I have recently been focusing a lot on hi-fi speakers for audiophiles, but that doesn’t mean that it is the extent of hi-fi equipment.
Audiophile headphones have become a lot more popular recently because of the privacy they offer and the general “closeness” to the source, therefore can also help audiophiles satiate their need for top-quality audio.
When I first started looking into headphones, I’ll admit that I was a bit overwhelmed. There are so many different types and brands out there, and it can be tough to know where to start.
But after doing some research and listening to a lot of different pairs, I’ve come to have a pretty good understanding of what makes a great pair of headphones for audiophiles.
The trick is to differentiate between hi-fi headphones and regular ones, as there are some big differences. The first thing to look at is the impedance which is measured in ohms.
Hi-fi headphones generally have a much higher impedance than regular headphones, and this means that they require more power to drive them. As a result, you’ll need a headphone amplifier in order to get the best sound out of them.
In this guide, I will go over what to look for in a great pair of audiophile headphones, as well as some of my personal favorites.
General Considerations for Audiophile Headphones
When it comes to audiophile headphones, there are two main very important things to look at before starting out: the drivers and the build quality. The drivers are responsible for creating the sound, so it is important that they are of high quality.
There are two types of drivers: dynamic and planar magnetic. Dynamic drivers are the most common, and they tend to be more affordable. Planar magnetic drivers are less common but offer better sound quality.
Dynamic drivers are the most common type of driver, and they are typically more affordable than planar magnetic drivers. They work by using a coil of wire that is attached to a diaphragm, and when an electrical current is passed through the coil, it creates a magnetic field.
This magnetic field then interacts with the magnets in the driver, and this causes the diaphragm to vibrate. This vibration is what creates the sound.
Dynamic drivers have a few advantages. They are typically more durable than planar magnetic drivers, and they can also handle more power. This means that they can be driven by a wider range of headphone amplifiers.
However, dynamic drivers also have some disadvantages. They are not as efficient as planar magnetic drivers, and so they require more power to use them. They also tend to have a shorter lifespan than planar magnetic drivers.
Planar Magnetic Drivers
Planar magnetic drivers are less common than dynamic drivers, but they offer better sound quality.
As an audiophile, I prefer planar magnetic drivers for myself, but you don’t necessarily have to start off with these. They work by using a thin sheet of material that is suspended between two magnets.
When an electrical current is passed through the sheet, it creates a magnetic field. This magnetic field then interacts with the magnets in the driver, and this causes the diaphragm to vibrate. This vibration is what creates the sound.
Planar magnetic drivers have a few advantages. They are more efficient than dynamic drivers, and so they require less power to drive them. They also tend to have a longer lifespan than dynamic drivers.
However, they are typically more expensive than dynamic drivers and can be more difficult to set up. In addition, they are not as durable as dynamic drivers.
I have also used several dynamic drivers from time to time and have enjoyed the convenience they offer.
The build quality of headphones is also important, and this is something that you should pay attention to when you are shopping for audiophile headphones.
The better the build quality, the longer the headphones will last. In addition, better build quality usually results in better sound quality.
Apple EarPods, Samsung Galaxy Pods, and other recent wireless headphones do offer good audio quality, but you can’t call yourself an audiophile with a pair of these. These headphones miss out on so much that I can’t even begin to describe – yet they do tend to have premium build quality.
Build quality affects both the comfort and the durability of the headphones. Headphones that are made with high-quality materials will last longer and be more comfortable to wear for long periods of time. Remember, your goal as an audiophile is not to look good but to feel and listen well.
Type of Headphones
The next thing to consider is the type of headphones. There are three main types: full-size, portable, and in-ear. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.
- Full-size headphones are the most popular among audiophiles. They offer the best sound quality but are not very portable. They also require a headphone amplifier to get the most out of them.
- Portable headphones are more convenient as they are small and light. However, they typically do not offer the same sound quality as full-size headphones.
- In-ear headphones are the most compact and can be easily carried around. However, they do not offer the same sound quality as full-size or portable headphones. The example of Apple EarPods and Galaxy Pods I mentioned above is a very important consideration here. They look good but are NOT audiophile equipment, in my opinion.
The type of headphones you choose will depend entirely on your needs and preferences.
Next, you need to consider the impedance of the headphones. The impedance is measured in ohms and is usually written as “ohms” or just the symbol “Ω.”
The higher the impedance, the more power the headphones will need to produce sound. Furthermore, the higher the impedance, the more resistant the headphones are to the current. However, this may mean better, cleaner sound as well.
Low impedance headphones are more common and are typically more efficient than high impedance headphones. They do not require as much power to drive them and are typically more comfortable to wear for long periods of time.
You may find distortions or oversaturated sound effects in speakers or headphones that don’t have a higher rating.
Both have their own pros and cons, but as an audiophile, power requirements should not be an issue for you. It’s good to know about this stuff, but your focus should be on sound quality.
Headphone Amplifiers – What Are They Really?
A headphone amplifier is a device that increases the power of the signal sent to the headphones. The amplifier takes the low-power signal from the source and amplifies it to a level that can be used by the headphones.
Headphone amplifiers are not necessary for all headphones. In fact, most modern headphones can be driven by the power of a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. However, if you want to get the most out of your headphones, then you will need a headphone amplifier.
There are two main types of headphone amplifiers: portable and desktop.
- Portable headphone amplifiers are small and can be easily carried with you. They typically use batteries or a USB connection for power.
- Desktop headphone amplifiers are larger and require an AC power outlet. These are the audiophile equipment you are looking for, as they offer better sound quality than portable headphone amplifiers. Be warned, though, that they are usually less convenient to use.
Open Back or Closed Back?
Headphones can be either open back or closed back. Open-back headphones have vents on the back of the ear cups for better airflow. Ultimately, this leads to a more natural, but external noise can ruin this experience quite easily.
Closed-back headphones seal off the back of the ear cups, which prevents sound from leaking out and also blocks out external noise. This results in a more isolated listening experience but can also make the sound feel less natural.
Which one you choose will depend on your needs and preferences. If you need headphones for use in noisy environments, then closed-back headphones are a better choice. If you just want the best sound quality, then open-back headphones are the way to go.
Bluetooth vs. wired is another major consideration you will have to make. I urge you to consider my guide to wireless or wired to learn more about the concept. The gist of it is that wired are usually better for audiophiles, but if you must go with the wireless option, choose the Wi-Fi variant instead of Bluetooth to avoid lag or unnecessary feedback.
Digital to Analogue Converter
And finally, on your way to becoming an audiophile with your pair of headphones, you will need a digital to analog converter (DAC). This unit converts the digital signal from your source into an analog signal that can be used by your headphones.
Again, there are two types of digital to analog converters: internal and external.
- Internal digital to analog converters are found in some sources, such as smartphones and laptops.
- External digital to analog converters are self-contained units that connect between your source and headphones.
External digital to analog converters typically offer better sound quality than internal converters and are more suited for audiophile headphone usage. However, they are also more expensive and less convenient to use.
Audiophile headphones are a great way to improve your listening experience. They offer better sound quality than standard headphones and can be a great addition to any music lover’s collection.
I use my headphones when I need to listen to music alone and really feel it close to myself. I mostly prefer them for ambient music, instrumentals, or other relaxing songs.
For the rest, I prefer my trusty hi-fi speakers. However, all of this is subjective and based on your preference!
Endless hours of experimentation, professional work, and personal investment in Home Theatre, Hi-Fi, Smart Home Automation and Headphones have come to this.
Former owner of Headphones Canada, a high-end headphone specialty retailer.