How to Find the Perfect Pair
When shopping for any technology, it is easy to get swept up in the ever-present weigh-off between price and quality. While one would assume that the more you spend, the better product you get, it is not uncommon for manufacturers to hit the market with a new, flashy product that is more style than it is substance. Headphones are no different. While it is true that cheap (<$20) headphones have bad audio quality and expensive headphones ($200 & up) tend to have great quality, there is a high degree of inconsistency that can make selecting the right pair a real chore.
Here’s the deal: when it comes to headphones, the best ratio between price and quality comes in at around the $100 to $150 mark. While too expensive for the uninterested listener, it is significantly lower than what some of the high end models can get up to. In addition, the sound level at this price range is significantly improved to what is known at prosumer level. This means professional features and performance without the ridiculous price tags.
That’s why we’ve rounded up 6 of the best headphones for under $150 and ranked them based on price, sound quality, and additional features to create a guide that makes selecting the perfect headphones a breeze.
What to Consider when Shopping for Headphones
There is a tremendous variance in sound quality in headphones, even between two models that are selling for the same price. This is the largest factor when considering which headphones are the best. While some headphones are made for specific purposes such as sound mixing and track editing, others are simply made to be affordable with decent sound, and others still are just made to look cool. Finding the right sound quality for you is about selecting a pair of headphones that were designed for the right purpose. Are you the kind of person that likes to take the whole club with you when you go out? Then you’re going to need a pair of headphones that can really bring out that low end. Working on the finishing touches of your friend’s folk album? Chances are you are going to want a pair that can handle the mids and highs more efficiently.
Headphones come in three basic styles.
- In-Ear, also known as ear buds, are designed to sit inside the ear and provide a weightless feel. In-ear headphones are generally the most affordable, but do to their size cannot offer the same level of sound quality as their counterparts.
- Over-Ear headphones are designed to encapsulate the ear entirely, providing the listener with improved noise reduction / cancellation and greater levels of source sound isolation. For professionals working in the studio, these are essential.
- On-Ear headphones rest on the ears themselves, allowing a greater amount of atmospheric sound to enter, as well as prevent the buildup of certain frequencies that can make sound mixing and mastering difficult.
Removable cords have become popular with audiophiles, as they allow periodic replacement of an element that can cause quality degradation over time. In addition it allows you to change the length of your cord based on your needs. Reskinnable Ear Cups allow the replacement of the outer skin of the headphones, meaning that a pair that is becoming worn out can be quickly and inexpensively given new life. It also enables the user to upgrade to more durable and/or comfortable materials if they so desire. Foldability is another important feature to pay attention to. Headphones that live in the studio don’t need to fold as they aren’t going anywhere. On the other hand, the headphones you to work, to school, on a walk across town, these may need to be stored in a backpack and / or pocket, and for this reason it is helpful to be able to reduce their size quickly and efficiently.
Relative newcomer to the gang AKG has kicked off their lifestyle series of headphones with the AKG Y50’s, a pair that is light enough, small enough, and durable enough to become your next pair of everyday carry headphones. They are available in four different colors which increases their value in this capacity, and wear light and easy on the ears making them appropriate for longer listening sessions.
The Y50s are the most modestly priced pair on our list, but with the accessibility comes a reduced ability for noise isolation that makes them inadequate for studio sessions or audio monitoring when professional-level sound quality is required.
The Senheiser HD 4.50 headphones might just be the largest pair of headphones on this list. The HD 4.50 offer active noise cancellation which is not something you can always get in this price range. Engineered with digital devices in mind, the HD 4.50 headphones are capable of adding a richness and crispness to compressed audio files wherever you are.
The HD 4.50 have bluetooth capability with NFC pairing to allow you to connect to your smartphone or device easily. Despite their size, the ear cups were designed a bit small, so if you’ve got big ears these might become uncomfortable after an extended listening period.
For audiophiles looking for a pair of versatile, studio-quality headphones with the comfort of something designed to be worn on the street, the ATH-M50x’s from Audio-Technica are most likely the ones you are looking for. These are true audio monitoring phones, and as such provide incredibly high levels of sound detail as well as a number of features that you will not find on street phones. For instance, a multitude of audio jacks and cord lengths, and a foldability that competes with anything else on the market.
The only thing that would make the ATH-M50x’s a perfect pair of headphones would be the presence of an active noise cancellation system, which is not an incredibly common feature at this price range.
When you combine the striking visual appearance of the ROC headphones with their golden accents, you might assume that Monster is just trying to sell you something that is more style than substance. Fortunately that is not the case with the ROCs, a pair of on-ear headphones that deliver some of the most impressive low-end acoustics of any of its competitors, making it one of the most popular models for EDM style music when the pressing bass is something that you need. You also get a tangle-free coiled cord and re-skinnable ear pads, features not always available on headphones under $150.
The drawbacks: The ROCs is a tightly molded pair of headphones that can cause some discomfort in the 3 to 4 hour range. In addition, they are not the most durable pair of headphones on the market. Being, “Exclusively designed for Cristiano Ronald”, they may have a bit more style than practicality built in.
At the upper end of our price limit sits the Beyerdynamic DT-770-Pro 32’s, a pair of headphones that really demonstrates the kind of sound that is possible from iPhones and digital devices, sources that could not traditionally deliver audiophile-level quality without any kind of amp or signal booster.
The ear cups are luxurious and warm, but incredibly effective at noise isolation so be careful when wearing these walking down the street. If there’s any drawback at all to these, it’s the amount of audio leak, so unless you want to be ‘that guy’ you might want to keep an eye on how high you’re cranking up the volume.
It is not easy to find a pair of headphones that offers as much comfort and sound quality as Grado Labs’ Prestige series headphones, especially considering that they’re available for just under a Benjamin. The oversized ear pads create one of the most comfortable wearing experiences currently available, even more comfortable than many over-ear products.
On-ear style headphones have their drawbacks, however, and the Prestige Series SR80e is no exception. The incoming sound bleed can be a bit distracting for anyone looking to use these for professional audio monitoring. However, this makes them ideal as everyday commuters.