Listen, you can get a lot out of $55,000 headphones.
Sticker shock, for starters.
But while the Sennheiser Orpheus is making headlines for its decadence, you’re probably better off with something more practical. And geared toward your specific listening needs.
Below, the best hi-fi headsets for $500 or less — and the best person to buy them for this holiday season.
Good news: you’re probably on the list.
For the Aesthete: Blue Mo-Fi
Simply put, the Mo-Fi Powered Hi-Fi is the Mustang GT of headphones. They combine beautiful form factor with outstanding performance. Their beefy, integrated amplifiers give them one-of-a-kind sound quality. It’s like having two car stereos strapped to your ears (and a lot more comfortable). All at a price of $350. Suggestion: take Tame Impala’s Currents for a spin on these. The feedback from Kevin Parker's guitars, the seeping synthesizer and bullish bass in 24-bit is delivered with a fury that is satisfyingly visceral.
Bonus: Blue also recently introduced Lola, with a slim-fit headband and lighter weight design, for music fans who don’t need the power of an amp.
Further performance can be achieved with headphone amplifiers with onboard DACs, which better process sound data and yield diverse atmospheres to suit different tastes, such as the portable, palm-sized leather-clad Oppo HA-2 ($300) and HIFIMAN EF-100 ($500). The HA-2s deliver cleanliness and precision at forceful volumes, while the EF-100's tube amps lends tunes a more ethereal, immersive soundscape — Floyd-heads take note.
For Smartphone and Tablet-Based Listening: HIFIMAN 400S
For $300, the 400S uses planar magnetic technology, which needs little power to perform with vim and vigor.
For Drowning Out Fellow Commuters: Westone W20
These earphones ($300) are great for studying and working on solitary projects because they block the ear canal like earplugs, though active-noise cancellation is absent. They have two drivers: one handles bass while the other handles all other frequencies, offering the best separation of the two — and eliminating bleeding during the more rockin’ numbers, so listeners can easily pick out drums, guitars and vocals.
For Bass Junkies: Monster 24K
Also $300, these stylish ‘phones feature swiveling ear-cups for monitoring one’s booth while remaining attractive to non-DJs. They hit consumers with bass where it counts for electronic, hip-hop, and reggae sessions.
For Classical Acoustic Devotees: Bowers & Wilkins C5 series 2
B&W offers a beautiful aesthetic: solid metal casings coupled with a newly revised sonic signature that underplays bass in favor of a more accurate rendering of the mid-range and high notes. Satisfyingly, instruments are reproduced the way they actually sound. And all for a bargain at $180.