Best headphones on the market that are $60 or less?
April 9, 2011 7:06 AM   Subscribe

Best headphones on the market that are $60 or less?

What are the best headphones on the market that can be bought for $60 or less?

I've been using the same crappy headphones for nearly ten years now and I just thought to myself the other day "why the hell do I still use these?". I've been complaining about them since the day I got them. They're taped up because they've fallen apart not once, but at least four or five times. Why haven't I bothered getting anything new? I use my headphones for many hours a day, so this truly baffles me . . .

I did a bit of research on headphones the other day and came across a few promising pairs of phones. Two pairs of headphones I have in mind are:

. Audio-Technica ATH-M50S
. Koss Portapro

The Audio-Technica ATH-M50S have a retail price of about $120 while the Koss Portapro phones retail at about $30. So yeah - the Audio-Technicas are a lot more expensive, but the Koss Portapros are supposedly some of the best "bang for your buck" headphones on the market. To some, the Portapros sound just as good as headphones that cost two or three times more expensive. Another thing that adds to their appeal is the fact that they come with a lifetime warranty.

At this point I'd only buy the Audio-Technica phones if I could find them used for $60 or less as I don't have the money to blow $100+ on phones right now. Any MeFi users have a pair they could sell for $60 or less (hey - you never know!).

Anyway, thanks. I await your responses.
posted by GlassHeart to Technology (25 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
If open ear headphones are what you want (you want great sound and don't care who else can hear it) then the Grado sr60 continues to be the best deal. $80 but worth twice that.

If you want closed ear headphones (with great sound that others can't hear) then you probably want in-ear phones, otherwise delivering good bass without boom is problematic at your price point. Etymotic mc5 is good at $80.

I know $80 is more than $60 but pricing has changed in the last few years.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:14 AM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you want over-the-ear headphones, or earbuds, or something else? What kind of source do you usually plug these headphones into? Is it important that these headphones block external noises, or that the sound from the headphones doesn't leak out to the people around you?

Grado SR-60s have a great rep, as do the Sony MDR-7506 (or MDR-V6) and the Sennheiser HD-280. Any of these are available for less than a hundred bucks, but none of them are as cheap as the Portapros.
posted by box at 7:16 AM on April 9, 2011

It depends some on your audio source. If these are for use with a computer (and not an iPod/etc), you might consider a USB sound card like the Turtle Beach AA Micro and the cheaper headphones. (Last year I was having trouble deciding between some options that were much more expensive, bought the TBAA and the Sennheiser HD201s just so I'd have something to listen to, and I'm surprised by the sound quality $45 got me.)
posted by ethand at 7:21 AM on April 9, 2011

This may be of interest to you: in an ask mefi thread recently, Koss was mentioned as a company with lifetime warranties on their products

I've had a two pairs of $20 Koss headphones that I've each worn out (after years of use). You should not expect out of this world sound, but it's certainly about as good as it gets around that price point.

FWIW, I've replaced the Koss headphones with Ultimate Ears 500s, which are earbuds so perhaps not what you want. I had trepidations about moving to earbuds, but after using these for a while I can't really figure out why I waited so long, they are pretty great and oh-so-portable.
posted by mcstayinskool at 7:39 AM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was going to recommend the Grado SR60s too, despite them being slightly over budget. I've never heard them, but they always come up in reviews as the best bang for your buck headphones.

When you consider the lifespan of most headphones, an extra $20 now, is worth it, I think.
posted by backwards guitar at 7:43 AM on April 9, 2011

I had the Sennheiser HD280s for a long time, then upgraded to their slightly higher-end folding ones. Both kinds seem quite popular at my old office, where we could get away with headphones all day; the HD280s were cheap enough that theft was no big deal, and the folding ones are very portable.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 7:52 AM on April 9, 2011

I got my HD555 for $65 + shipping refurbished, with a two year warranty. I think they're the best open-ear cans for the price point, no contest.
posted by yaymukund at 8:14 AM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sennheiser PX-100. They can be found for ~$60 at several online retailers (listed amazon so you could read reviews). zipzoomfly, b&h, CDW
posted by teg4rvn at 8:14 AM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

This very extensive list from Head-Fi reviews 160 different IEMs (in-ear monitors). I'm not sure if you wanted traditional headphones only, but if you decide to go the earbud-like route, this is super thorough.

They're also a great source of audio information in general.
posted by rachaelfaith at 8:17 AM on April 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have a pair of Koss UR-40s that I really like. They've got basically the same sound as the infamous PortaPros and, while not as portable, are quite comfortable. (plus, they're only moderately ugly, instead of very ugly)
posted by ropeladder at 8:19 AM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Get the Porta-Pros. They really are that good. I have Grado SR-325i and I prefer the Porta-Pros in common use. Seriously.

I repeat: The Porta-Pros are really that good. Get them and then later you can look into getting something more expensive, if the Porta-Pros leave something to be desired. Which they won't.
posted by krilli at 8:43 AM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

They're a little bit pricier, but I fucking love these Sony headphones.

They take a beating like you wouldn't believe, and have swivel cups so you can do the DJ thing of putting them on one ear if you want.
posted by empath at 8:52 AM on April 9, 2011

I think you need to make some decisions to narrow the field some more ... headphones are an incredibly subjective thing. I've listened to headphones that my coworkers or friends thought were just the cat's ass and I thought they were awful/muddy/tinny/etc.

Do you want actual headphones or something smaller, like earbuds or true IEMs?

If headphones, do you want "open" or "closed"? (Open means the back of the headphone's driver is open to the room, so you'll hear room noise. Closed are ... well, closed. They cut out more room noise and keep your music out of the room, but can have issues depending on how they're designed.) Both of the models you listed are open headphones, but it's not clear to me whether that's a conscious choice or just coincidental due to their price.

By making the decision of what kind of device you're looking for, you'll be able to get much more specific recommendations. Right now you're sort of asking "what sort of car should I buy?" without specifying whether you want a pickup truck or a sportscar.

But as long as we're giving our favorites, I have a set of Grado SR80s, which are a bit above your pricepoint (the SR60s, which are only very subtlety different, would be within range of your budget) and I'm very fond of them. The only issue is that, over time, the foam in the earcups has started to break down so that they now leave black chaff around my ears. They're replaceable but fairly expensive. Plus as open headphones they're really only good for listening in a quiet environment and where you don't mind creating some noise yourself. I'm also a fan of the Etymotic ER6i IEMs, if you want something smaller and noise-isolating. I bought them for long plane flights and they're a sanity-saver.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:26 AM on April 9, 2011

I love my portal pros, in fact in using them now. They sound great and they roll into a ball so they're pretty portable too. I also really like the look but I can see how not everyone would agree with me. Koss also replaces them if they break for not much money (I think it cost me less than $10 to get these replaced )
posted by catwash at 10:41 AM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I use my Portapros mostly as my "at the computer" headphones and they're fantastic. Pretty much no sound isolation though, so I had to get IEMs for bus/plane rides. Another cool thing is Koss' lifetime warranty, where you send it back with a note and ~$7 and they ship you a new pair -- I've been meaning to get mine replaced for a while now (the earpad came loose) but I don't wanna let go of them for such a long period of time...
posted by btfreek at 11:20 AM on April 9, 2011

Seconding the PX-100's. They are simply amazing their price.
posted by swordfishtrombones at 12:00 PM on April 9, 2011

Came in here to nth the Grado SR60s.
posted by reptile at 12:16 PM on April 9, 2011

Another vote for the Porta Pros. I sometimes have difficulty telling the difference between the Porta Pros and the £300 Sennheisers we inherited. Zero sound isolation though.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:26 PM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I used this buyer's guide to decide. Very handy list of the audiophile community favorites at each price level. I ended up getting the $30 JVC HA-RX700s, which I'm wearing now and are extremely solid for their price. In the long run, I'm probably going to get the SR-60's, but I decided to go with something cheap until I got a chance to try them in person.
posted by abcde at 2:13 PM on April 9, 2011

A lot depends upon what kind of music you listen to: headphones tend to make pretty severe compromises.

I have Grado SR-80s, which are a lot like the SR-60s. All in all, they are really nice, but what makes them really nice is the incredible accuracy and fidelity at mid-frequencies. If you listen to classical music or acoustic music I wouldn't recommend anything else. However, if you listen to rap or anything electronic you may find them a little anemic (and supposedly the SR-60s even more so). The same can be said for the etymotic 6s.

(also you can practically use the sr60s as speakers)

However, if you listen to rap/electronic or bombastic rock music, I like the cheapo philips earbuds. however, they make anything midrange almost unlistenably muddy.
posted by at 2:27 PM on April 9, 2011

The Porta-Pros are simply the best headphones available in your price range, and they easily outdo competiters that are twice, three times, four times as much or more. Don't be fooled: Despite their price, they are among the best sub $200 open headphones available on the market.

I'm not just talking out of my butt here, either. I've spent well over 1,5k on headphones in the last three years. Portapros are the headphones I recommend to absolutely everybody (who's not looking for in-ears) that's just getting their feet wet with headphones. No disprespect to the Grados, they are fine enough phones, but why spend money you don't need to?

If you're looking for some isolation, in terms on in-ear monitors it gets a bit more subjective, but the two best I recommend in your price range are:

SoundMagic PL50, they go for around $55.

Meelectronics M6, which typically go for between $30 and $50 bucks (don't bother shopping around for the soundmagic, but you can find the mee's on special quite regularly).

You will probably get a lot of advice to spend more money, or recommendations from people who have only had a couple of pairs of phones. Well I'm gonna tell you that you don't need to spend more money, and I've had a shitload of phones. There are many well-priced, excellent sounding phones. If you spend more money you can get something that sounds a bit better, but always remember that 2x the cash doesn't equal 2x as good. This law of diminishing returns really kicks in from about $150/$200.

Get the Portapros, they are great phones.
posted by smoke at 4:45 PM on April 9, 2011

I third the Sennheiser PX-100s. I've had my pair for about 3 years, and the pair before that lasted me about 4. The foldability is great -- I can stick them in my coat pocket -- and the sound is fantastic.

The only issue I've ever had with them is the sound in 1 ear occasionally cutting out because of problems where the plug is connected. I've been able to pretty much nix this by winding electrical tape around the plug and the 1st 1/2" of the cable.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 10:06 PM on April 9, 2011

The Grado 60s also have an impedance that allows them to be driven by MP3 players.
posted by buzzman at 7:53 AM on April 10, 2011

I like the Radius Atomic Bass 2 earbuds, which, despite the name, have a balanced response.
posted by KRS at 11:54 AM on April 10, 2011

Great recommendations here, so I'll just add that, if at all possible, try before you buy. In addition to the fact that -- as many have mentioned -- headphones are a subjective thing, fit also makes a big difference. For example, I loved the Sennheiser HD-280 when I pressed the ear cups lightly onto my ears, but when I let go they lost their seal, thus losing a lot of bass response.
posted by The Dutchman at 8:45 AM on April 11, 2011

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