Soundstage is the perceived location and size of the sound being reproduced. Soundstage can be created in the initial recording, playing around with reverb and delay, or mid/side processing. The role of speakers or headphones is to reproduce a virtual soundstage as accurately as possible. In this post, we’ll check out our best soundstage headphones.
|Sennheiser HD 800S||300 Ohms||102 dB||Dynamic||Open||330 g|
|AKG K702||62 Ohms||105 dB||Dynamic||Open||235 g|
|Philips SHP9500||32 Ohms||101 dB||Dynamic||Open||227 g|
|Audio-Technica ATH-AD700||32 Ohms||98 dB||Dynamic||Open||280 g|
|Audeze LCD 2 Classic||70 Ohms||101 dB||Planar magnetic||Open||544 g|
|AKG K240 MKII||55 Ohms||104 dB||Dynamic||Semi Open||240 g|
|HiFiMan Ananda||25 Ohms||103 dB||Planar magnetic||Open||399 g|
|Philips Audio Fidelio X2HR||30 Ohms||100 dB||Dynamic||Open||380 g|
|HiFiMan HE-400i||35 Ohms||93 dB||Planar magnetic||Open||370 g|
|HiFiMan Sundara||37 Ohms||103 dB||Planar magnetic||Open||372 g|
1. Sennheiser HD 800S – Our Best Soundstage Headphone
Earcup Enclosure: Open-back
Driver Type: Dynamic
Impedance: 300 Ohms
Sensitivity: 102 dB
Pros: Spacious soundstage. accurate imaging, tonal balance, clarity, build, and comfort
The Sennheiser HD 800S came into the market in 2016 as the successor to the HD800. The HD 800S is seen as a fix to the treble spike, which is said to be the only fault of the HD 800. With time, the Sennheiser HD 800S has grown to be one of the legendary headphones in audiophilia, or when high-end headphones are mentioned.
For the build quality, the HD 800 S is structurally identical to the Sennheiser HD 800. It is built primarily out of plastic, but it does not feel cheap in the slightest. At this price range, you would expect a tank-like design. However, according to Sennheiser, the materials included gave the HD 800 S the best auditory results. Overall, the build quality is great with everything from the headband to the spring-loaded hangers working perfectly. It does not creak or have a feeling of hollowness. It’s hard to put it in words, but the build, while mostly plastic, is incredible.
The wonderful design of the headband and earpads of the HD 800 S puts the headphone among the most comfortable over-ear headphones we have tried. The materials used in the headband and earpads feel good on the skin and never get hot at any time. You can wear the Sennheiser HD 800 S for hours on end without getting uncomfortable. The design gives the headphone a good clamping force and even pressure that helps it to conform to a listener’s head.
The Sennheiser HD 800 S has one of the best audio reproduction around. They are well balanced and have an analytical and slightly brighter sound signature. The bass, while still dependent on a good headphone amplifier, is clear, detailed, and very much present. The midrange has great clarity, amazing detail, and a nice presence. The treble reproduction is good, very clean, and airy while still avoiding harshness and sibilance.
The soundstage of the Sennheiser HD 800 S is the best we’ve come across and without a doubt the strongest aspect of the headphone. It’s airy, wide, expansive, and has so much space present that listening to well-recorded tracks is phenomenal. The imaging is also highly precise with very accurate placement of instruments.
The hallmark of a great headphone is its soundstage. With that said, it is easy to see why so many people like the HD800S. The main selling point of the Sennheiser HD 800 S is the ability to reproduce sound naturally and its spacious soundstage. If you have the means, we recommend you pick one up.
2. AKG K702
Earcup Enclosure: Open-back
Driver Type: Dynamic
Impedance: 62 Ohms
Sensitivity: 105 dB
Pros: Clear, detailed, and wide stage, removable cable, comfortable, light, great quality
Cons: Bass slightly lacking in quantity
If you’ve worked in a radio or recording studio, AKG microphones and headphones should not be a new thing to you. They’ve been around since the 1940s and continue to deliver with their products. The AKG K702 is an inexpensive headphone that delivers on the sound quality with its overall neutral sound profile.
Starting with the build quality, the AKG K702 has a decent build. Plastic, metal, leather, and velour all feature harmoniously for the overall build. The earcups are built from plastic, which is of nice quality and looks long-lasting. Despite the protruding earcups, the design of the earcups also looks good. The headband is a leather strap suspended between two metal wires, which have their advantages.
The K702 is a very comfortable set of headphones to wear even for longer sessions. The earcups are wide and deep enough to comfortably fit around most ears. The headband, though hard at first, softens and does a good job of balancing the headphone’s weight on top of the head without putting pressure or generating any hotspots. The velour covered earpads are soft, high quality, and do not cause itching or irritations. One thing we’ve observed is the self-adjusting headband can get a little uncomfortable for folks with bigger head size.
The AKG K702 has an overall neutral sound quality. Transparency and details are some of the key terms I can use to describe the sound. The presentation of the sound is in such a way that emphasis is given to the midrange and treble. The bass takes a backseat, so if want a lot of basses, you’ll have to add this through an equalizer.
The soundstage on the AKG K702 is wide, airy, spacious, and other different names can describe this type of soundstage. Sometimes it even feels too wide. The level of detail is good, making the K702 a good headphone for classical, jazz, and electronica genres. The imaging is also good with accurate instrument separation.
Overall, the AKG K702 is a great sounding headphone, comfortable, and well built. A wide soundstage, overall neutral sonic presentation, and revealing characteristics give the K702 its reference qualities.
3. Philips SHP9500 – Best Budget
Earcup Enclosure: Open-back
Driver Type: Dynamic
Impedance: 32 Ohms
Sensitivity: 101 dB
Pros: Nice build quality, comfort plus breathable pads, excellent sound, balanced signature, spacious feeling soundstage and satisfying imaging, detail retrieval
Cons: Non-replaceable ear pads, bass can be somewhat lean
Ask most headphone enthusiasts, if you are looking for a cheap pair of audiophile-sounding headphones, the Phillips SHP9500 comes among the top contenders. The SHP9500 is so well established in the audiophile community, and as a low-fi owner, they make for great headphones to try out as you venture into this hobby.
The build quality of the Phillips SHP9500 is good for the price. They are made mostly out of plastic, but they seem to be durable and can get over a few years with care. Mesh housing with markings of left and right sides, plus the headband are made of metal, which is a nice touch and has an almost industrial feel. The headband adjustment arms are numbered and feature a clicky sound when adjusted. The hinges do not squeak or rattle, which is a good sign of a solidly built headphone.
if comfort matters to you, and that means being able to use a pair of headphones for hours on end with no issues, then the Phillips SHP9500 has got your back. They are light and comfortable, while the earcups sit around the ears without any issues. The earpads are made of breathable fabric material and an airy pad. The air earpads plus the open-back nature of this headphone greatly reduces the risk of them getting hot when used indoors or extensively.
Over to the sound quality, the SHP9500 is great sounding. They will not sound better than a pair of $600 Sennheisers or Audeze, but for the price you pay, they are a bargain. They have bass, though not the hard-hitting bass associated with closed-back headphones. The midrange is where these excel with clear vocals regardless of the genre you’re listening to. The treble is very revealing with details, without a hint of sibilance. They are also not overbearing and fatiguing like other cheaper headphones in this price range.
The Soundstage on the SHP9500 is open and detailed enough to recreate a feeling of being in the recording room. The imaging is also very good, which is why we recommend them as gaming headphones. They handle directional sounds very well. Footsteps, gunshots, or explosions can be located with ease. The overall experience of gaming and music on these seems good.
If you’ve been constantly hearing about the Phillips SHP9500, then it is for a good reason. They are affordable, the build quality is good, and their comfort at this price range is far better. The sound quality is of their defining characteristics. They are largely a mid-centric headphone, but overall well balanced. The soundstage and imaging are even better compared to higher-priced popular headphone models.
4. Audio-Technica ATH-AD700x – Best for FPS Gaming
Earcup Enclosure: Over=ear
Driver Type: Dynamic
Impedance: 45 Ohms
Sensitivity: 100 dB
Pros: Soundstage is amazing, lightweight, detailed, comfortable for long sessions
Cons: Light bass, twisty cord
The Audio Technica ATH-AD 700X is an open-back headphone that has been widely recommended for gaming. In our review of the best open-back headphones for gaming, the ATH-AD 700x is currently the runner’s up and that is for a good reason. They are cheap, easy to drive, and have a spacious and open sound.
The style of the ATH-AD700x is very unique compared to most headphones. This is particularly visible in their headband mechanism, which features two thinly padded plastic pieces that rotate and are mounted via a spring-loaded mechanism. This headband design features a lot of moving parts that are likely to wear through regular use. The earcups themselves are of good quality, and the overall build of the headphone is ok.
The comfort of the ATH-AD700x is one of their best attributes. The headband design is very pliable, which makes it conform to the shape of any head. They are also very light, which makes them comfortable for even long sessions without fatigue. The earpads are of good size and are padded with velour, which does not get hot and feels soft to the skin.
Now, the sound quality of the ATH-AD700x is quite good. They are lean on bass, but it is not completely absent. The midrange is detailed, clear, and has good separation. Female vocals sound particularly great on these. The treble response is another good aspect and extends quite well. Some hint of sibilance can be heard when listening to high fricative consonant music.
The soundstage and imaging of these headphones make them good for immersive listening, analyzing music, and gaming. The soundstage is wide making genres like classical music sound magical, and airy sending tingly sensations down your spine. Imaging is also great, which would benefit fps gamers, and competitive gamers alike – Just add a mod mic and you’re good to go.
For the price you are paying for these, they offer detailed sound, good separation, and one of the best sound quality at this price. They are not great bass-oriented genres, but any music that does not require boomy bass, these are perfect. Any serious gamer should also consider getting these.
Earcup Enclosure: Over-ear
Driver Type: Open-back
Impedance: 70 ohms
Sensitivity: 101 dB
Pros: Excels with mainstream genres, build and improved comfort, Low impedance, and easy to drive
Cons: Imaging could be a little more expansive
Audeze, along with HiFiMAN, to most headphone enthusiasts these brands are synonymous with planar magnetic headphones. Every headphone driver technology has its strength and weakness. For planar magnetic headphones, large drivers, bass extension, and low distortion levels carry the day. However, their bulky nature and sometimes the price make them a turn-off to most people.
The Audeze LCD2 Classics has an industrial look and an almost indestructible feel to them. They are basically built like a tank, with their overall design featuring mostly metal. The rings on the sides are hard nylon, while most other parts, including headband, swivel, and headband adjusting arms are all metal. The headband also features a synthetic leather strap that sits on top of the head. Dense earpads, complete the great built quality of the LCD2 Classics.
The comfort level on the LCD2 classics is very good despite its weight and bulky size associated with most planar magnetic headphones. The earpads are big and deep, which provides a larger area for ears to sit in comfortably. The LCD2 Classic is a definition of how over-ear headphones should be built. The clamping force is a little bit tight but gets better with time. The massive earpads do a good job at offsetting the clamping force. The earpads are soft, which feels good on the skin. The headband design is also great and does a good job of balancing the headphone on top of your head without any hotspots.
Every Audeze headphone we’ve tested comes out sounding brilliant. The LCD2 Classic even with the lack of fazors, sounds best. The bass is one of the best on this list. It has great impact, sounds clean, and is extremely extended. The midrange is well balanced, which gives vocals and instruments a clear sound. The treble is not the best or cleanest, however, it is well extended and a little rolled off to enhance the ‘easy listening’ factor.
The soundstage of the Audeze LCD 2 Classic is enjoyable, and we found it to be very wide. It is not externalized like other large open-back headphones but still has width and depth. The imaging, is, however, excellent, which results in accurate placement of objects and localization instruments, game effects, and voices.
The Audeze LCD 2C is a good-sounding headphone. They are comfortable despite being heavy and slightly possessing a tight clamp. They can do very well with most mainstream genres, where most high-end headphones tend to struggle at, which is very good if you’re looking for versatile headphones.
Earcup Enclosure: Semi-open
Driver Type: Dynamic
Impedance: 55 Ohms
Sensitivity: 91 dB
Pros: Beautiful midrange, instrument separation, Realistic 3D Soundstage, detail retrieval,
Cons: Bass is lacking, needs an amp to be driven well
The AKG K240 MKII is an over-ear, semi-open headphone that is built and well suited for precision listening, mixing, and mastering. They are an update of the famous AKG K240 model that is still one of the most popular studio headphones around. The MKII comes with an updated design to improve comfort and more accessories.
The AKG K240 MKII is solidly built and made of quality materials. The headphone features the same frame as its predecessor, the K240 Studio, with a double metallic wire headband, and an automatic headband adjustment that is familiar to most people. While they are not completely indestructible, you would have to handle them carelessly to damage them.
Weighing in at only 240 grams, the AKG K240 MKII is ergonomically designed with the popular AKG styling signature. Rounded earcups fit around the ears snuggly with just the right amount of clamp. The self-adjusting headband works well by evenly distributing the already light weight of the headphone across the head. The earpads are made of synthetic leather, but an extra pair of velour earpads included in the package makes comfort a breeze.
After using the K240 MKII, its overall sound quality can be characterized as a mid-centric headphone, a phenomenal vocal range coupled with layered mids. The treble is well extended, without huge peaks that are characterized by most cheap headphones. The midrange is where these headphones shine. The mids are full-sounding, rich, smooth, and have a natural reproduction. The bass is rather lacking, which leaves nothing to be desired. That does not mean it is necessarily a bad thing, people who are not fans of bass headphones will like the MKII.
The AKG K240 MKII has a wide soundstage and decent imaging for the price. If you want something better from AKG, the K702 that is our runner-up delivers the best. The stereo soundstage is distinct and pleasing. Instrument separation is very good, with each instrument remaining grounded in a circular soundstage, rather than the typical oval soundstage, which is what you should expect from a pair of semi-open headphones.
Overall, there are many headphones in the market to choose from today. However, the AKG K240 line has stood the test of time and is still considered by many recording artists and studio engineers to be an industry standard. If you’re looking for a mid-focused sound with a good soundstage for the price, give the AKG K240 MKII a listen.
Earcup Enclosure: Open-back
Driver Type: Planar magnetic
Impedance: 25 Ohms
Sensitivity: 103 dB
Pros: Neutral sound, bass extends fairly low, plush angled pads providing nice comfort, wonderful treble without ever becoming sibilant
Cons: Lack of adjustability, they are pretty big
The HiFiMAN Ananda is not a new model in the headphone world. They have been around for a couple of years, and am sure you’ve read or seen many reviews on them. The Ananda is an open-back planar magnetic headphone, sporting a NEO super nano diaphragm, which is 80% thinner than the previous generation.
Most HiFiMAN headphones have a recognizable design and style, and the Ananda does not stray far from its brothers. It comes in an oval shape with a matte black coating and large silver grills on the sides of the earcups. The ananda is quite huge and feels sturdy for the most part. The plastic extension arms on the sides of the headphone, though not the best, do a great job of keeping the weight down. The headband is a metal frame. It feels durable but lacks swiveling joints, which can slightly reduce comfort.
Though the earcups do not swivel, the HiFiMAN Ananda is generally very comfortable in its default position. The ananda can be worn for several hours without any sign of fatigue. The headband is a two layer system that includes an inner leather strap and an outer flexible metal band. This type f headband system gives nice solid support without applying too much clamp on the sides of your head. The earpads are big, soft, and very breathable, which is great fr those long listening sessions.
On to the sound quality, which is the most important category. The HiFiMAN Ananda is a balanced pair of headphones with good transparency, detail treble, and good detail retrieval. Starting with the bass, it is present but do not expect it to rumble. The midrange is slightly pronounced but tends to veer closer to a softer and neutral presentation. The treble extends quite nicely without experiencing any overbearing sibilance. Some instruments can sound a bit hot, but overall, detail retrieval is better.
When it comes to the soundstage and imaging, the ananda gains some ground. The soundstage is spacious and large, and the presentation is in front as opposed to all around. This gives an experience more like being in a concert with a live band or music in front of you. The ananda also has excellent instrument separation, easily isolating different instruments.
Overall, I think it is safe to say the HiFiMAN Ananda can fit into the musical tastes of different people. The build quality is good, and though they are a pair of ortho headphones, the comfort is very good. The sound also does not disappoint and lives up to its price tag. If you’re looking for an intermediate pair of planar magnetic headphones, don’t pass these up.
- What is Soundstage in Audio?
- Imaging Explained
- How Soundstage is created
- What is Soundstage in Headphones?
- Open-Back vs. Closed-Back Headphones
Soundstage is defined as an imaginary three-dimensional space, that is the perceived location and size of the sound reproduced by a speaker system. Soundstage, in other words, allows a person to hear as if they are in a recording studio or a few rows from the front enjoying a musical concert.
Soundstage matters because it creates an immersive experience, which is fun because you can recreate a concert experience right from the comfort of your home.
Imaging, unlike soundstage, determines where, how far, how wide each object (people and instruments) should be in a soundstage. This is the localization of different objects in a soundstage. An image is perceived to be good if the location of different objects in the soundstage can be located, which creates a more immersive audio experience.
Good imaging matters because it creates a non-congested soundstage. For gamers, especially FPS gaming, it creates better localization of different sounds such as gunshots, footsteps, and more. This is advantageous, especially in competitive gaming where even the small details matter. You can check out our post on gaming headphones vs gaming headsets for a detailed guide.
When sound is moved from one side of a two-dimensional plane to another it is referred to as headstage. This brings about an immersive experience in the music. However, if you crave more than a two-dimensional headstage experience, soundstage comes into play.
A three-dimensional soundstage is created when initially capturing the production of sound. Whether it is a musical concert or a recording room, sounds are recorded via close micing techniques which thereafter determine the sort of auditory artifacts and ambient cues left in the final track. Ambient cues indicate an approximation of where an instrument is located.
The soundstage can also be created by playing around with reverb and delay, or mid/side processing. Read about these techniques in our informative guide on soundstage and imaging.
Soundstage in headphones refers to the ability of a headphone driver to reproduce sounds that allow you to perceive the width, height, and depth of a virtual stage. The difference between full-size speakers and headphones is that headphones are closer to your ears while full-size speakers are spread out around a room, which gives a better sense of spaciousness.
Speakers make most recordings sound better because they are recorded and mixed with speakers in mind. However, neither speakers nor headphones sound better, but each has its strong points. For soundstage and imaging, I think headphones do not do a great job because almost nobody records binaurally. However, when you listen to a binaural recording on headphones, it’s an amazing experience compared to speakers.
There are different ways manufacturers try to better the soundstage of headphones, such as angling the headphone driver, positioning it further away from the ear, or playing around with the materials of the earcup.
Overall, headphones offer a much more intimate experience by panning audio better. As opposed to full-range speakers, you do not have to worry about room acoustics or nearly as much about outside noise. This makes headphones more personal and engaging.
Soundstage is the major difference between open-back and closed-back headphones. This is because, by design, open headphones do not block sound or ambient noise. This makes the audio you’re listening to sound like it’s part of the environment and coming directly from the headphones around your ears.
The openness of the headphone dictates how spacious the sound will be, while the sound leakage gives the listener a subtle ambiance of the room.
With closed-back headphones, you are relying on the internal structure of the earcup to create the soundstage. A manufacturer might play around with the design of the earcup, e.g, add non-resonant material to help absorb sound reflections, which greatly reduce the soundstage effect. There are some closed-back headphones such as Brainwavz HM5, Audio Technica ATH-MSR7, or M50X, which have good soundstage scores. Read more about the differences between open and closed headphones.