This is the fourth version of the headphone buying guide. It's been a while since I've changed much here. As before, if you need help or have questions shoot me a PM or use the thread. (The latter will be more efficacious probably.)
(I'd go right out and say go ahead and buy them if your budget were to be in that range if it weren't for the fact that different people need different styles of headphones. Quality in audio is often (to a degree) subjective in nature. )
I've cut out a lot of the bulk the old OP had, since very few people seemed to find most of the information of use. Hopefully condensing the OP will help people to see the post requirements. As always, Head-Fi.org is your best friend. Any high-level questions should betaken there if possible, as should questions involving headphones above the $500-mark (we'd love to hear about them though!). Ebay is an acceptable option that's often cheaper, give using it some thought. (It carries risks as always though.)
Things I've seen in the thread frequently that need to be addressed:
1. Don't buy a 'head-set', don't even consider it. Buy a desktop microphone for around $20, separately from your headphones. Clip-on microphones work well, they even sell ones that will clip onto headphones. (Desktop mics are still better generally)
2. If someone hasn't answered your question within a few days, send me a PM and I'll do my best to help you.
3. Use Foobar2000 for playing your music, see the additional resources at the bottom of the OP for more information.
4. See how to post below.
5. Look below at the "Terms to Know"
[HR][/HR]How to make a post: (i.e. Use this convenient pre-made form)
Comments:[HR][/HR]Basic (and some not so basic) Terms to Know:
Circumaural: Covers the ears
Supra-Aural (Not a term I've seen often, in my experience most s-a headphones are on the cheap (low quality side)): Sits on the ears, sorta covers
Open air: Headphones are open to the air, sound may "leak out" or "leak in". Generally they're better for long term use (less hot feeling after a long periods of use) but aren't as good for gaming (can echo through microphones as a result of their leaking.) or listening in public places (Assume no one wants to hear your music) (If you're a performer avoid those headphones)
Closed air: Headphones are closed to the air (Obviously, given the name.), they tend to be less comfortable after long periods of time or in hot areas (depends on the pair though)
Semi-open: A combination of closed and open air traits, really varies from pair to pair.
Impedance (click me for a better explanation): Measured in ohms (Ω), impedance is a measure of resistance. If you can't understand it, you could read up on it - but if you're not really into high-end audio you probably will want to just ask someone who knows what they're talking about. It can be a difficult concept to grasp at first. Just think of it as the need for more power, higher impedance means you'll need more to "drive" the pair. (i.e. you'll need an amp) (Read more here.)
Frequency Response (important): A measure of the sounds which an audio device may reproduce, measured in hertz. You'll need to read up on this if you're serious about buying anything decent on your own. More range generally = better headphones (oversimplification, but if you don't already know those terms it's a place to start from)
~(Taken from head-fi below)~
Before buying headphones
1. Think about the whole system and budget for that. I canít stress this enough. There are really good sounding headphones to suit almost any budget and any system requirements, but you really need to know what youíre getting into. Don't just think about the headphone. If youíre looking to buy a headphone, you also need to know what else you need (or don't need) to make it sound good. If youíre buying a reference quality headphone, they most often (not always) require dedicated home components to bring out the qualities that people talk about. Thatís just the way it is. They require a well-matched amp that can drive them well. Many will be revealing of poor quality recordings and low bit rate downloads if youíre using your computer. If, for example, you're interested in the HD650 because youíve read itís good, just know that you might be disappointed if you donít amp it properly, and if you amp it properly, you might be disappointed in the sound youíre getting if your source and/or recordings donít cut it. On the other side of things, there are really good headphones that sound just fine without an amp and straight out of an ipod or computer soundcard if thatís what you want. You can get good sound in a lot of different ways at almost any price point, but research what youíre looking for, and put what you need in your budget before you decide on anything. It will actually save you money in the long run.
2. Portable amps arenít the answer. Okay, sometimes theyíre the answer, but mostly when portable headphones are involved. I know Iím going to get grief for this one, but so be it. I like portable amps, have owned some really nice ones, and have listened to a lot more. They are great for portable headphones, and do okay with some headphones designed for home use, but they do not take the place of a decent dedicated home amp when using headphones that were created for audiophile listening at home. Sure, theyíll make your headphones louder, but loudness does not equal sound quality, which is the real purpose of amplification. A properly driven headphone sounds amazing at very low volumes. If your lifestyle dictates that you need portability, then I suggest researching the many excellent choices in headphones that are not demanding when it comes to amplification. Donít rush out and get a K702 because you heard itís great with classical and expect to hear anything close to how it can sound with a portable amp. If youíre choosing a headphone that needs a amp, a portable amp may be a good stepping stone if youíre slowly building a system like I and many others did, but again, be aware of the compromise youíre making, and be happy with whatever you choose. Just think: if portable headphones were the best option for all headphones, no one would be making home amps, and thatís just not happening.
3. Source matters. Yes, it does. High quality headphones reveal your source. Thatís their job. Garbage in, garbage out. I love my ipod, but when Iím using it, I choose headphones that sound good, but are more forgiving of my sourceís flaws when listening. If I were to use one of my more revealing headphones, I wouldnít be enjoying the music nearly as much. Whether you consider getting a good dac, a dedicated cdp, or lod for an ipod, there are a lot of different ways to go. For portable, I like choosing forgiving headphones and not worrying about amp or source; for home, I prefer the best cdp I can afford, and one day, I'd like a good turntable. Others may choose differently, but if youíre looking at getting high quality headphones, know that theyíre only as good as what youíre feeding them.
Additional Resources for your viewing pleasure:
The thread before last (v2)
Headphone Buying Guide V3 - Come here, do not make additional threads