Anyone who spends a lot of money to buy top-of-the-line headphones should first and foremost make sure that their individual needs will be met. We present four high-quality in-ear and over-ear models with their strengths and weaknesses – from consumer class to professional equipment.
You can easily spend a lot of money on headphones. However, the crucial question is not whether the quality of the product is good (which is usually the case in the high-price category), but whether the headphones are suitable for your own needs. To answer that, you should ask yourself questions like: is mobile use important to me or do I want to use them with a home system? Am I a fan of classical music or rock? Am I a frequent traveler or am I more of a couch potato? Do I prefer over-ear or in-ear construction? These four models have the potential to make your inner hi-fi nerd happy.
Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature
The P7 was the flagship model of B&W for a long time. Now there is the P9 Signature – an anniversary model for the 50th birthday of the manufacturer. The model stands out with its design – the brown Saffiano leather and the matte aluminum make the P9 look very noble. At the same time, it is much more massive and wider than the P7. With its subtle black, the P7 was also outwardly a more discreet companion. The P9, on the other hand, can be a bit oversized on smaller heads. Despite the weight of 400 grams, it sits comfortably on the head. The strong padding of the ear cups is most certainly helpful.
The P9 is, like the P7 Wireless, foldable and circumaural, so it is suitable for traveling, although it is not especially small when folded. Headphones such as these ones are not the ones you would put in a bag to be able to listen to music on the go. The one-sided cable management is pleasant and the cable can be changed, as well as the ear cups. Replacement cables in different lengths are included, which is an excellent feature!
The sound is intended to provide a particularly natural listening experience through an oblique orientation of the drivers. In fact, music on the P9 is very direct, which we liked very much. After 40 hours of playing time our first tests with pop and rock music had a promising effect. The P9 can transport the compactness of these productions well and develops a good physicality, even if we were a little bit lacking the bass here and there. When we then switched to classical and acoustic music such as Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto or Chilly Gonzales with string quartet, the impression clouded over: the sound suddenly seemed a bit musty.
The space and airiness was lower for us than the P7, which was a surprise because of the price difference. This effect is particularly noticeable in productions with few instruments. We liked the sound of the P7 better, so our recommendation is to test both models and compare them depending on your needs.
If musically you lean towards rock, you will be satisfied with the punching power of the P9, especially in a noisy environment. And even if appearance is ultimately a matter of taste: B&W has executed the design really well. Those who value this aspect should definitely try the P9.
Sennheiser HD 800S
Despite the fact that B&W headphones are still designed for everyday use in connection with mobile devices, Sennheiser’s HD 800S clearly targets home audiophiles and professional producers. This becomes clear the moment you open the packaging and find out that the cable of the HD 800S has a 6.3mm jack. Mobile phones and computers work with the smaller 3.5mm jack connections. In the music sector, for example in instrument cables, the larger plug is standard.
A supplied adapter is unfortunately not included – a service that we would have expected at this price. There is an additional cable with an XLR4 connector, which is used in recording studios and amplifiers. The rather heavy fabric cable has a proud length of three meters, which provides freedom of movement in the room, but also shows again that these headphones are definitely not intended for traveling.
The design of the Sennheiser HD 800S takes some getting used to and makes a very technical impression. The ear cups are covered with microfiber fabric and are simply huge. However, they are very comfortable around any form of ear. Despite being 330 grams in weight, the HD 800S feels very light on the head and puts little pressure on it. Although it’s an over-ear headphone, the HD 800S is an open headphone – so your environment will still be noticeable in the background.
The sound is much differentiated with clear highs, relatively few mids and pleasant basses. You almost have the feeling that the sound breaks down before you hear it. The orchestral sound in Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 spreads in every detail before the ear, chamber music looks nice and round, and even with electronic music the HD 800S does a really great job. Due to the rather weak centers, it also loses some of its pressure, which is particularly noticeable in pop and rock music. Overproduced pop is really difficult to tolerate with these headphones – especially because then you hear how terrible the rushing and buzzing is.
The Sennheiser HD 800S is not a consumer product and headphones to use on the go. It is a top model for audiophiles and anyone working with sound engineering and the price follows accordingly.
Beyerdynamic Xelento Remote
Not every music lover can make friends with over-ear headphones: too big, too unwieldy, destroy the hairstyle, keep out rain… In-ears can often offer more practical advantages. While the Sennheiser HD 800S or the P9 from Bowers & Wilkins is aimed at a clear user segment – either consumer or professional, Beyerdynamic is trying to unite the two with the Xelento Remote, which is suitable for mobile use, but at the same time fulfilling the demands of professional users.
As I said before: The Xelento Remote convinces all users down the line! Outwardly unobtrusive design, the cable runs over the ear. Musicians working on stage with in-ear monitoring will know the principle. This reduces the pull on the ear and stabilizes the fit of the earphones. If you choose the supplied cable with remote control, it slips in the neck and is thus virtually unusable, as soon as the cable is pulled together with the clip at the back. If you refrain from contracting, the cable makes itself behind the ears again. This is probably a bit of the crux of trying to bring everything under one hat.
The handsets are firm but pleasant to the ear and are extremely lightweight as in-ears with only seven grams and offer the possibility to replace the cable. This is both a curse and a blessing that is so beautiful (and reasonable at the price) – the whole headphones do not have to be thrown away if the cable breaks. It is also the only criticism that we could make out in the test, because the connectors unfortunately tend to lose contacts. This, too, is an eternal point of discussion for musicians-in-ears: solid connections cannot disguise, but they increase the risk of a non-reparable break. Changeable connections provide flexibility, but can also result in frequent change. It was a hard dilemma to solve in our test, but also an annoying detail.
A positive feature is the scope of delivery with a spare cable without remote control and no less than ten (!) different earmolds.
Sonically, the Xelento Remote has simply thrilled us: very open, differentiated, neutral sound and a fantastic spatiality. Especially for acoustic music and electro, the Xelento Remote plays its full potential: whether the clapping of the pedal on live recordings of Nils Frahm, the picking sound of the guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela or scratching the cello bow in the title track to Jon Lord’s album Pictured Within – the sound permeability of the Xelento Remote is simply remarkable! The basses are pleasant and the overall sound makes a round and balanced impression. The Beyerdynamic Xelento Remote are definitely one of the best headphones we’ve tested so far.
Bose QuietControl 30
Those who buy Bose usually have the excellent noise suppression in mind, for which the company’s headphones have been known for a long time. The QC30 is now the first in-ear headphones with customizable noise suppression on the market (a feature that the QC20 does not offer). With an app and a control on the headphones you can change the strength of the noise canceling at any time. We found it is a great idea after all, since you might want to get more of the environment on your bike than on the train or in the office.
The feature worked flawlessly in the test: just press the button and the noise suppression level adjusts smoothly. However, those who expect the QC30 to have the same level of noise suppression provided by the over-the-ears QuietComfort 35 may be disappointed. The QC30 is a bit weaker even with the suppression turned up completely.
Another unpleasant surprise during the test: wind noise was extremely strong and amplified in the ear. The closing of the suburban train door also caused an over steer every time, which led to an unpleasant pop on the ears – an effect that did not occur in the test with the QC35, and at a price of almost $300 it should not be present in the QuietControl 30 as well.
When it comes to comfort, the QC30 is back in full swing: the most comfortable in-ear we’ve ever worn. With their silicone wings, the earmuffs sit securely and do not press for hours. The material makes the QC30 sweat resistant, but also extremely dust-prone, which is occasionally annoying. If you use the included transport case, you can hope to reduce this effect. The neckband is certainly a matter of taste and custom question, but reduces the pull on the in-ears, which is pleasant. In the winter, equipped with a scarf and a thick collar, we sometimes found it annoying, even if it is relatively flexible. It is necessary, however, to accommodate the technology for noise suppression. As a consequence, the headphones cannot be rolled up small.
Sonically, the impression which the QC35 had already made at the time was confirmed: the sounds are a bit musty here too, as if a blanket is put over the music. Overall, the sound of the QC30 is quite balanced, with the highs sometimes a bit flat. Especially in compact produced pop and rock music like Muse or Bruno Mars, the QC30 develops good pressure. Even as a headset, the headphones perform really well. The voices come through clearly, the connection was stable. A handy feature for office workers is the ability to connect the QC30 to two different sources simultaneously. Somebody thought of that!
Hiding the office environment was our favorite use for the QC30 – the noise suppression is sufficient, there are no external influences that lead to overdriving, and the headphones are still pleasant even after hours of wearing. However, the QC30 does not offer the option of wired use. If this option is important to you (for example, because you want to connect it to the audio system on the plane), you should look at the QC35.