When it comes to headphones, “best” is definitely a subjective term. There are manyconsiderations: price, comfort, audio quality, noise cancellation, frequency response, bang for buck, the list goes on. Even so, when we asked you which headphones you thought stood out from the crowd in all of those areas, you had some clear choices. Let’s take a look at five of the best, based on your nominations.
Title photo by Jonathan Kriz.
We’re not approaching this from an audiophile’s perspective, and we don’t want to; we wanted to know what headphones you thought were all-around best, not just the best for audio quality, or the best for style and design, or the best for the money. For any of these models, shopping around definitely makes sense.
Ah, the Grado SR80i. These are some of the most crisp, comfortable, and beautifully sounding headphones on the market, from a company that knows the difference between making products that sound good and products that look like they sound good. The open-air design stays cool on your ears, and while the earcups are supra-aural and may get a little uncomfortable after long periods of wear, the earpads are soft and breathe well. Many of you praised Grado for its semi-vintage aesthetic and sharp design which doesn’t sacrifice audio quality as a result. If you’re on a budget, the SR80i’s more affordable cousin, the SR60i, also offers truly compelling audio quality at a very reasonable price.
When I used to DJ, I rocked a pair of MDR-7506s (choosing them over the more DJ-oriented V600s), a modified version of the MDR-V6 family, and they were amazing headphones in low-noise and loud environments. DJ performance won’t matter to you if you’re at home listening to your own tunes, but the MDR-V6 series from Sony and its variants all deliver fantastically. A closed-ear, circumaural design minimises outside noise and offers incredible comfort during long periods of wear, if you can get past the plastic earpad covers. The headphones fold up for portability, and the audio quality varies a little from model to model, but all of them offer incredible sound as very affordable price points. They also have the benefit of being built like tanks — every Sony MDR model I’ve ever owned still works today.
The Audio Technica ATH-M50s were a hot topic in the nominations, and are well known around Lifehacker HQ. Audio Technica’s flagship headphones may not be the cheapest, but they do offer incredible audio quality for your money, a closed-back circumaural design that rests comfortably on your head for long periods, a collapsible design for portability and storage, and a sleek, modern design that isn’t imposing but isn’t ugly either. In other words, killer audio in a set of cans that don’t scream “steal me!” They’re so popular that we mentioned them in our guide to picking good headphones, and they’re extremely well-regarded both here and over at Head-Fi. They’re not the cheapest, but many of you said that the extra cash you’d spend on them would be more than worth it when it came to audio quality, especially if you listen to music with deep bass and rich treble.
The only pair in our roundup with active noise cancellation offer solid audio quality while also letting you focus on the music by eliminating outside noise. The closed back design keeps your music from leaking into your surroundings, but depending on the size of your ears, these could be considered circumaural or supra-aural (Bose says they’re circumaural.) Either way, the earcups rest comfortably on your ears, even for long periods of wear, and the QuietComforts are popular with travellers and office workers alike. The QC15s come in a carrying case with removable cables for your music player and even your smartphone, and of course, when not in use you can keep them unplugged and use them just for noise cancellation.
Koss’s headphones tend to be all over the map when it comes to quality, but the Porta Pros set a new bar for on-ear headphones that are not just comfortable and portable, but actually sound surprisingly good. Their collapsible, flexible design makes them incredibly portable and durable, and the adjustable strap gives you control over exactly how well they fit your head. The cloth earpads breathe well during long periods of use, and while the open design won’t exactly keep your neighbour from hearing what you’re listening to, you’ll enjoy it, thanks to their remarkably strong audio quality for a pair in this price range. You can even adjust the fit of the earcups from “firm” to “light” to make sure they sit just right against your ears. If you travel a lot, or just don’t like the idea of spending a lot of money on headphones but would like good audio quality anyway, these are for you. Besides, they come with a lifetime warranty.
Honourable mentions this week go out to Sennheiser HD 280s which just missed the top five. Also worth mentioning are the AKG K240s, which many of you praised for their circumaural design (with beautiful gold trim,) semi-open back (although that does lead to a little sound leakage), self-adjusting headband that always ensures a perfect, snug fit, and of course, their audio quality.
Have something to say about one of the contenders? Want to make the case for your personal favourite, even if it wasn’t included in the list? We’re all ears (with headphones) in the comments.