Is it possible to find the perfect mix of affordability, quality, and external quietness in headphones?
December 20, 2010 2:26 PM   Subscribe

I need to get some new headphones that both sound great, aren't so expensive and importantly don't leak much noise at all.

I'm looking for a specific type of headphone/earphone that fits all of my criteria:

- moderately priced, between £25/$40 - £55/$85

- sounds fantastic: clear, punchy and nicely distributed. I listen to a wide range of experimental rock and electronic type music, I would just appreciate a nice sound with as little compromise as possible for the price. I am not an audiophile as such, but appreciate feeling surrounded by my music.

- doesn't leak: I'm currently sharing a bedroom in less than ideal student accommodation. I'm a night owl who has a music addiction and he sleeps early and lightly. My current Sennheiser HD 215's are way too noisy.

I'm not all up to date with actual music hardware technology. I am open to in-ear buds or out-ear cans, I prefer the comfort and richness of my current big cans but I imagine it'd be easier to fulfill the noise leak aspect with in ear buds instead?

I'd love to hear your recommendations.
posted by tumples to Shopping (20 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Sennheiser HD 280 Pro. It's what I got after asking a similar question here. They're fantastic.
posted by chairface at 2:36 PM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

You might also try asking/browsing around this forum.
posted by ropeladder at 2:50 PM on December 20, 2010

For the money these cheap Koss ones sound good (see the reviews), are small, and don't leak sound.

I did this same search a few years ago and found three leaders in the cheap but good sound category: Sennheiser, Grado, and Koss. The Grados let out tons of sound so those were out. I went with Sennheiser and was very happy with them but eventually yanked the cord out of the earpiece accidentally. (Don't take this to mean they're delicate, I just really did a whammy on the cord.) They fold up nicely, too. My only reservation about getting another pair is that I've heard newer models have an annoying volume dongle on them that makes the cord swing around.
posted by davextreme at 2:51 PM on December 20, 2010

Sony MDR-7506 via Amazon - $84.79
posted by axismundi at 2:53 PM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you really don't want to worry about noise leak, you're going to want to go with something that's in ear. I've been using Klisch S4's for the past year when issues of sound leaking in or out has kept me from the Grado SR60's I use at home. The sound is amazing, and the noise isolation in crowded places is really nice.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 2:58 PM on December 20, 2010

The Koss headphones mentioned by davextreme sit on top of the ears, not around, so they would certainly leak enough sound to be heard in a quiet room. Amazing-sounding headphones for the price, though.

The go-to around-the-ear headphones that don't leak are the HD 280 Pro, mentioned above by chairface, and the Sony MDR-V6. I'd consider the Sony to be a better value, but the earpads will probably need replacing after a few years of use (I replaced mine with velour earpads from Beyerdynamic). The MDR-7506 is identical to the MDR-V6, save for a gold-plated plug connector.

To not leak sound at all, though, in-ear headphones (aka in-ear monitors, or canalphones) are the best. When they're in and the music's on, you can't hear the world, and the world can't hear your music. I have Shure's E2C and the sound isn't that great. I think to get really good sound, you'll have to pay more for in-ear headphones compared to the other kinds.
posted by zsazsa at 2:59 PM on December 20, 2010

MEElectronis M6-CL at Amazon, ~$19. Some of the best in-ear phones I've ever used.
posted by speedgraphic at 3:01 PM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

By the way, as has been said before, in-ear canalphones/IEMs are really the only way to have zero/near-zero sound leakage, especially if you're already unhappy with the HD 215s which aren't known to leak abnormal amounts of sound.
posted by speedgraphic at 3:04 PM on December 20, 2010

Nthing Sennheiser HD280 Pro. I've had my pair for over five years and they're as good as the day I bought them.
posted by sinfony at 3:11 PM on December 20, 2010

These things are absurdly good, for the price. I've been using mine for at least 5 years, and they're still going strong. I even bought two more pairs as a backup when I saw them on sale at Micro Center for $9.
posted by deadmessenger at 3:17 PM on December 20, 2010

For over-ear headphones with some isolation, I'll enthusiastically nth the Sennheiser HD-280 Pro and the Sony MRD-7506 (or its brother, the MDR-V6, not to be confused with the MDR-V600s, which are crappy). The Sennheisers isolate a little better, the Sonys are a little comfier.

What everybody said about IEMs is accurate--if your priority is minimizing bleed and maximizing isolation, they're probably the way to go. I don't like to wear 'em, though, so I don't know much about 'em. Shure, Etymotic and Ultimate Ears are three typical go-to mentions. is the biggest/best forum on the topic. There are some previous posts you might check out as well.
posted by box at 3:53 PM on December 20, 2010

I went through many different headphones (with similar criteria to you) before getting the Sony MDR-7506. Now, I wouldn't ever get anything different.
posted by miraimatt at 3:56 PM on December 20, 2010

I'm a big fan of canalphones too but it's hard to find a pair a nice sounding, comfortable pair at a reasonable price. They're even more of a personal decision than headphones so any recommendation is semi-meaningless until you try them out on your very own ears.

That said, I've had nice luck with the Sennheiser CX canalphones, Apple's version, and v-moda's entry.

The v-moda's have the best base and come with 8 different kinds of rubber cups for fitting your ears but are the least comfortable of my favs. The driver is fairly big which puts pressure on the canal and they buds are made of heavy, sharp steel which irritates my ears over time.

On the bang-for-buck ratio, the Sennheiser CX's are tough to beat. They're cheap enough that losing them has never had me worried. They're also pretty tough and I've used my for years in the gym.

The Apple ones are comfortable and reasonably priced but are starting to die due to sweat leaking into the mic.
posted by chairface at 4:19 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

davextreme: For the money these cheap Koss ones sound good (see the reviews), are small, and don't leak sound.

zsazsa: The Koss headphones mentioned by davextreme sit on top of the ears, not around, so they would certainly leak enough sound to be heard in a quiet room. Amazing-sounding headphones for the price, though.

Agreed with both on the sound quality, but I agree with zsazsa on the sound leakage - I have to turn mine up in noisy situations, and when I take them off, I'm often surprised at how loud they were. Maybe if the room is really quiet, you can keep them nice and low, and no one will notice you, but I wouldn't bank on that.

I also agree that in-ear phones would be something you should look into, just keep the volume down. Another reason I love the little Koss 'phones is that they aren't shoved into my ears.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:42 PM on December 20, 2010

I love my Sony MDR-V6's. Everyone who has tried them likes them, as well. They're closed-backed and very quiet. Awesome long coiled cord.
posted by thinman at 7:13 PM on December 20, 2010

1) use Head Room to investigate
2) Sennheiser HD 280 Pro is a great piece of equipment, I've had mine for over two years
posted by zombieApoc at 7:23 PM on December 20, 2010

Seconding the Sennheiser CX recommendation ... good sound, great price and absolutely zero sound leakage... it doesn't matter how loud you crank it.

Here is the headroom article on the CX-880's which I own a pair of. A workmate owns a more recent pair and also thinks highly of them.
posted by Admira at 8:15 PM on December 20, 2010

Thirding the Sennheiser CX, however the most comfortable buds I've found to fall asleep with listening to podcasts (not a requirement you gave, but still) are probably the Apple ones. Steer clear of v-moda... I've had too many just fall apart.
posted by panaceanot at 2:05 AM on December 21, 2010

n'thing the Sennheiser HD280 Pros -- I own two (the first pair is 4+ years old, and it's still going strong). Fun fact: they were originally engineered to be reference headphones for artists to listen to the mix/themselves while recording in the studio, meaning they're designed to keep sound in (incidentally, they also have a pretty flat response). They're great headphones, although I will say that in terms of wearing them, you do need a break every few hours (I wear them pretty much all day at work).
posted by spiderskull at 3:38 AM on December 21, 2010

I also came in to recommend the HD280 Pros. I'm currently using the pair I've owned for over 5 years. I often demonstrate their amazing isolation by playing something quite loud and pushing the ear cups together, the sound disappears.
posted by borkencode at 12:54 PM on December 21, 2010

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