Top 5 Best Closed-Back Headphones Under $500 Of 2021


The sealed earcups of closed-back headphones offer several advantages including passive noise cancellation; less sound bleed; improved comfort, and an accentuated bass response. This form factor can host various transducer types and makes up a great number of headphone models.

A cap of $500 features many superb closed-back headphones. To pick the top 5 is a tough task and this article aims to do just that.

The top 5 best closed-back headphones under $500 are:

All these headphones are comfortable and sound amazing. $500 USD is a lot of money but each of these headphones would be well worth the investment.

Since we’re having a discussion within the context of a price cap, I figure I should leave a link to a related My New Microphone article: Are Expensive Headphones (Or Cheap Headphones) Worth It?


What Makes A Great Closed-Back Headphone?

Though the term “best” is subjective, we should still list out the criteria used for determining what makes a great pair of closed-back headphones.

  • Comfort: this is perhaps the simplest yet most important criterion of any headphone. Though highly subjective, specifications such as weight; contact pressure; earpad shape/material; stiffness, and the overall dimension play a role in comfort. We should also consider the amount of heat that could get trapped around the ears during longer listening sessions.
  • Impedance/device compatibility: compatibility with different audio devices is important. Choose a pair of high-end circumaural headphones that will be easily incorporated into your set up whether that’s a mobile device or a professional studio. Impedance and sensitivity ratings come into play when determining compatibility.
  • Frequency response: a great pair of headphones should be able to reproduce the full audible spectrum from 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz with clarity.

Wireless (especially Bluetooth) capabilities are also seen as a benefit since they further improve the functionality and general comfort of the headphones.

Noise cancelling, both passive and active, is also an important thing to consider when choosing a closed-back headphone. The passive noise cancelling ties into the fit of the headphones. look into the active noise cancelling reduction; the battery life, and how it affects the sound when engaged (if applicable).

To learn more about closed-back headphones, be sure to check out my article: The Complete Guide To Open-Back & Closed-Back Headphones.

With that, let’s get into our top 5 best closed-back headphones under $500!


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Meze 99 Classics

Let’s kick things off by talking about the Meze 99 Classics (link to check the price on Amazon).

Meze 99 Classics

The Meze 99 Classics is a stylish headphone with closed-back earcups made with a satin-finished wood grain. Each unit is carefully manufactured in Romania to ensure the utmost quality. The long manufacturing process included 8 hours to shape a single pair of earcups and 45 days for the entire process of sanding, lacquering, finishing, and final inspection/assembly.

The frequency response of the 99 Classics extends beyond the range of human hearing and the headphones are fully capable of producing strong low-end, clean mids and extended high-end. Sonically, these headphones are transparent and are simply a joy to listen to.

With a nominal impedance of 32 ohms, the 99 Classics can be successfully driven by low-power mobile and consumer-grade headphone jack DACs and amplifiers. That being said, the headphones could certainly be used with a dedicated amplifier in order to reach their full sonic potential.

To learn how headphone amplifier work, check out my article What Is A Headphone Amplifier & Are Headphone Amps Worth It?

Wired connectivity is made possible with two detachable cables. The 1.2m thread Kevlar OFC cable featured a Mic and remote and the 3m thread Kevlar OFC cable is made simple. The headphones come with a 3.5mm to 6.35mm gold-plated adapter.

Amazing comfort is achieved with the inclusion of memory foam and soft PU leather. The headband delivers even pressure for any head size and the medium-density earpad memory foam provides a soft and secure fit around the ears.

The metal hardware is cast zinc and manganese spring steel, making the headphones as durable as they are comfortable.

Key Specifications:

  • Transducer Type: 40mm Dynamic
  • Impedance: 32 Ω
  • Frequency Response: 15 Hz – 25,000 Hz
  • Sensitivity: 103 dB @ 1 kHz, 1 mW
  • IP Rating: no info
  • Open/Closed-Back: Circumaural/Closed-back
  • Weight: 260 g (9.2 oz.)
  • Wireless/Wired: Wired

To learn more about headphone specifications, be sure to read my article Full List: Headphone/Earphone Specifications w/ Examples.

The Meze 99 Neo (link to check the price on Amazon) is another top closed-back headphones for under $500 USD.


Bowers & Wilkins PX7

Bowers & Wilkins makes some great headphones. The Bowers & Wilkins PX7 (link to check the price on Amazon) gets the second spot on this list.

Bowers & Wilkins PX7

The Bowers & Wilkins PX7 is a closed-back circumaural (over-ear) headphone with Bluetooth 5.0 wireless and adaptive active noise-cancellation technology.

The Bowers & Wilkins PX7 is also featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top Best Wireless Headphones Under $500
Top Best Circumaural (Over-Ear) Headphones Under $500
Top Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones Under $500

The PX7 is designed with a great deal of technology but it would all be for nothing is the headphones didn’t sound great. That’s why the 43.6mm dynamic drivers are expertly-tuned to reproduce audio with stunning clarity and presence. These high-performance headphones deliver high-end audio across a 10 Hz to 30 kHz frequency response.

For more info on frequency response, check out my article What Is Headphone Frequency Response & What Is A Good Range?

The headphones have a closed-back earcup design but they sound as if they’re a pair of open-back cans. B&W has been able to achieve a wide but natural stereo field with the PX7 along with the headphones’ wide frequency response and dynamic range.

Bower & Wilkins has developed several “Real World Listening” features that are included in the PX7. These features include:

Adaptive active noise-cancellation that senses the noise of the environment and automatically applies the appropriate type and amount of ANC to eliminate the noise without overly affecting the audio.

The Ambient Pass-Through feature can be engaged to pass external sounds, such as conversations, through to the listener, allowing improved environmental awareness.

Wear sensing technology can be set to stop and start audio as the headphone is taken off and put back on the listener’s head.

Enable these features and further customize the sound of the B&W PX7 with the Bowers & Wilkins Headphone App.

Inspired by the world’s fastest race cars, Bowers & Wilkins made the PX7 with woven carbon fiber composite arms. When it comes to durability and longevity, the PX7 is top-notch.

Along with superb ruggedness, the PX7 is also very comfortable and the adjustable headband can be set to achieve the perfect fit.

The controls on the right earcup are typical: Power, Volume +, Multi-function and Volume –. Use different actions with these controls to play/pause/skip music or make/take calls.

Along with the built-in mics used to ANC, this headphone microphones for two-way communication. It employs two mics for telephony (CVC2 – Clear Voice Communication v2) and offers a clear voice pickup for the person wearing the headphones for easy calls and voice assistant utilization.

Pairing the PX7 is easy with Bluetooth technology. The headphone can even connect to two devices at the same time. Just note that you can only play audio or take calls from one device at a time.

The PX7’s battery offers 30 hours of Bluetooth and ANC time. A 15-minute quick charge can boost this time by 5 hours. Simply connect the headphone to a charging block with the included USB-C charging cable.

In addition to Bluetooth, this B&W headphone can also connect to audio sources directly. Use the supplied 3.5mm audio cable for analog sources or the USB cable for digital sources.

Key Specifications:

  • Transducer Type: 1.72″ / 43.6 mm Dynamic
  • Impedance: 20 Ω
  • Frequency Response: 10 Hz to 30 kHz (Wireless)
  • Sensitivity: 111 dB
  • IP Rating: no info
  • Open/Closed-Back: Circumaural/Closed-back
  • Weight: 10.7 oz / 302 g
  • Wireless/Wired: Bluetooth

Bowers & Wilkins is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 13 Best Headphone Brands In The World and Top 14 Best Earphone/Earbud Brands In The World.


Focal Listen Pro

Third up is the Focal Listen Pro (link to check the price on Amazon) which, at just under $500, is on the inexpensive end of Focal’s awesome headphones.

Focal Listen Pro

The Focal Listen Pro closed-back headphones are designed with music production and travel in mind. If you’re after reference-level sound quality in a comfortable and portable headphone, Focal’s Listen Pro could be the choice for you!

The tonal balance of the headphone is reminiscent of models twice the price or more. From 5 Hz to 22,000 Hz, the Listen Pro will reproduce audio frequencies with studio-level precision.

Focal utilizes proprietary driver diaphragms to achieve a superb transient response and dynamic range. The diaphragms are part of the 40 mm dynamic drivers that are at the heart of the headphone’s excellent sonic performance.

Though these headphones are closed, they produce a lively sound with a very natural sound stage. They sound more like a semi-open headphone than a closed-back headphone while still offering passive noise isolation, giving us the best of both worlds.

The large ear cushions provide the headphone with two important diesng factors. The first is comfort, which we’ll get to later. The other is air volume.

The physical size of the earcup allows the headphones to move more air and offer a greater tonal balance. Microfiber pads help the headphones produce a linear bass response providing and better acoustic output while the acoustic tissue, which is closer to the speaker driver, offers great absorption and linearity in the 3-9kHz register.

With a nominal impedance of 32 ohms, the Focal Listen Pro’s transducer can be easily driven by low-power mobile and consumer-grade headphone jack DACs and amplifiers. That being said, the headphones could certainly be used with a dedicated amplifier in order to reach their full sonic potential.

These wired headphones come with 2 different detachable OFC copper 24AWG cables, each with low resistance for superior signal transfer. The first cable is a 5-metre coiled cable and the second is a 1.2-meter straight cable. This headphone, like many others, comes with a 3.5mm to 6.35mm adapter to ensure the headphones can connect to the vast majority of jacks straight-out-of-the-box.

To learn more about headphone cables, check out my article An In-Depth Look Into How Headphone Cables Carry Audio.

The headphone’s headband curve remains constant as its size is adjusted, keeping the lightweight pressure of the headphones evenly distributed for a more ergonomic fit.

Horizontal and vertical rotation of the earcups enhances the fit and comfort even further.

Key Specifications:

  • Transducer Type: 40 mm Dynamic
  • Impedance: 32 Ω
  • Frequency Response: 5 Hz – 22,000 Hz
  • Sensitivity: 122 dB SPL at 1 kHz / 1 Vrms
  • IP Rating: no info
  • Open/Closed-Back: Circumaural/Closed-back
  • Weight: 9.9 oz / 280 g
  • Wireless/Wired: Wired

Focal is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 13 Best Headphone Brands In The World.


Sony WH-1000XM4

At number 4, we have the popular Sony WH-1000XM4 (link to check the price on Amazon).

Sony WH-1000XM4

The Sony WH-1000XM4 is a closed-back circumaural headphone with Bluetooth 5.0 wireless and advanced active noise-cancellation (ANC) technology. It’s one of the best headphones on the market for under $500, let alone in the closed-back class.

The Sony WH-1000XM4 is also featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top Best Wireless Headphones Under $500
Top Best Circumaural (Over-Ear) Headphones Under $500
Top Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones Under $500

The WH-1000XM4 features 40mm dynamic drivers designed with liquid crystal polymer (LCP) diaphragms, neodymium magnets and copper-clad aluminum wire voice coils. When combined with carefully-tuned housing, these transducers reproduce audio with superb bass, clear mids and non-fatiguing highs that extend well beyond the range of human hearing.

Note that the published frequency response is an impressive 4 Hz – 40,000 Hz.

To learn more about dynamic drivers and driver size, check out my articles The Complete Illustrated Guide To Moving-Coil Dynamic Headphones and What Is A Good Driver Size For Headphones? respectively.

To improve upon an already solid design, Sony includes DSEE Extreme (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) technology. DSEE Extreme utilizes artificial intelligence to upscale compressed digital audio files in real-time. So, then, these headphones effectively restore lost audio quality to further enhance the sonic perfection.

The integrated QN1 processor has a built-in DAC that offers incredibly low-distortion and a great signal-to-noise ratio for both wired and wireless connections.

If you’d like to go with a wired connection, the WH-1000XM4 comes with a detachable 4-foot headphone cable with OFC strands and gold-plated stereo mini (3.5mm) plugs. A 3.5mm to 6.35 (1/4″) adapter is included.

To learn more about 3.5mm and 6.35mm headphone plugs/jacks, check out my article The Differences Between 2.5mm, 3.5mm & 6.35mm Headphone Jacks.

The 47 Ω nominal impedance tells us this headphone can be easily driven with mobile and consumer devices as well as professional audio equipment.

Bluetooth 5.0 with high-quality codecs offers solid wireless connectivity with an operational range of 10 m (33 feet).

Sony’s LDAC technology allows for improved wireless audio transfer via Bluetooth. It transmits 3 times the data, providing an enhanced wireless listening experience with superior audio quality. The headphone can even be paired to two devices simultaneously and switch between these devices at the touch of a button.

To learn more about wireless headphones, please consider reading the following My New Microphone articles:
• How Bluetooth Headphones Work & How To Pair Them To Devices
• How Do Wireless Headphones Work? + Bluetooth & True Wireless

Sony pushed even further by including excellent hybrid active noise-cancelling technology that uses both feedforward and feedback circuits to eliminate low-end environmental noise. The ANC is so good that it even handles mid-range sound with a noticeable amount of attenuation.

The industry-leading noise cancellation technology features additional microphones that assist in isolating high and mid-frequency sounds. This is made possible via the aforementioned proprietary HD Noise-Canceling Processor QN1 and advanced algorithms that sense and adjust the cancellation signal over 700 times per second.

The ANC has more advanced features as well, accessible via the Personal Noise-Canceling Optimizer (available via the Sony | Headphones Connect app). This technology tests the listener’s unique hearing profile and helps cancel out individual problem frequencies.

Atmospheric Pressure Optimizing is another mode of ANC designed specifically for air travel and the typical soundstage of such environments.

With the Sony | Headphones Connect app, we can program the amount of ambient sound that is passed through the headphones. There are also several smart technology options to choose from to help improve the listener experience.

The Adaptive Sound Control is a smart function that senses where you are and what you’re doing and adjusts ambient sound settings for the ideal listening experience. It can even learn your regularly-visited spots and automatically adjust the ANC/Ambient settings to the location.

The Quick Attention function allows listeners to instantly turn down the audio and allow ambient sound in by simply placing their hand over the headphone housing.

Another cool smart function is Speak-to-Chat, in which the WH-1000XM4 automatically recognizes your voice and stops playing audio as you begin speaking.

Yes, the WH-1000XM4 has microphones for ANC and for telephony. Precise Voice Pickup Technology combines five built-in microphones with advanced audio signal processing for crystal clear communication on calls and with voice assistants.

The rechargeable battery, when fully charged, has a 30-hour lifespan with Bluetooth and ANC engaged. Quick-charging with the optional AC adapter nets an additional 5 hours after only 10 minutes of charging. Alternatively, the USB-C charger cable (included) will charge the battery from 0% to 100% in 3 hours.

The super-soft, pressure-relieving earpads are designed with foamed urethane for an evenly distributed pressure and stable fit. The lightweight design is barely noticeable and with such great sound, the listener’s focus will be on the audio and not the headphone itself. These super-comfortable headphones are great for short and long listening sessions alike.

Key Specifications:

  • Transducer Type: 1.57″ Dynamic with Neodymium magnets & CCAW Voice coil
  • Impedance: 47 Ω
  • Frequency Response: 4 Hz – 40,000 Hz
  • Sensitivity: 105 dB / mW
  • IP Rating: no info
  • Open/Closed-Back: Circumaural/Closed-back
  • Weight: 254g
  • Wireless/Wired: Bluetooth 5.0

Sony is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 14 Best Earphone/Earbud Brands In The World and Top 13 Best Headphone Brands In The World.


Neumann NDH 20

To wrap things up, let’s discuss the Neumann NDH 20 (link to check the price on Amazon) from the respected German manufacturer Neumann.

Neumann NDH 20

The Neumann NDH 20 is a premium closed-back circumaural dynamic headphone designed for monitoring, editing, and mixing.

The Neumann NDH 20 is also featured in My New Microphone’s Top Best Moving-Coil/Dynamic Headphones Under $500.

The NDH 20 is designed for transparency. Its 38mm moving-coil drivers are built with Duofol diaphragms and high-gauss neodymium magnets for high sensitivity and minimal distortion. These reference headphones offer an extended frequency response (5 Hz – 30,000 Hz) without any unwanted colouration in the sound reproduction.

Wired connectivity is made possible with two detached cables. One cable is straight (3 metres) and the other is coiled (3 metres coiled to 1.5 metres). Both cables have a 3.5mm plug at each end and a 6.3 mm (1/4”) adapter is also included.

A dedicated amplifier or professional-grade headphone output will unleash the true potential of these headphones. The nominal rated impedance is 150 ohms, meaning the headphone will react incredibly well so long as it’s driven by a suitable high-end source.

That being said, relative to many high-end headphones, a 150-ohm nominal impedance may be considered “relatively low”, which allows the NHD 20’s to be used with regular mobile and consumer devices. Just know that you’ll be missing out on the full potential if you’re not plugging the NHD 20’s into a capable headphone amp!

To learn more about headphone impedance, check out my article The Complete Guide To Understanding Headphone Impedance.

Durability and comfort are made certain with high-quality building materials in the NDH 20.

At the core of the construction, the headband is made of a spring steel strip with aluminum and plastic fittings, and the earcups a made from aluminum. The ear pads are made super-comfortable with cloth-covered memory foam for a superb fit.

The fit of these headphones is excellent, allowing for top-notch passive noise isolation and an ergonomic fit, keeping listeners comfortable throughout those long mixing/mastering or other listening sessions.

Key Specifications:

  • Transducer Type: 38.10 mm Dynamic with Neodymium magnet
  • Impedance: 150 Ω
  • Frequency Response: 5 Hz – 30,000 Hz
  • Sensitivity: 114 dB at 1 kHz
  • IP Rating: no info
  • Open/Closed-Back: Circumaural/Closed-back
  • Weight: 13.76 oz / 390 g without Cable
  • Wireless/Wired: Wired

Honourable Mentions

There are plenty of excellent closed-back headphones under $500. Here are 5 more that could have easily made the cut:

Arthur

Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or composing music for media. Check out his Pond5 and AudioJungle accounts.

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