Do expensive headphones really sound better?

I haven’t gotten too deep into the hobby myself, but I remember my mind being blown when I first tried the M50. Hearing sub bass for the first time was an incredible experience. However, going from the M50 to X2HR was a pretty lackluster change in audio.
After talking to a friend who had the opportunity to try out many of the popular “audiophile” headphones in the $500 dollar and below price bracket, he told me that the change from one headphone to another isn’t significant enough to justify paying hundreds of dollars more. He settled on the HD 6XX, claiming that paying extra for Sundaras, dt1990Pro, or even LCD-2’s just aren’t worth the subtle difference in audio.

Is there really a ceiling in audio quality at this price point where the gains in fidelity from one headset to another are subtle and not far off from a 200 dollar headphone? Will I not even be wowed by a thousand dollar pair of headphones? Would I be missing out by settling on an HD 6XX?

Please share any stories you have if you’ve ever been blown away by a pair of headphones.


i guess if you give zero fucks about detail, soundstage, and bass the 6xx is probably ok. sundaras are overpriced and honestly kinda bad for a planar if you ask me, especially at the price. audeze doesn’t make a good headphone imo. 1990s are specific to certain things. i was thoroughly blown away by the soundstage handling of my gl2ks post mod, my he6se has bass i didn’t know was possible and thats pretty great, he400se was a holy shit moment realizing sub $200 headphones can be good finally.


I would say the money can be worth it depending on what you get and what your tastes are.
First off, my three Favourite headphones are all my most expensive.
I also started with the M50X’s back about six years ago. It took me a LONG time to find out what I actually like.

To me, the HD6XX’s only make sense if you are feeding a full tube amp. Of course there will be many opinions on that. :grin:


I wouldn’t want to say that expensive headphones inherently sound better, altho it’s not the worst rule of thumb. There’s so many factors in how a headphone sounds, but point is yes you do find some factors in higher end headphones that you don’t in cheaper ones. Sundara for example is a fairly great headphone and has many of the things I would look for in a headphone, great speed, detail, decent bass, great mids, nice treble and fast decay BUT it also lacks impact that did not allow me to enjoy them after a while. To where I prefered the ksc75 over even the sundaras. In audio if you hear something for a few seconds to minutes it might sound the same, since both are trying to recreate the same music. However with more time listening to the, these seemingly small differences have a huge impact on the sound of the headphone.

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Also I’m sure there’s probably a ceiling somewhere but it’s definitely nowhere near the 200 dollar headphones.

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do expensive headphones really sound better?

short answer: yes
long answer: not all the time


You can’t ignore the effect good source gear has on this whole equation. Your boy was probably running all these headphones off an iPhone or a zen dac.

The answer to your question is yes, if you give them a good signal.


I’ve gone from the SHP9500 ($70) to Focal Clear MGs ($1500) with many headphones in between and along the way, like a lot of other fellow forum members.

Do they really sound better? Yes. The issue is diminishing returns.

Personal home audio equipment has gotten really good. For $400-500 you can get a great budget DAC, amp, and a large array of various $200-250 headphones with varying sound signatures and frequency responses. IMO that gets you like 80% there, and most people can stop there and be happy.

As you realize what attributes you personally prefer in a headphone (soundstage, imaging, detail, frequency response) as well as the application you want to use it for (closed-back vs. open-back, gaming, music), the price gets logarithmically more expensive. Now, instead of another $500 extra to go from 80% to 100%, it’s $500 more per percentage point up to 90%, then it’s $1000 more from 90-95%, and so on and so forth.

As you upgrade your headphones, you will be bottlenecked by your source, so your ecosystem has to also upgrade to maximize the performance capabilities of the headphone, and vice versa.

So to your original question, does that sound better? Unequivocally, yes. I really enjoyed my $200 Meze Noirs, but they don’t do anything as well as more expensive options I’ve upgraded to along the way, and to bring out those headphones I had to upgrade my source gear as well. And I’m not even close to the setup some other people have on here.

Realistically, if I could go back and talk to myself, knowing what I prefer in a headphone for music, I would have told myself to get a 6XX, Bifrost 2, and a tube amp like a Darkvoice with upgraded tubes. I would have stopped there, but if I’m being honest, part of the fun of this hobby is trying new things out, buying/selling used gear, and the friends we made along the way. :slight_smile:


Focal Elex was the rabbit hole headphone for me, given what it sounded like I wanted to hear what higher end headphones sounded like.
ZMF Eikon was an eye openner for how open a closed back could sound.
Verite Closed was a surprising step in resolution.
The D8000Pro was the first Headphone to make Bass sound like it came from the actual instruments.
The Susvara Resolved better than anything else I’d heard
etc etc etc.

Now lets keep this all in perspective, at the same time I was working through all this, I also went from $100 DAC’s to $5000 DAC’s and $300 SS amps to $8000 tube amps.

I recently sold a ZDT Jr to another forum member, before I let it go, I plugged it into a Topping D10 DAC and listened with HD6XX, to verify it was fine, and it was a damn good experience, it’s not going to replace my high end gear, but if I couldn’t afford all the expensive stuff, I could be happy with that, or swap a SW51+ for the ZDT Jr.

Value is very much relative, no one can answer the value question, what something is worth to me, isn’t what it’s worth to you.


Yes! They do sound better (usually). Props to the several forum members who have commented on the importance of signal chain. That really matters, especially as headphone price goes up.

What I’ve noticed is that as price goes up, there are smaller and smaller improvements in technical performance. In some sense, that is diminishing returns, but it also doesn’t tell the whole story. As price goes up, those smaller and smaller incremental improvements in technical performance translate in to larger and larger steps toward sounding natural or real. I can speak from experience with a couple examples. I’ve had the opportunity to listen to 4 Audeze LCD models (2 prefazor, X, 3 prefazor, 24). They’re all good. The 24 in many way offers slight technical improvements in terms of detail retrieval and frequency reponse. But, it’s way ahead of those others in making some instruments sound real - or at least closer to real. Similarly with HiFiMan, I’ve heard the Edition X V2, Arya, and HE1000V2. The Edition X V2 and Arya both cost around $1600 new (upon their launches, anyway), and the HE1000V2 is $3K. The HE1000V2 represents small improvements in technical abilities like detail retrieval, soundstaging, etc. - but that translates to a much more convincing and lifelike sound than the other 2. Now, yes, it does take higher quality amps and dacs to bring that out, so don’t forget that. And I’ll also reiterate what @Polygonhell said that the only person who can answer the value question for you is you.


One thing that maybe goes underdiscussed if only because it’s hard to compare, and few people if any have measurements of their hearing range and sensitivity, but a lot of whether the higher end stuff makes sense (notwithstanding spare change etc.) is how good your ears are. And this opens the even bigger can of worms about how everyone is different, wants different things (or slightly different things), and audio to begin with is a lot harder to differentiate than some other areas (like culinary taste even).

For some people, an m50x or HD6xx, both unamped and playing 320kbps, could be all they need.

Others might be more sensitive - in some cases a lot more sensitive - to more minor differences at every single level in the chain, from recording to encoding, interconnects and cables, DAC and amp, and of course the headphones themselves.

Second, until you’ve tried the best, it’s extremely hard to imagine what it might sound like. It’s even difficult to remember exactly what it sounded like moments after listening (google echoic memory). So ultimately all of these improvements are objectively either minor or physiologically difficult to either know intuitively (i.e. to imagine without having tried) or persist in memory (i.e. echoic memory).

This is a hobby after all. Some people would grimace at the thought of having to taste Jim Beam or Jack Daniels. Others wouldn’t drink anything else. There’s very little objectivity involved, owing to preference, sensitivity, experience, …


Totally agree with what you said.
I would add even more, some are more prone to being persuaded that something sounds different and even though there would be no physical differences in sound they would indeed hear the difference.

What I mean is, we hear not only with ears but also with brains (of course this is vastly more complicated, ears and brains are very vague terms).

The more people write in this thread the more I think the answer to the original question is only one:

It depends.

An increase in price usually equates to an increase in quality, but there are exceptions. And diminishing returns do kick in after a while.

For example, some of the Chinese factories selling direct to consumers are releasing products of INCREDIBLE value. I just bought the HiFiMan HE-400se International planar-magnetics, and they sound fantastic for their price of $150. I’ve heard $400 wireless (I know the 400se are wired) cans that sound far worse. I also have owned the M50x to which you referred in your original post, which also cost $150, and the 400se crush them in every area to my ears, at the same price.

My Moondrop Starfield IEMs – another product sold straight from a Chinese factory – punch way above their weight for a $110 IEM.

I’m tighter than two coats of paint, so I relish finding sonic bargains like the 400se’s and the Starfields.

Then again, there are products from major-market Western manufacturers that are overpriced simply because they have marketing, packaging and other costs that Chinese factories don’t incur. But like in everything, there are exceptions to that rule, too. I think the Sennheiser HD 560s are a damn good value for $200.

Other companies also can get away with inflated reputations due to effective marketing and branding. Take Beats, for example. Most – not all – of its headphones sound like shit. But they’re still expensive because kids and adults see famous athletes and celebs wearing Beats, and they figure the brand must be quality. It’s a triumph of style over substance.

Then you have Apple. Almost all of its products are excellent, with quality engineering, software and hardware. But there’s such a cult around Apple products that the folks in Cupertino know they can charge a higher price than competitors, and Apple devotees will gobble up every new product like college football linemen at an all-you-can-eat buffet. That’s the “Apple tax.”

Bottom line: There are plenty of measurements that can indicate a headphone’s quality, and they should be heeded. But the ultimate barometer remains your ears and brain. One person’s trash is another’s treasure.

For example, everyone here knows Raycon earbuds are absolutely wretched, by measurement and subjective listening. But if someone wants to buy them and enjoy them because Cardi B and Snoop Dogg are paid to wear them, good for them. There’s nothing wrong with that.

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Does my $3000 Diana sound better than my $300 HD600? Yes. Can I live with just the HD600? Yes. Do I want to? No.

That’s the best answer I can give you :man_shrugging:


Your friend is an ignorant and opinionated git. :wink:
You’re doing your own research.
You’re not like your friend.
Enjoy the hobby.

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He said it wasn’t worth it for him, but he clearly thinks they are better

Yes. But it comes down to proper usage and most importantly preference. I buy and sell wine - same thing.

Many people will enjoy a $12 bottle of wine more than a $200 btl. Provided they don’t know what it costs.

Just applying dollars doesn’t necessarily reward. If you buy expensive cans that are contrary to the sound signature you like: bad. If you buy headphones who have weaknesses in the areas that you are most demanding: bad. If you run power hungry headphones off subpar source: bad. Also: a lot of reactions get based off of initial impact - not spending proper time with devices.

Bottom Line:
Enthusiasts understand gray.
Consumers like predictable black and white.
Not everyone needs to be enthusiasts, most are not.


Personally, I don’t try to break the $200 bracket for pretty much any piece of gear.

Why? Because I don’t sit around listening to music. I don’t try to listen to each and every detail that’s presented to me.

I listen to music/audio for the experience and to help me do stuff. If I’m working, headphones on and working. I don’t want shit to sound bad, but I’m not exactly focused on the finer details and harmonics and all that shit. Lately, honestly, 90% of the time I’m listening to Blon 03s with filter mod or my DIY speakers. Does the job, I can jam out, and I enjoy everything.

I’ve got money, I love audio gear, I’ve auditioned some of the best headphones… modded Blon 03 and Fostex T50RP are pretty much where I’m at.


Yes, many nice things come at an added expense. What is a reality for most people though, the majority in fact, is that unless you have spent considerable time tuning your ear and knowing what to listen for that extra 5%, 10%, 15%, 20% or more improvement is wasted / lost / unrecognized. This is common with any developed skill set. It takes time to understand, learn about and appreciate fine nuances. Lastly, no matter how good your ears or HP’s are the source material and source chain WILL play a role, so be further prepared to spend more money. Happy listening, enjoy growing into this and whatever hobbies you fancy.