The best headphones of CES 2018: AKG, Audeze, Audio Technica, B&O, Debussy, Sony

There are all manner of headphones that hit the Consumer Electronics Show every year - each manufacturer looks to bring out something sounding better, working faster or with more artificial intelligence built in than Hal 9000.

In such a crowded market, it can be difficult separating the great from the gristle - which is where we come in. Having looked at every major pair of cans to come out of CES 2018, these are the ones you should be looking out for in the coming year.

AKG's high-price, high-end headphones

It takes a lot of chutzpah to launch a £1000 pair of headphones. Fortunately, AKG has the credentials to back up its confidence. The company is no stranger to the high end, having brought out a number of chart-topping cans at hefty price tags.

So we look forward to testing out the N5005s, which will be hitting the UK in the spring. Having been confirmed Hi-Res Audio-capable by the Japan Audio Society, the headphones use a five-way design using the company's One Dynamic and Quad BA drivers.

But if you don't like the sound balance, you can swap out the sound filters to give a boost to the bass, upper midrange or treble.

The last pair of four-finure headphones AKG released scored a five-star review in 2012 - we hope lightning can strike twice.

MORE: CES 2018: Bragi is working on tailor-made listening experiences

Audeze gets 'affordable'

By some campanies' standards, $200 for a pair of headphones is a lot. Not so Audeze - it's new $200 in-ear, the iSine LX, is its most affordable yet.

The LXs are packing the same planar magnetic tech as its older iSine siblings, have ultra-thin (30mm) diaphragms and measure at 0.1 per cent for distortion. So they should sound clear and accurate.

They weigh in at less than 20g per bud, so comfort should be assured too.

As standard the LXs come with a regular 1.5m audio cable, but chuck an extra $60 at Audeze for the Cipher Lightning cable and you bypass your iPhone's internal DAC. Using the LX's Cipher's DAC puts 24bit playback on the menu as well as Siri interactivity. The Cipher cable works with iPhone 7 onwards.

MORE: Audeze launches world's first planar magnetic in-ear headphones

Audio Technica range covers all bases

Some companies might announce one or two pairs of headphones at CES. Audio Technica, not wanting to be upstaged, announced five. Wireless? Check. Noise-cancelling? Check. Neckbuds? Also check. And that's only one of them - the £350 ATH-DSR5BTs, to be specific.

They offer aptX HD Bluetooth (for 24bit/48kHz file compatibility), and a dual-driver setup (one 9.8mm one 8.8mm driver in each housing) that move in opposing directions and are wired out of phase. This is intended to give an improved sense of timing and better reduce distortion.

Following them are the over-ear ATH-ANC700BTs (£200), which have aptX Bluetooth and noise-cancellation too. Sportspeople might be taken by the ATH-SPORT70BT (£120) or ATH-SPORT50BT (£70), Bluetooth headphones which hold an IPX5 rating against assault by rain or sweat.

Finally, those looking for a 'normal' pair of over-ear wireless headphones are offered the ATH-S200BTs, priced at £60.

All of these will be available early 2018, although we can't be more specific than that for now.

MORE: 11 of the best over-ear headphones

B&O Play's new flagship over-ears

Sometimes you can't be content with cheap wireless headphones. You need noise-cancellation, and USB-C charging, and proximity sensors. So you might well have your head turned by the BeoPlay H8i and H9i headphones coming in a few weeks.

Priced at £350 for the H8i and £450 for the H9i, these headphones are the updates of 2016's H8 and H9 cans. We're talking about headphones that can detect when you take them off - and pause your audio accordingly - with one-touch transparency modes and dual-device connectivity.

We're optimistic their sound quality - while H8 was let down by its fat bass, a port on the H9i provides "optimal and more powerful bass" according to B&O. We've got our fingers crossed - especially as the H9i is one of our Stars of CES.

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Debussy's OLED-screened, artificially intelligent golden cans

If there was an award for 'futuristic' headphones at CES 2018, then Debussy's headphones - powered by a 'smart sound system' called Iris - would have a great shot at taking it home.

The brand is owned by a startup, Funky Sound Studio, and its headphones are packed full of interesting tech. You can stream directly from Tidal, Spotify and Qobuz over 4G, wi-fi and Bluetooth, as well as store music on the headphones themselves.

With voice and gesture controls as well as USB-C charging, the headphones are certainly impressively specified. That said, we find it curious to put screens on the side of the headphones because, if you're wearing them, you won't be able to see them. Fellow smart-headphone Vinci has the same issues.

You'll be able to pre-order these headphones from March 2018, but the price is yet to be revealed.

MORE: 11 of the world's most expensive headphones

Sony's noise-cancelling, splash-proof in-ears

Getting a pair of wireless in-ear headphones that deliver both impressive sound quality and compete with Apple's AirPods in terms of convenience is a tough task. Effirts from Motorola, Elyxr and many others have tried and failed to hit that niche.

But Sony's WF-1000X headphones hit it out of the park when they launched last year, so we expect great things from the WF-SP700Ns. As a part of Sony's 'sport' line they're splash-proof (IPX4 rated) and are optimised for Google Assistant - so you'll get quicker access to voice-activated commands and tasks.

And much like Sony's other headphones, they'll come with digital noise-cancelling technology, adaptable based on your surroundings.

A total three hours of battery life - with an extra six hours held by its charging case - these headphones will be available in black, pink, yellow or silver in June 2018. The US will get them for $180, but UK pricing is yet to be announced.

MORE: Bose QuietComfort 35 II vs Bowers & Wilkins PX vs Sony WH-1000XM2 - which are best?


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Adam was a staff writer for What Hi-Fi?, reviewing consumer gadgets for online and print publication, as well as researching and producing features and advice pieces on new technology in the hi-fi industry. He has since worked for PC Mag as a contributing editor and is now a science and technology reporter for The Independent.