The 7 Best Audiophile Headphones for Gaming (Buying Guide)

Written by Azzief Khaliq
Last updated Jul 17, 2021

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best audiophile headphones for gaming

If you’re on the hunt for a good pair of gaming headphones, you’ve probably looked at the gamer-focused offerings from brands like Razer and SteelSeries. Those are all fine, but why limit yourself to gaming headphones? The best audiophile headphones for gaming will offer improved audio quality that’ll make your games, music, and movies sound significantly better.

Of course, it can be quite a daunting task to pick out a good set of audiophile headphones amongst the sea of offerings. To that end, we’ve picked out seven headphones in different styles and price brackets to help you narrow down your search. Let’s get to it.

The Best Audiophile Headphones for Gaming

Before we start, we should point out that our definition of “high-end” here are headphones in the $300 to $500 price bracket. Most audiophiles would consider it a mid-range price bracket, but we think it’s a reasonable cutoff point for headphones that won’t be used exclusively with high-end audiophile gear.

A Note On Frequency Response Graphs

We’ve included frequency response graphs for all the headphones on our list. They won’t replace auditioning a pair yourself, but they can help provide a rough idea of how a pair of headphones will sound.

If you’re unfamiliar with frequency response graphs, skip ahead to our buying guide section to learn how to read them.

1. Sony WH-1000XM4

Best Active Noise Cancelling

“Noise-canceling” and “audiophile” often don’t go hand-in-hand. However, Sony’s recent WH-series wireless headphones and earbuds have helped change that perception. The WH-1000XM4 is the company’s latest offering and an easy recommendation if you want active noise canceling in a pair of audiophile headphones.

By default, the WH-1000XM4s have a bassy sound that should please bass junkies and anyone looking for the right amount of rumble for EDM, hip-hop, and other bass-heavy genres. Thankfully, it doesn’t come at the cost of treble detail, as the WH-1000XM4s retain a good amount of sparkle up top.

This can be seen in the WH-1000XM4’s frequency response graph:

Sony WH-1000XM4 frequency response chart

Source: RTINGS

Not keen on a bassy sound signature? Since the WH-1000XM4s have their own sound processing built-in, you can use the equalizer in Sony’s Headphones Connect app to tweak the sound signature to your liking.

While these Sonys sound good enough to appease even a picky audiophile, the central appeal of the WH-1000XM4s is the active noise-canceling (ANC) functionality. RTINGS’ testing indicates that the XM4s have some of the best ANC you can get, outperforming even the Bose QuietComfort II.

Unfortunately, the WH-1000XM4 doesn’t come with a low-latency dongle, nor does it have a low-latency mode. So you’ll have to connect it using the included audio cable for gaming. You won’t be able to use the microphone with a wired connection, but you’ll still get all the ANC and EQ functionality if you turn the headphones on.

Sony WH1000xm4

Source: @kojame_why

The Sony WH-1000XM4s aren’t cheap, but there’s no way around the fact that they’re the best active noise-canceling headphones you can get right now. They sound excellent (and have a great companion app), have unequaled noise-canceling, and work great for gaming with the included cable.

A bit too rich for your blood? Sennheiser’s PXC 550-II costs less than $200 and is by all accounts an excellent headphone for the price.

2. Sennheiser HD 600

Best High-End Open-Back

Sennheiser is synonymous with high-quality headphones, and no pair better exemplifies this than the venerable HD 600. Launched in 1997, it’s one of the most long-lived models in the company’s lineup. It’s a brilliant example of how to create a reference-quality headphone that offers balanced sound without charging an arm and a leg.

The HD 600s are as neutral as they come, with a nearly dead-flat midrange and minimal bass or treble boost. That doesn’t mean that the HD 600s lack bass, mind you; the HD 600s are more than capable of conveying bass notes and thumps. But they won’t over-exaggerate the low-end, which is what makes these such respected reference headphones.

The same goes for the treble, although there is a hump at 7 kHz (right in the territory of drum cymbals and violins). Despite this, it’s still a relatively smooth treble that isn’t as jagged as many cheaper headphones on our list.

If there’s a word to describe the HD 600s, it would probably be “effortless.” This makes them a great pair of headphones if you value immersion over pinpoint imaging and spatial awareness. If you prefer to kick back and be transported into another world when gaming, these could be the best audiophile headphones for you.

The Sennheiser HD 600s are known for being a bit uncomfortable out of the box due to a high clamping force (the force headphones exert on your head), but they break in quite quickly. Once they’ve loosened up, the HD 600s are very comfortable. The relatively light 260 gram (9.1 oz) weight and nicely padded headband and ear pads make these a great pair of headphones to wear for extended periods.

There’s a reason why the Sennheiser HD 600s are still in production and so well-loved 24 years after its debut. It does almost everything right, only really lacking in terms of pure sub-bass. You’ll definitely need a good amp to get the best out of these, but if you’re willing to make that extra investment, then these might be the last pair of headphones you ever buy.

If you want a slightly warmer sound, Sennheiser’s HD 650s retain everything great about the HD 600 but with a bit less treble.

3. HIFIMAN Sundara

Best High-End Open-Back Alternative

HIFIMAN’s Sundara headphones are the odd one out on our list. They use planar magnetic drivers instead of the dynamic drivers common to our other picks, giving them a unique character that differs from the other headphones.

Generally, planar magnetic headphones have an extended (but not necessarily boosted) bass response and react to sudden sounds much quicker. This can make them excellent for fast-paced games where sounds come at you thick and fast.

When it comes to sound quality, they’re not too dissimilar from the Sennheiser HD 600s—they offer unobtrusive and balanced sound, albeit with a bit of extra treble. The bass performance won’t bowl you over, but it’s there. There should be enough bass to emphasize the action without drowning everything else out, a common issue with cheap gaming headphones.

Because they’re planar magnetic headphones, the Sundara’s drivers are rated down to 6 Hz, well into the sub-bass region. That should give you some good rumble for games and movies.

While there is some extra treble, it’s not over-emphasized to the point of shrillness, so it shouldn’t pose a problem to most listeners. If you’re really not a fan of treble, then you might want to stay away. Still, we think most users will appreciate the added sparkle of the HIFIMAN Sundara.

Like the Sennheiser HD 600s, the clear and uncolored midrange makes these excellent headphones for gaming. It’s where human voices and all the audio cues that you’ll need in a game of Hunt: Showdown sit, so a pair of audiophile gaming headphones must get the midrange right. You can’t really go wrong with either of our two high-end picks in that regard.

You’ll need an amp to get the best out of these HIFIMAN headphones, but that’s really just par for the course if you’re shopping at this end of the market. We have a few recommendations in our buying guide at the end of this post, but a good tip is to check out Craigslist (or your local equivalent) to see if you can score a great used deal.

HIFIMAN Sundara in the wild

Source: u/JelleJ_

If you’re feeling a bit adventurous and want to try a great pair of premium headphones with a somewhat unique character, check these out. Who knows, you might end up a planar magnetic enthusiast.

4. Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro 32 Ohm

Best Midrange Audiophile Headphones (Closed-Back)

The Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro is an iconic pair of headphones that’s been around since the 1980s. Originally marketed as a pair of studio headphones, Beyerdynamic now makes the DT 770 Pros with three different impedance ratings, including this laptop- and smartphone-friendly 32-ohm version.

Impedance indicates the electrical resistance of a pair of headphones. The higher the number, the higher the impedance, and the more power a pair of headphones needs to sound their best. It’s a surprisingly complex topic; click on the link above if you’re interested in finding out more.

The DT 770 32 Ohms are characterized by a boost to the bass and treble frequencies. There’s a noticeable boost at around 200 Hz that adds a lot of heft to the sound. If you want explosions to rock your world, these might be the best audiophile headphones for you.

The low-end boost is accompanied by a treble boost that adds clarity and detail, although it can also be a bit much on some recordings. In my experience, gamers who love the DT 770 Pros really love them, but they can be divisive. Either test a pair beforehand or get them from Amazon to take advantage of its generous return policy.

Beyerdynamic’s combination of boosted frequencies and relatively clear midrange makes the DT 770 Pros a perfect pair of audiophile gaming headphones. They can be a bit hit or miss with music, but the sound does tend to work really well for gaming. If you mostly play single-player action games, you should check out DT 770 Pro 32 Ohm.

Comfort is often listed as one of the DT 770 Pros’ best features, no doubt partly due to those lush earpads and substantial headband padding. I’ve used a pair and found them incredibly comfortable, even with my glasses.

Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro headphones

Source: Reddit

Impedance aside, all three versions of the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro share the same closed-back design and class-leading build quality. Unlike the cheaper headphones on our list, the DT 770 Pros are made to last; almost every component is replaceable with spares that Beyerdynamic itself sells. You’ll be able to keep a pair going for a long time.

The Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro 32 Ohm is a solid sub-$200 pair of headphones. The treble may be a slight issue on some music, but it’s part of what makes the DT 770 Pros excellent for games. These are probably the best audiophile headphones for gaming below $200 and well worth saving up for.

The Audio-Technica ATH-M50X is a solid alternative option if you want a smaller set of closed-back audiophile headphones for gaming. They’re not quite as comfortable and have even more bass, but they’re still worth investigating if you’re shopping in this price bracket.

5. AKG K612 Pro

Best Midrange Audiophile Headphones (Open-Back)

The AKG K612 Pro is a pair of open-back headphones characterized by its generally neutral, flat frequency response. Beyond the treble frequencies (which are emphasized quite a bit), the K612 Pros offer some of the most balanced sound quality you’ll get in the sub-$200 price bracket.

This can be both a good and a bad thing, depending on preference. If you want a pair of headphones that will handle most genres without ever excelling at a particular one, these are the pair you want. However, the downside is that you may find these boring, especially for bass sounds.

The AKGs don’t add any extra “oomph” for explosions or other bassy sounds. So if you like listening to bass-heavy dubstep or want a pair of headphones to make your games feel really in your face, these aren’t it. On the plus side, sound cues like enemy footsteps in an FPS won’t be obscured by the booming of gunfire or a grenade explosion.

Couple that with the superior imaging and soundstage that open-back headphones provide, and you have a brilliant sub-$200 gaming headset for FPS. However, the open-back design means that the AKG K612 Pros won’t be suited for noisy environments as they don’t block any sound whatsoever.

The low weight, self-adjusting leather headband, and over-ear design make the AKG K612 Pro a comfortable pair of audiophile gaming headsets. We’ve read reviews indicating that they can be uncomfortable for glasses wearers, but that’s, unfortunately, a common complaint. If you wear glasses, try and demo a pair first if at all possible.

Unlike the Beyerdynamics, you’ll need a good headphone amp to get the best out of the K612 Pros. We think the investment will be worth it, but you can check out the Philips Fidelio X2HR if you prefer not to spend extra on an amp.

All in all, the AKG K612 Pro isn’t the most exciting pair of headphones you’ll ever listen to. They won’t wow you with the bass quantity or satisfy your desire for massive, head-rattling explosions. But don’t let that fool you; the all-around performance they offer is hard to beat at this price. Just make sure you have the hardware to match.

6. Shure SRH440

Best Budget Audiophile Headphones (Closed-Back)

Shopping for budget audiophile headphones can be a bit of a minefield. You’ll invariably be sacrificing something to hit the $100-and-below price point, and it can be tricky trying to decide what to prioritize.

Amongst the budget options, we like Shure’s SRH440 headphones for their enjoyable, gaming-friendly sound quality. The SRH440s have a decent low end that lends weight to explosions and bass instruments without over-emphasizing them. They won’t satisfy hardcore bass junkies, but most users should find the bass more than adequate for gaming and music.

The SRH440s also have a small treble spike in the higher frequencies. It shouldn’t be a problem for most users, but the treble-sensitive would do well to test these out first.

Shure SRH440 frequency response

Source: RTINGS

Being closed-back headphones, the Shure SRH440s offer decent noise isolation. While they can’t compete with a pair of noise-canceling earbuds, you’ll be better off with these than open-back headphones if you need to reduce external sound when gaming.

Shure has also designed the SRH440s to be sensitive, low-impedance headphones that will work with all sources. The SRH440s will play loud and sound great whether you’re using a fancy headphone amplifier or just plugging into your computer’s headphone socket.

shure srh440 budget audiophile headphones

Source: @clavierouge

While you’re not giving up sound quality with the Shures, you will have to deal with an all-plastic build. While we wouldn’t say that the SRH440s are overly fragile, we have seen complaints of broken hinges over the years. So it’s worth being careful with these, although that applies to headphones in general.

The Shure SRH440s aren’t perfect. Its build quality and lack of super-deep bass will undoubtedly turn some users off. But if you want above-average sound at a below-average price (for audiophile gear, at least), then these should be one of the first headphones you check out.

7. Philips SHP9600

Best Budget Audiophile Headphones (Open-Back)

Philips’ SHP9600 is the company’s successor to the much-loved SHP9500, one of the go-to options for budget audiophile headphones. The new SHP9600 continues that tradition by offering enjoyable sound and comfort at a wallet-friendly price.

The SHP9600s have a warm sound signature that has extra bass emphasis than the Shure SRH440. This bass boost is accompanied by a dip in the upper mids and a more relaxed treble, making for a more laid-back sound than the Shure headphones.

While the SHP9600s aren’t bass monsters, they offer more punch in the low-end than the Shures. These will be ideal if you want headphones that present the impact of explosions and gunfire better than the Shure SRH440s. This does come at the risk of the SHP9600s sounding boomy, though.

Philips SHP9600 budget audiophile headphones

Source: RTINGS

Another significant difference is that the Philips SHP9600s are open-back and thus don’t have any sound-isolating properties. If you’re worried about ambient noise interfering with your gameplay, the Shures are the better buy.

While the Philips SHP9600s are also predominantly plastic, they feature steel reinforcement on the headband for a bit of extra durability. There’s also extra padding on the headband and ear cups, so they may prove more comfortable than the Shures for some users. The headband, in particular, looks quite plush.

The Philips SHP9600 is a worthy budget alternative to the Shure SRH440. There’s no right or wrong choice between the two, and it mostly comes down to the sort of sound you prefer and whether you want closed- or open-back headphones.

If you prefer a more treble-focused sound but don’t want to spend the extra for the Shures, the old SHP9500 is still available and should fit the bill.

Before You Buy Audiophile Gaming Headphones

Frequency Response

Let’s go a bit more in-depth into frequency response graphs and how they can give you an idea of how a pair of headphones (or earbuds) sound.

Let’s use the frequency response of the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro 32 Ohm as an example.

The horizontal axis indicates the frequency: bass notes are to the left, the midrange is in the middle, and treble is on the right. Bass usually goes from 20 Hz all the way to about 250 Hz. Midrange covers 250 Hz all the way up to about 2 kHz, with the rest generally considered treble frequencies.

The vertical axis indicates volume. The squiggly line shows you how loud the bass, midrange, and treble frequencies are for a pair of earbuds or headphones.

You can see the DT 770 Pros’ extra bass and treble represented visually on the graph. The midrange, on the other hand, is relatively flat, without any significant peaks or valleys.

Having a chart of musical instrument frequencies handy will help. It’ll give you a better idea of the types of instruments that a pair of headphones emphasize. This should do the trick:

musical instrument frequency chart

Source: Sineworld

When it comes to video games, we think a strong midrange is vital. Human voices, footsteps, and other critical audio cues primarily reside in the midrange. If you’re a competitive FPS player, a pair of audiophile gaming headphones with good mids are essential to staying aware of your environment.

More of a single-player person? In that case, you can get a pair of headphones that are great at the sorts of sounds you like the most. Want big explosions and to feel the rumble of a tank going by in Battlefield? Then a pair of bassy headphones might be the trick. Like kicking back and losing yourself in orchestral soundtracks while playing a JRPG? Maybe mids and treble would be more your flavor.

Note that since different reviewers use different methods to generate their frequency response graphs, you can’t compare products across reviewers. Ideally, you’ll want to use data from the same source to compare headphones if you can’t listen to them in person. RTINGS and Reference Audio Analyzer are great resources for frequency response graphs.

If you already have a pair of headphones or earbuds that you like, you can look up the frequency response of those and find a new set that matches those as closely as possible.

Open-Back vs. Closed-Back

There are two main approaches to headphone construction: open-back and closed-back. Closed-back headphones have closed-off ear cups, while open-back headphones use mesh grilles to allow air to flow through the ear cups.

Both approaches have their pros and cons. Closed-back headphones block out some background noise and also don’t leak any sound out. If you want to use full-sized headphones in public, these are the style to go for.

example of closed-back headphones

The Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pros are closed-back. Source: u/HauntedHat

The downside of closed-back headphones is that they can have more emphasis on the low-end than is desirable. They can also sound a bit “constrained,” meaning that the illusion of 3D sound is reduced compared to open-back headphones. Your ears may also get a bit warm when using closed-back headphones, so they’re arguably less ideal for long gaming sessions.

Open-back headphones, on the other hand, don’t offer any isolation whatsoever. Your audio will also leak out into your surroundings. You’ll want to avoid open-back headphones if you’re planning to use your headphones in public or at work. The same goes for if you game in a noisy environment.

example of open-back headphones

The Philips SHP9500s are open-back. Source: u/DestrixGunnar

What you get in return for the lack of isolation is the potential for a more open sound with a much better soundstage and imaging. This means, essentially, that open-back headphones are better at giving you the idea (or illusion) of listening to your audio in an actual real space. While this is a highly prized trait by audiophiles, it can also come in handy when gaming as it lets you better pinpoint where enemies are based on sound.

Which of the two styles is best for you will depend a lot on where you plan to use them and the sound you prefer. Unless you explicitly need closed-back headphones for commuting, we’d suggest you try both types to see how you get on.

To Amp or Not to Amp?

Headphones connected to a DAC and amp

A home listening headphone setup with a DAC and amp. Source: u/KlaasKaakschaats

Headphone amps are an essential piece of gear if you’re going to be using higher-end audiophile headphones. They take the signal from your source (computer, smartphone, or digital audio player) and amplify it to a level that’s loud enough for low-sensitivity headphones.

Two specs indicate whether a pair of headphones will need an amp: sensitivity and impedance. Generally, lower-end headphones like our budget picks have low impedance (around 32 ohms) and high sensitivity (100 dB/mW or more). They’re designed to sound great with low-power devices like smartphones. You may benefit from an amp here, but they’re usually not needed.

As you climb up the price ladder, you’ll start seeing headphones with high impedance (250-300 ohms isn’t uncommon) or low sensitivity (around or below 90 dB/mW) ratings, or both. While there’s no hard and fast rule on when you need an amp, we’d recommend budgeting for one if your headphones have 100 ohms or more impedance.

Already have a pair of headphones and are unsure if you need an amp? If the headphones are too quiet, even with the volume on your computer or phone maxed out, then you need an amp.

We think the FiiO K5 Pro is an excellent starting point for a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) and headphone amp combo. It’ll have enough power to drive even our high-end picks to a decent volume.

If you’re on a particularly tight budget, check out the Fosi Audio Q4 DAC/amp. It’s not as powerful as the K5 Pro, but it should be adequate for headphones with less than 200-ohm impedance.

A good headphone amp can also improve the audio quality you get from your headphones, even if they don’t objectively need an amplifier. So it’s worth investigating even if you’re happy with the volume you’re getting out of your source.

Closing Thoughts

Admittedly, audiophile headphones may seem like an expensive luxury. While we can’t deny that they can be costly, a good pair of headphones makes a world of difference for games, music, and movies. Choosing the best audiophile headphones for gaming will depend on a few factors, including your budget, so there isn’t one sure-fire answer that will be the right choice for everyone.

That said, we’d recommend you start with the $100-200 price range as we think that’s where you’ll find the best bang-for-buck. But, as with the best gaming earbuds, the only surefire way to know is to try them out and see for yourself.

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