High-End Audio Buyer's Guide: Headphones Over $1000

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Headphones
High-End Audio Buyer's Guide: Headphones Over $1000

HiFiMAN HE-6

$1199

HiFiMAN’s flagship HE-6 planar-magnetic headphone is one of the most accurate, detailed, and revealing headphones Playback has ever reviewed. Heard at its best, this headphone offers stunning bass, smooth yet ultra- articulate mids, and spectacularly detailed and extended highs, and it handles dynamics with both sensitivity and swagger. By comparison to the HE-6, competing headphones often seem to leave important bits and pieces of musical information behind. One note of caution, however, is that the HE-6 is very difficult to drive and sensitive to amplifier quality (inadequate amps tend to make the headphone sound overly bright or edgy). When driven by powerful, top-shelf amps, though, the HE-6 consistently amazes and delights. hifiman.us, head-direct.com

Beyerdynamic T1 Tesla

$1295

The T1 does all things well and is well balanced from the bottom octaves to the top, but with response tilted slightly to the warm side of neutral. This headphone is otherwise uncolored, highly transparent, and offers excellent reproduction of microdynamics—qualities that give music a sense of life and help reveal the acoustics of recording spaces. With wide bandwidth and good bass extension, the T1 is a headphone full of subtleties, though it can at first make it seem less vivid than some, with an occasional (though slight) sense of dynamic reserve. Over time, the T1’s octave- to-octave balance, purity, and low distortion never fail to impress. Use a potent and revealing amp for best sonic results. north-america.beyerdynamic.com

Sennheiser HD-800

$1399

The HD 800s derive their claim to excellence from good bass/treble balance and a rock-solid delivery of musical fundamentals. Bass is deep and articulate, while the lower midrange is clean, with good reproduction of power instruments. The upper midrange can seem a bit depressed, however, necessitating real attention to amplifier matching. You want to find an amp with low output impedance and the midrange glow we normally associate with tubes. Treble on the HD 800s can at times seem too revealing for its own good (or even a touch ragged), so choose source components carefully. sennheiser.com

Grado PS 1000

$1695

The PS 1000 builds on the signature midrange excellence of the Grado line by offering more extension at both ends of the frequency spectrum. It is balanced for greater warmth in the bass, mitigating the tendency of some Grados to sound a bit thin. But where the PS 1000 really shines is in delivering a relaxed sense of detail. If you use the PS 1000 with a merely “good” amplifier you’ll likely miss what makes these headphones so special. But if you connect the PS 1000s to a great amp they will give you goosebumps, guaranteed. gradolabs.com

Audeze LCD3

$1945

Playback greatly admired Audeze’s first planar-magnetic headphone, the $995 LCD2, but with the new LCD3 the firm has taken a significant sonic step forward. Judging purely by response graphs, differences between the LCD2 and LCD3 might seem subtle (both offer exceptionally smooth and evenly balanced frequency response), but in practice the differences are easy to hear and quite substantial. Specifically, the LCD3 offers greater resolution, definition, and dynamic expressiveness throughout the midrange on down into the lowest reaches of the bass range. Unlike most planar-magnetic headphones, the LCD3 is comparatively easy to drive, though it deserves to be driven by very high-quality headphone amps. Build quality is extremely high, and ergonomics are excellent. audeze.com

Stax SR-009

$5250

Let’s not mince words: At this point in time, the Stax SR-009 electrostatic “earspeaker” is simple the best headphone money can buy. Specifically, the SR-009 offers almost perfectly neutral tonal balance, terrific extension at both ends of the audio spectrum, vigorous dynamics, and almost shocking levels of resolution, transient speed, and transparency. In all seriousness, this headphone can stand tall in comparison with any (and we do mean any) high-end loudspeaker, which is pretty amazing when you consider the huge price differentials involved. staxusa.com