Malcolm’s Guide to the Best Earphones Over £100

Best Earphones Over £100

 

This is where the real big dogs come out to play.  When you start spending over £100, headphones start to transform from “built to a price” to “built to a performance”  Key ingredients are materials, electronics, enclosure tuning and extensive real-world development by the best engineers.  If you want to hear your music as it was recorded, these are where you look.  Be aware though, a lot of portable players will struggle to provide good output to something as power-hungry as full-size Headphones – think about an additional headphone amp if you’re looking for portable use from these products.  So, on to the list:

 

 

 

Fanny Wang Premium 1001 On-Ear Headphones (£103.01)

 

Okay, stop sniggering at the back!  Look past the fashion house label and you’ll actually find an impressive set of headphones sitting there.  Build quality is really up there with the best – a lovely friction roller mechanism sets the band size (no horrible clicking here) and they feel ready for a bomb blast – a wonderfully rare combo of light weight and a total absence of creaks or flimsiness.  The Cable is really high quality – thick and soft touch, plus removable (yay – a feature we want to see in all premium headphones) and has a buddy jack, to let a friend plug into your audio source and share your tunes.  Ear cushions and headband cushion are a lovely lush leather feel material – they really do feel a million dollars.  You can see the fashion house input into the premium feel.

Of course, all of that is pointless if they sound shocking.  Gladly, they don’t.  Far from it in fact – a really robust, fulsome sound.  Plenty of bass is apparent, but unlike their similar Fashion bretheren, Monster Beats, it doesn’t destroy the rest of the frequency range.  These are not just for bass-heads, they can be used for any style of music and deliver an incredible level of sophistication.  The overall weighting is for a more punchy bass, so yes, you’ll get most benefit if you like your music with a kick drum in it, but they are no one-trick pony.

So, they are decently priced (especially in this company) look & feel great and give you the sort of audio performance the price-tag demands.  A great set of headphones which prove you don’t need to walk about looking like an audio engineer to get great sound!

 

What makes the Fanny Wang Premium 1001 On-Ear Headphones great?

•  The Fanny Wang Premium 1001 On-Ear Headphones have a rugged design so should stand up to a fair bit of rough love.
•  There is a buddy jack so your friends can connect their own headphones to the Fanny Wangs and eavesdrop on your music. This is a nice little feature as it avoids you having to endure mono sound through sharing earbuds.
•  Overall the sound quality is very respectable with plenty of kick; although the strong bass response doesn’t override other frequencies.

 

What isn’t so good?

•  Due to the look of the Fanny Wang Premium 1001 On-Ear Headphones they may not tickle everyone’s fancy.
•  While they have a decent frequency range and are versatile if you don’t like a huge amount of bass with your music another set may be more suitable.
•  The Fanny Wang Premium 1001 On-Ear Headphones, while sounding very good, might not be the best choice if you are looking for reference headphones.

 

 

 

Shure SRH840 Professional Quality Headphones (£129.00)

 

I always take a sideways glance at seeing “Professional Quality” on a consumer product.  All too often the phrase is used on products that would be laughed out of a studio in ten minutes.  When Shure say it, however, you sit up and take notice.  Shure, whilst perhaps not the best known consumer brand, have been the go-to name in Pro-audio for decades.  Products like their SM58 microphone are industry standard and they maintain that through incredible ongoing research and development.  The great thing for the consumer is that this R&D is shared directly with the consumer priced products and they benefit accordingly.

So, the SRH840s are Shure’s bad-boy in the headphone market.  Their SE530s still rule the roost with the in-ears, but what about over-ear?  First thing to notice is what Shure haven’t done, rather than what they have.  They could have come in with a £1000 wooden shelled, magnesium chassied display case item which very few would have been able to justify, but instead, they’ve produced an expensive but affordable set of proper reference listening cans that people can use.  The clever thing is the performance they have extracted from these.  It’s incredible.
You get such a detailed and revealing sound – bass is really present, but not overpowering.  You really can get exactly how the track was recorded – detail is the overpowering watchword, but it never gets tiring.  They can handle everything from thumping dance tracks, to in-your-face-rock, to the most delicate vocal work.  They are actually a really efficient headphone as well – volume levels are decent with low inputs.

In short, a top performer for most things – don’t let the looks fool you into thinking these are for bass-heads only – they will be more than happy with them, but they do so much more!  Cracking work, Shure.

 

What makes the Shure SRH840 Professional Quality Headphones great?

•  Shure have avoided ramping up the price by not worrying too much about style and have gone for pure substance. While there are many headphones on the market at the moment with lovely wooden bits etc this all adds to the price and does little for the sound.
•  The sound is detailed with no frequencies being given preference – just pure unadulterated sound.
•  If you are looking for a fantastic set of reference headphones for either personal or professional use then you can’t really ask for more.

 

What isn’t so good?

•  The Shure SRH840 Professional Quality Headphones are fairly pricey so if you are working on a tight budget you may want to check out one of their other sets.
•  They are fairly chunky so might not be the best choice if you want a set of really good headphones to wear on the bus.

 

 

Denon AH-D5000 (£359.81)


Denon’s range toppers.  That alone, should be an indicator to how good they are.  But let’s not just rely on the name, let’s have a look at what makes them so good.

First off, the construction materials are as exotic as they are hand-picked.  Mahogany shells, stopping resonances and adding a warmth to the reproduction that can’t be captured with resin and plastic.  Magnesium chassis structure, to rigidly mount the beefy 50mm driver without adding undue weight.  Fabric coated oxygen free copper cable and gold plated connectors.  Sounds impressive, right?  As it should, given the price that these command – however, what does it all mean?

Well, it means that you have a scarily accurate reproduction of whatever you put through them.  Playing vinyl, you can almost feel the needle running in the groove – with digital high-quality sources there are screaming highs and inky blacks – silence really is silence!  In terms of tonality, these are some of the most transparent headphones I’ve ever tried – no colouration of the sound and total deference to the subject played.  Warm, inviting, smooth – they never show a ragged edge to the sound and never feel remotely stressed.  Push them with hard bass and they shrug it off – pulping your cranium before they think about losing control – run a delicate orchestral piece through them and you can shut your eyes and pick out the location of every instrument and how it’s played.

Everyone here loves these headphones, they ooze quality and you’d really not want for anything more.  Incredible.  However, if you must look, there is one last option….

 

What makes the Denon AH-D5000 Headphones great?

•  The Denon AH-D5000 looks absolutely fantastic with their lovingly crafted wooden cups. Denon have clearly paid attention to detail with these headphones.
•  With their powerful 50mm drivers it’s nice to see that Denon have used a lightweight magnesium chassis so the headphones don’t feel heavy on your head.
•  The reproduction is very detailed and the sound is clear. However, there is a great deal of warmth which stops the sound from being clinical.

 

What isn’t so good?

•  While these headphones sound terrific users might want to consider a portable amp to really drive them to their limits.
•  While the wooden cups will go some ways to improving the sound quality other sets sound just as good and feature a lower price as they’re made from plastic.
•  Due to their size (and price) they can’t really be considered as a portable option.

 

 

Grado GS1000i Flagship Headphones (£1,035.00)

 

If you think the review of the last set of headphones was a little gushing, perhaps look away now…

If you’ve not heard of Grado and you’re into high end headphones, we assume you’ve been hiding under a rock, as these are vaunted across the world as the absolute top end of the top end.  Now, it’s very easy to get carried away with opinion, so I was very interested when I finally got the chance to spend an evening in the company of these incredible pieces of equipment.

Design is probably the first thing to mention as it’s the first thing you’ll notice.  Grados have a look all of their own – they have been described as retro or even ‘steampunk’ but there’s no doubt about what you’re wearing.  I love them.  The detailing is superb – the mahogany used for the shells has a special curing process applied, which gives it this beautiful, almost vintage, patina.  Quite different to the look of the Denons, which is that of a high end satin kitchen worktop.  The headband has a cool ‘50s style that makes you feel a bit “Buck Rogers” (and not the ‘70s version!)  The foam earcups are so soft that you barely feel the headphones on your head – I genuinely have never felt a foam so soft and cosseting!

Lets be honest though, you’re not going to spend over a grand on a set of cans because they look nice.  The key ingredient here is performance.  And this is where words start to fail as there is no physical way to describe how these sound.  It’s a pity that each and every reader of this review won’t have the opportunity to experience how good recorded sound can be delivered – the downside being that everything else you try from that point on feels a little flat.  The soundstage feels like Wembley – you can shut your eyes and get the impression that you have a football field of musicians in front of you, if that is how the track is mixed.  Layering is seemingly endless – the harder you listen, the more reveals itself.  It almost seems unnecessary to speak about basics like bass and treble, but needless to say, if it’s in the track, it’s in your ears – even if it’s an earthquake!

The headphones feature vented drivers and open backs – meaning they really are a solo indulgence.  Not a lot of point wearing them in a room with others, as the sound will leak – that’s what gives that incredible openness to the sound.  Plus, the question will be (with some justification) asked if they really are over twice as good as something like the D5000.  That’s a value judgement that a review can’t make – what I can tell you is that they are better, by a reasonable margin.  Whether you’re prepared to pay such a premium for that, is a personal choice.
In short – I can’t possibly see how anyone could improve on these.  I can see sets of these headphones becoming treasured friends over many years of faithful service.  An incredible window into what’s actually possible in audio technology.

What makes the Grado GS1000i Flagship Headphones great?

•  Exceptional open and detailed sound meaning you can really get the most out of your music.
•  The Grado GS1000i Flagship Headphones show great attention to detail applies to their vintage aesthetic as well as function.
•  Top of the line headphones and quite often considered epitome of audiophile grade headphones.

What isn’t so good?

•  Their price range can make them inaccessible to many users who simply cannot afford to spend this much on headphones.
•  Despite their wooden housing all detail in design makes them rather delicate so you do have to be gentle.
•  Not easy to lug about with you on the daily commute due to their size – then again considering the cost do you really want to take them on your daily commute?

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