Laproaigh is somewhat hyped and overpriced IMO. That being said Ardbeg is moving in that direction, and have been for a few years now. Even so, both taste and history-wise, Ardbeg's definitely has way more of the Grado-spirit (pun intended). As a little fun fact, both distilleries are almost neighbours only separated by Lagavulin. All three make up the south-shore distilleries of Islay, which have a distinct and highly peated taste and smell to them (that you either love of hate). Laffy's way too closed and heavy, Laga's a bit too commercialized (altho still good) and they both color and chill-filter their spirits, which is a big shame! (minus some special bottlings). I say this because the non-chillfiltered bottlings show the destillate's true potential. Think of it as unmodded SR-60s, maybe even "worse." Go try some Ardbeg. I recommend the TEN and Uigeadail as a great introduction, but not necessarily back-to-back.
Laphroaig 10yr only recently got bumped up in price...all brown spirits are going up in price because China and India's middle class have discovered it. A year ago Laphroaig 10yr was the best deal of any single malt at $29.99 in California. Laphroaig Quarter Cask was $42.99 and the 18yr was $89.99. Funny you mention Ardbeg, because ever since they were bought by LVMH in 1997, they've been vatting NAS special/collectible bottlings whereas Laphroaig generally doesn't. The only really limited edition Laphroaigs being put out are their Feis Isle Cairdeas releases.
Lagavulin isn't commercialized, rofl. They have the lowest output of the three Islay distilleries you've mentioned, hence their range being limited to just the 16yr, Distiller's Edition and 12yr Cask Strength. Laphroaig Quarter Cask is also NCF and has no caramel coloring, so don't cry too much! If you want quick and dirty comparisons, here's the lowdown:
Laphroaig - Bandaids, very syrupy sweet, very peaty. A simple pleasure.
Lagavulin - The 16yr is richer, the 12yr is unremarkable. Very peaty, but a shade less than Laphroaig. Oysters, dried fruits.
Ardbeg - Grungier peat, big, not as sweet as either above.
Bowmore - Medium-high peat, light, sweet.
Kilchoman - Very peaty, lemon meringue, creamy taste, sweet.
Caol Ila - Piney, very peaty, seemingly effervescent, light, malty.
Bruichladdich - Oily, viscous, virtually unpeated. Stewed fruits.
Bunnahabhain - Nutty, chocolate/toffee, virtually unpeated
There's not a bad whisky distillery on that list, but Laphroaig dearest to my taste buds and sweet tooth.
Now back to your headphone talk.