The number one rule to understand when embarking on your headphone-search journey is to understand that there is no one headphone to rule them all. Like automobiles, headphones are made for different purposes. You have the supercars, roadsters, SUVs, 4x4s, sedans, to the compacts, and you chose what’s best for your day to day needs. There is no one car that can tackle snow and win races on the drag strip. The sooner you understand this fact, the more money you will save.
We’re totally convinced the Sony WH-1000xM3 will be the best pick for most people, but if you’re looking for some alternatives, we have you covered there, too. We identified seven other models that are more than worthy of your consideration, each with their own specific strengths, whether it’s for use during a workout — or merely to keep you from giving your credit card too much of a workout.
A balanced armature is a sound transducer design primarily intended to increase the electrical efficiency of the element by eliminating the stress on the diaphragm characteristic of many other magnetic transducer systems. As shown schematically in the first diagram, it consists of a moving magnetic armature that is pivoted so it can move in the field of the permanent magnet. When precisely centered in the magnetic field there is no net force on the armature, hence the term 'balanced.' As illustrated in the second diagram, when there is electric current through the coil, it magnetizes the armature one way or the other, causing it to rotate slightly one way or the other about the pivot thus moving the diaphragm to make sound.
I see, yes, but that should serve as an important lesson – the soundstage is not real in the same sense as actual tones, bass, treble, whatever. Soundstage is a perception that’s based on many factors, and here’s a challenge for you: You should be able to find some music tracks that have better soundstage on one headphone, and other tracks that will be better on the other headphone. Most of the time it will be just one way, but when a closed headphone beats an open headphone, I expect the open headphone will still show an advantage on some tracks. Your hearing perception could be tricked by simple things like a recess or emphasis in certain frequency ranges, or even phase shift when more than one driver is in the cup.
Interestingly, yesterday I was comparing my beyer 770 with my AT ath30 and then I realised how important it is also the soundstage, the good separation of instruments … finally I have decided I want to take this into account as well, and not only the issue of bass, midrange and treble … Since, in my opinion lack of bass we can try to fix it, but lack of soundstage is impossible, right?
Historically, many headphones had relatively high impedance, often over 500 ohms so they could operate well with high-impedance tube amplifiers. In contrast, modern transistor amplifiers can have very low output impedance, enabling lower-impedance headphones. Unfortunately, this means that older audio amplifiers or stereos often produce poor-quality output on some modern, low-impedance headphones. In this case, an external headphone amplifier may be beneficial.
Will Greenwald has been covering consumer technology for a decade, and has served on the editorial staffs of CNET.com, Sound & Vision, and Maximum PC. His work and analysis has been seen in GamePro, Tested.com, Geek.com, and several other publications. He currently covers consumer electronics in the PC Labs as the in-house home entertainment expert, reviewing TVs, media hubs, speakers, headphones, and gaming accessories. Will is also an ISF Level II-certified TV calibrator, which ensures the thoroughness and accuracy of all PCMag TV reviews.
Just a few hours of burn-in today – I don’t expect much change with Tesla-quality drivers etc. The treble is recessed almost as much as the Philips M1 I had, kind-of a worst-case scenario. So I took out my most minimal non-peaky non-bright non-sibilant headphone – the B&O H6, and even though it doesn’t sound the same as the T51p because of the H6’s “light” midrange, I wanted to get a sense of how much the T51p was recessed below a very minimal treble. My Foobar2000 settings were +2 at 2.5, +4 at 3.5, +2 at 5, +4 at 7, +6 at 10, 14, and 20 khz. Normally I wouldn’t do the dip at 5 khz, but the T51p has a nasty 10 db peak around 5 khz, which makes it difficult for portable use without a customizable equalizer. Without a treble boost it sounds very boomy as well as muffled. I can understand Beyer going to a darker sound with more bass – in fact I thought it was a move in the right direction. But they need to cut that (resonant?) peak around 5 khz. I compared to several other headphones and none of those were anything like that.
Released in 2017, the Bose QuietComfort 35 (Series I) are essentially the exact same headphones as the Series II. They have the same design, feel, sound quality and noise-canceling skills. The difference is that the Series I don’t have Google Assistant built-in and a dedicated button on the left ear cup to activate it. If you don’t care about talking to a virtual assistant while wearing your headphones, which allows you to play/pause music or skip tracks via a verbal command, then Series I or Series II shouldn’t matter to you. The catch is that the Series I is more difficult to find online and they aren’t usually that much cheaper than the Series II.
The WH-1000xM3’s advanced control systems allow you to let in various levels of ambient sound, with advanced features like voice-only mode, which helps filter through vocal frequencies so you can hear your music and the voices around you while blocking out other sounds. Responsive touch controls let you navigate volume, make calls, and play and pause music with ease, all while helping to maintain a clean aesthetic. Best of all, the WH-1000xM3 offer a staggering 30 hours of battery life, providing even heavy users with days of use from a single charge, and have a quick charge feature that allows you to enjoy five hours of listening after just 15 minutes of charging.
Mid-range: Many headphones that cost between $50 and $130 include improved sound and useful smartphone integration (like custom EQ controls). In this price range, you’ll also see a big jump in the quality of materials used, which improves both the sound and the luxury of each pair. If you need a pair of well-made headphones with basic noise cancellation, you’ll need to spend at least this much.

The WH-1000xM3’s excellent noise-canceling technology ranks second only to the Bose QC35 II, from the brand that has long dominated the market in terms of sheer noise-blocking abilities. That said, the Sony cans sound much better than the new bass-forward Bose option, and offer numerous features that help to create a much better overall experience.
Headphones are made in a range of different audio reproduction quality capabilities. Headsets designed for telephone use typically cannot reproduce sound with the high fidelity of expensive units designed for music listening by audiophiles. Headphones that use cables typically have either a 1/4 inch (6.35mm) or 1/8 inch (3.5mm) phone jack for plugging the headphones into the audio source. Some stereo earbuds are wireless, using Bluetooth connectivity to transmit the audio signal by radio waves from source devices like cellphones and digital players.[4] Due to the spread of wireless devices in recent years headphones are increasingly used by people in public places such as sidewalks, grocery stores, and public transit. Headphones are also used by people in various professional contexts, such as audio engineers mixing sound for live concerts or sound recordings and DJs, who use headphones to cue up the next song without the audience hearing, aircraft pilots and call center employees. The latter two types of employees use headphones with an integrated microphone.
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