As phones and portable music players become smaller, more capable, and more numerous every year, headphones have become the primary listening mode for millions of music fans. Not surprisingly, technical specs and audio quality share the feature list with aesthetics, brand, and even celebrity endorsement. 2010 saw Beats by Dre net a Gold IDEA award. The line of audio products from Monster has continued to expand, including signature headsets bearing the names of Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, even Miles Davis.
Clearly, fashion as well as function drives sales in the portable audio industry. And why not? If you’re going to walk around with wires and magnets strapped to your head, they had better look good and sound good.
Here’s a look at some of the biggest, most expensive, and most beautiful headsets available on the market today.
AKG Quincy Jones
Dr. Dre is not the only musician with signature line. AKG, already one of the leading names in high-end headsets, has partnered with Quincy Jones to create a signature line. Close inspection of AKG’s line shows that these three models are basically the same thing under the hood as AKG’s existing K701 headset. However, if Quincy Jones says they’re good…they’re good. Even the green set.
The K701 is AKG’s top of the line model. Sporting a large, open-backed design, the sound is considered to be outstandingly accurate and spacious. They are reasonably priced as well- under $300 USD.
The K242 is an economical studio headphone, and this current product is basically a revised version of the K240, an industry-standard studio headphone produced from 1975-2006, and still used widely. The design is semi-open backed, and the sound is considered to be sensitive and uncolored.
Sennheiser HD 800
Sennheiers bills the HD800 as “the world’s finest headphone”. At roughly $1,800 USD, they’d better be pretty close to it. In any case, they are simply beautiful. Each is handmade from stainless steel and proprietary composites. They are also gigantic, enclosing a 56mm transducer, the largest transducer of any headphone currently available. The enclosures are designed to fit entirely over the ear, and are probably the closest thing to strapping a performance hall to your head. The result is a spatial soundstaging unlike any other headphone.
Riding on the legendary reputation of Marshall amplifiers, this affordable ($100 USD) pair of on-ear cans recently debuted last November. The exterior of the headband is covered with the same textured vinyl used on Marshall amplfiers, and the overall appearance evokes the legacy of screaming fans and guitar solos. I’m pretty sure you can turn these up to “11″.
The Grado PS1000 is another legendary headset that many will claim as the best available. Grado certainly has a reputation for high quality headphones, and the PS1000 is their top offering. The outer casing is made from a proprietary alloy intended to recreate sound as accurately as possible. Despite their $1700 price tag, those that have them swear they are the best.
Just a step down from its bigger brother, the GS1000i uses a specially-cured mahogany outer case. This has a distinctive influence on the sound reproduction, and has given rise to “the Grado sound” over the years. Only $1000 will get you into the Grado club, and you may never return once you’re there.
Ultrasone Edition 8
The Edition 8 is a closed-back headphone meant to compete with other high end offerings such as the Sennheiser HD800. Ultrasone is a German company dedicated to headphone design and manufacture. As such, this offering employs some proprietary science to give the listener a sense of spaciousness in the soundstaging. They’re also very well constructed and quite beautiful. To further differentiate this headset from others, two finishes are available -the outer shell is plated with ruthenium or palladium, both rare metals similar to platinum.
Ultrasone Edition 10
The Edition 10 is simply over the top- combining tech and luxury. Only 2,010 units were made. The open-back cans employ all of Ultrasone’s proprietary technology to create a spacious and dynamic sound. The exterior is said to be inspired by the wings of a butterfly, combining inlays of Zebrano wood with brushed ruthenium metal. The headband and earpads are made from Ethiopian sheepskin. For your investment of $2500, you’ll also receive a Zebrano wood stand and box.
And now for something completely different: the Stax Omega2. This is an electrostatic headset, which is a completely different speaker technology requiring unique and expensive amplifiers to drive. You won’t even be able to turn these on without shelling out several thousand dollars. Those that have built a complete setup based on these headphones report an unmatched listening experience, perhaps the closest possible reproduction of a live concert hall. Are these the best headphones in the world? At the very least, they are among the most expensive and unique.