The 50 Best Headphones You Can Buy (Part 3)

10/19/2012 9:20:04 AM

Ratings: 5/5

Price: $255

Description: They’re a punchy, exciting listen, brimming with vim and vigour

They’re a punchy, exciting listen, brimming with vim and vigour

It’s little wonder that B&W’s first pair of headphones were such a rip-roaring success. The British company’s key strength of combining hi-fi quality with stylish desirability meant the P5s positively flew off the shelves. Within a few months, though, all of B&W’s rivals were also in on the act, and the P5s started slipping down our rankings.

New and improved in every way

Time, then, for a new pair – and if we’re to cut right to the chase we’d say that they’re an even greater success than their predecessors. Cheaper and smaller than the P5s, the P3s are also much more advanced. The completely custom-built drive unit, for instance, takes cues from B&W’s speakers, such as a damped diaphragm and new venting system, in order to achieve uniform airflow, lower distortion and a more natural sound.

It’s worked – the P3s sound absolutely brilliant. They’re a punchy, exciting listen, brimming with vim and vigour. Bass is weighty and deep, but the whole delivery is also terrifically precise and controlled. That precision combines with a fine sense of richness and refinement that makes the overall sound quality extremely hard to fault, whether you’re listening to classical or classic rock.

Did we mention that they’re also gorgeous well they are, with superb, classy styling – Beats these are not. They’re brilliant compact, too, and thanks to a small, robust carry case perfectly suited to a life of commuting. And you get a standard cable as well as one with a mic for iPhone users, so they’re compatible with just about every smartphone and PMP around. In fact, other than a slight lack of grippiness on your bonce there’s nothing to criticize here. Buy a pair; you won’t regret it.

Best for being the best for so long – Klipsch Image X10i

Ratings: 5/5

Price: $225

Description: Fantastic sound, lightweight build and now at a lower price, the X10is are simply superb

Fantastic sound, lightweight build and now at a lower price, the X10is are simply superb

Of all of the segments of the supremely fast-growing headphone market, it’s the in-ears that are growing fastest of all. That makes getting to the top hugely difficult, but with so many awesomely capable companies involved, staying at the top is even harder. Yet that’s exactly what Klipsch has achieved.

Just as good as they ever were

Beginning with the Image X10 earphones and evolving to the mic-enabled (but otherwise identical) X10i version, Klipsch has managed to maintain the top-spot in the premium in-ear sector for years now. Part of their appeal is how darn small and lightweight they are, making them even more portable then their rivals. There’s the surprising comfort of wearing them, too, not to mention the effective noise isolation they offer.

The real success, though, is the sound. Opt for a lossless rip of Fineshrine from the brilliant electronic duo Purity Ring and you get a supremely exciting delivery. Pop-eyed levels of attack, awesome punch and extension in the bass and brilliant organisation and separation are all present here. Treble, meanwhile, is crisp but always controlled while the level of detail and expressiveness to the midrange lets the unique vocals come through with clear, emotive detail.

Best of all, with a little shopping around you can find a pair of X10i headphones for as little as $225 – considering how much we loved them at the original price of $315, that makes them a serious bargain which only Android smartphone users (with which the mic unit might not be compatible) should even think twice about.

Best for quality Bluetooth on the move – Sennheiser MM 400-X

Ratings: 5/5

Price: $270

Description: These wireless cans have plenty of detail and directness, especially in vocals

These wireless cans have plenty of detail and directness, especially in vocals

We love Bluetooth when it’s of the aptX variety, and thankfully the audio-friendly tech is finally starting to hit more and more devices. In fact, you might well already own one with it built in – such as a MacBook running Mac OS S 10.6.4 or later, or the new HTC One X or Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone. If you do, you should really take advantage by adding a pair of these aptX-toting cans.

Like the PXC 310 BT before it, this Bluetooth headset boast a compact, lightweight and foldable design, a set of controls on the right-hand cup for navigating your music, and the option of connecting a cable for going wired when you’re on a plane or when the 10-hour battery runs out. There’s even a built-in mic for smartphone users. In fact, the only thing missing is noise-cancelling, which is available if you stretch to the MM 450-X version.

Most importantly, these high-tech headphones sound great. They’re not the deepest deliverers of bass, but they’ve got plenty of detail and directness, especially in the vocals.

Convenient and capable

True, they’re not quite up to the standard of wired headphones at the same money, but if you want the convenience of Bluetooth in a very portable and sonically capable headset, you really can’t go wrong with these Sennheisers.

Best for a life on the road – German Maestro GMP 8.35 D

Ratings: 4/5

Price: $225

Description: The looks might be on the functional side, but you’ll never need to worry about breaking these…

The looks might be on the functional side, but you’ll never need to worry about breaking these…

Chances are you’ve never heard of German Maestro, which is fair enough as the company is new to the UK. We can’t help but wish that it could have come up with a more enticing name for its first cans than ‘GMP 8.35 D’, though. Not that you should let it put you off – there are really rather good… These are clearly studio-focused headphones, with durability prioritised over outright style, but to our eyes there’s actually something quite neat about the heavy-duty looks. They seem high-on indestructible, too, with a solid, endlessly flexible headband and very chunky cable making them perfectly suited to a life of abuse on the road.

And above all, they sound good. A little splashiness creeps in at the top of the frequency range when you push them with something like Passion Pit’s latest indie-pop album, but overall they’re also clear and detailed enough to deliver focused, engaging tunes with nicely judged, punchy bass and standout vocals.

In it for the long haul

The tight but comfortable fit and leak-free, closed back design (perfect for long-haul listening – both for you and fellow passengers) provide further wins for these German Maestros. You might never have heard of them, but the GMP 8.35 Ds demand an audition if you’re looking to spend $150+ on some headphones for out-and-about use.

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