Best headphones: which set should you buy?
To get the most out of your smartphone or music player, you have to buy a respectable set of headphones. There’s no getting around it. The dinky throwaways that are included with today’s most popular devices just don’t cut the mustard.
But when it comes to making a selection, it’s all too easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of options to choose from. That’s why we’ve covered the ins and outs for you.
Take a look at the different types of headphones available to decide which style is right for your listening needs and your budget.
This type of headphone, more commonly referred to as an earbud or earphone, is the cheapest and easiest way to pump audio into your ears. If you’ve purchased an MP3 player, or more recently, a smartphone, it’s likely that a set was included with the purchase.
Earphones rest in or just outside the ear canal, creating a tight seal to keep air out and sound in. Compared to other types of headphones, these are the most discreet ones you’ll find. Their small form-factor also makes them the king/queen of portability.
You’re not likely to find strong performers at the low-end of the price spectrum. Their sound delivery is generally muddled, lacking bass and overcompensating for that with harsh mids and highs. That said, it won’t cost you much money at all to find a value-packed option complete with inline controls and a microphone.
Moving up in price, the selection of quality options vastly increases. For example, you can nab yourself the stellar Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear (pictured above) for under $100, or £90. These in-ear headphones not only look the part, (seriously, they’re fresh) but also offer everything you need to have a fantastic experience listening to whatever it is you listen to. A comfortable fit, excellent noise isolation and powerful drivers help to ensure that. It’s an unbeatable value.
This ear-muff style of headphone generally provides greater richness and depth of sound, which allows listeners to pick apart the instruments and sounds with ease. Additionally, over-ear, or circum-aural headphones, go around the ear and as such, offer tons of comfort.
The price range for a set of on-ear headphones begins around $100 and the sky’s the limit. For example, the Oppo PM-1, while excellent, are priced exorbitantly at $1,099. It’s definitely not necessary to spend that much. That said, you get what you pay for.
If your headphone budget is in the $2-300, you’ll start getting into options that have excellent build quality, premium materials and amazing sound and sometimes, features like ANC (active noise cancellation.)
The Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro Plus (pictured above) offers plenty of comfort and spacious, powerful sound performance. These over-ear headphones run for $229 (£179, about AU$299) and they’re worth it thanks to a few features that set them apart: the bass response switch and customizable covers. Tweak the style and the amount of bass in your music to your preferred taste with these unique headphones.
This style of headphone doesn’t limit you to a specific form factor. In fact, you can find in-ear, on-ear and over-ear headphone styles sans wire.
Opting to go wireless will cost you a premium of anywhere between $50-100. Going futuristic isn’t cheap. One important thing to consider is that your music device supports the Bluetooth wireless protocol, which is required to use this type of headphone.
Speaking of Bluetooth, it has become exponentially more reliable over time, but it’s always susceptible to disturbances in the force. In short, any little thing, from the understandable (conflicting Wi-Fi signals, microwaves, cordless telephones), to the absurd (sticking a hand in the space between the device and the headphones) can sometimes interrupt a wireless listening experience.
Our roundup of best wireless headphones is full of amazing contenders, but the Jabra Move Wireless (pictured above) are the ones to beat in terms to value. The build quality, performance and style provide more than enough reason to choose these, but if you aren’t convinced, maybe the price will win you over. You can grab these for the low price of $99 (£79, AU$126).
This category, much like wireless headphones, isn’t limited to a form factor. You can find this clever mix of technologies integrated into the ear pieces of in-ear and over-ear headphones alike.
Many companies falsely claim to offer true noise cancellation with just the padding included around the ear cups. Don’t believe it. This is PNC (passive noise cancellation), and it doesn’t amount to much. You can even replicate this effect by cupping your hands around your ears, so why shell out the big bucks for it?
On the other hand, ANC (active noise cancellation) is the real deal. This technique involves an external microphone that detects the noise outside. Once it has an idea of the incoming decibel level, the headphone speakers inside transmit a noise to cancel it out. With ANC activated, it’s like being in your own personal concentration bubble.
The Philips Fidelio NC1 (pictured above) offer the best bang-for-your-buck for noise-cancelling headphones. These on-ear headphones offer a light, comfortable fit that don’t clamp down over your ears. The design is elegant and you’re not likely to find another set of noise-cancelling headphones that are so compact. Additionally, the noise cancellation effect is powerful and can run up to 30 hours before its internal, rechargeable battery needs another charge. At $300, (£250) these aren’t cheap, but the performance and overall presentation makes the NC1 a worth purchase.
We’re constantly reviewing new headphones, but let us know if there is a set that you’d like us to take a look at in the comments.
Written by Cameron Faulkner from TechRadar on June 23, 2015 at 12:20PM