SoundGearLab-Team | Last Updated On August 31st, 2021 | This post may contain affiliate links.
With the number of headphones on the market, it has become very easy to get a decent pair of headphones. For a few hundred dollars or less, you can get an excellent headphone of your choice. However, sometimes you might have to deal with a tight budget. Well, you do not need to break the bank to get a good headphone. Whether your budget is $500 or $100, we are going to present you the absolute picks of the best budget audiophile headphones.
We have tried a dozen headphones, and though most are audiophile quality, their prices are hefty for some of us to get them. Therefore, it would be so easy to populate this list with expensive headphones. But value is a critical factor on our list. We have tried to keep things sane with budget-friendly consumer headphone options.
We have also tried to break the list down into categories making it easy for you to choose a pair that correctly fits your preferences.
We have combined both closed and open headphones because we know there are great entries on both sides. Sound quality was paramount in this case because we know that’s what audiophiles will value most. Other factors considered in this list are the comfort and the ease of use.
If we have missed a great headphone you have enjoyed, or you disagree with our list, please leave a comment below.
Comparison Table: The Best Budget Audiophile Headphones
Category: Dynamic/ Open-Back Impedance: 300Ω Sensitivity: 97dB What We Like: comfortable, neutral, and detailed sound What We Don’t: Needs an amplifier to sound its best
If you are looking for a cheap audiophile headphone, then the Sennheiser HD 600 is the best bargain we could find that satisfied our hearing buds. The Sennheiser HD 600 is the type of headphone that makes you re-listen to everything you’ve ever listened to again to get how it should sound. This headphone has been in the scene for a while. I know there are a lot of reviews on it already, so I’ll skip the origins, who it was made for and go straight to the build, comfort and sound quality.
The majority of material of the Sennheiser HD 600 is plastic. The plastic is hard and features a speckled-stone design. The plastic surrounds the earcups and it is used for the headband. This, however, does not make the headphone feel flimsy or cheaper in any way. Apart from plastic, the headphone also has memory foam that is used in the headband and the earpads with velour covering them. Joining the headband to the earcups is a metal band and this can be adjusted to fit your head size.
The Sennheiser HD 600 is slightly tight when worn at first but with time the clamping force gets pretty much spot on. The headphone fits perfectly and the oval-shaped earpads are some of the most comfortable.
The earpads are soft, plush and feel good on your ears. The headband that has bumps that rest on your head. Both the pads and the headband are comfortable even after long listening sessions and do not feel hot.
When testing this headphone, we used a variety of power sources. What I can tell you is the Sennheiser HD 600 requires a decent amp to shine. So, if you are looking at the Sennheiser HD 600 it would be good to budget for a good amp.
The HD600 is overall a good sounding headphone. Now to start with the bad: the sub-bass. Though I would not term it as necessarily bad, however, if there is one thing I would work on to make this the best headphone, it would be the sub-bass. The sub-bass is somehow weak but decent.
Overall the bass of the headphone is clean, tight and punchy. In comparison, the bass is not too weak like the K701 and not too fat like the Fidelio X2, it is somewhere in between. The midrange and treble would be where the Sennheiser HD 600 excels. The midrange: guitars, vocals, you name it; the Sennheiser HD 600 reproduces the details with clarity enough to be reference quality. The treble, I found to be very good although it has been a point of controversy among audiophiles. I think the Sennheiser Veil holds no grounds especially when referring to the Sennheiser HD 600…read our in-depth review.
Category: Dynamic/ Closed-back Impedance: 80Ω Sensitivity: 96dB What we like: Very comfortable, the overall sound quality is good, Nice bass What We Don’t: Non-detachable cable
The Beyerdynamic brand has an excellent reputation in the headphone world. I have come to expect great things when it comes to Beyerdynamic audio gear or headphones. Whether you are looking for a studio headphone or a portable type, Beyerdynamic has something you can always check out. The Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro (80 Ohms) is one of the best closed-back headphones you can get at a cheaper price and still get audiophile quality sound.
For the design, the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro 80 Ohm looks very similar to most of the Beyerdynamic headphones. The design features mostly metal and a few plastic parts. The outer case of the earpads (mostly plastic), is very high quality and sturdy enough to withstand a fall. The headband is made of metal, which is covered by pleather. The headband is soft padded and can be easily bent to accommodate your head shape. Joining the headband to the earcups are the metal bands, they are high quality and feel very rigid. However, the hinges are built with plastic and might break if you are not careful.
The overall weight of this headphone is negligible for a circumaural headphone. The headband is comfortable, and as earlier stated, it can be adjusted easily by hand to fit your head shape. The earpads are well padded and covered by a cloth material that is very soft and breathable. At first, the earpads are stiff, but after occasional use, they get pretty comfortable. The clamping force is quite good, it is not noticeable, and you can have the headphone for long hours without getting fatigued.
For a closed-back headphone, the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro 80 Ohm is good with passive noise isolation. I would not call it great because, in very noisy environments, they do leak in noise a little, but in a normal setting, they are fine.
Now to the sound, and let’s start with the bass. The Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro (80 Ohm) for me excels in the low-end notes. Initially, when listening to the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro 80 Ohm, the bass seems uncontrolled but give it some time to burn-in, and the bass gets tighter and punchy.
As for the mids, they sound neutral and are not colored, but they are not very impressive. Not to say the midrange is terrible but I think they could be much stronger. The mids are a tad recessed but noticeable. The treble of the DT 770 Pro I found to be easy on the ears. They are clear, and the instrument separation is quite good for a closed-back headphone.
Category: Planar Magnetic/ open-Back Impedance: 22Ω Sensitivity: 98dB What We Like: A cheap planar magnetic headphone, comfortable, great mids What We Don’t: inexpensive construction materials
After the release of the HE-5 (discontinued) in 2009 by HiFiMan, planar magnetic technology saw a renewed interest in the headphone world. HiFiMAN has quite a lot of expertise in planar magnetic technology with their discontinued planar magnetic headphones models (HE-500, HE-5LE, HE-4, HE-400, HE-5) still attracting many fans. As one of the cheapest planar magnetic headphones, the Hifiman HE400S is a very solid choice for anyone looking to try out planar magnetic technology.
The choice of materials of the Hifiman HE400S is nothing to get excited about. The headband pad is made of pleather and apart from the headband arch and side grills which are metal; all other visible materials of the headphone are plastic. The build of the Hifiman HE400S is however solid.
The earcups are well angled and pretty strong. The back of the earcups and the earpads are soft, well made and while they may not look fancy like high-end models, they do the job well, and that is what counts. The earpads are memory foam padded and velour covered.
The Hifiman HE400S is light especially because planars are mainly associated as being bulky. The circular earcups are large enough and will accommodate most ears. The headband is made of pleather and is very comfortable. The headband can be adjusted to fit most head sizes, and the clamping force is very good to be worn for extended use. The earpad’s velour cover adds a breathable layer, which is memory foam padded for utmost comfort.
The HE400S is a superb sounding open-back headphone. The bass in planar magnetic headphones is probably the most discussed aspect after their weight. The Hifiman HE400S has good bass with impact and punch, but it is also flat in terms quantity. It is worth to mention that the changing of the ear pads to better ones will noticeably improve the bass.
The midrange of the HE400S comes out as smooth with good quality. The midrange, I would say is simply superb! From vocals, violins, or guitars, the mids come out with great presence and quality. The mids are definitely the best part of the Hifiman HE400S. The highs of the HE400S are on the softer side, clear and detailed. The highs/ treble although not greatly extended, they do not sound harsh or dark.
Category: Hybrid/ Closed-Back Impedance: 32Ω Sensitivity: 99dB What We Like: incredible value for the build and sound quality, impressive packaging What We Don’t: bass quality could be better
Creating an audiophile quality In-ear headphone is not that easy. Especially for a lower price, sacrificing the sound quality, build and quality of materials is even harder. But, one company has managed to pull this challenge off. 1More, a Chinese company in the USA is behind the 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Earphone, a cheap In-Ear headphone that offers exceptional quality at a price.
Before we get into the build quality, the packaging of the 1MORE Triple Driver In-Ear Earphone is on point. Everything from the box down to the flip top case provided feels very luxurious for the price.
Now to let’s get onto the review.
First, the 1MORE Triple Driver In-Ear Earphone has a premium design that features a metallic design. The housings have a flared conical form and feature a downward pointing metallic cylinder extension at the end of the earphones. The nozzle is metallic and features an opening with a wax guard filter.
The cable of the 1MORE Triple Driver In-Ear Earphone is of sufficient length and features a plastic coating above the Y-splitter. After the Y-splitter, the coating cover is replaced by braided nylon. Both the Y-splitter and the 3.5mm jack’s housing are made of metal. The cable comes with a straightforward and efficient 3 button in-line control remote. The buttons give a user the essential functions such as play/pause, track skipping, and volume adjustment.
I had no problems with the comfort or the fit of this earphone. They are super lightweight and angled in a way that they do not penetrate deep inside the canal to cause discomfort. The earphone also comes with nine ear tips (6 silicon ear tips and three foam tips) that you can choose from to find your best fit.
The 1MORE Triple Driver In-Ear Earphone uses a hybrid driver. With a dedicated dynamic driver for the bass, you would expect the bass to be excellent, and they are. The sub bass is well presented while the midbass is more forward but does not seem to bleed into the midrange,
The midrange is very good and exhibits a neutral flatness, which means a rich, detailed, and textured presentation of instruments and vocals. Going into the treble, the signature of the sound is warm and sounds relaxed overall.
Category: Dynamic/ Closed-Back Impedance: 23Ω Sensitivity: 115dB What We Like: Comfort, balanced sound, detachable cable What We Don’t: Irritating wedges inside the earcup
The Sennheiser’s HD 5XX series has seen a very rich selection of good audiophile headphones that are well above their price class. The Sennheiser HD 569 is no exception, offering the best in comfort, looks, and sound quality. Moreover, the best part, all for a very cheap price. So, what’s not to love with the Sennheiser HD 569? Well, not much.
The design of the Sennheiser HD 569 is very simple. It features the Sennheiser traditional look but less has gone into making it look like a luxurious item. Most of the materials used in the Sennheiser HD 569 are mostly plastic except for the padding. The headphone is however very sturdy built and should last longer with proper care.
The headband features a thick padding strip that is centrally placed to rest on the head. The earpads are big enough to cover the ears and feature a 3.5mm headphone jack at the bottom. The earpads are memory foam padded and covered by a very soft material. A bad quality issue I found was a wedge/ ridge inside the earcups that makes the headphone uncomfortable when worn for long sessions.
The comfort of a headphone is one of the important aspects most will look into when selecting a good headphone. The Sennheiser HD 569 falls in line with the other Sennheisers from the 5XX line. However, the Sennheiser HD 569 earpad’s are better and feel comfortable. The headband, I think could have been done better, but even the current design does the work right. The headband can be adjusted by pulling the headband arch. The clamping force is just right and enough that the headphones do not fall off my head.
The sound signature of the HD569 leans more towards the neutral zone. Being a closed-back headphone, the bass is present; it has a good weight and punch to it. Overall, I think the bass is well balanced has a very few flaws that can be forgiven.
The mids are smooth, slightly warm, and free of distortion or compression. Both vocals and instruments are well represented for satisfying listening experience. The treble is slightly low but has a very nice presence without sounding harsh or screechy.
Category: Dynamic/ Open-Back Impedance: 32Ω Sensitivity: 99.8dB What We Like: good Soundstage, clarity, durable cable, replaceable earpads What We Don’t: Tight clamping force, build quality not good enough
The Grado Labs business has been around for many years. The family-owned company takes pride in hand making each of the Grado headphones to ensure a better quality product for its consumers. The Grado SR80e is a good starter headphone for anybody looking to get an audiophile quality headphones low price. The SR80e is an improvement from the SR80i which both fall under Prestige series.
The Grado SR80e is an on-ear, open-back headphone. The design of the SR80e is unique in the market. The headphone looks antiquated, but don’t be fooled by the design. The SR80e is part of the Classic headphone series by Grado also known as Prestige series. Here at Sound gear lab, we like it. It is good to see this type of design with today’s science fiction and overly fashionable looking headphones.
The headphone is light, but the build quality is a little disappointing. The perfectly rounded earcups are made of plastic and swivel 360 degrees while the headband is made of leather. A metal goes through the headband to give it shape and keep it from collapsing. Two metal rods one on each earcup join up to the headband. The metal rods can also be used to adjust the headphone to a size that fits you. The earcups also feature a non-removable cable. The cable feels solid (you can probably tow a car with the cord) and most importantly does not tangle on use.
As far as comfort goes, the Grado SR80e’s were a little comfortable than we had expected them to be. The clamping force is high, and the headphone could use a little stretching or be worn occasionally. Otherwise, the headphone becomes uncomfortable after using them for a little over 1 hour. The earpads of the SR80e are also not the most comfortable and should be improved, especially to remove the roughness. The good news is you can get a comfortable pair of replaceable earpads for the SR80e and swap them. This improves not only the comfort but the audio quality of the headphone.
For a headphone this cheap, there is an overall balance in the sound frequencies. The Grado SR80e impressed us with the sound they put out. First, these are not bass monsters, but the bass is present and comes out clean and punchy without distorting the other frequency bands.
The midrange is one of the best we have heard from a headphone that costs less than $100. There is clarity, and the open-back design of the headphone gives naturalness to the sound which we loved. The treble is well extended and has great details. Imaging and instrument separation is also top notch. Grado is deservedly a samurai in the headphone world. Overall, to get the sound quality of this headphone for less than $100 is nothing short of Awesome!
Category: Dynamic/ Closed-Back Impedance: 32Ω Sensitivity: 103dB What We Like: Serviceable build and beautiful design, lightweight, great comfortable What We Don’t: None at this price
In 2015, Meze Audio entered the headphone market with storm by releasing their first headphone created in house, the 99 Classics. The Headphone took the market by storm and sooner than later it was everywhere, and just about every site reviewed this headphone. What made the 99 Classics so popular and desirable? There are different reasons, but to us, it is the appealing and simplistic elegance, a very affordable price tag and the rest you can read in our short review below.
For many headphone buyers, design and appearance play an important factor when purchasing a headphone, and in the market, we have different headphone designs. For example, take the retro Grados or the no-nonsense Beyerdynamic by the Germans, but now enter the Meze 99 Classics. Their design is so good, unique and distinguishable from the rest.
The first time you see the 99 Classics and the earcups will draw your attention. The conical shaped earcups are made from wood, in this case, walnut, which is not only aesthetically appealing but also has natural resonating properties. On the bezel of each earcup, there are 3.5mm headphone ports which feature a small gold ring surrounding the holes. The self-adjusting headband is wide and well padded and is attached to a steel band via cast zinc allow cross structure. The steel band extends down and connects to the earcups.
On to the earpads and we have reasons to believe they have been improved since the early versions of the Meze 99 Classics. They are thicker like the ones that come with the Neo and also plusher. The 99 Classics have big earpads, and their fit around the ears is very awesome. The depth is also good, so ears stay fine without being squashed in the middle. The headphone’s clamping force is light enough to stay on your head without falling. Add a comfortable headband that sits n the head without causing any pressure points, and the Meze 99 Classics gets top marks for their comfort.
So how do the Meze 99 Classics sound? For a start, they are silky smooth and also give out an engaging sound. The sound signature is well balanced from the lows, mids to the highs, but not in a neutral referencing style. Considering the earcups are made of wood one would assume the sound is colored or warm. But far from that, the headphone brings out a more musical and engaging overall presentation.
Starting with the bass, the level is good and extends quite low. Though the bass is the weakest area in the 99 Classics sound signature, it integrates well with the sound to bring a good listening experience. The midrange is superb and probably the most favorable characteristic of the headphone. They are dynamic, musical and come out with clarity. The treble comes out as balanced and also integrates with the overall sound seamlessly. For a closed back headphone, the soundstage is good with good depth and wider effect.
Category: Dynamic/ Open-Back Impedance: 50Ω Sensitivity: 112dB What We Like: Extremely comfortable, long cable (10 ft), great soundstage What we don’t: bass could be more powerful
The Sennheiser HD range features some of the legendary headphones in the market, the HD650, HD800 and our best budget audiophile headphone, the HD600. These are among the most praised headphones in audiophile communities around and now enter the HD 558. The headphone comes with a cheap price tag, and it was good enough to satisfy our tastes and make it on this list.
The Sennheiser HD558 is an open-back over-ear headphone. First look at the headphone, and you cannot tell if they are open backed. The design of the headphone is good, good enough that we have read about it being reused by the guys at Sennheiser for the 598’s. The headphone is made from plastic. The only thing from the design we could point out that was not plastic were the large earcups and the padding on the headband.
However, the plastic build does not take make the headphone any less better. The HD558 are solid, lightweight and have a premium feel in the hand. There have been concerns about the durability of these headphones, and although we have owned the 558 for a couple of months, there is no doubt they will last many years for comparison. Sennheiser HD25-1 II is complete plastic but is renowned for its durability. There were reports of cracking in earlier models of the HD558, but this has been addressed in newer models. However, if you still feel adamant about buying these, Sennheiser offers a 2-year warranty, well that is enough time for you to “break” them in.
The comfort of the Sennheiser HD 558 is what you would expect from Sennheiser headphones. The plush and thick padded velour earpads are very comfortable. The earcups are also huge which makes them an easy fit even if you have big ears. The headband padding is also thick and also covered with velour which makes the headphone extremely comfortable. These will disappear on your head. The headband arms also extend longer to fit even a big head. The clamp is good, and the headphone can sit very stable without falling off, save for using your hands.
The sound of the HD558 is just phenomenal, and we love it. The Sub-bass of this headphone is good to match up with most music genres, but if you are really into bass eccentric genres like EDM, this headphone will not suffice. The bass, we would point out it is there but is not that impressive; overall, we would have preferred to have slightly more bass for a cleaner sound.
The midrange is where the HD 558 takes the cake. The mids are where you would want them to be, smooth, relaxed and never feeling obtrusive. Lower string and guitars sound clear and laid back. We found this headphone enjoyable with classical music or lyrical emphasized songs which require warm sound that allows you to relax and clear your thoughts. The smoothness of the mids is carried over into the highs. It is not totally smooth and has a slight sharpness which makes the sound much more intense. The soundstage on this headphone, to say the least, it’s fantastic. These have a good sense of depth, width and instrument separation.
Category: Dynamic/ Closed-Back Impedance: 250Ω Sensitivity: 96dB What We Like: comfortable velour pads, superb build quality, Deep and well extended bass What We Don’t: Treble can get harsh at high volume
Since 1924 Beyerdynamic has been in the business of handcrafting premium headphones. The German professional audio electronics manufacturer is synonymous with giving out hi-fi audio, and it should not come as a surprise to see two Beyerdynamic offerings in our list. Beyerdynamic is a renowned brand in the audiophile world, and we highly recommend their headphones.
The design of the DT 990 is nearly identical to the DT 770. The Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro is an Open-back over-ear headphone. The DT 990 PRO build features plastic for the earcups, the headband is made out of metal and is covered with a soft cushion. The plastic used is of high quality and built to last. The headphone has a smooth finish and looks like a top-notch product. The earpads are velour covered and feel very smooth and soft which adds a premium look to the headphone.
The earpads and the vinyl headband pad are both replaceable. The headband and earcups are connected by a steel yoke which also allows the earcups to move. The headband at first has a tight clamp, but because the headband is made of steel spring, you can bend it out slightly to loosen the grip.
The fit and comfort of the DT 990 PRO are great. The velour covered, and thick padded earpads are fantastic. If you spend long sessions on your PC listening, recording, or doing nothing, the DT 990 is a headphone you can try. Compared to the DT 770, the 990 Pro is more comfortable, but it is noticeable after in long sessions of use. This could be because of the 990 lighter and more breathable. Compared to the HD 600, which is 10 grams lighter, but less breathable earpads, we found the HD 600 more comfortable but this was huge because of the earcups of the HD600 have more room for the ears, and the headband support is excellent. Among the three headphones from the most comfortable to the least comfortable, it would be HD 600, DT 990 and finally DT 770.
Like the HD600 on our list, to sound best the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO needs a dedicated headphone amplifier. In our setup, we used the Schiit Audio Magni 3 which is a relatively cheap headphone amp. You can check out our recommended list of cheap headphone amps.
Overall, we found the DT 990 Pro a very good sounding headphone. Starting with the bass, it is well extended and consistent. For an open-back headphone, the bass is really prominent and creates a powerful impact. The mids are the weakest point for the DT 990 Pro and feel a bit recessed; however, clarity and separation is impressive. The highs are the DT 990 Pro excels at. Though you can feel a little sibilance from afar which can become harsh at high volumes over an extended time, the details and clarity are great. The soundstage is wide and the positioning also accurate which adds to make up an engaging listening experience.
Category: Dynamic/ Closed Impedance: 38Ω Sensitivity: 98dB What We Like: Punchy bass, decent soundstage, isolation What We Don’t: Ears can get a little warm, Proprietary detachable cables
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x is probably one of the most recommended headphones around as a cheap alternative entry into the world of high audio fidelity. Why? Because these are versatile. They look good, are foldable, and their comfort is good. The ATH-M50x is also well built and looks pretty sturdy, so these are sure to last a long time. The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x is good for listening to music; however, these are not neutral enough to be called studio monitors as their name suggests. Read more on that below.
The ATH-M50X is an over-ear closed back headphone. The headphone is well built, and though most of the material is plastic, it seems to be of high quality. Few metal parts are used in the construction of the headband. From our previous experience with the earlier ATH-M50, the ATH-M50X is also durable. Audio Technica has also spiced up this a little bit by providing blue, white and red versions of this model.
In comparison to the earlier M50X, the new version includes a removable cable, unlike its predecessor. The earpiece headphone connectors also come with a locking mechanism which ensures the cable does not detach while using the headphone.
For comfort, the M50x headband’s is plusher and the earpads feel softer. Though the headphone comes with a tight clamp, using the headphone frequently or stretching them out a little makes them more comfortable. On the brighter side, the ATH-M50x will not fall off your head easily when walking around, which makes excellent for portable use. The isolation of the ATH-M50x is good, and these would be good for walking in the streets with music playing. The earpads are well padded though not thick enough we never felt strained when using the headphone. A problem we experienced is the earpads tend to get a bit warmer when using the headphone for long sessions.
While audio Technica brands these headphones as “Monitoring” headphones, to us the M50s are not a reference monitor. The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x lacks the flair to be considered mixing or mastering headphones. With that said, the overall, sound quality of the headphone is good enough to be considered audiophile quality.
The bass is punchy and full. The bass of the ATH-M50x is it’s the best attribute. Works well for electronic and bassy music. The midrange is a little laid back, although there is clarity, so the headphone enjoyable for long listening sessions. The treble response is quite good and also comes out with clarity. The soundstage is quite pleasing considering this is a closed-back can, but there are better headphones in this list with an upper hand with the soundstage.
Headphone Design Explained: Over-Ear vs. On-Ear vs. In-Ear
Most audiophiles prefer over-Ear headphones because compared to other headphone types they offer numerous advantages. First, over-the-ear headphones are more comfortable in the long run than on-ear or in-ear headphone models. However, an over-ear headphone will not automatically translate to it being comfortable. You should look out for the headphone’s build quality, construction materials, and the overall weight of the headphone.
Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO – Sound Gear Lab
Apart from being comfortable, when it comes to pure sound quality, a high-end over-ear headphone is the best you could get. This is because a big size translates to a larger and powerful speaker, which equates to more sound with better audio reproduction. However, this will also depend on a closed or open type. But, all in all, if you want the very best sound in a headphone, an over headphone is the best choice.
On-ears are some of the most versatile headphones type in the market due to their size and capabilities. While they are not discreet like In-Ear headphones, the compact design of on-ear headphones plus their weight makes them very portable.
On-ear headphones will, however, differ drastically in their prices. You can get cheap on-ear headphones that are well built and sound okay, or you can spend more on a good pair that will blow you away.
Over-ear, on-ear, and in-ear headphones, all have open-back and closed-back design variations. Open-back headphones have open backs usually mesh covered. Because of the openings in the headphone casing, open-backs deliver a more immersive and natural sound quality. However, though the open design makes them more deep and natural sounding, they are prone to sound leakages in and out of the headphone. See our best open-back headphones.
Closed-back headphones are headphones with a closed earcup design, which keeps sound from leaking from the environment into the headphone. Because of the closed back design, they offer good isolation for use in loud and noisy environments. Closed-back headphones are preferred because they tend to have a deeper and better bass response. See our best closed-back headphones.
Measured in Ohms, the impedance of a headphone tells you how hard the headphone driver hinders the flow of electrical current. A low impedance headphone will be easier to drive and not require additional power from an amplifier. A low impedance headphone depending on their sensitivity will also deliver high audio levels with very little power. Low impedance headphones are also better suited for portability as they can work with weak amplification sources like phones, portable music players, and other portable devices.
A high impedance headphone on the other end will demand more power to deliver better audio levels. As a result, high impedance headphone models are more suited for a home setting than to use on the go. A high impedance headphone like the Sennheiser HD-600 or the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro 80 Ohm on this list will require an amplifier to sound better.
The sensitivity of a headphone is the measure of how effectively a headphone will convert the supplied electrical signal into an audio signal. Measured in Decibels of sound pressure level per milliwatt abb. dB SPL/mW, sensitivity indicates how loud a headphone will be from a particular power source.
The higher a headphone’s sensitivity, the better the headphone performance will be without the use of a lot of power. On the other hand, the lower the headphone sensitivity value, the more power it will require reaching better performance.
In our list of the best budget audiophile headphones, there are three types of drivers mentioned. These are planar magnetic, dynamic and hybrid drivers. All of these drivers come with their advantages and disadvantages. Below I have discussed these drivers for a quick understanding.
Planar Magnetic Drivers
Planar magnetic headphones are slowly becoming more popular because of their ability to reproduce better sounds, and their price is friendly. Take for example the HifiMan He400S; it is a cheap planar magnetic headphone and delivers better sounding audio quality.
Planar drivers have two magnets instead of one like in dynamic drivers and do not rely on a moving coil to displace air and create sound. Alternatively, a thin diaphragm with thin electrical wires is sandwiched between the two magnets, and when an electrical signal is introduced, they induce a magnetic field, which interacts with the electromagnetic field in the diaphragm causing the diaphragm to vibrate and the sound is reproduced. Read more about planar magnetic drivers or check out our best planar magnetic headphones.
Dynamic headphones are the most popular in the headphone drivers. You can find them in cheap in-ear headphones and even high-end headphones like the Focal Utopia.
Dynamic drivers use a voice coil in a magnetic field to move the diaphragm. When the coil receives current, it creates a magnetic field that attracts or repels it from the magnetic field. The movement of the coil moves the diaphragm, displaces air, and reproduces sound. If more air is displaced, a dynamic driver will sound louder.
Because the working principle of dynamic headphones is so simple, dynamic drivers will not require much power to reach reasonable volume.
Hybrid drivers are a new technology that combines dynamic drivers and balanced armature drivers. Because of this, hybrid drivers deliver a balance of good bass response associated with dynamic drivers and a good treble.
However, in reality, it is made to look that you always get more for a high price tag; better construction, better quality sound, or even luxurious and additional accessories. Though most of the times this is always true, it is not always the case. A good example would be the Beats by Dre headphones, which are overpriced. You can get the same or a better quality headphone for half the price or even less.