Hi-Fi: 2017 List of Expensive Headphones

05/05/2017
Melvyn Teillol-Foo

Most Expensive Headphones 2017

It is always controversial to make a ranking list of something as subjective as headphones.

Even more so when you add the adjective “expensive”.  I could simply list the top 5 most expensive headphones and “Bob’s your uncle”, but it’s not as easy as that.  There are “classes” of headphones: in-ear, on ear, over ear, noise cancelling, wireless etc. You can also make a pair of bad headphones expensive by sticking a handful of diamonds on them.  So, to be more discriminatory, I’m confining this list to proper traditional headphones that sit on or over the ears.

The other problem is that musical sound quality is so subjective and we have to decide if that has any place as criterion for the  ranking of “the world’s most expensive headphones”. When you can get a decent pair of “cans” for about thirty bucks, how pricey must you go to be considered “expensive”?

 

#7: Grado PS1000e – $2,200

Grado PS1000e

“The finest headphone Grado has ever produced” – that’s the claim. Pretty impressive claims when you count the awards and rave reviews that Grado has amassed over the decades. The ‘now-discontinued’ Grado PS1000 was the benchmark when it was $1,700 a pair and the average audiophile’s “Holy Grail”.

Grado PS1000e

The PS1000e is part of the Grado Professional Series, most of which, have been enhanced with the ‘e’ suffix, coinciding with a price rise. The Grado reputation for excellent geekiness is demonstrated by their attention to detail, even down to the choice of glue. Distortion and “ringing” has been reduced with tone-wood clad metal alloy hybrid as a reminder of Grado’s traditional hand-crafted mahogany headphones. Remember, these ‘cans’ rank #7 on our list for price but probably is up there amongst the leaders for sound quality.

 

#6: Audeze LCD-4 – $4,000

Audeze LCD-4

Audeze made their name for premium kit with their old LCD-3 headphones at just over $1,900. Now they have doubled the ante with the new LCD-4 headphones. How do they justify the cost when the sound is not really “twice as good”.

It’s what’s not there that is the rationale. The “amazingly thin nano-grade diaphragms” use “Double Fluxor magnetic arrays” for a more efficient magnetic driver despite the reduced magnet weights.

Audeze LCD-4

You also pay more for the cool new design and comfortable headband.

 

#5: Final Audio Design Sonorous X – $5,000

Final Audio Design Sonorous X

Final Audio Design are experienced with producing luxury headphones and the Sonorous X is no exception.

First, cast your eyes on the fur-lined box. Even the luxury headphones are cocooned in luxury!

Remove the Sonorous X headphones from said box, and they look so hi-tech in machined aluminium and stainless steel.

Final Audio Design Sonorous X

The gold-leaf covered aluminium ear cups look huge but the sound lacks a soupçon of drive and finesse. Still, you can’t miss seeing them; they’re heavy too at 630g.

Thank goodness for the well padded headband and soft earpads.

 

#4: V-Moda Crossfade M-100  (3D Metal) – $27,000 to 40,000

Regular V-Moda Crossfade M-100

This may be the biggest “mark-up” in the hi-fi audio world.  Usually, these headphones cost a “mere” $350 but the “special” edition have decorative ‘shields’ that you can add on.

The ‘shields’ are 3D-printed and made of precious metals of ever increasing cost like Sterling silver, solid gold or platinum. El Cheapos can opt for less expensive materials such as stainless steel or bronze.

V-Moda Crossfade M-100 3D-metal

Like all good accessories, these headphones are obviously meant to be seen by your public.

Luckily, they fold and are compact enough to take everywhere with you.

Don’t lose them on your private jet.

 

 

#3: Sennheiser Orpheus – $46,000

Way back in 1991, before the recent spate of global economic crises, the Sennheiser Project Orpheus was a study in a money-no-object best headphones exercise. The result was the Sennheiser HE90/HEV90, a reference electrostatic headphone and valve amplifier combination that made audiophiles cream their pants with desire. Only 300 units were made from metal, glass and wood (!) and cost $20,000 each; when the median USA annual household income was $30,000.

Sennheiser Orpheus 1060

Two years ago, Sennheiser celebrated its 70th anniversary by presenting the latest Orpheus: HE1060/HEV1060 after ten years of R&D. It was priced at €50,000; the world’s most expensive pair of headphones without diamonds or bling. The infrastructure is made of Carrara marble, not just to look good but for dampening properties. Other bits are made of aluminium, leather and fine microfibre fabric. The diaphragms are engineered to be only 2.4 micrometre thick and are coated with platinum for a ‘sound’ reason.

Sennheiser specify a megawide dynamic frequency range of 8Hz to 100kHz.

The upper frequency limit is twice what dogs are even able to hear!

I don’t really know why…….

 

 

#2: Onkyo H900M – $88,000 to $100,000 and Beyond…

Onkyo H900M

Onkyo is a well known and respected Japanese audiophile brand usually associated with no nonsense geekiness. You can imagine the surprise at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) when they added 20 carats  of diamonds to H900M headphones and priced them at  $88,000 and upwards, depending on the gemstone quality.

Onkyo H900M

The white leather headband is hand-crafted white headband in soft leather. The ear-cups are decorated with a mirror-polished stainless steel ring and the aluminium plate is hand-set with diamonds. Of course, the right ear-cup is marked with a red ring of rubies.

Onkyo H900M Diamonds

 

 

#1: Focal Utopia by Tournaire  – $120,000

Focal Utopia by Tournaire

The Focal Utopia by Tournaire introduced at CES 2017 is touted as the “current” world’s most expensive pair of headphones . They have a 18-carat gold ‘shield’ set with six-carat diamonds, and are handcrafted in Tournaire’s workshops. A proportion of the sales proceeds will be donated towards treating eight-year-old Louis Biscini, who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy Type 1, so that you can have the luxury of conscionable audio fidelity.

“Utopia by Tournaire is the fruit of a unique partnership – the perfect symbiosis of Focal, a manufacturer of high-fidelity speaker drivers and loudspeakers for more than 35 years, and Tournaire, a jeweller renowned for its symbolic and atypical jewellery,” said Sébastien Dumas, Focal brand and communication director.

Regular Focal Utopia

Regular Focal Utopia headphones are “only” $4,000 and already considered by many, to be the “best headphones in the world”.

The blinged up ‘cans’ sound the same but are on a different playing field for the ‘Expensive Headphones’ list.

 

AlphaLuxe Choice

For exemplary performance as an actual pair of expensive headphones, AlphaLuxe chooses the $46,000 Sennheiser Orpheus HE1060/HEV1060; no bling but all the money is in sound R&D.

If you twist our ears and we had to select the $120,000 Focal Utopia by Tournaire, it’s no bad thing for at least the base headphones are up there with the Sennheiser in performance.

You need good sources of music to get the best out of your expensive headphones so check out a previous AlphaLuxe article about the Spiral Groove Revolution turntable.

 

 

Author’s Biography: Melvyn Teillol-Foo (MTF)

Dr Melvyn Teillol-Foo is a contributor on AlphaLuxe web-zine.
He is also a moderator on PuristSPro.com horology discussion fora. He blends his scientific medical objectivity from the pharmaceutical industry with purist passion, in his musings about watches, travel, wine, food and other epicurean delights.
His travelogue ‘Lazing’ and feasting ‘Grazing’ series of articles have now passed into “mythic legend” on the original ‘ThePuristS.com’ website. Those were the halcyon days when he was “rich and famous” that he remembers with bittersweet fondness.

Dr Teillol-Foo is a quoted enthusiast on the watch industry, appearing in feature articles and interviews by Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, Sunday Times (London), Chronos (Japan), Citizen Hedonist (France) and other publications. He has authored articles for magazines like International Watch (iW) – both U.S. & Chinese editions, ICON (Singapore), August Man (Singapore), Comfort (China) and The Watch (Hong Kong).