BEST CHEAP HEADPHONES
BEST CHEAP HEADPHONES
Pro: Quality sound, at any price
Con: No wired microphone
Best for: Anyone who tends to misplace his headphones
Retail price: $10
Self-respecting music lovers often overlook cheap headphones simply because of their price tag. Too bad for them, because the Monoprice 8320 in-ear monitors, with their punchy bass, midrange clarity and solid construction are excellent headphones at any price, much less for their bargain-basement sticker of $10, shipped.
Professional reviews of low-end headphones are difficult to come by, but news of exceptional values tends to spread quickly on the Web. On the popular personal audio forum Head-Fi, a thread started last year by an early discoverer of the 8320 now has more than 2,000 responses, filled with astounded audiophiles comparing the cheap buds to pairs that cost hundreds of dollars. And surprisingly, the 8320 from Monoprice often won out.
In our own ears-on tests, high frequencies were clean (without the harsh whistling-through-a-gap-tooth “s” sounds that plague many cheap headphones). Midrange frequencies sounded lifelike and unmuddled, and the bass, while not as boosted as some of today’s popular models, was full and clear.
For many, the most relevant comparison will be to Apple’s EarPods, the recently redesigned headset that ships with a new iPhone. And while we found the EarPods to be a marked improvement over the previous version of Apple’s ubiquitous white earbuds, especially for bass, they didn’t offer the overall clarity of the 8320. The EarPods also do not come with noise-blocking foam tips.
With the 8320 there are a few compromises, though. They do not include a wired microphone or remote for controlling a smartphone, and the removable foam tips are not as comfortable as those included with other models. Still, the 8320 is one of the best bargains in gadgets, and money saved can be applied to a better-fitting set of third-party replacement tips.
BEST NOISE-CANCELING HEADPHONES
Bose QuietComfort 15
Pro: Best noise-cancelers on the market
Con: You can find better sound quality elsewhere
Best for: Very loud environments
Retail price: $300
There are two main factors to consider when buying noise-canceling headphones: how well they block out the noise, and how they sound overall. Objectively, the $300 Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones offer the best noise-canceling on the market today. In lab tests, the QC15s reduced low-frequency noise by up to 26 decibels more than competing headphones. That’s a ton. If you’re a frequent flier and noise cancellation is paramount, the Bose pair is a clear winner.
Where QuietComfort falters in every review, and among the experts we interviewed, is in the more subjective area of sound quality. No one seems to think the QC15s sound bad, but all say there are other options that sound better.
If sound quality is paramount, the PSB M4U 2 headphones ($400) are frequently praised as one of the most accurate and best-sounding headphones on the market. But they are not nearly effective at blocking noise as the Bose pair.