The best headphones - tested
It may have slipped your attention - so subtle are we at Pocket-lint - but we’ve been running a bit of a series of articles on your ears and how important they are to you. We’ve suggested how you can cut down on noise, how to watch where you work, how ear damage can happen, what audio apps you might be into and even how to clean your canals properly as well. So now that you know how to take good care of your hearing, the final thing we want to do is tell you most of all how to give it the treat it deserves.
Here below you’ll find the very finest headphones we’ve ever had the pleasure to test out here at Pocket-lint. So, from the in-ear to the on-ear, the highly affordable to the scarliy expensive, these are the best headphones tested. Buy a pair and do it now.
Sennheiser CX 300-II Precision - £20
The CX 300-II Precisions offer a drive unit and capsule, claiming great bass, clarity and dynamics, and, in our listening, we would have to agree with what Sennheiser says. Everything from Dave Matthews Band to NOFX sounded great. The earphones produce a nice, well-balanced tone and while they don't have the mellowness of some of the more expensive models on the market, at £20 you can't really complain.
The sound performance is helped by the tight fitting ear buds. It's no noise-cancelling offering, but then you don't get that annoying hiss either. For those keen to improve their headphone performance, but not wanting to go the full hog of actually buying a pair that are more expensive than the MP3 player you shelled out for in the first place, then the Sennhesier CX300-II are well worth checking out. REVIEW
Creative Aurvana In-Ear 2 - £90
As the name suggests, they are an in-ear model, with bold claims of blocking 95 per cent of external noise without the cost of actual cancellation technology. Comfortable, good quality construction, great sounding audio and with those little extras like the case and accessories, the Aurvana In-Ear 2s should be a serious consideration for those looking to upgrade their headphones without stepping over the £100 mark.
As all-round headphones, we found the Aurvana In-Ear 2 to deliver rich and detailed audio. They don't offer the same sort of delivery as over the ear headphones do, but as we had achieved a perfect fit, we were very impressed with the quality of the audio. Equally they performed well with a range of movies and TV, again bringing plenty of detail and depth to movie soundtracks. Cable noise is a given downside for this type of headphone and some might prefer foam tips rather than the supplied silicon, but for us, the Creative Aurvana In-Ear 2 headphones performed extremely well. Great for the relatively low cash outlay. REVIEW
Phonak Audio PFE 112 - £119
Phonak's first foray into the world of MP3 headphones has been a massive success. The changing filters is a little quirky and will probably be overlooked by some and we'd have been happy just to take the bassy delivery of the black ones, but you can't knock being given the choice.
Good audio performance is what really stands out though and there are enough accessories in the box to give you the choice to get a fantastic fit. Some might not like the over-the-ear method of wearing and the price tag does put them a touch above some very competitive rivals, but for good reason. Spend an extra tenner for the Apple compatible pair but in either case, the Phonak Audio PFE 112s are some money seriously well spent. REVIEW
Etymotic hf3 with ACS Custom moulds - £192.99
We liked the hf2 headphones and we like the hf3's as well. The well-balanced sound makes them easy to listen to, while the additional functionality for iPod and iPhone users with the on-cable remote comes in handy too. If you travel a lot and need to eradicate noise while listening to music or talking shop with friends or work, the combination of the headphones and those ACS custom fits make the Etymotic hf3 headphones a superb choice, and one that we can highly recommend. With ear buds designed precisely to fit your lug holes, you can be walking round the busiest of places and hear nothing but the sweet music of your choosing.
If we’re really going to get picky - as is our want - they’re a little light at the bottom end. Ultimately, you’re spending £120-odd on the sound quality and that’s about the level of acoustic pleasure you get out of them. The privacy and the smug knowledge of your tailor made headphones are what really makes these worth while though. REVIEW
Klipsch Image X10i - £199
Headphones this size have absolutely no business sounding as good as they do. We have no idea what kind of black magic was involved in getting such rich bass from such tiny, tiny buds and we don’t want to know either. However many virgins were sacrificed is best left a mystery. The fact remains that the Klipsch Image X10i sound better than pretty much any in-ear headphones we’ve ever stuffed into our heads. What’s more, the amazing degree of noise isolation is second only to custom fit moulds and all thanks down to some beautifully designed oval ear tips which not only fit your aural canals like an aural glove but are also as comfy to wear as a set of silk undies.
The only trade-off you have to make is that with the light build comes the fear that they wont last as long as you’d like. Thankfully, there’s a heavy duty carry case supplied to help take care of them. If we have to be picky we might say that the upper tones aren’t quite as mind blowing as the bottom end but who cares. The fact is that at the big price of £199, they’re still a bargain. Buy them if you can afford them.
Teufel AC 9050 PH - £59
Perhaps the biggest strength of the 9050s is their versatility. A high sensitivity means they’re equally at home with relatively quiet portable players but you can still use them with a fixed setup - be it a computer or home stereo system - to really pleasing effect. The fact that they’re so comfortable to wear for extended periods means they’re great for gaming - where a well-rounded sound environment and distinct bass along with being capable at cutting out background noise - helps to generate a superb atmosphere in the latest titles.
Those looking for a tidy set of over-ear cans for home use will be extremely impressed, particularly when you take a look at the price. For a set of headphones that looks this good, performs this well and pays such attention to quality in the build and accessories provided, £59 is quite simply a bargain. REVIEW
Bose AE2 - £119.95
It's hard to find fault with the AE2 headphones - there’s no noise cancelling technology buy they manage to block out a fair bit of background thanks to the close-fitting design of the earcups. The headphones sport Bose's TriPort acoustic structure which is designed to produce tonally balanced sound with deep, low notes. What's more, the acoustic equalisation fine-tunes the frequency response, says Bose. Whether the average listener can detect the specific benefits of these elements of engineering remains to be seen, but the audio certainly sounded good to us.
In short, the sound offered by the AE2s is excellent. The sonics are warm and well-balanced with plenty of clarity, even on subtle sounds such as individual instrument plucks and strums. The £119.99 price tag certainly isn't cheap and you can actually get yourself a pair of noise-cancelling headphones for the same price, albeit an entry-level pair. However, in this case, that £120 gets you a superb pair of compact, lightweight cans that offer a thoroughly decent audio performance and we can't recommend them enough. They’re so good that the Pocket-lint review team tried to pretend they weren’t home when Bose came to take them back. REVIEW
Bowers & Wilkins P5 - £249.95
The P5 serve up a palette of metals and leather, fused with precise detail, for a result that we think looks outstanding. Subtle but distinct, passers-by will coo, ladies will go weak at the knees, chaps will doff their hats in recognition of your good taste. Along with the looks, the sound quality, it has to be said, is exceptional. There is detail and depth in abundance and a real skill at delivering across all genres of music.
Folding flat and with a bag for them too, the P5s are definitely for your portable digital music use but they do include a quarter inch jack if you want to enjoy them on your home hi-fi as well. At 5p under £250, you are making a statement both in style and the depth of your pockets. But the P5 don't make an empty promise. They are fantastic headphones and if you can stretch to the price, they are well worth checking out. REVIEW
Beats Pro By Dr Dre - £349.95
If it were purely a case of sound quality, the Pro Beats By Dr Dre wouldn’t have made the list. That’s not to say that they don’t sound excellent. They do and at £350, they certainly should do. What really makes these is that they’re a well thought out product with top notch design from start to finish. They look awesome from the brushed aluminium to the red rubberized non-tangle cable and they’ve got two excellent features in the way which you can screw the tethered quarter-inch adapter onto the 3.5mm jack and the lovely leather ear cups which you can swivel up - something the DJs, for whom these were built, are going to really appreciate.
What’s more, you can also plug the cable into either of the sockets at the bottoms of the cans meaning that you won’t get tangled up in your wires while your trying to mix. And the added bonus of that is that someone else can plug direct into the one you’re not using to listen in on your music as well. The Beats Pro - as with most of the Dre/Monster series - are heavy on the bass end, so not ones for classical enthusiasts. If that’s ok by you though and you do like to play out once in a while, if only to your buddies, then we can’t recommend these highly enough.
Audio Technica W1000X - £589.99
We really wanted to tell you that when it comes to this kind of spend, it’s all a bit Emporer’s New Clothes when it comes to headphones. We wanted to tell you that the amount of audio gain is just totally disproportionate to the extra outlay. Unfortunately, the Audio Technica W1000X proved us wrong. While they were actually surprsingly disappointing in the flesh aesthetically when compared to the press shots - a bit too high gloss Rover dashboard rather than the American Cherry solid wood that they actually are - acoustically they were as close to heaven as we’ve ever been.
They’re insanely comfortable thanks to the soft leather of the cups and the beautifully designed headband system and there’s very impressive sound isolation without losing the tonal quality you’d normally associated with open cup cans. They make a mockery of just about any other headphones you’ve ever owned and will have you tearing through your music collection for the best produced albums you own. We don’t expect people to buy them but, if you’re the kind of person who eats £50 notes when bored, they’ll probably make the most sensible purchase you’ve made in weeks. Do be warned though, these are hi-fi only. You’ll need an adapter if you really want to do them the insult of plugging into your iPod.
Which headphones do you use and do you think they belong on this list? Let us know in the comments.
For more on how to look after your ears and some recommended headphones that'll help do the job for you, check out Etymotic and the ER 4 MicroPro series.