The best wired headphones to go Hi-Fi

The best wired headphones to go Hi-Fi

Even in the age of wireless, wired headphones still pack a little magic. They beat wireless headphones in terms of audio quality – and you still need a wired connection to hear true lossless sound – and they’re back to an analog hour, where you can tinker with various amps, DACs and EQs to fine-tune and subtly improve the sound. They are generally more affordable, which is always a good thing.

That said, choosing a pair of wired headphones can be complicated – even in 2022. You have to decide whether you want closed-back or open-back headphones, and you have to figure out how much you want to spend. Instead of traditional headphones with dynamic drivers, you can use more sophisticated drivers with electromagnetic or planar magnetic drivers which are also made from very high-end materials and expend many Thousands of dollars.

Why open-back headphones?

wired headphones on a desk

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Open-back headphones aren’t for everyone. Their design naturally lets sound through so people around you can hear what you’re listening to; In addition, they let outside noise in and thus it will hamper your listening experience. Basically, for open-back headphones to make sense, you need to listen to them in a quiet space, like a private office.

The big advantage of open-back headphones is that they sound amazing. They deliver an incredibly immersive audio experience with an absolutely massive soundstage that most closed-back headphones can’t compete with. They sound like you’re attending a live concert or listening to the artist in the recording studio. It’s incredible.

For this guide, we wanted to focus exclusively on open-back headphones because we wanted to prioritize high-quality sound at a relatively affordable price. We imagine someone working remotely and looking to improve their office audio situation – a great pair of wired headphones paired with a relatively affordable headphone amplifier, you can get a great little setup for indoors or around (or much less) than today’s best wireless headphones, like the Sony WH-1000XM5 or Apple’s AirPods Max.

Yes, you should get an external headphone amplifier.

connected amps

The headphone amps we used for testing, left to right: Schiit Fulla ($109) and Audioengine D1 ($169).

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Another reason we wanted to keep the price of the headphones low is that we wanted them to be easy to ride. As a general rule, the more expensive the headphones, the more expensive the amplifier must be to be able to drive them. With all of the wired headphones on this list, you can plug them directly into your computer or laptop and they’ll work – but we’re still strongly recommends purchasing an external headphone amp.

Your computer’s built-in amp isn’t very good and will make your music sound flat and grainy. A good headphone amp with a built-in digital-to-analog converter (DAC) will change that – and it will make your wired headphones look even better and reach their full potential. The other good news is that you can buy a high-quality headphone amp on the cheap (between $75 and $150).

When reviewing the headphones below, we switched between two of our favorite headphone DACs/amps: Schiit Fulla ($109) and Audioengine D1 ($169). Both connect directly to your computer via USB (if your computer only has USB-C ports, you’ll need a dongle).

How we tested

wired headphones on a desk

Every wired headset we tested comes with a 3.5mm jack, which is the common jack needed for most portable devices (like smartphones and laptops), as well as a 3.5mm to 6.35mm. The larger jack is needed to use the headphones with more professional-grade audio equipment, like large amplifiers and musical instruments.

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We’ve tested all of the headsets below in a simple desktop audio setup with a USB headphone amplifier. We alternate between two comparably priced amps – specifically the Schiit Fulla and the Audioengine D1 – due to the particular nuances of each. And we listen to a wide variety of tracks on Spotify and Apple Music, which are the two most popular music streaming services. (And we used both because, frustratingly, Spotify still hasn’t rolled out support for lossless tracks.)

Wired headphones (all under $500)

Grado SR60x

Best wired headphones under $100

Grado SR60x

  • expansive sound
  • Trendy industrial design
  • I can’t beat the price
  • Over-ear design won’t suit everyone
  • Mostly plastic ear cups

Response frequency: 20Hz-20kHz
Normal impedance:
38 ohm

wired headphones on a desk

Pictured: Grado SR60x

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The Grado SR60x is a great wired headset option for anyone on a tight budget. At $99, these are the most affordable headphones made by the Brooklyn-based hi-fi company, yet they still deliver great sound and unparalleled magnetism thanks to their distinct industrial design. Released in 2021, they’re the next evolution of Grado’s SR60e headphones, the big difference being that they’ve been upgraded with the company’s new ‘X’ driver which helps deliver an even wider soundstage. The only thing to be wary of is that these are over-ear (not over-ear) headphones and you might not like that.

Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO

The most comfortable wired headphones

Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO (80 ohms)

amazon.com

$179.95

$139.00 (23% off)

  • Large and soft ear cushions are extremely comfortable
  • Beautiful soundstage
  • Available in different models
  • The cable is not detachable and very long

Response frequency: 5Hz-35kHz
Normal impedance:
80 ohm

wired headphones on a desk

Pictured: Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO

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The Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro have achieved cult status – largely thanks to podcasters and gamers (like Ninja) turning them into headphones by adding a boom mic – but they’re simply excellent and seriously affordable over-ear headphones. Plus, thanks to their large over-ear design and ear cups, they’re one of the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever worn. Beyerdynamic makes several different versions of the DT 990 Pro, with this 80 ohm version being the easiest to drive.

Sennheiser HD 560S

Editor’s Choice

Sennheiser HD 560S

amazon.com

$199.95

$151.28 (24% off)

  • The price is more affordable than you think
  • Wonderfully plush and large ear cups
  • Neutral sound with wide soundstage
  • Clamping force may be too strong for some
  • More sensitive to low-res files than other headphones (requires an amp)

Response frequency: 6Hz-38kHz
Normal impedance:
120 ohm

wired headphones on a desk

Pictured: Sennheiser HD 560S

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The Sennheiser HD 560S are another pair of open-back headphones that perform much better than their relatively affordable price. Despite their mostly plastic design, they don’t look cheap. And their ultra-plus ear cushions and elongated earcup design make them super comfortable to wear for long periods of time (although their clamping force is stronger than most other headphones on this list). As for the sound, it’s very neutral – neither warm nor bassy – but sometimes the headphones can be a bit sensitive; the higher the resolution of the file you are listening to, the better these headphones sound.

Grado SR325x

Best Wired Over-Ear Headphones

Grado SR325x

  • Expansive sound with superb bass
  • Trendy industrial design
  • More high-quality materials that are pleasant to the touch
  • Over-ear design won’t suit everyone
  • Get an expensive touch

Response frequency: 18Hz-24kHz
Normal impedance:
38 ohm

wired headphones on a desk

Pictured: Grado SR325x

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The Grado SR325x are the top-of-the-line headphones in the company’s revamped Prestige series; basically, these are Grado’s most expensive affordable headphones. They share a similar (and epic) industrial design to the company’s other headphones, but they’re made of nicer materials — there’s more metal and less plastic — and they deliver rounder sound with a lot more bass than the Grado SR60x. They are great fun to listen to. As before, the only real issue is that these are over-ear rather than over-ear headphones, and that might not be your jam.

HiFiMan Sundara

Best Entry-Level Planar Magnetic Headphones

HIFIman Sundara

  • Excellent and homogeneous sound
  • Cool industrial design
  • Detachable cable
  • I feel like they should be more expensive than what they are
  • Clamping force is quite weak (not ideal for small heads)

Response frequency: 6Hz-75kHz
Normal impedance: 37 ohm

wired headphones on a desk

Pictured: HiFiMan Sundara

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The Sundara are HiFiMan’s entry-level planar magnetic headphones; and at $300, they’re one of the most affordable planar magnetic headphones you can buy, period. They sound great and offer much of the promise of planar magnetic headphones – high resolution with extremely low distortion – but they feel quite luxurious. They have very wide, big and plush ear cups that just seem to engulf your ears. My only real complaint is that each earbud is quite heavy and the clam force isn’t very strong, so if you have a smaller head, they might feel like they’re pulling you down.

HiFiMan XS Edition

Best Hi-FI Upgrade

HiFiMan XS Edition

  • Wonderful and big sound
  • Trendy industrial design
  • Detachable cables are nice
  • Headphones are absolutely huge and might not be for everyone
  • The price goes up there

Response frequency: 8Hz-50kHz
Normal impedance:
18 ohm

wired headphones on a desk

Pictured: HiFiMan Edition XS

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You can consider the HiFiMan XS edition as the next obvious progression from the Sundara. These planar magnetic headphones are almost identical (except for the headband) to the company’s even higher-end Ananda headphones ($699) – they’re extremely comfortable yet extremely large that wrap around all your ears (and more). The sound is vibrant, fun and clear; it is very similar to the Sundara, the biggest difference in my opinion being the soundstage created by the XS edition. It is enormous.

#wired #headphones #HiFi

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