Looking for advice for a headphone upgrade, $400 USD budget

I’m currently in the market to get a new set of headphones, to possibly replace my current daily use pairs. I have an Audio-Technica ATH-M40X for closed-backs and a pair of Monolith M560’s for open-backs. I mainly use them for daily computer use, music, and some gaming. Powering my headphones is an SMSL SU-8 DAC, and an SMSL SP200 amp.

For music, I generally listen to a lot of rock and metal, though a large number of other genres are on my playlists. Electronic, jazz, lofi, and other genres are mixed in as well. For gaming, I don’t really play any kind of immersive FPS where I’d need to know the exact position of others based on the sound, though I do still appreciate good imaging in general for music.

I’d appreciate any recommendations for headphones with a budget of $400 USD. The budget of course doesn’t have to be met, and I can go over a little bit if necessary. I’m not looking for anything super bass-heavy right now, so I’d prefer either a more balanced or somewhat bright sound signature. Thanks in advance for recomendations/advice.

Welcome to HFG! What would you change about the M40x and M560 and what would you want to keep the same?

Neutral bright options in that range would be possibly the Sundara, Sivga PII/Monolith M570, Beyer 880 600 ohm, just to name a few.

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What have considered so far? The Sundara ($350) can be a good choice for metal, but not with the SP200 IMO. For the SP200 my choice would be the HD6XX, which is still my favorite headphone for metal despite myself having much more expensive options.
Although the 6XX is definitely not bright. FiCurious listed good options for that.
Do you have a preference for closed or open back?

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Hifiman Sundura can be not bad.
Denon D7200 is a bit expensiv and have Bass but good mids and highs.

E-mu teak is a good pic maybe more what you search cost a bit more.

The SP200 does limit options slightly, as it can push some already bright leaning cans over the edge.

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One of my biggest complaints about the M560 is honestly their comfort. I have a large head and ears, and with them being on-ear any times of extended wear with them causes me discomfort if not pain. That being said, I did like the overall sound of them, though my points of reference were rather limited (M40x’s and previously owned AKG Q701’s). As for the M40x’s, I find them much more comfortable after swapping out the pads, which is much easier, and use them for my general computer use for the most part. I’m not sure what I’d change about them though, because for sound they cover general use without any issue.

I definitely am more in the market for open backs at the moment. I feel pretty comfortable with my M40x’s as they’re for more general use. Watching youtube videos, when in voice calls, etc.

The first choice I had considered was the DT880 600 ohm. I’ve seen some good comments about them overall, and they were what I was planning on before upping my budget a bit.

Welcome to Hifiguides,

So your looking for a balanced or bright headphone with good imaging and not real heavy bass. I can name a few here with some description to them

Hifiman Sundara: Neutral bright. Not very bassy and more towards neutral with treble raised. Detailed, relatively smooth, and sparkle on the highs. Open Back. Incredible for it’s price point and one of the best especially in the planar market at that price. Be wary of the quality control issues with the company. You can find this product from $250 - $400.

Beyerdynamic DT 770: hard to tell whether this is a U signature or V signature. Recessed mids. Different impedance models though higher ohms make these sound better. Does well with pad swapping such as brainwavz xl perforated pads or choice leathers and they do make this sound better. Can possibly sound sibilant to some ears as this is pretty bright yet moderately bassy. You can find these from $60-$200

Beyerdynamic DT 880: This is a semi open back headphone that has less bass, lacking body, and quite a bit of brightness while remaining a Neutral-bright headphone. Very detailed, clean, with bright highs this is one of the fantastic all round headphones that a lot of people even on the site here love next to the Hifiman Sundara. 600 ohm variation sounds the best while 250 ohm sounding good too however this headphone is demanding in its 600 ohms and requires an amp around the $200+ range with quite a bit of power behind it to drive to full potential. Price tag $90-$200

Beyerdynamic DT 990: Word of caution, don’t buy this if you have any sensitivity in moderate levels to treble I cannot stress that one enough. The treble on this is on the level of extremely sharp and ethereal. Open back. Very sharp V signature with recessed mids. Can be modded to really dial back that treble. Very beautiful sounding headphone if you can tolerate high amounts of brightness. Can dial back brightness with 4 ply toilet paper placed behind the foam of the driver, dekoni elite velour, certain amp setups, and certain filered cabling. Beyerdynamics have some very nice imaging but this is the widest of the cheaper DT series and has very good imaging and seperation like the other two. Price depending on the ohms you choose will change the treble keep this in mind higher ohms means smoother treble $90-$200

Beyerdynamic 177x GO Massdrop: A step up from the 770s and has a more towards neutral U style signature. Very clean detailed and sounds rather wide. Mids are still recessed but less than the 770. IMO a pretty large step up from the 770. Can be balanced due to the mini-xlr detachable cable. Current Price is $450 however it has been seen to go on sales for less and is worth the money for a great closed back with portability due to it’s low ohm. This in my opinion is actually better than the DT 1770 and is cheaper as well.

Beyerdynamic DT 1990: This is one of those that I revere as one of the kings for the gaming world. Neutral Bright yet with a very nice balance amongst the frequencies. Comes with two pads analytical and balanced. Analytical works with what the headphone is meant for as this headphone picks apart errors in the mix and imaging is spot not as bassy with these pads on and treble is pretty bright. Balanced this is the more fun pad to the headphone bass is increased and the signature becomes more towards a V signature instead of the relatively neutral bright. If the headphone is too bright you can purchase Dekoni Elite Velour to dial the treble peak frequency in line with the bass frequencys which should fix any issue with the brightness you have. Price range differs drastically and also changes based on country. Price Range $300 - $650.

Sennheiser HD 598, 599, 58x Jubilee, and 6xx: Depending on the one you get will depend on the sound here. 6xx has the smallest soundstage to my experience however sounds the best with the most detail and clarity of the bunch gorgeously balanced headphone however 58x is the happy medium between these with a moderate soundstage with still a lot of detail and clarity. 598 and 599 despite being discontinued have the widest soundstage but in comparison aren’t as clean or detailed to my hearing. Price tag $100-$400

Philips SHP9500: next to its alternative x2 hr fidelios this has less bass and more brightness. More towards a Neutral bright. Wide, smooth, with sparkle in the highs and enough bass present in the mix that it’s not too much. Budget option but sounds great without the bloated bass and is a favorite of mine. Responds well to pad swaps. Price tag $50-$100


I have one rec. Sundara. The amp and dac should power it fine and it does real well for jazz / lofi at the price.

Depends on what you listen to jazz for though?

What do you like / dislike about the sound of your current setup?

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I love the Sundara’s, but the SMSL SU-8 + SMSL SP200 combo is NOT a pleasant sound with them.

I no longer have any Senns, but I would call the HD58X’s an AMAZING set of $200.00 headphones.
I also think that the SP200 might be a very good fit with the HD6XX’s. That amp really cleaned up my Fostex TH-610’s.

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Fair. I haven’t heard the combo myself. I can only say that they’d power it sufficiently. If you’ve heard it I’d trust that.

The only setup I really liked with the Sundaras was the Archel + Enog.

Actually I own/owned every single piece in that blurb. That is a rarity for me. :grin:

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What does the smsl do the sundaras? Never touched that stuff before.

That amp, IME, accentuated any bright/brightish headphones. For me that was Sundara’s, Elex’s and Grado’s. I found that after a while the sound became grating.
As you can see I don’t dislike anything bright, but that amp put me over.

It was like the Beyer T5p.2’s. They also sounded great to me for a month or two (clean, crisp and clear I thought), but then just started to grate on me.

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Although I have whined about how much money I have wasted, I did test a BUNCH of different gear. :laughing:

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What about the 6XX makes it your favorite for metal?

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Yes to both your points. The SP200 definitely is treble-forward so pairing it with a bright headphone can be ear murder - especially with music that often has high treble energy like rock. However, the 6XX is rolled off enough that it is a good match for the SP200. When I had my SP200, that was the headphone I used on it the most.

To the OP, I would suggest a neutral headphone for the SP200. It will turn your many neutral headphones into neutral-bright ones. The HD6XX fits the bill for you.

The main reason is the warmth in the bass and low mids. I find it gives metal guitar greater presence and energy. The relaxed treble allows me to listen at higher volume levels. And lastly it has pretty good vocal presence which is always important to me.

Are you considering the 6XX?


I’m not at the moment, just curious why it was as it doesn’t seem like something that would be the case for most people, but that’s just me completely guessing it wouldn’t be for most people and not because of any evidence to support that claim.