back to article Ten... over-ear headphones

Personal music is an everyday part of most people's lives and at at the end of the chain, it's the gear we use to pump out the audio that impacts most obviously on the listening experience. If you want to raise your game from the freebies given out with a PMP or just fancy a quality set of headphones for the home, then where to …


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  1. David Lucke

    HOW MUCH!!?!??!???!?!??!

    THREE FIGURES for FUCKING HEADPHONES? Are you having a laugh?

    In the real world, <£20 is cheap and nasty, £30-£50 is decent quality, but you're paying for it, >£50 is very good, but pricier than I'm generally willing to go. £330? £550??!!??!! You'd have to so rich that price tags have literally no meaning to you or stark raving insanse!

    1. Tigra 07
      Thumb Up

      Right on Dave!

      Agreed completely.

      Bought some £55 Sony Ericsson bluetooth headphones and haven't looked back.

      Brilliant sound quality and they're wireless.

      5 Stars!

    2. EddieD

      re How much!?!?!?!

      NOt only that, but given that for most folk these days music is heavily compressed mp3/ac3/ogg/whatever or streamed, how much point is there in getting these, admittedly lovely (in most cases), outrageously expensive (in most cases) pieces of bling?

    3. IanPotter

      What's it worth to you?

      If all you listen to is the highly compressed and low dynamic range stuff in noisy environments and/or are only interested in making you ears bleed then I'd agree with you. I use a 4 year old 2nd gen Nano and a pair of ~£40 Sennheiser iems on the train quite happily (though not at eardrum bursting levels).

      On the other hand when I'm listening to high quality flac at home with other good quality hi-fi gear I'm not going to use a cheapo pair of headphones just to save a couple of quid. I'm no rabid audiophile but if you would spend £2-300 on speakers why not £1-200 on headphones? I use mine (Grado, why were they overlooked?) for extended periods while photo editing in the evening so as not to disturb the neighbours and the level of detail expressed rivals that of my speakers. They are still the cheapest part of my hi-fi rig too.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It's all a con

      There was a story recently about someone disassembling Sennheiser HD 555 (about 70 quid) and finding the working parts were identical to the 595 (about 140 quid) except they jammed a bit of foam in to muffle the sound slightly. So if you have access to a screwdriver you can double the value of your headphones by removing it.

      1. Arnold Lieberman

        Saw this on Hackaday

        According to someone who has done the conversion, the headphones still sound different.

        Not only are the cases different but the drivers might be binned differently after testing - the 595s could be using drivers that are better matched.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Anything up to around fifty quid will be OEMed in China, and bought in bulk at some far-east trade exhibition.

    6. NogginTheNog

      Don't knock what you haven't tried?

      As with many things, you often find those saying something is way overpriced, and who are happy using cheap stuff, don't know what they're missing until they actually use the more expensive ones and realise what they've been missing.

  2. Sam Liddicott


    At those prices they could build in a USB sound-card, bluetooth hands-headset and an SD-card based MP3 player.

  3. Anton Ivanov
    Thumb Down

    And if you do not have the budget

    Compared to this list, these deliver better sound than the Sony. By the way the Sony joke should have never made this list. While at 10% of the average RRP of the other list participants. So if the Sony for some reason got more than 50% this should hit at least 75%. They however have a fairly high impedance so if you are into "lose my hearing by blasting your head off from an MP3 player" they will not do the job.

    I have had these for 3 years now and have reached a point where I cannot write code or debug something more complicated without using them to cut out the background. You can also wear them on a 12-15h coding spree without getting a headache.

    1. Lottie


      Thanks for the heads up. One question though, sound leakage? Is it tolerable for, say a small home demo studio?

  4. Llyander

    Nice list, but what about....

    A nice selection of headphones there, and good to see stuff like Shure and Bose included, but where's the love for those purveyors of awesomely retro gear Grado? I own a pair of their SR80s and they offer some of the best sound quality I've had in any of the over-ear headphones I've tried to date. Treble is clear without being shrill, the midrange is solid and the bass is meaty without being muddied and indistinct and at a hundred quid or so, they're definitely one of the cheaper sets compared to some of the ones listed here!

    Admittedly, being open backed they're not a whole lot of use in the street as they simply don't pump out the volume, or isolate the sound well enough, to overcome background noise. But for use at home I'd highly recommend them.

    1. Ian Halstead
      Thumb Up

      Grado - the unsung headphone heros

      I have to agree about the Grados - prices range from £90 to £1,600 (yes, really) but they are all imbued with a degree of effortlessness and clarity without an artificially boosted and lumpy bass end found in so many other designs. Bass is solid and extended, and the degree of clarity throughout the sound spectrum range puts others to shame. Highly recommended.

  5. swisstoni

    Grado for me to.

    I'm right with you Llyander. The Grado SR80's are a great set of phones. They may make you look like a russian tank commander, but they sound superb. I don't think the sound leakage and isolation matter all that much. If you are really thinking about leaving the house with a massive set of phones on your head, then you need to seek professional help. For portable use, a set of high quality in ear monitors makes much more sense, and you don't look like a complete c**k either.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      In ear

      I'd love to use in ear ones when out, but I haven't yet found a pair that are comfortable, stay in, and don't rub sores in my ears (the only type I haven't tried are made ot measure ones)

  6. Squirrel

    Best in-ear head phones in the world <£100

    Victor/JVC HP-FXC50

    Only downside is, they tend to wear out pretty quickly and I got through 2-3 sets a year with daily use. £10 on ebay from china or £30 in the UK.

    They've been superseded by the HA-FXC51 but I've not yet found a decent source for them (ebay £27). I hope they've improved their durability!

  7. Tom 7

    Not even on old MP's expenses

    would I pay those prices - and I've got Quad speakers!

    1. Annihilator


      "I've got Quad speakers!"

      You have *FOUR* speakers?? Big man on campus! ;-)

      1. Wolfhound57


        Maybe you are being funny but just in case, he means he has planar speakers made by the justly famous hi-fi firm Quad Acoustics. They cost an arm and a leg but produce a sound that is almost worth it.

  8. theloon
    Thumb Up

    Hope they do a Headphone Amp Review next

    Good selection, but nothing beats having a good headphone amp to drive them with, and there are some fantastic amps from a crazy budget to relatively affordable one.

    Personally I have the AKG-702, not the 701 in the review and they are just awesome, however they sound like crap without a decent headphone amp. I'm very happy using the cheapish Trends Audio PA-10 Tube amp.

  9. KidCosmique


    Sennheiser wins again, lovely. They make the arguably most popular DJ headphones (the HD 25's) and equally popular in-ear ones CX-300's, both of which are reasonably priced and offer fantastic build and sound quality, so they would know how to make quality gear. I am however pleasantly surprised with the colour they've gone with the headphones reviewed here. Brave but effective.

    1. Bob Kentridge


      Senn HD-25s not only sound pretty good but are almost indestructible. They look old fashioned, plasticky and cheap, but I regard that as good thing.

  10. MJI Silver badge
    Thumb Up


    Nice to see them get top, I have a cheap pair with my Walkman and they are fantastic.

    Mine are over ear open ones.

  11. Anonymouslemming

    For PMPs ? Really ?

    Quite early in the article we read "If you want to raise your game from the freebies given out with a PMP..."

    Really? Most of these headphones will sound like utter rubbish on a standard PMP. The oomph to drive them just isn't there. Sure, if you've got an amp for your PMP you will get great quality out of these, but that's not the normal PMP use case.

    I tried the HD598s recently on an iPhone 4 and an iPod nano and they sounded like rubbish - unsellable. But plug them into an amp and they sound fantastic.

    I settled on the PX-200 from Sennheiser as these actually work with a PMP

    1. Wolfhound57


      That is probably because the Ipod and Nano are c**p.

  12. ttuk


    One thing that really really gets me is the crappy quality earphones that you get with apple products and other pmps and the amount of people that happily use them..

    They sound terrible! Even a £10 pair of buds from HMV is a 10x improvement over the crappy free ipod earphones..

    When commuting in london I regularly see obviously well off people well dressed with ipads and so on, and they're using the shitty free apple earbuds to listen to their music.. They've spent 500 quid on kit to listen to music on and have crap earbuds.

    After all when buying hi-fi the recommendation typically is you spend 50% of your budget on amp and sources, and 50% on speakers.. these people have spent 100% on source..

    Its almost like spending £500 on a decent blu-ray player and then hooking it up to a 14" black and white crt TV.

    Personally due to the amount of background noise while commuting and the fact I'm not loaded I have spent around £60-70 on a half decent set of in ear buds. I would probably only spend the money on the ones listed above for home listening which I don't do much of.

    Even so when friends see them and ask how much they cost the reaction is usually "£60 for earphones?!!"

    I just don't get it.. I spend more time (1 or 2 hours a day) listening to these earphones than I do my home hi-fi setup, in terms of £s per hour of usage my earphones cost a fraction of a penny per hour..


    sorry, rant over.. bloody apple consumers, all style over functionality...

    1. Jay 2

      I agree!

      I agree about the nasty default Apple earphones which are terrible. Many a time I've been on the tube, and can hear what's coming out of someone's Apple contraptions over my own music (UE TripleFi 10 for the record).

      It would appear that many people use the Apple stuff now as it came with their iPhone and therefore they like using the microphone, remote etc to go hands free. Though in many cases they don't know that you can get better 3rd party earphones with the same functionality.

      1. D@v3
        Thumb Up

        whole heartedly agree

        First thing i did when I got my Iphone was pop out and by a Sennheiser in ear set with mic/remote, only £50 made sooooo much difference.

        A couple of my friends were looking at changing handsets, and were asking advice, and I told them the same thing, if you want a phone as an MP3 player, so yourself a favour, and get some decent headphones.

  13. brakepad

    Sound quality

    Presumably it's only a matter of time before the filesize / quality compromise starts to drift back towards quality again? Over the course of a decade we've had a 1000-fold increase in the capacity of solid state media players, and once you can fit your entire music collection on a single device then why would you not then start to use the extra capacity to bump the quality back up?

    There are obviously signs of this with FLAC & other lossless codecs gaining favour, and maybe the portable media market will always favour the extra compression in the same way that digicams still use jpegs. On the flip side, there has been a trend for CD volume levels to increase over the years at a corresponding reduction in dynamic range, but on the whole I would expect to see an improvement in the standard of 'popular' sound quality in the next 10 years - although it would probably necessesitate a move away from MP3 as a format.

    Nonetheless, there will always be a market for top end audio stuff, and everyone has a limit that they're willing to go to or would admit being able to spot the difference on. Personally I'd spend money on speakers and / or headphones any day over an improved amp or snakeoil speaker cable. And Grado's, yes, absolutely superb, and very revealing of poor audio sources even more so than many popular "hifi" speakers.

  14. David
    Thumb Up

    Average Joe

    The average Joe does not care about sound quality, if you ask me. So few people, as said above, replace the headphones that come with a product with something even marginally better.

    Most consumers don't really listen to the music, if you know what I mean. They go from white headphones to shitty iPod docks to FM transmitted MP3s. They've never heard the original source as it was intended.

    I have to admit I was one of those for a long time. Many years ago I "picked up" a pair of Sennheiser SD-25 IIs from a Concorde flight (best we don't go into that) but never wore them as I thought I looked daft wearing those on the bus - note this was long before iPods were even out so the trend was still the little black earbuds and anyone different got a kicking. A couple of years ago I found them in a cupboard, tried them out again and was blown away by the sound quality. Even with lower bitrate files, the things you hear which you hadn't heard before is astounding. They are also some of the few headphones I've used which make metal sound as good as it should, in my opinion.

    A good set of cans is worth every penny, if you care about sound quality.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sennhesier again

    I went through several pairs of Sony MDR v500's in the last few years before settling with a pair of Sennhesier HD448's, and I have never come across a better set of headphones for under £100.

    The bass is quite subtle (I prefer fairly flat sounding headphones) and I have worn them for hours at a time and they have never been uncomfortable or even noticeable that I am wearing them sometimes.

    I am one of those people who would pay silly prices for headphones, so maybe one day i'll be able to afford these:

  16. Hayden Clark Silver badge

    Audio Technica ATH-A900

    I paid a shade over £100 for them - they're even more now. They don't have a flat response, but they do make music sound alive. Also, they are quite low impedance and sensitive, so they work a treat on low-voltage MP3 players.

    Best for vocals, and classical. Yum.

    Cheapest from BlueTin

  17. dogged
    Thumb Up

    Hey Caleb!

    Please review some headset/mic combos! A round-up of those would be brilliant.


  18. James Pickett


    Somewhere in my attic is a pair of Koss ESP-9 electrostatics, the heaviest, most uncomfortable, yet sublime sounding headphones ever made (possibly) and which cost £200 nearly 40 years ago. My favourites now are a pair of JVC 'flats', small on-ear phones with a lovely clean airy sound, and bass down to subsonic. They cost £10.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    What are they even doing here?

    The microsoft windows of sound: all marketing and hype.

    (transmitted on my big, thick, monster networking cable just to make sure all those 1s and 0s are the same quality when the reach the other end. Yep. Just like the expensive *digital* cables that the Dixons man would like to sell you)

  20. tom 24

    Beyerdynamic FTW

    I Heart My DT880s! (insert multiple exclamation points here)

    You can order them in custom colors too. If you live in the right country. :(

    Great for music *and* gaming. Sure, a street price of about $200 (us) is a bit high, but compared to about $160 for Razer's crappy surround headphones, it's not bad. Which is exactly what I compared them to.

    Incidentally, my Razer crappy surround headphones are going on eBay this should be able to get them for under $50. So if "three figures" seems like too much, buy my crappy phones instead

  21. DrAJS

    It's like those people...

    ...that buy a DSLR and only ever use the kit lens.

  22. doveman

    Mixing on cans

    What's all this rubbish about using headphones for recording/mixing?

    Every professional opinion I've ever heard/read says that this is just foolish, and some of these people have stupid amounts of money to spend on speakers. So I'd question the judgement of someone who tells you that if only you spend £500 on your cans you'll be OK.

  23. D. M


    For less than $50 (I have to buy from US, as there is no local dealer), get KOSS ProtaPro. You'd never listen to any overpriced crap, or cheap shit.

    If you look for top end gear, Grado is the way to go. You can get really top quality Grado at less than $100 (again, get it from US).

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Headphones and file formats

    I spent AU$400 on a set of Senheisser HD595 some years ago and have never regretted the decision.

    Regarding file formats, I believe there are a few factors which make mp3s near-universal. They keep filesize down and while storage capacities have increased, so have the music collections or your average punter.

    The format's initial popularity got the hardware manufacturers on board (not just ipods and the like but car audio and home hifi systems), and this in turn increases the popularity of mp3s. Would you buy a car stereo if it meant you had to re-encode your entire music collection to a different format just so you could listen to your music on the way to work?

    And lastly, MP3s are DRM free. If you download a mp3 podcast from El Reg, a song, and a recorded lecture, you KNOW that you'll be able to listen to it on your mp3 player or your car stereo or any other player which supports the format. Can you say the same of a WMAs or any other format which supports DRM?

    Compare that with the veritable joy of buying a "book" for one of the e-book readers and having to concern yourself with file format support and DRM. The technologically literate amonst us can navigate this stupidity with varying levels of ease but your average punter can't.

    In spite of the sound quality issues, mp3s are good enough for most people in most cases and I think they're going to be around for some time to come.

  25. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Wolfhound57


      Err!, sorry the guy was saying he has used AKG microphones for years, that is MICROPHONES, but has not listened to any AKG headphones, that is HEADPHONES, get it now?. By the way AKG MICROPHONES are a way of life in recording studios.

  26. Some Beggar

    OK ... so when are you going to post the actual review?

    You know ... with some comparisons in it? Some facts and figures. Something a tiny bit more objective and useful than crispy and boomy? You may as well have posted a series of photos of the reviewer wearing the headphones and pulling facebook duck faces with captions like "ooo" and "ahhh" and "mmmm nice!"

    Less of the audiophile crystal healing. More actual technical reviews. kthxbye

  27. Wolfhound57

    Where are the Grados?

    Where are the Grados?, this review is completely irrelevant without a sample of the Grado range.

  28. Adam Hartfield

    More Grado love

    Listening to my 325s right now at work as I type this. Have the 225s at home. Tried the RS1000s at the store at the beginning of December - wow. IMHO Grados are the best value for the money, even significant amounts of money. My music collection sounded brand new with these.

  29. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

    Music ain't what it used to be

    When I used to read the Hi-Fi press, music was all about live and recorded and listened to in acoustically favourable surroundings. The nirvana was having an acoustically neutral room built around the sound system.

    The music quality was important then, and everybody was striving to have the music sound like it did when it was played.

    Nowadays, it is only classical music, and a very small amount of audiophile recordings that have this goal. Almost everything else will be autotuned, compressed, expanded, mixed, spatially processed and otherwise messed around with to death.

    As a result, it's pointless paying this much for headphones if you are listening to modern recording, distributed digitally in any lossy format, in noisy environments. Pay a few 10's of pounds for something that is comfortable and produces a sound you like, and buy a few pairs.

    My current set for everyday use are generic ear-canal, Omega brand (a crap stick-the-name-on-anything brand) that cost 6 quid that I found by trial and error. The sound is adequate, even with uncompressed audio, they block external noise out well, and they are so cheap that I don't worry about breaking or loosing them. And I don't look like a twat wearing them on the tube (not that I ride the tube often). I do have a couple of pairs of in-ear Sennheiser 'phones which I prefer the sound of, but I worry about knackering them every time I pull them. out of my pocket.

    My home based Hi-Fi, which was always best-of-breed at purchase time low-to midrange kit (cherry picked NAD, Project, JVC, Technics and a pair of ancient Keesonic [niche brand from 25 years ago] speakers) has a pair of mid-range over-ear Sennheisers, and a paid of elderly Beyer-Dynamic headphones. I am very happy with the sound, and must people still go Wow! when they compare it to their modern systems. Especially when playing vinyl!

    Bring back real music, that's what I say. Especially get rid of autotune. Anybody who can't sing in tune without this should be boo'd off stage.

  30. Ramazan
    Thumb Down

    Technics RP-DJ1210/1211

    Why would anyone buy AKG Q701 for £500 while Sony MDR V700 can still be had for around $100 and the Techincs 1211s for $150? (and both oldskool pieces sound better)

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