The 50 Best Headphones You Can Buy (Part 8)

10/19/2012 9:20:33 AM

Ratings: 5/5

Price: $180

Description: Etymotic hf3

Etymotic hf3

Etymotic has cultivated a reputation for creating headphones that combine pro sound quality with a sense of coolness. It takes a while to choose between the many, many ear-tips in the box (testament to how seriously the company takes sound), but you’ll know when you get there, as the rest of the world will vanish behind a wall of noise isolation. For detail and crispness there’s nothing else at this price that can touch the hf3s, and they boast the kind of analytical approach in which fans of lossless, uncompressed or even studio master recordings will revel.

The sportscar of on-ear headphones – Phiaton MS300

Ratings: 4/5

Price: $270

Description: Phiaton MS300

Phiaton MS300

For those trying to make a statement but who aren’t keen on jumping on the Beats bandwagon, the MS300s make a lot of sense. The carbon-fibre earcups and red trim might be a bit flashy for some, but there is something a bit Lamborghini- like about the design. Unlike a Lambo, though, which (we’re told) gets better the more you push it, the Phiatons can sound shouty and unbalanced in favour of the midrange when you push the volume. However, keep them in their comfort zone and they’re much better, delivering generous detail and bite, and deep, flexible bass that sits well in the rest of the tonal range.

The Beats beaters – TDK ST700

Ratings: 4/5

Price: $180

Description: TDK ST700


The original Beats Solos were a huge success, and spawned no end of clones, perhaps most notably the amusingly monikered Fanny Wang On-ear Wangs.

Better than both, though, is this pair of TSKs. Their first win is the comfy fit, thanks to a solid headband and pivoting earcups. The good news continues with sound, too: the ST700s exhibit a degree of tonal balance that their overly bassy rivals can’t match. There’s clear treble and a nice directness to vocals, too, and the whole presentation is pacey and detailed. They can’t match the best at this price for resolution and punch but, next to their trendy peers, they’re great.

Best for hi-fi on the go – Grado iGi

Ratings: 5/5

Price: $135

Description: Grado iGi

Grado iGi

While better known for its traditional, (if quirky) on-ear headphones, these days Grado also boasts a three-model range of in-ears. We’ll get to the top-end GR10s later, but for now let’s concentrate on the most affordable pair – the iGi. That name might suggest some kind of Apple integration, but there’s no inline mic or controls here. Instead it’s just straight-up audio, but audio with the kind of detail, dynamics and neutrality that the cast majority of rivals can’t muster. Just like Grado’s on-ears, then, which you may have heard we’re fairly keen on.

Best for sporty types – Beats by Dre Powerbeats

Ratings: 5/5

Price: $130.5

Description: Beats by Dre Powerbeats

Beats by Dre Powerbeats

Beats is never one for subtlety, so the styling of its Powerbeats sports headphones really shouldn’t come as a surprise… and thanks to the chunky band that loops over the top of your ears, there’s no hiding them. Of course, it does serve a purpose: to keep the earphones in when you’re exercising. With a few runners in our ranks, we can confirm that the fit is excellent and that it’s nigh on impossible to jog them loose, which means you’re free to concentrate on the powerful, pacey and detailed music, rather than keeping your headphones attached.

Best for Xbox gamers – Sennheiser X320

Ratings: 5/5

Price: $105

Description: Sennheiser X320

Sennheiser X320

We’re all pretty big gamers here, and have experimented with loads of headsets over the years – all of which have been a bit disappointing.

Unlike their rivals, though, the X320s sound good – detailed and spacious enough to assist in finding your online enemies, and with excellent balance as long as you avoid the ‘bass boost’ switch. Balancing voice and game volume is easy, your voice projects clearly and muting your mic is simply a case of twisting up the boom. The wires are a shame, but the only way to avoid this is to go wireless, which in our experience costs far more – and sounds far worse. Five stars it is, then.

Best for iPhone-using silence-seekers – Blackbox i10

Ratings: 5/5

Price: $135

Description: Blackbox i10

Blackbox i10

The second pair of Blackbox headphones to make this list, the i10s are different from the M20-RBs. These are in-ears, and they connect via the 30-pin socket at the bottom of your iPhone or iPod, rather than the standard headphone socket. They are still effective noise-cancellers, though, and they sound impressive. They’re well made, too.

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