To suggest that the types of guys who happily drop rent money on a pair of headphones are "particular" would be understatement. Those obsessed devotees pay attention to every minute detail: the type and quality of driver, frequency response, wire gauge and purity, ear pad material, heft, flexibility, plug type, and so-on, just for starters. So when a small company like Audeze comes out of nowhere to become an instant darling of the audio enthusiast community, you can be confident its product has been as thoroughly vetted as any product on the market. The company's latest cans, dubbed the LCD-3, are oversized and sort of peculiar, and basically everything a headphone fan could ever want.
The ear cups are made of dense and heavy Zebrano wood which, to even the untrained eye, is choice and rare and expensive. The angled or sloped ear pads are equally well-appointed, made from your choice of either supple lambskin leather, or (presumably for vegans) a leather-free faux suede material. They're cushy and soft and big, almost like old-timey radio engineer cans, and clearly aren't meant for walking around town but for slipping into like a worn-in leather chair.
But looks have to be a secondary consideration with top-flight audio gear. Both heavy-duty balanced and unbalanced cables are included in the wooden storage box (or Pelican flight case, your pick) and attach to the ear cups via a mini-XLR jack, which is kind of overkill and oddball and awesome. Where standard headphone drivers are essentially miniature woofers or tweeters, the LCD-3s use planar magnetic drivers to produce sound instead, and the result is considerably more clarity and power than we've ever experienced, with nary a trace of distortion even at high volumes. The dynamics, bass, and stereo imaging are fantastic, and music has an almost disarming presence.
There's no question that these headphones are far from cheap, but combined with a nice amplifier, the LCD-3s are as good as home music listening gets – and you don't need to be an audiophile to hear the difference. [$1,945; audeze.com]