The "Kings" of the mid range (up to 500$) headphones

Correct me if im wrong…
But when you look at the 200-500$ price range you see the same names keep popping up repeatedly, Its a funny thing especially when i look at IEMs - no one stay in the limelight for very long, the turn around is just blazing fast.

But with headphones at least those in the 200-500$ range there isnt a whole lot of movement, the ones that mange to grab the spotlight mange to do so for a fairly long time.

A good example is HIFIMAN Sundara, amazing headphone, has been recommended by countless people and beloved by many reviewers, and rightfully so… And still to this day even though it has been out for a number of years (im including the 2020 since it was a pad swap only, unlike the 400SE) very few in this price bracket match the “natural” title of the Sundara

The Harmonicdyne Zeus , another amazing headphone, while not as universally loved as the Sundara it still loved by many is probably the top recommendation for a lot of folks when they are recommending a warm,wide, fun headphone.

There a few more names that keep showing up like Argons, or the Meze 99, Sennheiser 6xx/650
The only changes ive seen in the last while in this price bracket is the Focal Elegia which came down in price (i think the OG price was 700-800$), now hitting around the 400ish mark.

Just wondering to myself why it isn’t as hectic as the IEM side of things


I mean, the headphone market as a whole is far less saturated than the IEM market.

I think the headphone market is more saturated and more interesting in the >$2000 price range.

There are a lot of unknown gems in the $500-$1000 headphone market. I’m pretty sure you are familiar that I am the “iBasso SR2” guy. If you look hard enough, you will find many interesting headphones. However as I said, the headphone market is FAR less saturated than the IEM market. It is a perfect example of quantity ≠ quality. Personally, I think the headphone market is more strict when it comes to headphones getting accepted and praised.

not very often midrange headphones come out from reputable brands lol.
almost everything is either sub $150 or $500+…some of the top rec’d in the $200-$500 range are 20ish years old at this point lol

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Ya that’s what i find kind of odd, you would think it would be a more appealing market considering how many people have a lot of those mid range

maybe but the barrier is much higher, when its up to 500$, its pricey but its the same ball park as Air Pods Max or a Sony WH1000X4 , which very mainstream headphones they are Bluetooth but the idea that high end products are in that price range is not unreasonable for most people which is why im wondering why its so barren.

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To add to what’s already been said, I think the IEM market from the budget price point up to $500, like you mentioned, is incredibly saturated mostly due to Chi-fi and how places like Shenzhen operate where there is an “open-source” philosophy combined with components, manufacturing, etc. all being in close proximity. Also, the popularity of IEMs over headphones (probably a factor of population density) within a lot of East Asia also bolsters that. It’s not so much that headphone innovation is “slow”, but IEMs are ridiculously fast. There’s a constant process of one-upmanship which is why we see so many in a year.

Anyway, there’s a bunch of stuff I’m missing, but since it’s been a consistent topic the past couple of years, you’ll probably find plenty of conversations around IEM innovation, etc.

One reason why I mention that is I find the mainstays that you mention not being particularly old (?) Maybe my age is showing, but the Sundara came out in 2017 and the Zeus is fairly new. I rocked the Mad Dogs/Argons for several years, but that was still after 2013~ish. The longest are the HD600s from '97.

True that isnt very “old”, but there is a difference between “tried and true” veteran products that are always recommended along side “new stuff” like with most tech and audio stuff, but here it just feels kind of static, personally i like options but when i look at this price bracket a rarely seen any options unless its super specific

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Yea, I would probably describe that more as “striking gold” which at the rate we’re seeing with IEMs only happens with the pace and saturation (the “numbers”) that currently exists with Chi-fi IEMs. Also, I’d bring in to question if that included each markedly new product or included products that have minor revisions to bring them closer to that “universally loved” status. I’d like to say that the latter is more often the case.

To get to a place where we have more universal recs. would probably require a shift in headphone production to be closer to that of what we have with IEMs right now. However, from what individuals in the field have elucidated, headphones come with more complexity than IEMs at just about every step (outer-ear interaction, size/volume, build quality, etc.), and I’m assuming a lot more expensive to produce as well.

It would certainly be nice to get more options in the midrange market, but I think what’s there is pretty solid, imo. Granted, since I lean towards the more bleeding-edge stuff is why I didn’t stay in Mid-fi particularly long and have since moved into Hifi and more recently “Summit-fi” cans. I’d like to see some hifi tech like the amt ribbon-driver stuff and the cool things they’re doing with planars nowadays trickle into the midrange price-point.

Exactly what im hoping to see… we got somewhat close with the HIFIMAN edition Xs, with the new stealth magnets but it still out of that 500$ range

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ATH-R70x deserves more love - it is a good all arounder and impossibly light. I know some deride fit - but I like wings and it fits me better than the 700/900 series winged cans. I love it as a transition can from heavier models. I keep it on a block to keep clamp a bit more mild. Pads could be a bit bigger/deeper. Natural feel.

Back to your point though, I think there’s just so many models on the IEM front it draws attention. Also, with this hobby and this particular forum-base being very “content-focussed,” we tend to crave more-and-more and newer-newer-newer. New models, new content, new toys. Like a lot of things, including music, I’ll tend to go backwards and use the opportunity of those seeking new — for me to simply pursue “new for me”.

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For me its the issue of the lack of varity more than anything else, im not looking to flood the market like with IEMs but if you dont like ergonomics of a certain headphone or you think its lacking in a certain area - you have to go to a higher / lower price tier in order to find a solution.

Look at PC hardware yes there is a lot “bloat” in that area but there is also a lot variety, dont like a certain design or need extra features? here are 3 other options that are just as good/ in the same price range

Lets say for example you would take something like Audeze, and make something more affordable, that would be really interesting - and before you say it will hurt their image, they made a gaming headphone, a sub 500$ will do far less damage to their image :smiley:

They’ve made the LCD-1, to some mixed assessment…

I think there are a goodly amount of models available, assisted by Chinese companies for sure.
I also think a lot of people are following too few voices and not trying things out. So many options are not considered after being shot-down by intelligentsia - and many venerable headphones out there are not tried-out by folks. Tons of people seeking a “faultless” model and overemphasizing any negatives.

well there is the the issue with the LCD1 that it was designed with the pro folks in mind and generally you dont need/want that much detail for a portable mastering rig so you can focus on actual issues.

Doesnt translate that well for people like me chaseing a specfics.

That being said speaking of mastering cans Shure SRH1840 is still one of my fav under 500 that just does everything well. Then again I’m extra biased to how dynamic drivers makes vocals pop. Pitty Shure basically markets purely to the pro market only.

There are many great headphones under $500.00. I don’t care for all of them, but there is a great selection:

Meze 99 Classic’s (sold them, but loved them)
Ibasso SR2’s (I am curious…)
Grado Hemp (just got them used)
T60 Argons (I like mine)
Focal Elegia’s (I really like mine)
Koss E95X (too thin for me, but popular)
Sundara’s (not great at anything, but not terrible at anything)
Senn HD660’s (too smooth for me, but a nice headphone)
Shure 1540’s (I found them too bland, but nice)

That is a Wide selection of headphones with very different sounds. And I am sure that I am missing several good ones, including many Chinese models. And I am skipping over all the other Sennheisers.

Never been a better time to be into entry-level/mid-fi!


Not sure what you mean by intelligentsia, its not like headphone are peer reviewed by acdemics If you have any models id love to hear them, but i dont know many in this price bracket.

The thing is in the range of the last 5 years i’d expect more options, if you look at other types of product youll see a much wider selection in designs flavor, just more choice in general. Also part of are a bit problemtic
Argons - aside from the very long waiting list anyone not living in the US can expect to pay 80$+ in shipping (not including taxes ) , I ended getting the T60RP stock and swapped pads
Koss E95 - Drop exlusive as far as, you cant get your hand on one unless there is a sale
Ibasso SR2 - last i checked they were over 500$
Elegia -i dont know if i count the Elegia (i love mine as well) but since the original price was over 500$ not sure if it counts

Pff, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are many. MANY. more models, and especially those who are unknown.

You are curious about the SR2’s?! Please, no curiosity. Buy. Buy. Buy.

HE6 SEv2

can’t be beaten when on the promo

$600 is above $500

The HiFiMan Edition XS is a new addition to the “kings of the sub-$500” club. It’s a terrific can.


The HiFiMan Edition XS retails at $499.95 in the USA.

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When people talk about the old guard in this space like the HD600/660 ( a 25 year old model ), I think it is easy to forget that headphones aren’t the moving target that IEMs are right now. Chifi has made the IEM space crazy and chaotic, in ways that are fun, but don’t expect your favorite to hold up for long. I am more into IEMs, but I do more listening during the work day, and don’t want the weight and warmth of headphones all day.