Best Headphones: Autostraddle’s Headphone Shopping Guide

One of the most common type of Audiostraddle emails I receive – second to daily press releases from Team JBiebs – are from readers looking for headphone suggestions. I’m serious. At least once a week, someone asks me for headphone recommendations. Everyone is obsessed with headphones. What is wrong with you people. Anyhow, so here they are!

Locating the perfect pair of headphones can be tricky (and expensive!) business. Unlike clothes or music or cars or many other items, where headphones are concerned you can’t exactly try before you buy. This makes recommendations crucial, lest you want to risk wasting hundreds of dollars on mediocre headphones that make your head & heart hurt.

I’m going to share the few gems I’ve discovered, ranging from headphones to ear phones, from budget models to the high end. And joining me are two audiophiles who actually know what they’re talking about: music blogger Jess G. and  Intern Daphne, who are both trained sound engineers.

If style is your top priority, don’t forget to check out Style Editor Becky’s various fashion & accessory guides which feature headphones of the smokin’ hot variety. Also hopefully you already know that paying full retail for headphones is insanity. That’s why we’ve linked each recommendations to Amazon.com, which usually offers a 30 – 50% discount.

If you have any recommendations or warnings about a pair of headphones you’ve tried, we we wanna hear them! Share your feelings in the comments section.

Headphone Recommendations

from Crystal:


Audio-Technica ATH-ES7 “Earsuit” Headphones
Amazon Price:
$299.00

Look at the reflection on these bitches.

I became curious about these Audio-Technica headphones when I noticed they were being worn by not one but three hipsters riding on my bus. They were so shiny! So reflective! So sleek! I had to buy them immediately. They’re the first pair I’ve seen that I can wear in public without fear of looking like an air traffic controller.

They’re labeled “Earsuit” because they’ve been designed with the corporate audience in mind. The flat mirror-finish stainless steel cups provide a sleek look while their light-weight, portable design allows them to be flattened for a laptop bag or suitcase. The sound quality is decent, particularly the mid-range and mid-bass, but you’re mostly paying for the aesthetics. They’re not 100% noise canceling which is a deal-breaker for many, but not me – I don’t like hearing my heart beat under the music.

Con: The mirror finish is pretty, but a magnet for fingerprints and scratches so you probs don’t want to take these backpacking. They come with a polishing cloth and pouch, you’ll need them.

Sennheiser HD205 DJ Headphones
Amazon Price:
$46.66

Sennheisers are widely known for producing some of the best quality and best value headphones on the market, you’ll almost always get great sound for the price you pay.

The HD 205 DJs are some serious cans that are super durable and feature a twist cup that allows you to beat juggle while tuning the ladies Carmen style. They noise cancellation is excellent and the sound quality stands up to more expensive models on the market.

Con: These are heavy duty, with emphasis on heavy – they get uncomfortable when doing long-haul listening. My gf now uses these for her music/guitar/recording/studio-type stuff and recommends them to anyone with similar needs.

Technics RP-DH1200 DJ Headphones
Amazon Price:
$114.95

I haven’t tried these but Samantha Ronson wears them. And she scored Lindsay. What else do you need to know?

from Jess G.

Sennheiser PX 100
Amazon Price: $79.99

Tiny, sleek ear buds and big, bulky headphones are favored by the majority of music listeners, but not me. If you recall the uncomfortably headphones from the days of the Discman, wipe your memory clean. The Sennheiser PX 100 headphones are a classic over-the-ear open headphone with improved, pivoting ear cups and foam pads on the headband. They fold up for easier stowing, and their sound is clean – you’ll hear pans and stereo effects you never knew existed.

If you like a silent sound chamber then these aren’t for you, as they don’t really block external noise. And they won’t win any beauty pageants, either. But on the bright side, no thief will yank them off your head. The Sennheiser PX 100s are discontinued, but you can still buy them, or their updated model (the PX 100-IIs), online.

Sony MDR-7506 Professional Large Diaphragm Headphones
Amazon Price:
$84.95


The PX 100s are my anytime headphones, but the Sony MDR-7506 Pros are my go-to if I’m cutting and mixing audio. They’re an industry standard, you’ll find them lying around any studio or radio station and it’s not without reason. They’re crystal clear from the lows to the highs, and they can stand a fair share daily use and abuse.

from Intern Daphne:

Bose QuietComfort 15s
Amazon Price:
$299.95


These are so comfy and quiet, but my heart weeps when I see the price tag. How’s the sound, you ask? Bose sound. Really decent all round sound. They have excellent sound cancelling which means the mids and highs can get a little sharp, but this depends on the recording and genre of music you’re playing. It doesn’t outweight the quiet comfort of these headphones. I could talk about these headphones for hours, but my advice is to try to find a pair and have a listen.

Sennheiser PXC 250-II
Amazon Price: $150.00

At first I was going to list the higher-end Sennheiser PXC 450 model here, but their somewhat bulky design and aggressive bass isn’t for everyone. So I’ve settled on the PXC 250-II’s instead. Their smaller design makes the NoiseGard™ noise cancellation technology a little bit less effective, but in terms of value for money I think they’re the better option. They have a really, really good overall sound with no dominant basses or unclear peaks. The design is compact but still comfortable, and they’re built from great quality materials.

Sennheiser HD 228 Headphones
Amazon Price:
$36.94

I bought these Sennheisers recently for everyday use and I totally love them. They’re great quality with a very portable, neat and comfy design. You really get your money’s worth, plus more. I just can’t say anything negative about the sound. It’s typical Sennheiser sound: a bit of a heavy bass but the mids and highs are perfectly balanced. Although these are actually are marketed as “bass enhanced,” I didn’t experience them as such. And while they aren’t noise canceling, you can’t really tell, which makes them great value for money.

Sidenote: Sennheisers also impress music contributor Stef, who has previously recommended the HD202s.

Next page:
In-ear headphone recommendations.

Pages: 1 2 See entire article on one page

Crystal is a 33-year-old Australian living in Chicago. Founding member, does HR stuff, writes now and then.

Crystal has written 329 articles for us.

75 Comments

  1. i had no idea headphones were so expensive because i always go to 5 below and buy myself a new pair of shit ones about every month. i’d totally be up for something more durable, so thanks guys!

    • Yeah, same here. I’m filing this under fun to read about, but would never buy.

      I hate earbuds, so uncomfortable!
      I like the old walkman over the head but not massively huge style. 15-25 bucks and done.

      Then again, not a DJ, and haven’t scored anyone famous:)

  2. Great article. I’m always on the hunt for the perfect headphones. What do you guys think of the whole Beats line in terms of quality? (The Heartbeats by Gaga, Beats by Dre.) I mean, obvs they look super cool – but how do they compare in terms of sound?

    • I have a pair and I think they’re amazing! The clarity and bass level is sick. However, they were hella expensive so I don’t suggest them for typical use. I use them for Djing and in the studio.

    • Heartbeats are hot, but they fall out often due to their shape. This was stated in every review that I read, but I went and bought them anyway because A. I’m obsessed with Gaga and B. they’re hot. So really, I don’t care. However, a lot of people do care after spending $100 on them. I’ve heard really amazing things about normal beats though. I want a pair.

      • Omg I did the same thing – apparently I just can’t resist anything with Gaga’s name attached to it.

        Going from crap-o iPod headphones to Heartbeats was like night and day for me. Beautiful full sound, and especially good for pumping dance/electronic music. If you can spare the change and are a Lady Gaga brand-whore like I seem to be, these come highly recommended.

  3. I’d recommend the Philips Bubbles series. great surround but may not address noise cancellation much. The Philips Colors series is good with bass and noise cancellation though.

  4. For $40, Aerial7 Sumo earphones work nicely. They stay in my ear when I jog, the bass sounds great on Telephone, and they block external noise so well – that I was once almost tackled by a capital hill security guard. I couldn’t hear him yelling at me to stop!

  5. I’ve had two pairs of the Bose in ears and while the sound is good i have serious issue loosing those little plastic attachments and Bose wants to charge me $15 for a replacement set. Right now I am using some vmodas vibe duo’s as my everyday headphones. The little plastic things stay on a lot more than the Bose ones. I’ve also heard really good thing about Shure. Maybe I will try and over the ear set.

  6. I think the Beats by Dre line is great for preofessional grade headphones, if that’s what you’re looking for but people just looking for regular headphones with great quality at decent prices should check out wesc.com or nixonnow.com they have dope styles and colors.

  7. I just purchased the Sony MDR-XB500 headphones. But I had a Best Buy gift card. If you can get over the $80 price tag, it’s well worth it. Awesome sound.

  8. Pingback: My Recommendations for the Best Bluetooth Headset

  9. I have sony in ear headphones. i don’t actually know the exact name, but i know that they are awesome, and cost 40 dollars on amazon.
    they probably don’t have a quality that a sound engineer would like, but i can listen to my npr shows, and anything in my eclectic music collection while riding the subway and they sound great and block a lot of outside noise.

  10. As a sort of audiophile (I listen, compare, research, but don’t usually buy), I’m thrilled about this article!!

    I would consider most of your suggestions great (especially the ES7 which doesn’t seem to get a ton of love outside of the audiophile community), although the fact that Bose made it in the list twice kind of makes me want to throw up a bit. No highs no lows, must be Bose?? Bueller?? Anyone??

    Also, I’m really surprised that Grado isn’t mentioned at all. They’re a legitimately good brand that runs the gamut price-wise (from $60 to $1700) and have a great sound signature that makes listening to anything with guitars make you cry with joy. Also made in Brooklyn, if that sort of thing matters to you. Highly recommend.

    I usually listen to Audio Technica ESW9s (nice, warm sound, less energetic than ES7) and want to get a nice pair of Etymotic HF5 to have as a cleaner, more transparent contrast – but I don’t think I can justify their price atm. Also, I would kill for Denon D5000 (or 7000, I guess) if I had a private listening room. So nice. So shiny.

    I love headphones!! And geeking about them!! No one else seems to understand…. *sigh*

    • If you love geeking out over headphones then you’re in good company. I’m glad to see that someone else likes the ES7s, I’ve never spoken to anyone else who digs them.

      I have a feeling that Daphne submitted a recommendation for Grado – but unfortch I had to do some rather ruthless culling otherwise this post would have been 5 pages long.

    • I spent $100 on a pair of Grado SR80s and I wonder how I ever got on without them. They look old-school in the ’80s kind of way, and they sound dreamy. I get excessively excited by headphones. My life plan is that when I get rich I’m spending it all on CDs, headphones and cherry pie.

    • Thanks for the Grado recommendation. I’ve been eyeing the SR80s for a while now trying to justify the expense (or actually the Alessandro MS-1, which, I have no idea what the difference is?). Every review I’ve read for them is like, “they sound much better than they look!”, which I dont get because I like the design a lot. Maybe my sense of retro hipster style is just suspect.

      • I like the design, too!! I guess that most people prefer a more futuristic/lame headphone, but the retro look is awesome. I wanna wear them with aviators just to see how much of a cliche it is!!

        From what I’ve read there’s little to no difference been Grado and Alessandro, except for pricing outside of the US (Grado can be kind of hard to find on the cheap). Rule of thumb is that if you live outside of the United States just go with Alessandro – flat rate with free shipping worldwide.

  11. I REALLY need to get a good pair of headphones…see I’m one of those peopel who buys cheap headphones pretty much..every month or two because I’m too impatient and/or cheap to buy a decent pair that will actualy last me..heh…I need to get on that.

    • I used to do the same thing, just cycle through cheap pairs that didn’t sound so hot. After a while I added up the money and it seemed worthwhile investing in a good pair.

      I think headphones sound even better when you have to save up for them 😉 That’s maybe why I love my Audio Technica’s so much, I had to go on a ramen diet to afford them.

  12. Bose noise canceling headphones are the best. I picked up a pair while on my way to a flight at LAX and they were great at knocking out the annoying kid beside me who kept crying.

  13. So, I was laughing about how headphones are even pricier here in France than at home and then I promptly went home and stepped on mine. Just sayin’ ladies, watch that karma.

    Mine were one of the cheapest Sony models and I still loved them. The same pair here was so much more expensive I got an similarly priced pair of Skull Candy figuring at least when I was the only person at the gym without earbuds (I hate the way those feel), I would have skulls on my headphones. They aren’t bad for the price, but I was happier with my old Sonys and will probs replace them with something nicer if I ever have the money or another Sony set if I return to the Land of Walmart.

    Will definitely keep these suggestions in mind! Thanks!

    • Headphones are really expensive in Australia as well. E.g. the Dr Dre Monster Beats in-ears cost $250 at my local store. In the USA they’re only $150 ish.

      I’m with you on Sony. I’ve never heard a bad pair of Sony phones, not even the cheapest ones.

  14. Can’t believe you didn’t include skull candy. With excellent sound, noise cancellation on their ear-buds, a variety of colours, styles and skins you can’t go wrong. Their ear-buds come with several adaptations of the rubbery part that goes in your ear for maximum comfort. Average $60 – 70 CAN

  15. I go THROUGH some headphones like water. I usually get Skullcandy Ink’d headphones for working out because they’re cheap, stay in my ears pretty well and have decent sound, but the wires by the jack split pretty easily, and are useless once they do. I do have a pair of their over-ear ones (which are normally $60+, but got ’em for 15 bucks on Black Friday… score!) and they’re alright. Wouldn’t have paid 60+ for them, they don’t cancel sound at all and the sound isn’t GREAT, but for 15 bucks, I can’t complain.

    Now, I do have a pair of the Lady Gaga Heartbeats and they’re pretty amazing- got ’em on ebay for 50 bucks, too! Like someone said above, they don’t stay in your ears very well but the sound quality is amazing. I find the sound is better/more powerful/more defined at higher levels, but maybe I’m just getting old and going deaf or something, haha.

  16. I have a lot of problems with head phones and ear buds because of my various ear piercings… I use these Philips ear buds right now, and they are just ok. When I got them, anything was better than the crap ones that come with your iPod. Does anyone have a good rec for what to use with ear piercings (my tragus is the most difficult as it interferes with buds)?

  17. A few months ago I bought the AKG K450 and got them £30 cheaper than RRP. I absolutely love them- nice sound, blocks out some noise, very comfortable and folds away. Since getting them I’ve been able to listen with the volume about 75% lower than with any I had before and I havent had any complaints about others hearing my music.

  18. damn that intern has expensive taste. do the autostraddle interns get paid? if so are you hiring? haha

    other wise proves this nyt article: http://community.nytimes.com/comments/www.nytimes.com/2010/04/03/business/03intern.html (that internships are classist).

    poor broke ass college student here barely keeping my head above water with a 20hr/wk job. got a pair of shure headphones one year for xmas love them but i use my earphones too much so the wear and tear is quite extensive.

    recommend any earphones under 15 dollars?

    • Common recommendations for that budget are JVC Marshmallow (FX33 or 34 model), which is in-ear, and Koss KSC75 (which is clip-on).

      Although I’m always a fan of living beyond your means when it comes to audio 🙂

    • I only know about these expensive headphones because of sound engeneer training and my love for the tech store.
      At this moment I have a pair of Sony MDR-ED21LP earphones for on the go. I trash every day earphones so fast and I don’t have the money to replace them with 50+$ ones every time. These sony earphones costed me about 20€. My pants won’t get wet from the sound sony delivers but the cheaper headphones are deff worth their money.

      These Sony MDR-ED21LP have a decent sound. cons: The bass boost. Heavy bass that isn’t balanced with the highs and mids. It works for the more electronic kinds of music though. Also the shape of the earbuds aren’t for every ear.

      Bottom line: Sony has some decent under-20$ earphones.

    • I usually get $9.99 headphones, they all break in two weeks, but I am delusional that I will be richer in two weeks to buy new ones that are nicer. That so far hasn’t happened, though I would say NEVER BUY CODY

      To answer your inquiry about interns; I read that article, it’s in the daily fix.

      Our interns aren’t paid but they don’t have scheduled times to be in a physical place, they don’t have required hours, and they don’t do menial work to displace paid employees (we don’t have any paid employees anyhow).

      School and paid employment always comes before Autostraddle for our interns, we’re very serious about that. I spent every summer 40+ hours a week and 20 hours a week on top of a full-time course schedule waiting tables all through college (and in high school) and was stunned that so many of my peers could afford to do 9-5 unpaid internships. When I graduated, they got jobs and I didn’t. Maybe if I’d gotten a job though I never would’ve started this website! So you know, things get better. I mean there’s the debt. But eh, you can’t take it with you.

    • For budget headphones, I really can’t promote the Sony Fontopia’s enough. Or any other Sony in-ear model. You can get them for about $10 on Amazon and in my experience, Sony in-ear phones always have decent sound no matter how cheap they are. They’re also durable, I’ve had mine for over a year now.

    • Apple must have something against left speakers because the left speaker has gone out on every Apple product I’ve ever owned including 2 laptops, and like 6 pairs of earbuds that come with the ipods.

      • Whenever I have headphones that crap out, it’s always the left side that goes. And I’ve never had apple ear buds.

        If you google search “right headphone not working”(full phrase) you get 4 results. But when you search for “left headphone not working” you get 4,000 results.

        Hm.

  19. No street-style headphones I see. I own some iGrado headphones that are about $50. My only problem with them is the noise bleed. I get really irritated when I hear other people’s music through their headphones and don’t want to be a hypocrite.

  20. I have the Bose QuietComfort 2 headphones… I’m not gunna lie, the sound quality is amazing! On the other hand, the price tag is unbelievable. My dad bought them for me a couple years back. I use them when I travel/record music/try to block out the entire world. For just putzing around, I like using my Apple earbuds.

  21. I got those Ultimate Ears triple fi buds for Christmas, and they are AH-MAZING. Seriously, they’re the best thing that has ever happened to me w/r/t public transportation.

    Also, that Samantha Ronson photo gave me serious flashbacks to her in-person hotness. Y’all have no idea.

  22. I love my Sony MDR-7506 Pros. They’re ideal for all aspects of filmmaking both in terms of sound recording and editing. Plus, in the winter they’re super coze and keep my ears warmer than most ear muffs.

  23. I have the PX100 and I am in love with it. Well, except for the part where my iPod got stolen and my CX300s were attached to them so now I have to leave the house with the PX100 which has a long cable and I nearly tripped over it once because I’m short. MOVING ON, I just want to say that I’m in my third year of owning those headphones and they’re still going strong and if you’re in a quiet environment (actually anywhere that’s not a plane) they are aurgasm-inducing. Every time people ask me about headphones, I recommend those regardless of whether they want open or closed! Haha.

    I tried out the Apple earphones that came with my new iPod and wow are they the pits. I shall be trippin’ along with my long cable yet.

  24. For those looking to save…

    The Koss PortaPro’s are only $35 on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Koss-PortaPro-Headphones-with-Case/dp/B00001P4ZH/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=electronics&qid=1270600825&sr=8-1)

    …AND they have a lifetime warranty. They’re pretty comparable to the Sennheiser PX100’s that I recommended.

    A good pair of headphones will last a long time, everyone. If you have $40 to spare, do it! Skip buying a cocktail 4-5 times and you’re already there.

  25. Grado Labs SR 60’s or SR 80’s are the best value, they’re pretty ugly but truly the best value on the market, also made by a family business in Brooklyn, so local-ish.

  26. Like Sara mentioned, the plastic/rubber tips on the Bose In-Ear Headphones are very easy to lose and not so easy to replace.

    This article is pretty timely as my cat has chewed up my ipod earphones and I’ve been wanting to get a new pair of head/ear phones.

      • No problem. 🙂

        If it weren’t for the tips disappearing so quickly (and often), I’d definitely get another pair as the sound quality was really good. I thought so anyway.

  27. Great article! I love geeking out over headphones 😀

    I had the Sennheiser 100’s (the jack came away from the wiring and I’ve yet to get them fixed..they’re not the usual kind of wiring) and they are so amazing but as said they let in a lot of external noise which I find annoying but they’re great anyway.

    I got Ultimate Ears Metro Fi 100’s (they’re lower on the scale for them but headphones are pretty expensive in NZ) for christmas and I heart them. I find in ears easier to take with me and these ones are so excellent for noise isolation. The only bad thing is the insulation on the cable is fabric and there’s a lot of boom from it when you knock the cable but I don’t notice it a lot really. I really like that they come with a little case to put them in when you’re not using them because I think half my problem with in ear’s not lasting in the past was them being knocked around in my bag.

    The best really cheap headphones I got were from Dick Smith Electronics. They were 12.00 (own brand,in ear) or something stupid like that, were noise isolating and come in different colours. I wore the shit out of them so they broke eventually but for the price I was pretty stoked. I’m probably going to pick up another pair for when I go on holiday.

    This long comment is long.

  28. I use the cheap sony studio monitor headphones (mdr-v150), they’re $20 and I’ve probaby had 10 pairs of them, but that’s just because they’re my cats favorite things to chew ever. When they’re not destroyed they last forever and they sound great to me, but I’m no trained sound engineer. I recommend them to everyone in the world who only has twenty dollars and likes music.

  29. I use JVC HA-F140 (Gumy), they are like $10. I’m no sound engineer so I cannot talk about bass and all that fancy stuff but I think they sound well, and they last long even if you kinda chew on them. Oh! and they come in pretty colors too.

  30. I bought my first pair of Sennheiser headphones a couple of months back after getting fed up with cheap headphones that kept breaking. I got the Sennheiser EH-150 Evolution – they go for $40-ish on Amazon. They’re lightweight (which is a big selling point and why I got them) and real comfortable. It even comes with a 1/4-inch adapter. Some people don’t like the 3m-long cable but I’ve never had an issue with it. The stronger than average bass isn’t for everyone either. Overall though, they have spectacular sound quality, especially for the price, and are well worth the investment.

  31. okay i know everyone’s all anti-apple, but i have their $80 in-ear earbuds, and they’re AMAZING. i love the sound quality, noise reducing, have lasted a good amount of time (especially compared to their cheapo ones that come with the ipod), come with replacement “speakers,” multiple earbud sizes, and are REALLY comfy. they also have a nice case…which of course i had to go and lose. but the point is, they’re lightyears better than the plain old apple ipod earbuds.

    http://www.apple.com/ipod/in-ear-headphones/

  32. I have the Bose TriPort In-Ear Headphones and I agree with that call – they are good headphones. The sound is clear and I haven’t had any issues with them at all. I previously only ever spent around $20 and the amount of $20 headphones I’ve bought that haven’t lasted finally caught up with me so I got the Bose I have now and am very happy w/the purchase. I recommend.

  33. I have the Bose Quiet Comfort for cross-continental travel, but no way will I wear them out in public around Oslo. Not after that first pair, may it rest in peace. They’re fantastic though, and long lasting. I had a pair of triport on-ears a couple of years ago and never had a problem with those, either.

    Also: I hardly consider myself abusive to headphones (I wear them around my neck to and from work, and to the gym on those rare occasions,) but the last four pairs I own have developed unreliable left-ear audio after about four to six months of use. Two were Koss Portapro (gag me, i deserve it) and then, WeSC Bongos. The latter has also developed split cable insulation under the ear. Twice. SOS anyone?

  34. For what its worth, my recent purchase of the Vsonic R02Pro2 canalphones was one of my better life decisions to date. I got them for AU$60 on ebay which is ridiculous for how good they sound. I was already using good quality in ears (Sennheiser CX300-II), that I’d bought after extensive research and then run over with my wheely chair, but on the first day of using these I was already noticing new things in songs I’d listened to a hundred times. So yeah, A++ recommended would buy again.

  35. Pingback: ø Best Headphones | best earphones | CustomEarphones.info

  36. I used Sennheiser PXC 450 folding headphones (or the cheaper model) for flights/travelling. They are great, but have a huge downside… the plastic/vinyl that covers the sponge on the ear pieces starting cracking/peeling off after about 12 months of use. Not great given the price!

  37. i really love the sound of those squishy in ear headphones (you know what I’m talking about) but my ears are obnoxiously tiny and they wont stay in. and i cant shell out the money for the more expensive ones that come in multiple sizes. any ideas?

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