A panel of professional audio engineers, audiophile/headphone experts, and audio equipment reviewers judged 19 headphones in three over-ear price categories and two in-ear price categories. Each of the headphones in the shootout are the participating brand’s top model in the respective price category.
Using a Technics SL-G700MK2 SACD/CD player and state-of-the-art switching, distribution, and test equipment provided by AVProStore, judges listened to music and used test signals to assess the dynamic range, tonal balance, clarity and detail, soundstage and imaging, and comfort of each model under review. Scoring was on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best. It’s worth pointing out how close the overall scores were in some cases (see results below). The session was led by Digital Trends editor Caleb Denison.
Winners are highlighted in bold within each judging category:
Over-Ear: $349 – $399
All models are wireless with noise cancellation. The Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 prevailed with the best performance in all categories, except for dynamic range where the Sennheiser had a slight edge.
• Bose 700, $379 (6.8 combined score)
• Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2, $399 (8.0 combined score)
• Sennheiser Momentum 4, $349 (7.7 combined score)
• Sony WH-1000XM5, $399 (7.5 combined score)
• Technics EAH-A800, $349 (7.1 combined score)
Over-Ear: $699 – $799
All models are wired except for the B&W Px8, which is wireless with noise cancellation. Focal’s Bathys triumphed with the top overall score, though the B&W Px8 scored best in comfort. Judges were united in the observation that there was a noticeable step up in sound quality from the lower price range as well improvements in aesthetics and design. They also noted how close the sound quality of wireless models came to matching that of wired models, indicating an overall uptick in the quality of wireless headphones.
• Bowers & Wilkins Px8, $699 (8.1 combined score)
• Denon AH-D5200, $699 (8.0 combined score)
• Focal Bathys, $799 (8.4 combined score)
• Sony MDR-Z7M2, $799 (8.0 combined score)
Over-Ear: $1,499 – $1,799
All models are wired. The Focal took top honors in dynamic range, tonal balance, and clarity/detail, while Sony prevailed in soundstage/imaging and comfort, resulting in a tie.
• Denon AH-D9200, $1,599 (8.3 combined score)
• Focal Clear MG, $1,499 (8.6 combined score)
• Sennheiser HD 800 S, $1,799 (8.3 combined score)
• Sony MDR-Z1R, $1,799 (8.6 combined score) (S&V 2017 Top Pick)
In-Ear: $149 – $249
• Focal Sphear wireless, $249 (not provided)
• Sennheiser IE 200 wired, $149 (6.8 combined score)
• Technics EAH-AZ60 true wireless with noise cancellation, $199 (6.1 combined score)
In-Ear: $279 – $299
All models are true wireless with noise cancellation.
• Bose QuietComfort II, $299 (8.1 combined score)
• Bowers & Wilkins, Pi5 S2, $299 (8.0 combined score)
• Sony WF-1000XM4, $279 (8.4 combined score) (S&V 2021 Top Pick)
The judges were: Brian “Woody” Stout, owner, Woody’s Soundup; Carlo Lo Raso, editor-in-chief, Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity; Gavin Johnson, technical support, AVPro Edge; Ian White, editor-in-chief, eCoustics; Michael de Nigris, audio engineer, Autonomic; and Shane Lee, channel owner/reviewer, Shane Lee Reviews.
Value Electronics founder and event organizer, Robert Zohn, said he decided to host the event after being asked by many to stage an audio shootout to determine the “best” headphones in various categories. “With recent advancements in new premium in-ear and over-ear headphones with open back and closed back, improved Bluetooth, noise cancellation, and the option to use hard wire when you like, it seemed like the perfect time to host an in-depth comparison for headphones,” he said.