As we all know high-end speakers are really expensive, some cost as much as a nice car. But high-end headphones, even the very best ones are within reach of anybody who loves great sound.
A while back I tested three of the top contenders for Home Entertainment magazine: AKG's K 701, Grado's RS-1, and Sennheiser's HD 650. Each is, in its own way, remarkable. You can read the complete review here.
The AKG K 701 is a very large over-the ear headphone. Its remarkably open sound will be hugely appealing for those of you who use headphones while watching DVDs. I find the K 701 produces a less in your head, more speaker-like sound than the Grado or Sennheiser. As big as they are, the K 701's creamy soft ear pads are so darn comfy it is easy to forget I'm wearing headphones. No wonder some headphone addicts lauded the K 701 as the best there is. The K 701 will continue, but the K 702 will debut in August.
Even in this group of heady contenders the Grado RS-1's luscious sound scores an immediate wow response. The hand-crafted, real-mahogany headphone belts out a Technicolor rich sound, but I'd guess it's less accurate than the AKG and Sennheisers. Watching the Heartworn Highways documentary DVD starring Guy Clark, Steve Earle, Townes Van Zant, and Rodney Crowell performing in kitchens and back porches I feel like I am right there with the musicians. The RS-1's foam ear pads may not be the most comfortable things, but over the months living with an endless run of the world's best headphones I gravitated to the RS-1 more than any other. I love these headphones.
On the other hand, or head, the Sennheiser HD 650's modernist styling does not get in the way of comfort--you can wear these headphones for hours on end without ever experiencing the dreaded clamped-to-the-head feeling. The sound is warm, bass huge, and the treble range sweet; the HD 650's low distortion sound lets me listen at louder volumes than the other 'phones without fatigue.
The headphones will sound fine plugged into your A/V receiver, but if you really hear what these headphones will do plug 'em into a headphone amplifier. For these tests I used three headphone amps from a company called Headroom. With a set of decent headphones you can enjoy your Blu-rays, DVDs or CDs at any volume you want. You'll hear detail and subtleties that go unnoticed over speakers.