I have seen many of these “Top 5” posts dotted all over the net and a quick Google of “Audiophile Headphones” lands you on some pretty awesome websites listing a raft of headphones that I feel just simply can’t be classed as Audiophile at all. If i’m honest I think the term Audiophile Headphones is now super archaic and doesn’t justify the genre it used to represent. I would love to abolish the word Audiophile in it’s entirety. It almost signifies that you have to be of a certain persuasion in order to listen, enjoy and purchase a product in this category. I am trying my best to prove people otherwise and show that you do not have to have super amazing ears or be aware of the exact technology that is used in the headphones. All you have to do is love and enjoy the music you listen to.
The reason for this high-end category of headphones is to try and more accurately reproduce the music you are listening to and it is as simple as that. With headphones falling outside this category you will very often get a really incredible sound, however in terms of accurately reproducing a piano or guitar for instance they sadly fall far short. As this genre of “hi-end” or “luxury” evolves further, the price of headphones often begins to increase as the technology being incorporated gets substantially more complex to implement. You may also find that the materials used become more expensive and harder to produce.
The headphones I wish to list provide a glimpse as to what I personally recommend as the top 5 headphones you can buy that provide an amazing experience. An experience that absolutely ANYONE can enjoy and appreciate the benefit of by investing in their headphones.
The big caveat is that everyone’s ears are completely different and there may very well be one headphone that many people love, yet one person may find it to be completely unacceptable.
I only want to list headphones that are readily available. There are a few headphones that are available from a variety of brands that are very expensive because those companies choose to add 4 diamonds too them and then charge 10 times more for the headphones. I shall omit these from the list.
In no particular order as each and every headphone will have it’s own, unique use case. Below are my current top high-end headphones.
5. Audeze LCD 4z – £3599 (15th November 2019)
The absolutely stunning Audeze LCD 4z headphones are among Audeze’ flagship series and use their unique, advanced fluxor technology with their massive planar diaphragm and Uniforce implementation.
The LCD 4z was introduced after the original LCD 4 as an easier to drive alternative. For anyone wishing for a ludicrously big sound then the 4z fits this requirement perfectly. The planar technology makes for a brilliant and revealing presentation with plenty of bass and sensuous vocals. Although the 4z is easier to drive it still isn’t easy. To get the best from it a dedicated headphone amplifier would still be required such as a Violectric or THX AAA 798. The 4z are heavy headphones and may not suit everyone due to this, however some weight saving has been introduced with the use of a carbon fibre headband and suspension band across the crown of the users head which distributes the weight more evenly.
4. Sennheiser HD800 / S – £1395 (15th November 2019)
Literally, if there was one legendary headphone then it would have to be the king of high-end and in my mind the headphone that started this entire category in the first place. The HD800S is a slightly improved version of the original Sennheiser HD800 created by Axel Grell and his team. It stole many peoples hearts and still does today. When the original HD800 was released it completely changed what people were able to hear from their music and it provided an almost 3D sound that completely enveloped you.
Unlike the 4z however the HD800S not only requires a decent amount of power it has to be paired quite specifically with the correct source components such as Streamer, DAC and headphone amplifier. The level of detail that is available from these headphones can sometimes become too much and therefore can sadly get a little fatiguing. However, if paired correctly the HD800S absolutely sings and enables you to peer into every piece of music with a scalpel knife without becoming fatiguing. You are easily able to define the very faintest of sounds and nuances alongside all the intricate details.
If paired correctly the HD800S are one of my favourite headphones, however some find this headphone to be too fatiguing which is why synergy with the rest of the system is exceptionally important.
3. HiFiMan Arya – £1495 (15th November 2019)
The HiFiMan Arya has to be in my list as one of the best all rounders. If you had to put the Audeze 4z and HD800S in a package that was easy to power and get the best out of then the Arya is what you would come up with. Unlike many other HiFiMan products that I personally don’t always have an amazing relationship with, the Arya is a stunning headphone that provides a gorgeous, fun sound with plenty of detail and effortless musicality.
The design of Arya means that they are light on the head, perfect for prolonged listening sessions and they should enable anyone to easily appreciate their incredible performance. They provide a very balanced sound from the bass through to the midrange vocals, all the way up through to the treble like hi-hats and triangles. There is nothing missing in their ability to resolve the finest details like the HD800, yet they never appear to become tiresome or fatiguing.
2. Focal Utopia – £3495 (15th November 2019)
The Focal Utopia for me has to be in the top 5 high-end headphone because it is an engineering masterclass. From the Beryllium drivers, through to the gorgeous carbon fibre headband yoke, the Utopia is exceptionally well made. For my the Utopia present a sonic performance akin to the HD800 yet doesn’t quite have the fatiguing presentation that can often arise with the HD800. The amazing signature of the Utopia presents a beautiful open soundstage with great bass that is able to go very low without crowding any of the mid-range vocals. This provides exceptional clarity when listening to male and female vocals and the hi-hats and symbols are presented with incredible energy that is close to becoming sibilant yet never quite reaches that point.
The Utopia is a class act and can certainly benefit from a high quality headphone amplifier and source. They scale very well, and unlike the HD800’s are nowhere near as picky with what they pair with to get a great sound from them. Of course, play them through some equipment that is able to resolve well and the Utopia will continue to scale accordingly. As an all rounder the Utopia is a very good performer that offers a great sound and is very comfortable.
1.oBravo HAMT3 II – £795 (15th November 2019)
oBravo’s flagship headphones feature their outstanding patented AMT technology and the HAMT3 II benefits from using this incredible driver to deliver detail akin to the HD800 headphones. By using a hybrid design the HAMT3 II incorporates a fast 50mm dynamic driver capable of delivering bass slam and presence along with rich vocals and amazing space around the instruments. By building the AMT driver in a coaxial design infront of the dynamic it creates a traditional speaker like sound rather than your usual headphone experience. The AMT technology is capable of delivering the treble frequencies up to five time faster than a standard dynamic driver used in the HD800 and Utopia and so the detail retrieval is exceptional. The level of information that is produced can take some time to get used to, but once you have heard the AMT technology it’s hard to find a comparable technology that is as resolving.
The beauty of the HAMT3 II lies within it’s lightweight design and comfort. By using the AMT driver it keeps the weight of the headphones down and enables the listener to not get neck ache after prolonged listening sessions.
Compared to the other headphones in this category the HAMT3 II seem like they shouldn’t really be included due to the cost, however I had to put them in this list as they punch way above their weight in terms of price to performance. Arriving with a 1.2m, 2.5mm or 3.5mm OCC cable it is perfect for use with your portable devices and also comes supplied with a case to protect them.
This is my current list of top, high-end headphones that will provide the listener with an amazing sound that should be a revelation for their music listening experience. There are, in all honesty plenty of very good and exceptionally competent headphones currently on the market, from the Abyss TC (I find exceptionally uncomfortable) to the technologically advanced Meze Audio Empyrean and impressive range of headphones from STAX and Warwick Audio, all of which offer their own unique sound and signature, benefitting a variety of people and their own listening preferences.
The Sennheiser Orpheus MKII or HE1 is an outstanding headphone system, however it is beyond the reach of many, many people. With this system in mind I can confidently say that it is a law of diminishing returns when you begin getting into the high-end category. A headphone worth 5 times more than it’s equivelant will not sound 5 times better and that is always something to take into account. The headphones I have listed above, in my opinion all sound fantastic and are all worth experiencing as to me they are the headphones that stand out in the high-end category and the relationship you will have with your music will change once you own any pair of these.
If you are wishing to discuss any of these headphones or you would like a pair of earphones for commuting then I am more than happy to help with suggestions for you. Each person has their very own requirements, and each person’s ears are very different. So in my opinion any list of top 5 high-end heaphones should always be from a personal point view and not gospel. I always find clients appreciating the different signature of one pair of headphones over the other and vice versa.
5. Sennheiser HD800 / HD800S Headphones
4. Audeze LCD4z Headphones
3. HiFiMan Arya
2. Focal Utopia
1. oBravo HAMT3 II
If I feel another headphone comes into this list and knocks another of the spot then I will be sure to try and keep the list as up to date as possible.