kick the cans
October 21, 2013 8:21 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for new headphones or earbuds. Sound quality isn't that important. Long-term comfort and build quality are.

I just had another pair of earbuds wear out (the cord insulation came off and the wires are sticking out). They happened to be these Sennheiser earbuds, but I've destroyed pairs of Sony and Philips earbuds in the past. I want to replace them with something a little sturdier. I've looked at the "best headphones" lists on The Wirecutter but they seem really focused on sound quality, and about 90% of the time I'm just listening to podcasts/radio/lectures and I don't really care if they have incredible bass response or whatever.

Are there a pair of reasonably portable and inexpensive headphones that have those fat indestructible studio cables? Or at the very least aren't as shabby as the usual sub-$50 earbuds I usually get?

It's also important that they're comfortable for long periods of time, since I fly a lot.

I've usually worn in-ear earbuds in the past but I think they tend to be built more cheaply than headphones, and I find most of them (except the Sennheisers I just broke) to be pretty uncomfortable after more than an hour or so, so I think I want to get some over-ear headphones this time. I like the look of the Koss Porta-Pros that I've seen recommended here in the past but this photo in the Amazon user gallery is not encouraging.

I don't want to spend more than $100 unless it's for something really super cool.
posted by theodolite to Shopping (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Erratum: I said "over-ear headphones" but I really meant "regular headphones," not specifically the big DJ ones that go over your ear.
posted by theodolite at 8:24 AM on October 21, 2013

I have some Sony earbuds that I got from Radio Shack for about 59.99, I think? The most valuable thing about them is that I have broken 2 pairs over the last 5 years and Radio Shack has replaced them both for free. (The same pair didn't break twice, I lost them and got new ones and they broke after about 1.5 years of gym abuse.)
posted by elizardbits at 8:25 AM on October 21, 2013

Best answer: I have a pair of Urbanears Tanto that I LOVE. I am annoyed they no longer make them, because the over the ear headphones are too hardcore for me at work (where I can occasionally listen to podcasts) and I couldn't hear the office phone ring while wearing them. I do not have that problem with the Tantos.

I found mine on Ebay. I paid about $20 a pair. Good luck!
posted by bibliogrrl at 8:37 AM on October 21, 2013

2nding Urbanears, but I prefer the Plattan. I can wear them for hours and not have any issues; they basically saved my sanity on a 20+ hour flight from India. I can also run in them without slippage, if that helps. Also also, they come in pretty colors.
posted by Flamingo at 8:40 AM on October 21, 2013

I have the Urbanears Plattans, but I find them a bit uncomfortable. I would definitely recommend trying them on first. I got mine at Brookstone, and they had samples out to try.
posted by anotheraccount at 8:53 AM on October 21, 2013

Strengthening the weak parts with Sugru may solve the wear problem.
posted by Sophont at 9:05 AM on October 21, 2013

While I can't vouch for their lifespan I really like the Panasonic RP-HT21. They are less than $5 so if they break it's not that big of a deal and they have surprisingly good sound quality for the price. The media center at my community college uses them to loan out to the students so that seems to be an endorsement of their build quality.
posted by sacrifix at 10:18 AM on October 21, 2013

That's a tough one.

If you're using them for flying, sound isolation is going to be important. That pretty much limits you to in-ear or big DJ style over-the-ear - anything that just sits on your ear will do a lousy job of muffling ambient sound.

If you wanted over-the-ear phones, I'd recommend the Sennheiser HD 280 - very solid, very comfortable, although they're bulky and right at the top of your price range.

If sound isolation wasn't an issue, I'd recommend the Grado SR60i - comfortable, lightweight but solid, and built to be repairable rather than disposable if you do manage to slam the cord in a car door or something. Terrible at sound blocking though, and not very stylish. And although it doesn't matter to you, they sound phenomenal for a sub-$100 headset.

As for earbuds - I don't know that durable earbuds exist. Flimsy cords being repeatedly flexed are what kills headphones, and every earbud is going to have a flimsy cord to save weight.
posted by Turbo-B at 10:51 AM on October 21, 2013

Response by poster: Actually I'd like to avoid super-powerful sound isolation - I usually want to be able to hear what's going on around me, and if that means I really need to pump the volume when I'm on a plane that's not a big issue.

I've seen those Grados recommended before (and I personally think they look rad) but I was under the impression that if I wore those on the train I'd be treating the rest of the Blue Line to all my jams. Is that accurate?
posted by theodolite at 10:59 AM on October 21, 2013

I am big on Klipsch S3s for everyday earbuds. They're in ear, so they are isolating, and you have to choose the right rubber tips for your ears. For $35 (right now at Amazon), they have the sweetest sound I've found in that price range, without the overdone muddy bass so many have and with super clear mids. They are super comfortable and in my experience very durable.
posted by spitbull at 11:49 AM on October 21, 2013

Sorry, I misread that you were trying to stay *under* $50!

When I care about the sound, my main on the go cans are Sony MDR-7506, for about $100. Over the ear, super comfortable, not a lot of leakage, utterly even response, very durable.
posted by spitbull at 11:53 AM on October 21, 2013

For what its worth, I own a pair of Koss PortaPros that are going on 8 years. No problem with the connector. I just try to make sure there isn't any stress put on it when I wear them out as I've learned the hard way from damaging other headphones. I think they might also have a lifetime warranty.
posted by cazoo at 12:25 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The Tantos look just about perfect. I found some on Ebay for $23. Thanks everyone!
posted by theodolite at 12:47 PM on October 21, 2013

Response by poster: Follow up: the Tanto headphones are light and comfortable and the cord is strong enough that I'd be comfortable using it as a rock-climbing tether. They also sound very nice.
posted by theodolite at 8:39 AM on October 28, 2013

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