While it feels like wireless headphones have become a general trend, there are plenty of advantages to wired designs too. A wired connection eliminates audio lag, which is beneficial for studio use, and your analog cable can be instantly connected to a device with an AUX input, such as an amplifier or DAC. Wired headphones work passively, so you don’t have to worry about running out of batteries. As the audio quality gap between wired and wireless headphones narrows, you may still prefer to go with a wired design to ensure you hear all the detail the audio has to offer.
We’ve tested over 705 headphones, and here’s our recommendation for the best wired option. If you’re looking for our picks for more specific types of wired headphones, check out our picks for the best audiophile headphones, best studio headphones, and best DJ headphones.
1. Goethe SR325x
For the past 30 years, Grado’s Prestige line has produced some of the New York company’s finest headphones. The range has evolved over time, but the latest ‘x’ generation models offer the same balance of quality and value.
The top SR325x headphones look a lot like their predecessors, What Hi-Fi? The award-winning SR325e, but with flatter foam earpads, updated cables, and lighter stitching on the hard padded headband.
The difference is to the ears: the SR325x sounds noticeably clearer and clearer than its predecessor, delivering superb detail and clarity that sounds more precise and insightful than ever before.
If you’re looking for the best wired headphones, the SR325x, which recently won the What Hi-Fi 2022 Best Wired In-Ear Headphones £200-400 award? Awards should be at the top of your list. They are unbeatable value.
2. Austrian Audio Hi-X15
Austrian Audio is a Vienna-based company formerly of AKG employees. The first line of wired headphones, the Hi-X, offers a lot of great options, but we’ll start with the award-winning Hi-X15.
They’re affordable, but they don’t feel cheap. The design, with its proper metal hinges and soft, slow-retention memory foam earpads, will put many similarly plastic competitors to shame.
What’s more, the sound quality is very good value for money. The Hi-X15 delivers a consistently high level of detail while still keeping the soul of the song intact. It’s not easy at this end of the market.
We wouldn’t insist that you pair them with a proper DAC/headphone amp, but if you do, you’ll get one of the best value for money wired headphones. A real bargain.
3. Beyerdynamic DT770 PRO
The Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO are the best mid-range wired headphones we’ve tested. Unlike previous options, they have a closed-back design, so they’re worth checking out if you want a pair of headphones that block out background noise without leaking too much audio. However, they also produce a passive soundstage that seems less spacious and more immersive than open-back speakers like the HiFiMan Edition XS. They reproduce the thump and rumble of heavy bass better than previous open picks. They also have a balanced, accurate mid-range response, and instruments and vocals sound realistic and detailed.
However, they have a slightly brighter sound profile, giving elements like cymbals or S and T sounds a punch. Their audio delivery is a bit inconsistent, so people who wear glasses or have thick hair may notice a drop in bass. If you’re looking for a lower-resolution sound, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x have deeper high frequencies so the sibilance isn’t harsh. It’s a warmer sound, and they create an unnatural soundstage.
4. Philips SHP9500
The Philips SHP9500 are the best over-ear wired headphones we’ve tested at the budget level. It’s common to find plastic-like headphones at this price point, and these affordable over-ear headphones are no exception. While the swivel earcups are prone to cracking over time, they’re still very comfortable, allowing you to listen for extended periods of time without fatigue. They also feature an open design, which allows them to create a wide, spacious passive soundstage, making your audio even more immersive.
Like most open-back headphones, they have a very neutral sound profile and a very accurate mid-range response, ensuring accurate reproduction of vocals and lead instruments. Their high frequency response is flat but somewhat overemphasized, bringing out detail and adding brightness to the mix. Still, they’re much lighter than the Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO in terms of thump and rumble, which can be a bit disappointing if you’re looking for more bass in your audio. On the other hand, they provide consistent sound and come with a 1/8″ to 1/4″ adapter, which means you can plug them directly into a mixing console or amplifier.
5. Ride the NTH-100
Røde is a well-known name in professional recording equipment, but the NTH-100 is the brand’s first headphone. Can they conquer the audio world in no time?
First impressions aren’t very positive – the NTH-100 looks rather unassuming and relatively heavy (350g). But things improve when we wear them. The soft headband is very comfortable and locks into place once you find the right fit. genius.
In terms of sound quality, two full-range 40mm drivers provide great rhythm and rich detail. However, the mids are the real star, capturing even the smallest changes in pitch or timbre.
shortcoming? The “CoolTech” gel in the memory foam earcups only keeps them cool to a certain extent, while Austrian Audio’s Hi-X15 (above) deliver clearer sound. But all in all, the attention-to-detail NTH-100 is an excellent debut.