, so that’s why I go with the Radiance as my current recommendation between the two.

  3. Focal Celestee - EQ
    Decent tuning for a closed-back, with a slight mid and upper mid-forward character that I adjust. While it has solid contrast and detail, the stage is a bit tighter than the Radiance and I still find the clamp a bit much as well.

  4. DCA Aeon X Closed
    As much as it’s ever so slightly on the blunted side of things and lacks contrast, this headphone’s tuning is so exceptional both for reference and enjoyment that it doesn’t matter to me. Possibly the best tuned closed-back period. Also super comfy, so I highly recommend it - especially at its asking price.

Tier 3 - Bang for the buck

  1. AKG K371
    Budget reference. Apart from the build quality, this is another “one of the best value products in all of audio”. I use this headphone all the time for editing or any time I need to have something that’s more ‘correct’ sounding than most.

  2. Audeze Mobius (and its various iterations… provided they actually sound like this)
    Surprisingly detailed with a reasonable tonal balance. The value here though is in its various digital functions. There’s a lot in this headphone. I wasn’t a big fan of the 3D head-tracking thing and found it to be a bit of a gimmick, but even if that weren’t included, I’d still recommend it.

Tier 4 - I can see why other people like them

  1. DCA Stealth
    Not Tier 1? Hear me out. The Stealth is comfortable, with a solid tuning, but for me the tuning was actually a bit shouty in the position that it was the most comfortable. Moreover, while it has its technical strengths, it’s not meaningfully better than the Noire or LCD-XC after EQ - dare I say the XC is even slightly better at certain things? I suppose it could be Tier 1 for an all-day use case, but that’s also not my situation with a closed-back.

  2. Meze Audio Liric - EQ
    Another high price tag, the Liric is one of the best built and best looking headphones I’ve ever come across, but its technical performance also wasn’t meaningfully better than the Noire in the areas I care about, and noticeably behind the LCD-XC. It does isolate really well though, and it’s super comfy, so that’s good.

  3. DCA Aeon 2 (solid pads) - EQ
    It’s the same as the Noire just with a slightly less appropriate tonal balance, especially in the upper mids and treble. Otherwise it’s great, I just see no reason to get the solid pads version over the perf pad version.

  4. Fostex TR-X00 Ebony (and similar) - EQ
    Strong, punchy bass with somewhat esoteric upper mids. This would be for the bassheads out there who really want that impact. It’s not for me though because it’s not really that closed, moreover it lacks a bit of separation and control during busy passages that the Aeon X Closed does better.

  5. Meze 99 Classic - EQ
    Bassy sound signature. Too much for me. But the rest of it is generally pleasant, only held back by lack of technical capability. Decently comfortable too.

  6. Beyerdynamic DT-770 - EQ
    Like DT 700 but spicier treble. Some versions apparently perform better as well, but I’d need to get one of those in to compare side by side since it’s been a while. I think the only issue with these is that the K371 exists, and there’s no scenario where I’d take them over the K371 at this point.

  7. Beyerdynamic DT-700
    Smart ‘V-shape’ with good impact down low, and strong but not fatiguing treble at the cost of a somewhat duller presentation overall. Held back by overly strong clamp force, lack of cup swivel and lack of detail.

  8. Audio Technica M50x - EQ
    Okay so it’s actually not as bad as audiophiles often make it out to be - it’s just V-shaped and somewhat ‘low-res’, as things tend to mush together a bit. But for a portable use case, sure.

Tier 5 - I don’t like them, but who cares what I think if you do.

  1. Sennheiser HD 820 - EQ
    Excellent detail with generally bonkers tuning. This headphone demonstrates that closing off the back of the cup incurs serious challenges for getting the tuning right. At least it’s comfortable and well-built.

  2. HiFiMAN HE-R10p - EQ
    Outstanding technical performance, but man… I do not understand why they went for this design. It has a truly bizarre frequency response - one of the strangest I’ve come across - and I wasn’t able to fix it with EQ. Additionally, the cup design doesn’t do a good job of isolating, and I found it would actually amplify certain external tones due to some cup resonance effect.

  3. Neuman NDH20 - EQ
    Good build and comfort, but a somewhat ‘shifted’ tuning with very strange mids, I think some may like this but I also found it a bit on the dull side for trailing ends of tones. I don’t see a scenario where I’d rather listen to this than the K371 for the kind of technical performance it has.

  4. RODE NTH-100 - EQ
    Tuning that’s reminiscent of the Drop Panda, with muddy/thick lower mids that mask clarity and detail. Overall a dull and blunted sounding presentation. Foam mod helps bring some of the clarity back, but it’s still handily beaten by the K371 which costs the same.

  5. Audio Technica AWKT - EQ
    There’s some detail here but a very strange and imbalanced sound signature that I wasn’t able to fix with EQ. The whole ear gain region is very uneven, like in the mids and upper mids, while at the same time sounding congested and claustrophobic with lower harmonics being boosted over upper ones. One of those that immediately sounded wrong right away on first listen.

  6. Audio Technica AWAS - EQ
    A better tuning than the AWKT but technical performance wasn’t anything special. So while there was something reasonable going on for the tuning, I was sort of left wondering why I’d choose this over a Celestee, or even a K371. The build and cup design was nice looking, but at the same time the comfort on these wasn’t very good either, or at least it didn’t seem to fit my head very well.

  7. Drop x HiFiMAN HE-R7DX - EQ
    While the overall zoomed out balance is generally neutral, it has too many tuning quirks in each frequency range to sound sufficiently natural. The mids in particular are very uneven and add a kind of ‘honk’ to the whole presentation. Also, the clamp is a bit too loose to achieve the bass extension and level that is there when you press the headphone in on the sides.

  8. Campfire Audio Cascade - EQ
    Not the worst sounding headphone I’ve come across, but it’s certainly one of them. It’s a shame because there actually is some decent technical performance, but it has so many issues that EQ can’t seem to fix. Moreover, I found it very uncomfortable with the top headband piece not being wide enough or not having enough padding.

  9. Drop Panda - EQ
    Okay so this is perhaps the worst ‘high end’ headphone I’ve heard. It’s funny because the tuning isn’t outright bad, it’s just a bit on the congested side. But what can’t really be fixed is the extreme bluntedness and compressed sound. It sounds like listening through a blanket.

…and many more.

I’ll continue to add more to the list as I think of them, I’m sure there are ones I forgot, so feel free to ask about them.

Source Equipment
For the majority of my testing, I prioritize sources that are versatile. That means they’re usually solid state sources that are able to sufficiently drive the headphones, have low noise and harmonic distortion, and low output impedance to not skew the tuning of the headphones being evaluated.

Most common sources used:

  • DAC - Matrix X Sabre Pro
  • Amp - Vioelectric HPA V550

I fully expect individual listeners to make choices on source equipment that will change the sound in some way, such as a particular output impedance relationship, or the use of analog functions like xBass and so on - and that’s fine. But, my job as an evaluator is to provide the best information I can for the widest range of potential listeners.

This means that while there may be a unique synergy with a source and a headphone that has a meaningfully preferred outcome for you, any judgment about that outcome is a judgment about that specific combination and not about the headphones in question. Now, I’m not saying it’s not worth reviewing these as combinations, but they’re less relevant for a headphone ranking list.

There are exceptions to this, like headphones that require a specific source, or if certain combinations become ubiquitous - or for example if there are headphones that are widely known to sound their best off of very specific source equipment for one reason or another - and in these cases I will do my best to accommodate them.

This is also not to say I don’t enjoy tube amps, in fact I regularly do for my personal use. But because tube amps vary so significantly in terms of performance, it’s impossible to give any sweeping predictive statement for how a headphone might sound “on tubes”. There are just too many variables. I might indicate that I really enjoy a headphone with a specific tube amp that has a specific output impedance and so on, but once again that’s a judgment about a particular combination, not how that headphone will perform across the board.


nice write-up! :+1:

solid list(s)

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Nice list. It takes a lot of courage to make a list like this. Considering all the flak you are about to catch.


Whoa… shots fired.

Thanks for sharing.


Thanks for the list!

No CRBN or SR1a?


It’s not meant to be a shots fired thing or anything like that. These are all generally high end headphones worth considering (minus a few there near the bottom I guess). The simple fact is that while I like many different headphones, they’re not all on the same rung for me. But again that’s also just based on things I personally index for, others may index differently.


Ah shoot, I’ll need to add those. Thanks for reminding me.


Excellent read @Resolve. I really enjoyed looking at this.


Tier 2 is really interesting, since many of the headphones in that tier cost less than many of the headphones in tier 3. I guess that’s why you called it “value” :slightly_smiling_face:


I’m in broad agreement with you regarding the headphones that I’ve heard personally, but have a few comments about EQ and high impedance models.

I know you are a big proponent of precise EQ – but I’m a Loki user and go no finer than knob clock positions (e.g., 9:00, 12:00, 2:00). When not looking at charts, this process can often bring the tone and timbre pretty close to my perceived neutral or “desired” profile. It’d be nice to see you compare this quick and rough process to refined parametric EQ methods.

My high impedance headphones also respond differently to tube amps than my low impedance headphones. The HD 600, HD 6XX, HD 800 S, and DT 880 (600 ohm) become different beasts on tubes. The width of the 6x0 series expands, while the right tubes can shift the 800 S toward fullness and bass. Long ago @TylersEclectic noted that his 800 (or S) came alive on tubes – yep. To my ears tubes per se mainly add harmonics or reverb, and when present in higher frequencies this can deeply affect staging and width. [Tubes also nicely cancel out the 6XX’s bass excesses.]

My Clear isn’t nearly as responsive to tubes as those above, nor is it compatible with OTL amps. In back-to-back testing, it’s relatively grainy, hissy, and coarse. The DT 880 (EQ; 600 ohm) has a shockingly smooth and nuanced mid range despite its modest sub $200 price. It’s a veritable savant, which makes me wonder what could be done with more refined 600 ohm headphone designs.


Well nice list, I just don’t like the sound from a HiFimann ( sold all of my pairs, HiFiMAN HE-6 v2, HE100V2) and using either a SS or a tube amp. I guess its my ears and brain. And in most cases, a lot depends upon the source, the recorded material , the dac, your ears which all make equipment section a personal choice. Good list though ,Thanks for posting.


@Resolve Where does comfort fall on how you weigh preferences? It seems like some headphones drop spots for comfort or even tiers (heddphone).

This is a fun list. Maybe we can have some more of these.



Excellent list! The key to it is the info you give about your preferences, great job. I wish more list makers and reviewers would put effort into explaining their preferences, it would make deciphering their thoughts much easier. Can’t wait for the closed list! If the M50x isn’t at the top of that list we’re going to have words…


Great job! @Resolve

Thank you for doing this, and please don’t let any potential naysayers ruin it or make it less fun. These are your choices and you’re not claiming them to be the “be-all end-all gospel” or anything - like if we don’t agree with you we’re wrong or something - so please don’t let anyone make you feel bad about your choices or regret doing this. This is way cool!


@Resolve - really thought out and nicely disclaimed that these are your personal preferences and criteria. Excellent list.


Im shocked you finally made one of these tbh.

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I’m actually not. I generally don’t recommend doing precise EQ or using profiles. Wide Q values is the way to go. Sometimes I do precise EQ for myself, but I have the luxury of being able to use a GRAS rig, and not everyone does.


Fantastic list - informative and entertaining, expressed in terms anyone (that is, me) could understand. Thanks!


Thank you for the list. My interests are fed mainly by the preferences of others. This is a very useful and insightful list. I hope to hear more about your favorite electrostatic headphones once you venture further down that road.

Did you forget any Fostex headphones in your list? Or, are they just not your cup of tea?


I haven’t reviewed any of the open-backs yet.