Recent Which? headphone testing has featured several models costing upwards of £200. The B&O Beoplay E4 headphones are the latest pair to fall into this category.
The in-ear headphones include active noise cancelling, which blocks outside noise and reduces distractions. However, at £230 they’re the second most expensive pair tested this year. The honour of most expensive falls to the £250 Sennheiser PXC 480 – another noise-cancelling pair.
It’s often unclear on paper what allows manufacturers to charge such high prices for certain models. Here we take a look at some of the £200-plus models we’ve tested recently to see what might make them worth their price tag.
Headphone reviews – see all our headphones, including models that won’t put as big a dent in your finances.
Premium headphones – what’s the difference?
Starting with the obvious, you’ll generally get more features the more you spend. The big features are a wireless Bluetooth connection and active noise cancelling. Headphones with just one of these features are available for well under £100, but a pair with both will often be much more.
A pair of £200 headphones might be made of higher-quality components than a cheaper pair. A wireless or noise-cancelling model will require a digital processing chip to communicate via Bluetooth or to perform active noise cancelling, and these don’t come cheap. A better chip will result in better performance, but details from manufacturers are scant, so it’s hard to know what’s inside.
There’s also materials and build quality. As the price goes up, cheaper materials such as plastic and rubber tend to be replaced by more luxurious ones such as metal and leather. If you go to a shop to get hands on with the headphones you’ll be able to tell which ones feel the most solidly built, but it can be hard to tell whether you’re paying for quality audio or just aesthetics and marketing.
The vast majority of people spend less than £100 on their headphones, so manufacturers know they have to persuade people that their high-end models are worth it. They might do this by emphasising the design values of their brand, by adding all the bells and whistles or by coming up with new and unique features that set their headphones apart. We’ve rounded up three of the most expensive headphones to go through our test lab in recent months.
B&O Beoplay E4, £230
Those familiar with Danish electronics brand B&O will know that making bargain-aisle products has never been one of its chief concerns. While its reputation for audio quality is strong, it clearly prides itself on its pristine Scandinavian design principles.
The Beoplay E4 headphones are rare for an in-ear model because they also include active noise cancelling. Usually in-ear models don’t include this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they fit inside your ear canal so they block out a lot of external noise already. Secondly, there needs to be space for the noise-cancelling electronics, and the battery adds weight.
This pair isn’t wireless, so it doesn’t need a huge battery, but the wired connection does feel a bit behind the times. To be worth the money, the Beoplay E4s will have to sound fantastic, but you may well wonder with B&O whether the money has gone on the audio boffins in the sound lab, or the espresso-sipping designers at the drawing board. Read our full B&O Beoplay E4 headphones review to find out whether they’ll give you sonic perfection or style over substance.
Sony MDR-XB950N1, £220
Sony’s strategy to convince people to spend big on these headphones is to pack them full of the features that people want. The MDR-XB950N1 pair sits at the top of Sony’s Extra Bass range. This range is unashamedly aimed at younger listeners, who expect a more thumping sound than their older counterparts.
The MDR-XB950N1s are big and comfortable looking, and this allows them to pack in enough battery to last for 22 hours. Like the Beoplay E4s there’s active noise cancelling, but these have the advantage of a wireless Bluetooth connection. Read our full Sony MDR-XB950N1 review to find out whether these big headphones could garner a huge score in our expert testing.
Jabra Elite Sport Wireless, £220
This unusual pair of headphones has an entirely different selling point to the ones above. Instead of offering high design they’re aimed at a particular type of user: people who exercise.
The Jabra Elite Sport Wireless headphones are small and light, sitting inside your ear during your workout, and can record your heart rate as you exercise. They link with your smartphone and can even shout encouragement directly into your ears as you run.
If these headphones can sound great at the same time, they may have done enough to persuade sports fanatics to spend big. Read our full Jabra Elite Sport Wireless review to find out whether they are ahead of the pack, or left eating dust.