I'm looking for small sporty headphones that aren't in-ear models.
July 22, 2009 3:24 PM   Subscribe

After several years use of iPod headphones, I'm fairly sure I've damaged my ears listening too loudly with earbud style headphones. I have no interest in in-ear headphones, but my question is: is there an alternative to earbuds and in-ear that provide decent sound quality and are functional to use while exercising? (this rules out giant over the ear cans as well) I've seen behind-the head wrap-around headphones but they're usually cheap and tinny -- is there a high end version of those style that I could wear while sweating?

I guess my question boils down to what headphones ARE NOT:
- earbuds
- in-ear
- large DJ style cans

Is there any other headphone style besdies the behind the ear wrap around small soft ear pad style?
posted by mathowie to Technology (16 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Some of the Nike models are pretty decent if you're looking for a good model for exercising. My main complaint with the over-the-ear headphones is that they don't fit very well and are one size fits all. The higher end Nike ones have a small adjustment point at the top of the arc that fits over your ear, which makes them fit better than most.

That being said, in-ear isolating ones are my favorite for preventing hearing loss: I don't have to turn the volume up much to compensate for external noises.
posted by uaudio at 3:36 PM on July 22, 2009

How about the Koss KSC75? Clips on the ear and is recommended by headphone.com as being good for exercise.

By the way, probably the best thing would be good sound isolating earbuds. These should allow you to play at a much lower level, protecting your ears. What matters is the sound level at your eardrum, not what is delivering it. I like the Shure SE210's.
posted by cosmac at 3:38 PM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've seen behind-the head wrap-around headphones but they're usually cheap and tinny

I had a pair of these Sennheisers that I was quite happy with until they mysteriously disappeared. Comfortable, easy fit. Only problem I had with them was in noisy circumstances. They didn't really cut the rest of the world out.
posted by philip-random at 3:42 PM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


These are probably the most expensive ones, though reviews are kinda mixed (I doubt the sound justifies the price premium over something like these Sennhisers, though). I picked up a pair of the Philips/Nike sport ones recently--sound's about what you'd expect for thirty bucks, comfort is much better. (And there's the iGrado.)

On preview: I think those Koss ones are overrated, but people seem to really love 'em.

Matt, are you going to use these for bicycling? If so, check out old threads--there was a discussion about wind noise in a recent one that would probably be worth reading.
posted by box at 3:43 PM on July 22, 2009

Not sure exactly what level of sound quality you're looking for, but if you're gonna plug them directly into an iPod and wear them while running around you really only need to go one or two small notches above "free bundled accessory" level. I had a pair of these Sennheisers that I'd recommend unreservedly (note that they fold up eyeglass style.) They also come in a behind-the-head version that I haven't tried.

These should both give you considerably better bass response and general definition than crappy giveaway models, but provide little in the way of noise isolation, which could be a bad thing if you exercise on a machine in a noisy room or a good thing if you exercise outdoors and need to know if there's a runaway bus barreling at you.
posted by contraption at 3:46 PM on July 22, 2009

Another vote here for the Sennheiser PX 100 fold up headphones. I've had mine for about 4 years, and as a general purpose, lightweight, over the ear headphone, they've been great. Not completely noise isolating like good cans, but pretty good, still. Clean bass down to 100 hz or so, and smooth top end to perhaps 15,000 hz. Comfortable to wear by a big headed man, for several hours.

As to exercising, I suppose the foam covers on the Sennheisers would soak up sweat like a sponge. I've never worn mine while excercising, as I have a set of noise canceling Koss aviation cans I wear while mowing, walking the dog, etc.
posted by paulsc at 4:00 PM on July 22, 2009

I use the Koss headphones cosmac linked to in conjunction with my ipod every morning at the gym, and I've been very satisfied. I had to buy a replacement pair last year after the ones I bought in 2006 started to fall apart, but I got two good years of near-daily use out of them. Good sound quality and the foam covers come off easily so you can wash them.
posted by tyrantkitty at 4:56 PM on July 22, 2009

Nthing Koss Portapros. KSC75. The sounds is unbelievable for something at that price point, and they're light, easy to exercise etc.

Let the record reflect they block absolutely zero noise.
posted by smoke at 5:31 PM on July 22, 2009

As a former HIS(Hearing Instrument Specialist), I normally recommend NOT using headphones for the reasons you stated "I'm fairly sure I damaged my ears...."

On that note, before you worry about getting new headphones consider getting a hearing test to see if you really may have damaged your hearing and in what frequencies the damage may have occurred or affected the most.

For anyone else who's pretty sure their hearing is still intact, consider Bone Conduction Headphones. These types do not block outside sounds, require very little "volume" level to be heard and can be used normally with most devices and situations.

Granted, they can still be abused, but hopefully after a hearing test you'll be more considerate of your sensitive ears.
posted by emjay at 5:32 PM on July 22, 2009

i have been using these

Altec Lansing Backbeat

i found them on Amazon for like $80 (but i didn't need the bluetooth adapter).

the little earphone parts move so you could twist them outwards so they are not actually in your ear.

i have been trying to find headphones that were not earbuds for awhile - i use these while running and working out. i've had no problems. they can get plenty sweaty.
posted by sio42 at 5:43 PM on July 22, 2009

replied by mefimail.
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:34 PM on July 22, 2009

Another vote for the Sennheisers - I wear mine running and I don't want to block out the world entirely.
posted by canine epigram at 10:00 PM on July 22, 2009

I also like Koss KSC75 headphones. I wouldn't call them audiophile quality (they're not optimal for classical music, I've found -- IMO they run a little dark, but that also means they're not tinny!) but I agree with the above -- I think they sound great for general use and are a great value. I usually see them for around $15 but have also seen them for lower, so they're not a big investment and if they get lost or die after a year, I figure it's not really a big deal and $15 well-spent. Koss does offer a limited lifetime warranty but the cost of shipping to get something fixed would probably be more expensive in time and money than just buying a new set.

The KSC35 headphones were the older, previous model that had a bit of a different clip design and sounded pretty similar to the KSC75. I found that they stayed on my ears better than the KSC75 (I wear glasses). However, the KSC75 headphones are also lightweight and stay on fairly well, but of course YMMV.

The soft earpads can also be replaced -- if you go this route you can pick up a blister pack with three pairs of replacement cushions from Amazon. They work for some other smaller Koss headphones, too, e.g. PortaPros.

I know you're not interested in in-ear phones, there's a style sort of "in between" the iPod earbuds and the insert-way-into-your-ear-canal phones that I like. The Sennheiser CX300 ones and, the surprisingly good JVC Marshmallow phones. The Marshmallows (JVC HA-FX34* and HA-FX33*) are also usually very inexpensive but they are softer than normal earbuds (replaceable cushions) and they do a pretty good job blocking out sound, so I don't have to turn up the volume to high levels to hear everything. In fact I can *lower* it a lot compared with normal earbuds or my KSC75s. Again, they're not audiophile quality but still a fantastic value, and they're my go-to set for when I'm taking public transit or in an otherwise noisy environment. Plus they come in (almost) MeFi blue and AskMe green. They're not the best for exercise with a lot of movement, though -- for something like a stationary bike or rowing machine they would be fine, but they wouldn't be great (or safe) for something like running outdoors.

For headphone advice, my first stop is usually the head-fi.org forums, which is always active. Here's their Portable Headphones, Earphones and In-Ear Monitors Forum, where you may find more than you'll ever need or want to know about portable headphones.

In any case, emjay has a good point. I hope you get your ears checked out.
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 10:53 PM on July 22, 2009

Ha! I am, as I write, wearing the excellent Sennheiser PX100. They are great for the desk, but they'd be useless for exercise (for me, anyway. I move too much). On my ride in to work I use a pair of V-Moda Vibe in-ear phones, as earbuds don't stay in my ears. I wouldn't be able to use the wrap-behinds myself either--at least not for jogging. Maybe for cycling.

I do know you ruled out in-ear models, and so did I--but that style turned out to be the most reliable in terms of not falling off. The Vibes I have get poor reviews from some for not being isolating enough--i.e., they let some sound in. As far as I'm concerned that's a feature. They do attenuate sound a bit, but not as much as the traditional isolating-type in-ear phones. When I ride with them, the wind noise is louder than the music at the volume I set.

It may help to know what kind of exercise (jogging for me is tough to keep earbuds in, and some headphones don't work with a bike helmet). May also help to know why you don't like in-ear phones in case there's varieties you haven't heard of or at least a hint of your preferences so we don't recommend the wrong other style.

If it's fit you don't like, I am told that you can get custom earbuds made. If it's something like perpetual earwax (yuck!), I can't help you--I have the same problem and it's why I use the on-the-ear PX100s in the office.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 9:49 AM on July 23, 2009

On second thought, though, I'd bet that you'd be better served as mentioned above by more isolation, not less. You're probably turning it up loud to increase the signal to noise ratio as it were, and if you want to have the same ratio with less signal, then you have to decrease the noise--i.e., more isolation.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 9:52 AM on July 23, 2009

Bone Conduction Headphones
posted by philip-random at 10:34 AM on July 23, 2009

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