Wanna dip your toes in the Audiophile pool? These headphones are the way to go

Black Friday headphones
(Image credit: Future)

Now that the iPhone 15 has a USB-C port on the bottom, the doors have been opened up to way more headphone options than you might expect — ones that need a more widely available USB-C adapter. The throes of the audiophile are for many but a new pair of headphones away, and you often need not spend as much as you might first expect. 

Even then, you don’t need to go so far as to get a pair of wired headphones. There are some excellent wireless headphones that sound good and don’t break the bank; and most importantly, they satisfy that little voice that says, ‘this music could sound even better, with the right equipment’.

These Black Friday deals are all on some of the best headphones with some excellent savings, making it a little bit more affordable to join the ranks of the audiophile. You needn’t spend hundreds of dollars on a new DAC and a pair of wild headphones — just a pair that sound better than your AirPods 2.

Wired for effect

Wired headphones are long considered the territory of the audiophile, and these options exude sound quality. There are some big names here, like Sennheiser, Philips, and more. These are great if you want to plug something into your MacBook as well, with its potent DAC. 

A wire will mean that there’s more bandwidth for an analog signal to travel down – that means better quality audio than you might find with a pair of wireless headphones. The only way, for example, to listen to the top-quality tracks that Apple Music can pump out is to connect a pair of wired headphones to an external DAC. That’s not something we’ll be thinking about here, but it’s worth mentioning for when you want your music to sound really good. 

Sennheiser HD 660S2 | $599$399 at Amazon

Sennheiser HD 660S2 | $599 $399 at Amazon

These are the standard — the headphones that all other audiophile headphones are measured against. They’re comfy, analytical sounding, and they’ve not changed visually for 30 years. They are also still excellent, and $200 off is an unmissable deal.

Price check: $399 at Best Buy | $399 at Target

Sennheiser HD 599 SE | $199$99.95 at Amazon

Sennheiser HD 599 SE | $199 $99.95 at Amazon

This was my first pair of ‘audiophile headphones,’ and I have never looked back since. I have bought more expensive headphones since, but these remain one of my favorite pairs. I love how comfortable they are, and they sound better than headphones triple their price. Like the option above, they are open back, so you can’t use them on the bus (lest everyone hear your music), but for listening in and around the house, they are spectacular.

Price check: N/A at Best Buy | N/A at Target

PHILIPS Fidelio X3 | $399$159 at Amazon

PHILIPS Fidelio X3 | $399 $159 at Amazon

Philips has made top-quality audio gear for decades, and the Fidelity X3 are the firm's ‘open-backed, over-ear, professional studio monitors.’ That means that they’ve been built from the ground up to sound as good as possible, giving you detail you’ve not heard before on your tracks. They might lack a little in the bottom end, but they’ll ramp it up with clear vocals and impactful guitars.

Price check: N/A at Best Buy | N/A at Target

Philips Studio Monitor | $74$38 at Amazon

Philips Studio Monitor | $74 $38 at Amazon

These are the best way to join the ranks without spending loads and loads of money. They’re not going to sound as good as the options above, but they’re still focused on delivering great sound without breaking the bank. Plug em’ into your Macbook, and find out if the land of Audiophiledom is for you. These are closed-backs, too, so they’re going to sound a little bassier than the other options here.

Price check: N/A at Best Buy | N/A at Target

Bluetooth dreams

Wired may be the audiophile way, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some incredible-sounding wireless headphones that can bring a little sonic spice to your life. The best bit? They needn’t cost the world.

There aren’t as many options for headphones when it comes to audiophile preferences in the world of the wireless. Almost every single option is closed back, and when you plug a cable in, they often bypass the DAC on your computer, so you don’t get to hear some of those hi-res tracks you might be lusting over. Having said that, to get a critical listening session going, sometimes all you need is just a solid pair of headphones.

Sony WH-1000XM5 | $399$328 at Amazon

Sony WH-1000XM5 | $399 $328 at Amazon

These aren’t strictly ‘Audiophile’, but they’re a great pair of headphones nonetheless. They are on the warmer side of the sound spectrum, but you’ll love the ability to get that noise canceling turned on and listen critically to your music no matter where you are. This is a solid saving as well on what is Sony’s flagship headphone offering.

Price check: $329 at Best Buy | $329 at Target

Bose QuietComfort Headphones | $349$249 at Amazon

Bose QuietComfort Headphones | $349 $249 at Amazon

These, for a long time, were some of Bose’s most popular headphones, with the best noise canceling in the biz. Again, not strictly ‘audiophile’, but they sound good to almost everyone and come with an excellent hard case. Wire these in, and the internal DAC is bypassed, so you can use an external DAC to listen to those hi-res tracks. This Black Friday deal is a solid one too, saving you $100.

Price check: $249 at Best Buy | $249 at Target

AirPods Max | $549$449 at Amazon

AirPods Max | $549 $449 at Amazon

You weren’t expecting the AirPods on this list, huh? Me neither, but when you think about it, they are the full package. That noise canceling is to die for, the sound quality is still better than the two above, and their ability to connect to everything you own with the Apple logo on it is one of the best headphone developments since the dynamic driver. Personally not to my taste, but your mileage may vary.

Price check: $449 at Best Buy | $439 at Target

Master & Dynamic MH40 |$399$299.25 at Amazon

Master & Dynamic MH40 | $399 $299.25 at Amazon

Now these are what I’m talking about — something wireless that focuses on the sound quality and nothing else. I loved these headphones in my review, and they are easily one of my favorite pairs of wireless headphones. Smothered with leather and metal, they are a piece of art to boot. $100 off almost feels like a crime.

Price check: N/A at Best Buy | N/A at Target

Audiophile Jargon buster

ThieAudio Wraith

(Image credit: Future)

Do you ever read all those articles describing how music sounds from a pair of headphones, or details about how a pair is made and they’re just filled with… words? Words that mean nothing to you, words like ‘warm sound signature’ or ‘open back headphones’. You aren’t the only one, and thankfully, I’m here to give you a helping hand. This is Tammy’s Audiophile Jargon buster.

What does a “warm sound signature” mean?

Warmth refers to bass and the bits that underlay the sound of your music. If someone describes a piece as warm, then it means that frequencies towards the lower end of the spectrum are being emphasized.

That’s bass guitars, lower-toned synths, and the low notes on a strummed guitar. If you like bass, then a warm tone will be more up your street — although if too warm, then music can sound one note with too much bass.

What does an analytical sound signature mean?

Some prefer a sound that shows them every last detail of their music. You might also hear this described as ‘glassy’ or ‘crystalline’. It denotes that the sound focuses more on the high end, so that instruments like drum cymbals and the ‘attack’ (the moment pick or finger hits string) of guitar strings are emphasized. 

While this brings out all the finer details of the track, letting you hear everything that goes on with each instrument, it can also become fatiguing – some find that an analytical pair of headphones can bring more headaches.

What does soundstage mean?

Soundstage, is how ‘wide’ the music sounds. A wide soundstage makes it sound like the music is coming from all around you, as if you’re in the middle of the band or the act you’re listening to. A narrow soundstage contracts the music together, so it doesn’t display as much of the music as it can. Preferably, a soundstage should be as wide as possible.

What does open back mean?

An open-back pair of headphones is just that — it opens the outside panel of the headphones out, allowing for the speaker units inside to shift more air. That extends the soundstage (see above), letting you feel more like you’re inside the music. It also allows, literally, some of the bass to leak out of the headphones, so you might find them a little less bassy than the alternative…

What does closed back mean?

… Closed back headphones. These are the opposite (obviously) to open-backed headphones, and they have a narrower soundstage. They also keep more of that bass locked in so that you can keep those songs bopping and bouncing.

Black Friday
Save money with Black Friday sales

Grab bargains on Apple devices this Black Friday

If you're looking for the best Black Friday Apple deals as the annual sales season kicks off, we've got you covered. From now right through to Cyber Monday on November 27, we'll be serving up the best offers on iPhone, MacBook, Apple Watch, iPad, HomeKit smart home devices, and more. Save a small fortune by checking back on our daily deals coverage.

Tammy Rogers
Senior Staff Writer

As iMore's Senior Staff writer, Tammy uses her background in audio and Masters in screenwriting to pen engaging product reviews and informative buying guides. The resident audiophile (or audio weirdo), she's got an eye for detail and a love of top-quality sound. Apple is her bread and butter, with attention on HomeKit and Apple iPhone and Mac hardware. You won't find her far away from a keyboard even outside of working at iMore – in her spare time, she spends her free time writing feature-length and TV screenplays. Also known to enjoy driving digital cars around virtual circuits, to varying degrees of success. Just don't ask her about AirPods Max - you probably won't like her answer.