Top 3 Headphones

I want a set of audiophile [subjective, I know] headphones. I saw this article below. How can $295 Grados be at #1. When 3000X are $2,000?

My budget is > $1,000. Regardless of my preamp/headphone amp, what is the top 3 (if there’s even a consensus)?

I enjoy Classic Rock, Alternative, Country and soft jazz.



I am not a headphone guy, but I think I have 2 of the very best headphones at any price. As I write this, I am listening to my hard rock headphones, the RAAL CA-1a with the SR728 Silver RAAL cable (it matters). I have 3 amps (soon to be 4) that I can use with this headphone.

- Schitt Jotenhiem R headphone amp ($500 discontinued)

- RAAL VM-1a headphone amp ($7000)

- Benchmark AHB2 monos

- Peachtree GAN1 (delivery next week)

I only use the CA-1a with the Schitt and VM-1a. Both are very good, with the VM-1a able to provide the best rock and roll listening experience I have ever heard. That is using the VM-1a in PENTODE mode (there are 2 other modes). The only minus is that the CA-1a has a sonic profile like traditional headphones though the VM-1a elevates that sound to the extreme.

The better headphone is the RAAL SR1a, It is not as hard hitting as the CA-1a so that is why I call my CA-1a the rock and roll phones. However, the SR1a is mind blowing great, especially with the VM-1a amp. The sound is unlike other headphones and more like 2-channel sound.

I listen to the SR1a with 3 of the amps listed above and when the 4th amp arrives, I will use that in a room where I can lay down and zone out.

I used to own the Meze Empy headphones with the Benchmark HPA4 headphone amp. I thought it was rather good but not something I would take over 2-channel. The 2 RAAL phones I have are equivalent to my 2-channel setup. I am not downgrading when I use them late at night (like right now). Cranking some April Wine on the CA-1a with the VM-1a headphone amp.

BTW - if you live in a big city see if you can check out the next CanJam show.

Events | CanJam (

BTW - Stereophile is supposed to do a review of the gear I listed above. It will Shirley be a rave.

I enjoy in my top three to be the focal Utopia, DanClark Audio Stealth, and the Meza Audio Elite.  DCA are approaching the Utopias for a closed can and non fatiguing for late night deep dives.  Happy listening

This is what the article says about the Grado:

 These are the best audiophile headphones at this price.

There have been times in my life where I've wondered if I could find a better sounding headphone. In the past decades I've attended both CES and AXPONA shows, sampling many different sets of headphones. In a situation like that, it's kind of tough to analyze each one, because they're usually being powered by different headphone amplifiers. So I would ask myself, if I liked what I was hearing from a headphone at one of these shows, would it sound the same on my gear at home? Many times it didn't. I love headphones, as they are my main source when critically listening. I think you really need to know what you're looking for in sound when shopping for a favorite set. I did, and after many years of auditioning headphones, I arrived at my (current) favorite, which is the Grado SR325e (they have since updated that model to the SR325x). I wasn't completely satisfied with the SR325e right from the start (as I felt the bass was a little lacking for my taste), but then did a little internet research, and noticed some owners were posting tweaks to the headphone that altered the sound a bit. One of them was to wrap one layer of electrical/vinyl tape on the outer edge of the foam headphone pads. I'm like WHAT?! I did this, and for me it brought the sound of this model to exactly where I wanted it. I also tried different foams that Grado makes, but decided to stay with the original ones, with the tape on the outer edge. Hopefully you can attend an audio convention, or a local dealer, and audition some headphones for yourself. No pun intended, but one size does not always fit all. Good luck.    

My favorite are my Stax 009s, however, you won’t find them around $1,000. There are better headphones out there, but again you won’t find them around $1,000. For that amount, I suggest you look into the Audeze line. I bought a pair of LCD-XC to see how closed-back phones might sound. They sound very good, although a bit heavy in the weight. I see lots of Audeze LCD-X at around $1K, and I think you could do a lot worse for your thousand dollars. Just my two cents. You might also try a used pair of Sennheiser 800 (800S, if you get lucky).

I just re-read your post, and realize your budget is "greater than" $1,000. In that case, I recommend Focal Utopia (on my shopping list too), RAAL, and the current top of the Abyss line. Also, be sure to get a dedicated headphone amp worthy of your initial investment (Blue Hawaii comes to mind). By all means, try to attend a Hi-Fi show to help you make the right decision.

I believe that in the $1,000.00 range new, the Audeze LCD2 open back headphones are a no brainer and available used for much less, Audeze has a great quality build and a strong factory support. If you  can stretch that budget the Hifiman HE1000V2s are the best phones I have ever heard and they follow the good company and good factory support  as well and have seen some new ones recently for a used price. Enjoy the music

I agree with tooblue’s comments about the HiFiman HE1000 V2. I heard them years ago at The Show in Irvine, California. I still remember them as being one of the best sounding phones I had ever heard up to that time. I had planned to find a used pair, or one on a half-price sale (retail at $3,000). Since then, I realized that I have two first class phones already and how many does one person need?

I used to be pretty heavy on headphones a few years ago, and back then, the Focal Utopia was my favorite one. I went through many headphones.


There is a new 2022 Focal Utopia, now retailing for $5,000. Yet to hear it, but I am curious.


I did listen recently in an audio show the T+A Solitaire P. It was the best headphones I have ever heard. But it’s a lot of money, if I am not mistaken around $7,000

I just saw this review for my rock and roll headphones. The reviewer does not use the best amp for it, the RAAL VM-1a, and his comments about the headphone running a bit hot are surprising. I purposely use a hot DAC, the Benchmark DAC3B, with the VM-1a because my smooth DAC is not a match with the VM-1a. My DAC3B is too hot with my 2-channel setup.

(47) What’s a RIBBON headphone? RAAL Requisite CA-1A Review with Resolve! | Headphone Reviews and Discussion -

I do have a different view of the 2 RAAL headphones from this reviewer. I am a 2-channel guy so the SR1a is the holy grail while the CA-1a is incredible in-spite of the fact that it sounds more like headphones. The reviewer liked the CA-1a more because he was not into 2-channel audio.

The reviewer really has not heard the best from the headphone using the amps he tried. He also explains why I call them rock and roll headphones.

First, I never rely on What Hifi reviews for anything, ever. I find them thin on content, comparisons, and overall substance, but that’s me. If you wanna read some really good, thorough and truly useful HeadFi reviews go to

That said, it’d be much more helpful to know what specific sound characteristics you’re looking for in headphones more so than what music you listen to. Also, is it ok if the ‘phones are open-backed and leak sound both in and out or do you need/prefer a completely sealed design? Without knowing any of that I have to agree with the Hifiman HE1000 v2 recommendations above. I’m a very happy owner of Hifiman Arya Stealths and would recommend them as well, but when you can get an open-box HE1000 v2 for only a few hundred dollars more I’d jump all over them because they’re by all accounts at a higher level than my Aryas and get pretty close to the flagship Susvaras but are much, much easier to drive — win-win. BTW, I bought my Aryas open-box from Hifiman and were indistinguishable from new to me and have been absolutely wonderful, so open-box gets a big thumbs up from me FWIW…

Without knowing anything else about what you’re looking for I’d throw out Audeze, Focal Utopia, Meze, and Abyss as other make/models to look into depending on whichever seem to offer the sound qualities you’re looking for. Hope this helps, and best of luck in your search.

Lots of good options and opinions, thanks so much.  I'm narrowing between the Focal Utopia and the HIFIMAN Susvara.   Looks like I'll save $1,000 on the Focals, but based on the above comments and the research I've done they excel in staging and midrange with the Susvara being very demanding to drive.  I would have thought the Utopias would be the higher price tag, but maybe that's a good thing!

Here’s the review I was actually thinking about where it was the HE1000 SE (not the v2) that compared favorably to the Susvara but could be run off an iPhone (if necessary). Not sure how the v2 stacks up to the SE, but just wanted to make the correction.  Incidentally the SE retails for $3500 but can be had open box from Hifiman for $2800.

That said, if the reviews of the Utopias really speak to you I say go for it because that’s what matters most and you sure as hell can’t go wrong with the Focals that are surely one of the finest ‘phones extant.

@bound4h My Focal and Meze Empy dealer told me to buy the cheaper Meze over the Focal. He said was tired of doing the paperwork for the Focal warranty work. He said they have a lot of issues (you may want to Google this to confirm), I spent less money with him buying the Meze Empy paired with the Benchmark HPA4.

The Meze is a warm headphone and the HPA4 is a very neutral headphone amp. It was the reference headphone amp for Sandu at (same as link above). I loved the HPA4 as a 2-channel and the headphone part was a bonus, so I got into the world of headphones with the Meze Empy.

The dealers reference headphone is the Susvara.

I have both a Susvara and a Utopia; I use the Utopia with my iBasso DAP and the Susvara with my Eddie Current tube headphone amp.... The Susvara is the best set of headphones I have ever heard, but you need quality power for them. I've tried the HE1000V2 and I much preferred the Susvara. 

Top 3 headphones?



1. Pioneer SE-MJ591 (closed-back)

2. Pioneer SE-Master-1 (open-back)

3. AKG K872 (closed-back)

In terms of accuracy, there is nothing I’ve ever heard that surpasses them. Be it orthodynamic headphones, electrostatic headphones, planar magnetic headphones, and other unique dynamic driver designs..nothing was nearly as good.


The SE-MJ591 - to reproduce sound quality just as it’s been recorded. It does this at a high level - reaches top performance with foam earpads that allow those transducers to really shine. No EQ is required, but they require careful partnering and well recorded/mastered music.

The SE-Master 1, tuned by Tim Vine-Lott (former Technical Director at AIR Studios is the most resolving open-backed headphone I’ve ever owned/heard. It’s very much like listening to tower speakers in a control room. Minimal EQing is required to get them just right, so they’re almost exactly like a closed-back SE-MJ591..except they create the illusion of listening to speakers in a large room.

The K872s are "brutally accurate" but require slightly more EQing in the bass, treble, and midrage to sound more linear. They might over-extend flaws in recordings, making them painfully obvious on first listen.

At any rate, I would always suggest visiting a high-end audio store and listening to the headphones you're going to buy on the system you're going to use; before parting with your money.


Top 3 headphones?



1. Pioneer SE-MJ591 (closed-back)

2. Pioneer SE-Master-1 (open-back)

3. AKG K872 (closed-back)


The SE-Master 1, tuned by Tim Vine-Lott (former Technical Director at AIR Studios is the most resolving open-backed headphone I’ve ever owned/heard. It’s very much like listening to tower speakers in a control room. Minimal EQing is required to get them just right, so they’re almost exactly like a closed-back SE-MJ591..except they create the illusion of listening to speakers in a large room.

@mastering92 Some headphone people do not like that type of sound. I am not one of them. Have you compared the SE-Master 1 to the RAAL SR1a, which are revealing and sound like speakers? I am interested in headphones that sound like speakers.



That’s true. Those 3 headphones will definitely reveal flaws in music. To such an extent that poor quality source material (.mp3s, running it from from a smartphone would be unsatisfactory, or just plain terrible). However, when paired right, there is tons of detail, neutrality, air, midrange clarity, treble extension, and accurate bass response that can help decipher unique styles of bass/bass lines with ease.

Vlad Savov wrote a review about the SE-Master 1, stating they have no chill. And he’s not wrong. They are just incredibly revealing of poor quality source material.

"With the Master1s, I find myself wanting to turn the music up to enjoy a richer, bassier sound, but when I do it, I get assaulted by the overzealous treble. The most annoying thing about listening to them, though, is that it’s not always terrible. These headphones are clean of distortion and provide a stalactite-sharp recreation of my music. I think they’re technically wonderful, but their tuning is just plain evil. They’ll give me a few minutes of cool tunes, and then just as I’m relaxing, they’ll drop a spike of harsh vocals on my head, with the singer seemingly screaming at me for trusting them." 

Tim Vine-Lott did an excellent job in terms of the tuning. So much so, that I emailed him to give thanks!

I have not yet auditioned that headphone. With some DSP, the Focal Utopia 2020 (have not heard the 2022 version yet) can sound like speakers too. But for that kind of "sound-like-a-speaker" experience with headphones, you are going to want open-backed headphones and a quiet listening environment.

To the OP, @bound4h ,

You may want to try the Meters Novu-1. They are my go-to headphone for just enjoying music. Somewhat warm, detailed, fairly accurate, and they sound good with almost any source.

Just know what I like and I rarely use headphones. 
Focal Elear open back. 


@mastering92 If you are adventurous, you should consider having Mitch Barnett of create a convolution filter for your headphones. You would have to send it to him if he does not already have it. He is a DSP star and is now well known for the convolution filters for the RAAL SR1a. I have them but do not use them since I have the SR1a dialed in perfectly using gear.

Convolution filters are easy to use if you use ROON or JRiver for streaming.



I don't use those filters, but I know what you mean. 

I use Jriver 27 for listening to music with my DAC.

adaptive volume, effects, headphones -> crossfeed, and room correction can be used to create a pseudo-live impression for headphones that lack imaging abilities. Otherwise, I don't use any filters...unless it's EQ for headphones that I beleive require it.

Output is 32 bit 44.1 KHz redbook, jriver bit-exact dithering, play as HDCD if possible checkmarked, input plugin - CDA --> CD read speed 4x, with jitter correction checked.

Lastly, I use Kernel Streaming [direct connection] mode (i2s) interface as the protocol since it's the lowest layer in Windows for audio -->basically like attaching a short coaxial cable between the computer and DAC, since USB audio can handle the redbook audio I listen to with ease.

I would like to add that simply changing the protocol, or any setting on jriver (dithering) for example, will change the sonic presentation to an extent. I have found my above settings to be audibly transparent and suitable for detailed listening sessions.

My three top headphones are:  RAAL SR-1b with transformer interface, the Kennerton Rognir Planar, and JM Audio Editions XTC-Closed.  I have heard (actually not heard) the RAAL CA-1a which are ribbon drivers with earcups and have their proponents of music with foundation, i.e. bass.  I am sure there are others out there but these three are the best I have heard.

Like many here I have owned a bunch of headphones, too many to list ($600-$3000 range). 

Truth be told, I sold them all and kept only the Grado PS500e with F-Cush pads (they increase the bass a bit). They are kind of dynamic like horns. Think of them as the Klispch of headphones. Not super refined but good for the money very dynamic. I chose them over 5 other pairs of headphones that were well over $1k. 

My recommendations would be the Grado 80x ($125) to see if you like the Grado sounds or the Grado hemp which is around $350 as these are also the warmer of the grados. The PS500e sounds a lot like the hemp with more refinement in the mids if you use the same pads on each (I owned both at the same time). I am not sure if they make the 500e any more though.


The other headphone I really like right now is the Audeze MM500. This is audeze’s best tuned headphone imo. It sounds much flatter and natural than the older models that have very recessed upper mids (lcd-x) and sound odd. The audeze bass is pretty amazing. Flat extended and very textured.  

As a trial I put the Grado SR60e ($80) and Sennhizer HD800S ($1800) in front of my wife running off a Chord Mojo and asked her which one she liked better for sound (she did not know the prices or brands prestige). She picked the Grado and more or less said it sounded more real in her words. I agree for what it is worth.

she uses a pair of Thiel 2.4 speakers every day in the living room and a pair of paradigms Shifts at her desk.