Headphones

I’ve loved listening to music in headphones ever since I was a little kid. But like a lot of kids today who listen to their music through the sub-par earbuds that come with iPhones and iPods, I always listened with the set of headphones that came with whatever Walkman or Discman I had at the time. Once I got hip to the other options out there, it was like discovering a whole new world of music. To this day, if there’s a situation where I can wear headphones, I’m happy. Working at my desk, walking around the city, sitting on a train, mowing the lawn–whatever. Give me headphones and I’m good.

Out of all the headphones I’ve spent some time with, here are a few of my thoughts on em. This isn’t a comprehensive guide by any stretch of the imagination. These are just my quick opinions on the headphones I’ve spent some time with, and what I recommend to friends who ask me about headphones. (If you really want to go down the rabbit hole of exhaustive and encyclopedic guides to headphone research, go over to head-fi.org.)

Over-ear

V Moda Crossfade M-100s

If I had to choose one set of headphones to hold onto, these the ones I’d pick. They’re comfortable, super durable and sound amazing no matter the source. They offer plenty of kick on the low end, but the bass is never muddy or distorted. They fold up easily, block out external sound and are built to endure. Any time I go on a plane or need to throw a good set of headphones in my bag, these are the ones I go with.

Sennheiser 558s

These are my at-home headphones. They are an open back headphone, so they have a wide and open sound-stage. The mids are really prominent, the bass is solid and the highs are never harsh. Best of all, they are comfy as all hell. If I’m gonna wear headphones for a long time, there’s no pair out there that I’d rather have. These are also one of the best values on the market.  There are all sorts of reasons I wouldn’t travel with these, but if I’m hanging out at my desk or around the house, I love em.

Sennheiser Momentums

These are similar to the V-Modas, but the sound of the V-Modas just barely won me over when I did a side by side comparison. I don’t think there’s a better looking set of headphones out there, but the price you pay for the sleek design is the lack of portability. These don’t fold up like the M-100s or the Beats by Dre, so they’re best worn around the neck.

Beats by Dre

I know there are plenty of headphone snobs and audophiles who turn their noses up at Beats headphones, but the original Studio Beats are still a blast to listen to. The brand reputation has been muddied by the other Beats headphones like the in-ear, Solo and Mixr, and by the consumers who care way more about the Beats as a trendy fashion accessory than the sound quality.  But the truth is that Dre has always been a perfectionist with his production, and that same attention to detail carried over to his original collaboration with Monster. These are not reference headphones– there are some people who prefer a flat sound profile, or a headphone that reveals the quality of a recording, but that’s the opposite of what the Beats do. They make flat songs more fun to listen to, and they hide the imperfect sound quality of MP3s or streaming audio. For most people, that’s a good thing.

A few cons, though: for the money, there are some other excellent options out there (V Modas!) and the build doesn’t hold up over time.

Shure SRH 940s

So if the Beats do their best to make music sound good, even if the source is a shitty mp3, the Shure 940s will give you an incredibly detailed and accurate sound, regardless of the source. That means that you’ll be able to really notice the flaws in a low-bitrate MP3 on the SRH940s, but it also means you’ll be hearing the recording exactly as it is. This is rewarding when you listen to a FLAC file that has been recorded, mixed and mastered to perfection.

On-ear

Bose on-ear

I’m not a fan of a lot of Bose headphones, particularly their earbuds, but they nailed it with the design of their on-ear set. Excellent sound and a unique, comfortable design.

Sennheiser PX 100-iis

These on-the-go headphones. When I don’t feel like carrying around a larger set like the V-Modas, I use the PX-1oo-iis. Because I use these at my desk, they probably get more usage than any other headphone I own. They’re lightweight and the look reminds me of the old headphones I had as a kid. Thankfully, they sound way better.

Bowers and Wilkins P5

The P5s have a lot going for them– they’re comfy, they sound phenomenal and they’re built pretty well, too. I prefer the sound of the P5s over the less detailed P3s and the less punchy P7s. The P5s are the “just right” sound in the Bowers and Wilkins line.

Koss PortaPros

Man, these were the first headphones I heard that made me realize how much better music could sound. I was like 12 at the time.  Twenty years later, I still don’t think there’s a better option out there for the $40 price range. These things sound better than a lot of headphones that cost three times as much.

In-ear

Shure SE215

Ridiculously impressive earbuds for $99. These are cheaper than so many in-ear options, but they’ve become my favorites for. I don’t love the around the ear design, but I don’t mind it so much that these earbuds win across the board on every other feature I look for in earbuds.

Monster Turbine Gold

These earbuds are almost perfect, but their fatal flaw is that they fall apart over time. Monster has great warranty service, but there are only so many times I want to ship a broken pair back and wait a few weeks to receive a new one. Really comfortable and great sounding earbuds, though.

Logitech UE900

Sound quality is excellent in these quad armature IEMs (inner ear monitors is the fancy term for high end ear buds). However, they’re kind of annoying to put in, the cord is flimsy compared to the Shure SE215s and the original shipment had tons of defects. Apparently Logitech improved this with the UE900s, but I never tried the new ones out.