Headphone recommendations?
August 23, 2017 2:16 PM   Subscribe

I need something through which to listen to sound while I'm at work, to drown out distracting conversations happening around me. Earbuds are often uncomfortable for me. I'm a complete novice to audio. Any suggestions? :) Ear bud solution: not breaking quickly, not hurting in ear, staying on if moving, cancelling sound (but maybe not always), wireless for exercise?, not broadcasting sound to everyone. Prepared to have buds or on-ear.

I know there are over-ear, on-ear, and in-ear headphones. Whatever I get, it's essential that it shouldn't broadcast what I'm listening to to the whole office.

Earbuds seem to break super-easily. My manager gave me a pair, and the wire just went really quickly, even though they were new, and I wasn't taking them anywhere - just leaving them at my desk.
I also often find earbuds uncomfortable to wear for more than a short time (although the ones my manager gave me seem to be fairly OK - so I'm less dead set against earbuds than I used to be. Still suspicious of them though. And they still break easily.)

I have used over-ear before, briefly, and that particular pair hurt me by pressing my ear against my head. (It hurt, and then I actually developed a septic spot there too, so I wasn't just imagining it...)

So... my priorities are: must transmit sound to me but not to the room I'm in, shouldn't break easily, should be *comfortable*. Secondarily, I'd love if whatever I got could stay on/in well when moving around, and of course it would be nice if the sound were decent quality. (I don't know if Bluetooth-wireless would be a good idea? Are such things temperamental and do they more easily get faulty? It just seems a nice idea to not have wires dangling that can and will get tugged on accidentally.)

Suggestions of general type as well as specific brands most welcome! Thank you :)
posted by tangerine_poppies to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Sony MDR-7506. These have outstanding sound quality, and are often used in a professional capacity by studios and musicians. People often replace the earpieces, but I haven't yet seen a need. I've worn them for hours and hours with no problem.

I would recommend against sound cancelling headphones, as they don't work well with human voices, so they aren't, in my opinion, worth the extra money for an office. (They work great on airplanes, though.)
posted by cnc at 2:23 PM on August 23 [3 favorites]

Were you using earbuds or canalphones? I can't stand earbuds but find canalphones comfortable for hours at a time. I use Panasonics which have perfectly good sound and are less than $10 a pair.
posted by selfnoise at 2:23 PM on August 23 [2 favorites]

If you don't mind spending money, the Shure SE215 are amazing. The cables are detachable, so you can replace the wire if it ever breaks. Actually there are different accessory cables you can buy, that work for cell-phones (with microphone) or have a different feel than the plastic default.

They are noise isolating. They don't have a cancelling feature, but I find it difficult to hear what's going on around me.

They're also very comfortable, with several attachments. The big plastic body of the head phone and ear-wrap means that you don't have to jam the buds into your ears to have them work well.

Highly recommended!
posted by teabag at 2:33 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]

The Wirecutter recommends the Jabra Move for on-ear Bluetooth headphones. I have a pair of Jabra Revos that I love—They're very comfortable, and they have lasted two years without any issues, longer than any set of wired headphones I've ever owned.
posted by ejs at 2:47 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]

I totally agree on the Sony MDR-7506 recommended above. They are hard to beat even at twice the price. They are wired headphones, which shouldn't be a problem for an office setting.

Try to find a brick-and-mortar store to try them on. Headphone fit is such a personal thing.
posted by pguertin at 2:57 PM on August 23

I really like the PSB M4U2s for office listening. The sound quality is excellent. They're comfortable enough (for me) to wear for hours. The noise cancelling makes a big difference too. They're closed back, which means that they isolate some sound. They're not going to make all sound around you disappear, but they make a big difference in my experience.

If noise cancelling is very important to you, I'd look into the Bose QuietComfort headphones. Two of my colleagues have the Bose QC 35 wireless headphones. The sound is pretty good and the noise cancelling is really impressive. They'll obviously be a lot more portable too.

The aforementioned Sony headphones are absolutely fine, as are the Audio-Technica ATH headphones. If your budget doesn't stretch to some good noise cancelling headphones, I'd definitely look at them.

In my opinion, long-term listening, comfortable desk headphones don't mesh well with the requirements of exercise headphones. I think that you should consider a second pair that does that well, instead of trying to find one pair that works for everything poorly.
posted by Magnakai at 3:10 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]

I am super sensitive and can't stand earbuds (or canalphones or whatever), but I like the flexibility of having something portable and lightweight. I use UrbanEars Reimers. They're not noise-cancelling, and they're definitely not indestructible, but they're super comfortable.
posted by radioamy at 3:54 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]

To each his own. I went from canal phones (they were good, but I went through the foam pieces quickly, and they isolated me too much), to Airpods, and am loving them. They fit me well, the case is cool and keeps me from having to find a charger for a couple of days. Audio quality is OK, especially for podcasts and compressed music.

I hope to see some additional functionality with ioS 11 as well.
posted by rasputin98 at 5:56 PM on August 23

I often wear Sony MDR-7506's all day too, but they don't block out much noise. I can't tell if that's an important criterion for you.

When I want to really block out the outside world I use Shure 215's that teabag mentions. But probably any "canalphones" (thanks for that term, I'd never seen it before) would work. They have to go quite deep into your ear to be effective, so what matters most is the tip--you may need try different ones. You can even get them custom molded, but personally I've never tried that as the off-the-shelf tips are comfortable enough for me. But some people hate them. Maybe experiment with some cheap options and see what works for you.
posted by floppyroofing at 6:56 PM on August 23

Oh, but one minor disadvantage of canalphones is I find they're not quite as quick to get on and off. If you need to talk to people frequently you might be better off with something over-the-ear. Some of those can provide a lot of sound isolation to, I gather, though I suspect at the expense of some bulk, if you care.
posted by floppyroofing at 7:01 PM on August 23

If primarily used at work/home and not gym/outdoors, go for full-size, closed headphones. All of my over-the-ear headphones have an "open" driver housing which gives them a great soundstage and less fatiguing listening experience, but they leak sound like a sieve.

Headphones in general are a better bang for your buck than bookshelf or tower speakers. But after ~$300, you'll experience a rapidly diminishing return on your investment. (A $250 He-400i will reveal a whole new sonic landscape qualitatively superior to $60 skullcandy or Bose crapfest. But paying $600-$800 for something like a Sennheiser HD800 or Grado RS1 will require expensive amplifiers/DACs in the chain to take advantage of the rather small sonic gain. Don't expect a $600 can to sound twice as good as a $300 one).

The Sony MDR series is always a great option. Very affordable, very comfortable/durable, and pair well with many diverse genres due to the relatively neutral sound-signature. They also are closed back phones so they won't disturb coworkers or roommates. I suggest also looking into the BeyerDynamic line. You can get a DT 770 or 990 for around two bills and they will probably last for life. Good build quality, supreme comfort, and very tight sound quality that's more fun/dynamic sounding than studio phones like Audio Technicas or Sony MDRs. Great for both music and home theater/gaming. Pair with a small reasonably priced headphone amp and you're on your way to audiophile madness.

If you prefer the neutral tone for listening to acoustic/jazz/classic music, you might also like the Senn HD650. It's not my cup of tea but there's no denying it's a favorite choice of many.
posted by WhitenoisE at 7:33 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]

I picked up a discounted Sol Republic Tracks Air bluetooth over-ear headset and cannot express how very much I like them. I paid $50 for them via Groupon last year.

I don't believe this headset is advertised as noise-cancelling, but I work in a call center and when I have them on every day at lunchtime I cannot hear any of my talky coworkers outside the headset. Bluetooth range is 150' (I have had no reason to test this so far). Solidly built. Fast USB rechargeable battery, 15 hours, very comfortable. The ear pieces are each individually adjustable, padded, and there's also a cushion for the part that rests on the top of your head. The headbands are interchangeable (i.e. mm, if you're really into having your accessories match your wardrobe?). The sound is fantastic. And if you don't want to use Bluetooth you can just use the included audio cord doohickey to plug directly into an audio jack. Built-in microphones (I rarely use it to make phone calls but I've had no audio issues when I did), 1.45 lbs., no latency issues.

I've been very pleased with them.
posted by mcbeth at 8:21 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]

I work at home 3 days, we've got 4 kids aged 6 and under - I needed some serious nose-canceling technology to block them out and the $300 Bose earbuds are simply amazing.

Even if you don't want to spend that much I would recommend you find a Bose store and go try them out. They'll let you try different sizes, you won't be able to try most of the brands mentioned in the other answers here.
posted by exhilaration at 8:39 PM on August 23

A couple months ago I bought these cheap MaxRock sleep headphones that are surprisingly comfortable and block enough sound to be useful (I find its just as useful to give me a different sound to focus on as it is to actually block outside noise).

I've also enjoyed Gumi Plus earbuds. The tips aren't as silicon-soft as the MaxRocks, but I think they block a little better.

I'm not an audiophile, but I love music, and both of these do the trick for me.
posted by lhauser at 8:45 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]

I have a pair of Monoprice 8323s and they are cheap and sound great. Seriously.
posted by old_growler at 10:48 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]

I hated canalphones until I started using Comply foam tips, which make an enormous difference in comfort and sound quality/isolation.

Seconding the Shure 215 or 315 if either is in your budget, and something from Monoprice if they're not. The 9927s have something of a cult following, but to my ears the 9396s sound better and are more comfortable.
posted by toxic at 11:35 PM on August 23

I've always been very fussy about headphones - big over the ear headphones can make me anxious (long story) and I have dry, troublesome ears that get unhappy with in-ear phones.

I've recently bought some Trekz Titanium headphones, which work through bone conduction - they vibrate your head just in front of your ears and do not cover your ears. You can always hear background sounds, so they come with normal ear plugs for times when you need 100% noise cancelling (I've never needed them). A big button on the outside pauses them. They do leak audio a little more than earbuds, I think. Sound quality is OK but can change if they shift position on your head a little. They seem relatively tough, and have no cables.
posted by BinaryApe at 12:14 AM on August 24

I think I framed this question slightly wrong.

- I need to not hear my coworkers too much, but at the moment I achieve this by listening to "green noise" when they're being chatty. (I also listen to music when my concentration level is slightly stronger.) I suspect this might work better than noise-cancelling for concentration - green noise sounds like rushing water, which is quite soothing, and possibly better than silence. So I don't know that I really need noise-cancelling.

- I'm not an audiophile. I like to think I'd notice the difference between "terrible quality" and "amazing quality", but I don't know for sure. So I think I'd like to avoid terrible quality sound, but I probably wouldn't notice the difference between acceptable and amazing. I'd still prefer better quality but only if the price was similar.

- Price does matter to me. I'm probably not keen to spend much more than £50.

- I'm not planning to use them while exercising, but the basic (malfunctioning on one side now) earbuds I'm using at the moment do get tugged on a bit just when I accidentally catch the wire. I guess my main concern is really robustness, rather than staying in place while moving around - either being resilient to the wire being tugged on accidentally (i.e. not losing sound in one ear after a month), or having no wires (Bluetooth) - I have heard that Bluetooth just has more parts that can go wrong, and it can lose connection, so that makes me a bit wary.

Thanks folks!
posted by tangerine_poppies at 12:32 AM on August 24

Here are the canalphones I mentioned earlier. They have soft rubbery earpieces which I prefer to the foam.
posted by selfnoise at 6:13 AM on August 24

If you spend 50# (sorry, American keyboard), my guess is you'll get quality enough to avoid crappy wear issues. As with many things, you kinda get what you pay for here -- I've had the same pair of Etymotic in-ear monitors for years and years, and for much of their life they've had a pretty heavy duty cycle due to near-constant business travel. They still work GREAT -- but they were $150.

I share your aversion to wireless. Nobody wants to have to be a sysadmin for their headphones, and IMO *any* Bluetooth audio solution will inevitably require troubleshooting at some point, to say nothing of the need to recharge periodically. Wired phones just work, and if you're mostly at your desk the cord is of no consequence.
posted by uberchet at 6:29 AM on August 24

I, too, would say I'm not a audio geek and just want to cut the distraction of being able to tell what people are saying while not letting them know if I'm listening to cheesy pop music.

I got these Monoprice Retro Over the Ear Headphones. They were $20, sound great to me, and are comfy enough to wear most of the day. My ears get a little warm, but I got used to that. I wear glasses, but not earrings. Those two factors might weigh on how comfy any over the ear thing feels.
posted by advicepig at 6:53 AM on August 24

I've used these ear defenders for years as an alternative to headphones. Cheap, obviously wireless and no need to fiddle about sorting out music etc. They do squeeze my head a bit but fit well around my ears so no discomfort there.
posted by tomcooke at 7:21 AM on August 24

If this is something you plan to use for basically your entire workday, I'd encourage you to experience with noise cancellation before purchasing headphones with this technology. For me personally (and apparently for many others, particularly women) NC technology causes dizziness and nausea. For me it's an absolute no go.

I have a pair of bluetooth over-ear bose headphones (not the NC quietcomfort). I bought them primarily for ear comfort, as the sonys I tried made my skull ache. I use them for similar reasons (mediating world noises) and am not a huge audiophile.

Also the most comfortable earbuds I've used are from urbanears!
posted by sazerac at 7:33 AM on August 24

BeyerDynamic DT 770 Pro

I've been wearing headphones for work for a couple of decades, and these are hands down the most comfortable, and practical pair so far. Full isolation, no leakage.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 12:54 AM on August 25

Nthing the Sony MDR-7506. I use mine at the office (sometimes using a set of in-ears with noise reduction, but those get uncomfortable after a few hours). I also agree that you should find a way to try them on before buying.
posted by pmurray63 at 4:31 PM on August 25

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