The IEM boi dips his toes into the world of headphones.
S: Must try. Experience what the best has to offer.
A: While not at the top of the summit, Grade-A headphones are still very respectable performers that would still be considered as some of the best by many.
B: Can essentially be described as “very good”, or excellent performers in their own right.
C: Average in the grand scheme of things, anywhere from “passable” to “good”.
D: The threshold for “bad” starts here.
E: The truly horrible.
F: The failures. One needs to literally sound broken to reach the depths of F-tier.
★: “Worth the price” (MSRP)
– Only those with a grade of “C” or above are considered for their first star.
– Discontinued models are not eligible.
★★: “Redefines the price bracket”
★★★: “Revolutionary” (For its time)
– Needs to be eligible for at least a ★ rating before ★★★ can be considered.
– Discontinued models may still be considered.
“You’re the measurements guy! You measure more than you listen! I’m not going to listen to you!“
Great, I’m not telling you to. My work on measurements is separate from my reviewing work. It takes me 5 minutes to measure a headphone, you honestly think I don’t have time to listen to it as well?
To aid searching, ranks without the + or – symbol will be marked with a “=”. That also includes the E & F ranks.
Remember: You’re not supposed to agree 100% with this list, and that’s the point.
|Rank||Value Rating||Model||Price (MSRP)||Signature||Comments||Tone Grade||Technical Grade||Driver Type||Based on||Note weight||Ranksort||Tonesort||Techsort||Pricesort|
|S=||★★★||Focal Utopia||4000||Neutral||Natural timbre, solid tuning and close to top-tier resolution. An inoffensive all-rounder that lives up to its reputation.||S=||S=||Dynamic||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||2||2||2||4000|
|S-||★||Hifiman HE1000 (V1/V2)||3000||Bright neutral||A planar that comes unnervingly close estat speed, but not quite. Solid technicalities with excellent tuning.||S-||S=||Planar||Personal unit||3||3||2||3000|
|A+||★★||Hifiman Arya||1600||Bright neutral||A very well-tuned planar headphone with no offensive characteristics.||S-||A+||Planar||Connect IT demo unit||3||3||4||1600|
|Neutral||Arguably the least wonky-sounding of the mainstream Staxes, with resolution just shy of the flagship 009.||A=||S+||Electrostatic||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||3||5||1||3075|
|A=||Audio Technica ATH-ADX5000||2000||Bright neutral||Clean, open sound reminsicent of the HD800, but with less offensive treble.||A=||S-||Dynamic||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||4||5||3||2000|
|A=||★||Focal Clear||1500||Warm neutral||A decent Utopia alternative for thinner wallets.||A=||A+||Dynamic||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||4||5||4||1500|
|A=||★★★||HEDDphone||1900||Warm neutral||An interesting in-between of DD and estat timbre, though tuning and technical capabilities still need some work.||A=||A+||AMT||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||4||5||4||1900|
|A=||★★||Hifiman Ananda||700||Neutral||One of the best tuned headphones available, only limited by its micro-detailing.||S=||A-||Planar||Connect IT demo unit||4||2||6||700|
|Bright neutral||Detail and resolution worthy of being called "the best", just slightly marred by the slightly off midrange tone.||A-||S+||Electrostatic||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||4||6||1||5300|
(Universal pref. pads)
|1200||Bright neutral||Tonally, a vast improvement over the Aeolus with stock pads, bringing in extra clarity and bite.||A=||A=||Dynamic||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||4||5||5||1200|
|Bass-rolled neutral||The legendary neutral reference. Could use a little more bass extension and treble to round it all off.||A+||A-||Dynamic||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||5||4||6||220|
|Bright||Sounds a little suppressed in the higher harmonics, but also sharp at the same time.||B+||S-||Electrostatic||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||5||7||3||2545|
(Teak, pref. Auteur pads)
|1600||Neutral||Very pleasant tonality, but could use some extra definition.||A+||B+||Dynamic||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||5||4||7||1600|
|A-||ZMF Verite Closed|
|2500||Neutral with bass boost||Far more tonally balanced than its open counterpart, whilst retaining its reverberant staging.||B+||S-||Dynamic||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||5||7||3||2500|
|B+||★||Audeze LCD-X||1700||Neutral||One of the better Audeze tunings, but I'm not sure if this is representative of all LCD-Xes...||B+||A=||Planar||Connect IT demo unit||6||7||5||1700|
|B+||★★||Audio Technica ATH-R70x||350||Bass-rolled neutral||Very similar in tone to the HD6X0. Good imaging chops but notes sound a little compressed.||A=||B+||Dynamic||Third party unit||6||5||7||350|
|B+||Final Audio D8000||4000||Bright||High treble-to-midrange contrast makes things sound shrill and borderline-sibilant.||B=||A=||Planar||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||6||8||5||4000|
|B+||Hifiman Sundara||350||Neutral||Solid tuning, some may call it bright but I don't hear it. One of the best budget planars out there.||A+||B=||Planar||Connect IT demo unit||6||4||8||350|
|B+||★★★||Sennheiser HD800/HD800S||1700||Bright||The prince of soundstage and raw detail, though at the cost of its infamous treble spike and midrange quirks.||B-||S=||Dynamic||Personal unit||6||9||2||1700|
|Bright neutral||The usual Stax combo of slightly wonky tuning with solid technical capabilities.||B=||S-||Electrostatic||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||6||8||3||1405|
|Bright neutral||The usual Stax combo of slightly wonky tuning with solid technical capabilities.||B=||S-||Electrostatic||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||6||8||3||1767|
|B=||Abyss Diana Phi||4000||Warm||Audeze-like tuning with good detail retrieval. Needs more upper midrange, lacks bite and energy.||C+||A+||Planar||AV One demo unit||7||10||4||4000|
|B=||Abyss AB-1266 Phi CC Lite||Replaced with TC||V-shaped||Sinfully addictive bass and treble reponse, but the midrange tonality needs a lot of work.||B-||A+||Planar||AV One demo unit||5||9||4||99999|
|B=||★||Audeze LCD-2C Closed||900||Warm||Not the worst Audeze in terms of tonality, but the tuning doesn't live up to its technical capabilities.||B-||A=||Planar||AV One demo unit||7||9||5||900|
|B=||Audeze LCD-4||4000||Warm||A classic example of a highly resolving yet wonky sounding headphone. Needs more upper midrange.||C=||S-||Planar||AV One demo unit||7||11||3||4000|
|B=||★★||BLON B20||450||Neutral||Basically a darker planar HD6X0, with equally closed-in staging and worse resolution.||A=||B-||Planar||Review unit||7||5||9||450|
|B=||Meze Empyrean||3000||Warm||The cream cracker of headphones. Bland and unexciting with smeared bass, with underperforming technicalities.||B=||B=||Planar||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||6||8||8||3000|
|B=||★||Sendy Aiva||600||Warm neutral||A slightly worse-tuned BL20, kinda.||A=||B-||Planar||AV One demo unit||7||5||9||600|
|B=||★★||Sennheiser HD660S||400||Warm neutral||An even darker HD6X0. A comparatively muffled mess just barely propped up by its decent resolving ability.||B=||A-||Dynamic||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||7||8||6||400|
|1400||V-shaped||Spiky, uneven treble makes this a little hard to listen to for long periods of time.||B=||B+||Dynamic||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||7||8||7||1400|
|B-||★||Audeze LCD-1||400||Neutral||The best tuned Audeze headphone with the worst resolution.||A=||C+||Planar||AV One demo unit||8||5||10||400|
|B-||Audeze LCD-24||3500||Warm||Classic Audeze combo of solid resolution with a confusing lack of upper midrange.||C+||A=||Planar||AV One demo unit||8||10||5||3500|
|B-||Audeze LCD-2C||800||Warm||Classic Audeze combo of solid resolution with a confusing lack of upper midrange.||C=||A=||Planar||AV One demo unit||8||11||5||800|
|B-||Audeze MX-4||3000||Warm||Classic Audeze combo of solid resolution with a confusing lack of upper midrange.||C=||A+||Planar||AV One demo unit||8||11||4||3000|
|B-||Focal Elear||1000||Bass-rolled warm||The odd hole in the mids with the unsatisfying bass response is not pleasant.||B-||B+||Dynamic||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||8||9||7||1000|
|1200||Warm||Lack of head gain with middling upward extension, yet strangely sharp at the same time.||C+||A=||Dynamic||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||8||10||5||1200|
|2500||Warm||Sounds really wonky. At least the resolution is pretty good.||C=||S-||Dynamic||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||8||11||3||2500|
|C+||★||Audio Technica ATH-M40X||100||Neutral with bass boost||Well-balanced tonality with disappointing detailing and claustrophobic imaging.||A=||C-||Dynamic||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||9||5||12||100|
|C+||★||HarmonicDyne Helios||180||V-shaped||A little too sharp, a little too midbassy, but overall not the most offensive headphone out there.||B-||C+||Dynamic||Review unit||9||9||10||180|
|C+||★||Sennheiser HD599||200||V-shaped||A little too sharp, a little too midbassy, but overall not the most offensive headphone out there.||B-||C+||Dynamic||Connect IT demo unit||9||9||10||200|
|C+||Sony MDR-CD900ST||Discontinued||Neutral||Solid dark-ish reference tuning, with the usual V6/7506-esque absence of soundstage.||A-||C-||Dynamic||Third party unit||9||6||12||99999|
(Ori lambskin pads)
|1100||Bassy||Bloated bass with wonky midrange, a killer combination.||C=||B=||Dynamic||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||9||11||8||1100|
|C=||Audio Technica ATH-M50X||150||Neutral with bass boost||The headphone that the elites love to hate... isn't that bad. An alright starter headphone, if generally overrated.||B=||C-||Dynamic||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||10||8||12||150|
|C=||Campfire Cascade||800||Bassy||The Atlas in headphone form. Or is the Atlas the Cascade in IEM form?||C+||C=||Dynamic||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||10||10||11||800|
|C=||Focal Elegia||900||Neutral with bass boost||Severe lack of upper midrange and treble results in a muffled, dulled tone. Also, nearly impossible to get a good seal.||C-||B-||Dynamic||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||10||12||9||900|
|C=||Focal Stellia||3000||Neutral with bass boost||A little better than the Elegia in terms of higher frequency response, but the seal issues are still major.||C-||B-||Dynamic||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||10||12||9||3000|
|C-||Audio Technica ATH-M30X||70||Neutral with bass boost||Not the worst thing in the world, but you can tell this was made with too many compromises.||C=||C-||Dynamic||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||11||11||12||70|
|C-||Hifiman HE5SE||700||V-shaped||Why is there a hole in the mids?!||D-||A=||Planar||Connect IT demo unit||11||15||5||700|
|C-||Drop + THX Panda||400||Neutral with bass boost||Well-tuned closed planar, but with overpowering midbass and extremely dulled transients.||B=||D=||Planar||Review unit||11||8||14||400|
|C-||Sony MDR-Z1R||1800||V-shaped||Holes everywhere in the midrange. Big F-U spike in the treble. Strangely disjointed soundstage.||D=||B=||Dynamic||Connect IT demo unit||11||14||8||1800|
|D+||Klipsch HP3||1200||Warm V-shape||Lots of bass bloat, way too thick-sounding and lacking definition.||D+||C=||Dynamic||E1 demo unit||12||13||11||1200|
|D+||Audio Technica ATH-A990Z||220||V-shaped||"Yes Audio Technica, I would like all the cup resonance."||D=||C=||Dynamic||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||13||14||11||220|
|E=||Sennheiser HD820||2400||V-shaped||The perfect example on why you can't just "turn an open-backed headphone into a closed-back".||E=||B=||Dynamic||Zeppelin & Co demo unit||15||16||8||2400|