The best luxury headphones on the market today
What should you look for in luxury headphones? What level of audio quality do you need in luxury headphones? What are the best all-round luxury headphones for audio quality, extra features and sonic detail? BBC Music Magazine's audio expert Chris Haslam answers all your questions and more
What you need to know before buying a pair of luxury headphones
Audiophile headphones will elevate high-quality recordings but will also highlight the flaws in compressed MP3 files. Not a problem if you’re playing a CD, but if you’re streaming from a computer, I would suggest CD-quality or better (16-bit/44.1kHz).
If you have well-recorded music and great audiophile headphones but are relying on your smartphone or laptop amp, you won’t be hearing your headphones’ full potential. Adding a headphone amp will make a noticeable difference with vastly improved clarity (try iFi, Chord or Audiolab).
Traditionally, headphones use Dynamic (moving coil) drivers that work like mini speakers. The more expensive Planar magnetic drivers place a thin film and wires between two magnets which makes them responsive, distortion-free and precise. They weigh more and project less bass.
The best all-round pair of luxury headphones on the market
Final D8000 Pro
They’re beyond the reach for most of us, but these 50mm planar magnetic headphones from Japan need to be heard to be believed. Paired with my Audiolab M-DAC+ headphone amplifier and streaming hi-res FLAC files, I listened for hours on end. And I can happily report that they boast the sort of balance and precision that one would expect, given the price.
Offering a relatively unadulterated sound profile, they’re instantly engaging, utterly realistic, but unlike the Campfire Audio Ara which feel very intimate, your ears get to enjoy a bottomless bass range, perfect highs and an epic soundstage.
Listening to BBC Music Magazine’s Recording of the Year, the Gabrieli Consort’s recording on Signum of Purcell’s King Arthur, the interplay between orchestra and vocalist is impossible to resist, pulling you right into their breathtaking performance.
Can I justify the price? That’s a tough one – but if you can afford these headphones, your music collection will be transformed, with a level of clarity, organisation and endless soundstage that would make any conductor jealous. hifiheadphones.co.uk
The best pair of luxury headphones for designer features
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H95
Launched to celebrate 95 years of Danish audio design, the Beoplay H95s are a luxurious treat, combining the latest active noise-cancelling technology, wireless Aptx Bluetooth streaming and exceptional comfort with accomplished 40mm titanium drivers, 38-hour battery life and exquisite pearl-blasted and polished aluminium components. They’re comfortable, sound superb when connected to Bluetooth and have an understated elegance that I could really get used to. bang-olufsen.com
The best pair of luxury headphones for sonic detail and audio quality
Campfire Audio Ara
It’s a new brand for me, but Campfire Audio have been making in-ear monitors (IEM) for decades, and after listening to the Ara, which crams seven drivers inside each titanium earbud, I wish I’d discovered them sooner. The drivers have been configured to create a neutral tone that is unnervingly detailed and, at times, painfully honest, drawing out extra layers from the most familiar of recordings. campfireaudio.com
Chris Haslam is a freelance consumer technology journalist, specialising in tech, audio, lifestyle, health and interiors. He is the monthly audio columnist for BBC Music Magazine, rounding up the best audio equipment on the market for classical music lovers. He is also a contributing editor for Wired UK.