Best headphones of 2015
The truth is, the EarPods$21.30 at Walmart bundled with Apple devices actually sound a lot better than they used to. Still, if you’re serious about your music, those plastic pods can only take you so far. The single best accessory upgrade you can buy for a new media player, smartphone, or tablet is a solid pair of headphones. With so many choices, ranging from $30 cans you can pick up at the local Best Buy, to budget-busting, finely tuned masterpieces, finding the right pair of headphones can be tough. But if you spend the time to pick the right pair, and you take good care of them, your headphones can easily outlive the device that’s delivering your music.
The Headphone Advantage
There’s an endless selection when it comes to headphone design, but you’re basically choosing between padded over-the-ear headphones or snug in-canal earphones. Both have their merits, but for this roundup we’re focusing on the over-the-ear and around-the-ear design of traditional headphones.
Generally, headphones are able to reproduce richer low-end, since they have larger drivers than earphones and they don’t rely on an in-ear seal to deliver sound. Some listeners also find headphones more comfortable to wear, and easier to put on and take off, than they do earphones. This naturally means that headphones are bulkier, and less suited to the gym. If you prefer the in-ear design, we have separate lists for The Best Earphones and The Best Headphones for Running.
You might try to dismiss the din of the outside world by cranking up the volume, but the best solution for saving your sanity—and your ears—is to invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones, so you can enjoy your audio at much lower volumes.
Active noise-canceling headphones use microphones on the earcups to measure outside noise and adjust the signal to cancel it out. It’s an effective technology, but it depends on power for the noise-canceling circuitry to work. For more, have a look at our picks for The Best Noise-Canceling Headphones.
If you just want to block out sound without noise-canceling circuitry, good over-ear headphones will naturally do that to some extent. This is called noise isolation, and it simply works from the earcups forming a good seal over your ears to prevent outside noise from getting in. It’s not as effective, but it’s less expensive than active noise concellation and doesn’t require power.
Wireless headphones can be convenient in any situation where you don’t want to deal with dangling cables—like the gym, for example. After years of poor-to-mediocre sound, Bluetooth wireless stereo audio has made great strides in sound quality. While the data signal containing Bluetooth audio is compressed, headphone and earphone manufacturers have found ways to enhance the signal to compensate for its deficiencies in a way that makes them less audible than before. We’ve included some wireless options here, but if you’re really keen on cutting the cord, check out The Best Wireless Headphones.
Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pro
Superb sonic performance gives clarity and equal representation to the entire frequency range. Secure circumaural fit. Ships with two long, removable cablesâ€”one semi-coiled, one straight. Swappable velour and leatherette earpads.
Can get a tad uncomfortable over very long listening sessions. Expensive.
- BOTTOM LINE
The expensive Beyerdynamic Dt 1770 Pro is a wonderful headphone pair for musicians and engineers seeking an accurate frequency response in critical listening scenarios.
Bose QuietComfort 25
Powerful lows and crisp, bright highs with no distortion at top volumes. Exceedingly comfortable. Best noise-cancellation technology available. Can be used as passive headphones without power.
Runs on a AAA battery rather than a built-in, rechargeable option. Sculpted sound signature is not for purists. No auto-off function.
- BOTTOM LINE
Bose’s QuietComfort 25 over-ear headphones feature excellent noise cancellation and sculpted, powerful audio performance.
Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless
Fantastic audio performance with rich, articulate lows and crystal clear highs. Smart, handsome design with secure, comfortable fit. Wired, passive mode automatically shuts off battery.
Expensive. Included cable lacks remote control.
- BOTTOM LINE
The Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless is one of the more expensive Bluetooth headphone pairs on the market for good reasonâ€”it delivers brilliant audio in a smart, attractive design.
Sennheiser HD 598
Superior audio experience. Excellent balance of the entire frequency range with a strong sense of space. Very comfortable.
Light on accessories. Retro color scheme not for everyone.
- BOTTOM LINE
The superb-sounding Sennheiser HD 598 offers some of the best sense of space we’ve heard from $250 headphones.
Fantastic audio performance with deep lows and clear, well-defined highs. Sleek design with luxurious material. Extremely comfortable fit. Ships with two detachable cables, one with an inline remote and microphone for mobile devices.
Quite expensive. Not for purists seeking a flat response sound signature.
- BOTTOM LINE
Sony’s MDR-1A over-ear headphones are luxurious-feeling, exceptionally comfortable, and deliver top-notch audio performance.
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