What’s my ideal pair of headphones?
When buying a new set of headphones, the first thing to consider is sound…right? No
Sure you want headphones that sound great but what will they be actually used for? Are you using your headphones for fun or work like DJing or podcasting.
For Daily Listeners
Maybe these headphones are for listening to music through your portable player or your phone and maybe thinking my portable player came with earbuds, and I don’t need to buy any. But if you’re really in it for the sound, the earbuds are NOT for you. If you are using the headphones while being active, you want a pair that won’t come lose while fitting comfortably. There are many designs that shoot for that goal. Once you figure out what they will be used for and what you’ll be doing while you’re listening, then you can get to the sound.
If you’re a working DJ, you’ll need a set of headphones that have a quarter inch jack, a combination of ruggedness and portability, possibly even detachable with replaceable parts and a carrying case. Depending on your mixing stands, you either will need a set of headphones that are designed whereas one of the ear cups can pivot out of the way or a sealed design to help cancel out the background noise. Either way you want headphones that can be comfortable to wear for long periods, and can get loud while remaining clear in sound. Your new headphones need to be well fitting so it doesn’t fall around while you’re dancing, and finally it needs to look good. Looking good is all part of the job.
Now while podcasting has as many concerns as DJing, noise cancellation becomes even more critical. The last thing you want is your pod microphone to pick up the sound from your headphones. You might also want to consider wireless as you might need to get up and move around a bit and you probably have more than enough cables around you to worry about. This goes for the DJs as well; if you forgo the wireless headphones, you want a one sided cord headphones that don’t attach to both ear cups just to minimize the tangle hassle.
Different designs and materials do really matter to get the most for your money. To get all nerdy here, make sure to get the headphones that have dynamic drivers and broad frequency range, but if you do want big bass, you have to go with the larger headphones since their size contributes to a low frequency response.
Bose headphones are one of the better ones out in the market and they’re really not that bad. In fact, most people think they sound absolutely amazing – and for good reason. Compared to earbuds, they really are fantastic. The only problem with Bose headphones is that they’re overpriced for the quality you get.
Beats By Dre
Beats By Dre headphones, on the other hand, aren’t worth buying at all. At $350 retail, these overly bass-heavy phones are so overpriced. Essentially, all these headphones have to offer is the name of an artist that’s trying to salvage his career by creating a way for you to play other people’s music.
Luckily, those aren’t the only two options. There are plenty of other headphones that are great for students. As a working DJ who has used many different lines and brands in the industy, this guide aims to show you the best ones I’ve found. Obviously your money being spent is a big factor in choosing your next set of headphones. So when evaluating headphones for this post, I really only had two general criteria in mind:
- They had to sound great
- They had to be less than $200
As previously mentioned, other criteria such as portability, noise cancellation, and comfort will vary in importance from student to student; with that in mind, I tried to pick several headphones, each of which will fit a different preference.
Note: The prices listed here may not be the current price of each item. Prices naturally fluctuate, so you may want to check the price history of an item you’re considering before you plunk down the cash for it.
Audio Technica AD700
Price: $91 on Amazon
- Standout features: Open design, “3D Wing” headband design, very wide soundstage and incredible clarity
- Recommended for: Movies/Video Games/Music other than Rock/Rap/Pop
Another fine pair of phones from Audio-Technica, the AD700s are a large set of headphones with an open design and a rather unorthodox look. The first thing you notice when looking at them is the colors; purple cups with gold/cream trim is not the usual color combination for headphones. Another unique feature is the “3D Wing System”, which replaces the usual headband that most headphones have. The system features two hinged wings that act as a band. These wings are well-padded and are super-comfortable; in fact, these headphones are probably the most comfortable that I’ve ever worn. One comment a lot of people make about these headphones is that you forget you’re wearing them after a while. Yes, they’re that comfortable.
Aside from comfort, the standout feature of the AD700s is their soundstage. Soundstage refers to how engrossing the sound is – if you imagine yourself in a concert hall, soundstage would refer to where you were sitting. Most headphones will put your a few rows back; these put you right on the stage. The soundstage is just absolutely fantastic. Sound envelops your head in a complete 360 degree radius, which makes these headphones a fantastic choice for movies and games.
As for music, these headphones are best for genres outside of rap, rock, and pop. That’s because the bass in them isn’t fantastic, so music with a hard, driving beat won’t make the same impact that it would coming out of other headphones. However, the clarity of the highs and mids is great with the AD700s. Acoustic music and movie soundtracks in particular sound great coming though these.
Price: $99 on Amazon
- Standout features: Open design, retro look, lightweight body and great bass
- Recommended for: Daily Listeners – Rock/Rap/Pop
Grado makes fantastic headphones for rock music. The sound that comes out of these is punchier, more raw, and much more direct than what your get with the AD700s. If rock, rap, or pop is your bag, and you don’t care much about isolation, these are for you.
The SR80i’s sport a retro look that is either awesome or too akin, depending on your opinion. In my opinion they look awesome, and I would be completely comfortable wearing them in public.
Speaking of comfort, these headphones are a treat to wear. They’re not as awe-inspiringly comfortable at the AD700s, but their lightweight body and minimalist headband make them very nice on your head. The only possible nitpick is that the cups aren’t very big, so the drivers touch your ears. This might bug some people, but I’ve had no discomfort from it.
Audio Technica ATH-M50
Price: $115 on Amazon
- Standout features: Closed design, superb isolation, minimal noise leakage and great bass
- Recommended for: Daily Listeners requiring isolation; noisy environments
The ATH-M50s are unique on this list because of their closed design. The closed nature of the headphones means that these are hands-down the best for noise isolation. If you’re looking for a pair of headphones that will allow you to escape the noise created by roommates, friends, or drunk people in the hallway, read no further and buy these.
Aside from the great isolation the ATH-M50s provide, you also get great bass, mids, and highs. These are great all-around headphones for sound clarity. The ATH-M50s are studio monitors, which means that they provide a much more accurate sound profile than many other headphones. Headphones that are not monitors are usually engineered to sound “brighter”, or more pleasing to the ear. Nonetheless, these are a great choice for music.
One issue you may run into with the ATH-M50s is comfort; since they are closed headphones, they tend to clamp onto your head tighter than most open headphones. Personally, I didn’t have this problem, but some people do. If you do run into this issue, a good fix is to stretch the headphones out for a night by putting them on something like a computer case or some upright books.
Like most quality headphones, these require a “burn-in” period before they reach their full potential. Upon buying them, you’ll find they already sound incredibly better than what you’re used to; however, after a few hours they get even better (the bass in particular benefits from burn-in).
All in all, the ATH-M50s are the best headphones on the list for studying and escaping noisy environments. Out of all the headphones I own, these are the ones I turn to most often – precisely for those purposes.
Price: $127 on Amazon
- Standout features: Open design, tighter fit, great bass and wide soundstage
- Recommended for: Daily Listeners
Sennheiser is probably the most recognized headphone maker that you won’t find at Best Buy. They’ve been making quality headphones for years, and I know many people who swear by them. The HD518s are one of the newer models Sennheiser has released, and I was lucky enough to be able to test out a pair owned by one of my friends.
The first thing I noticed about these is that they fit a lot tighter than then AD700s or the SR80s – in fact, they’re almost as tight as the closed ATH-M50s listed above. Still, they do feature an open design, which means you won’t have as much noise isolation.
My take on the HD518s is that they are a compromise between the AD700s and SR80s. They are much better than the AD700s for rock/rap/pop, as they have much stronger bass. However, they have a much, much wider soundstage than the SR80s (although still not near as wide as the AD700s). If you can’t decide between those two aforementioned models, go with these. You won’t be disappointed.
These are our four recommended headphones for college students; they’re all affordable, and they all sound 100x better than the white buds that came with your iPod. Buy a pair and find out what you’ve been missing.
- Price: $140-170 on Amazon
- Standout features: Smooth design, comfortable and great bass
- Recommended for: DJs, Podcasting and Daily Listeners
I first have to mention that I currently use this set of headphones for my shows, and have been for the past 5 months. They do come in black and silver. The HDJ-1500s are the newest line of headphones Pioneer has brought into the market. It seemed to be only a matter of time following the introduction of the expensive but wonderful Pioneer HDJ-2000 and the quirky, entry-level HDJ-500 that elements of both of those designs would surface in an updated mid-range model. So here’s my final review, the new Pioneer HDJ-1500 headphones.
While by no means cheap, the new HDJ-1500s take the overall design aesthetic of the HDJ-2000s, providing a less stratospherically pricey alternative for that headphone, and replacing the HDJ-1000s in Pioneer’s range at the same time.
Coming with the standard soft carrying bag and a detachable, lockable coiled cable (complete with obligatory 1/4″ to 1/8″ stereo converter), the HDJ-1500s spring no surprises on unboxing.
And the first impression of the headphones themselves is good. They’re unmistakably “DJ” headphones but they have an attractive slimline appeal that’s modern and something new; the hinges in particular are clean and simple with an uncluttered look, and the earcups have lots of metal in them, incuding a nice brushed silver vertical stripe with a shiny embossed “Pioneer” logo vertically on each side, and a polished rim.
The earpads themselves are of course leather, and they’re quite wide with a relatively small hole in the middle. The leather is not the softest, and I imagine could get a little slippy when used in a hot and sweaty environment.
Now Comfort in a pair of headphones is of course subjective as mentioned previously, but I found them to be a good fit for me personally. They’re easy enough to adjust, and the earcups feel snug without being too tight.
The earcups twist 90 degrees forward, and 180 degrees up and down, giving all the required movements for single-ear monitoring or comfortable dangling round your neck with the earcups out of the way when in between mixes.
Due to the fact that the earcups are quite wide, they offer better than average isolation, which is great, especially when combined with the volume offered by the headphones. Thus the slimline design doesn’t compromise the sound quality of the headphones.
Yup, volume wise, they’re LOUD! These are an out and out DJ headphone, designed to give you decent monitoring in harsh situations, and I can report that they deliver 100% on that promise.
As far as durability goes, the two places headphones typically break are the hinges and the cable. The cable first: Being a detachable design, replacing this would be no issue if it were to break. In truth, coiled cables by their nature are pretty hard to mess up, because when yanked they expand naturally.
For many years, my headphones of choice were the Sony MDR-700s, whereas others I know preferred the Pioneer HDJ-1000s. Both broken with gay abandon at the hinges ridiculously frequently.
There are several screws holding the hinge area in place suggesting parts can be replaced. Suffice to say though, that these hinges look like a marked improvement on those on the HDJ-1000s, and I did give them a slightly violent yank just to see if I could hear any cracks or creaks. I couldn’t, and overall they seem very sturdy to me. As always with headphones, though, only time will tell on this one.
Photo Credit: Andrew Pokha Photography
In conclusion, be careful with your headphones and specially your hearing no matter what set of headphones you find ideal for your situation. Many headphones are capable of ear splitting levels, and even the smaller ones can get really loud since they rest inside of the ear canal. Make sure you clean your earbuds regularly too, and sharing them is a great way to spread bacteria and ear infections. You’re buying these headphones to listen to something so make sure you continue to do so for a good long time.
Please share with us what YOUR ideal set of headphones are in the comments!
Feat. Girl Img. via FastCompany