Choosing an MP3 player or media phone can be a difficult decision. Literally hundreds of devices compete for our attention, each shouting its claims about sound quality and style, storage space and ease of use. But virtually all such gadgets share one thing in common: the sub-standard quality of the headphones. One of the first things worth considering when you buy any new media device is upgrading the headphones, but that brings its own problems. Keep reading for a solution.
Where do you start? There are almost as many headphones to choose from as gadgets. With prices ranging from small change to hundreds of dollars, picking the right ones can be a major challenge in itself. In this article I will attempt to cut through the marketing claims and pick out eleven of the best portable headphones chosen from across the entire price range. It was going to be ten, but when it came down to it I couldn't bring myself to leave out Dr Dre's amazing, bone-rattling Beats. So let's crank up the music and get down to business.
Koss Portapro Headphones - Around $35 The 24-year-old Koss Portapro is a legend in headphone design. Proudly displaying their vintage 1980s looks, these cans are light and comfortable, and they deliver quality sound. Features include the "comfort zone" - a set of mechanically adjustable tension settings to achieve the perfect fit - and non-slip earpiece cushions.
As far as the sound goes, it would be unfair to complain at this price. Fortunately there's no need, as the Portapros could easily be confused with phones costing plenty more. The bass is particularly impressive given the age of the design, and overall the sound is tight and punchy. If there is a major drawback, it's the limited sound isolation, but unless you like to listen more loudly than is fair to your ears, this shouldn't be too much of a problem.
Best of all, they carry a lifetime no-questions-asked guarantee. Break them and Koss will replace them for the cost of shipping. So you could still be sporting that 1980s look in 2080.
Summary: First class if you don't mind the vintage styling.
Sennheiser PMX100 Supra-aural Headphones - Around $40 The PMX100 from headphone masters Sennheiser are light and durable, and they sound great. The use of Neodymium magnets has kept the weight to a minimum without sacrificing sound quality, and like their folding twins the PX100, they deliver a full, rich sound with powerful bass and excellent detail.
On the down side, Sennheiser has made some compromises where comfort is concerned. It's not that this is a bad set of cans to wear, it's just that they are primarily designed for active rather than passive listening. Perfect for running or cycling, the protruding neckband can make using them on a train or plane a slightly uncomfortable experience.
The other thing to be aware of about the PMX100s is that they have no sound isolation. This may be a worthwhile pay-off for the stunning sound quality, but it's worth remembering that everybody else can hear your music as clearly as you can.
Summary: Great quality for the price, but no sound isolation or concessions to comfort.
V-Moda Bass Freq earphones - Around $30 Despite the relative unfamiliarity of the V-Moda brand, these are a formidable set of headphones that are hard to fault at a $30 price tag. The first thing you notice about them is the modern, chic design. Available in a selection of vivid and humorously-named color schemes including Tambourine Orange, Jaded Green and Rocker Red, Bass Freq cans will appeal to the fashionable listener.
This isn't to say they don't deliver in the audio department, too. Living up to their name, these cans produce a staggering bass sound, with little noticeable compromise across the rest of the spectrum. They favor dance and electronic music, having been specifically designed to "recreate the sensation and sounds of the world's finest clubs." V-Moda has also cranked up the amplification to provide volume levels that will satisfy anyone who regularly finds themselves looking for 11 on the dial.
V-Moda produces a wide range of other headphones at competitive prices which are worth investigating, including the designed-for-iPhone Vibe-Duo.
Summary: Good-looking, good-sounding package from a relative newcomer.
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