This is probably the third revision of this thread now, but the first time for me. Personally I think the original was wordy, so we'll try and keep this a bit more concise.
There's a ton of options that exist to the point that this can be a pretty overwhelming decision to make. We're here to help ease this decision. We are going to go based on a few factors:
- What budget you have.
- What type of listener you are. (i.e. primarily music, gaming, etc.)
- What features you need or desire. ( ie. open back closed back)
We are going to break this up into sections of Headphones, IEMs, Headsets, DACs, Sound cards, Amps, (etc/placeholder). Items will be listed in ascending order based on price and each headphone recommendation will also come with a short and to-the-point description of what the headphone offers or at least does best.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x - $149.00 (Closed, Portable, All-Rounder)
This headphone is known for being a great first foray into audio for most people. The headphone is bassy, though not over-exaggerated or bloated. These remain neutral through the midrange and treble which isn't common with a lot of headphones in this price bracket (DT770). Overall, the headphones are fairly comfy, though they won't rival the likes of the DT770. Aftermarket pads are popular for these including a velour option that sweeten the deal.
Massdrop x Fostex T-X0 - $149.99 (Massdrop edition of the T50RP MKII, *pending sound test*)
Just basing this off of the FQ graph -- bassier version with more tame mids, with a leather headband and velour/protein leather hybrid earpads.
Fostex T50RP MKIII - $159.99 (Semi-Open, Planar Magnetic (RIP), mid-happy, punchy)
THE DIY headphone that has created a cult of modding enthusiast who strive to get every last drop of performance from these inexpensive headphones. With proper mods, these headphones can punch way above their price point.
To boot; punchy bass, forward mids and an open sound. Decent soundstage that is better than closed back headphones, but not as good as fully open headphones.
Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro 80ohm, 250ohm - $166.02, $160.01 (v-shaped sound signature with recessed mids, sparkly highs, exaggerated bass and a narrow soundstage)
Great headphone for EDM, rap and pop music, but not much else. The lack of midrange doesn't give confidence in other types of music such as rock, etc. Super comfortable, and built like a tank. Not so ideal for gaming due to the lack of soundstage.
Fostex TH-X00 Mahoganny, Purpleheart, Ebony - $399.00, $449.00, 499.00 (closed-back, mid-happy and bass-centric, surprisingly open sounding for closed back headphones)
Fostex' vision of what a successor to the famous Denon AH-D5000. There are three versions of this headphone that come with different wooden cups. The cups impart their own sonic characteristics to the overall tone. In ascending order of price, we have Mahoganny, Purpleheart, and Ebony editions.
- Mahoganny - Middle of the pack for bass, forward midrange and recessed treble
- Purpleheart - Most bass of the trio, more v-shaped sound with more present mids and highs than the other two
- Ebony - Least bass of the trio, but only slightly and has a more linear sound signature that should be more pleasing to those who are sensitive to midrange
AKG K7XX - $199.99 (Massdrop's version of the Q701)
Shares many of the same sound characteristics that the Q701 has with a slightly better bass and a more pleasing sound to most that would generally find the Q701 fatiguing or even grating. Beware that some QC issues have been reported with the elastic strings of the headband. This is possibly fixed by now, though).
Sennheiser HD6XX - $199.99 (Massdrop's version of the HD650; open-back, relaxed sound with a good bass response and extension, good soundstage)
Massdrop's version of the classic icon. This is the same headphone offered at a lower price of $200. If you are able to get them at this price, there's no reason to choose the HD650 over these unless you just really dislike the dark/navy blue colorway. These headphones are still made in the same factory as the HD650, so quality issues outside of the normal occurance should not exist. See the HD650 description for info on the sound of these.
Beyerdynamic DT880 250, 600 - $219.00 (Great soundstage and very open sound with a fairly neutral sound -- errs on the side of being 'bright' or 'sparkly')
Another great headphone for gaming and those looking for a fairly neutral headphone. This headphones 'suffers' from the normal sparkly treble that the Beyer line is known for. Bass is punchy, but mids do take a backseat to the highs by nature. Great for gaming as they have a wide soundstage. Rock, metal, and hardcore (and just about every one of its' subgenres) benefit the greatest from this headphone. Be warned, the treble will bother those that are sensitive to it.
- Sennheiser HD600
AKG Q701 - $249.91 (Bright and forward highs, open sound stage, a little bass light but still has enough to make most people content, forward and clear mids)
Awesome headphones for people who are looking for headphones that offer a mix of gaming performance and sound quality for music. The bumps on the headband can potentially cause some people discomfort after an extended period of time. These headphones have a tendency to sound harsh when paired with a bright sounding amp. A slight eq or a warmer sounding amp such as a tube amp would pair very well with these headphones.
Sennheiser HD600 - $286.12 (open-back, neutral sound with a tight bass response; very popular for it's smooth yet unoffending midrange)
Great headphone for those looking for a neutral headphone that can do just about everything well that isn't bass-heavy. The bass errs on the side of being punchy, though a bit light for some (certain amplification can affect this). This headphone shines in the midrange where it remains slightly forward, yet smooth enough that it doesn't become fatiguing. Pair that with the neutral highs that are pleasing, if not perfect for those that don't care much for the DT880 or Q701.
Sennheiser HD650 - $375.14 (open-back, relaxed sound with a good bass response and extension, good soundstage)
These headphones were always classified as dark in a world where the DT880, 990 and the K701 were their main competitors. You have tame highs, present mids without being overly forward and a very decent bass slam and extension. These scale nearly infinitely with better amplification, but they do great on entry level stuff as well.