Review: Best Premium-class Headphones

Skip the noise-cancellation and get your jaw dropped!

Buy traditional Over-Ear Headphones for the money you intended to spend on the best wireless headphones.

Published 2020-08-31 - 10:30 am
Best Premium-class Headphones
Geir Nordby

Products in this test

A few years ago, some would say that you were less gifted if you spent five hundred on a pair of headphones. That was until the wireless noise canceling headphones came along. Several of the best cost over 400 £, something no one wants to raise their eyebrows for.

But how often do you really need active noise reduction? It is primarily on airplanes such headphones are indispensable. In these times when people try their best to fly less for the sake of the environment, maybe one should think a little differently.

For normal use on trains and buses, you can go a long way with a pair of closed headphones. The same at work, even in an open office landscape. If you have a closed office or are mostly at home, it may be even wiser to choose a pair of open headphones. They often give even better sound, and you do not get clammy around the ears.

If you opt out of Bluetooth wireless sound and rather buy high-quality headphones with cable, then for 500 £ you will be able to disappear into the music, and almost touch and feel the instruments. There is such a big difference in sound between these and a pair of noise-canceling headphones for the same price, that you almost have to hear it to believe it.

You will experience that the soundscape opens up more, the music really begins to live. As a result of even better dynamic properties and lower distortion.

More exotic headphones

You should also not miss the build quality and comfort that lies in the most exclusive headphones in this price range. You get more aluminum, with a better sense of detail in the grinding. The pillows are in even better quality to maintain comfort for a long time. Some have taken the trouble with exclusive packaging, gorgeous details in genuine leather, hand-sewn pillows and so on. On such, the entire budget does not go to sound quality, and they may not sound quite as good as the models where stunts are not a priority. Worth thinking about.

Better than speakers

If you think 500 £ is a lot to spend on a pair of headphones, then there are perhaps more deadlines when you hear that they can quickly compete acoustically with speakers at five to ten times the price. This is because the speaker element in the headphone is placed close to the ear and thus cancels the room’s influence on the sound. For the same reason, they only need to deliver a fraction of the sound pressure compared to a speaker several meters away. Hence lower distortion for the same perceived sound level. A headphone also has a much lower material cost than a pair of speakers. Better sound for the money, in other words.

Nine candidates

In this test, we consider nine models, who argue about being the best in class.

We have included both open and closed headphones in this test, to find the best no matter what you are going to use them for (if you absolutely must have noise reduction, you can read lots of tests of such with us).

In the selection of the best, we do not pay special attention to whether they work well with a mobile phone or not. But we have tried directly from the Lightning transition from the iPhone, to check. Otherwise, we have tested with the headphone output on the integrated amplifier Hegel H190 and also the separate headphone amplifier Schiit Magni 3+ . The most heavily driven ones have also been a quick trip to the Auralic Taurus.

Products in this test

Neumann NDH 20

Non-engaging first attempt

Legendary microphone manufacturer fails to grab us with its first headphone model.

Appealing appearance, great aluminum finish and decent comfort. Seems to be a comfortable load on amplifiers, does not change sound very much from amplifier to amplifier.
The sound is dark, with too little detail at the top. It also sounds too sharp for our liking.
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Sony MDR-Z7M2

The entertainment is saved

Sony has improved its premium model Z7 with technology from the flagship Z1R. The result is even more striking.

Extremely comfortable ear pads. Great quality feeling, a lot of metal. Hefty bass, very entertaining listening.
Dynamics could have been more outspoken, and the bass faster. Takes some focus from the overtones and air in the music.
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Fostex T60RP

The music unfolds

Whether it is because they are semi-open is not known, but the Fostex T60RP has cleaner sound than most closed in the class.

Great resolution, rich bass and large room. Very musical presentation.
Very heavy duty! Forget about using these with your mobile. Slightly reclining treble. Looks like industrial hearing protection…
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Denon AH-D5200

Fabulous closed headphones from Denon

Denon AH-D5200 is among the very best closed in its class.

Super nice and detailed sound image with lots of timbres. Nice workmanship and nice comfort.
The treble reproduction could have been a little more fine-grained.
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Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro

Sharp analyst

The studio qualities are the strengths and weaknesses of Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro, must be tested before purchase.

Super resolved and analytical. Steel control in the bass, very open and detailed sound, and excellent wearing comfort.
The analytical grade gives sharper, and less listening-friendly sound.
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Audeze LCD-1

High-end headphones for your smartphone

Audeze LCD-1: There is no better sound for portable use in this price range.

Compact, light and perfect for mobile. Glass clear and neutral sound, with live bass reproduction.
The bass rolls off early and the soundscape is not as fine-meshed and refined as the reference.
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Sennheiser HD 660S

Classic in renewed costume

Sennheiser's best in the 600 series is the safe choice in this class.

Silky smooth sound rich in details, beautiful vocal reproduction and warm, full sound.
Limited sound pressure and deep bass.
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Beyerdynamic Amiron Home

The most sensible choice

The Beyerdynamic Amiron Home is an exceptionally successful all-round headphone.

Detailed, warm and open sound image with very potent bass. Excellent wearing comfort and high quality.
Requires a serious amplifier. May sound a little too soft for someone's taste.
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Hifiman Sundara

Test winner in open class

Hifiman Sundara is not only the best buy in this class, you also get the best sound.

Perfectly balanced sound with potent bass and buckets of details. Super-defined sound image with almost complete qualities.
The size and weight can be inhibiting.
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Lossless at last from Bose

Good news from Bose

Listen to your music for the first time

Jabra's best by far - but not for everyone

Earbuds with a telly

Summer tunes straight into your ears

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