Five Best Headphones

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.

Grado SR80i

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.

Sony MDR-V6/7506

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.

Audio Technica ATH-M50

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.

Bose QuietComfort 15

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 PortaPro

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.


Comments

    Grado are AMAZING. I tried them out at my mate's audio shop. Definitely worth it for those who have the money.

    Any suggestions for over-ear headphones for the summer months? Starting to get a bit warm for around ear sound. Or is it just my ears that sweat like pig's ears??

      Sonny,
      Try the Koss Portapro. They won't make your ears sweat.
      I've owned two pairs of these over the last 20 years (yes, they're that old - and older). I used to smash them up pretty badly when I caught the train to university all those years ago. It was my kids that finally did the first pair in :) I still have the second pair going strong.
      They won't make your ears sweat because they sit on your ear, not surround it.
      For about $30 delivered (if you look carefully), these will be about the best value in headphones you've ever had. I've tried the ATH-M50 and the Grados - they do sound better, but you know what? A Rolls Royce also drives better than a Holden Commodore. if you want to pay 5-10 times the cost, then that's a choice I can respect.

      I know you specifically asked for over-ear/around-ear headphones, but if your ears are getting too hot, sometimes a decent pair of in-ear earbuds can sound just as good. The best earbuds I've ever owned are the "Etymotic Research hf5"s, which I got online when I was overseas for about $90. Pricey, yes, but their sound is incredibly accurate, they're much more portable than my over-ear headphones and, best of all, my ears are never sweaty in summer!

    @Sonny - Probably stay away from leather/pleather over ear headphones.

    I've got the beyerdynamic dt880 's (250ohm) + xonar essence one combo and am really happy with the sound!

    Over ear headphone - Koss KSC-75, quite cheap for what you get, but sound very good.
    Another option instead of the Grados is the Alessandro MS1s, which are basically the same but may be easier and cheaper to find in AUS, otherwise the ATH-AD700 Audio Technica are another open headphone that are seriously worth considering

    I'm surprised Sennheiser didn't make the list, the HD280pro being my favourite "bang for buck" - but for absolute pleasure, my Stax electrostatics.

    I have the Alessandro MS-1's, which are equivalent to the Grado SR-60's, and love them to bits. Very balanced tone, great mids, and uber-comfortable to wear.

    Typical, American review for the American market with American quality woes!
    The rest of the world enjoys European quality.
    Where's all the Sennheisers (there's at least 3 of them) and what happened to Bowers & Wilkins?

    For a sweet spot combining style, utility, price and cordlessness you might throw a pair of Jabra Halo foldable Bluetooth phones in your bag. They also have two mics, one for reducing background noise in-call. I have two pair because the weakness is (if you hammer them all day) the batteries will go flat.

    Agree with cootiefive - Beyerdynamic too (they are German), but at least this is a headphone article from lifehacker - we don't see very many of them.

    The other thing about european headphones is the price tag - I suspect lifehacker are working within a specific budget range here. My top 5 (and it's so hard to keep to just 5) is below but if you can afford $500-800 or even more then we are having a very different conversation.

    Could lifehacker have consulted with head-fi here like they have previously?
    http://lifehacker.com/5800772/how-to-choose-the-perfect-pair-of-headphones

    Headphones are so subjective. Some people think $100 is too much to spend on a pair of headphones, and some wouldn't spend more than $50. Other people though who have experienced better headphones know that you need to be spending around $200 or more for good quality.

    Here's my top 5, if leaning towards the cheaper end of the market like lifehacker did:
    Best Noise Cancelling - Bose Quiet Comfort 15 (i agree with LH here - $400 in Australia, $300 US) or Audio Technica ATH-ANC9 ($190)
    Best Full Sized Open Headphones - Audio Technica ATH-AD700 ($180)
    Best Full Sized Closed Headphones - Beyerdynamic DT-770 Pro (requires amplification, $300)
    (or the ATH-M50 ($180) lifehacker reccomended if you don't want a headphone amp or have a tighter budget)
    Best Compact Closed Headphones - Koss UR50 ($80)
    Best Compact Open Heapdhones - Aiaiai Tracks ($100)

    My honourable mentions goto the Koss UR55 (Compact Open), ATH-ESW9 (Compact Closed but no have no isolation at all), AKG 242HD (I've seen this reccomended a lot but i'm yet to get a pair myself)

    I haven't tried any AKG headphones as yet.

    Last edited 08/10/12 10:40 am

    Astro A40 combined with MixAmp Pro.

      Definitely, these are awesome and were the pick of the bunch when I did the pre-purchase research when I bought them a year ago.

      Would HIGHLY recommend these especially as they are so versatile fr connection to devices, MAC, phone, xbox & anything with an Opt out.

    I'm more of an In Ear person myself and I choose the Klipsch X10. The bass is tight and not "woofy" and the highs sound perfectly crisp without being ear piercing.

    I swear by Pioneer HDJ500. I use them to DJ and in my usual listenings. Clear, precise sound for a great price.

      How do you find them in loud environments (ie DJing a party/club)? I owned a pair that had massive distortion at higher volume (straight out of the box!), sent them for warranty, and the replacement pair did exactly the same thing! The sound quality is excellent at normal volume, but I was shocked at how bad they are in the environment they're supposed to be made for...

    No mention of the Sony R10? :)

    Seriously, compare the Grado's with anything else and you'll buy them! Best headphones I've ever used (from a music producer:).

    I own a pair of Grados, if you have a mate in the US that is willing to ship it out to you from amazon.com, it's less than $100 for a pair of these :)

    What do you guys think of Dr Dre Beats Studios or Pro?

      Horribly expensive, especially for the mediocre sound. For the price you're better off going with a pair of Beyer Dynamic DT880's (Just don't get the 30 Ohm model!). Keep in mind these will need an amplifier. If you are looking for a cheap portable amplifier, it's hard to go past a well built cMoy (such as the model offered by JDS Labs). Amplifier choice really does depend on how much you want to spend and your listening habits.

      If you are looking to spend less money I can highly recommend the Audio Technica ATH-M50. They are easily driven by a portable source and sound great! Not to mention they are designed for studio use, so they can definitely take a beating.

      If you want to take your choice in headphones seriously, just head over to the head-fi forums and start reading :)

      $400 crocs for your ears. Neither practical or good. Just common.

    If you're looking for a pretty good set for less than $100, definitely take a look at the Creative Aurvana Live! headphones. They're great for $70.

      I agree with Ben J. The Aurvana Live! 'phones are very good value. I use them in my recording studio, mostly for tracking of singers and other musicians. They are closed type so there is very little interference with the microphone or outside sounds getting in! I recently did a controlled comparison between these, some AKG 240's and some Dr Dre Beats. Ist place: AKG 2nd place: (surprisingly close) Aurvana 3rd place: BEATS - seriously, a long way behind. Special note - the Aurvana's were actually a lot louder than the AKG's and that makes them even more suitable for portable devices.

      BTW - I am very interested in trying out the ATH-M50, Grado, Klipsch, and Alessandro models mentioned above.

    Dude the Parrot Zik's are by far the best!!!!!!

    I treated myself to a pair of Bose QC-15's a couple years ago and was some of the best $$$ I've spent. If you fly even semi-regular they are great. If you fly long distances then they are a MUST.

    Hi,

    Does anyone have suggestions for a nice and cheap (around $150) pair of headphones that have noise cancelling and with good quality?

    Thanks !

    Headphones AND earphones unfortunately create a myriad of very personal likes and dislikes, from sweating, discomfort, pain to poor sound, excessive base, tinny highs, no depth etc. Also, because they are so close to your ears and cut down on extraneous external sound, your hear the music nearer to its best (or at least compression limits) and the underlying nuances and tone much better than through other sound devices.

    This makes headphone/earphone opinions highly personal. What works for one person is terrible for another.

    For people looking for technical reviews, opinions and a blog on headphones, this site helped me... http://www.headphones.com.au/

    In addition your sister site Gizmodo has done some comparison work too.

    For NC Headphones, see:
    http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2012/09/battlemodo-the-best-noise-cancelling-headphones/

    For BT headphones, see:
    http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2012/09/the-best-bluetooth-headphones-for-less-than-600/ although I tried the BT route twice with very poor outcomes.

    For various single headphone model reviews by Giz, do a search on 'headphones' at www.gizmodo.com.au/

    The first headphone and earphone shop to allow you to try out the cans before you buy will get my business. Unfortunately the only Oz shop I know does this (www.headphones.com.au) has its shop in Perth.

    Anyone know of a similar company here on the east coast I can go to?

    cannot belive no SK's (skullcandy's)!! skulcrusha is prob teh best headphones ive worn, they have this thing, its called bass, maybe youve heard of it? srsly, i tried a pair of senheizers at jb and they sucked, there was no bass.

    all these headphones are just for rich people who have too much money lol

      Ha. HAHA. heh.

      Oh, you were actually being serious?

      Guess you've never actually listened to anything with any kinda of sound quality. I had skullcandy headphones for a while, never again. muddy sound, overly bass weighted (to the point where it made bass-heavy genres sound bad) and not particularly comfortable.

      Oh, and they cost more then significantly better but otherwise very similar sennheisers.

    How can noise-cancelling headphones work when they are unplugged? Where do they get power from?

      ummm...batteries?

      Unfortunately the term "noise-cancelling" has been hijacked by sales types and defined as "passive" or "active". I believe you're thinking of active cancellation (waveform destruction using electronics), whereas passive cancellation is where the sound is simply absorbed or blocked by conventional physical means.

      Be careful when you're buying if you're after active noise cancelling headphones!

    Where do sol republic's come in? Are they any good compared to these headphones?
    The ultra's and the tracks hd?

      Sol Republic = poor man's Beats. Slightly cheaper versions of already mediocre and overpriced headphones.

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