7 best headphones for music lovers
We've tried and tested gear to find cans to please the most discerning of audiophiles
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Audiophiles are pretty much incapable of not listening to music, whether it’s at home, on the commute to work… at work if they can get away with it.
A huge range of new models have been released since the beginning of 2016 including ones to suit the increased interest in wireless headphones, along with some fantastic new designs. My ideal pair of headphones is one with a crisp, even sound that still packs a punch when it comes to the bass, and that does a good job of blocking out sound from the outside world. They have to be comfortable – I listen to music for hours on end – and with a design that stands out more than your average pair of over-ears.
1. Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 IEG InEar: £74, John Lewis
Not expecting to find a pair of in-ears that could compare to on or over-ears, I wanted to take these Sennheisers for a spin anyway, simply because it’s one of the best-performing headphone brands out there. The bass is phenomenal for in-ears – I put them through their paces for electronic music, rock, indie, hip hop and even classical and they continued to provide high resolution sound – along with impressive noise cancelling. The earbuds mould to the shape of your ear, so they are more comfortable than other in-ears out there. These come in two colours.
2. Marshall Major II Bluetooth: £129.99, PC World
Marshall’s first Bluetooth pair looks teeny in its compact little box, but that just makes them more impressive when you plug in, because these things pack one hell of a punch. They’re tuned to be very, very loud – this is from someone who likes things up to 11. They’re lightweight, fit snugly over your ears and you get an impressive 30 hours of playback for a two-hour charge.
3. Sony h.ear on Wireless NC: £219.95, John Lewis
Here’s an ultra-sleek new pair from Sony, one of the first to deliver the brand’s typically high-resolution, quality sound in wireless form. While the colourful version of these could be compared to Beats, these are nowhere near as bass-heavy. You get relatively even, clear audio with a good soundscape – perfect for pop, indie or electro. Connection via Bluetooth is easy to set up and the connection strength itself is superb. Sound quality without a Sony smartphone (which you need to use the high-resolution format) was still excellent, and the over-ear cups have active noise-cancellation, which is impressively effective.
4. Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless: £329.95, John Lewis
With their leather and aluminium styling, these are very fancy-looking headphones. They’re also some of the best wireless on-ears I’ve listened to as the connection remains steady when you’re out and about. I prefer a bit more of a kick than these provide, and they’re not as good at drowning out ambient noise either. But the sound quality is undeniably good and works well for shorter listening sessions. You manually pair them with Bluetooth on your phone, which is simple enough, but you have to reconnect each time you use them, which can feel like a bit of a faff. You can just use the provided cable instead of the wireless technology. Still, for the more design-conscious audiophile, they’re perfect.
5. Beats Solo2 Luxe Edition: £169.95, Apple
I’ve always been a bit sceptical about Apple's Beats but there’s surely a reason you see so many people wearing them. They feature the sound fans will have come to expect: the classic heavy bass, but with some fine-tuning made for additional clarity, so they’re good if you’re into hip hop, R&B or dance music. The ear cups fit comfortably over your ears and the light, streamlined design makes these suitable for extended use, while the bass is as strong as ever. With the colour-matched RemoteTalk cable you can change tracks, adjust volume and take calls without reaching for your phone. These are obviously best-suited for iPhone, iPad or iPod users but I also tested it with a Samsung Galaxy, for which the sound quality was still pretty good. They come in eight bold colours plus two designs including, inexplicably, a Hello Kitty version.
6. Phonaudio 200s: £209, Phonaudio
The new kid on the block, Phonaudio has just launched a pair of headphones to coincide with OnBlackheath festival in London and is hoping to compete with some of the big dogs. These have impressively good sound quality, with a deeper bass than some of the other pairs (apart from the Beats), and work well for blocking outside noise. They’re made from super light “plastic titanium”, which means they don’t feel as solid as some but you barely notice you’re wearing them. We liked the multifunction button that lets you pause tracks and answer calls on the go, as well as the voice command feature. The price might seem too high to tempt you away from a more tried and tested pair, but it's excellent to see innovation outside of the leading industry brands.
7. Shure SRH1540: £425, Amazon
A gorgeous marriage of comfort and high quality audio, the SRH1540s make few compromises and epitomise the “ideal sound” the brand is constantly seeking to achieve in its headphones. While sound quality is highly subjective, these have something to please everyone. The bass is potent but never over the top for the music you’re playing, and synths and symbols have sophisticated textures that ring out with as much clarity as a live performance. This was the biggest pair I tried on – they are seriously huge and wouldn’t look out of place in a recording studio, yet they’re incredibly light – some of the smaller pairs I tried were a lot heavier, and are clearly made for everyday listening. They don’t have much in the way of active noise isolation before you start playing music, but once you press ‘Play’, the world outside shuts up.
If you're on a budget and want something to take with you everywhere, without compromising on sound, you can't do much better than the Sennheiser Momentums. The Marshall headphones are good value for money but best suited for those into particular genres (rock, indie and alternative sound excellent with this pair), while the Shure headphones, while at the top end of a respectable budget, are fantastic all-rounders that won’t fail to deliver on performance.
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