A lot of advancements have been made in the world of audio. Lo-Fi has migrated to Hi-Fi and Hi-Fi has been pushed to its absolute limits. However, there still is much to be said about classic designs. While not always delivering the objectively best sound, vintage gear has a sonic quality that just can’t seem to be recreated with modern devices.
For veteran audiophiles, sitting next to a record player with a giant pair of cans and a coiled cord is something all too familiar. So, in honor of nostalgia, we rounded up our picks for the top 5 best vintage headphones.
While all of these headphones are not in production anymore (just like vinyl), their popularity in their time ensures you can probably find a pair on eBay or Amazon if you look hard enough.
Classic Headphones Quick Compare
|Pioneer Monitor 10||
||Beyerdynamic DT 48||STAX SR-Lambda SR-507 Pro Headphones Earspearkers||AKG K 340 In-Canal Bud Headphone - Liquorice (Discontinued by Manufacturer)|
|Frequency response||20 Hz – 20 kHz||10 Hz – 25 kHz||16 Hz – 20 kHz||8 Hz – 35 kHz||16 Hz – 25 kHz|
|Sensitivity||100 db/mW||95 dB/mW||105 db/mW||100 db/mW||104 db/mW|
|Impedance||16 ohms||250 ohms||25 ohms||N/A||400 ohms|
With all that out of the way, let’s jump into the top 5 best vintage headphones.
Similarly, Koss is still creating headphones to this day. Their legendary Pro-4AAs have been revised a few times since the original design, but this iteration still tells a very special story.
The Pro-4AAs ooze vibe, with an attractive (if you like vintage things) army green color scheme with a bright silver band. The 8-foot coiled cord is actually really nice compared to the cord on the Pioneer Monitor 10s, not coiling up on the coils too much. Running to a ¼” plug means these headphones can still be used to this day.
Koss holds a lot of legacy, but these headphones particularly hold even more. The
While the level of comfort reigns true with these headphones as they do with most others on this list, the ear cups (over-ear headphones) do provide quite a bit of isolation which is nice for such an old pair of headphones.
Overall, the Pro-4AAs prove to be an incredible pair of headphones, even to this day. They have a certain vibe to them, aesthetically and sonically, that just can’t be recreated.
The STAX SR-Lambda SR-507 Pro Headphones Earspearkers are truly a special pair of headphones, especially on this list. These headphones are electrostatic meaning they use an incredibly thin diaphragm (1.5 microns thick in this case) to produce sound with no parts actually touching each other. It’s a very complex process that I would love to delve into, but all you need to know is that they sound absolutely incredible.
The standout feature of these headphones is the lack of distortion, even at extreme volumes. Every aspect of a track is very clearly heard, nothing mushing together in the process. Every dub and layer seem to sit in the intended spot, not migrating into a middle pile of junk like many other pairs of headphones.
The best way to describe these headphones is nuanced. Careful listening reveals things that other pairs of headphones don’t, despite their age.
The unique design of these headphones (or ear speakers as Stax calls them) is something that is ripped straight from a different era. Again, the vintage aesthetic here is strong.
AKG is still cranking out all sorts of products for consumer and professional audio to this day. While the K340s aren’t the only pair of headphones that could have made this list, they are some of the best.
The actual frequency response of them lacks severely, especially by today’s standards. A severe lack of bass sometimes leads to the headphones sounding thin and weak.
However, the K340s do something very special otherwise. The separation among every instrument is superb. Every instrument doesn’t stick out, but rather sits right where you would expect it to. You can hear every nuance, rivaled only by a pair of headphones like the SR-Lambdas.
This is due to an incredibly unique design from AKG. These headphones deploy a two driver system in each of the earcups, holding both an electrostatic and dynamic driver. What results is a headphone that gives the advantages of dynamic while maintaining separation and clarity at extreme volumes.
Despite the somewhat lackluster performance in frequency response, the K340s are something very special that any vintage enthusiast should try for themselves.
4. Beyerdynamic DT 48
Going way back, the Beyerdynamic DT 48s have been in production, in one form or another, since 1937. Yes, you read that correctly, 1937. Needless to say, these headphones hold something special for vintage enthusiasts.
The sturdy metal construction looks like a prototype of modern headphones with exposed nuts and steel connection the various pieces of plastic together. This look is something really special to see, especially when compared to a modern pair of headphones from Beyerdynamic.
Ergonomically, these headphones seem like a prototype as well. Instead of floating on your heading, the DT 48s grip to your head with full force and don’t let go. They aren’t necessarily uncomfortable because they aren’t, but they allow little to no way in space around your ears. The grip is so tight that some owners even suggest checking to drain sweat from them from time to time.
This death grip shows off a very colored frequency spectrum. Despite being intended for studio application, the DT 48s vastly distort the frequency spectrum. However, that isn’t a bad thing. These headphones tell a story with their sound, and while it isn’t even close to the best, it is something special to hear.
5. Pioneer Monitor 10
Pioneer is certainly not an unfamiliar name, even to this day. In the world of live sound, the name still reigns supreme. Their classic Monitor 10 is a headphone with much debate surrounding it. While to some the pair of cans is nothing special, others find a unique treasure trove of audio.
The most important part of the Monitor 10s, and the reason they’re on this list is for this fact. Like it or not, these headphones tell a solid history of headphones, bearing a top brand even to this day.
Like many vintage pairs of headphones, the Monitor 10s are pretty uncomfortable, the earpads feeling more like plastic than anything else. Still, under the surface is a beautiful experience that is dripping with vibe.
These headphones are probably the most difficult on the list to find, but they are relatively inexpensive. You owe it to yourself to at least try the legendary sound of the Monitor 10s and see if they’re for you.
Conclusion: Best Retro Headphones
Nailing down vintage headphones can be quite a task. A lot of cans were produced, many of them horrible, and most not meeting any sort of historic point in the spectrum of audio. However, each of these five pairs are exceptional headphones.
While they don’t all sound the best, they do tell a unique story about the history of audio and isn’t that what “vintage” is all about?