When looking for a high-fidelity pair of headphones the amount you spend can also reflect the quality of the product and audio deliverance you receive. While budget options can produce reasonably good sound thanks to modern improvements in audio technology and production, investing in a higher-end pair can take your experience to new levels. To help you decide on the right pair for you, we have compiled a list of the best headphones under $500 available today!
How to choose the best headphones under $500
When deciding on the best headphones for you, there are some design factors to take into consideration. Each boasts its own pros and cons which may be better suited to your listening preferences. So let us talk you through some of the key features that we think will help you decide which is your best choice of headphone.
Dynamic Drivers vs Planar Magnetic Drivers
Sound is created as a result of vibrations that enter the ear canal in waves, which in turn make the eardrum vibrate. This sends a message to the brain allowing us to interpret the sound. Headphone drivers are the speakers within the headset that move to drive air through the ear canal in pressure waves, allowing you to hear your chosen audio.
What Are Dynamic Drivers?
Dynamic drivers are generally the most affordable driver type on the market, and typically this is reflected in their sound reproduction capabilities. Saying this if you are willing to spend more there are some fantastic dynamic driven headphones that even audiophiles will agree deliver high definition sound.
They work by using a magnet to create a magnetic field that interacts with the drivers’ voice coils. These voice coils, attached to a thin diaphragm, begin to move in response to the magnetic signals and with it move the diaphragm. The movement of the diaphragm moves the air in front of it, creating the sound waves that travel to your eardrum.
What are Planar Magnetic Drivers?
Typically found in higher-end headphones, planar magnetic headphones offer more accurate sound reproduction and lower levels of audio distortion. Popular among critical listeners and audiophiles, planar magnetic headphones are, however, more expensive and also more complicated to build, making them less common to find amongst high street retailers.
Planar magnetic headphones work by sandwiching a thin diaphragm between multiple magnets. Instead of using coils the diaphragm is either attached to or embedded with a 2D magnetic conductor, that lays almost completely flat (planar) to the ultra-thin diaphragm. The uniform magnetic field allows the entire diaphragm to move, lessening any changes in the intended sound.
How do they compare?
As you can see from the table above, both drivers have their own strengths and weaknesses that may influence your choice. If you are looking for a strong and clear bass response, with low distortion and a wide sound stage then Planar Magnetic headphones achieve this. Thanks to their large, flat magnetic diaphragms, soundwave production is much more accurate and well reflected in your audio quality.
“Dynamic drivers still deliver all of these things well enough, however, a budget pair of dynamic driven headphones would not compare to a lower end pair of planar magnetics.”
Saying this dynamic drivers can produce more accurate audio imaging, which describes how precisely the location and balance of instruments are recreated by the headphones. The complex design of planar magnetic drivers results in small errors in phase responses and stereo imaging that can change the way the audio is reproduced, however these a not normally very noticeable.
Open-Backed vs Closed-Back Headphones
While this design feature is fairly self-explanatory, the reasons behind why you may choose one over the other may not be as commonly known if you are new to the world of headphones.
Pros and Cons of Open-Backed Headphones
The open-backed structure of this design is to allow air to pass through the ear cups, preventing pressure from building up. This pressure can affect the sound and create small echos inside the ear cups of closed-back designs that lower the quality of your audio. Instead, open-backed headphones create a more natural clear sound with a wider soundstage.
The drawbacks of this design are that they are not well suited for use in loud environments, as they offer very little background noise reduction, meaning you will hear everything around you. They also give out greater sound leakage, so are not ideal for use in an office or library where you want to keep your audio to yourself. For at-home listening though, these are a great choice.
Pros and Cons of Closed-Back Headphones
Closed-back headphones are designed so that the ear cup is sealed entirely around the back, only allowing sound to exit where it reaches the ear. This makes closed-back headphones much better suited for listening in busy or noisy areas, as they offer greater noise isolation and lower levels of sound leakage.
The sealed backs do, however, reduce the size of the soundstage the headphone can create, and minor echoes in bass notes may create less natural-sounding audio. As they do not provide airflow like open-back headphones when wearing closed-backs for long periods of time the ears may become quite hot and stuffy, which some may find uncomfortable.
Over-Ear Headphones vs In-Ear Headphones
Both over-ear and in-ear headphones also come with their own benefits and drawbacks that you may wish to consider before you make your purchase. The below table provides a comparison of various features that may be important when deciding which type of headphone is best suited to your needs.
In general in-ear headphones are thought by many to be less comfortable than headphones due to the pressure they can cause within the ear canal. However, they are more portable, whilst delivering higher levels of noise isolation and reduction of sound leakage.
Over-Ear Headphone Frequency Response
In-Ear Earphone Frequency Response
Sound quality is harder to correlate between the types of headphones as a higher-end pair of earphones will often sound better than a budget pair of over-ear headphones. Typically, however, thanks to the larger design and drivers within over-ear headphones they will produce a wider soundstage and frequency response, as well as produce better bass notes.
It is important to note that the standard acceptable frequency range for most headphones is 20 to 20,000 Hz. Some headphone models will offer much wider frequency ranges that can surpass the audible range for human hearing, however, being able to handle a wider frequency range does not automatically mean sound quality is better than competitor products.
For a truly great range of sound, with lower distortion and a comfortable fit over-ear headphones are an ideal choice if you do not have to worry about disrupting those around you. In-ear headphones are great if you want something ultra-portable, that delivers good audio without disrupting others around you – great for commuting, office work, or visiting the library.
Review of the best headphones under $500
Now you know which design elements to look out for, let us talk you through our recommendations for the best headphones under $500.
1. Master & Dynamic MW65 Active Noise-Cancelling Wireless Headphones – Best Overall
We have ranked the Master & Dynamic MW65 over-ear headphones as the best overall due to their incredible versatility and impressive sound deliverance. Made from lightweight anodized aluminum and fine leather they provide great levels of comfort and easier portability, weighing only 245 grams.
With a wireless battery life of up to 24 hours, you can travel at ease knowing you can enjoy hours of undisturbed listening, and with quick charge, you can have 12 hours of playback in just 15 minutes. These wireless headphones also boast an impressive Bluetooth range 3x the industry average at more than 65 feet.
Whilst earphones may offer better passive noise isolation, the MW65 comes equipped with dual-mode active noise cancellation, to block out unwanted ambient noises around you. Coupled with the 40mm beryllium drivers these headphones deliver crisp, clear sound with impressive acoustics for a closed-back model.
- Lightweight at only 245g
- Comfortable and portable
- 24 hours battery life, 12 hours with 15-minute quick charge
- More than 65ft Bluetooth Range
- Active Noise Cancellation
- 40mm Beryllium Drivers for clear sound
- Ears may become hot after extended wear
- Soundstage smaller than open-backed alternatives
2. Shure SRH1540 Premium Closed-Back Headphones – Best Closed-Back Headphones
If you are looking for a high-end pair of closed-back headphones, the Shure SRH1540 is a really great option. Many closed-back designs fail to deliver a realistic soundstage in comparison to open backs, however, the 40mm neodymium drivers produce an impressive range of highs as well as warm bass notes, with superior acoustics.
The steel driver frame is also built with a vented center pole to keep consistent linearity, whilst reducing the build-up of internal resonance, greatly lowering levels of distortion. This will allow you to crank up the volume without fearing a reduction in sound quality. The diaphragm developed with APTIV Film also works to achieve the same goal for even crisper audio.
The design is both lightweight and comfortable, made using aircraft-grade aluminum alloy yoke as well as carbon fiber caps, you do not have to worry about your ears growing tired after long periods of wear. Keep in mind that being closed-backed gives them added background noise isolation but the lack of airflow can lead to hot, sweaty ears over time.
- 40mm Neodymium drivers deliver great acoustics
- Impressive highs and bass notes
- Vented steel driver frame reducing distortion levels
- Thin diaphragm developed with APTIV Film
- Lightweight and Comfortable
- Made with aircraft-grade aluminum
- Although the soundstage is impressive, it does not match open-backed headphones
- Ears may become hot after long wear
3. Beyerdynamic Amiron home high-end stereo headphone – Best Open-Backed Headphones
If when listening to your music, you want to feel like you have been transported to the front row of your favorite live gig or the acoustically designed concert hall of your favorite orchestra then open-backed headphones deliver just that. Beyerdynamic’s Amiron Home stereo headphones provide a spacious and natural soundstage allowing you to escape into a realistic musical experience.
As the name suggests the Amiron’s are best suited for use at home, due to the reduction in background noise isolation and increased sound leakage. Once you are comfortably settled, these headphones will help you escape into the impressive range of high-frequency notes, along with a defined midrange and impressive bass response they can produce.
These headphones are also flexible enough to use with your hi-fi system thanks to their 250 ohms impedance, so for music fans and audiophiles alike, you can enjoy high-resolution sound every time you listen. Finally, the airy design reduces heat and air pressure build-up within the ear cups, allowing you to enjoy the comfort of the soft microfiber earpads for hours of extended listening.
- The open-backed design creates a spacious and natural soundstage
- Impressive range of high notes, midrange, and bass response
- 250 ohms impedance allows for use with HiFi systems
- High-resolution audio
- Soft microfiber earpads for comfortable wear
- Low background noise reduction
- Increased sound leakage
4. SENNHEISER HD 660 S Audiophile Headphone – Best Audiophile Headphones
A list of the best headphones under $500 would not be complete without an entry from the coveted brand Sennheiser. An industry favorite amongst audiophiles, we recommend the Sennheiser HD 660 S if you are in search of a high-resolution pair of reference-class headphones. These headphones have been designed with critical listeners in mind.
These dynamic headphones are built with lightweight aluminum voice coils attached to a diaphragm precisely made from stainless steel fabric. This design allows for better control over the movement of the diaphragm, greatly reducing levels of distortion. The lower 150 ohms impedance also allows for connection to both high-caliber home and mobile audio devices for freedom over where and how you listen.
The open-backed design creates an impressive soundstage whilst allowing good levels of airflow to the ears while listening. The soft velour ear cushions and thick padded headband also create a fantastically comfortable fit that will easily allow for hours of premium listening. The HD 660 S is a superb choice if you want to hear your audio exactly as it was intended to be heard.
- Market-leading brand coveted amongst audiophiles
- High resolution, reference-class audio
- Newly designed driver transducer that reduces distortion
- Lower impedance offering a range of connection options
- Wide soundstage with open-back design
- Velour ear cushions and padded headband for a comfortable fit
- Low levels of ambient noise reduction
- Greater sound leakage
5. HIFIMAN SUNDARA Over-ear Full-size Planar Magnetic Headphones – Best Planar Magnetic Headphones
The name Sundara translated from Sanskrit literally means “beautiful”, which is an accurate description of the audio delivered by Hifiman’s famous planar magnetic headphones. Built with a “supernano” diaphragm that is 80% thinner than previous designs, at just 1 to 2 microns thick it reacts fast, creating a highly detailed audio response.
To experience the full potential of the Sundara headphones it is recommended to use them in conjunction with their own headphone amp, so keep this additional cost in mind when purchasing. The abundance of power, coupled with the open back design, creates an unmatched soundstage, delivering audio as you have never heard it before.
To support the drivers’ design the ear cups are larger than most standard dynamic headphones, however, the cleverly designed weight dispersing headband strap helps to balance the weight evenly to allow for long, comfortable wear. The Sundara is exceptionally well priced for a planar magnetic headphone, delivering a great level of high-fidelity sound coupled with added comfort.
- Supernano diaphragm for detailed audio response
- Impressive soundstage
- Powerful audio deliverance
- Weight dispersing headband strap
- Well priced for planar magnetic driven headphones
- Headphone amp recommended at additional cost
- Larger earcups so may find too bulky or heavy
6. FiiO FA9 Knowles 6 in-Ear HiFi Earphones – Best Earphones
For some large, bulky headphones weighing down over the head and ears is an off-putting thought, and the in-ear design of earphones may be more appealing to you. However, we understand you do not want the quality of your audio to suffer in the search for a comfortable design. Thankfully the FiiO FA9 Knowles 6 in-ear HiFi earphones do not compromise on sound.
These small earphones come packed with multiple design features that deliver their signature Hi-Res certified sound. Built with a four-way crossover design of multiple drivers that all work in harmony, the FA9 delivers a full range of frequencies seamlessly. You can adjust your sound to your personal preferences with the 8 possible settings, letting you decide how to balance your bass, treble, and midrange for the perfect listening experience.
Sitting comfortably within the ear, these earbuds come with 15 pairs of ear tips to suit every listener. They include an 8-strand monocrystalline silver-plated copper cable that provides a strong and stable connection with your device. While earphones can struggle to compete with headphones when it comes to creating high-fidelity sound, the FA9 is intelligently built to give over-ear designs a run for their money.
- In-ear design for those who find over-ear headphones uncomfortable
- Hi-Res Audio Certified
- Four-way crossover harmonic drivers
- 8 sound settings to personalize your listening
- 8-strand audio cable providing excellent connection
- 15 pairs of ear tips to suit every listener
- Some may find the in-ear design uncomfortable
- Sound quality hard to match compared with high-end over-ear headphones
7. Audeze Mobius Premium 3D Gaming Headset – Best Gaming Headphones
When searching for gaming headphones there are hundreds of budget headsets on the market that can make selecting the right pair rather daunting. But, if you want a really immersive and realistic gaming experience, a higher-end model like the Audeze Mobius Premium is the way to go. Built with premium planar magnetic drivers, gaming has never felt more lifelike.
The Mobius headphones offer precise 3D surround sound and Waves NX™ Head-Tracking to recreate the most accurate real-world listening experience with the richness of cinematic sound. Reach the top of the leaderboard as you hear your enemies’ precise location before you see them, helping you to make tactical decisions that improve your gameplay.
The detachable boom mic allows you to talk to your teammates with high-quality audio, allowing for great communication throughout every match or level. Being closed-backs they do restrict airflow to the ear, however, the contoured memory foam earpads and adjustable padded headband provide enhanced comfort so you can game all day and night to your heart’s content.
- Closed-back design for greater background noise isolation
- Planar Magnetic Drivers
- 3D surround sound
- Waves NX™ Head-Tracking real-world listening emulation
- Detachable boom mic
- Memory foam earpads and headband
- Ears can feel hot and stuffy after long wear
To Wrap Up
We hope our list of the best headphones under $500 has helped you on your way to upgrading your audio experience. Each selection offers a range of outstanding features, however, be sure to choose a pair best suited for your listening needs. Here is a quick recap of our recommendations:
- Best Overall – Master & Dynamic MW65 Active Noise-Cancelling Wireless Headphones
- Best Closed-Back Headphones – Shure SRH1540 Premium Closed-Back Headphones
- Best Open-Backed Headphones – Beyerdynamic Amiron home high-end stereo headphone
- Best Audiophile Headphones – SENNHEISER HD 660 S Audiophile Headphone
- Best Planar Magnetic Headphones – HIFIMAN SUNDARA Over-ear Full-size Planar Magnetic Headphones
- Best Earphones – FiiO FA9 Knowles 6 in-Ear HiFi Earphones
- Best Gaming Headphones – Audeze Mobius Premium 3D Gaming Headset
Whichever headphones you choose from this list, each one delivers outstanding audio, making them well worth the higher price tag if you are looking to achieve real audiophile standard sound.