Looking for on ear headphones for home office/cafe work that are clear sounding, don't get sweaty, and are comfortable for long wear.
September 3, 2008 12:38 PM   Subscribe

I'm in search of headphones to use on my laptop while working at my home office and sometimes at a cafe. I've been using earbuds, but find I get "earbud ear" (ala "hat head") after having them in there all day, and my ears ring from the less then quality sound. I want to find some on ear headphones, preferably $125 and less, that have quality sound, are comfortable on my large size head, don't get sweaty after extended wearing, and have minimal sound bleed in or out. Some is fine. I know about open/closed headphones, and it seems most closed ones are butt ugly, with sweaty pleather and compromise sound. Are there others? The Sennheiser 555s have been a contender on my list. The Grado S60 is no longer, because I've frequently read of it's excessive leaking sound out. Do you have some favorite headphones that meet this criteria, or know of some you'd recommend? If it helps, I listen to mostly electronic, downtempo while working. So well detailed, tight sound all around would be preferable. Don't need a bass heavy headphone. thanks in advance for your suggestions
posted by healthyliving to Technology (27 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I've used Sennheisers for years, and I do love them. For their price, I think they're probably the best ones you can get on the market these days. Great sound, comfortable, Lil Wayne sounds just as good as This American Life... good luck!
posted by indiebass at 12:52 PM on September 3, 2008

I'm not sure I understand this earbud ear.

Denon makes a good pair of closed headphones that keep sound in better than the grado SR60s at about $130 or so -- The AH-D1001K. Honestly, though, if you're really concerned about leakage I'd just get a high quality pair of ear canal (not ear bud) headphones, like the Shure SE210.
posted by Jairus at 12:53 PM on September 3, 2008

Response by poster: @indiebass thanks, that's what I hear too

@jairus, by earbud ear I mean I can feel them in there for hours after. Not too concerned about sound leakage, as I don't listen really loud. But if it's practically broadcasting it, then that's a problem! :) I actually just read in another AskMeFi thread that sound canceling headphones only work for consistent sounds, not for speech, which is the only reason I'd want them. So again, not a major concern, but not so open that every little sound gets in/out.

Keep on with the great suggestions, thanks!
posted by healthyliving at 12:59 PM on September 3, 2008


The Sennheiser HD280s are comfy and sound quite nice to my untrained ear...
posted by lalas at 1:01 PM on September 3, 2008

The HeadRoom is a good place to look for headphones, I've bought several pairs from there. I don't have specific recommendation, but have you tried what the site calls Ear Cannal, as opposed to Ear Buds? I can't stand Ear Buds (they hurt my ears) but love the the ear canal kind. These have the benefit of dropping outside noise almost completely (I have the Sennheiser CX500s, they sound excellent).
posted by doctor_negative at 1:01 PM on September 3, 2008

Response by poster: @indiebass, which Sennheisers have/do you use? I read in one review that the Sennheisers have a sort of "fake" sound, that it processes it to sound "surround"like. True? What's your opinion on their overall sound? I guess the Lil Wayne to This American Life statement sums it up :)
posted by healthyliving at 1:03 PM on September 3, 2008

Response by poster: @doctor_negative no I've not looked into ear canal ones, the name alone sent me running! Are your Sennheisers what would be considered ear canals? If so, have you found them comfortable and good sounding, as compared to earbuds?
posted by healthyliving at 1:07 PM on September 3, 2008

The Audio Technica headphones have excellent sound quality. I have the Audio Technica ATH-A700 Closed-Back Dynamic Headphones. These are really comfy: I can wear them all day. Not too top-y or bass-y, with a very clean sound. I am not usually one to spend a lot on headphones, but my SO bought these for me, arguing that I would notice the difference from my old Sennheisers once I heard them. Sennheisers are the brand which I usually favor - but admittedly, mine were about 10 years old . I really can hear a qualitative improvement with the Audio Technica headphones, which I did not expect. He then bought himself a pair of the Audio-Technica ATH-A500 Headphones. We did a blind comparison test of the two models and really could not hear any difference, so the cheaper A500s may be worth considering ...
posted by Susurration at 1:26 PM on September 3, 2008

2nd HD280's. You can pick them up at a Guitar Center and haggle a bit on the price if you're so inclined. I got my last pair for $100 after tax with the GC Performance Guarantee (extended warranty warning, but they will replace them on the spot if anything is wrong with them for the length of the warranty on top of the manufacturers' warranty). I'm on my third pair now, but only because my first pair got stolen and I left my second pair backstage at some club somewhere.

Sound is top notch, and I wear them for hours at a time with no discomfort. They fit my giant head exceptionally well.
posted by knowles at 1:29 PM on September 3, 2008

By the way, I have also tried several brands of "ear-canal" headphones (Shure E3c, Etymotic, Ultimate Ears). I find them all equally uncomfortable and cannot bear to wear them for more than an hour or two.
posted by Susurration at 1:33 PM on September 3, 2008

Response by poster: Awesome, thanks for all the suggestions. So with the HD280s and Audio Technicas, the leather ear cup doesn't get sweaty? Sorry to harp on this, but my office gets warm in the summertime.
posted by healthyliving at 1:49 PM on September 3, 2008

Canalphones tend to have removable inserts. My Etys shipped with a little big with three different kinds of inserts: large white flanges, smaller, softer blue flanges, and a foamy insert that expands after you roll it up for insertion, just like earplugs.

If you can wear earplugs for a few hours, you can tolerate canalphones. They block outside noise better than noise-canceling equipment, and they tend to have great sound.
posted by svolix at 1:51 PM on September 3, 2008

The HD280's earcups don't get sweaty, as far as I know, but then the places where I use them tend to be air-conditioned. I highly doubt you can find earcups that don't make you sweat. After all, they have to fit snugly to your head to minimize outside noise and noise leak. I use them for musicmaking (the Pro line), and they're pretty good.
posted by curagea at 2:04 PM on September 3, 2008

I wear headphones alot while working (writing code), so I splurged a few years ago and got AKG K270s - big, ugly over-ear studio cans. They have great non-fatiguing sound, even with MP3s, and despite their size they are not heavy-feeling or head-crushing. Did I mention that they are ugly? They are throw-around durable.

In your shoes I would head to the nearest premium (not big-box) audio shop that has a big wall-of-headphones, bring some reference CDs, and spend an hour or two trying several models.

There are several decent high-end makes including Sennheiser, AKG, Grado, that offer varying blends of sound, efficiency, durability and bleed. Speaking of Grado, yes they leak some, and likewise let in some outside sound, but a co-worker had the 60's and the leak wasn't that noticeable, unless the listening level was club-loud. There are also surprises in the mid-range brands, such as Audio-Technica and Sony.

I personally don't like in-ear phones either... I just don't like "things" in my ear for extended periods.
posted by Artful Codger at 2:05 PM on September 3, 2008

Response by poster: @artful codger, eh, those aren't so bad looking! Yes, going to a store seems a good idea. Except that I live in a small town without a good hifi store. Well scratch that, maybe I've just not known about it yet (have been here just a year)

@curagea agreed re sweaty, except I'd rather get ones with material that's not more prone that that (as in pleather) then other kinds of material. That's partly why I'm interested in the Sennheiser 555s.
posted by healthyliving at 2:15 PM on September 3, 2008

I've been quite happy with the AKG K 414 P.
posted by sudama at 2:21 PM on September 3, 2008

A few months ago I bought a Koss UR-40, which cost me $40. It is extremely comfortable to wear, and they sound awesome, but only if you have an equalizer on your sound output so you can adjust the frequency response. Without that they are center-weighted, and don't sound all that good.

Since I am using them with an external USB sound module (ASUS Xonar) which cost $100, and which does have an equalizer, the combination is outstanding and I love them.
posted by Class Goat at 2:39 PM on September 3, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks Class Goat, sounds like you've got a choice setup there!

@sudama, I took a look at those, then went on the AKG site, then saw the 416 P And wow, those are definitely on my top contenders list now! Sounds like they have good sound, do a good job blocking sound, and fold compactly (have to think long term, I'll probably be traveling for my consulting work in the future) And they seem to be geared for and work well with portables, laptops etc, rather than that familiar refrain I keep reading, "But they're even better with a headphone amp!" So you've found yours good for long time wearing?

I'd welcome other suggestions people have, you've all been so helpful!
posted by healthyliving at 2:58 PM on September 3, 2008

for what it's worth, i'm pretty sure ringing ears is a sign of hearing damage. if the new earphones will allow you to listen at a lower volume, great, if not, you might want to rethink your listening habits.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:38 PM on September 3, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks @thinkingwoman, actually it seems to run in the family, separate from listening habits. But it's been worse with the ear buds. I listen at a low level, I think that the problem is that with low quality headphones, speakers, etc, the sound can be more "dirty," and damaging.
posted by healthyliving at 4:00 PM on September 3, 2008

and my ears ring from the less then quality sound.

As thinkingwoman said, you don't get ringing from less than quality sound. You get it from listening to music too loudly and constantly, which leads to tinnitus.
posted by advil at 4:08 PM on September 3, 2008

Are your Sennheisers what would be considered ear canals? If so, have you found them comfortable and good sounding, as compared to earbuds?

They are very comfortable, I fall asleep with them in pretty frequently. They sound much better than ear buds, because they are essentially sealed head phones, they can produce actual bass. The thing that impresses me about the Sennheisers is that they actually have head room, which I never really expected in these kind of phones.
posted by doctor_negative at 4:24 PM on September 3, 2008

Response by poster: @advil It's both, and hereditary. Go talk to my family :) Really, I promise I've not been listening loud, for a long time.

@doctor_negative thanks for coming back for the update.
posted by healthyliving at 4:29 PM on September 3, 2008

Response by poster: And @advil, when you've gone to a music venue with clean clear sound vs. a punchy/abrasive sounding system, you (well I) can definitely feel the difference after.
posted by healthyliving at 4:32 PM on September 3, 2008

I recently sent Headroom (headphone.com) this question:
So my girlfriend has moved in and that means I should really do a lot of my music listening with headphones. First, to block out external noise and second to not disturb her. I'm looking to spend $250, but would be willing to spend more if it would be a significant step up. My primary source will be a 24" iMac with 800 GB of lossless audio. I've got optical out and headphone out available on this model.

In terms of music, I listen to pretty much everything from classical (baroque mainly) to jazz and big band to prog metal (Dream Theater, etc).

I would prefer to avoid canalphones and ear buds for reasons of comfort. I will be listening while sitting at my desk, so I large pair of over the ear headphones that are sealed would probably be best.

Would I be better off buying a set of $250 headphones and just using the headphone out or would I be better off spending less and getting a headphone amp or would my best bet be a moderate set of headphones combined with a DAC and an amp (such as the combination Total BitHead)?
And their response was:
Hello Brian,

Thanks for your email....

Given your audio sources and stated budget, i'd consider the HeadRoom Total BitHead amp/DAC and quality Denon headphone combination as likely the best bet to star with.

The superb small ''earpad-sized'' Denon D-1001 headphones are on sale for $114.99; add $159 for the TBH unit and you're in for serious near-reference
listening from any computer PC /laptop. and/or player source(s).


I'll hazard to add that we do show currently available one 'B-stock' Denon D-2000 "audiophile reference" headphone for $250usd that will significantly improve upon the D1001's overall musical clarity and sonic performance.


So maybe another vote for the AH-D1001K by Denon. I have yet to order, so if you feel like waiting around two weeks, I'll let you know how they sound!
posted by Brian Puccio at 5:25 PM on September 3, 2008

So you've found yours good for long time wearing?

I've probably worn them for 2-3 hours at a time, max, but I'm told I have a big head, and I find them completely comfortable.
posted by sudama at 5:54 PM on September 3, 2008

Response by poster: You people on AskMeFi are the best!

I think I've come to a decision: the AKG K 416 P. They're specifically made to work well with laptop level equipment already (the only place I'd use them), their construction is apparently a good external sound filter, the sound itself is crisp and very forward, it has a sound control on the headphone cable itself, the fit is flexible and auto adjusts, and they can fold to a small size for traveling.

That last part I'd not even thought to consider, but I will most likely begin traveling for my work. And the kicker? They're one of the most reasonably priced of all that I've been considering. 4.5 of 5 on Amazon, and here's the official site

Thanks everybody, and specifically Sudama for your recommendations.
posted by healthyliving at 6:04 PM on September 3, 2008

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