The current headphone market is more crowded than ever, with a vast array of options, features, designs and finishes. This is great news for music fans as there is quite literally something for every consumer, across a wide range of prices. Today, however, we’d like to shine a spotlight on ‘premium’ or ‘high end’ headphones, highlighting some of the key features that make them stand apart from the crowd and why they might be a great option for you if you’re serious about sound.
Firstly, it will be helpful to touch briefly on a few of the common types of headphones you’re likely to encounter in your quest for sonic greatness. It also bears mentioning that these are merely guidelines, and at the end of the day what you think sounds best is all that truly matters.
Closed-back headphones are far and away the most common over-ear and on ear headphone design on the market, regardless of price point. Utilising the space between and around the drive unit and the back of the headphone, this design is able to generate punchy low-end, whilst blocking out a good majority of outside noise.
Open back headphones, as you might guess, have a design that does away with the familiar ‘shell’ of the closed back design. By doing this, more air is able to pass through the headphone, resulting in a sound that many claim sounds more open, with a truer soundstage (i.e. how accurately you can hear the placement of each instrument). The only downside to this is that while air is able to get in, that means sound is also able to travel in and–more importantly–out, which means others around you will be able to hear whatever you’re listening to. For this reason, open back headphones are best used inside in a space where outside noise can be kept to a minimum. While this might make them seem a bit specific, the clarity and depth that open back headphones offer can really be stunning for dedicated listening sessions.
One other design you’ll come across in the premium headphone world is inside the headphone, and these are called ‘planar magnetic’ headphones. Without getting overly technical, most modern headphones use a ‘dynamic driver’ design, where a recognisable cone-shaped driver is moved by a powered magnet behind the driver. In a ‘planar magnet’ design, the driver is flat, and pushed and pulled by magnets on either side. The major sonic difference is in the bass – planar magnets tend to have less ‘punch’ in the low end, but can often be heard to give a more accurate bass performance. Planar magnet designs are far less common, but you will encounter them – as mentioned before, let your ears decide what you feel sounds best.
So far, we’ve talked about over ear and on ear models. While these designs are what most people will associate with hi-fi listening, there are many manufacturers making premium in ear models, designed to be equally impressive for both at home listening as they are on-the go.
There are so many benefits that come with buying premium headphones, and chief among these is a massive step up in sound quality. By using premium materials, cutting-edge production methods and custom-designed components, manufacturers are able to produce headphones that will allow you to hear your cherished music in whole new ways. Vinyl comes alive in the warm and vibrantly rich detail that the format is famous for, revealing secrets that you’ve never heard before. If you’re listening to your digital music in Hi-Res formats, premium headphones are the perfect pairing to get that crisp and clear sound you’re after too.
Another key benefit is build quality. A higher price tag allows the manufacturers to lavish more time on the details and materials. This results in an impeccable fit and finish, with luxurious and unique designs that you’ll want to display proudly.
So after all of this, you might be asking “why?”. Why bother with a high-end set of headphones when a cheap and cheerful set will do the job well enough. Chances are, if you’ve made it this far in this article, you care enough about sound in a way that “well enough” doesn’t always cut it, and therein lies the reason; If you love music, if you love the way that putting on your favourite records make you feel, the way it can transform your day in an instant, then you likely care greatly about how that music sounds.
Maybe you’re after an upgrade to get the most out of your Hi-Res music streaming subscription, transforming the commute into the office from a chore into more of a pleasure, allowing you to focus on how great your favourite tunes sound all three-dimensional in high resolution. Perhaps you already have a stellar hi-fi and want to have an extension of that same phenomenal sound for periods of dedicated personal listening, getting totally lost in the music.
While they may be more expensive than some of their more basic counterparts, premium high-end headphones are an investment–much like your music collection–that can provide years of enjoyment, fun and excitement, something that long outlasts the initial number on the price tag.