I need new headphones - Any suggestions?
June 24, 2009 7:12 AM   Subscribe

What are the right headphones for me? Big head, normal ears, likes loud noises, $100-$200 budget. Mostly for listening to music on my iPod Touch, occasionally playing games on my computer using it's (reasonably competent) onboard audio. I understand the listening experience is subjective, but if I can narrow it down to a short list, I can work on getting my head on various items to see how they work for me.

My Sennheiser HD212 headphones recently died, and I'm looking for a new pair. For those familiar with the particular combination of equipment, I usually used these phones at about 75% volume on my iPod Touch, although I do occasionally go up to 100%.

The HD212s just barely fit around my ears, and I found them to be reasonably comfortable - Larger cups would be fine, smaller is probably not feasible.

My normal listening environment is riding on the bus, so noise cancellation wouldn't be an unwelcome feature, but it's far from necessary.

I'm 6 feet tall, and prefer to keep my music player in my front left pocket - Cables long enough to do this are preferred. 4+ feet is great. If all else fails, though, I can use extensions without a problem.

My attention to detail in music is rather lacking, really - 192kbps LAME-encoded MP3s sound perfectly reasonable to me, although I prefer higher bitrates. I just as often listen to Pandora (which I believe is 128kbps), and it only occasionally causes me to grit my teeth at the audio quality. This may bias your answers in one of two ways - Low end phones, or phones that sound absolutely fantastic and should show me what I've been missing. Feel free to take either approach.

I'm generally more concerned with clear sound than deep bass. According to iTunes, I listen to Nightwish, Within Temptation, After Forever, Blackmoore's Night, Lacuna Coil and the like much more than Metallica, Rammstein, Stone Sour, etc.

If there's anything else you need to know, ask and I'll answer.
posted by Rendus to Technology (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Just my two cents: I sit on a bus for four hours a day and have been using Shure E2c earphones for two years now. I find them to deliver fantastic sound (have paired them up with an iPod Touch, a Cowon S9 and a Creative Zen.
They work great with louder music like you mentioned, packing a great bass punch for their size, but can also field the treble and mid ranges like pros.
I know you mentioned headphones and may find earbuds uncomfortable but they come with a gazillion different types of buds which generally fit. They are also solid quality and have a cable that doesn't tangle. Ever. Plus, that leaves you a whole $140 bucks to drop on music.
posted by eytanb at 7:21 AM on June 24, 2009

Response by poster: I did focus a bit heavier than intended on headphones more than earphones... I don't usually find them uncomfortable, they just utterly slipped my mind when I was writing that all up. Good earphones are certainly worth mentioning. Thanks :)
posted by Rendus at 7:24 AM on June 24, 2009

I have a pair of Audio-Technica ATH-A900s. They'll fit a large head easily, and they rest lightly on the head, due to the support system in the band. Bass is great; treble is sharp and sparkly; mids are ever so slightly muddy, but only by comparison with the excellent bass and treble.

You'll want a headphone amp for them, though--an iPod will drive them, but they really shine with an amp. I use a Fiio E5, which is about the size of an iPod shuffle.
posted by Prospero at 7:25 AM on June 24, 2009

(I've never heard of most of the people you mention, but I'm guessing you're kinda somewhere in the metal/prog/goth area?)

The Sennhiser HD280 and the Sony MDR-V6 (or MDR-7506, not MDR-600) are my usual go-to recommendations. Both are closed-ear, both sound good without a separate headphone amp, both are readily available for a little less than a hundred bucks, and both are quite durable and well-regarded. The Sennhisers isolate a little better, while the Sonys are a little comfier. Both of these are big, over-ear, DJ-looking headphones. Do you need something more compact?
posted by box at 7:29 AM on June 24, 2009

Sticking with Shure, I upgraded from the E2C's mentioned above to SCL3's. Worth every cent of the upgrade and super comfortable.
posted by merocet at 7:39 AM on June 24, 2009

Response by poster: Some of them are goth, all female-fronted with strong voices, mostly vocally-driven music. I listen to almost anything, though.

I'm not too concerned about bulk, overall. My prior headphones were reasonably large, and if they weren't being used, they were just stashed in a laptop bag or hung around my neck if I had nowhere else to put them.

Thanks for the suggestions so far.
posted by Rendus at 7:49 AM on June 24, 2009

as much as i hate to say it, i recently went through this very same deal (with the added issue of being a professionally trained audio engineer and therefore being insanely picky about headphones). i sampled A-T, Sony, Sennheiser, etc and believe it or not for the value/sound quality i settled on the Bose on-ear headphones.


i generally thoroughly dislike bose's sound and image. these sound very smooth and natural, not over emphasized and smiley-face EQ'ed as most bose products do.

they are available darn near everywhere (i bought mine at frys for less then the price shown)

i too have a freakishly large head and like keeping my music player in-pocket so larger size and longer cord were required.

i wear them for very long periods of time (lots of long 12+ flights) and i have many ear piercings, they are extremely comfortable and cool.

Bose's Site
posted by chasles at 7:50 AM on June 24, 2009

I just bought the Shure SE115s and I love them.

Shure just updated their SE110s with more complete-sounding headphones. They beefed up the bass just a little bit without sacrificing any clarity in the mids or highs.

Also, a nice feature is the detachable cord, so you don't have to replace the earbuds if the plug breaks.
posted by WilliamWallace at 7:58 AM on June 24, 2009


check out their recommendations in every category here
posted by phritosan at 8:07 AM on June 24, 2009

I'm particular to the Grado Labs brand of headphones. There's one for every budget, I've been sporting a set of the SR60's for over a decade.
posted by torquemaniac at 8:57 AM on June 24, 2009

Another vote for Shure. I had E2c's and they were great earphones, when the cable snapped Shure replaced them for free without any trouble. If they die, then I'll probably replace them with SE110 or SCL3 earphones. Customer service is excellent in my experience.
Checking the Shure site, looks like SE110's are on offer right now.
posted by arcticseal at 9:24 AM on June 24, 2009

I just purchased this IEM/amp combo(the amp, Fiio e5 is mentioned favorably in another comment above), and it's probably one of the best $50 I've ever spent. For $10 less you could get just the IEMs, which are pretty good on their own. On my iPod Touch I set the volume around 50% and could hear only the loudest external noises on the bus and train. At home, less than 25% totally drowned out my wife, except when she started shouting. That's without the amp.

The buds come with 4 different sets of tips so you can get the right fit, and once they're in they're pretty much weightless. There's an optional clip to keep the cable from moving too much(I have noticed fairly significant cable friction noise when moving a lot).

All tones are very clear, with good instrument separation and a decently wide soundstage. The bass might be described as underpowered, but using an EQ setting or the bass-boost switch if you get the e5 amp helps.

I hope I don't sound like too much of a salesman; I have no connection to the manufacturer or retailer of these products. I'm just a discerning, but never self-describing as an audiophile, guy who feels like he got a fantastic deal.
posted by owtytrof at 9:31 AM on June 24, 2009

I'm a fan of my AKG K-272. Self adjusting strap, ear cups block some noise (but not all, they're definitely not noise cancelling headphones). I have the studio version of these, which is a different impedance for mixing consoles, but its the same basic design. You can replace the cable with the provided coiled cable (has a mini XLR plug right on the headphones). Double check the cable replacement, that might be specific to the studio/professional version.

Anyway, do your research, many suggestions here are fantastic, but the AKG's are the most comfortable headphones I've ever worn and they work really well. Again, there are two versions of this product, make sure yours is for "personal use".
posted by teabag at 9:48 AM on June 24, 2009

Grado SR60s are incredible for the price.
posted by reptile at 10:36 AM on June 24, 2009

For noisy environments, I'd definitely recommend noise-blocking canal phones or noise-cancelling headphones. You can easily look up dire articles about risking hearing damage by cranking up earbuds loud enough to hear the music over a loud background.

Like you, I don't find earphones all that comfortable; my Bose Quiet Comfort 2 headphones changed my life. They're very comfortable, fold up (into a case that can also accommodate a portable audio player) when not in use, and do a great job of cutting the most shrill, annoying parts out of outside noise.

They get hate from audiophiles for their sound quality, but the audiophiles seem to be ignoring that they're not intended for use under optimal conditions -- they're intended to make the best of bad conditions, and they do a good job of that.

The list price is expensive, and they never seem to go on sale, but they're reliably available used for about $200.
posted by Zed at 10:43 AM on June 24, 2009

as long as you are not going to use them where sound-leakage or lots of ambient nose are the problem, you want Grados.

love love love my Grados.

if sound leakage is a problem, or you need to use them in places with lots of ambient nose, they you want to go the IEM route, in which case I recommend the etymotic ER4P's (I use mine every day) For slightly lesser sound quality and subsequently lower price, the etymotic e6i's are worth a look.
posted by namewithoutwords at 11:13 AM on June 24, 2009

For listening to my iPod, I absolutely love my Ultimate Ears SuperFi 5Pros. They feature separate tiny little speakers for both bass and treble, and do a great job at keeping external noises out. The cord is replaceable which is very convenient.

For playing my electronic drums (a slightly different endeavor), I've been very happy with the Audio Technica ATH-M50s. They're big and comfortable with great clarity of sound, not boomy at all (which is something I abhor when playing e-drums.)
posted by monospace at 1:00 PM on June 24, 2009

I have the Seinnheiser PXC-300's and they are great. The noise canceling feature is great for use on public transport (and especially on airplanes). They are a lot cheaper now than they used to be (at least in the UK), and soundwise they are lovely and clear but a little bit bass-lite so would probably suit you nicely. They are fairly discreet and fold up nicely.

The big downside to them (for many people) is that the battery pack / noise processing unit is a separate tube which is permanently attached to the headphones themselves. This means that you have to be a bit more organised as there is an extra unit to clip onto your belt or put into your pocket. It is a bit of a pain until you get the hang of it, but now I don't really notice it.

They are a lot cheaper than the Bose equivalents and have the advantage that you can still use them even without batteries (the Bose headphones need to have power running to provide any signal at all).
posted by urban greeting at 10:21 AM on June 26, 2009

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