Best Closed-back Headphones in 2021 - Buying Guide

Best Closed-back Headphones in 2021 - Buying Guide

Andrew Park
9 minute read

The following is a list of closed-back headphones I feel are the most easy to recommend within their given price bracket. For a more general buying guide on what to look for when shopping for high end headphones, check out the 2021 Headphone Buying Guide here. We also have a list of open-back recommendations that's already available for those who don't require the conveniences of a closed-back setup, and you can also find our in-ear headphone buying guide here. It should also be noted that there may be other headphones that would make the list, but for one reason or another we haven't had the chance to evaluate it yet, and so this list is subject to change (for example, I haven't had the opportunity to review the ZMF Closed-backs yet, but maybe when I do they'll get added). But as of right now, these are my picks for the best closed-back headphones in 2021.

$200 and Under

AKG K371 (Under $150)

The high value pick at this price point, and indeed every price point, goes to the phenomenal AKG K371. In some ways this headphone is the easiest recommendation on this list, since not only does it solve the closed-back use case situation, it has such an exceptional tonal balance that it seems to unveil all the finer nuances in the music. Moreover, for a recording professional or anyone needing a closed-back reference headphone for pro applications, I keep coming back to the K371 - truly an outstanding headphone. Some minor downsides, the pads are quite small, and the headphone feels on the whole a bit rickety and I wouldn’t feel comfortable throwing it around as much as say a beyerdynamic DT 700 - but for the price, there’s really nothing better. Check out the reviews:

Buy the AKG 371

$500 and Under

Drop X DCA Aeon X Closed (Under $500)

DCA (formerly mrspeakers) have done a great job in tuning their Aeon series of headphones - especially the closed-back variants. Importantly, they’ve been able to achieve great sounding tonal balance in a closed-back headphone without incurring the massive weight tradeoffs that are typical of high end planar magnetic headphones. The Aeons therefore make for great office headphones, ideal for those needing to be isolated from their surroundings and wearing headphones all day (like me!).

The Drop collaboration has yielded a slight tuning change with a perforated pad design, giving the Aeon X Closed a bit more of a bass shelf than the original Aeon, and making it one of the best measuring closed-back headphones available - something that again can be very difficult to do on planar magnetic headphones. Simply put, for those looking for the image separation and distinction of a planar transducer in a closed-back, with an outstanding frequency response, the DCA Aeon X Closed nails it. Considerations? In order to achieve the kind of tonal balance this headphone has, it requires some concessions when it comes to the technical performance, in particular they tend to lack the sense of contrast and impact that you might get with a dynamic driver headphone instead. Check out the reviews:

Buy the Drop X DCA Aeon X Closed

$1000 and Under

DCA Aeon 2 Noire ($900)

While this price bracket is seemingly dominated by open-back headphones, there are a few closed-backs that stand out from the rest, headlined by the DCA Aeon 2 Noire. Essentially the Noire is just a black Aeon 2 Closed with perforated pads and you could theoretically get the Aeon 2 to have the same tuning so long as you choose the perforated pads. One thing to note though is that the same cannot be said for the Aeon 2 Open, as it has a noticeably different and markedly more esoteric frequency response.

In any case, the Aeon 2 is a noticeable step up in terms of detail when compared with the Aeon X or the original Aeons. In particular, when it comes to the clarity of trailing ends of tones, the microdynamics, it's a big improvement. Additionally, the Aeon 2s don’t sound all that closed-in like many closed-backs typically do. Add to that long-term comfort and DCA have come out with a real winner in the sub-$1k price bracket, just make sure you run it with a decently powerful amplifier - again, nothing crazy is needed, but it does need an amp. Check out the reviews:

Buy the Dan Clark Audio AEON 2 Noire

Focal Celestee ($990)

The Focal Celestee is the punchier, 'slammier' option around this price, and has a frequency response that’s generally well-balanced, if not perhaps slightly mid forward overall. But with the Celestee, Focal got the closest yet to their open-back counterparts in the Clear and Elex, so if you want that punchy and dynamic kind of presentation, along with a generally well-balanced tuning, this is the way to go. The only downside is that it’s not a particularly spacious presentation, coming in a bit on the forward and intimate side of things.

Personally I index more for detail and punchiness - the kind of engaging contrast you get from large volume swings, and so for me the lack of spaciousness isn’t an issue, but it is something to be aware of. Additionally, those with larger heads may prefer the Focal Radiance, as the Celestee has just slightly more clamp. The nice thing about this though is that the Celestee is one of the more isolating high end closed-back headphones out there, all the while being super easy to drive from any source. This makes it one of my most recommended office headphones. Check out the reviews:

Buy the Focal Celestee

$2000 and Under

Meze Audio Liric ($2000)

For those looking for style, form factor, comfort and build quality, in addition to competent sound quality, the Meze Liric is worth consideration. Meze's Liric is one of the most impeccably well-built closed-back headphones available, with extreme attention to detail for its industrial and mechanical design. For sound quality, it's certainly not the best value option out there - especially given some of the other headphones on this list - but the Liric is one of Meze's most mature and complete offerings to date.

From Chrono

"Sure, it might not boast the same level of technical performance as the open-back Elite and Empyrean, but of the three it's the one that I found to be the most enjoyable. In addition to its compact, elegant, and precision-crafted design, it strikes a really nice balance between its warm bass, linear mids, and nuanced, well-extended highs. Undercutting the Vérité Closed by roughly $500, and the Focal Stellia by nearly $1,000, it makes for a very interesting option for those who are looking for a truly outstanding closed-back option--especially if planar magnetic headphones tickle your fancy."

Buy the Meze Audio LIRIC

Check out Chrono's review here:

Check out Resolve's impressions here:

Audeze LCD-XC 2021 ($1299)

The LCD-XC may have had somewhat of a bad reputation in years past due to being both heavy and a strange frequency response that definitely required EQ to sound right. Unfamiliar with EQ? check out this video here. While the LCD-XC is still a massive and heavy headphone, the 2021 update has reduced the weight and dramatically improved the tuning such that it's much more balanced overall. Moreover, it still has some of the very best technical performance of any closed-back headphone available. With that said, personally I still add a bass shelf, in part because of how well the these full-sized Audeze headphones can handle it. Those willing to adjust the tuning to their taste, and who can handle the weight will walk away with sound quality that's up there with the very best closed-back headphones, and so that's why it's one of the better value picks in this section. Considerations? As mentioned, they're still heavy.

Buy the Audeze LCD-XC

Check out Resolve's review and comparison here:

Price No Object

Focal Stellia ($2990)

On the face of it, the Focal Stellia is the closed-back counterpart to Focal's famous Utopia open-back flagship, largely because they both use beryllium drivers. But the Stellia fills a somewhat different role, being a closed-back, easier to drive, more comfortable, and with a warmer and bassier tuning. To some (myself included) it may even be a bit too bassy, but it can't be denied that the Stellia is one of the most detailed closed-back headphones available. Additionally, what these Focal drivers can all hang their hat on is how dynamic, punchy and impactful they sound. So with the Stellia, you add more bass level to that excursive quality and you get a headphone that slams like nothing else when called upon.

Buy the Focal Stellia

Check out Chrono's review:

DCA Stealth ($4000)

This year Dan Clark Audio entered the summit price tier with their closed-back planar magnetic flagship, the Stealth. While these headphones are prohibitively expensive, DCA have done something quite novel when it comes to tuning it. For starters, it's a closed-back planar magnetic headphone, which can be quite difficult to get the tuning right without incurring significant tradeoffs in terms of technical performance. In order to solve this problem, DCA invented what they've called their "Acoustic Metamaterial Tuning System" or AMTS. Essentially this is a piece that fits in between the driver and the ear that functions as a highly sophisticated waveguide, effectively deleting problem frequencies that might be incurred by reflections from the back of the cup.

The result is a flagship headphone that very closely matches the Harman target, has excellent detail, and top tier separation and layering capabilities. Of course, like other DCA headphones, the Stealth is reasonably lightweight, is comfortable, and also folds up to be portable. Considerations? There's some change in terms of frequency response depending on the positioning of the headphone, and you also need to have an amplifier to run them. Additionally, while the Stealth is clearly a step up from the Noire in terms of technical performance, it's also significantly more expensive - so it's worth asking how important the last little bit is, and if it's worth the price jump.

Buy the Dan Clark Audio Stealth

Check out Resolve's Review:

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