There are headphones for every listener, including those who really want the absolute most out of their listening experience. We’ve taken the time to choose four of our favorite high-end headphones, whose prices range from $900 to $4,000, that we think will really bring your music to life (and then some).
1. Editor’s Pick: Focal Elegia
The Focal Elegia are closed-back headphones that incorporate full-range speaker drivers and a frameless copper voice coil specifically designed to operate within the spatial confines of headphones. Combined with excellently soundproofed earcups, ‘M’-shape inverted dome, and larger emissive surface, the Focal Elegia bring your music to life right before your ears.
AVS Forum editor Mark Henninger poses the question of if the Focal Elegia are expensive, or cheap compared to their quality. “Ultimately, if you’re going to spend this kind of money on headphones, you want to make sure they are right for you. With Focal Elegia, the main risk is that once you hear a pair, you’ll be spoiled by the luxurious fit plus finish as well as the performance,” sayd Henninger in his review.
RTINGS cites the Focal Elegia as having “excellent, extended and punchy bass, a great and well-balanced mid-range and a decent treble,” ultimately dubbing them versatile headphones for a wide variety of music genres, especially vocal-centric music. What HiFi says the Focal Elegia have a lot going for them, adding they “look stunning, are sublimely comfortable, isolate outside noise impressively and deliver a spacious, upfront sound.” Tech Hive simply notes the headphones create “a beautiful, intimate, and rich musical experience.”
2. High-End Option: Focal Utopia
For a princely sum, the Focal Utopia will essentially bring your favorite bands right to your home. With the Utopia, the speaker-manufacturer-turned-headphone-creator has created the world’s first open-backed full-range speaker drivers with pure Beryllium ’M’-shaped domes. The Utopia have a frequency response ranging from 5Hz to more than 50kHz, without any crossover or passive filtering, and will sit incredibly comfortably on your head with their carbon fiber yoke and true lambskin leather ear cushions.
Sure, the Focal Utopia is expensive, but What HiFi notes that for the price “they’re among the very best sounding headphones that money can buy … There’s a lovely sense of weight and authority to their sound, and the ability to deliver huge dynamic sweeps with composure. It’s a spacious presentation, where each instrumental strand has space to stretch out and express itself.” Headfonia says the Focal Utopia are “definitely one of the best sounding headphones” and “out resolves hyper-detailed headphones such as the HE1000, SR-009, and HD800 and then improves on their desirable traits.”
The Verge compares the Focal Utopia to listmates Sennheiser HD 800 S, saying the headphones are “basically a Sennheiser HD 800 S with a more satisfying low end and, somehow, even more detail and resolution.” Sound Guys go right for what everyone is wondering – why are these headphones so expensive? Simple. “Everything you’ve heard about these is true. The Utopia’s sound amazing. The soundstage makes songs sound like you’re sitting in the middle of them rather than in a room where the music is being played, which is kind of weird to imagine but definitely impressive.”
3. Audeze LCD-2
The Audeze LCD-2 are probably the best looking headphones on this list, with their wood construction and matched ear pads. The LCD-2 features low-distortion sound that greatly details your music’s nuances, thanks to its near weightless diaphragm four times larger than your typical headphone diaphragm, double-sided magnet arrays, and Fazor element technology to best reduce as much internal resonance as possible.
The Verge reviewer Vlad Savov has a hard time wrapping up their review, saying they could spend “another thousand words” on the headphones. Savov later adds the LCD-2 is “a bridging of the traditional gap between audiophiles and casual music listeners.” RTINGS hails the Audeze LCD-2’s sound quality as “a consistent and relatively deep bass, an even and flat mid-range, and a well-balanced treble,” adding the headphones handily present just about every genre of music save for maybe electronica rooted heavily in deep, deep bass.
Headfonia’s review focuses on more the fact that the LCD-2 is an upgraded version of a classic, saying the new iteration is “recommended if you want a balanced, precise and clean sound from a more neutrally tuned headphone.” CNET mentions the Audeze LCD-2 are absolutely worth checking out, adding “their strengths are easy to discern for everyone, not just audiophiles.”
The Sennheiser HD 800 S, an upgraded version of the Sennheiser HD 800, are an open-back headphone that utilize Sennheiser’s innovative absorber technology that allows the ear to perceive more high frequencies than usual. The Sennheiser HD 800 S guides sound with their unique, angled ear cup design to create a spacious, wide soundstage. These cups work in conjunction with the headphones’ balanced, impedance matching cable and 56mm sound transducer.
“If sound quality is your main priority, then you should consider that you’d need to spend around 10 times as much on speakers to get anywhere near the Sennheisers’ insight and resolution” says What HiFi in their review of the Sennheiser HD 800 S. RTINGS praises the Sennheiser HD 800 S’ “very good, punchy, and consistent bass, great and even mid-range, and excellent and even treble,” classifying them overall as a “great sounding pair of open-back over-ear headphones.”
AV Forum compares the Sennheiser HD 800 S to the performance of standalone speakers, saying they “deliver a performance that will cost you many, many times more to achieve with real speakers” and later concluding “that the Sennheiser HD800S unquestionably represents the Best in Class.” Headfonia concluded their review by mentioning the Sennheiser HD 800 S, in balanced configuration, “produces a very high quality of sound while eliminating as good as all the points of criticism one may have with the HD800.” They add the headphones easily produce “detail, clarity and precision as well as the smooth tube flavored bass, full mids and elegant highs.”
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