Three of the world's best headphones

This shootout with three contenders for the world's best luxury headphone--the Denon AH-D5000, Grado Labs GS-1000, and the Ultrasone Edition 9--was a tough assignment for the Audiophiliac.

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
3 min read
The Denon headphones Steve Guttenberg

The Denon AH-D5000, Grado Labs GS-1000, and Ultrasone Edition 9 are all over-the-ear "circumaural" headphones, primarily intended for home use, but that didn't stop me from plugging them into my iPod.

With its lightweight magnesium frame, real mahogany wood earcups and oh-so soft leather ear pads, the Denon AH-D5000 is a real charmer. It's the most comfortable headphone I've ever used, and Its microfiber low-mass diaphragms deliver lightning-fast, detailed sound. Audiophile mavens who crave visceral mojo will go ga-ga over the AH-D5000. This headphone makes a lot of bass. It was equally accomplished with music and home theater.

For the home theater trials I checked out The Flight of the Phoenix DVD, and the plane crash scene fully exploited the headphones' dynamic prowess. The AH-D5000's detailed and airy treble kept my attention glued to the onscreen action.

Plugged into a 4GB iPod Nano rock was acceptable, but the Denon lacked conviction over the Nano. The even more expensive AH-D7000 wasn't yet available when I wrote this review, hope to get my hands on it soon.

The Grados Steve Guttenberg

John Grado's latest and greatest headphone is a break from his past designs. The retro, World War II "cans" look is gone. The GS-1000 is still unmistakably Grado, but with more contemporary styled, hand-crafted mahogany earcups with much larger foam ear pads. The headband is covered in real leather.

As much as I love Grado's sound, I've found previous generations Grado headphones' comfort level was below par. The GS-1000 is a vast improvement; the larger ear pad's pressure is low, and the headphones feel light on my head.

Pardon me while I gush over the way GS-1000 clarifies live recordings. The sound seemed to surround me, with a rare ability to resolve depth, just as you would in a concert hall. Ditto for the way this headphone reveals rhythmic underpinnings in rock and jazz CDs. Grados have always been exciting, classical music now sounds more refined. Bass is deep, yet more controlled and precise than ever before.

The GS-1000 worked its magic connected to the Nano. Sure, the cavernous soundstage was especially impressive on Miles Davis/Gil Evans big band albums, but the Nano ran out of juice when I cranked Led Zeppelin.

The Ultrasones Steve Guttenberg

The Edition 9 is a closed-back design with incredibly soft Ethiopian sheep's leather ear pads that effectively block outside noise from intruding on your musical bliss. And since the headphones don't "leak" sound to the outside world you can wear the Edition 9 to bed and listen at a fairly loud level without disturbing your partner.

The gleaming chrome over brass earcups triumphantly announce the Edition 9's Germanic design flair, and yet the design feels understated. One nitpick: I felt (literally) the ear pads exerted a little too much pressure on my ears, though the pressure will probably lighten after a few months of use.

The sheer weight of the sound tips the tonal balance down, but the midrange and treble are crisp and clear. Led Zeppelin's first two albums lit up the Edition 9's heavy metal prowess. Jimmy Page's guitar thrash was amazing, the spectacle of Robert Plant's lung-popping vocals loomed large, and John Bonham's thudding percussion kicked harder than I've ever heard over headphones.

Finally, the Edition 9 is super easy to drive, so it really clicked with the Nano, with all sorts of music.

You can read my complete Home Entertainment review of the three headphones by clicking here. Prices? Denon AH-D5000, $699; Grado GS-1000, $995; Ultrasone Edition 9, $1,500