Admittedly, we all wear in-ear headphones from time to time. The slim, subtle design is convenient when on the move, allowing us to quickly pull the headphones out of our pocket or backpack as we gear up for our evening run or scuttle to catch the next bus downtown. However, in-ear headphones just can’t match sound achievable with a dedicated pair of over-ear cans. The headphones’ robust size can naturally help with passive noise isolation, providing you with a warm, expansive soundscape that simply cannot be matched by more compact designs — ahem, we’re looking at you, Apple. Below are our favorites pairs of over-ear-headphones, whether you’re looking to purchase an affordable classic from Sony or a dynamite offering only Sennheiser could deliver.
Shure SRH1540 ($500)
The Shure SRH1540 are by no means flashy. However, though they lack premium frills like active noise-canceling and inline controls, they offer tremendous comfort and audio fidelity that nearly rivals headphones twice as expensive. The produced treble shimmers, the midrange is huge and natural, and the bass powerful yet tempered — all at a price that’s actually within reason for someone willing to pay a little extra.
Plantronics Backbeat Pro ($250)
When it comes to traveling, the Plantronics Backbeat Pro are the headphones to beat. The Bluetooth-enabled headphones issue dynamic sound that revels in resounding harmonic undertones and a balanced signature; that is, when the active noise canceling is turned on. Moreover, they tout up to 24 hours of continuous wireless music playback, while managing a wireless range of more than 300 feet when paired with another Class 1 Bluetooth device.
Sony MDR-7506 ($130)
There’s a valid reason the classic MDR-7506 have been around since ’91. The rugged, closed-back headphones are perfectly suited to be studio session loaners, ones that sound excellent for the price. Everything from the bass to the treble is accurate, regardless of your desired listening genre, with a broad stereo image that’s as warm as it is detailed. Mobile users may opt for headphones with a shorter cord, but it’s hard to argue with the price.
Bowers & Wilkins P7 ($400)
Bowers & Wilkins has an affinity for the luxurious. The company’s P7 is no exception, combining remarkable passive noise isolation with silky leather construction and stainless-steel accents. The snug design shuts out most ambient noise, supporting vivid clarity when listening at moderate volumes, and boasting a brilliant amount of depth whether you’re ripping through Dave Matthews’ discography or rehashing the pop-centric Thriller one last time.
Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro ($300)
Occasionally, functionality is in the name. The Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro allow you to swap out the stock, industrial ear cups for one of several designer plates, while rollicking in a wide stereo image that gleams with its excellent instrumental separation and adjustable bass controls. The fluffy ear pads and thick headband padding also render the lightweight headphones comfortable, too, even if they do remain a bit tank-like in their demeanor.
V-Moda Crossfade M-100 ($310)
Few headphones offer as a rich a sound within a compact package as V-Moda’s Crossfade M-100. The stylish headphones will appease purists and fashionistas alike, supplying a velvety low-end that compliments their bright upper register and clear midrange. Additionally, you can fold the diamond-shaped exterior into a convenient traveling package using the equipped hinges, allowing you to take the headphones’ elite sound wherever you go.
Grado SR60e ($80)
No, Marty McFly didn’t rock the Grado SR60e in Back to the Future. Nonetheless, the headphones don a futuristic exterior that’s surprisingly comfortable in the face ofmarathon listening sessions. Their resulting bass is articulate and tight, while the pristine treble shines aside precise midrange and understated vocal details. We loved the SR60i for the same reasons, though we still don’t think either headphone is built for lasting durability.
Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9 ($350)
Audio-Technica is no newcomer to the world of hi-fi electronics. That said, the Japanese company’s ANT-ANC9 still floored us with their comfortable fit and impressive sound quality — whether passively listening or when using one of the device’s three noise cancellation modes. Their open, balanced midrange delivers everything you would expect from a top-tier device, as does their refined bass response and glistening upper register.
Sennheiser Urbanite XL ($250)
The first-rate Sennheiser Urbanite XL provide the same attention to bass as anything in the Beats lineup, though at a far lower cost to consumers. They serve as an entry point for audiophiles, dishing out a sound signature that is both spacious and balanced despite the on-ear’s thundering low-end. The plastic-y design isn’t the most attractive, either, but it’s comfortable and passively limits the influx of ambient noise without feeling overbearing in any way.
Sennheiser HD800 ($1,500)
Sennheiser took an uncompromising approach to design when it crafted the lightweight HD800. The headphones are some of the best ever made, delivering an intimate soundfield that thrives in minute details and realism rarely afforded elsewhere thanks to the embedded dynamic drivers. The enormous cans also feature the largest transducers ever used in a headphone, with high-quality construction that rivals the best audio available today.
Oppo PM-1 ($1,100)
The fact that Oppo isn’t a household name should not make you skeptical. The company’s offerings are built for audio and videophiles, with the PM-1 serving as a prime example. The flagship, planar magnetic headphones bring exquisite detail — immaculate treble, warm low-end, rich midrange, etc. — and distortion-free sound to anything within your catalog. The leather-and-velour-adorned construction is second only to the gorgeous wooden case they live in when not atop your head.
Available at: Oppo
Audeze LCD-3 ($1,945)
The Audeze LCD-3 are the pinnacle of sound (with the premium price to match). They excel with jaw-dropping, lifelike detail and balance that’s exemplified by their near-perfect frequency response and robust stereo image. The glossy, tiger-striped ear cups are even made of Zebrano wood, and lined with lambskin leather or synthetic suede for an ergonomic design teeming with enticing touches. They’re revelatory in nature, but exorbitant in price.
Available at: Audeze