It wasn’t long ago that if somebody was listening to music on their mobile device, they’d be doing so through a tiny pair of earbuds jammed into their ears. While earbuds do keep getting better, plenty of people would argue that nothing beats a good pair of full-size headphones, and it seems like a lot of people agree.
Picking a pair of headphones can be tough, considering there are so many variables included. What’s your price range? Do you want Bluetooth or not? What about noise cancellation? In assembling our list of the best headphones, we’ve tried to cover all the bases. Our first pick is a great example of that.
Audio Technica ATH-M50x
Somewhat similarly to how we started our list of the best Bluetooth speakers, the first item on our list was probably fairly easy to guess. Just because it’s an easy guess doesn’t make the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x headphones less of a good choice.
This is name that you hear all the time, and for good reason. If you’re looking for precision sound that doesn’t sacrifice an enjoyable listening experience for the sake of accuracy, this is it. The lows thump and the highs shine, but they’re not going to hide mistakes in the music.
While some color choices run more expensive, the base models of the ATH-M50x clock in at under $200. We’ve reviewed great headphones that cost more than this, but beyond these you start to see diminishing returns. The combination of price, sound quality, and build quality come together in a pair of headphones that are more than the sum of their parts.
The base ATH-M50x models sell for $169 online, and while you can certainly spend less and get a great pair of headphones, you definitely get your money’s worth with these. That said, they’re fairly bare-bones. If you’re looking for more features and active noise cancellation, look no further than our next pick.
Bose QuietComfort 25
Until September of this year, it had been an unusually long time since Bose had released an update to its extremely well-regarded QuietComfort line. The line consists of a few models with both in-ear and over-ear varients, both of which feature active noise cancellation. When the Bose QuietComfort 25 came out, it was quickly apparent that these improved on their predecessors in nearly every way.
Active noise cancellation is a tricky thing: if it’s too heavy handed you end up with an annoying hiss, and if it is too subtle, it just plain doesn’t work. Bose hits their mark perfectly here, and the ability to block out the world around you at will is a big part of why we’re recommending these headphones. Other noise cancellation we’ve heard is good, but not this good. In terms of sound quality and comfort, the QuietComfort 25s are on par with other Bose headphones, which is to say their fairly well balanced, but they don’t go overboard on bass.
One common complaint about Bose products is that they’re too expensive, and at $299, we’re sure some will that that about the QuietComfort 25s. While of course we’d like to see them sell for less, you’re definitely getting what you pay for here. For more info, check out the full review over at Sound Guys.
Samsung Level Over
While Samsung has made plenty of audio products over the years—anyone who has bought a Samsung phone has used their earbuds—it wasn’t until 2014 that the company decided to move into the realm of higher-end audio gear. Over at Sound Guys, I reviewed the entire Level line, but the only one that really stood out was the Samsung Level Over.
Not only do the Samsung Level Overs offer Bluetooth connectivity and active noise cancellation, but they offer a novel control scheme. Instead of a bunch of buttons, the entire right ear cup actuals as a control surface, allowing you to raise and lower volume, skip forward and backward, and play and pause audio with a few simple gestures. It may sound odd at first, but it fairly quickly becomes second nature.
Battery life is fairly decent (10 hours with ANC on) and the sound quality is nice too. Noise cancellation isn’t quite as good as the QuietComfort 25 headphones, but comes pretty close. The price does too: at $349 the Level Overs will run you more than the QuietComfort 25s, but that’s understandable considering this pair is wireless.
Looking for a cheaper pair of Bluetooth headphones without sacrificing too much in the sound quality department? Check out our next pick.
Before we reviewed them over at Sound Guys, I had never heard of the Photive BTH3 headphones. Taking a look at the Amazon reviews, I started to get my hopes up. When I did finally get the chance to check them out, I was still impressed.
While they don’t look very flashy, the Photive BTH3s make up for it with a combination of features and comfort. They’re light, pair quickly, and you can wear them for a few hours without them becoming uncomfortable. They’re also loaded with buttons, making playback and volume control easy even if you can’t get to your phone. Unlike Photive’s slightly more expensive BTX6 headphones, the Photive BTH3s are fairly balanced sounding, especially for the price.
You can find the Photive BTH3 headphones selling for just under $50 online, which is impressive considering the quality. If you’re still looking for something cheaper and don’t need Bluetooth, take a look at our next pick.
For most people, if you’ve heard about Monoprice at all, it was probably as a source of cheap but good AV cables or similar components. When word first started spreading that they had a few pairs of good-sounding headphones it was surprising, but not as surprising as the price.
Like the ATH-M50x headphones, the Monoprice 8323s don’t offer much in the way of features. What they lack in fancy looks or included remotes, they make up for in sound quality. I’ve had the chance to review some excellent headphones by now, and every time I come back to the 8323s I’m stunned by how well they hold up in comparison.
Obviously, to keep the price low some sacrifices had to be made. For example, the build quality isn’t exactly rock solid. That said, I’ve had my personal pair for nearly two years now, and not only have they not fallen apart, but they look as good as the day they arrived.
At the time of this writing, the Monoprice 8323 headphones go for exactly $23.98, direct from Monoprice. Not only is that a great deal for the sound quality, but a great price if you want a pair of headphones to throw in you backpack while you leave your more expensive headphones at home.
Some people are sure to argue that this list runs too expensive, while others might complain that everything we’ve picked is too low end. Such is the world of audio. At the very least, we’ve tried to put together a list of good starting points. No matter what you’re looking for, one of these picks should at least be close to what you’re after.
What are your picks for the best headphones? Let us know!
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