If you have ever had the experience of listening to planar speakers like Magnaplanars, you'll understand why the HiFiMAN HE-500 are so good. These open back, over-the-ear headphones use a magnetic planar (orthodynamic) drive with a very thin and flat surface that can respond very quickly to audio signals. The result is a extremely life-like midrange, airy treble, and defined bass with a clearly defined soundstage. The attack of a plucked string on a upright bass, the bow on a cello, the air of a splash cymbal, is where the big payoff is here.
Unlike electrostatic headphones, and some of HiFIMAN's other audiophile headphone offerings, the HE-500 can be used with a standard headphone amplifier or better quality receiver. Frequency response is from 15 Hz to 50 kHz frequency range, and very flat in the critical range of 50 Hz to 15 KHz. Note that these are not as efficient as headphones using dynamic drivers, so you may need to turn up the volume a bit more.
Negatives? If you like your bass accentuated if not a little heavy, these may not be the right fit for you. And speaking of fit, some users find the HE-500 to be a bit heavy, and uncomfortable due to pressure from the headband. However, aftermarket headbands and ear cushions are available. That being said, the detailed and un-hyped sound these cans can deliver greatly outweigh any negatives. These are fantastic headphones, especially for the price, and are our best pick.
Grado has been a big name in the world of headphones for many years, and all of their models are well-regarded. They also have what is referred to as the "Grado sound", with a somewhat forward midrange and treble. The PS 500 is a newer model, developed as a lower priced version of their PS 1000. It's an open backed design using very efficient, large dynamic drivers with rare earth magnets and ultra pure copper in the voice coil. The housing is made of mahogany and aluminum, but only the aluminum is visible. Mahogany is used for the acoustic chamber surrounding the driver.
These cans will play loud, and they will punch out the bass while still maintaining realism and accuracy. As you would expect, these audiophile headphones really shine in music with some space between the notes or where acoustic instruments are featured. However, you can definitely wear these and rock out!
Frequency response of the PS 500 is rated as 14 Hz to 29 KHz, with an impedance of 32 ohms. These are lightweight and comfortable headphones, made by company with a reputation for good customer service. If you can find these on sale, your wallet and your ears will be very happy.
Audio Technica ATH W5000 headphones are immediately visually striking; the housing is made of striped ebony wood, and the overall impression is that these are substantial headphones. Unlike other choices on the list, the ATH W5000 is a closed back design, which make them better for listening in noisy environments. This also gives them a more extended bass response, but this does not mean louder or "fatter" bass, just a little more extension to the lowest notes. These A-T cans also present a large soundstage in part due to the design of the cup. Normally, open back designs are superior in this aspect. Transients are well defined. And you will hear a realistic presentation of stringed instruments and voices, a hallmark of true high fidelity sound.
These audiophile headphones feature dynamic drivers with neodymium magnets and oxygen-free copper voice coils. They are comfortable and suited to all types of music. Frequency response is listed as 5 Hz to 45,KHz, with a sensitivity of 102 dB. The included carry case is a nice touch as well.
The ATH W5000 Audiophile Closed Back headphones may not be the most accurate on our best list, but they are certainly worthy of inclusion on it. If you listen in noisier environments, or don't want to disturb others with what you are listening to, these are a great choice.
If you are shopping for headphones, you'll already be familiar with the Sennheiser name. The HD 650 are just one of many models they offer. Right away we should note that these headphones are not for purists as they have a bit of an exaggerated bass response. But for many listeners they will hit a sweet spot of price, enjoyment, and detail. They are not inaccurate, but they do have a specific sound profile.
The HD 650 is an open back design featuring dynamic drivers with neodymium magnets, aluminum voice coils, and acoustic silk damping material. Frequency response is rated at10 Hz to 39.5 KHz. These are very efficient headphones and can get very loud while playing very clean. If you want to really crank the Mahler. Mingus, or Megadeth, you can do it with ordinary amplification i.e. you won't need a special headphone amplifier for impedance matching purposes.
These reasonably-priced cans could be your entry point into the world of audiophile grade headphone listening, or, if you enjoy their presentation, your final destination.
The Polk UltraFocus 8000 have the best overall fidelity of the noise cancelling headphones on our list. These fine headphones offer headset functions, and have remote control buttons on the right side ready for iPhone or iPad use. And, they are really comfortable.
Made by a company known for their loudspeaker designs, the UltraFocus 8000 is an on-the-ear design offering close to audiophile-grade sound. Frequency response is listed as 8 Hz to 28 KHz with 110 dB sensitivity. Voices and instruments are well-defined, bass is full, but not boomy like other designs, and high frequency response is extended without being fatiguing. With noise cancelling on, audio quality is not appreciably reduced, but you will find that the noise cancelling in the Polk headphones is not quite as effective as other units. It was a conscious design choice I am sure, as more aggressive cancellation of mid-range frequencies starts to have real effects on music.
The active noise cancelling system requires two AAA batteries, with battery life specs listed as 40-60 hours. The system works well but struggles a bit with masking voices, again a conscious choice by Polk. The three-button remote provides play/pause, volume, mute, and call answer functions. If there is a downside to these headphones, it is that they do not work if the batteries are dead. Yet, when all is said and done, the UltraFocus 8000 are still our top pick due to their excellent sound quality and effective noise cancellation.
Bose is the most recognized name when it comes to noise cancelling headphones, and rightfully so. There is no doubt that the technology Bose uses to cancel outside noises is very effective. It includes microphones both inside and outside the ear cup to sample outside sounds. Plus, the over-the-ear design seals the ears well providing passive noise reduction as well.
In terms of overall audio quality, the Quiet Comfort 15 are good, but not great. Bass response is exaggerated although less so than in older designs. The midrange where vocals and many instruments set in the mix are a bit recessed, with treble rising but not to the point of fatigue. In the environment for which they were designed the shaped frequency response is appropriate, and works with the noise cancellation circuitry to very good effect. Like many NC designs, the QC15 has a cable that incorporates a built-in mic for headset use, and remote for controlling iPhone and iPad functions. A AAA battery is required for the circuitry and is rated for 35 hours average life. Keep in mind that there is no passive mode available. A dead battery equals no sound.
Finally, it should be noted that the QC15 are comfortable and lightweight. Reduction of weight comes at a cost of durability. But, like all things of value, if you take care of them they will reward you with quiet, convenience, and pleasant listening.
The NOISESHIELD NS63 from MEElectronics offers good audio fidelity, switchable noise cancelling and good battery life. With 40 mm dynamic drivers and an over the ear design with soft ear cushions, these headphones deliver tuneful bass and an extended high frequency response with a slightly recessed midrange.
The noise cancellation can reduce the presence of external noise by up to 80 percent, with battery life of 32 hours using two AAA batteries. You can also use the noise cancellation feature sans music, and the headphones work independently of the noise cancellation system so that you can still listen even when the batteries are dead. The left speaker also offers a mute button, handy for when you need to quickly turn off the music.
These headphones also come with two cables - an audio-only cable, and a cable with microphone making these headphones a very capable headset for taking calls. If you need a versatile all-purpose set of headphones with noise-cancelling for use at home, office, and during travel, the NOISESHIELD NS63 will certainly do the job.
Audio-Technica's ATH-ANC7b headphones feature QuietPoint technology that can reduce background noise by up to 20 dB. These over-the-ear headphone use 40mm drivers with neodymium magnets for high efficiency. Like most A-T products, the ATH-ANC7B have a smooth and balanced frequency response and create a fairly big soundstage, better for fans of acoustic, classical, and jazz. But, if you frequently find yourself in very noisy environments, these will not cancel noise to the extent that other choices will. Plus, these are known to leak a little more sound out too. So if you don't want to disturb others, this may not be the best choice.
We should note that these do work in full passive mode, and even if no battery is installed. That's a nice plus. Overall, these noise cancelling headphones from Audio-Technica do a decent job at noise cancellation, and better job at being good reproducers of hi-fi sound. They are comfortable enough for extended listening sessions, and priced very reasonably.
Sony MDR-NC200D digital noise canceling headphones are unique in that they feature three tailored noise reduction settings (automatically chosen) for noise from airplanes, trains, and office environments. This is an on-the-ear design which means they don't seal the ears as well as over-the-ear phones. Nevertheless, the noise cancellation system works quite well. And, as a bonus, you can wear these with no cord attached and use the NC system to create a quiet space even when not listening to music.
Frequency response is listed as from 8 Hz to 23 KHz. The 40mm drivers deliver a sound that is a little on the crisp side with the upper mids and treble a bit hyped. This is especially noticeable with the noise cancellation on. If you like a very defined treble, these will be to your liking. The noise cancellation system uses a single AAA battery, with battery life rated at 22 hours, a bit on the low side. Unlike some other designs on the list, the MDR-NC200D works in passive mode so a dead battery doesn't end the listening. These lightweight headphones are a good choice if you don't have the budget for more costly headphones from Bose or Polk.
Let’s get this out of the way: if you want the highest fidelity wireless headphone currently available, this is it. There really is no competition for the RS220 at the moment; the RS180 does an admirable job of delivering excellent sound at a reasonable price, but compare the two side by side, and you will know which one is the flagship. Other headphones in this review that “sound good” might come close to, or even match, the levels of refinement exhibited by the RS180, but the RS220 is simply in a different league in terms of detail, the size of its soundstage, and overall coherency and realism. It comes admirably close to its wired cousins, the HD600 and HD650, providing a similarly balanced, warm sound with the familiar spacious Sennheiser open-back presentation that adds so much depth and realism, especially compared to closed cans. The RS220 gets even more sound quality points for its ability to be used as a wired headset for additional gains in bass definition and detail. The RS220 charges automatically while on the stand, another thoughtful feature that demonstrates the attention to detail and desire to make everything perfect that puts this can a cut above the rest. While Sennheiser quotes the range of the RS220 at 100 feet indoors and 300 feet in line-of-sight, in reality its usable range is closer to 30 feet indoors and perhaps 100 feet in line-of-sight; beyond these ranges, sound tends to cut out or decrease noticeably in quality, which should be a serious consideration for anyone spending this much money on headphones. However in practice, this is typically enough for comfortable use in most homes. Please remember that the RS220 is an open headphone, and as such does not block external noise in any way. On the whole there is really nothing not to like about the RS220, except perhaps the price, and thankfully it can be found substantially below MSRP. The bottom line: if you want the best of the best, get the RS220.
The DS6500 is a great option for anyone looking to use their wireless cans for modern music. It has a thumpy, slightly warm sound that is likely familiar to listeners who are experienced with consumer-oriented headphones such as those from Bose or Skullcandy. Bass extension isn’t as good as the higher end Sennheisers, but there is more of it, and it has a nice tactile rumble that doesn’t intrude excessively on the midrange. It doesn’t have the soundstage capabilities or advanced surround sound tech of the 3000C, meaning gamers would be better served by the Pioneers, but the Sonys do not lack soundstage completely, and are fine for watching movies. The DS6500 is also a closed headphone, making it a good choice for anyone needing a little extra quiet at the office.
With exceptional bass response for a wireless headphone, and a fairly agreeable price, the DS6500 is likely the most universal option among those listed here, and most music listeners reading this review will likely choose the RS180/220 or DS6500, depending on what genres of music are preferred; instrumental music is portrayed with more sophistication by the Sennheisers, whereas heavily produced pop, hip hop, or electronic music will likely sound better to most on the DS6500.
Pioneer's flagship wireless phones are an ideal solution for gaming, utilizing Dolby Headphone technology to render accurate sound placement in the DRS3000C's spacious soundscape, ensuring that FPS lovers will always hear their opponents coming from behind, and creating a substantially more immersive experience for all games and movies. This is a seriously impressive feat for a closed headphone, and Dolby Headphone is the reason. The technology is not optimized for music, so if tunes are your primary use for this headphone, money may be better spent on one of the other options listed here, but there is no better wireless can on the market for gaming; true gamers will appreciate the slightly lean bass response, which allows for unhampered utilization of the headphone's excellent soundstage and placement for full strategic advantage.
Pioneer's use of the 2.4Ghz spectrum, as opposed to the infrared signal used on most wireless cans, including Pioneer's own 800C, ensures stronger signal retention and greater range, making it a strong choice for use with larger screens and more intricate gaming room setups. Be aware that use of this spectrum without Kleer technology can cause interference with some wireless routers and other wireless devices, but serious issues are uncommon.The receiver is large by some standards, so be prepared to make a little extra desk space. Overall the 3000C is a first-rate headphone with few shortcomings, either functional or sonic, and most gamers should be very pleased with its full optimization of Dolby Headphone tech.
While not quite a match for the newer RS220 in terms of detail and realism, the RS180 holds its own against the best of the best, and may even be preferred by some listeners. What it lacks in soundstage and refinement, the RS180 makes up for with a very lively, forward presentation and a more bassy, “fun” sound than the flagship. I believe a great deal of “average” listeners (that is to say, anyone not already used to paying more than $300 for headphones) will actually prefer the RS180’s more engaging sound, and the extra bass oomph and treble zing will certainly be appreciated by lovers of modern electronic music, rap, hip hop, and pop. The sound is, however, still fairly balanced, and those looking for serious bass should look into the Sony MDR-DS6500 instead.Using Kleer wireless technology, Sennheiser quotes the range of the RS180 at over 300 feet in line-of-sight, but in reality its usable range indoors is closer to 50 feet without dropout or loss in sound quality. This should be plenty for most, but those who really want to roam may prefer to take a slight hit in sound quality and opt for the Koss JR900.
Like the RS220, the RS180 is an open headphone, and as such is not optimal for busy or noisy environments. For home listening, however, the RS180 is an excellent choice for those who don't want to shell out for the flagship, or want a slightly more exciting sound, and it should please all but the pickiest listeners with its open sound and excellent detail retrieval.
Delivering their usual solid, reliable build and very decent sound quality for a wireless set, the JR900 check all of the boxes that dictate what a wireless headphone should do, and definitely exceeds expectations in terms of comfort and range. The pads are large and spacious, with ample room for even the biggest of ears. Range, however, is where the JR900 really impresses when compared to the other headphones on this list, and really any potential competitor: while Koss does not give an actual quote for their range, the JR900 are clearly audible at 50 feet from the transmitter, and some users have reported listenable volumes at up to 100 ft indoors. This is likely the result of using a much lower frequency radio signal (5 channels in the 900 MHz range) to transmit signal; lower radio frequencies typically have better range and superior signal penetration, meaning that obstacles between your receiver and cans aren’t as serious an issue compared to the more popular infrared (300 GHz - 400 THz) or Kleer (2.4 GHz) technologies. This is a seriously impressive feat, and even Sennheiser’s costly RS220 can’t quite match the potentially usable range of the JR900.
There are a few usability issues that potential buyers should be aware of, but they are no reason to write the JR900 off without trying them. Some users have reported interference with other devices like mobile phones and routers; in a home theater or audio setup, this might not be an issue, but if you plan to use your wireless cans around the office, or in any environment where there are multiple potentially interfering signals coming from computers, cell phones, pagers, wireless routers, Bluetooth devices, etc. then I would steer clear of the JR900; if you have a wireless router in your house, it shouldn’t cause issues on its own, but if you’re planning on setting up the transmitter right next to your router and computer, and have a smartphone that is constantly receiving emails, one of the Sennheiser sets that uses Kleer tech, like the RS180, might be a better choice. The transmitter is also on the light side, making the JR900 less than ideal for crowded areas or anywhere it, or the table it sits on, might be easily bumped. The JR900 is a closed headphone, however, so if your office is not especially physically turbulent, the JR900 makes a good choice for isolating yourself from the noise. These minor caveats aside, the JR900 offers good sound with outstanding range and reliability, and is a good choice for anyone looking to roam around the house or office while listening to tunes.
If you have heard of Superlux it means you are either a headphone aficionado or a musician. Superlux is a manufacturer of recording studio gear, and their HD 681 semi-open, over-the-ear style headphones are intended for critical listening on a budget. With a listed frequency response of 10 Hz to 30 KHz, and 50 mm drivers, these headphones have plenty of bass punch without being overbearing, and, although you might want to EQ the treble down just a touch in some cases, fairly well balanced frequencies above 800 Hz. They are not as efficient as some models but will still get loud when used with a laptop or portable music device. Being an semi-open design, these will leak out more sound than closed headphones. If you use these in a quiet office, be aware that others might be able to hear a bit of what you are listening to. Overall comfort of the HD 68 is good but the ear pads are a little on the hard side. This is not a "wear all day" set of headphones. But, what you get is a really solid presentation of the music with a wide soundstage, with just a touch of tweaking with EQ, a surprisingly flat frequency response. For the price, Superlux has created a real winner, and the HD 681 is our top pick.
If you want a set of headphones with great bass response, mellow mids, and highs a touch on the crisp side, you definitely need to check out the JVC HARX900 over-the-ear headphones. These JVC phones are a little bigger and a little heavier than some other items on our list, but they make up for it with comfort. The headband is wide, with a large adjustment range, and the ear cups are large and well-padded. The HARX900 use 50 mm drivers with neodymium magnets, and a set of acoustic lenses in front of the driver which fine tune the sound profile. Out of the box they are bass heavy and a bit unbalanced. But after you break them in the sound becomes much more balanced, so be patient with these. Some users have reported removing one of the cloth coverings from the acoustic lens opens up the midrange even more. Research this for more info if it interests you. Frequency response is rated at 7 Hz to 26 KHz. Efficiency is excellent at 106 dB - you can easily use these with an iPhone or Android phone and get plenty of volume. For a rich, full audio experience, perhaps not as accurate as some, but pleasing nonetheless, give the JVC HARX900 your consideration.
The original Koss Porta Pro has been on this list before, but the newer Porta Pro KTC Ultimate headphones takes its place. Why? Because many listeners in this price range are primarily using Apple and Android devices as their sound source, and the Porta Pro KTC Ultimate includes a remote control (play/pause, track advance, volume) that works with portable devices and a microphone for headset use. The sound profile of these Koss headphones is the same as the original Porta Pro - punchy bass bordering on being a bit sloppy, a slightly recessed midrange with voices a little more in the background, crisp cymbals and an overall lifted treble response. Frequency response is listed as 15 Hz to 25 KHz, with a sensitivity rating of 101 dB. These folding headphones are an over-the-ear design that keeps the ear pads snug. A "comfort zone" adjustment is provided which slightly changes the overall clamping force. Despite the snug fit on the ears the Porta Pro KTC are very comfortable and very lightweight. Even though the basic design is 30 years old, the Koss Porta Pro KTC provide a clean and exciting listening experience.
Sennheiser's HD 202 II Professional headphones are a very inexpensive option from a company well-known for quality headphones. The best way to describe the sound profile is "old school" and non-fatiguing, with a big bass, smooth midrange and slightly veiled treble. Frequency response of the neodymium drivers is listed at 18 Hz to 18 KHz. Overall, the HD 202 II are good for long listening sessions, unless you find your ears tend to get a little hot. This is due to the ear seal and the fact that the pads clamp firmly, a plus for passive noise isolation, but a minus for comfort. Despite the less than gaudy specs, these cans are good for many types of music, and a little EQ can add treble zing and tame the bass if needed. In the budget headphones list, the Sennheisers HD 202 II are not our top pick, but are a good choice for those with varied music collections who listen for long periods of time.
Hailing from the same German labs that produced the world-renowned HD800, Sennheiser's MM550 represents the current pinnacle of Bluetooth audio. Its smooth, dynamic sound is audibly reminiscent of Sennheiser's house signature, and while its not quite a portable HD650, Sennheiser is making clear steps in that direction. Its bass is smooth and powerful, extending to 60 hz with good power and managing to lend warmth to the midrange without overshadowing details in instruments or vocals. Its midrange is forward but not aggressive; it is silky smooth, presenting vocals in exceptionally pleasing fashion and giving instruments plenty of room to breathe (for a closed headphone) without sounding overly laid-back. Treble is slightly laid back; those wanting a more aggressive sound should look into the more v-shaped UE9000, but the MM550 is certainly no slouch when it comes to detail, and lovers of Sennheiser's house sound are sure to be pleased. There is an SRS button that does increase treble and bass to give a more "exciting" sound that should please those not used to a HiFi sound, but enthusiasts will notice that it does have a mild negative impact on staging; if you buy the MM550 and find yourself reaching for this switch, you may consider returning them for the UE9000, which deliver a livelier sound with more treble and bass out of the box for about $200 less. However those in search of maximum detail and fidelity will likely still prefer the MM550.
Features abound: the MM 550 includes active nose cancellation and accompanying talk through feature, as well as the ability to use with a cable instead of Bluetooth. Its noise cancellation is not exceptional; this is perhaps the one underwhelming aspect of the MM550. It does a reasonable job of blocking outside noise for office or even plane use, but also degrades the sound quality noticeably, compressing the soundstage and muddying the frequency response with extra bass that eliminates the pleasant warmth and replaces it with muddy midbass and additional midrange grain. Highs also lose some of their air and, like the midrange, become a bit grainy. If you plan on using your headphones primarily in NC mode, the UE9000 or a wired set from Bose would be a safer choice... though they might not sound as good!
Noise cancellation aside, these are excellent headphones, and should make you happy if your primary desire is to be wire-free with your portable device, especially if your source supports the Apt-x codec, which takes the MM550-X's fidelity to an even more impressive level for a Bluetooth headset. Those using their 'phones primarily at home may want to look at the similarly a priced RS220 for a more spacious, realistic sound, but if you spend most of your listening time on the go, the MM550-X will make a great companion.
Maintaining UE's industry-wide reputation for top quality gear, the UE900 delivers both sound and features that set the bar high for Logitech's audio branch and their future products. While the sound of the UE9000 is not a noticeable upgrade from the lower-end UE6000, it has an abundance of extra features, and the big one is Bluetooth. It also sports active noise cancellation, as well as a talk through feature. Its sound places noticeable emphasis on bass and treble, giving it an exciting, dynamic sound that works very well with modern music, and is a bit more lively-sounding than the models mentioned from Sony and Sennheiser, though not quite as detailed and accurate as the MM550-X. However, despite not sounding quite as refined as the Sennheiser, I think most people will actually prefer the UE9000: its emphasized bass and treble sound very vivid and exciting, and work very well with modern music, delivering the kind of sound most people expect to hear from an expensive headphone if they aren't very familiar with high end audio products. Its noise cancellation feature is also noticeably superior to the Sennheisers, having a lesser impact on the overall sound and blocking outside noise much more capably. The materials look a bit cheaper than the MM550, but when you hold the headphones in your hands, you can tell they are designed well and built to last. Overall the UE9000 are definitely the safer buy if you are not familiar with high end audio products, and have enough detail to impress the audiophile, while delivering a sound signature that just about anyone should enjoy.
Convenience is the ultimate purpose of Bluetooth technology, and the MM100, with its portable, ultra-versatile form factor, capitalizes on this aspect of Bluetooth tech better than any other headphone in this list. It is small, lightweight, easy to put on and take off, has no moving or detachable parts, and stays well out of the way when in use. It has a fairly predictable range of about 30 feet, consistent with most quality Bluetooth products. Its microphone is not as good as most sets in this review, so anyone needing to take calls in a noisy environment should look elsewhere, but it should be adequate for walking, talking around the house, or anywhere less noisy than, say, the back of a city bus. The design is ergonomic on the whole, but like all models using this design, the fit is not for everyone, so if you plan to use them for running, do yourself a favor and buy from somewhere that has a solid return policy. For those for whom they fit, however, they deliver a supremely smooth, warm, slightly bassy sound and the kind of ultimate portability and versatility we could only dream of a few years ago. Some users have reported problems connecting to newer Android devices, but most seem to work fine. This small hiccup aside, the MM100 delivers a smooth but fun sound very similar (though not quite identical) to Sennheiser's beloved PX100 in a fully functional Bluetooth headset, and those willing to pay the extra $20 or so over the wired PX100 are rewarded with Bluetooth functionality and full smartphone controls, a very nice touch that helps make the MM100 well worth its price.
Though most of the larger cans reviewed for this list are designed for portable use, they aren't exactly "throw and go" headphones; with a price tag under $100 and a slim, lightweight form factor, the AF32 definitely qualify as portable in every way imaginable. Granted, a folding frame would be a welcome addition to Meelectronics' next model, but this one gripe aside, nothing stops the AF32 from going anywhere you do, and can be worn comfortable around the neck when not in use without getting in the way. Sound quality is easily on par with, or better than, similarly priced competitors and even more expensive models, including on-ear models from audiophile favorites like Sennheiser and AKG. The AF32 sports a bassy yet clear sound that is never sibilant and doesn't allow bass to overwhelm its slightly sweet midrange; detail in the upper registers may be disappointing to audiophiles used to a more "HiFi" sound signature, but they really have nothing at all to be ashamed of for the price, and the tonal balance is one that will appeal to those looking for a commuting companion: the extra bass helps maintain listenability at lower volumes despite the poor isolation of its on-ear design. The sound also has a pleasant spaciousness, something rarely heard in closed-back headphones of any kind for less than $100, especially on-ear varieties. Call quality is very good for a headset without a boom mic, Bluetooth or wired, and you should be clearly audible in all but the noisiest environs. Overall there are really no serious shortcoming to be found in the AF32; anyone looking for an affordable earpad style headphone should have these near the top of the list.
Meelectronics has a great reputation among enthusiasts as a reliable manufacturer of good quality budget earphones, and the M6 is no exception. Sporting a duo of design features typically seen in professional in-ear stage monitors, the M6's ergonomic design secures the earphone in the concha portion of the ear, while an over-ear style cable helps it remain in place and keeps the wires out of the way. The M6's sound is characterized by slightly emphasized bass that does not intrude into the rest of the sound spectrum, and a generally smooth, well-rounded presentation that goes very well with most music. The M6’s midrange is exceptionally detailed for the price, and while the treble is not extremely prominent, it is not a serious shortcoming, and is still more detailed than most headphones in its price range. The bass is very, very nice for the price, letting you hear all but the deepest notes, and never causing problems with the midrange; it is boosted, so lovers of a cleaner, more analytical sound should probably look at the XBA-S65, but for the price it is an extremely balanced, well-rounded sound that I’m sure most users will have little, if anything, to complain about.
Bose is most famous for their sound cancellation tech in their over-ear headphones, but their rich, warm house sound is just as recognizable, and carries through to their in-ear series as well. The SIE2i really can't compete with earphones in its price range when it comes to raw sound quality, but they do sound good with intentionally bass-heavy music like hip hop, rap, pop, and many varieties of electronic music. They don't have very detailed mids, nor does the treble sparkle, but it is the warm, bassy sound that most people enjoy and is featured in most consumer oriented earphones like Beats' in ears and other fashion headphones. The real appeal of the SIE2i, and what makes it worth its price, is the physical design. Unlike the rigid design of other form-fitting earphones, the SIE2i uses ergonomic silicon eartips that stay secure by using a special arm design that braces the earphones against the anti-helix portion of the ear. Between their unique form and slightly deep fit, they should remain very secure for any kind of workout, and have a sound that most people will love for casual listening while staying in shape.
Sony has a huge lineup of ear hook style headphones, but most fall admittedly short in the sound quality department. The XBA-S65 is the exception; it isn't audiophile grade, but it is definitely a cleaner, clearer step up from their usual budget offerings. Without extra bass, it may sound a bit thin or boring to some, even most, users, but those who prefer a more analytical sound will find that the XBA-S65 makes a wonderful companion for deliberate listening. In my time making headphome recommendations for friends and acquaintances, I have discovered that there are two styles of listening while working out. Most people seem to prefer a sound that has extra bass to keep the beats pumping and energize them to keep pushing, but some prefer a more focused and intentional approach, zoning in on details and immersing themselves in the music to distract themselves. The latter is, in my opinion, who the XBA-S65 are designed for: the sound is not very involving, but actually rather dry, almost sterile, and while its not my preference, I can see how focusing on the details might help some people pass a seemingly tedious workout more quickly. It serves this pourpose rather well, and with its sturdy build, sweat-resistant filter system, and well-designed ear hooks, I'm sure it will be appreciated by many.
The KSC75 is a time-tested industry favorite, and has a huge enthusiast following for a good reason. Its forward, aggressive sound makes it a great choice for working out: an extra dose of bass and sparkly highs give the KSC75 an exciting, engaging presentation that will help keep you on pace. They are no slouch when it comes to detail and air, either, and make for extremely enjoyable headphone that can be used just about anywhere. Their compact design and diminutive price tag put them well within the "throw in the bag and go" category, and their semi-open design allows them to be used anywhere without dangerously isolating the user from the environment; this makes the Koss less than ideal for bus or train-bound commuters, but everyone else will likely appreciate their versatility. Their ear clip design fits very firmly for most, and should stay secure for all but the most erratic workouts. The KSC75 are low-profile and lightweight, and stay out of the way for almost any type of exercise. Between their design and sound, they make a nearly ideal workout companion, and are the kind of headphone that will make you wonder what spending a few extra dollars on your next pair might yield.
Neckband headphones started gaining traction in the 90s, and are now one of the standard forms that headphones can be found in. Though not nearly as popular as they used to be, the stable, low-profile design still makes them optimal for running and any other exercise that requires a secure fit. The Rich Bass headphones by Phillips (model no. SHS5200/28) offer a slightly tweaked version of this design that incorporates an elastic built into the cable near its connection to the headphones that helps ensure durability by providing a buffer in case the cable is snagged or accidentally pulled while youâ€™re on the go. They also feature a reflective neckband, making them ideal for anyone who prefers to exercise in the afternoon or at night. They live up to the Rich Bass name, offering a bassy sound that is characteristic of most headphones in this price range; they arenâ€™t as detailed or energetic as the KSC75, but Iâ€™m sure they will sound fine to most, especially for working out. They can be found at big box retailers and online stores alike, making them easy to replace, which is always nice to know when they will be thrown around and used actively. Between the price, sound, and extra features, these are an easy choice for simple workout headphones, and I donâ€™t hesitate to recommend them for anyone who cares more about durability and overall usability than sound quality.
Ask any professional audio engineer what headphones they using for critical listening, and there's a good chance the name Beyerdynamic will come up. The DT880 is not their top of the line, but is definitely their best bang for buck full-size headphone, and is easily detailed and resolving enough for just about any critical listening purpose imaginable.
Its bass is punchy and big enough to sound "bassy" with the right source, amp, and music, but its also very well controlled, and extends to the limits of my hearing with good definition when properly amped; it will not please a true basshead, but it has excellent texture and detail and will definitely deliver hours of enjoyment to those who appreciate bass quality more than quantity. Its treble is sparkly and exciting, occasionally lending a slightly metallic tone to treble-heavy electronic music and tracks mastered for extra "sparkle;" those with ears that are sensitive to treble may prefer Sennheiser's midrange models, which have a much smoother sound that is a bit easier on the ears. Others, however, will likely find the DT880's highs to be exciting and even euphoric with the right music. Its midrange is slightly recessed and not quite as involving, and might be considered sterile by fans of a fuller, throatier sound, but they are still very detailed and tonally accurate, reinforcing the DT880's natural role as a studio tool.
It is certainly still an enjoyable headphone to listen to, at least for some, but its less involving midrange serves as a reminder that the DT880 is designed to be a clear window into the music, as opposed to most consumer-oriented products which tend to add a certain coloration to music to make it more enjoyable. If you are comfortable with the sound delivered headphones from companies like Bose, Monster, Sennheiser, Koss, VMODA, and other companies that target their products directly at the mass market, you may want to avoid these Beyers, unless you either have the chance to demo them, or know you are looking for something with a cleaner, flatter sound.
That said, there are few better headphones for critical listening purposes, and many come to enjoy the sound of the DT880s for pleasure listening as well. One would be hard pressed to find a more detailed, accurate pair of headphones for the price; many actually prefer them to the higher-end DT990 for their more neutral response, and if you favor a brighter sound, these could easily become your favorite headphones.
For those who demand both looks and sound, the Ultrasone Pro 550 is sure to impress. Managing to be simultaneously eye-catching and yet not gaudy or overly flashy, the Pro 550 delivers looks and sound in the same package, with great bass and sparkly treble that will bring new life to old tunes, and is sure to make cheap, plasticky "fashion" headphones look AND sound cheap. Ultasone's patented S-Logic surround simulation technology gives the Pro 550 a much more open, immersive sound than other closed headphones, especially in its price range. The powerful, extended bass response is a crowd pleaser for sure, and will show Beats lovers what real lows sound like; not just overdone, fuzzy midbass, but deep, seismic subbass that will make them think of movie theater surround sound and quality subwoofers.
Its detailed treble keeps balance with the bass, giving the Pro 550 excellent clarity and revealing levels of detail comparable to true studio monitoring headphones. These Ultrasones are made out of metal and high quality plastics, are fully collapsible, and feature swiveling earcups and a detachable cable, making them more comfortable, durable and portable than any full-sized Beats model. Those with a little more cash to spend might want to check out the Pro 900 model for an even more detailed, exciting sound, but for anyone looking to keep it under $400, the Pro 550 should give you everything you expect and then some.
Spend one too many nights alone listening to Led Zeppelin or The Doors, and you will know that most headphones and speakers really can't quite capture the essence of live sound and really get you all the way INTO the music the way you'd like. If this sounds like a familiar dilemma with your aging speakers or old school headphones, a pair of Grados is probably the best solution.
The SR325i occupies a sweet spot in Grado's lineup, staying under the $300 mark that starts to necessitate skimping on groceries and making excuses to the wife/girlfriend for blue collar folks, and let's face it, being yelled at from the other room really isn't conducive to a good listening session.
Despite being more wallet-friendly than their top tier models, the SR325i offers at least 90% of their sound when properly amped, which requires little more than a basic amp like a Cmoy to really unleash, though they do scale well with additional power. Like most of Grado's lower and midrange models, they can be powered to comfortable listening volumes by a portable device, but get a bit punchier and airier with extra juice. The midrange is the meat of Grado's house sound, giving a characteristic gritty, immediate texture to guitars and vocals, and giving electric guitars in particular that satisfying "crunch" that puts you right there in the front row to hear the full power and immediacy of the instruments. The 325i's bass is not overpowering, but it is punchy enough to make kick drums and snares feel realistic, with their proper timber and weight. Grados are also known for their vibrant treble presentation, which can be bothersome to those who are sensitive to treble, but for the rest of us it further enhances the "live" feel of the music, and the 325i is one of the most exciting of all Grados in this sense.
Let's face it - Grados are not known for their neutrality or utmost faithfulness to the recording; that's why people buy Beyerdynamic and Audio Technica. But that's not what Grados are designed for. Grados are made by music lovers, for music lovers: people who want to enjoy the music above all and really feel involved and immersed in the performance. They are not perfect for all genres; for classical, most will prefer the more spacious sound of open cans from Beyers or AKG to illustrate orchestral venues and the separation between instruments more precisely, and EDM and pop lovers usually favor more bass. But for those die-hard rock'n'rollers who can't get enough electric guitar, nothing beats a Grado.
Yielding noticeably more depth and detail than budget sets, the RS160 lies at the bottom end of Sennheiser's full-sized wireless headphone range, but still manages to trump most of the competition at its price point. Delivering a more neutral, less bassy sound than the Skullcandy Plyr 1, the RS160 should be at the top of the list for anyone looking to enjoy classical, jazz, and other more refined genres; those who prefer bassier modern music will probably prefer the Plyr 1. The RS160 does suffer from slightly hard treble, though, so those who are sensitive to high frequencies may also prefer the Skullcandies, or perhaps Sennheiser's higher end wireless cans, which tend to be smoother, especially the RS220. However for the money, the RS160 is a good deal, and between Kleer tech and their ultra-comfortable design, it outranks everything in its price range in overall usability. If you're looking for something comfortable that just works, and works well, grab the RS160.
Lovers of Sennheiser's revered PX100 take note: the RS120 offers Sennheiser's famous house sound in an on-ear package, and is wireless to boot. While not quite as bassy as Sennheiser's famous earpad fan-favorite, a shortcoming that is to be expected from most wireless headphones, it offers a warm, forward, enaging sound that could only come from Germany's largest audio firm, and has an incredibly wide genre bandwidth. While its earpad design limits its ability to portray spacial cues necessary to fully enjoy orchestral music, and likely wont be bassy enough for lovers of modern pop, electronic, or rap, it serves just about any other genre well, from rock to jazz to string quartets. Its real strength lies with vocal-centric music, which is presented in a forward, engaging fashion with just the right dose of warmth. The low profile design and excellent battery life make it ideal for anyone who wants a headphone that can be worn around the house while working or doing chores without getting in the way. It is not the transportable wonder that the PX100 has become famous as, but it can serve the same purpose around the house that the PX100 fills out and about, with the added convenience of being wireless; lovers of Sennheiser's best portables will not be disappointed with the sound, and anyone else looking for a convenient, low profile basic headphone for listening around the choice will likely be just as pleased.
The WR2.4 is a very reasonable entry level wireless headphone, and outperforms many sets at its MSRP, not to mention that it can easily be found at less than half the shelf price online. It sports a slightly bass-driven sound that is not too warm or so heavy-hitting that it overshadows other frequencies; dialogue in the midrange still comes across crisp and clear. Highs are not as detailed as on some higher-end Sennheiser sets, but they aren’t veiled either, and may sound more natural to some than the RS160 or RS120, which tend to err on the side of smoothness and can exhibit what some call the “Sennheiser veil,” which some people really enjoy, but if it sounds veiled or unnatural to you, then the slightly more treble-focused sound of the WR2.4 might be more your style. They aren’t the best for noise cancellation; despite their closed design, they don’t block noise very well, and therefore might not be the best option if you’re looking to isolate yourself from outside noise. This does make for a nice balance which may be desirable for some users; anyone wanting to have a slightly more private experience without leaking noise into the surroundings, while not isolating yourself entirely, may actually enjoy the middle ground. Overall they are a comfortable, great sounding pair of wireless cans, and given the incredible bargain they are at some online stores, they could easily be a painless one-and-done purchase for casual music listening, movies, and light gaming.
The RCAWHP141 are a very affordable set of wireless cans that don't stand out in any way, offering everything one could expect from a wireless headphone without any serious flaws, but not exactly blasting the competition away. Their use of the lower frequency 900mhz spectrum gives them excellent signal penetration, making them great for wearing around the house, but the range is not quite as good as sets using the 2.4ghz spectrum, meaning that outdoor use isn’t quite as feasible as with some other sets, and connectivity is not quite flawless; considering the price, however, they perform quite well, and those expecting perfection in this area should be looking to spend considerably more. The WHP141 does require a bit of extra volume from its source, but once properly set up, they deliver a slightly warm sound that is pleasing to the ears and very much characteristic of budget headphones; they are no slouches for detail though, definitely offering a noticeable jump in quality from built-in speakers that come with most TVs and computers. For the $30-$40 or so they typically fetch online, they are a great buy.
If you're looking for a wireless set of the ear pad variety, and are afraid the more expensive RS120 might not fill your bass cravings, Sony's entry into the same market should do the trick. Sony has a real knack for packing a lot of bass into their wireless cans, and I wish they'd share the trick with Sennheiser, because each excels in different areas of sound presentation. While Sennheisers tend to be more detailed and realistic, Sony really delivers the fun, and I imagine the majority of listeners of modern music will prefer the IF245RK model without question. What it lacks in detail, it more than makes for with bass impact, and should sound great with modern music, especially pop and rap; electronic music lovers may want a little more treble to give those synthesized blips and beeps a bit more edge, but music that focus mostly on bass and vocals, like the aforementioned genres, will sound as expected.They won't put full-sized Beats to shame, but they do sound better than the more expensive Solos, and although they can't be used on the go, if you like to do your listening at home, I bet you will enjoy these Sonys.