The Update Where the Headphone Rankings Get Shuffled

Table of Contents

The main show is finally here.

For this semi-annual update to the ranking list, 47 new headphones will be added alongside adjustments to 39 existing entries. This brings the total number of headphones ranked on In-Ear Fidelity to 222.

The Usual Disclaimer

Before I begin, I shall copy and paste the disclaimer that has been on the Ranking List since its very inception.

Yes I know it’s wholly unnecessary for most of you dear readers, but it’s no secret that some of you have some literacy problems and require the section to be crammed down your slimy throats before you acknowledge its existence.

So… ahem.

  • The headphones are ranked purely by sonic performance. Fit, isolation, durability, build quality etc. are ignored unless they interfere with the sound itself.
    • The headphones are not ranked in terms of price-to-performance value. They are ranked according to what I think is “objectively” the best.
  • Most of the headphones in this list are determined based off demo units from shops.
    • Rankings will only consider stock pads (or pads provided out of the box). Third party pads (apart from “stock replacement” pads designed for a specific headphone) are not a consideration in this ranking list.
  • The positions are not set in stone. I’m only human; I may miss out on certain details or traits that may only be apparent with repeated listening. Expect changes.
  • Ranks will be determined based on the best unit tried. Because of this, I am not accounting for unit variation. I cannot guarantee that what I’m hearing is what you will be hearing.
    • This will revert to the most recent unit tried if there is a significant time gap between the last and most recent times I tried a particular model.
  • Prices are at MSRP in USD. Prices not directly available in USD are based off the exchange rate during the time of writing.
    • The price of any additional compulsory component (e.g. electrostatic energisers) will be added to this MSRP value and valued accordingly.
    • With enough requests, a headphone may also be tested with a different (typically more expensive) amplifier. If the community deems this amplifier as “necessary” for said headphone, the price of the amplifier will also be added to the MSRP value and valued accordingly.
  • All headphones are tested on the iFi iDSD micro Black Label, unless otherwise indicated.
    • Headphones are occasionally tested on the Motu M2 and Topping A90, but final ranks are determined according to performance on the micro Black Label unless performance is deemed superior on the A90, in which case it will also be indicated as such.
  • A (non-complete) list of headphones that I’ve tried can be found on my measurements database.
    • If you can tell, some headphones on the database (that I’ve tried) are not in this list. This is could be due to lack of interest or lack of enough ear time to make a proper decision on tier placement.
  • Yes, this is the opinion of one person on the internet. Please do not get too offended if your favourite headphone isn’t graded as highly as you’d like. (vice versa applies)
  • This list is meant to be used as a reference point. I highly recommend against blind-buying and suggest to have a listen to the headphones yourself. By all means, use this to shortlist what you should try in the future but don’t take it as gospel.

Also, here I reference my “Tonal-Technical” post which highlights the process in which said headphones are ranked:

So if anyone has any complains on certain rankings on certain headphones, do acknowledge the whole “tonality versus technicalities” split. Just because a headphone may be “technically excellent” does not necessarily mean that it may be tonally so, and vice versa. And since I rank by a weighted system… well, the criteria for higher rankings get even stricter.

FMA

(Frequently Made Arguments)

BUT THIS HEADPHONE’S RANK IS WRONG–

Have you fully understood that, under IEF metrics, headphones (and IEMs) are graded under tonal and technical performance? What that means is, a headphone that may be excellent one aspect and weak in the other will not be ranked as high as one that is good in both. Many, many cult favourites tend to favour one or the other to capture a specific target audience, and so unfortunately would not fly high on my lists.

For more information, do refer to this post breaking down the weighting system in more detail. 

BUT I USE EQ SO I DON’T CARE ABOUT TONE GRADES–

Great, amazing. The list is also sortable by “Technical Grade” for your own convenience. Or you could have a different critera for tonal performance but similar critera for technical performance. Or you could just be tone deaf, I don’t know, I don’t judge.

Simply put, the overall rank is just a basic snapshot. There are many other columns and details in the list that you can make use of to make more informed decisions. Don’t limit yourself to just the basics.

BUT I DON’T WANT TO USE EQ–

Then sort by “Tone Grade”. Assuming, again, your criteria for tonal performance is similar to mine.

BUT I USE EQ AND THINK TECHNICALITIES AREN’T REAL–

Good lord– use the graph database then. Nobody’s forcing you to look at my subjective impressions.

Nothing else? So without further ado, the ranks.

The New Entries

(Alphabetically)

ModelRankValue RatingTone GradeTechnical Grade
Audeze LCD-24B- CS-
Audeze LCD-GXB- CA
Audeze LCD-X (2021)B- CA+
Audio Technica ATH-A1000ZC- C-C+
Audio Technica ATH-A2000XC D+B
Audio Technica ATH-A2000ZC- C-C+
Audio Technica ATH-AD1000XC C-B
Audio Technica ATH-AD2000C C-B
Audio Technica ATH-AD500XD DC-
Audio Technica ATH-AD700XD DC-
Audio Technica ATH-AD900XD+ DC
Audio Technica ATH-L5000C- DB-
AudioQuest NightOwlD- D-D+
Aurorus BorealisA★★A+A
Beyerdynamic DT1350D DC-
EKSA E900 ProE EE
ES Lab ES-1aB- C-S-
Focal RadianceB B+B
Fostex TH500C CC+
Fostex TH610B+B+A-
Fostex TH7C+ B+C
Fostex TH900C+ C-A
Fostex TH909C+ C-A-
Fostex TR80B- A+C-
Grado The Hemp HeadphoneC CC+
Hifiman Edition X V2A- SB+
Hifiman HE5B B+B
Hifiman HE500B- B+B-
Hifiman HE6seB B-A
Hifiman HE1000seA+ A+S-
Hifiman Jade IIA AS-
Hifiman Shangri-La JrA+ AS
Hifiman SusvaraSSS
Nectar HiveAAA
Oppo PM-3C- BD
Pioneer Monitor 10D+ D+C
Sennheiser Momentum 3 WirelessBA-B-
Sony MDR-SA5000B BB+
Stax SR-3C- C+C-
Stax SR-40C- C-C
Stax SR-404B+ BS-
Stax SR-507B+ BS-
Stax SR-Lambda ProA- B+S-
Stax SR-X Mk2C CB-
Timsok TS-1024C+ C+B
Yamaha HP-300F FF
Yamaha HP-50SD- D+D-

The Reranks

(Alphabetically)

ModelNew rankOld rank
Abyss AB-1266 Phi CCC+B-
Acoustic Research AR-H1C+B
AKG K712 ProC+B-
Audeze LCD-2 ClassicB-B+
Audio Technica ATH-A900XCB-
Audio Technica ATH-ADX5000BA-
Audio Technica ATH-AWASCB
Audio Technica ATH-AWKTC-C
Audio Technica ATH-M70xB-B
Audio Technica ATH-R70xA-A
Beyerdynamic T5p (1st Gen)C+B
Beyerdynamic T70B+A
BLON B20B-B
DCA Aeon 2 ClosedC+C
Final Audio D8000BB+
Final D8000 ProBB+
Focal StelliaBB+
HD800B+A
Hifiman AnandaB+A
Hifiman DevaBB-
Hifiman HE560BA
Hifiman HE6B+A-
Koss PRO DJ100C-C+
MrSpeakers Ether CB+A-
Precide ERGO 2C-C
RAAL-requisite SR1aBB+
Sendy AivaC+B-
Sennheiser HD25 PlusB-B
Sennheiser HD560SBB+
Sennheiser HD660SBB+
Sony MDR-CD380C+B-
Sony MDR-MA900C+B-
SR-009C+B
Stax SR-007AA+
Stax SR-4070B+A-
Stax SR-L300BA-
ZMF AeolusBB+
ZMF AuteurB+A
ZMF Verite ClosedBB+

Data Analysis

Ranking distribution by subgrade
Ranking distribution by whole grades
hplistpercentile
Subgrade population data

As it has been since the very beginning, the ranking list has sort of targeted a “normal-ish distribution”. 

Some notable stats:

  • Getting at least a C+ rank puts you in the top 50-ish percentile. C+ in the context of this ranking list is about average to above-average.
  • Getting at least a S- rank puts you in the top 2-ish percentile. The S ranks are hard to get.
  • Getting at least an A- rank puts you in the top 7-ish%, which is a little under the expected range of 10-ish%.
  • The top 30% lies around B, which is a little over the expected range of 25-ish%.
  • The B and C ranks make up a whopping ~75% of entries. This is consistent with expectations, though the ratio between B and C ranks are a little off (more on that in the section below).
  • There are only five 3-star (★★★) headphones, consisting of only 2.25% of total entries.
  • There are seven 2-star (★★) headphones, making up only 3.15% of the population.
  • The 1-star (★) award is a lot more attainable in comparison. 13 awardees, or ~14% of the population.

Observations & Problems

  • The criteria for higher tone grades have been tightened, hence the demotion of many entries on the list.
  • There is still some selection bias going on considering the relative youth of this ranking list; headphones that I’ve gone out of my way to listen/measure tend to be more reputable and “exciting” models, hence the positive skew in subjective impressions.
    • For reference, the IEM Ranking List didn’t really get a decent distribution of ranks until roughly 500 entries or so, so while there is a skew currently it is also within expectations.
  • There seems to be a disparity between the sub-$400 price bracket and anything above; one could get a decent linear-ish performance increase up till $400, after which it seems to take a lot more money to get a headphone that is both well-tuned and technically proficient.
    • Value ratings in the headphone context get pretty weird because of this; one could get an “A-” rank headphone at under $400, but anything ranked above shoots up to kilobuck ranges. As such, even a ★ rating is only awarded to a bare handful of headphones above $500, and only then it’s by virtue of there being no cheaper equals.
  • A-rating overcompensation? Perhaps I’m gatekeeping the A-ranks a little too hard. Regardless, high standards are always a good thing for the consumer and the industry as a whole. 

Support me on Patreon to get access to tentative ranks, the exclusive “Clubhouse” Discord server and/or access to the Premium Graph Comparison Tool! My usual thanks to all my current supporters and shoutouts to my big money boys:

“McMadface”
“Uncharted Waters”
Timmy
Man Ho
Denis
Alexander
Tiffany
Jonathan

32 thoughts on “The Update Where the Headphone Rankings Get Shuffled”

  1. i was waiting for my hifiman edxv2 to get ranked. i can listen to this headphone all day and it just sound good with all of my music. it would be cool to see you get your hands on some of the monoprice headphones. the m1060 is still of my most used headphones at my computer even though i have fixed everything about it.

    1. Don’t know why but those m1060s make me nostalgic. They made the veil on the hd650 very apparent. The m1060 and the hd650 were my first pair of audiophile cans. even if Crin trashes it would be nice to see his take on what is a very popular set of cans at a reasonable price – they were incredibly fun to game on with those huge planar diaphragms (though a bit slow for planars). At one point I had the m1060s, beyerdynamic dt1990 and the fostex ebony driven out of a fiio q5s+am3d and i still defaulted to the m1060s for easy listening ( just movie and videos not actual music) , which surprised me. Good times.

      1. Same here. My first pairs of headphones getting in this hobby were the hd650s and the m1060s. i still have both of my pairs and dont really want to get rid of them. they are both very relaxing and comforting to me

  2. I’m surprised the Susvara got a “It’s worth the price” star given how monstrously expensive the Susvara is and this is inaccessible for the majority of audiophiles.

    That usually doesn’t happen with most super high end gear Crin reviews.

    1. Relative to what it achieves. Not relative to what is affordable. With that datum point, his star is spot on. It is the most technically and tonally ” correct ” headphone simultaneously, outside of something like the HE1.

    2. Basically anything that scores “S” all gets at least one star on IEF. The only exception is the HE-1, which is a 60k e-stat, that is a price that only the richest or the craziest audiophiles would pay for. The Susvara delivers performance so close to it at 1/10th of the price, and that is an achievement. It deserves that star.

      In addition, I don’t think it is inaccessible to most. HiFiGo, Headphones.com, Moon Audio, Bloom Audio, Audio 46 and many other retailers carry this specific headphone, even Amazon does. It shouldn’t be too hard to find online. HifiMan also has a large number of dealers worldwide, that makes it accessible to even more people (https://hifiman.com/dealers).

      1. I was actually laughing at what crinacle wrote about people being so angry at the rankings, and i was thinking like omg really people are so idiotic for getting mad at a ranking list made by 1 living person where sometimes sound is subjective, they should take this ranking list as a guide,

        Then i see my daily driver headphones get demoted and now im angry and feel betrayed and engulfed in rage and became exactly what i was laughing at, damn what a turn

  3. I’m glad to see that the Deva got a higher tonality score (A- to S-), it truly deserves it. I do own one, and to date it is one of the best headphones I’ve heard in terms of tonality, very high accuracy, but only with one downside, slight instability in the midrange, which according to headphones.com, causes the “low-resolution” problem.

  4. Regarding the HE6 family, it seems that based on Resolve’s review, the HE6SE V2 is much more of a worthy successor of the HE6 OG. So I am wondering if the V2 is on the radar at all?

    1. There is no such thing as the HE6se V2.

      But there is the HE6se, which is basically the HE6 V2 (just not named that way)

    2. They should write HE6se (V2), because without the brackets, that is just a misleading name that doesn’t represent an existing headphone.

  5. HOW DARE YOU … well, I’ll have to set up something for level-matched testing with some other headphones on the list to try and understand why for you the Oppo PM-3 ranks that low on technicalitites.

    Thanks as always for your work!

  6. People complaining about individual demotions but, when compared to IEMs, you can basically subtract two ranks from every headphone, both in tuning and in technicalities.

  7. Hi Crinacle,
    I’m was waiting for you grade to Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless. Did you get it tested direct on the USB-C cable? I believe that the difference in technicalities is quite significant. Greetings from Brazil.

    1. Crinacle almost always reviews headphones over the audio jack (in this case, it is the 3.5mm port), it is the preference for audiophiles, as pairing an audio cable with a good DAC does give you superior audio quality compared to a raw USB connection, because that can only utilize the built-in sound card on your computer/tablet/phone, which is not as good as external DACs, according to most.

      1. Thank you. I thought that, but I have actually got an iFi Black Label as well and the difference is quite significant comparing it via USB-C. Honestly I prefer the USB-C connection.

      1. No… the left column is the new ranks, the right column is the old ranks. Plz go take a closer look

  8. Some weeks ago I had to decide between R70x and HD600. R70x was A (S-,A-), HD600 A- (A+,B+). The new ranking says that both are A- but the HD600 a S- instead a A+ in tonality. So the Sennheiser is slightly better?

    1. Just my opinion, I think it is because the tonal grade is respectively compared to IEF target. From what I see the graph of hd600 is much closer to the IEF target than the r70x. Of course many people would argue about crin list but crin also said that if u like a certain tonal signature, u should sort according to the technical grade. Hope you find something useful and trust your ear.

    2. The answer to which is better between the two is rather subjective. Some people will say r70x is better and some will say otherwise. So it all comes down to your own preferences and what you value the most in headphones. If you can demo these two, go for it and decide which is better for you. I also never heard these headphones, so that all I can say.

  9. Ha ha, I feel validated now. I have Momentum 3 and delighted they got a B. They are primarily a Bluetooth set, so it’s good to see that you rate them.

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