Headphones come in all shapes, sizes, and prices. You can get a perfectly decent pair for as little as £30 or a reigning true wireless What Hi-Fi? Award-winner for £99, but you could also spend your life's savings on a pair, if you choose. Whether it would be worth it is up to you, of course, but spending five figures on a pair of cans is something you'll dine out on for years to come – whenever we can do that again.
These extravagant headphones fall into the latter category. From a marble chassis to diamond-encrusted cans and a lot of clever sound processing in between, these are some of the most expensive headphones in the world. Any of these tickle your fancy? Time to call your bank manager or potentially remortgage your home.
Focal Utopia by Tournaire – $120,000 (approx. £98,000)
Unveiled in Tournaire's Paris boutique in 2016 (and at CES in Las Vegas soon after) the $120,000 Focal Utopia by Tournaire can still lay claim to being the world's most expensive headphones today. Made by master jewellers Tournaire, the design features 18-carat gold mounted with a trilogy of diamonds on the headband totalling 6.5 carats, handcrafted entirely in Tournaire's workshops.
If you're still feeling flush after buying a pair, why not shell out for the stand too? It's only another $12,000.
Onkyo H900M with 20-carat diamonds – $100,000 (approx. £82,000)
The Focals aren't the only luxury headphones to have lit up Sin City during CES; Onkyo took its H900M cans and added 20-carat diamonds to its earcups before heading for the bright lights of Vegas. The stunning result can be seen above.
And that's not all. Onkyo also embedded these diamonds onto aluminium plates surrounded by a ring of highly polished stainless steel. Wondering which is the right earcup? It's the one with an extra ring of rubies. Well, spelling out L and R in blood-red gemstones would've been a tad over the top...
Sennheiser Orpheus/HE 1 – £51,000
Formerly called Orpheus, the flagship Sennheiser HE-1 headphones come with their own valve amplification. Once commissioned by the customer, Sennheiser says each pair can be customised to become "as individual as its future owner".
The chassis is made of Carrara marble, the same type Michaelangelo used for his sculptures – so it's no exaggeration to say they're a work of art. Not only does the marble look amazing (and we love the effect of the eight valves and control dials emerging from the slab of stone), it's also great for damping. Win-win.
The electrostatic headphones themselves are made from beautifully sculpted aluminium, leather and fine microfibre cloth. Thanks to Sennheiser's know-how, they even perform as well as they look.
Warwick Acoustics Sonoma Model One – £4995
If you’re willing to drop five grand on a pair of headphones, it suggests a serious (and potentially worrying) obsession for personal listening.
While we can't suggest a cure for this particular ailment, we can prescribe a good long listen to the Sonoma One package from Warwick Acoustics – easily one of the best-sounding options we’ve heard.
Pay that hefty sum and not only do you get a pair of open-backed electrostatic headphones, but also a dedicated energizer amplifier (electrostatic drivers require high voltages, so these headphones won't work with conventional amplification).
The headphones don't feel particularly high-end – the headband (made of tough Nylon 12 polymer) on our set creaked a little when twisted and the clamping pressure was a tad too firm – but this headphone system sounds so stunningly clear and informative that we can’t help but get involved with the music.
Astell & Kern Layla AION – $3299 (approx. £2700)
Of course, pricey headphones don't all have to be over-ear models. These in-ears from Astell & Kern will set you back a cool $3299 (£2700). There are 12 drivers per earpiece: quad low, quad mid and quad high proprietary balanced armatures. Housing each 12-driver configuration is a 3D printed chamber, which implements 'freqphase' (patented A&K tech which aims to ensure the correct phase and time alignment of all frequencies) and allows for a smaller shell design. And just look at the designs on those shells...
The first Layla launched as a custom earphone in 2014. Since then, there have been two limited-edition releases of universal fit Layla: "Carbon Fiber Edition" and "Full Metal Jacket." The former was the first Carbon Fibre earphone, the latter was the first full Titanium earphone. The newest third-generation release is this Layla AION – a sure-fire hit with gamers and music-lovers who aren't short of a few bob.
Audeze LCD-4z – $3995 (approx. £3263)
Audeze doesn't make one-off high-end headphones for fun; the company has the track record (and loyal customer base) to prove it. So why take the step up from the company's LCD-3 and LCD-4 headphones to the newest flagship set, the LCD-4z (pictured)?
How about a ridiculously thin nano-grade diaphragm, double Fluxor magnetic arrays boasting excellent efficiency and a cast-magnesium housing that yields a lighter-weight design than the 'standard' LCD-4 ($3995)? And the LCD-4z doesn't need an amplifier, so it can be driven straight from the aux port of your favourite listening device. Worth over £3k of anyone's money, surely...
Final Audio Design Sonorous X – £3499
Final Audio is another brand with plenty of premium headphone experience. Here, it's a combination of machined aluminium and stainless steel that makes these headphones look the business. We thought the sound lacked a little drive and nuance, and they're a bit heavy, but you can't deny they have the wow factor. They even come in a fur-lined wooden box that you may want to keep away from your cat.
Stax SR-009S – £3895
Stax has taken its regular SR-009 electrostatic earspeakers ($3600) and added gold plate to the design. But don't think the engineers are just being showy; on its website, Stax states, "If a technology is not suitable for music, you should not adopt it, even if it is high-tech." And just in case we didn't get the message, it adds, "Every technology should contribute to music reproduction." Preaching to the converted, perhaps, but that's us told.
Well-known for its high-end electrostatic headphones, Stax also pins the high price here on a super-thin diaphragm and a silver-coated, high-purity copper wire in the cable. You also get right and left channel indication on the cable: a golden solid line on the left and a dotted line on the right cable. The proof can only be in the sound quality...
HiFiMan HE1000 V2 – £2599
Planar magnetic headphones always attract attention and these headphones sport a 0.001mm thin driver, which is certainly an impressive feat of engineering. Elsewhere there's an advanced asymmetrical magnetic circuit, a three-core cable, polyester earcups and an ergonomic design that should mean they're comfy enough to wear for hours. Which, if you're spending over £2500 on them, surely you will.
Focal Stellia – £2795
At a mere £2795, these can are a relative bargain, compared to the Focal Utopia by Tournaire listed above. But almost three grand for a set of cans is hardly small-fry, and happily these headphones are aspirational both in terms of price and sound quality – they are simply the best closed-back headphones we've ever heard.
Where the original Utopia from Focal positively shines at home, in a quiet room, given a good enough system, their open-back design means that outside of these conditions, there’s too much compromise involved – and so if you simply must have a closed design, that’s where the Focal Stellias come in.
Shure KSE1500 – £2549
These are some of the finest in-ears we've ever heard, which puts them right up with the best headphones money can buy. They are among the first in-ears to use electrostatic drivers, which means a more detailed and accurate sound. Sure, it means you have to use the (supplied) dedicated headphone amplifier. But once you try them, you'll be sold.
Grado PS1000e – £1595
"The finest headphone Grado has ever produced" is some claim, considering the impressive reviews and Awards that Grado has collected over the years. The PS1000e is part of the Grado Professional Series, which the company updated (along with a host of other models) as part of the 'e' Series, taking attention to detail to a whole new level. Every single component was selected with care, right down to the glue. Tone-wood clad with metal alloy gives them their distinctive design and aims to reduce ringing and distortion. And how many other headphones feature hand-crafted mahogany?