The Greatest On-Ear Headphones for 2019: Opinions by Wirecutter

$50 and underneath

Brent and John selected the Sony MDR- ZX600 as their top-sounding decide on this worth bracket, and as soon as I obtained the right match, I agreed. My ears stick out a bit, like an elf’s, and the MDR-ZX600 sounded fully totally different to me relying on whether or not the earcups sat ahead or barely over the again rim on my ears. For what it’s value, again was higher. Ahead, these headphones have been all growth and sizzle, with obnoxious highs and lows. Correctly positioned, nonetheless, I heard what Brent and John did, a end result that was “flat, impartial, spacious, and clear sounding.” What saved these headphones out of our prime slot have been the $50 price ticket and the truth that they aren’t particularly compact—the MDR-ZX600 takes up considerably extra space than we’d like.

The remaining, in alphabetical order:
On the time we checked, the JVC HAS160 Flats headphones have been $12, and so they sounded prefer it. Whereas we appreciated the light-weight design, the sound high quality simply wasn’t there, even for such a low worth. The bass was bloated, the midrange was muffled, and the excessive finish had a hissy high quality.

The JVC HAS400B headphones landed in the course of this worth bracket by way of each and sound. They weren’t the very best; they weren’t the worst. Geoff discovered them uncomfortable, and I assumed the match was virtually extra over-ear than on-ear. We weren’t big followers total, however the purpose trusted who you requested: John mentioned the bass had an excessive amount of of a lift across the frequency the place a kick drum sits. Brent discovered that the upper frequencies have been too smooth and made the general really feel lifeless. Geoff had these match points. And I assumed this pair had a kind of reverb or echo within the mids (in any other case often known as the Q-factor) that was an excessive amount of. Nonetheless you slice it, all of us agreed that there have been higher choices on this class.

The sound was akin to that of an “previous clock radio,” in response to certainly one of our panelists.

The JVC HASR500B was an enormous disappointment. The sound was akin to that of an “previous clock radio,” in response to certainly one of our panelists. The highs have been blaring, and the bass sounded muffled. An incredible pity.

For people who’ve ears that stick out, the Koss KTXPro1 is one other no-go. The earcups don’t pivot ahead and again, so that you’ll have a tricky time getting a snug match. Relying on how these headphones suit you, they may have muddy mids and a bass bloat, or simply sound so-so and low cost.

Bear in mind just a few years again, when an excavation crew dug up a bunch of previous buried Atari video video games in New Mexico? The Koss PortaPro headphones look as if they’d been caught in a time capsule together with that E.T. sport and Berzerk. Retro design apart, we discovered that the PortaPro had a bit extra of an edge to vocals and a extra boomy bass. It presents a tension-adjustment slider on the aspect of the earcups, however we couldn’t get that function to work with out feeling as if we have been going to interrupt one thing. Until you’re headed to a very ’80s occasion, skip this pair.

The Marley Constructive Vibration headphones can be found in enjoyable coloration choices, and are virtually over-ears. In our assessments the bass was a bit boomy, and the clamping power on the scarf was a bit tight. This pair sounds respectable sufficient however doesn’t actually fold up. If you would like cool-looking headphones for an affordable worth, usually round $35, the Constructive Vibration is a good alternative, however you’ll find choices that sound higher and fold up smaller.

The Shure SRH145m+ appears costly, however if you get it into your arms, it feels cheaply constructed. None of us discovered this set snug sufficient to put on for lengthy durations of time. However the greatest flaw was the treble, which in our assessments was extremely coloured and had numerous peaks and dips that marred an in any other case great-sounding pair of headphones.

Maybe due to the worth (simply over $15 on the time we checked), you may forgive the considerably reverb-heavy and cheap sound of the Sony MDR-ZX100, particularly should you hearken to pop, rock, and hip-hop completely. We discovered, nonetheless, that these headphones simply couldn’t maintain up with any music that required subtlety. They have been comparatively snug, and so they weren’t offensive sounding, however our complete panel felt that different choices sounded higher and folded as much as be extra transportable.

$51 to $149

We discovered the AKG Y50 peaked-sounding in a enjoyable and great means. With an in-your-face, kickass bass and a bit additional push within the vocal vary, the AKG Y50 headphones are simply begging to have rock, pop, and hip-hop blasted by them. The earpads seem like puffy little doughnuts and are plush and comfortable. The headscarf is steel and padded, and your entire construct feels sturdy and prime quality. Geared up with a removable cable with a single-button distant, this pair is offered in 4 colours (matte black, yellow, turquoise, and purple). This set does fold up, although it isn’t the smallest, even if you pop it into its included neoprene bag. However should you like a bit additional oomph in your bass and a contact extra readability on cymbal hits and vocals, you’ll actually just like the Y50’s sound. What nudged it out of the winner’s circle (other than its measurement) was its worth on the time of our evaluate, round $130.

The remaining, in alphabetical order:
In our assessments, the AKG Okay430 had a piercing excessive finish and a dip within the mids that made snare drums snap in a distracting means, and horns seemed like they have been squawking. The bass was good when it was there, however total the scorching excessive finish was sufficient to encourage us to decide on different choices.

The AKG Q460 headphones are mentioned to have been voiced by Quincy Jones, and we love Quincy Jones. We respect and adore him for all the pieces he has completed for the music trade. He’s rightly a legend, and we’ve got nothing unfavorable to say about him as a producer. In our assessments, nonetheless, these headphones had probably the most insane, ridiculous, formless bass we’d ever heard. Critically. The low finish was loud and blobby, and made all the pieces else troublesome to listen to. The mids have been nonexistent. It was probably the most complicated voicing. John mentioned, “We love you, Quincy, however rattling.”

Brent talked about that he listened to a James Taylor dwell tune, and the guitar sounded as if the “physique had been filled with T-shirts.”

The Audio-Technica Earsuit ATH-ES500 isn’t horrible, nevertheless it isn’t nice, both. The construct felt creaky and low cost in contrast with different fashions we tried within the $100 vary, and the general sound was uninteresting, muffled, and unengaging. Brent talked about that he listened to a James Taylor dwell tune, and the guitar sounded as if the “physique had been filled with T-shirts.” The end result lacked the wealthy mids good guitar sound ought to have. With so many nice decisions, it’s robust to advocate this pair.

Providing a design paying homage to a digital camera focus ring, the Audio-Technica ATH-RE700 appears as if it folds up, nevertheless it doesn’t. Sadly, our complete panel discovered the highs shrill, with out sufficient stable bass to counteract the impact. The bass that was current within the ATH-RE700 sounded woofy and soulless. It’s a disgrace, as the nice appears actually set us up for disappointment.

The JBL Synchros E30 has a very nice look; it is available in a bunch of colours and feels sturdy, too. Regrettably, in our assessments the low frequencies had a “wuh, wuh” high quality whether or not they have been portraying a kick drum or an digital bassline—not loud within the combine, simply nebulous. Brent mentioned the sound reminded him of “hi-fi audio system made within the 1960s.” It’s a bummer, as a result of we discovered that the E30 had numerous build-quality pluses that will have made this pair value contemplating had the sound been higher.

Though the Marley Liberate headphones look cool and really feel well-built, they don’t fold up. In our assessments additionally they had a voicing that pushed the decrease mids and dropped the higher-end frequencies, which left all the pieces sounding a bit muffled and missing intimately. It’s too dangerous. We at all times root for an organization that makes use of sustainable supplies and donates to charity, however we simply can’t advocate the Liberate.

The Marley Riddim pair presents a pleasant, slouchy army look however had numerous sonic issues in our assessments: Reverberant mids induced the vocal line to be muffled, and the bassline was intense, as if we have been sitting subsequent to the kick drum. Sigh.

Among the many fashions on this worth vary, the Polk Hinge has maybe the very best construct high quality. The design particulars are beautiful, together with stitched leatherette over an aluminum headband, steel hinges, and a detachable cable with a three-button iPhone distant. These headphones are fantastically constructed, and so they really feel as if they’re value excess of their worth. In the event that they sounded nearly as good as they seemed, we would have a special winner. However in our assessments, though the Hinge’s drivers sounded as if they have been high quality, the voicing was off. The corporate calls it Polk Optimized Electro-acoustic Tuning (POET) and claims that the sound of the Hinge is meant to be “immersive.” What we heard was a bloated bass and a midrange that gave male vocals an excessive amount of resonance at greater volumes, making them a bit muffled. The highs have been good, clear and clear, however all the pieces supporting them within the decrease frequencies was lackluster. Severe. Heartbreak.

The Skullcandy Knockout claims to have been designed with ladies in thoughts. Any time a tech firm says it has made a gender-specific product, I cringe a bit: Advertising and design based mostly on gender, relatively than, say, particular bodily wants comparable to small ears or bigger heads could cause corporations to wade into the quicksand of sexism. But when there have to be headphones “made for ladies,” I’d argue that Skullcandy dealt with the execution as skillfully and thoughtfully as potential. I had a prolonged assembly with Skullcandy on the CES 2014 commerce present and wrote about it for Sound & Imaginative and prescient.

Whereas I understood the Skullcandy workforce’s request that solely ladies check the Knockout, I additionally consider that simply as I’ve the power to check gender-neutral and males’s headphones objectively, males have the power to check the Knockout, with the understanding that these headphones have been designed with options to particular issues in thoughts. Within the case of the Knockout, the issues embrace smaller head measurement, pores and skin susceptible to breakouts resulting from micro organism, and the will to make use of the carry bag for extra than simply the headphones. In all of these respects, the Knockout performs effectively: The headscarf is snug with not an excessive amount of clamping power, the earpads are antimicrobial, and the included carry bag has an additional pocket and is styled to seem like a small tote. The colours are cool, and whereas some folks could name them female, I do know some fashionable guys who would like to rock this look. And if these guys have medium to smaller-size heads, they will.

John and Geoff had no subject with the match. (Neither did I.) Brent acknowledged that his head was too massive for the Knockout however understood that his skull wasn’t the goal measurement. However right here’s the place all of us had a difficulty: the sound. Skullcandy instructed us that it had designed the drivers “for ladies” based mostly on the sonic preferences it had discovered (by analysis and science) that ladies have. In accordance with Skullcandy, ladies favor “deeper, cleaner bass” and “very natural-sounding vocals.” A examine completed at College of Texas at Austin does declare that there are some variations between how women and men understand sounds: Supposedly ladies are extra delicate to sounds than males, although by solely 2 or three decibels, and apparently this may differ by as a lot as 5 dB throughout menstruation or if a lady is on contraception. However that is just one examine, and a pair of or three dB is basically not that a lot, loudness-wise. Males do are likely to lose their listening to quicker than ladies, however that has nothing to do with, nor creates a broad shift in, gender-based preferences from start to age 60-plus (when most listening to loss tends to happen). It didn’t have an effect on our all-sub-60-year-old panel.

So, based mostly on all of that data, in our educated opinion we are able to say that the Knockout had highs that have been good within the acoustic-guitar vary however blaring on voices. The marginally muffled midrange was overwhelmed by a bass that sounded as if the subwoofer had material overlaying it and air hitting it. Normally, all of us heard the identical factor, and all of us felt “meh” concerning the outcomes. So whereas the visible design happy listeners no matter gender, I’m undecided who the sound was engineered for. Actually not this girl.

The Velodyne vLeve felt brittle and plastic. Sure, the choice of interchangeable skins is sweet, however you may’t cowl up a snapped headband or cracked earcups, which is what these headphones felt like they’d find yourself with on the first signal of bother. We’d have forgiven this plastic really feel if the vLeve sounded wonderful, however regardless of the kick-your-ass bass, the mids have been blaring and crude. We have been hoping for extra. It’s best to too.

$150 and over

We advocate our prime decide should you’re going to spend $150 or extra. Yow will discover numerous nice headphones on this worth vary, nevertheless it’s the small print that make or break a prime decide. With just a few exceptions (which we clearly point out under), a lot of the headphones on this worth class are no less than recommendable.

The remaining, in alphabetical order:
Small, simply folded, and light-weight, the AKG Okay451 sounds fairly good, too. Sadly, John discovered the treble to be too harsh, and Geoff and I assumed the mids have been missing and a tad blurry sounding. The bass was good—intense, however not formless or overpowering. Nonetheless, as a result of we had so many nice choices on this group, “good” simply wasn’t adequate to take one of many prime spots.

Right here’s one thing thrilling for the way forward for Beats: The Beats Solo2 is the best-sounding Beats pair we’ve heard.

The Beats Solo2 is the best-sounding Beats pair we’ve heard. Everybody on our panel discovered the Solo2 very snug, and all of us agreed that it was our favourite Beats headphone mannequin up to now, arms down. The highs have been clear, clear, and delicate, and so they sparkled over wealthy mids that sounded equally nearly as good on electrical or acoustic guitar. The issue with the Solo2, in our assessments, involved the bass. Sure, the bass was ahead, though not practically as heavy-handed as on earlier Solo incarnations. Sadly, the bass had a “whoomp, whoomp” or “buh, buh” impact, a uninteresting, sloppy sound that oozed all around the beautiful mids and highs (particularly in music with already intense basslines). So singer-songwriter music sounds unbelievable on the Solo2, however hip-hop, rock, and pop? Sigh. To place it into a visible, if the mids and highs have been a gourmand meal, the bass can be a pudding cup that some toddler simply emptied onto your plate. I imply, the meals is technically nonetheless good, however man, it certain would have been higher with out that pudding throughout it. That mentioned, if the Solo2 didn’t value $200 on the time of our evaluate, we could be having a special dialog. This mannequin comes so near getting all the pieces proper, we’re really excited to see what Beats does subsequent.

Mild and comfortable, the Beyerdynamic T51i has a sturdy steel headband and earcups with beautiful memory-foam-type earpads. Everybody on our panel discovered the T51i snug, and everybody usually preferred the sound. The highs have been a tad too sibilant, which left guitars and vocals sounding barely metallic or icy, and the bass was a bit too resonant. Though all of us cherished the sunshine construct, we wished that the T51i folded as much as be extra compact; the earpads do swivel in order that they will lie flat, however the case finally ends up being as massive as a hardcover ebook. This class is significantly so aggressive that these quibbles have been sufficient to push the relatively good T51i out of our prime slot.

The Bowers & Wilkins P3 has the “tiny” side down. These headphones fold as much as be fairly small, though the corporate ended up making the included onerous case a lot bigger than it wanted to be, so the P3 in some way takes up practically as a lot bag actual property as a lot bigger headphones. That might be okay, however nobody on our panel preferred the sound very a lot, because the bloated bass muddied up the remainder of the upper frequencies. It’s a disgrace, as with the suitable sound the petite appears and enjoyable colours of the P3 may have had us hooked.

In our assessments, the Bowers & Wilkins P5 Collection 2 sounded very nice: These headphones have been a tad harsh within the male vocals, however total they have been fairly balanced, with a slight bass bump. Nonetheless, this pair doesn’t fold up, and within the carrying case it takes up simply as a lot area as many over-ear headphones, so until you actually like on-ears, we don’t see why this mannequin can be a better option than over-ears. That apart, should you just like the styling and don’t want to fret about financial system of area, and should you don’t look after over-ears, the P5 Collection 2 is a stable set of headphones; it’s simply not our prime suggestion.

The Grasp & Dynamic MH30 is simply as fairly as its over-ear sibling, the MH40. These headphones really feel sturdy, luxurious, and costly. In our assessments, the MH30 had an identical sound profile to the MH40, however maybe as a result of means the on-ear form impacts the sound, it produced barely extra sibilance and bass. Because of this, we didn’t just like the MH30 as a lot as we did the extra balanced MH40. Additionally, the MH30 is a relatively massive on-ear pair even when folded up. If you would like Grasp & Dynamic headphones, we propose going for the MH40 over-ear pair as a substitute, as the 2 fashions take up about the identical quantity of space for storing. Additionally, since on this worth vary you’re already ready to drop a very good sum of money on one thing fancy, we are saying to spend the additional quantity for the MH40.

The Phiaton Fusion MS 430 obtained nice evaluations in every single place, from PCMag to Digital Traits to Amazon, which didn’t shock us, as Phiaton usually makes good merchandise. You possibly can think about our dismay when the MS 430 got here throughout as insanely treble-heavy with a midrange dip and shockingly little bass. It was loopy. We suppose that should you can’t hear excessive frequencies effectively and actually hate bass, you may just like the MS 430, however the common listener would possible be simply as upset as we have been.

We just like the over-ear Sennheiser Momentum headphones, and the Sennheiser Momentum On appears very related. This pair is snug and lightweight, and all of our panelists thought it was simple to put on. What confused us was the frequency ranges the Momentum On emphasised. Whereas the over-ear model was a bass lover’s headphone, the Momentum On appeared to emphasise the decrease mids with a dialed-back bass. Have you ever ever, whereas listening to music, pulled again in your ear and kinda stretched it? Doing so kind of makes music sound skinny and virtually such as you’re in a slight vacuum. The Momentum On’s sound produced an identical feeling as compared with the over-ear Momentum. These headphones aren’t the fan favorites we hoped they’d be. As a substitute they’re simply … positive.

The tagline “Bass: higher not louder” sums up what Sennheiser was aiming for with the Sennheiser Urbanite. Sadly, whereas the bass on the Urbanite was fairly good to our ears, the remainder of the sound profile was not our favourite. This pair had a considerably blaring higher midrange and an oddly peaked treble that made voices and acoustic guitar sound unnatural. And even when folded up, the Urbanite is relatively cumbersome.

Oh, SMS Audio. Can we discuss? What’s going on? The SMS Audio Avenue by 50 Cent On-Ear Headphones felt like brittle plastic, smelled like burning rubber, and sounded fairly terrible. The bass was booming, and there was virtually nothing else happening. They have been reverby and muddy, and no one on our panel was blissful. Even Geoff, probably the most forgiving bass lover of all of us, mentioned, “There’s numerous bass. Bass, bass, bass. There may be nothing good about these headphones.” Ow.

Like all of V-Moda’s fashions, the V-Moda XS is constructed like a tank—sturdy and well-crafted, and undoubtedly extra sturdy than a few of the different headphones we examined. As Brent put it, “From a coolness standpoint, the XS are in all probability the very best right here.” In our expertise, the sound had some colorations, with a boosted bass, some ups and downs within the mids, and a rolled-off treble. John wasn’t an enormous fan, however Geoff, Brent, and I all preferred the quirky sound. It wasn’t pure, nevertheless it wasn’t objectionable, both. Nonetheless, the clamping power could cause your ears to ache if you’re listening over lengthy durations. In case you just like the sound of V-Moda headphones, you’ll just like the XS. However as we’ve mentioned earlier than, on this worth class, numerous good headphones obtained edged out by small levels, and the XS was certainly one of them.

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