Even the cheesiest tunes you hear are complex when you break them down to frequencies and arrangements. But very few audio recordings have the complexity of classical pieces, some of which involve a staggering number of acoustic instruments.
To get the transitions right and to be able to distinguish your favorite instruments from an entire orchestra, there are some very strict guidelines to follow when shopping for headphones. Here’s my take on what sets classical music headphones apart.
7 Best Headphones for Classical Music
According to me, these are the best classical music headphones for most people.
Table of Contents
- 7 Best Headphones for Classical Music
- Why an Open-Back Design is Essential
- What to Look for In Frequency Response and Sound Stage
- Always Look for a Comfortable Pair
If comfort is your main concern then I definitely recommend the DT 990 Pro. These headphones have been around since 2004 but still hold their own against more expensive studio headphones when it comes to design and feel.
The build quality is not much to speak of, as everything is plastic except for the metal band that holds the cups. But the memory foam padding eases the pressure and makes the DT 990 Pro feel luxurious. Of course, the velour wrapping also helps give the headphones a plush feel.
The 250ohm impedance is quite standard but you might need a small amp to push the headphones, as you may need one to max out the volume on a phone or other portable listening device.
As far as sound quality goes, these mid-range headphones outperform most in their price range. The low end responsiveness is very good for classical music with lots of percussions. The mid and high frequencies get a premium treatment in terms of clarity, which is what I’m looking for in classical music headphones.
The 5 to 35,000Hz frequency response far exceeds the human hearing range of 20 to 20K, and the open-back design of the headphones allow you to experience the music in a more natural way.
These studio headphones feature an open-back design that’s both comfortable and free from unnatural reverbs. Speaking of the tonal profile, the HD 599 doesn’t focus too much on the low frequencies. Instead, Sennheiser opted to develop a pair of headphones which shines in the midrange.
With the mid and treble frequencies being the focal points of tonal clarity, classical pieces sound fuller as each instrument is clearly distinguishable. The frequency response of 12 to 38,500Hz is spot-on, and the low 50 ohm impedance means you don't need an external amp to drive these headphones properly.
In terms of comfort, Sennheiser spared no expenses. I’m a fan of velour ear cushions especially for when I have to wear some headphones for many hours. The headband has proper padding that reduces the amount of head pressure.
The open-back design serves to both improve the comfort and the tonal profile of the headphones as it makes the music sound more natural as opposed to in your head. Still, the design of the ear cups still directs the music in your ears in a way that creates an in-room effect.
These headphones feature a semi-open design that has pretty good noise isolation. It has a long cable that’s easy to replace for something of higher quality or something that simply gives you more freedom of movement.
As far as pricing goes, this is as budget-friendly as you can get while still maintaining above average sound quality for listening to classical music. The frequency response range is 15 to 25,000Hz and the clarity throughout that range is excellent for the money.
The sound may seem a bit fat at times since the bass is more rounded than tight and snappy. But what about comfort? – the K240 headphones have velour pads to ease the pressure and also an adjustable headband. Although, it is worth noting that the design seems a bit narrow and tight, so you might not want to keep them on for more than a few hours at a time.
Another big advantage is the low to medium impedance rating (55ohm) which means the headphones don't need a source of amplification in order to shine. Coupling them to a standard smartphone is going to do the trick and can easily drive high levels of volume.
Not all classical music headphones are budget-friendly. The DT 1990 Pro headphones are premium headphones with a hefty price tag, but they do pack the high definition technology required to deliver impeccable sound quality.
Starting with comfort and quality of life features, the DT 1990 Pro headphones have a detachable cable. They also feature soft memory foam ear pads. The lightweight frame also goes a long way towards easing pressure and allowing you to keep them on for longer periods of time.
The low impedance is a big advantage if you plan on listening to your favorite classical pieces on the phone, although they still work great when plugged into a more powerful source.
The sound is quite impressive and even though the midrange responsiveness is not on par with that of lower-priced headphones, the high and low delivery evens things out. Now, with the highs coming out on top a bit more, the DT 1990 Pro headphones are good for other music genres as well.
The natural tonal profile of the open-back design and distinctive frequency response of these headphones will work best if switching between genres is something you do religiously.
These studio-quality headphones are also a bit expensive but feature nearly unmatched durability and level of comfort. Aluminum alloy is used for the yoke while the stainless steel grilles add a level of protection that’s necessary if you’re always traveling with your headphones.
A well-designed steel driver frame takes care of internal resonance and maintains the consistency of sound regardless of volume. This also helps minimize the drawback of having sound escape due to the open-back design.
The headband and ear cups are adjustable and well padded. Listening to your favorite composers on the SRH1840 can go on for hours on end. However, the headphones are a bit heavier than others.
The midrange is on point. Although the frequency range responsiveness is wide, the lows nor highs don’t quite match the excellent midrange. The clarity and serenity of the audio is perhaps the only thing that saves the SRH1840 from being a questionable choice for its price tag.
Another comfortable pair of headphones is the Grado Prestige Series SR80e. The combination of large ear cushions and large ear pads make them a solid choice when listening to classical concerts in your spare time. What’s very interesting is that these open-back headphones also feature an on-ear design.
The SR80e Prestige gets most of its value from the incredible audio detail offered in the midrange and treble. This allows the headphones to deliver clearer recordings of classical instruments, as well as distinguish notes and passages with ease.
A minor drawback is partly due to the open-back design. There’s enough sound escaping and a lot coming in from the outside to make things a bit too lively for classical music. That being said, for studio or home use, the SR80e Prestige shines.
In terms of pricing, these headphones won’t break your bank. But, there are less expensive alternatives that manage to provide a higher degree of comfort. That’s because while the earpads are thicker they’re also not very wide and don’t absorb a lot of pressure.
What’s also impressive is that switching between genres is not an issue for the SR80e Prestige headphones. The sound isn’t fat but clear. This not only helps to smooth the transition between arrangements but also between genres.
Like most other Audio-Technica headphones, the ATH-AD700X headphones are all about the listening experience. It starts with the comfort provided by the wing support. The lightweight build further helps enhance the level of comfort while the open-air design creates little to no sound pressure. If you’re looking for a pair of headphones to keep on for hours, these may be the solution.
It also helps that these headphones are as budget-friendly as they come. The large drivers deliver great clarity and the dynamic response is surprisingly good, to say the least. But there are some minor drawbacks, as these are not premium headphones.
The low 38ohm impedance makes them great for using without dedicated amplification. If you want to listen to classical music the way it was supposed to be listened to, a smartphone or other regular listening gadgets may be more than enough. These headphones also deliver when plugged into a PC.
The ear cup design and the larger spacing of the drivers creates a spacious soundstage and a natural tone, while the wide frequency response ensures a smooth transition between arrangements.
Why an Open-Back Design is Essential
Although a closed-back design won’t ruin your listening experience, when it comes to classical music, open-back headphones are impossible to beat. Closed cups reduce so much of the noise and allow some reverberations to build up that you feel like the music is playing in your head. That leads to an artificial tone.
Open-back cups allow air and noise to blend with the audio coming from the headphone transducers. This helps recreate the concert hall effect that’s a trademark of classical music. So, while closed-back headphones may be good when on the go, if your main concern is audio quality, the choice is clear.
What to Look for In Frequency Response and Sound Stage
As previously stated, the orchestral effect is enhanced in part by the open-back design. However, there are clear differences between the various headphones on the market in how they sound and how well they can reproduce a spacious environment.
When looking at the frequency range, 20 to 20,000Hz is generally more than enough as it’s widely regarded as the human hearing range, assuming the headphones’ real world performance isn’t far off the anechoic chamber measurement. Classical music sounds good when the headphones are able to deliver a realistic soundstage with distinct placements of the various instruments.
If you think classical music doesn’t contain any bass, you’d be wrong. The piano can dip below 30Hz and the double bass close to 30Hz. The cello often occupies the midbass region of 80 to 200Hz. That’s even more so if you listen to large orchestras with lots of percussions.
The complexity of classical music doesn’t rely as much on neutral sound as much as other genres. Therefore, it’s less important to have a well-balanced pair of headphones as far as the tonal profile is concerned.
Always Look for a Comfortable Pair
A classical piece far exceeds your average three-minute tracks. If you want to listen to a selection of classical music or a concert, you should be prepared to wear your headphones for an extended period of time.
This means that comfortable headphones are a must. Look for a proper fit without too much pressure to your ears. Velour ear pads might also be your best bet if you want to enjoy yourself while listening.
Getting Your Personalized Orchestra on Demand
What makes a pair of headphones the absolute best headphones for classical music? – Unlike other genres that are less restrictive, classical music makes you become picky.
As you can see, there are plenty of studio and home headphones that are great for classical music, even if they aren’t specifically designed for it. From there, it’s just a matter of balancing out audio quality with comfort and a price tag that won’t empty your wallet.