After years of settling for the free in-ear headphones that come with my smartphone, I decided it was time for an upgrade. I’m looking for a solid, high functioning set, but are expensive headphones better? I decided to look into the features of high-end headphones versus lower budget headphones to see if there really was a difference in quality.
So, are expensive headphones better? The truth is that on the whole, expensive headphones are generally better than cheaper pairs, but there is a tipping point. Some headphones can cost thousands of dollars but are not functionally any better than $500 pairs. It really becomes a question of marketing and celebrity brand endorsements at those much higher price points.
Many expensive headphones have features that you just can’t find in cheaper headphones, key among them being durability, versatility, and sound quality. High-end headphones also come with additional features that most of us would love to have like sound management controls and virtual assistant integration.
Are Expensive Headphones Better?
Generally speaking, expensive headphones are better than cheaper versions because they give you better performance in terms of sound quality, durability, and comfort. High-end headphones also come with a multitude of features that budget headphones don’t offer, such as noise-canceling capability and wireless connectivity. Let’s take a look at the key advantages of expensive headphones.
Sound quality is, of course, the most important aspect of any set of headphones and expensive headphones do, in fact, give you much better sound quality than their cheaper counterparts. Users of high-end headphones universally report that their headphones create a soundstage effect, meaning that they make you feel like you are listening to a live performance.
This immersive quality sets high-end headphones apart from their budget competitors. Expensive headphones are designed to have bigger drivers which capture bass notes better and cut out ambient noise. This gives you a clearer sound and allows you to hear the full range of notes and all of the instrumental parts in your music in a way that cheaper headphones can’t.
When you research expensive headphones, you will most likely come across the term build quality. This simply refers to the construction quality of the headphones and encompasses aspects like material quality, durability and driver size. Expensive headphones generally do have a much higher build quality than budget headphones, which is partially why they cost so much.
Expensive headphones typically have larger drivers and are built with metal components as opposed to the plastic components that cheaper headphones are routinely made with. This means that they are virtually impossible to break, even if you drop them, and they are far sturdier to travel with. So even though you pay more, your headphones will last a lot longer.
Higher Comfort Level
The vast majority of reviewers report a much higher level of comfort with expensive headphones, mainly because they fit better. High-end headphones feature adjustable headbands as well as soft, comfortable ear pads, often made from memory foam encased in high-quality leather. Some headphones even come with lambskin ear pads for greater comfort.
There are many advantages to these types of ear pads. A memory foam base means that the earpads contour to the shape of your ears and the leather cover allows for greater breathability. This leads to less ear sweat when you use your headphones over long periods of time, which is far more hygienic.
Adjustable headbands also allow give you a much better fit, allowing the ear pads to fit more securely over your ears. This, in turn, gives you far better sound quality than cheaper headphones which don’t give you an adjustable, tight fit. In fact, it is in large part the superior fit of expensive headphones that gives you that soundstage effect that cheap headphones lack.
Expensive headphones routinely come with a much better warranty that tends to be far more inclusive of things like part replacement. Many high-end headphone manufacturers actually offer a lifetime warranty on their headphones, which is impossible to find with budget headphones.
Paying $150 or more for a pair of headphones may seem like a waste of good money, but that price point often buys you a set of headphones that will last a lifetime. Earpads, cables, and headbands are all replaceable with high-end warranties. The drivers on your headphones cannot be replaced, but with these types of warranties, you can typically get a new set at 50% of the cost.
Luxury Features of High-End Headphones
So we have taken a look at the key advantages of expensive headphones over budget versions, focusing on features that all headphones have in common. Now let’s take a look at some of the unique features that you can only get with expensive headphones.
Noise Cancellation Capability
If you are looking for noise-canceling headphones, you absolutely have to pay for high-end headphones. Budget headphones just don’t offer that capability at all. Most expensive headphones offer active noise canceling, which means that you can listen to music or a podcast while simultaneously muting out other ambient noise.
For some, this might not seem like an important feature. After all, if you turn the volume up enough, you will effectively cancel any outside noise. However, even with fancy leather ear pads that absorb sound well, turning up the volume on your headphones is just not a good way to cancel out ambient noise. It can damage your eardrums and the drivers on your headphones.
Bluetooth and Wireless Connectivity
This is a key feature that many high-end headphones today come with. Even if you only want to use your headphones to listen to music, Bluetooth is still a great feature to have. It allows you to connect your headphones wirelessly to your computer and other tech devices, allowing you to listen to music stored on your other devices wherever you are.
It’s also a great way to watch movies in public, like when you’re on the bus or train, without having to use wires and cables to connect to your device. And, of course, it allows you to make calls and have phone conversations on the go without having to use your phone speaker, giving you a greater degree of privacy.
Mobile App Connectivity
Mobile apps that allow you to control your headphones and customize your listening experience are becoming more popular. These apps can be downloaded to your phone and can then be connected to your headphones using Bluetooth. Most of these apps are designed to control the sound quality on your headphones, but some also allow you to sync to your email and take calls.
The key feature that these apps have in common is that they let you adjust the bass on your music and some even let you pick a listening mode like concert hall or nightclub. Other apps let you connect to your computer and smartphone so you can work easily on the go. There is even an app designed to track your fitness levels as you work out.
Keep in mind that these apps are all designed for use with specific brands of headphones, so you need to make sure you have the right app for your headphones. For instance, Sony has released a couple of different apps for use with their headphones. One app is specifically designed to help you personalize the way you listen to music, while the other helps you customize controls.
Virtual Assistant Capability
Many high-end headphones today have the ability to be integrated with Google Assistant, so you can use them all day at work or stay easily connected to the office when you travel. High-end headphones do typically come with wireless capability, but in order to use Google Assistant on the go, your headphones have to come with Google Assistant integration as a built-in feature.
You will also need to download an app that’s compatible with your headphones that allows you to set the controls on your headphones. Right now, the highest user-rated virtual assistant integrated headphones come from Sony and Bose, both of which provide customers with supporting apps.
You can get headphones that are designed to be compatible with Siri, which is great if you have an iPhone. However, Google Assistant integrated headphones do consistently rate higher among customers for ease of use, reliability, and performance. Google Assistant integrated headphones also have supporting apps that provide more functions like sound experience controls.
This may seem like an unnecessary feature to many of you – after all, you’re never going to go swimming with your headphones on. However, while that might be true, but many of us do use our headphones while we’re out and about. Walking in a heavy rainstorm, running to catch the bus in the middle of a snowstorm – all of this can impact negatively your headphones.
Cheaper headphones don’t come with built-in water resistance – I can personally attest to having ruined countless pairs of headphones and earphones by walking in the rain. But pretty much all headphones above the $150 to $200 price range are water-resistant which makes them ideal for use in places where fall and winter mean constant rain and heavy snowfall.
Another great feature of high-end headphones is that many of them have features designed to make it easier to travel with. A lot of expensive headphones are foldable so they don’t take up much room in your luggage. Many of these headphones also come with hard carry cases which makes them easier and safer to travel with.
You can also get foldable high-end headphones that come with detachable cables in different lengths. Use a shorter cable on the plane to connect your headphones to your armrest without a whole bunch of extra cable getting in your way. Or switch to one of the longer cables when you’re watching TV in your hotel room or working on your laptop.
What Do You Need to Look For When Buying High-End Headphones?
So now that you know all the advantages inherent in buying expensive headphones instead of cheaper, budget versions, let’s take a look at how to choose the right set of headphones for you. Everyone has different needs when it comes to choosing audio gear and with the plethora of choices available on the market, it can be difficult to decide on the perfect pair.
Narrow Down Your Audio Needs
The first thing you need to think about is how you plan on using your headphones. For instance, if you plan on doing voiceover work, you’ll need a set of noise-isolating headphones that work to form a barrier, keeping outside noises from creeping into your recording. If you’re looking for headphones you can use while hiking or commuting, noise-canceling headphones work best.
Also, think about whether or not you want to invest in wireless headphones with Bluetooth capacity. These are great if you plan on using your headphones to take calls and receive message notifications from your phone. If you do want to have that capability, it’ll be best to choose headphones that come with wireless connectivity and an integrated virtual assistant.
Headphones are also a better option when you’re working out in the gym or if you go running a lot. Earbuds tend to fall out of your ears and it’s very frustrating to stop every few steps to put them back in. You can find high-end headphones that come with compatible apps which allow you to track fitness parameters, like the number of steps you’ve taken, as you work out.
Figure Out Your Budget
High-end headphones run the gamut from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars, so you need to decide what your budget is before you narrow down a shortlist of headphone models. You can get some really great high-end headphones with all the best features, like Bluetooth and water resistance, within the $100 to $500 range.
If money is no object, you can certainly plump for headphones that cost upwards of $1000, but there is a tipping point. Some of the most expensive headphones on the market cost a lot simply due to celebrity branding – they are not intrinsically any better than cheaper models. Many of these models also have features like gold-plated earpads, which do nothing for functionality.
Read the Reviews
Once you’ve narrowed down the style of headphones you’re looking for and your budget, you need to do your research. Websites like SoundGuys have a lot of up to date information about the latest headphones and their key features.
It’s also really important to look at customer reviews on websites like Amazon and Overstock. When you read these reviews, look for information about sound quality, durability, and ease of use. Remember that wireless headphones need to be charged, although you can find battery-operated models. Look for reviews that discuss how long the charge on these models lasts.
Research the Apps
If you are looking for headphones that give you virtual assistant features, you’ll need to confine your search to headphones that support your style of a mobile device. If you use an iPhone, you’ll need to look for headphones that have integrated Siri assistant or have complementary apps that support Siri or are iOS compatible.
There are far more headphones on the market that support Google Assistant, but the apps that support these models vary widely. For instance, Sony headphones have apps that allow you to customize the sound quality on your headphones, but they don’t allow you to use virtual assistant features. Jabra, on the other hand, has an app designed for virtual assistant use.
Where to Shop
Most of us tend to do most of our shopping online these days, even when it comes to personal electronic devices. However, when you’re shopping for high-end headphones, it’s really important to go to a physical store.
Even though expensive headphones give you much better sound quality, hands down, when compared to cheaper models, a person’s experience of sound is a very individual thing. A lot of factors affect how you hear through headphones, including the fit of the headband and earpads and your unique auditory physiology.
Look for specialty stores in your area that focus on audio and sound equipment, like Guitar Center. Some of the bigger stores like Best Buy also have a great selection of high-end headphones and very knowledgeable staff. The key is to find a store where you can road test a bunch of models back to back to figure out how a particular pair of headphones sounds to you.
This might seem like common sense, but it’s worth reiterating that if you’re going to buy high-end headphones, you really need to get them from a store that has a really good return policy. Make sure they’ll let you return the headphones even if you’ve used them. You might find that the sound quality is different once you’ve used them in outdoor conditions.
Comparison Review of High-End Headphones
In the final analysis, picking a great pair of high-end headphones is really a matter of personal choice. What works great for you might not work as well for someone else. That’s why it is crucial to test your headphones in-store before you invest in an expensive pair. That being said, we have compiled a list below of five of the highest-rated high-end headphones on the market today that we hope is helpful.
Although these headphones have the lowest price on our list, they do deliver exceptional sound quality while still being extremely durable. Designed for use by professional musicians and sound engineers, these headphones are great for travel and outdoor use. They are UV resistant, water-resistant and are even billed as being resistant to the corrosive effects of saltwater.
They feature dual-diaphragm drivers which means you get a clear, undiluted sound that offers industry-leading clarity on bass notes, mid notes and high notes. These headphones are also noise isolating which is just what you need for superior sound engineering performance. It also makes them ideal for use in public because the noise isolating barrier keeps sound in.
One of the best points about these headphones is that they don’t need batteries or constant charging, which is perfect for on the go use, especially if you travel a lot. In terms of comfort, these headphones definitely hit the mark with memory foam cushioned ear pads and a flexible, easily adjustable steel headband. Overall, it’s a great choice, especially given the price point.
Slightly more expensive than the V-Moda, the Beyerdynamic DT 770 headphones are designed for in-studio use and are a popular choice among recording artists and professional voiceover artists. They have a very high-resolution sound quality, offering a clear, crisp sound with distinct bass notes and well-differentiated high and mid-frequency range notes.
They are extremely comfortable, having been engineered for long wear in-studio use. They have an adjustable steel headband as well as adjustable, cushioned ear pads. The ear pads fit snugly directly over your ears, giving you remarkable sound quality while keeping out ambient noise, thanks to their noise isolating construction.
Durable and ergonomic, these headphones also come with a replaceable parts warranty. They can withstand a lot of wear and tear, but you can keep them going by switching out the parts as your headphones age. All in all, these headphones are the ideal choice for those of you who want industry-standard professional-grade headphones without the professional-grade price.
Bose has long been a favorite among both audiophiles and professional sound artists thanks to the company’s reputation for creating durable, high performing audio equipment. Apart from delivering superior sound quality, the Bose 700 Noise Cancelling headphones neutralize exterior ambient noise.
They offer a high level of comfort with cushioned, memory foam over-ear pads and an adjustable headband so that you can have the perfect fit. On top of that, they are also Bluetooth enabled, allowing you to access virtual assistant features such as taking phone calls and getting email notifications directly on your headset.
Exceptionally user-friendly, these headphones come with touch button controls that allow you to quickly access a variety of features such as noise-canceling and sound management. The only issue with these headphones is that they do have to be charged and they only hold a 20-hour battery life. That being said, the benefits of these headphones far outweigh this one drawback.
These are some of the most high-end headphones made by Sony, but the high cost is eminently justified by the exceptional features they offer. They are well-loved by audiophiles because they actually reduce high frequency sounds to a much lower frequency, giving you a much clearer sound quality.
Like most over-ear headphones, the Sony MDR Z7 is designed to keep sound in by canceling out ambient noise. They also feature a unique liquid crystal coated diaphragm driver, which captures high and low-frequency sounds without giving you a muddy sound. Adjustable closed-back ear pads cushioned in breathable leather also give them an extra dimension of comfort.
The Sennheiser HD 700 headphones are admittedly very expensive, but they make up for the cost with their unbeatable sound quality, featuring dynamic stereo sound. Reviews of these headphones routinely refer to the incredible soundstage effect that these headphones produce, while still giving you a balanced sound.
Unlike the other headphones on this list, the Sennheiser HD 700 boasts a silicone-coated headband that is adjustable but still has enough stability to eliminate headband vibration and resonance. The earpads are designed to have a snug over-ear fit and feature ergonomic memory foam encased in soft, velour earpad covers for unparalleled comfort.
The Sennheiser HD 700 also comes with a detachable copper cable that works better than other headphones to give you better sound quality at higher frequencies. Combined with its high-resolution bass quality, the Sennheiser is designed to give you a crisp, clear sound no matter what type of audio file you’re listening to.
A note of caution, however – these headphones only come with a two-year warranty. That being said, the construction and German engineering behind these headphones do make them extremely durable.
There are literally hundreds of high-quality headphones on the market to choose from and depending on your needs and budget, you can spend anywhere from $100 to easily well over $1000. The key thing to remember though is that picking a set of headphones is a very personal choice and even though you might be tempted, you might find that a very expensive pair does not necessarily work well for you.
So take the time to do your research, read some online reviews of the products you like, and most important of all, test out those products in a store before you buy. Remember that you don’t have to buy a $5000 pair of headphones to get great quality.