Best Headphones Under $500

Since streaming services are offering hi-res audio with details hiding in the music you never even knew were there, now is a great time to upgrade to a headphone with better sound quality that will also work better for your ergonomic scenario. However, there are some essentials a great headphone at this price point must include. We will cover all of them right here.

 

While there are a lot of headphones under $500, not all of them are made equally, and while many offer cool features, more and more people are coming to us wanting to know if there are better options for the money. Our number one piece of advice for headphones at this price point is — narrow down the search to brands that specialize in audiophile-grade headphones. 

Many luxury headphones will cost upwards of thousands of dollars or more, and when you buy a headphone made by one of these high-end brands, some of the same technology, materials, craftsmanship, and comfort from their more expensive flagship models trickle down for less — giving you the best sound & build quality for the money. 

Brands like Focal, Audeze, Bowers & Wilkins, Meze Audio, Grado, Sony & Klipsch make world-class headphones for more critical listening, and they also make fantastic headphones under $500 — so, these are the ones we are focusing on.

Comfort

If you are shopping for headphones that let you casually listen to music all day, then you will want them to fit comfortably and have wireless features so you can roam freely. A great headphone will have lightweight materials and a soft headband that distributes the weight on top of your head, evenly, so you can listen longer. 

Most of the headphones on this list weigh slightly less than a pound. Clamping force is also something to look out for, so that the ear cups fit snug around your head, creating that tight sealing condition that locks in the music, while also blocking out unwanted noise from entering into the earcups. 

Our Headphones & Headsets Buyers’ Guide breaks it all down.

Design & Build Quality

The next thing to keep in mind when shopping for headphones is deciding where you will use them the most. 

A headphone with an open-back design will have the widest soundstage that will sound a lot more three-dimensional, like sitting in front of a pair of really good loudspeakers. This is a great choice if you want to really pick apart the details hiding in the music. 

On the other hand, a closed-back headphone will provide the best isolation that locks in the sound, preventing the sound from leaking out and letting everyone around you know what you are listening to. 

This is why the bass response of a closed-back will work best for portable all-day use and usually works better for bass-heavy music since closed-backs focus the sound of the bass more into the center of the overall sense of presentation. The result is a narrower soundstage that makes the music sound like it is “in your head” compared to an open-back’s wide-open soundstage. 

Our Open vs Closed-Back Headphone Guide covers everything and more.

Features & Technology

Finally, the most important thing to consider when shopping for better headphones in this price range is assess your listening style, and only shop for the features you really need. 

For example, when you are enjoying music, what are you generally listening to? If you like classical, Jazz, Motown, Soul, or any genre with a lot of acoustic instruments hiding in the mix, then you might prefer listening more critically — while others prefer to just kick back, relax, and get lost in all the sounds. 

If you think you might be a critical listener, then at this price-point, choosing a neutral headphone with a flatter frequency response that does not accentuate the bass, the mids, or the high frequencies will have a more “natural” sound profile — allowing your music to sound much closer to the way the artist intended. 

On the other hand, if you listen to a lot of fun, bass-heavy genres like EDM, Hip-hop, R&B, DubStep, or even modern Rock with a lot of low-end and mid-frequency content — such as vocals and guitars — then a headphone that bumps up the bass and rolls off the top-end will have a “warmer,” more musical sound — this will be a really fun option to wear for all-day use. 

High-quality active noise-canceling & great sound are features we are seeing on some of the more high-end portable headphones with transparency mode, which makes them very well suited for casual all-day listening. This technology eliminates unwanted background noise so you can stay fully immersed in your music without distractions. The important thing to keep in mind is to shop for one that enhances the way you listen to music. 

While there are a lot of headphones under $500, not all of them are made equally, and while many offer cool features, more and more people are coming to us wanting to know if there are better options for the money. Our number one piece of advice for headphones at this price point is — narrow down the search to brands that specialize in audiophile-grade headphones. 

Did you ever wonder How Noise Cancelling Headphones Work? Our guide breaks it down.

Performance

Of course, this Audio Advice list of best headphones under $500 would simply not be complete if we didn’t select only the best sounding headphones for the money. To conduct our comparison, we tested over 25 different models to come up with the best two in each category. 

All the headphones we tested had low impedances, so they will all work with just your smartphone and nothing else. They present accurate, immersive sound — but for each category, we chose one for casual listening on the go and one for more critical listening in private settings. 

While you could shop for something closer to a reference-level audiophile headphone, you will spend well over $500, and many of them will require a headphone amp to drive them. 

For less than $500, if you choose one of these, you will have the best sound quality for your preferred style and not have to buy anything extra to experience better sound quality. We will start with the best low-impedance wireless headphones, first, and then quickly cover the others. 

Best Bluetooth Headphones

If you are simply looking for the best-sounding bare-bones wireless headphone for less than $500, without any of the noise-canceling features, then these are the ones you should be checking out.

  1. Focal Listen Wireless Over-Ear Headphones Focal Listen Wireless Over-Ear Headphones
    Rating:
    100% of 100
    $499.00

Critical listeners who want to hear more resolute details will appreciate the Focal Listen Wireless the most. Focal’s top-of-the-line headphones sell well over the $3,000-range, and while this cannot compare to those, you do get some of the same high-performance tech of those much more expensive high-impedance models. 

The Listen has a high-performance 40mm mylar and titanium dynamic driver, which is not the same material as Focal’s most expensive models, but the driver is based on similar tech. You get a pretty wide range of frequencies with bass that goes down to 15 Hz and a top-end extension that goes up to 22 Khz. 

The closed-back earcups on this pair of headphones do a fantastic job keeping the bass tight and punchy, and if you simply like having the convenience of aptX over Bluetooth, then these really do offer fantastic CD-like sound quality for more critical listening on the go. The Listen has a slight emphasis on the low-end, so bass-heavy music sounds punchy and clear, but overall, the sound profile is neutral for this price point. 

Details stood out clearly on the Listen, but on some music that was not recorded well, issues in the mix became slightly fatiguing after listening for more than two hours. If you are more of a casual all-day listener, strongly consider Grado’s GW-100 wireless headphones.  

 

Grado has been hand-building headphones in America for over 30 years, and this is their first wireless headphone. For less than $500, the Grado’s have Bluetooth which makes them highly portable, but they will be most useful for people working at home because of their open-back design. 

Open-back headphones are rare in the wireless category, but this really is the perfect way to enjoy music casually, and still be alert to your surroundings while you are working. If you work from home and want better-sounding music to motivate you throughout the day, you could Bluetooth these to your computer, and stay alert to anything or anyone who needs your attention. 

The Bluetooth connection on the Grado GW-100 connected immediately and the sound is what we would expect from a Grado. The sound was less resolute than the Focal’s, and they have slightly less bass and top-end extension compared to the Focal Listen, but the Grado GW-100’s open-back ear cups made the music come alive and sound more three-dimensional. 

Plus, you get a whopping 40 hours of wireless battery life compared to just 20 hours with the Focal Listen! The Grados are also just so lightweight. For something that lets you kick back, and get lost in the music, we really liked having the benefits of a wider sense of presentation using the Grados!

Best Noise Cancelling Headphones

Not only do these sound fantastic for either listening style, but the noise cancellation also sets a benchmark. 

  1. Sony WH-1000XM5 Wireless Over-Ear Headphones - Black - Angle View Sony WH-1000XM5 Wireless Over-Ear Headphones
    Regular Price $398.00 $348.00

If you want your headphone to have noise-canceling tech for travel or for working in public places, then the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 or the Sony WH-1000XM5 are the best ones under $500.

Sony’s noise-canceling tech is the industry standard, so if you are looking for the best noise-canceling over-the-ear headphone, you should go for the Sony WH-1000XM5. Sony’s active noise canceling will block out low-end frequency noises like the rumble of engines as well as mid-range sounds like chattering voices. 

The Sony XM5s have fantastic deep bass that will make bass heads smile, but the revised driver design delivers a more refined and well-rounded soundstage overall. There's also an EQ in the app that lets you adjust the sound to taste, so we liked how this allowed us to pick out more details in the music when we wanted — or dial it back for a warmer sound on a long road trip or a long flight.

The sound is better balanced compared to the previous Sony WH-1000XM4, but if you are someone who likes to get lost in the music, and listen to a lot of EDM, Hip-hop, Pop, or any music with deep & heavy bass, such as Dubstep, then this is still the noise-canceling headphone you should stash in your bag. The hardshell travel case even compresses so it fits snugly in your bag. It is highly portable, travels well, and the XM5's sound profile will let you listen casually all day long.

 

Watch the Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones for more on how both perform.

On the other hand, B&W’s noise cancellation is the most useful for casual commuting or being at the office, and this is the one you should consider if you are looking for a slightly more musical sound with good bass. 

Bowers & Wilkins is an iconic high-end speaker manufacturer from England that makes the 800 Series Diamond speakers used in Abbey Road Studios, and they utilized the same engineers for the B&W PX7 S2.

If you leave all of the settings neutral across the headphones, we think the B&Ws are just a touch closer to matching the original source material and depth of bass, and we think this is what sets these two apart. 

The noise-cancellation tech performed very well in an office environment where we needed to block out a lot of mid-range chattering voices in the environment. The earcups also did a fantastic job isolating the sound and locking in the music, so our co-workers didn't have to know what music we were playing.

If you listen to a lot of Classical, Jazz, Rock, or any genre with a lot of natural organic instruments, then leave this one on your work desk, and be in the moment with your work and your music. The S2 is one is the best noise-canceling headphone for more critical listening.

 

  1. Close-up angle of the Px7 S2 Premium Wireless Over-Ear Headphones in Black. Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 Wireless Over-Ear Headphones
    Rating:
    100% of 100
    $399.00

Best Closed-Back Headphones

If you don’t care about noise-canceling, and just want the best sounding closed-back headphone for portable music on the go, then these are the best under $500.  

  1. Sony MDR-XB950B1 Sony MDR-1AM2 Wired High Resolution Audio Over-Ear Headphones
    Rating:
    93% of 100
    Special Price $248.00 Regular Price $298.00

 

If you are a critical listener, go for the Sony MDR-1AM2, and don’t look back.

This one has Sony’s large 40mm Liquid Crystal Polymer drivers that cover the full spectrum of music with deep, resolute bass down to 3 Hz all the way up to 100 kHz, which is just fantastic at this price point. 

Overall, we could hear more subtle details hiding in the music more clearly compared to the Meze 99 Classics. Details like a bassist’s playing style or even the subtle dynamics of guitar strings chiming as guitarists plucked their strings were slightly more resolute, and easier to pick out. 

The Meze 99 Classics were very comfortable and they isolated sound inside the ear cup with a tight-sealing condition, but after about 2 hours of listening non-stop, our ears needed a break.

The Sony MDR-1AM2 is very well suited for shorter critical listening sessions. 

Having said that, if you’re on the hunt for a closed-back headphone that is slightly more well-rounded and natural, then the Meze Audio 99 Classics should be at the top of your list for the money. 

The 99 Classics have a similarly large 40mm driver that covers a wide range of frequencies from 15Hz to 25KHz, which is less range than the Sony’s. However, the frequency response is a bit flatter which makes these a lot more neutral to all types of music.

We could listen to anything from classical or Jazz to Hip-hop or EDM and enjoy music with good, warm, punchy bass all day long. 

Not only that, the comfort of the 99 Classics is the most comfortable out of any headphone on this list, so casual listening all day is absolutely obtainable with this headphone. 

The only downside to be aware of is that these did not isolate sound as well as the Sony’s, so co-workers knew what music we were playing, and this could be something to consider when planning to use them in public places or even in public transportation.         

  1. Meze Audio 99 Classics Over-Ear Headphones Meze Audio 99 Classics Over-Ear Headphones
    Rating:
    100% of 100
    $309.00

Best Open-Back Headphones

If you want to enjoy music in the privacy of an office or at home with a turntable, then open-back headphones are the way most audiophiles go.

There are many options in this category that are well-suited for critical listening, while others are just fantastic for getting lost in all the details & dynamics. If you are a casual listener who just wants to kick back and get immersed in your music, then the Grado RS2x is a fantastic choice at this price point. 

The RS2x presents a spacious soundstage across a pretty wide range of frequencies with good, punchy bass from 14Hz to 28kHz. This one is the updated version of Grado’s previous RS2e, and this new model combines maple wood and hemp for the enclosure, housing a new fourth-gen 44mm “X” driver, which Grado says they specifically tuned for the new wooden enclosures. 

Grado selects different woods for their unique tonal qualities similar to the way a guitar or a speaker manufacturer chooses wood for building instruments and speaker cabinets. The result is a fantastic mid-range that is very easy to get lost in. Vocals and guitars stood out and sounded fantastic with these. 

The RS2x also has good, punchy bass and a rhythm and pacing that made us want to get up and start tapping our feet. Taylor Swift’s Red album was so much fun to listen to with these! We wore these all day long for hours. 

Check out our Open vs Closed-Back Headphone Guide. It covers everything and more.

However, if you are a critical listener who just wants a more neutral, well-balanced headphone with accurate deep bass, mid-range, and impressive top-end extension, then look no further than the Audeze Mobius.

Audeze uses a special high-performance speaker called a “planar magnetic driver.” Essentially, Mobius uses an ultra-thin diaphragm positioned between magnets, allowing the diaphragm to achieve true pistonic back and forth motion at extremely high velocity. With this, you get to experience the full spectrum of music with a wider range of frequencies with deep bass down to 10Hz and more high-frequency content up to 50KHz! 

Overall, we could hear a very resolute separation of details with a spacious soundstage that let us hear the music more like the artist intended it — but the overall sense of presentation was not as wide-open or spacious as the Grado RS2x — and this is why the Mobius will be really useful for listening more critically. Even though Mobius is a gaming headset, it was designed and handbuilt in California by Audeze for gamers & audiophiles. If you want hyper-realistic sound effects with great sound that will put you right at the center of the action, then Mobius is a fantastic choice under $500. 

The comfort on these was made to be listened to for hours on end, and we put in several hours daily with these to test out that claim. For less than $500, the Audeze Mobius offers something special most people have never experienced at this price point.

  1. Audeze Mobius Headphone & Gaming Headset w/ 3D Sound Audeze Mobius Headphone & Gaming Headset w/ 3D Sound
    $399.00

Overall Recommendation

That concludes our comparison on the best headphones under $500! Choose any of the headphones on this list, and you will experience the best immersion for your style of listening, available, for less than $500. The important thing to always keep in mind is shop for the one that enhances the way you listen to music. 

So, are you a critical listener, picking apart all the details, or do you prefer just kicking back, and getting lost in the music? It’s all about having fun, so come have a chat with one of our headphone experts in chat, and tell us your style and what you’re listening to!

If you have any questions about these headphones or how your listening style can be enhanced to take full advantage of all the high-resolution detail coming to music streaming platforms, just give us a call, chat with us on AudioAdvice.com, or stop into one of our award-winning showrooms. We'll be happy to help you out!

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