Master & Dynamic MW65
I wore these headphones for the whole of a JFK-to-Heathrow flight and I’m pretty sure it was the best cans-on-a-plane experience I’ve ever had. Not only did their soft, all-encompassing leather and memory foam earpads not rub or chafe even after six hours, but the music from their 40mm (that’s big) beryllium drivers was sweet, loud and natural. The session barely put a dent in the battery life – they will run for 24 hours on a charge. The Bluetooth is incredibly strong. Oh, and the noise-cancelling didn’t leave me feeling weird and “coldy” as the technology sometimes can. These are beautiful and impeccable performers. £449; masterdynamic.co.uk.
With a starting price of £2,880, these extraordinary headphones are among the world’s costliest. They are amazing on two counts. The first is their unique physical form. The headbands are reminiscent of an oversized aluminium link watchstrap (and are indeed made on a premium Swiss watchstrap line) and the mechanical quality is superb. They roll up into a sort of dense, metallic croissant. And the audio they produce is nothing short of stupendous for what is effectively a travel headphone. One caveat: don’t waste your time plugging them into a phone – their quality will make ordinary recordings sound like mush. Either use an HD player or a sound-enhancing amplifier like the ifi xDSD. From £2,880; luzli.com.
An old family firm in Brooklyn, Grado makes some of the world’s best high-end headphones, which can cost upwards of £1,000. The GW100s, its first Bluetooth wireless phones, are priced at £200 but have the quality of something much, much more expensive. I was quite shocked when I first heard them. They are loud as heck, even when fed by nothing more than an iPhone, and my word, they sound deep and detailed and sweet. They claim to be able to play for 15 hours at 50 per cent volume, which is impressive as battery life goes. £200; grado.co.uk.
Audeara A-01 travel headphones
One of a new breed of headphones that can adapt to an individual’s hearing, the offering from Australian brand Audeara is very impressive. The A-01’s top-level, 32-point tuning procedure seems to be the most thorough of all the contenders in this genre – it takes 10 minutes of hard concentration, but you only have to do it once for each user. The sound is superb – perhaps not as dramatic or as loud as I like in these products, but that’s just me. The noise cancelling is good and makes up for the quieter sound. AU$349 (about £182); audeara.com.
The flagship, just-shy-of £2,000 headphones from Audio-Technica – the biggest headphone brand in Japan – are quite something and more. When I reviewed their nearest competitor, Sennheiser’s £1,400 HD 800s, four years ago, I was pretty knocked out by them – both the clear and natural sound and their lightness and comfort. Well, Audio-Technica’s ADX5000s are lighter, have slightly bigger drivers and sound a shade more exquisite. They need a powerful source, ideally a high-end amplifier, but were fine with the (still amazing) £3,300 Astell & Kern SP1000 portable. Headphones at this level are not for private listening – they’re more like a pair of speakers strapped to your ears. £1,990; eu.audio-technica.com.
Moshi x Grey Jason Wu Avanti
These fantastic‑looking, special-edition headphones from Moshi, a San Francisco audio and tech accessories company, were designed by Jason Wu, who created Michelle Obama’s outfits for both of her husband’s inaugurations. It was my daughter-in-law who drew my attention to them, declaring them the most stylish and comfortable she had ever seen. I then had a listen to them and, to my surprise, found them really quite classy. Build, looks and fit‑wise, there’s more than a bit of the ever-popular Sennheiser Momentum about them and, like those, they seal off outside noise superbly. The decent-sized high-resolution neodymium 40mm drivers produce a rich, sophisticated sound. £225; moshi.com.
Bowers & Wilkins PX
Natural-sounding, beautiful-looking and superbly made by Sussex brand Bowers & Wilkins, the PXs are wireless noise-cancelling headphones that are a squeak better than the world-dominant Bose QuietComfort 35s. They don’t do anything electronically fancy to your music – what you have is what you hear, and you hear it very beautifully. The PXs have the HD version of Bluetooth aptX, so faithfully stream from the latest music players, while the PX app enables you to customise the noise-cancelling level or turn it off. Lovely, stylish, solid British tech. From £270; bowers-wilkins.co.uk.