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.
The rule that I use is that the bigger the size of the headphone, the bigger the need for amplification. Of course factors like driver sensitivity and impedance will matter, but the general rule of thumb is, use a dedicated headphone amplifier for a full size headphone. Even a portable amplifier can be enough, depending on the type of the headphones.
Frequency response: Frequency-response specifications in full-size loudspeakers are generally pretty useless in predicting sound quality, but headphone frequency-response numbers are even worse. Manufacturers have routinely exaggerated frequency-response figures to the point that they're irrelevant. Even the flimsiest, cheap headphones routinely boast extremely low bass-response performance --15Hz or 20Hz -- but almost always sound lightweight and bright. Generally, bass buffs will be happier sticking with larger 'phones.
Audiophiles generally agree that if you’re passionate about music, and you have a listening space that is relatively free of outside sounds, nothing beats a really good set of open-back headphones. As far as we’re concerned, you won’t find a set of open-back headphones that manage to combine superb sound quality and a reasonable price than the Sennheiser HD6XX/HD650. To be clear, these are not exactly the same models. The HD6XX is a run of the HD650 with a lower price from Massdrop, and a few physical changes, but when it comes to their audio chops, they’re identical.
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?
Wireless and truly wireless: These connect to your devices using Bluetooth, so you’re never physically tethered to your smartphone, tablet, or computer. Wireless headphones don’t use a wire to connect to an audio source, but they do use a wire to connect the two earpieces together. In contrast, “truly” wireless headphones come as two separate earpieces that don’t need wires to connect to anything. Wireless headphones are incredibly affordable; truly wireless headphones can cost anywhere from $100 to $400.
LDAC is a strange family of codecs, not merely because they’re the only codecs that really attempt the hi-res thing, but because they have perplexing issues with common phones. For example, the bitrate defaults are wildly different from phone to phone. The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and LG V30 both default to 660kbps, and the Google Pixel 3 defaults to the lesser 330kbps. However, the noise present with every LDAC connection is far greater than it is with a regular old 3.5mm headphone jack.
Music keeps me energized all day (and into the night) at work — 70% electronica/dance/DNB, 20% rock, 5% hip hip and 5% other/classical — but I’m tired of low-quality sound and I’m ready to put my money where my ears are. I want to buy a USB DAC + Headphone amp, buy headphones (or, per your recommendation, to buy 2 pair) to complement the amp and my choice of music, and get great desktop sound for around $350.
Earphones are very small headphones that are fitted directly in the outer ear, facing but not inserted in the ear canal. Earphones are portable and convenient, but many people consider them uncomfortable. They provide hardly any acoustic isolation and leave room for ambient noise to seep in; users may turn up the volume dangerously high to compensate, at the risk of causing hearing loss. On the other hand, they let the user be better aware of their surroundings. Since the early days of the transistor radio, earphones have commonly been bundled with personal music devices. They are sold at times with foam pads for comfort. (The use of the term earbuds, which has been around since at least 1984, did not hit its peak until after 2001, with the success of Apple's MP3 player.)
Pairing high sensitivity headphones with power amplifiers can produce dangerously high volumes and damage headphones. The maximum sound pressure level is a matter of preference, with some sources recommending no higher than 110 to 120 dB. In contrast, the American Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends an average SPL of no more than 85 dB(A) to avoid long-term hearing loss, while the European Union standard EN 50332-1:2013 recommends that volumes above 85 dB(A) include a warning, with an absolute maximum volume (defined using 40–4000 Hz noise) of no more than 100 dB to avoid accidental hearing damage. Using this standard, headphones with sensitivities of 90, 100 and 110 dB (SPL)/V should be driven by an amplifier capable of no more than 3.162, 1.0 and 0.3162 RMS volts at maximum volume setting, respectively to reduce the risk of hearing damage.
The QuietComfort 20 headphones have been around for years and years; and they’re essentailly an in-ear alterative to Bose’s QuietComfort 25. They offer the same great active noise-cancellation that the company is known for, just in a traditional wired and in-ear form factor. The QuietComfort 20 can also be switched to an “Aware” (aka ambient) mode, so you can better hear the world around you.
The SoundSport Wireless are wireless sport earbuds that are very similar to the SoundSport Free. Instead of being true wireless earbuds, however, the two SoundSport Wireless earbuds are tethered together by cable. Aside from that, the two wireless earbuds have similar audio performance and use the same Bose Connect app. The SoundSport Wireless will last longer on a single charge (as opposed to the SoundSport Free which recharge every time they go back in their case).
I tend to regard the M50 as the minimum for hi-fi listening with no apologies for limitations. But if you have to go cheaper than the usual $125 USD for the M50, the B&O Form2 with a simple bass boost gives a real hi-fi sound, and it should be available for about $100. The Beyer DTX-501P (similar to soundmagic P30) is good for $100, but needs a slight treble boost. The LSTN Fillmore with wood cups is somewhat colored, but still a good listen and good for $100. Below $100 are the Sennheiser PX series – not hi-fi by any means. There are several good IEMs below $100, and Apple Earpods with a Dirac or Accudio Pro player are very hi-fi, and cheap.
Released in 2015, the SoundLink Around-Ear II are Bose’s wireless over-ear headphones that don’t have active noise cancellation. They’re lighter and slightly more travel-friendly than a lot of the company’s other offerings, and they could sound quality at the forefront. At the time, the big selling point for the SoundLink Around-Ear II was their sound quality — Bose claimed that they sounded as good as wired headphones, which admittedly doesn’t hold up in 2019 (streaming and Bluetooth have gotten too good).
Smaller earbud type earpieces, which plugged into the user's ear canal, were first developed for hearing aids. They became widely used with transistor radios, which commercially appeared in 1954 with the introduction of the Regency TR-1. The most popular audio device in history, the transistor radio changed listening habits, allowing people to listen to radio anywhere. The earbud uses either a moving iron driver or a piezoelectric crystal to produce sound. The 3.5 mm radio and phone connector, which is the most commonly used in portable application today, has been used at least since the Sony EFM-117J transistor radio, which was released in 1964. Its popularity was reinforced with its use on the Walkman portable tape player in 1979.