Even in this wireless age, wired headphones still hold quite a bit of magic. They beat out wireless headphones in terms of audio quality — and you still need a wired connection to listen to true lossless audio — plus they harken back to an analog time, where you could tinker with various amps, DACs and equalizers to subtly tweak and improve the sound. They're typically more affordable, too, which is always a good thing.
That said, picking out a pair of wired headphones can be complicated — even in 2022. You've got 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 could fancier ones with electromagnetic or planar magnetic drivers that are also made of really high-end materials and spend many thousands of dollars.
Best Wired Headphone Under $100Grado SR60x Read More
Most Comfortable Wired HeadphonesBeyerdynamic DT 990 PRO (80 Ohm) Read More
Editor's PickSennheiser HD 560S Read More
Best On-Ear Wired HeadphonesGrado SR325x Read More
Best Entry-Level Planar Magnetic HeadphonesHIFIMan Sundara Read More
Why Open-Back Headphones?
Open-back headphones aren't for everybody. Their design naturally leaks audio so that the people around you can hear what you're listening to; plus they let outside noises in and that will thus hamper your listening experience. Basically, in order for open-back headphones to make sense, you need to be listening to them in a quiet space — like a private office.
The big advantage of open-back headphones is they sound amazing. They deliver an incredibly immersive audio experience with an absolutely enormous soundstage that most closed-back headphones can't compete with. They basically sound like you're at a live concert or listening to the artist in the recording studio. It's amazing.
For this guide, we wanted to exclusively focus on open-back headphones as we wanted to prioritize high-quality audio at a relatively affordable price. We imagine somebody who is working remotely and looking to improve their desktop audio situation — a great pair of wired headphones that's paired with a relatively affordable headphone amplifier, you can get a great little setup for in-or-around (or substantially less) than today's top wireless headphones, like the Sony WH-1000XM5 or Apple's AirPods Max.
Yes, you should get an external headphone amplifier.
Another reason why we wanted to keep the price of the headphones down is that we wanted them to be easy to drive. Typically, the more expensive the headphones, the more expensive the amplifier needs to be able to drive them. With all the wired headphones on this list, you can plug them straight into your computer or laptop and they'll work — but we still strongly recommend buying 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'll make your wired headphones sound even better and reach their full potential. The other good news is that you can buy a high-quality headphone amp for pretty cheap (between $75 and $150).
When reviewing the below headphones, we switched between two of our favorite headphone DAC/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
We tested all the below headphones in a simple desktop audio setup with a USB headphone amplifier. We alternate between two comparably-priced amps — specifically the Schiit Fulla and Audioengine D1 — because of the special nuances each one has. And we listening to wide-variety tracks on both 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.)
The Wired Headphones (All Under $500)
Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz
Normal Impedance: 38 ohms
The Grado SR60x is an excellent wired headphone option for anybody on a tight budget. At $99, they are the most affordable headphones that the Brooklyn-based hi-fi company makes — yet they still deliver great sound and unmatched magnetism thanks to their distinct industrial design. Released in 2021, they are the next evolution of Grado's SR60e headphones with the big difference being that they have been upgraded with the company's new "X" driver that helps deliver an even wider soundstage. The only thing to be wary of is that these are on-ear (not over-ear) headphones and you might not like that.
Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO
Frequency Response: 5Hz-35kHz
Normal Impedance: 80 ohms
The Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro have achieved something of a cult status — largely due to podcasters and gamers (like Ninja) turning them into headsets by adding a boom mic — but they're just excellent and really affordable over-ear headphones. Plus, thanks to their large over-ear design and plus earcups, 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
Frequency Response: 6Hz-38kHz
Normal Impedance: 120 ohms
The Sennheiser HD 560S is another pair of open-back headphones that perform way better than their relatively affordable price tag. Despite their mostly plastic design, they don't look or feel cheap. And their ultra-plus ear cushions and elongated ear cup design make them super comfortable to wear for long periods of time (although their clamp force is stronger than most of the other headphones on this list). As for sound, it's very neutral — not warm or bass heavy — but sometimes the headphones can be a little sensitive; the higher-resolution the file you're listening to, the significantly better these headphones sound.
Frequency Response: 18Hz-24kHz
Normal Impedance: 38 ohms
The Grado SR325x are the top-of-the-line headphones in the company's revamped Prestige Series; basically, they're the most expensive of Grado's affordable headphones. They share a similar (and epic) industrial design as the company's other headphones, but they're made of nicer materials — there's more metal and less plastic — and they deliver a more well-rounded sound with a lot more bass than the Grado SR60x. They're a lot of fun to listen to. Like before, the only real holdup is that they are on-ear rather than over-ear headphones, and that might not be your jam.
Frequency Response: 6Hz-75kHz
Normal Impedance: 37 ohms
The Sundara are HiFiMan's most entry-level planar magnetic headphones; and at $300, they are one of the most affordable planar magnetic headphones you can buy, period. They sound terrific and deliver a lot of the promise of planar magnetic headphones — high-resolution with extremely low distortion — but they feel pretty luxurious. They have really wide, large and plush earcups that seem to just engulf your ears. My only real complaint is that each earcup is pretty heavy and the clam force isn't super strong, so if you have a smaller head they might feel like they're pulling you down.
HiFiMan Edition XS
Frequency Response: 8Hz-50kHz
Normal Impedance: 18 ohms
You can think of HiFiMan's Edition XS as the obvious next progression up from the Sundara. These planar magnetic headphones are almost identical (save for the headband) to the company's even higher-end Ananda ($699) headphones — they have extremely comfortable but extremely large that envelop your entire ears (and then some). The sound is vibrant, fun and clear; it's very similar in that way to the Sundara, with the biggest difference in my opinion being the soundstage that the Edition XS creates. It's huge.