Classical music is a fantastic genre of music, with a beauty and elegance that cannot be matched by contemporary music. Dating back to the 1750s, classical music has maintained its rhythm, tone and pitches. In truth, even though we typically consider “classical music” to be music from the 1700s and 1800s, the term is used for any music with a particular sound, which includes music from pre-1700 as well.
Characterized by string instruments, orchestras, instrumentals, dramatic rises and falls, and quick mood changes, classical music is an auditory experience that requires clarity and crispness. When Beethoven and Chopin composed their finest pieces, they did not intend for it to be recreated and played through headphones hundreds of years later. Yet here we are.
It takes time and patience to learn, understand and perform classical music. Classical music is beautiful and smooth on your ears, compared to modern music styles like metal, rap, rock and pop, which are often repetitive and lack variation. It’s even better when you have a good set of headphones.
To enjoy classical music the way it was intended, you need headphones or speakers that are high-quality, crisp, clear, and capable of producing high high notes and low low notes. To listen to modern country or rap music, all you need is a speaker that gets loud when you spin the volume knob. To enjoy Mozart, you need better equipment.
With good headphones, you can vividly recreate the sound and feel of a song that was meant to be experienced in an amphitheater with perfect acoustics. Looking for such headphones can be daunting, but we have you covered! This article details the best headphones for classical music, and the features and factors to consider when buying.
Let’s dive in!
4 Best Headphones for Classical Music
These headphones may be the best overall choice! The design is padded and comfortable, and will allow you to enjoy long hours of listening to classical music. These are open-back studio headphones, which make them great for classical music. (We will discuss open-back versus closed-back later).
K702 headphones lack booming base, which really doesn’t affect us as much for classical music listening as it might for other genres. The mid-range is incredible, nearly as good as any headphone we have tested. These headphones also excel with treble, and provide great clarity with high notes.
Overall, it is the clarity and soundstage that set these headphones apart. Because these are the qualities where K702 scores highest, we believe it is the (nearly) perfect headphone for classical music listening.
As mentioned above, the headphones are very comfortable, even with prolonged use. They also feel light, and I wasn’t sure whether this was caused by the actual weight of the device, or just the soft and comfortable padding.
K702 are very large headphones, so you won’t score any style points while wearing them. But I really don’t think you will get a great classical music auditory experience on the subway or at the grocery store, either. So the styling shouldn’t knock them off the list of best headphones for classical music listening.
The open-back design allows for some air ventilation, which makes the headphones more comfortable in warm weather. The ear pads are soft and padded, which makes them more enjoyable in any temperature.
The best description of these headphones is to point out a common piece of user feedback — listening to these AKG K702 headphones, you hear things in the audio that you never noticed before. If you play your favorite songs on these headphones, you will pick up on notes and background noise you have never heard. If you play a downloaded song, you will notice the static that comes from a low-quality download.
For classical music, you will notice the notes and tones that would never be heard with a cheap speaker or a pair of cheap headphones.
• Comfortable fit, headband, and ear pads
• Neutral tonality enhanced by open-back design, providing exceptional sound quality in mid-ranges
• Responsive two-layered diaphragm
• Less noise isolation due to open-back design
• Style is unspectacular
With an unusual design, Sennheiser HD 600 looks like it was made with sound quality in mind. Sennheiser is a brand that is a favorite of “audiophiles,” meaning that the people that love music also love Sennheiser.
The HD 600 isn’t a budget option, but it is still a great value for a quality pair of Sennheiser headphones.
Sennheiser has complicated design features like “neodymium ferrous magnets” and “Kevlar reinforced oxygen free copper cables” that are challenging for a layperson to understand, but these features improve listening experience in a way that is easy to appreciate. The sound quality is excellent, and there is no frustrating “cable scratch” noise that cheap headphones have when the cable is handled.
The main thing we love about these headphones is the incredible clarity and detail. This is the reason we recommend Sennheiser for listening to classical music — it plays back the music with all the detail that the composer intended. All of the other bells and whistle are just secondary.
• Clear, detailed, authentic sound quality throughout spectrum
• Computerized magnet system
• Detachable cable & extra adapter plug (6.3 mm)
• Good build quality, from a leader in quality headphones
• Doesn’t boost bass the way that less authentic sounding headphones do
These headphones are made in Germany, and it is reflected in the high-quality, durable design. The materials are premium and sturdy, and hold up well to continuous and frequent use.
The Beyerdynamic headphones have an open-back design, and are a favorite of users in the music industry. The earpads are plush, padded, and comfortable for listening to classical music at home or on the go. The package also includes a straight cable and a coiled cable, which are detachable, so you can use whichever you choose.
The headband is padded and comfortable. And the soundstage is wide with an authentic feel.
The sound quality is similar to the Sennheiser HD 600’s listed above, with very crisp sound throughout the spectrum. The one real difference that we noticed was the bass, which is stronger and more pronounced in the DT 1990 Pro than the Sennheisers.
Purists may prefer the HD 600 since its sound is more true to the original music, but the DT 1990 Pro has a more bass-heavy sound like most of us are used to.
With a semi-open-back design, some sound will leak, but you still get more noise isolation than other headphones on the list.
• Great clarity with punchy bass
• Semi-open back
• Extra detachable cables
• Great build quality
• Headband material wears quickly, and clamps a bit too tight
• Lacking in noise cancellation
If the above headphones are out of your price range, the ATH-M30x is a great budget option. While the previously-mentioned open-back headphones provide exceptional sound quality, all of them are pricey options. For a quality pair of headphones under $100, we like the ATH-M30x.
Because these are closed-back, over-ear headphones, there will be less sound leakage than the open-back headphones we have previously discussed. This makes the audio less authentic (by a slight margin), but makes the headphones better for sound isolation and on-the-go use.
The materials are soft and comfortable, and both the headband and ear pads feel great. The sound quality is a notch or two below the premium headphones we have discussed, but they still sound excellent. These headphones provide clear sound and deep bass at an affordable price.
The headphones are light, easily portable, and the sound isolation is good for portable use.
• Great budget option (lower price than other models discussed)
• Built of sturdy materials
• Comfortable on your head and ears
• Less clear audio than the premium models discussed above
Factors to Consider When Buying The Best Headphones for Classical Music
1. Open-Back vs. Closed-Back Design
There has been an ongoing debate on which is the best design for headphones. Unfortunately, there is no universal answer. Most opinions are geared by taste, which differs from person to person, as well as the type of music you are listening to and the location where you will be using them.
Physically, the difference between them is the ear cup closure, which is ventilated in open-back headphones, while it encloses the headphone drivers in the closed-back option. The closed-back option prevents air (and thus sound) from escaping, and results in a sound that feels like it’s coming from your head. The open-back allows air and sound to escape, which produces a more natural and clear sound.
Since the choice between the two lies on you as the buyer, it’s good to verse yourself with the advantages and disadvantages of the two, then compare before buying. Generally, open-back headphones will sound better but are less sound-isolating, while closed-back headphones have (slightly) lower sound quality but are more sound-isolating.
For commuting on a subway, listening on a plane, or blocking out background noises, closed-back headphones are ideal. They can still provide excellent sound quality, but will block out background noises and prevent those around you from having to hear the music you are listening to.
For listening to classical music, we strongly recommend open-back headphones. The improved sound quality and clarity is perfect for classical music. This allows you to listen to the music in its most pure form, the way the composers intended.
2. Headphone Drivers
There are three main different types of headphones: dynamic, planar magnetic driver and electrostatic drivers. Dynamic drivers rely on a fixed magnet, and are the most common for classical music headphones due to the affordability. Additionally, they don’t need specialized amplifiers to function.
3. Frequency range
For some genres of music, you merely need a lot of bass to enjoy a song. For other genres, you can experience it best if the speaker has good treble.
For classical music, you truly need the full range of frequency. Mid-range is particularly important, but high notes also need to be crisp. And classical music still has more low notes and bass than most casual listeners realize.
Needless to say, classical music demands high quality speakers with a full frequency response. The most important element is that no frequency is over-powering, and you find headphones capable of producing low lows and high highs.
Soundstage is a complex and somewhat abstract concept. Basically, it is the directional presentation of the sound, allowing for spatial recognition of each instrument in the playback of a song.
For example, you want the violin and the flutes and the trumpets to sound like they are coming from different directions. Sitting in an amphitheater listening to the original classical music, you would have heard each instrument coming from a different position in the orchestra. This three-dimensional quality of the music provides richness and authenticity.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are the cheap speakers that are built into a laptop or computer monitor. Listening to these speakers, the sound will feel very flat and two-dimensional, and it will sound like every instrument is coming from the exact same place.
There is a debate surrounding soundstage, and how much of the effect is real versus perceived. Unlike volume or base, there are no simple buttons that can be adjusted to enhance soundstage. And there is no quantitative way to measure it. Some will even say that it is impossible to experience soundstage through a headphone speaker.
Regardless of how much is real and how much is perceived, there is no doubt that classical music is best experienced through rich, clear speakers that make you feel as if you are in the theater watching a live orchestra.
You know what it means when we talk of comfort on your ears and head! This point is fairly obvious, but needs to be mentioned anyway.
Ensure the ear pads have enough padding to protect your ears. Velour coating is the best in covering the ear pads, and lasts longer.
Also, some headphones come with a self-adjustable headband to save you the trouble of realignment, which becomes uncomfortable in the long run.
All of the headphones discussed above tested well for comfort. Your experience may always be different than ours, so we would still recommend reading reviews to see how users feel about the comfort of a certain pair of headphones. If you have a particularly large or small head or ears, it is even more important to read user reviews and do research before purchasing.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What should I look for in Classical Headphones?
Be certain that the sound quality rates highly, because classical music demands quality speakers or headphones. When purchasing classical headphones, also confirm their earpad material, whether they are self-adjustable, and whether they are open or closed. Open-back design is generally preferred, as it produces more natural and pleasing acoustics.
2. Are Sony Headphones good for Classical Music?
Sony is one of the oldest brands you can find on the market. Because they have such an extensive product lineup, some Sony headphones will be good for classical music and others will not.
Budget Sony headphones or earbuds are usually good for the price, but won’t be high enough quality to provide ideal classical music listening.
3. Are Headphones the Best Way to Listen to Classical Music?
When listening to classical music, a quality pair of headphones is a great choice because they can encapsulate your ears and provide music directly. By using headphones rather than speakers, the soundstage is likely to be more limited. The best listening will be provided by in-person attendance at a concert hall, and the second choice is a premium setup of speakers.
However, for apartment dwellers or anyone with roommates or family they don’t want to disturb, headphones allow you to listen at high volumes without disturbing those around you. There is no perfect substitute for attending a concert, but the headphones listed above are a pretty good alternative.
Headphones for classical music vary in functioning and how they deliver the classical music sound to your ears. Before buying, you need to consider the factors to ensure you get the best value for your money.
If your budget allows, consider premium open-back headphones that sound great across all frequencies, like those listed above. And always remember that comfort is key!