You might not be able to watch your favorite bands live but these headphones will make it sound like you’re there.
CES 2016 had no shortage of headphones and audio products at the show, but I didn’t fly all the way to Las Vegas to listen to some $25 earbuds. I was after the most expensive, best sounding headphones at the show. And a few companies delivered.
Here are the most expensive and best sounding headphones to found scouring the CES show floor.
Audeze LCD-4 ($3,995)
You may not have heard of Audeze but you will soon. The company announced a partnership with Apple to start carrying its brand new Sine headphones ($499) at Apple Stores. Audeze is an American headphone company that does all of its R&D and manufacturing in the United States. The company’s flagship LCD-4 headphone cost a whopping $4,000 but it’s up there with the best headphones I’ve ever heard. Although difficult to judge a pair of headphones on a noisy show floor, what I heard impressed me, especially when the LCD-4 was paired with the company’s brand new The King amplifier ($4,000).
HIFIMAN HE1000 ($2,999)
HIFIMAN may also be a brand you haven’t heard of yet, but they make some of the best sounding headphones on the market. I’ve been following their products since the beginning and watched their headphones evolve over the years. The Chinese company is pioneering planar magnetic technology in headphones, which places a thin diaphragm between powerful magnets, as opposed to the conventional cone-shaped dynamic drivers found in most headphones.
The company’s flagship HE1000 lives up to the hype, with a unique sound signature that isn’t exactly neutral, but it does make music more fun. I found its soundstage to be one of the widest I’ve ever heard and its nanometer thick diaphragm makes everything sound effortless.
Sennheiser HD800 S ($1,700)
Sennheiser is legendary when it comes to its microphones and its headphones. IGN actually uses the company’s mics to record all of the videos from this year’s CES. With such a history of creating great mics and headphones, you’d expect the company’s second most expensive headphone to sound pretty great, and they do.
The HD800 S is an evolution of its famed HD800 headphones which were released back in 2009. The original HD800 had a reputation for being extremely revealing, which some didn’t like because poorly recorded material sounded terrible. But with the new HD800 S, Sennheiser addressed the criticisms of the original headphone by completely re-voicing it and changing the damping. The result is a headphone that sounds even more dynamic and richer than the original.
Beyerdynamic T1 – Second Generation ($1,099)
Beyerdynamic is another German company known for its pro-audio gear. In fact, our video editors all use DT880 headphones as reference monitors. The company’s second generation T1 headphone is currently the company’s flagship, and features the company’s “Tesla” technology, which allows the headphones to be distortion-free even at the highest volumes. A Beyerdynamic representative I spoke with teased an upcoming headphone that would surpass the T1 as a flagship so stay tuned for that.
STAX SR-009 ($4,450)
The STAX SR-009 headphones are unique in that they’re electrostatic. This speaker technology works similarly to planar magnetics like the HIFIMAN HE1000 but have a diaphragm that moves directly instead of using a metal conductor. As a result, electrostatic headphones are known for their “speed” and their cost, since you need a special amplifier to drive them.
The SR-009 sounded great, though it was hard to make conclusive judgements on a loud show floor. The treble is where the SR-009 shined and its ability to pick out details from songs was incredible.
Sennheiser Orpheus ($55,000)
Last but not least, we have the most expensive headphones in the world. The Sennheiser Orpheus is an entire headphones system, which means it comes with a crazy amplifier made out of marble. Using the Orpheus is an experience in itself, as its recessed controls and glowing tubes rise out of the marble amplifier in spectacular fashion.
How does it sound? In brief, the Sennheiser Orpheus ruined every other headphone for me. It blew me away. This is by far the best headphone I’ve listened to. Its ability to position each and every instrument and convey space is breathtaking. Everything sounded effortless. Even the best headphones usually have some weaknesses but I couldn’t find any with the Orpheus. Well, except maybe its $55,000 price tag and the fact that I’ll forever be chasing its sound.