I have a confession to make: I spend way too much money on headphones.
I find myself saving money each week because I want another pair, maybe even selling a pair or two that I just didn't love as much as I thought I would, and a few months later I end up in the cycle all over again. It would be a fine hobby/obsession to have if I were filthy rich, but I'm not so I can see that I spend too much. There are worse things I could be buying I guess. But I've noticed one thing while I shift money from here to there so I can spend it on a thing I want but don't really need — I've kept using the same pair of over-ear headphones so much that I've actually had to replace them more than once. The Sony MDR7506s aren't going to leave my head for any long period of time.
The equipment used to play the music has changed so my headphones need to do the same.
I've figured out why, too. Tthe days of sitting cross-legged on the floor, enjoying the thick shag carpeting and grooving to my collection of vinyl LPs have come and gone. Full-sized and full power stereo receivers and turntables have been replaced by hi-resolution digital files played on a handheld device for almost all of my music time, and the headphones I buy to enjoy the experience had to change, too. I still enjoy a bit of time in my office with "proper" audio equipment in front of me, but over 90% of my listening time is through a phone and some sort of portable DAC.
For this type of listening, I've not yet found a pair of over-ear headphones I like as much as the Sonys. They're 63-ohm so I can get as much volume as I want without blowing anything up or having it sound bad, they're super comfortable and fit well enough to keep the room quiet for the rare moment when I have things a bit louder than necessary, and they're cheap enough at $80 that I'm not afraid to stuff them into my bag and take them with me. Most importantly, I like the sound that comes from them. It's clear, without overbearing bass or shrill highs — just the way I like it. They even sound pretty good hooked up to beefier equipment as long as you keep the volume in check. They're not absolutely flat like a pair of studio monitors are, but they're also about $1,500 cheaper. In a word, they outperform both my expectations and their price tag.
The Sony MDR7506s aren't the only headphones I carry in my bag, though. I also keep a good pair of earbuds and a set of Bluetooth headphones on hand because sometimes a big pair of retro-style earmuffs just isn't the right choice. It's tougher finding the perfect pair of either both because I like my retro-style earmuffs and I get nitpicky whenever I listen to music on a phone. Having said that, I do have favorites here that I'm in no hurry to replace. And yes, I bought too many pair of these styles of headphones, too. I need an intervention.
Earbuds can be good
You don't have to spend $1,000 on a pair of Shure earbuds to get great sound. I've been through a number of sets of earbuds in the past year or so and have found a pair that I can say I like: 1More Quad Drivers. They're built tough but still have the right ergonomics to stay in my ears while I'm wheeling about in my chair, which means they would also stay in if I were able to walk or jog. That's a big plus for me; I always struggle to find earbuds that fit "just right."
When it comes to the sound, these are another time you get more than you pay for. 1More is able to pull off a completely in-ear experience that doesn't sound tinny with music that's filled with high tones and don't sound lifeless due to the lack of boomy bass at the same time. I'm not sure how much the "Quad Driver" (think four sources of sound if you were wondering what that means) helps here, but the combination of driver, shape and build quality keep them in place and sounding great with almost every type of music.
Best of all, they are cheaper than most other premium earbuds on the market. $130 gives me just what I want — a set of quality wired earbuds that stay in and sound great.
Looking for a great pair of USB-C headphones? Check out our list of the best you can buy.
Bluetooth is a must
A few years ago you knew a set of good wired headphones was going to work with every phone or portable player on the market. That's not the case today and most phones no longer have a headphone jack. For maximum compatibility, you need to turn to Bluetooth.
Bluetooth audio is actually pretty good now, too. Advancements in hardware and lossless codecs mean that Bluetooth can sound good enough that only the pickiest listener will complain and the selection of Bluetooth headphones is enormous. It's a good time to be in the market for a set of Bluetooth headphones.
After trying out a few pairs, I've settled on the Ghostek SoDrop 2s. Not only do they sound the way I like but they're one of the few good pair on the market that doesn't have ANC. I dislike the hiss of ANC because I like to listen at very low volumes and don't want to pay extra for a feature I'll never use. I was surprised to find a set of Bluetooth headphones this nice without any sort of ANC.
Because of the lack of ANC, they're also super cheap at $70. They will leak a little noise if you pump up the volume, but the combination of well-designed earcups and quality materials keep them sealed fairly nicely. I don't listen to music over Bluetooth very often, but when I do the Ghostek SoDrop2's are what I reach for.
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