With dozens of headphone booths at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, finding the best headphones at the show wasn’t easy.
As someone who listens to hours of music every day, I was determined to find the perfect pair of headphones, regardless of cost. Even if I couldn’t afford them, I wanted to hear what headphones with a four-digit price tag sounded like, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Interestingly enough, not one of the top three headphones I listened to were new models; all three were from veteran headphone companies that spend years working on perfecting a single pair, and it shows.
These are the best headphones at CES.
The Winner: Sennheiser HD 800
Retail Price: $US1,499
Sennheiser’s HD 800 headphones stand among the best headphones in the world. Engineered to make your music sound realistic and natural, these headphones are a favourite of audiophiles.
Vocals sound crisp and lifelike, and everything sounds incredibly accurate and pristine. Bass sounds full-bodied without sounding bloated or buzzy, and you can be guaranteed you’re hearing the bass notes how the artists heard them in the recording studio. Mids and highs are extremely detailed, and listening to instrument accompaniment sounds like you’re there next the band.
The HD 800s are so accurate in their sound reproduction that not only will you notice new dimensions to your favourite songs, they have even been known to highlight mixing mistakes that occurred during song recordings.
The HD 800s are also comfortable, which helps for long listening sessions, and while they’re undoubtedly a large pair of headphones, the high level of design extend to their industrial metal exterior.
The Runner-Up: Audio-Technica ATH-W5000
Retail Price: $US1,199
Audio-Technica’s ATH-W5000 headphones feature a clarity of sound that’s competitive with the Sennheiser HD 800s.
Music sounds rich and detailed, and mids and highs come through crystal clear. Vocals sound particularly lifelike, and I was blown away by Don Henley’s voice on a high fidelity recording of “Hotel California.” Even the robotic voices of Daft Punk in “Get Lucky” and “Fragments of Time” seemed to have added texture.
If the ATH-W5000s have a weakness, it’s in the low-end, as I noticed the bass was detailed but a tad underrepresented.
While the build quality is equally impressive with the wooden ear cups, the ATH-W5000s can also be a bit uncomfortable due to the precise way they fit.
Since you can typically find a pair of ATH-W5000s for less than $US1000 online, they’re still worth the money if you’re looking for top-of-the-line audiophile headphones that are still three figures.
The Legend: Sennheiser Orpheus
Retail Price: $US16,000 (limited production of 300)
With only 300 existing the world, the Sennheiser Orpheus headphones are legendary for both their build quality and engineering precision. They came out in 1991, and Sennheiser’s engineers incorporated much of what they learned with the Orpheus when they designed the HD 800s years later.
Not only do you need a key to turn on the Orpheus headphones, but you have to wait for the six tube amps to warm up.
There’s no doubt that the $US16,000 Orpheus have a unique sound, and I’ve never heard music quite like the songs I heard through the pair I tried at CES. While they’re an audiophile collectors item now, you can occasionally find a pair on Ebay, where they have been known to sell in the neighbourhood of $US30,000.