When one thinks of headphones, one often thinks of portability and ease of use as a primary goal. To that end, many people are looking for wireless headphones as a portable way to listen to their music.
Unfortunately, Bluetooth headphones often come with the significant shortcoming of not sounding that good relative to their price. These days, the market is a lot better than it was 10 years ago. But, for my money, the headphones listed below provide a significant improvement in sound quality over the equivalently-priced Bluetooth options. So here are five over-ear headphones that I would recommend as among the best in their class today.
As a warning: some of these headphones are open-back. That is, they expose the driver to the outside world, meaning they won’t block outside noise, and they’ll leak your music to the outside as well.
Beyerdynamic DT240 Pro
This was a contribution by my colleague – I hadn’t heard the DT240 Pro before writing this article. Yet upon putting it on my noggin, I could tell why my colleague recommended it: it’s small, portable, and sturdy, and it sounds good, too. And unlike the other two closed-back headphones on this list, it provides a sizable soundstage with fantastic imaging.
The earcups are a bit smaller than the other entrants, making this somewhat closer to the nether realm between “over-ear” and “on-ear.” But the soft earpads make this comfortable enough to wear for a long period of time, and the clamp makes it stable enough to wear on the go. And the same goes for the sound signature: this is a pretty relaxed headphone that won’t be fatiguing to listen to (unlike Beyerdynamic’s DT770, which has somewhat bristly highs).
Perhaps it’s just because the HD558 was the first “proper” headphone I ever owned. But I think that its successor, the $100 Sennheiser HD559, still offers one of the better deals on the market when it comes to providing quality sound at an affordable price. Unlike the DT880, these have a relaxed and inviting sound that’ll bring a pleasant warmth to any recording.
On the other hand, they’re somewhat less technical, so they might not provide quite as much insight into your music as something like the DT880. These are listening headphones – they’re not intended for professionals. There are also some that would recommend that you step up to the higher-priced HD599. But for my money, these provide almost the same performance at a lower cost. Just as a warning, though, these headphones are open-back, meaning they will leak sound in both directions – don’t plan to use these in noisy settings, or if the sound leakage will distract or annoy others.
Until 2019, the AKG K553 was one of the most-recommended closed-back headphones for musicians, because of its slightly thin but accurate sound and its wide soundstage. Now, AKG is back with a new closed-back headphone. Like the K553, the K371 is intended for professional use; but this time, they feature an even more accurate tuning. They call it the “Harman target” – a specific frequency response devised to recreate the tonality of speakers in a well-treated room.
For under $200, the AKG K371 is as close as you can get to the Harman target in an over-ear headphone. As such, it’ll be ideal for anyone looking for a neutral, uncolored look at their music. The downside? It has a smaller soundstage than its predecessors, the K553 and K550, and its competitor the DT770. But if you’re looking for accurate sound, this is it.
You can purchase them at Amazon.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x has been one of the most popular and best-selling budget closed-back headphones, and for good reason. It’s not the most accurate on the market, but it’s accurate enough to be the headphone of choice for more than a few professionals. More importantly, though, it’s fun, with a tight, slammy bass response and highs that bring out plenty of detail.
While it doesn’t offer the accuracy or technical ability of the K371, many listeners will find themselves preferring the M50x for its fun, dynamic sound – and even today, it’s still one of the best out there in general.
Beyerdynamic DT880 Premium
|Impedance||32 ohm, 250 ohm, or 600 ohm|
For those looking for an open-back headphone under $200, the DT880 has long been a go-to recommendation for me – it sounds fantastic for its price, even competing handily with significantly higher-priced headphones. If you’re new to the world of high-end headphones, you’ll likely be surprised by the amount of detail the DT880 is able to extract from the music. Yes, the sound signature of these headphones is slightly more detail-oriented than its competitors, and for some listeners, that’ll mean it sounds overly bright and potentially fatiguing. But I find that it strikes a very nice balance, and the treble rarely gets too hot for me.
Just as a warning – the DT880 is available in 32 ohm, 250 ohm, and 600 ohm versions. Casual listeners will probably want to steer toward the 32 ohm version, which is the easiest to use with portable players or laptops. The 250 ohm and 600 ohm versions both practically require the use of an amp, but you’ll also see significant performance gains with amplification.
An audiophile like me is more than familiar with the trap of spending increasingly large amounts of money chasing minor gains in performance. But for those who are looking to make a single headphone purchase for the next several years, the five headphones listed above will be ideal choices, for either at-home or on-the-go usage.
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