The common wisdom goes that, regardless of musical proclivities, you should buy the best headphones you possibly can.
While we'd recommend models like the Sony WH-1000XM4 if you're looking for a pair of excellent all-rounders, not all headphones are created equal. In fact, some are better suited to handling the extremities of different music genres than others.
Those headphones with bass that makes your bones wobble, for example, may not bring out the best in pastoral folk music. And if you only listen to classical music, you might want to avoid headphones designed for punchy hip-hop beats.
With that in mind, we’ve created a list of the best headphones, broken down by genre, so you can be sure that you (or the music lover in your life) is getting the most out of your favorite records.
We haven’t distinguished between wireless and open-back / closed-back models here, instead focusing on identifying the real star players for each genre, so keep that in mind when doing your research.
The best headphones for pop fans
Pop music is, of course, a broad church, and you’ll generally want to choose a solid all-rounder that will be able to handle a wide variety of sounds, and will ensure that vocals are kept crystal clear even when paired with a bassy thump.
The GT220 may not be the most customizable pair of wireless earbuds on the market – there’s no companion app, for example, and no settings that will allow you to tweak the EQ – but they more than make up for it with their sheer dynamic range, ensuring that everything from heavy beats to stratospheric choruses will be dealt with expertly. One of the main plus points for the GT220 is that vocal and instrumental details are rendered with immense clarity and spaciousness, meaning that you won’t miss a single note, even in busy pop productions.
Read more: Grado GT220 review
While they aren’t necessarily the sexiest-looking headphones around, the DT1990 are super-serious cans that have an audio profile particularly well-suited to pop music. As we mentioned in our review, they have a sonic ‘playfulness’ particularly well-suited to pop music, featuring ‘sparkling highs’ sure to make huge choruses pop, while still retaining an impressive level of resolution. For the more discerning pop fanatic in your life.
Read more: Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro
The best headphones for classic rock fans
Rock fans will want headphones that maintain a good balance between being able to handle killer bass and being able to handle treble.
Marshall are already well-known for their guitar amps, and the sleek design and iconic logo emblazoned on these headphones definitely give them the cool factor. Perhaps predictably, the Marshall Monitor II is particularly well-suited to guitar music - their strong, full-bodied mids and warm tone makes raw, grungy rock music sound great, while a surprisingly broad soundscape ensures that distinct sounds don’t get too muddled up.
Read more: Marshall Monitor II ANC review
Grado are known as *the* headphone manufacturers for rock music. With their powerful bass, they can take some getting used to, but their singularity has gained them a cult following. There’s no better use for Grados than blasting out some classic rock, though – and while the GW100 do have a super powerful bass response, they're also good all-rounders, with excellent mid-ranges and the capacity to provide an impressive level of sonic detail.
Read more: Grado GW100 review
The best headphones for folk fans
At the other end of the musical spectrum, folk and acoustic music requires a little less oomph than rock and pop. You’ll want to go for headphones that are balanced and neutral, offering a level listening experience and as much sonic detail as possible.
The USP for the DT880s is that they offer a ‘loudspeaker-like’ performance, with no particular factors boosted. This is ideal for acoustic fans -– these headphones sound clean, open and completely faithful to the recordings, allowing simple guitar-picking and sparse arrangements to shine.
Read more: Beyerdynamic DT880 review
The Shure AONIC 50 sport a wireless, active noise-cancelling over-ear design, selling at a premium price to compete with the likes of the Sony WH-1000XM3 and Bose NC 700 Headphones.
Their playback offers a smooth, open quality which makes them a natural for listening to films and voice recordings, as well as faithfully rendering the intricacies of acoustic music.
Read more: Shure AONIC 50 review
The best headphones for hip-hop / R&B fans
Vocal detail is particularly important here – you’ll want to catch every word of your favorite rapper’s flow, while a little oomph on the bass is always appreciated for those heavy hip-hop beats.
It’s almost a cliché, but there’s no denying that Beats by Dre are one of the coolest-looking headphones out there. With the Solo Pro, Beats have toned down the extreme bassiness which has garnered criticism from some corners, but this model still packs a powerful punch.
An improvement from earlier Beats models, the Solo Pro is more refined, and has greater spatial clarity, which is great for the new generation of rappers who are more likely to experiment with electronic flourishes and minimalist sound palettes.
Read more: Beats Solo Pro review
They’re pricey, but the LCD-1 offer a level of sonic detail that will ensure you don’t miss a single word, while their bass is deep and will lend hip-hop beats a satisfying thump. Word of warning, though – the LCD-1 leak sound like ‘a sonic colander’, and that little old lady sitting next to you on the train may be less than thrilled to hear Wu-Tang blasting across the carriage. But while the work from home era continues, you can sit back and vibe.
Read more: Audeze LCD-1 review
The best headphones for classical fans
Like folk, classical music really needs space to breathe. Headphones that can offer a flat profile and a super-wide soundstage will allow you to sit back and imagine you’re in a grand concert hall rather than, you know, trapped in your living room like the rest of us.
Sennheisers obviously have a fantastic reputation amongst audiophiles, and these are a particularly well-balanced pair for classical music fans on a budget. The HD 560 S has the perfect sound profile for classical music – they combine a flat sound profile with crystal clear audio, and have an impressively wide soundstage.
Read more: Sennheiser HD 560S review
Listening to classical music is supposed to be luxurious, right? For the very discerning classical fan in your life, these are quite simply one of the best pairs of headphones we’ve ever used. The Focal Stellia offer decadence and detail, and are able to render individual notes crisply, while the surprisingly powerful bass means those dramatic crescendos will have a little extra body.
Read more: Focal Stellia review
- Looking for more? Check out our list of the best headphones you can buy today