crinacle's

ranking list

Headphones

GRADES

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.

Value Rating

★: “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?

↓↓↓ READ THIS: Notes & Disclaimers ↓↓↓

  • 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.
  • The headphones in each tier are sorted alphabetically.
  • 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 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.
  • Unreleased products will not be included in the ranking list until they are officially out of preorder stages or have production units sent to distributors. I will still be talking about them in my subreddit if I ever get the opportunity to try such units.
  • Prices are at MSRP in USD. Prices not directly available in USD are based off the exchange rate during the time of writing.
  • 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.

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.

RankValue RatingModelPrice (MSRP)SignatureCommentsTone GradeTechnical GradeDriver TypeBased onNote weightRanksortTonesortTechsortPricesort
S=★★★Focal Utopia4000NeutralNatural timbre, solid tuning and close to top-tier resolution. An inoffensive all-rounder that lives up to its reputation.S=S=DynamicZeppelin & Co demo unit2224000
S-Hifiman HE1000 (V1/V2)3000Bright neutralA planar that comes unnervingly close estat speed, but not quite. Solid technicalities with excellent tuning.S-S=PlanarPersonal unit3323000
A+★★Hifiman Arya1600Bright neutralA very well-tuned planar headphone with no offensive characteristics.S-A+PlanarConnect IT demo unit3341600
A+Stax SR-0072100+975
(SRM-353X)
NeutralArguably the least wonky-sounding of the mainstream Staxes, with resolution just shy of the flagship 009.A=S+ElectrostaticZeppelin & Co demo unit3513075
A=Audio Technica ATH-ADX50002000Bright neutralClean, open sound reminsicent of the HD800, but with less offensive treble.A=S-DynamicZeppelin & Co demo unit4532000
A=Focal Clear1500Warm neutralA decent Utopia alternative for thinner wallets.A=A+DynamicZeppelin & Co demo unit4541500
A=★★★HEDDphone1900Warm neutralAn interesting in-between of DD and estat timbre, though tuning and technical capabilities still need some work.A=A+AMTZeppelin & Co demo unit4541900
A=★★Hifiman Ananda700NeutralOne of the best tuned headphones available, only limited by its micro-detailing.S=A-PlanarConnect IT demo unit426700
A=Stax SR-009/SR-009S4325+975
(SRM-353X)
Bright neutralDetail and resolution worthy of being called "the best", just slightly marred by the slightly off midrange tone.A-S+ElectrostaticZeppelin & Co demo unit4615300
A=ZMF Aeolus
(Universal pref. pads)
1200Bright neutralTonally, a vast improvement over the Aeolus with stock pads, bringing in extra clarity and bite.A=A=DynamicZeppelin & Co demo unit4551200
A-★★★Sennheiser HD600/HD650/HD6XX220
(HD6XX)
Bass-rolled neutralThe legendary neutral reference. Could use a little more bass extension and treble to round it all off.A+A-DynamicZeppelin & Co demo unit546220
A-Stax L7001570+975
(SRM-353X)
BrightSounds a little suppressed in the higher harmonics, but also sharp at the same time.B+S-ElectrostaticZeppelin & Co demo unit5732545
A-ZMF Auteur
(Teak, pref. Auteur pads)
1600NeutralVery pleasant tonality, but could use some extra definition.A+B+DynamicZeppelin & Co demo unit5471600
A-ZMF Verite Closed
(Verite pads)
2500Neutral with bass boostFar more tonally balanced than its open counterpart, whilst retaining its reverberant staging.B+S-DynamicZeppelin & Co demo unit5732500
B+Audeze LCD-X1700NeutralOne of the better Audeze tunings, but I'm not sure if this is representative of all LCD-Xes...B+A=PlanarConnect IT demo unit6751700
B+★★Audio Technica ATH-R70x350Bass-rolled neutralVery similar in tone to the HD6X0. Good imaging chops but notes sound a little compressed.A=B+DynamicThird party unit657350
B+Final Audio D80004000BrightHigh treble-to-midrange contrast makes things sound shrill and borderline-sibilant.B=A=PlanarZeppelin & Co demo unit6854000
B+Hifiman Sundara350NeutralSolid tuning, some may call it bright but I don't hear it. One of the best budget planars out there.A+B=PlanarConnect IT demo unit648350
B+★★★Sennheiser HD800/HD800S1700BrightThe prince of soundstage and raw detail, though at the cost of its infamous treble spike and midrange quirks.B-S=DynamicPersonal unit6921700
B+Stax SR-L300430+975
(SRM-353X)
Bright neutralThe usual Stax combo of slightly wonky tuning with solid technical capabilities.B=S-ElectrostaticZeppelin & Co demo unit6831405
B+Stax SR-L500792+975
(SRM-353X)
Bright neutralThe usual Stax combo of slightly wonky tuning with solid technical capabilities.B=S-ElectrostaticZeppelin & Co demo unit6831767
B=Abyss Diana Phi4000WarmAudeze-like tuning with good detail retrieval. Needs more upper midrange, lacks bite and energy.C+A+PlanarAV One demo unit71044000
B=Abyss AB-1266 Phi CC LiteReplaced with TCV-shapedSinfully addictive bass and treble reponse, but the midrange tonality needs a lot of work.B-A+PlanarAV One demo unit59499999
B=Audeze LCD-2C Closed900WarmNot the worst Audeze in terms of tonality, but the tuning doesn't live up to its technical capabilities.B-A=PlanarAV One demo unit795900
B=Audeze LCD-44000WarmA classic example of a highly resolving yet wonky sounding headphone. Needs more upper midrange.C=S-PlanarAV One demo unit71134000
B=★★BLON B20450NeutralBasically a darker planar HD6X0, with equally closed-in staging and worse resolution.A=B-PlanarReview unit759450
B=Meze Empyrean3000WarmThe cream cracker of headphones. Bland and unexciting with smeared bass, with underperforming technicalities.B=B=PlanarZeppelin & Co demo unit6883000
B=Sendy Aiva600Warm neutralA slightly worse-tuned BL20, kinda.A=B-PlanarAV One demo unit759600
B=★★Sennheiser HD660S400Warm neutralAn even darker HD6X0. A comparatively muffled mess just barely propped up by its decent resolving ability.B=A-DynamicZeppelin & Co demo unit786400
B=ZMF Eikon
(Eikon pads)
1400V-shapedSpiky, uneven treble makes this a little hard to listen to for long periods of time.B=B+DynamicZeppelin & Co demo unit7871400
B-Audeze LCD-1400NeutralThe best tuned Audeze headphone with the worst resolution.A=C+PlanarAV One demo unit8510400
B-Audeze LCD-243500WarmClassic Audeze combo of solid resolution with a confusing lack of upper midrange.C+A=PlanarAV One demo unit81053500
B-Audeze LCD-2C800WarmClassic Audeze combo of solid resolution with a confusing lack of upper midrange.C=A=PlanarAV One demo unit8115800
B-Audeze MX-43000WarmClassic Audeze combo of solid resolution with a confusing lack of upper midrange.C=A+PlanarAV One demo unit81143000
B-Focal Elear1000Bass-rolled warmThe odd hole in the mids with the unsatisfying bass response is not pleasant.B-B+DynamicZeppelin & Co demo unit8971000
B-ZMF Aeolus
(Oval pads)
1200WarmLack of head gain with middling upward extension, yet strangely sharp at the same time.C+A=DynamicZeppelin & Co demo unit81051200
B-ZMF Verite
(Verite pads)
2500WarmSounds really wonky. At least the resolution is pretty good.C=S-DynamicZeppelin & Co demo unit81132500
C+Audio Technica ATH-M40X100Neutral with bass boostWell-balanced tonality with disappointing detailing and claustrophobic imaging.A=C-DynamicZeppelin & Co demo unit9512100
C+HarmonicDyne Helios180V-shapedA little too sharp, a little too midbassy, but overall not the most offensive headphone out there.B-C+DynamicReview unit9910180
C+Sennheiser HD599200V-shapedA little too sharp, a little too midbassy, but overall not the most offensive headphone out there.B-C+DynamicConnect IT demo unit9910200
C+Sony MDR-CD900STDiscontinuedNeutralSolid dark-ish reference tuning, with the usual V6/7506-esque absence of soundstage.A-C-DynamicThird party unit961299999
C+ZMF Atticus
(Ori lambskin pads)
1100BassyBloated bass with wonky midrange, a killer combination.C=B=DynamicZeppelin & Co demo unit91181100
C=Audio Technica ATH-M50X150Neutral with bass boostThe headphone that the elites love to hate... isn't that bad. An alright starter headphone, if generally overrated.B=C-DynamicZeppelin & Co demo unit10812150
C=Campfire Cascade800BassyThe Atlas in headphone form. Or is the Atlas the Cascade in IEM form?C+C=DynamicZeppelin & Co demo unit101011800
C=Focal Elegia900Neutral with bass boostSevere lack of upper midrange and treble results in a muffled, dulled tone. Also, nearly impossible to get a good seal.C-B-DynamicZeppelin & Co demo unit10129900
C=Focal Stellia3000Neutral with bass boostA little better than the Elegia in terms of higher frequency response, but the seal issues are still major.C-B-DynamicZeppelin & Co demo unit101293000
C-Audio Technica ATH-M30X70Neutral with bass boostNot the worst thing in the world, but you can tell this was made with too many compromises.C=C-DynamicZeppelin & Co demo unit11111270
C-Hifiman HE5SE700V-shapedWhy is there a hole in the mids?!D-A=PlanarConnect IT demo unit11155700
C-Drop + THX Panda400Neutral with bass boostWell-tuned closed planar, but with overpowering midbass and extremely dulled transients.B=D=PlanarReview unit11814400
C-Sony MDR-Z1R1800V-shapedHoles everywhere in the midrange. Big F-U spike in the treble. Strangely disjointed soundstage.D=B=DynamicConnect IT demo unit111481800
D+Klipsch HP31200Warm V-shapeLots of bass bloat, way too thick-sounding and lacking definition.D+C=DynamicE1 demo unit1213111200
D+Audio Technica ATH-A990Z220V-shaped"Yes Audio Technica, I would like all the cup resonance."D=C=DynamicZeppelin & Co demo unit131411220
E=Sennheiser HD8202400V-shapedThe perfect example on why you can't just "turn an open-backed headphone into a closed-back".E=B=DynamicZeppelin & Co demo unit151682400