Why are high end portables generally poorly made?
I've been searching for my "end game" pair of portable headphones and have come across story after story about build quality problems among the top models. In particular I'm talking about the NAD HP 50s and the Focal Spirit Professionals, which generally seem to be regarded as the two best sounding portables.
I've tried a number of headphones lately myself - the Thinksound on1s, the Onkyo EF300s, the Soundmagic HP100s, the AKG545s and the Mikros 90s. The only pair that comes close to my $50 Koss DJ100s in build quality are the Soundmagics.
Why? Do manufactures know that us audiophiles will pay for sound above all else and therefore skimp on construction quality?
Personally, I'd be much more likely to part with $300+ on headphones if I know they had a good chance of lasting me 5 years under regular use.
Which elite sounding portable headphone does have the best construction?
These are actually well-built, in the sense that they will survive abuse. Surviving and surviving it while looking good are two very different things - the overall construction can be sturdy but the materials when abused will lose their luster over time. Think of this as similar to having a Mercedes: leather feels really soft, and is actually tough, and the alloy mags look great, but if your date climbs up on you on the back seat, her stillettos won't make any distinction between that leather and the cheap leatherette on a Japanese car, and neither will the curb make any distinction between those alloy wheels and taxi hub caps.
So basically, if I wanted a more expensive portable headphone, I'd rather stick with the Spirit Pros, and not just because they're a fraction of the price of that Ultrasone. The wrinkled plastic on them looks like they'll survive getting placed on non-dedicated (for audio equipment) surfaces where a lot of other stuff like writing materials, cameras, and mugs might make contact with it. If anything you can just wait until they fix those construction issues - even the Sennheiser HD600 had the cable contacts routinely failing in the first few batches until they realized that, one, there were a lot of units failing, and second, that the way they attached the socket for the cables to the drivers weren't stress-tested to withstand cable rollers.