CES 2017: Standout Headphones

CES is likely the most opportune time to see and hear what electronics manufacturers are most excited about and what they predict the buying public will be interested in. CES 2017 continued that tradition with more companies than ever trying to win consumers' attention and business for headphones.

Prices for headphones range from bargain basement to the stratosphere. While there’s certainly some correlation between price and quality, there are some remarkably well-priced headphones that will meet the needs of lots of people under myriad circumstances. Here are a few over-the-ear headphones that opened our eyes at CES 2017.

If the Sky’s Not the Limit

If you have absolutely no room for compromise in your audio gear, not to mention virtually no limit to your bank account, there’s only one choice, the fabled Sennheiser HE-1 electrostatic headphones. After waiting for a couple of years in anticipation, CES 2017 was the first time I actually had an opportunity to listen to them, and it was an experience that I’ll not soon forget. Even firing them up is exciting as the eight vacuum tubes emerge from the amplifier that powers them. The amp is made of Carrara marble for a luxurious feel that lets you know that you’re special.

But how do they sound? As near to perfect as I can imagine. I simply heard the music, uncolored by the equipment that delivers it. And that’s the goal of audiophile gear. Pure music as the artist intended with no nuances blocking the way. The Sennheiser HE-1 is, as far as I can tell, the best headphone available. Period. The price, though, is well beyond the reach of almost all of us at $55,000. I certainly will never own a pair. Indeed, I don’t know anyone who is likely to buy them, but dreaming is free.

Beyond the HE-1, Sennheiser ranks consistently among our favorite headphones, and there are many from which to choose, including three wireless models announced at CES 2017.

Standouts That Real People Can Afford

Blue is a company that’s known for microphones. From studio models to a wide range of USB microphones, Blue is a favorite among podcasters. The company has added a range of headphones to its lineup. The new lineup, sporting female names including Ella, Sadie and Lola rather than model numbers, is notable. I particularly liked Ella, which, rather than the ubiquitous dynamic drivers design, is based on the superior technology of planar magnetic drivers. The sound is exceptionally clear and detailed.

V-Moda offers a wide range of quality headphones and earbuds. Its wired models generally have corresponding wireless offerings. The news here is in the quality of the Bluetooth headphones compared to their wired counterparts. I listened to the Crossfade Wireless headphones in both wired and wireless modes, finding there to be close to no difference. That says a lot, since we’d expect wireless sound quality to be less. V-Moda could be on to something here, and I’m anxious to test them in our own lab.

A wide selection of excellent headphones is available for listening at CES 2017. The new Sound Reality Hi-Res Audio models are exceptional. Sound is crisp and clean. Clean deep bass, strong mid-range and exhilarating treble is apparent in these phones. In-ear models are also available.

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