The Audiophiliac's headphones of the year

CNET's resident audiophile picks the very best headphones of 2016!

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
1 of 11 Sarah Tew/CNET

Final Audio Design Sonorous III Headphones

2016 has been an outstanding year for great sounding headphones. In every price range there are truly superb wired headphones to choose from, but since I don't review wireless headphones you won't find any on this survey of in-, on-, and over-the-ear headphones.

The Final Audio Design Sonorous III is exactly the sort of headphone I recommend to people when they want to get a taste of what's so special about high-end audio, but can't go overboard on the budget.

2 of 11 Sony

Sony MDR Z1R Headphones

Sony hasn't made a true state of the art headphone for ages, but now with the MDR Z1R they're back, it's super comfy and sounds terrific.

3 of 11 V Moda

V-Moda Forza Metallo In-Ear Headphones

This in-ear departs from V-Moda's bassy sound signature a bit, which we consider a good thing, at least for folks searching for more neutral sounding headphones. A full Audiophiliac review is in the works.

4 of 11 Audeze

Audeze iSine 10 In-Ear Headphones

The Audeze iSine 10 doesn't look or sound like any other in-ear headphone, that's for sure! For one thing, it's an open-back design, so you can hear the world around you. It comes with Apple Lightning and standard headphone cables.

5 of 11 Focal

Focal Utopia Headphones

Just when you thought the high-end headphone market peaked, along comes another mind-bending 'phone! This new one's from Focal, France's best-selling speaker brand, and while they've been making perfectly fine headphones for years, the Focal Utopia is in a very different league. The Utopia digs deeper into the sound of music than other headphones.

6 of 11 Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Ultimate Ears Reference Remaster Custom In-Ear Headphones

"Remastered" strikes me as a funny name for a headphone, but that's exactly what the Ultimate Ears Reference Remastered is, a refinement of the original Ultimate Ears Reference Monitor I reviewed in 2010. Now that I've spent more time with the Remaster it's really grown on me; it's the best in-ear I've heard this year.

7 of 11 Etymotic

Etymotic ER4 SR Studio Reference In-Ear Headphones

Etymotic introduced in-ear headphones in the mid 1980s, decades before other headphone companies followed its lead. For a quarter century the ER4 remained the company's flagship model, with only slight changes, until now. The all-new ER4 Studio Reference builds on the original's strengths, but still sounds very much like an ER4, only better. It's one of my day-to-day reference 'phones.

8 of 11 Sarah Tew/CNET

Bose SoundTrue Ultra In-Ear Headphones

There are two versions of this headphone, a SoundTrue Ultra for Apple devices, and another for Samsung/Android devices. The SoundTrue Ultras aren't the shy and retiring type, they can party. Bass isn't overdone or boomy, the low-end is full, and definition decent. Treble is likewise clear, and voices sound natural. Stereo is unusually broad, so it never feels crowded inside my scull.

9 of 11 Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Sennheiser HE 1 Electrostatic Headphones

The headphone and its matching vacuum tube/solid-state headphone amplifier are a sight to behold. The amp's tubes are hidden within the amp when it's off, but once turned on, eight tubes ever so slowly rise up and glow a deep orange. The HE 1 may cost as much as a very nice car, but the sound is like no sound at all, so music sounds more like itself than any other headphone -- it's not even close.

10 of 11 Sennheiser

Sennheiser HD 800S Headphones

Sennheiser's original HD 800 headphone debuted in 2009 and was a huge smash with audiophiles worldwide, the new HD 800S is a sweeter, less analytical sounding headphone than the still available HD 800, I prefer the HD 800S.

11 of 11 Fender

Fender FXA5 In-Ear Headphones

Right away the FXA5 proved itself a contender, it's a lively sounding headphone, dynamics are strong, bass is really deep and tuneful, and the treble is clear. All of that was evident with lossless files streamed from Tidal on my iPhone 6S. I listened at home and on the noisy NYC subway, and the FXA5 consistently impressed.

More Galleries

17 Hidden iOS 17 Features and Settings on Your iPhone
Invitation for the Apple September iPhone 15 event

17 Hidden iOS 17 Features and Settings on Your iPhone

18 Photos
I Took 600+ Photos With the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max. Look at My Favorites

I Took 600+ Photos With the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max. Look at My Favorites

34 Photos
Go Inside the Apple iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro: See How the New iPhones Look and Work
iphone 15 in different color from an angled view

Go Inside the Apple iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro: See How the New iPhones Look and Work

21 Photos
2023 BMW Z4 Is 100% More Purple
2023 BMW Z4

2023 BMW Z4 Is 100% More Purple

17 Photos
AI or Not AI: Can You Spot the Real Photos?

AI or Not AI: Can You Spot the Real Photos?

17 Photos
Yamaha motorcycle and instrument designers trade jobs (pictures)

Yamaha motorcycle and instrument designers trade jobs (pictures)

16 Photos
CNET's 'Day of the Dead Devices' altar (pictures)

CNET's 'Day of the Dead Devices' altar (pictures)

9 Photos