Headphones excel at blocking out the external environment, allowing you to fully appreciate the mixing engineers’ craft and providing an extremely immersive experience, especially when listening to vinyl.
Here are 12 of the best vinyl tracks to listen to on headphones.
This powerhouse from Pink Floyd’s psychodrama Wish You Were Here begins with a pulsating bass line that bounces back and forth between your ears, sounding like an elevator is going up about 20 floors. The rest of the track is full of synthesizer bits panned from hard left to hard right, taking you on an auditory roller-coaster ride to the point where it might actually make you a little dizzy. Be careful with the volume first time around, as “Machine” goes from very quiet to very loud very quickly!
All jokes about “play some Skynyrd” aside, this band was one of the originators of the three-lead guitar approach, and as you listen to this track off their Nuthin’ Fancy album, you’ll be treated to layer upon layer of blazing guitars, and more.
The production genius behind Fleetwood Mac takes it up a notch on his own records, and this, the opening track from the Gift of Screws LP shows off Buckingham’s chops with a massive sonic landscape. Guitars are everywhere, mixed in with the main and backing vocals, along with some killer reverb effects. The rest of the album is also as good as, or better than, any Mac effort.
1999 is like “Where’s Waldo” for studio effects. The mix is BIG, with Prince playing nearly all the instruments. Listened to on premium headphones like the Yamaha YH-5000SE, you can almost feel The Purple One standing next to you at the console pulling faders up and down. Bonus: Try to guess who the backing female vocalist is. Where’s Waldo indeed!
Neil Young takes the lead on this track from Déjà Vu, but the way the vocals swell when Crosby, Stills & Nash join in is breathtaking — you can pick out each individual vocalist with ease. This is one of those tracks that truly comes alive on vinyl, and through headphones paints a soundstage that’s much bigger than what you’ll hear on speakers.
The version of this track from The Stripped Mixes album shows just how much Michael Jackson’s brothers often got a little buried underneath the lush instrumentation that was a Motown trademark. With this remix, Michael seems to burst out from about five feet directly in front of you, with a pair of Jacksons in each ear.
The 1974 LP of the same name is one of the groundbreaking electronica records of all time. The pulsing analog synthesizers on this track combine with a hypnotic beat that will mesmerize, particularly when listened to on vinyl and over headphones. The band claims the song was designed to “capture the feel of driving on a motorway,” but whose car is used for the very lifelike sample at the beginning? Kraftwerk founder Ralf Hutter claims it’s his Volkswagen.
Like Kraftwerk, Jean-Michel Jarre is another founder of electronic music, and everything in his catalog is a masterful sonic journey. Sit yourself in a comfy chair and dim the lights to best experience this ephemeral track over headphones.
East Side Story is the best album from this clever British band, and this is their most recognizable track. Though producer Elvis Costello suggested that Paul Carrack take the lead vocal, Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford are heavily represented in the harmonies, with Costello himself popping in and out of the second verse. There’s so much information in this track, you might not catch it all in a single listen.
You’ve probably heard this staple of ’70s rock a zillion times, but if you haven’t heard it on a great pair of headphones, chances are you’re missing much of Rundgren’s magic. Each side of Something/Anything? has a different feel, going from psychedelic to power pop and back, but Rundgren himself says he loves this track in particular because it’s the first song he ever wrote.
This song from the 1984 album Mister Heartbreak stands the test of time … and, as a bonus, you get Laurie Anderson, Peter Gabriel and Adrian Belew all along for the ride. It’s a multi-dimensional masterpiece, with a lot of hidden nuggets, especially when enjoyed on vinyl and listened to over headphones.
We can’t end a headphone-centric collection without including The Beatles. Their entire catalog begs to be listened to on headphones because, like CSN&Y, Todd Rundgren or Prince, there’s such a high level of talent on both sides of the console. For that reason, trying to pick a single Beatles’ track is next to impossible, but a great choice for headphone listening is the stereo remaster of “Day Tripper” from the 1 album, which allows you to clearly hear all four of the Fab Four playing their hearts out.
Check out these headphones from Yamaha.