Unlike other lists of the most expensive headphones, we looked for one’s that someone who isn’t in the top one percent would actually buy. Sure, you can easily find HIFIMAN Shangri-La headphones for $50,000 or Abyss AB-1266 for $5,000, but are you really going to pay more for a pair of headphones than your rent or mortgage? We can all imagine that those headphones probably sound amazing. But is a $50,000 pair of headphones, a) going to introduce you to new sounds from your favorite Rolling Stones song you’ve heard 250,000 times? And, b) cook you dinner (because for $50,000 it better cook you dinner, too)?
In this article, we’re not going to cover the ultra-elite studio headphones used by professionals, but rather the most expensive headphones in the consumer market. For true audiophiles, $500-$700 is a small price to pay for the 3D audio you get with Apple’s AirPods Max, or the premium materials and big sounds of Master & Dynamic’s MW65 headphones.
Why Buy Expensive Headphones?
You might be asking yourself, “why would I buy the most expensive headphones I can get?” There are many options for wireless headphones and earbuds that are great without necessarily shelling out over $200 in the process. While less expensive earbuds and headphones are a solid choice for a lot of people, when you shell out a little more coin you really get to enjoy music the way it was intended by the artist and the mixing engineer. These headphones provide more musical clarity and a wider soundscape for the music to truly be a reflection of the artist’s intent.
Listening through a top-notch pair of headphones is a completely different listening experience than listening through your $50 headphones. Hell, even as good as AirPods sound, the driver capabilities and just the available space for the drivers simply can’t match over-the-ear or on-ear expensive headphones. You hear more detail, get more clarity and oftentimes, the additional features are even better, too.
What Else Is Different About the Most Expensive Headphones?
Many of the options below have the ability to connect to your device through a wired connection or connect wirelessly. They also have incredible battery life compared to the likes of wireless earbuds and have things like Alexa and Google Assistant at your beck and call. Some even have spatial audio to enjoy shows and movies like you are surrounded by an entire surround sound system. Did we mention how amazing expensive headphones sound, too (we may have already covered that …).
It may seem absurd to spend $400 on a pair of headphones, but trust, it is such a delight and luxury to listen to your favorite album or a new album you’ve never heard before from your favorite band or artist through an expensive and quality pair of cans.
Our list of the most expensive headphones (but not literally the most expensive ever) ranges from most expensive to least. These headphones are still consumer-level but provide a listening experience that will shower your ears with musical bliss. Our recommendations can be found below.
1. HIFIMAN HE1000se Full-Size Over-Ear Headphones
What makes these audiophiles headphones so special? The science of magnets. That’s right, magnets. You have to be an extreme audiophile to even understand how these $3,500 headphones work in the first place. We’ll let HIFIMAN explain what makes these over-ear headphones so special: “The advanced magnet design used on the HE1000se, aims to be acoustically transparent, dramatically reducing wave diffraction turbulence which degrades the integrity of the sound waves. The result is reduced distortion, yielding a purer, more harmonious sound that is audibly so.” Inside these headphones, you’ll find a nanometer-thick diaphragm and a sub-micron conductor which comprise a groundbreaking planar driver.
These extremely expensive headphones also feature asymmetrical ear cups to more closely fit the shape of the human ear. The exterior of the ear cups is made with CNC-milled metal that’s polished by hand and carefully applied to the headphones. Even among the most expensive headphones of 2021, these are truly prestige headphones that will make other audiophiles jealous.
2. Sennheiser HD 820 Headphones
When Sennheiser HD 820 Headphones were first debuted at CES 2018, they were truly cutting edge. Even in 2021, you’d be hard-pressed to find many better headphones for sale. And with a $2,000 price tag, there aren’t many more expensive headphones for sale, unless you’re looking at studio headphones for music professionals. These headphones were made to be supremely comfortable (and at that price, they better be!), but the biggest draw is the open field of sound they create.
These audiophile headphones also have a unique feature: you can actually see inside them. And this feature isn’t just designed to make everyone who sees them do a double-take. Besides the admittedly awesome aesthetics, this feature serves a practical function.
According to Sennheiser, “The breakthrough transparent performance of the HD 820 has been achieved through a special innovation… legendary Sennheiser ring radiator transducers [that] are fitted with unique glass covers. Revealing the great look of the technical component within, this visually striking feature was actually developed wholly in service to the sound: the concave glass reflects the sound waves from the rear of the transducer to an absorber, which results in minimal resonance.”
3. Meze Audio 109 Pro
If elegance had a picture in the dictionary, you might find these headphones next to the word. Stunningly beautiful in appearance and the audio profile was engineered with the same sort of delicacy and precision. Details like placing the 50mm driver at the optimal distance and angle from the ear, or the “V-shaped torus” (the padding around the ear cup) is fretted to keep the design lightweight and comfortable but also create a fast transient response display the type of thought and care put into the design. These headphones aim to make listening to your favorite music an experience, like eating at Alinea in Chicago or Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo. The Meze Audio 109 Pro get a * chef’s kiss * from the SPY team.
4. Focal Clear MG Open-Back High-Fidelity Over-Ear Headphones
Along with premium brands like Master & Dynamic and Bowers & Wilkins, Focal is one of the elite audio companies making products for consumers. Focal’s Clear MG over-ear headphones are part art, part science. The ear cups feature a perforated microfibre earpads for a comfortable and secure fit that blocks out the world, and even the headband is made with the finest leather and microfibre materials. A highly advanced speaker driver results in high-frequency reproduction, while a unique honeycomb grille delivers clear, open sound that will, to be frank, blow your mind.
5. Denon AH-D5200
Sound quality meets elegant style with the Denon AH-D5200. The zebrawood ear cups immediately grab your attention with plushy pleather earpads and a comfortable headband that allow you to listen with these headphones for hours on end without your ears or head getting sore. In terms of sound quality, accuracy is the name of the game. These don’t wow you with earth-shattering bass or gleaming highs. Instead, you get a naturally produced sound and you hear essentially exactly what the mixing engineer wanted you to hear. Think of these as listening to your favorite record through a nice turntable and turntable speakers.
6. Focal Utopia
Initially released in 2016, Focal went back to the drawing board and four years later came back with a design that is equal parts technical and gorgeous. The opened-backed ear cups are a standout design feature that you won’t see in most expensive headphones. The idea is to create a transparent and natural soundscape so you hear exactly how the music was intended to be heard – akin to how vinyl reemerged as a popular medium for the warm and natural sound quality. Speaking of, these are made specifically for the home; place your favorite vinyl on your vinyl record player, plug in these headphones and you’ll be in audiophile heaven.
7. Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro Open Studio
Durability and excellent sound quality are at the forefront of the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro Open Studio headphones. They’re built to withstand constant travel but accurate enough to use as your reference headphones in the studio. They are constructed of mostly metal which helps with durability, but the plush, memory-foam- wrapped in velour ultra-soft ear cups feel incredibly nice over your ears. The opened-back design provides room for the music to really breathe. Highs are incredibly clear and the directional accuracy of the music is stunning (you’ll feel like you’re in a theater with surround sound). It is worth noting that these are not wireless, but worth the price tag.
8. Master & Dynamic MW65
While Apple’s Airpods Max elects to go with their typical “simple” style, M&D MW65 provides a much more stylish aesthetic to their expensive headphones. The leather stylings mixed with the metal outer cup look nothing short of fantastic. Beyond styling, these are feature-rich as well with ANC and Google Assistant built-in. They can also be used via a wired connection if you want to save battery power compared to a wireless connection. Speaking of, you’ll get over 20 hours of battery power on a single charge. And of course, the audio quality is spectacular with a strong bass presence and crystal clear, detailed highs that are versatile enough to enjoy everything from Gramatik to Lukas Nelson.
Review: Do Master & Dynamic’s Flagship Headphones Justify the Price Tag?
9. Airpods Max
Apple entered into the over-the-ear headphone arena with the AirPods Max, and people were initially shocked that it was almost as expensive as an iMac Mini. That being said, there’s a lot to like about these pricey Apple ear cups. First and foremost, the spatial audio with dynamic head tracking goes beyond the music listening experience to deliver surround sound level audio that adjusts with the movements of your head making the movie-watching experience a more immersive and wild experience. The noise-canceling is excellent and the headphones overall are incredibly comfortable. Sure, they’re pricey, but damned if they aren’t worth it.
Review: Are The AirPods Max the Best Headphones Ever Made?
10. Bowers & Wilkins PX7
These headphones aren’t the most gorgeous we’ve seen, but the headband and ear cups are cushioned with memory foam to keep your head and ears comfortable during long sessions. The cups swivel and adjust so you can get the most comfortable feel over your ears. The ANC is great and has three different modes that even allow you to mix in some ambient sound so you aren’t completely ear-blind to your surroundings. The sound quality is balanced and flat (and that’s a good thing). It represents a natural sound and doesn’t overcolor the music. With all the ANC features, great natural sound, quick pairing with your mobile device and Alexa and Google Assistant support, these are certainly worth your consideration.
11. Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
These headphones are in direct competition with the Sony WH-1000XM4 in terms of price, sound quality and onboard features. We appreciate the hands-free access to Alexa as well as amazing adjustable ANC along with Transparency mode. These cans are incredibly comfortable to wear even if you rock them through the duration of the 20-hour battery life (albeit that is an incredibly long time to wear headphones). The microphone is great for phone calls, but the real star is the sound quality. These headphones are detailed, providing plenty of clarity across all genres of music. The sound is nice and tight especially if you are partial to more rock and roll.
Read More: The Top 20 Wireless Headphones of the Year
12. Sony WH-1000XM5
The previous generation of these incredible headphones featured some of the best ANC for wireless headphones and the XM5 continues the trend. This new generation also brings along new and improved 30-millimeter drivers for tighter sounding audio, as well as improved battery life upwards of 40 hours with a full charge (30 hours with active noise cancellation on).
And with the help of eight microphones around the headphones, it ensures that you’re getting class-leading noise cancellation when you need simple silence in an instant. Furthermore, Sony had refined the design to make it sleeker than ever before.
Review: Are Sony’s XM5 Noise-Canceling Headphones Still Top Dog?
The top 20 wireless headphones of the year: reviews, pricing, noise-cancellation