Headphones Shopping Guide
In our never ending mission to get people to get the most out of their music, we bring you a guide to finding the perfect set of headphones for your budget and listening needs. Besides the obvious advantages of being able to listen to music on-the-go, headphones also offer a chance to get some of the highest-fidelity listening without needing acoustically-treated listening environments and understanding neighbors. Nothing else helps you truly escape into the music with less investment. Our guide breaks down into four pricepoints: Economy, Starter, Midrange, and Audiophile, as well as a section for Accessories & Extras at the very end. In making our choices, we favored fidelity, meaning that the headphones present the music as the artist and engineers made it instead of "hyping" certain frequencies. We also did not look into additional features such as noise cancellation - we were just looking at great quality headphones!
- $18.59 - $25.70/ Amazon
- With surprisingly deep bass response for their small package and a version with an inline remote and microphone for Apple devices, these are a good grab for under $30. There is also a semi-open back model, which will provide a higher quality but allow more sound from the outside world to enter your listening experience. Shure is known for their sturdy, reliable products, and these are no exception to that rule.
Audio Technica ATH-M50x
- $149 / Amazon
- Great bass and excellent high frequency response with a high level of detail, these headphones are comfortable for long listening sessions, foldable, and have a detachable cord so you can choose between coiled and straight cabling (it comes with both!). Like many headphones in this range, there’s some hyping of the mid-range, but I feel the eventual “burn-in” that results after enough use mellows this out that factor much more than the comparable Sony MDR7506. These are my day-to-day workhorse headphones, and I’d replace them in a moment should something happen to them.
Grado SR80e Prestige Series
- $99 / Amazon
- Grado headphones sound like they’re at least 4 times as expensive as they are, with a very balanced frequency response and incredible detail. They’ve won countless awards and deserve all of them. But beware, their open-back design means that it will not isolate the outside world, and will be audible to other people in the room. Great for at-home listening, bad for airplanes and libraries. They can also be a little uncomfortable after long listening sessions. Those two factors aside, these are a must-have.
V-MODA Crossfade 2
- $324.99 / Amazon
- Incredibly durable with deep, sculpted bass and clarity of sound, the V-MODA Crossfade 2's can be used as either wired or wireless headphones (although they sound slightly better wired). Their modern design also makes them a favorite among DJs, but audiophiles will appreciate their dynamic range and clarity. Their "military-level durability" makes them a little heavy, but plush earpads keep them comfortable.
Sennheiser Momentum 2.0
- $249 / Amazon
- Comfortable, lightweight, and with notable improvements on their already-solid predecessor, Sennheiser does a great job with the second edition of their Momentum series. Bass response is punchy and tight, without some of the “blooming” that can happen with looser drivers. Treble performance is no slouch either, with precision and detail that places things exactly where they’re intended to be in the stereo image. The cable detaches - a feature I’ve always enjoyed - and the headphones fold up neatly into an included carrying case for added portability. There are versions for both iPhone and Android which include inline remote for controlling your playback and a mic for taking calls. Versatile, high-quality, and well-designed.
- $1,399 / Amazon
- Sennheiser’s HD range has long been considered the gold-standard for studio engineers. Their superior frequency response means they hardly color the sound at all, allowing you to hear exactly what the musician, producer, and engineer intended for you to hear. CNET’s review says they sound less like headphones and more like high-end speakers than any other pair they’ve heard to date. Yes, they're expensive. But if you’re serious about headphones, these are an excellent choice.
- $1,699 / Amazon
- With very slight musical coloration and detail that allows you to hear things you’ve never noticed in records you’ve been listening to all your life, the Audeze LCD-X are the most pleasing headphones I’ve ever listened to. Their construction is extremely solid, and their thick, plush earpads help you sink into whatever music is going through them. They sound incredible for everything from electronic to rock to orchestral to jazz and metal. If you’ve got the money, you can’t go wrong with these.
ACCESSORIES & EXTRAS
FiiO A3 Portable Headphone Amplifier
- $59.99 / Amazon
- One thing you’ll find as you begin your audiophile journey is that every link in the listening chain matters. Generally speaking, the better the headphones get, the more power they require from the input signal to really shine - which is sometimes more than the standard mp3 player can provide. That’s where dedicated headphone amplifiers come in. High-quality headphone amps allow headphones to give their best performance, not just by giving you more volume, but by increasing the detail, the bass response, and high frequency extension. This model is portable, sturdy, and highly regarded for their quality circuitry. There’s no point in dropping a paycheck on a pair of headphones if they can’t live to their full potential.
Nite Ize Gear Ties
- 3-pack: $4.99 / Amazon
- Tangled cables are the bane of my existence whenever I travel. A friend turned me onto these as a studio solution, but they’ve managed to sneak their way into my headphones bag as well. Basically a durable, reusable twist-tie, these can keep your headphone cables in place no matter what, saving you the time of untying them as well as preventing any damage to the wiring. They come in a variety of sizes and colors for all your organizational needs.
Elevation Labs "The Anchor" Headphone Mount
- $11.95 / Amazon
- Headphones can be both out of the way and easily accessible with this hook that adheres onto the bottom (or side!) of any finished surface. It can hold up to 40lbs and is perfect for two sets of headphones along with extra cabling. Strong 3M adhesive means it will withstand all manner of bumps and pulls (and, according to one reviewer, two overly curious cats). A great organizational tool.