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Wired headphones offer portability and simplicity — you should always opt for them. Between wired and wireless Wired vs. Wireless Peripherals: What You Really Need to Know Wired vs. Wireless Peripherals: What You Really Need to Know Not all devices are equal. There are some things you need to know before deciding between wired or wireless. Sometimes wireless is a no-brainer -- or it could be the worst move you make. Read More , cordless devices cost more. And there’s a reason for that.

The Advantages of Wired Headphones

So which headphones are right for you? It comes down to the features you need 10 Terms You Should Know to Identify the Best Headphones 10 Terms You Should Know to Identify the Best Headphones In this guide we'll cut through the jargon and show you what the key headphone specifications actually mean, and why — or if — they matter. Read More  and your budget How To Make Sure You Buy The Best Headphones For Your Budget How To Make Sure You Buy The Best Headphones For Your Budget How do you determine the "best" pair of headphones then? Here are some things to keep in mind before you commit to a purchase. Read More . Thankfully, despite the number of available options, choosing one doesn’t have to be difficult.

I only explore headphones in this article, not headsets (which include microphones). I cover four kinds of headphones: in-ear, on-ear, over-ear, and noise-cancelling. Each category is divided into three tiers (budget, enthusiast, and audiophile Are You an Audiophile? These 10 Questions Will Reveal the Truth Are You an Audiophile? These 10 Questions Will Reveal the Truth You might think you are an audiophile, but in reality very few music lovers tick all of the necessary boxes. Are you really an audiophile? Or are you just a great pretender? Read More ). Let’s get started.

In-Ear Wired Headphones

In-ear headphones, or earbuds, offer portability. They’re useful for everything from relaxing to running around your neighborhood — though fitness buffs may want to invest in sports earphones.

Budget: Panasonic ErgoFit (CA, UK)

The Panasonic ErgoFit costs little, but you wouldn’t know it if someone on the street just handed one to you. As you might expect from its name, the ErgoFit offers comfort without sacrificing sound quality.

At this price, you’re mostly hoping to get one that sounds halfway decent and won’t chafe your ears, making the ErgoFit the absolute best for what it costs. Just be careful with it because it isn’t exactly durable.

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Enthusiast: Marshall Mode (CA, UK)

Marshall Mode In-Ear Headphones, Black/White (4090939) Marshall Mode In-Ear Headphones, Black/White (4090939) 9MM Driver Buy Now At Amazon $48.53

Most people aren’t willing to spend more than $50 on a pair of earbuds. If you’re tired of missing audio frequencies, you’ll need to enter this price range. There aren’t many alternatives that can beat the sound quality of the Marshall Mode.

With a balanced profile, you receive access to a wider range of frequencies. On top of that, the Marshall Mode throws in a bit of bass boost. Bass boost makes your music feel fuller. It’s comfortable, durable, and doesn’t distort your audio. The Marshall Mode offers a power option for any audiophile.

Audiophile: Optoma NuForce HEM6 (CA)

NuForce HEM6 Reference Class Hi-Res In-Ear Headphones with Triple Balanced Armature Drivers NuForce HEM6 Reference Class Hi-Res In-Ear Headphones with Triple Balanced Armature Drivers THREE LATEST Hi-Resolution Knowles Balanced Armature Drivers for an immersive performance. Buy Now At Amazon $280.00

At just shy of $400, the Optoma NuForce HEM6 is the definition of premium luxury. The main selling point is its triple driver design, though you can opt for a single or double driver alternative (to save money) or the quadruple driver HEM8 (if you have money to burn).

Included with the Marshall Mode are premium features. In addition to the headphones, you get get the following: two detachable cables (one with a microphone, one without), an airtight and watertight case for safe travel, a tool for cleaning, a set of super comfortable ear tips, and a 3.5mm-to-6.3mm adapter.

On-Ear Wired Headphones

On-ear headphones are exactly what they sound like: they sit over your ears without fully covering them. As a result, they tend to press your ears against your skull. On-ear headphones compromise between in-ear headphones (portable but subpar sound quality) and over-ear headphones (too heavy but best sound quality).

Budget: Skullcandy Grind (CA, UK)

Skullcandy Grind On-Ear Headphones with Built-In Mic and Remote, Black Skullcandy Grind On-Ear Headphones with Built-In Mic and Remote, Black TAPTECH - A button on the outside of the ear cup lets you take calls, play or pause and switch tracks easily. Buy Now At Amazon Too low to display

I’m amazed that a set of headphones, whether on-ear or not, can be this cheap yet sound so good. Never have I bought a pair of $40 headphones that I found impressive, but the Skullcandy Grind costs a bit less than that and has some of the most positive reviews I’ve ever seen in this price range.

It even has a side button that you can use to pause or play tracks, switch between tracks, and even take incoming calls. The material on the ear pads does leave something to be desired, but even so, there’s no doubt about it: the Grind offers superb value.

Enthusiast: Grado SR80e Prestige (CA, UK)

Grado SR80e Prestige Series Headphones Grado SR80e Prestige Series Headphones Upgraded driver design Buy Now At Amazon $99.00

Though the Grado SR80e Prestige was released back in 2014, it’s still on our radar today. It has a sleek and compact design (though blemished slightly by the prominent text on the cups), it’s very comfortable, and you can tell right away that it’s a well-made product.

The sound produced by the SR80e is great from low notes to high notes, even through the middle notes. Its audio profile is excellent regardless of volume level. Just note that the cans are open-backed, so you’ll be able to hear everything going on around you even as you listen.

Audiophile: Beyerdynamic T51i (CA, UK)

Beyerdynamic T51i Portable Headphones, Silver/Black Beyerdynamic T51i Portable Headphones, Silver/Black 3-button Apple remote control and microphone for smart phone and media playback, Apple compatible Buy Now At Amazon $194.98

Beyerdynamic is known for producing good stuff, and the Beyerdynamic T51i is no exception. It may not be one of their best offerings, but it’s hard to think of another set of on-ear headphones in the $200 range that sound as good as these from bass to treble.

It also comes with a three-button Apple remote and microphone (for taking calls and controlling media playback), a nylon carrying case, a 3.5mm-to-6.3mm adapter, and an adapter for non-Apple devices.

Over-Ear Wired Headphones

Over-ear headphones tend to produce the best sound quality, if only because the circumaural cups are great at isolating ambient noise (but only when the cups are closed-back). If you’re worried about the stuffiness and dampness of over-ear headphones, opt for ones with open-back cups (which won’t be as good at isolating noise).

None of these are noise-cancelling headphones. For that, you’ll want to skip ahead to the next section.

Budget: Sennheiser HD 202 II (CA, UK)

Sennheiser HD 202 II Professional Headphones (Black) Sennheiser HD 202 II Professional Headphones (Black) Ideal for DJ's and audio pros,Total harmonic distortion (THD): Buy Now At Amazon $24.50

The Sennheiser HD 202 II is, in a word, impressive. You shouldn’t expect top-grade performance out of it, but c’mon — I can’t think of another pair of headphones at this price point that can produce audio that sounds even half as good. Can you?

The sound is decent, especially in the lower notes, and the ear pads are detachable, which is fantastic for cleaning and for when you wear them out and need replacements. The cord is 10 feet long but comes with a handy wind-up clip for the excess length. If I were on a budget, I wouldn’t consider anything else.

Enthusiast: Audio-Technica ATH-M50X (CA, UK)

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones Critically acclaimed sonic performance praised by top audio engineers and pro audio reviewers Buy Now At Amazon $137.95

Audio-Technica makes all kinds of fantastic audio gear that are worth their price and the Audio-Technica ATH-M50X is no exception. It’s one of the best products they’ve ever put out, and it’s regularly used by professionals even though it’s a consumer-grade set of headphones.

One of the best parts about the ATH-M50X is its exceptional noise isolation. These were, after all, designed as studio monitors — so if you want perfect audio without any distracting background or ambient noise and at a reasonable price, this is what you want.

Audiophile: Sony MDR-1A (CA, UK)

Sony MDR1A Premium Hi-Res Stereo Headphones (Black) Sony MDR1A Premium Hi-Res Stereo Headphones (Black) Sound Reproduction up to 100 kHz, 40 mm driver units with ALCP for articulate audio reproduction, 4-conductor cable for better signal separation and resulting sound quality, Ergonomic ear pads for powerful response and long-term comfort Buy Now At Amazon $298.00

If you’re looking for something a little better than the ATH-M50X and you’re willing to pay about double the price, the Sony MDR-1A is a solid choice. It delivers excellent sound with maximum comfort and is built such that it feels good to use.

Noise-Cancelling Wired Headphones

A lot of people hear “noise canceling” and immediately think that these headphones will block out everything. Unfortunately, that’s not true. When active, they can block out certain kinds of sounds such as background and ambient noises, but you may still hear loud conversations, buses driving by, etc. It can also reduce audio fidelity while active.

Also, while budget noise-cancelling headphones exist, many of them aren’t very good and therefore aren’t worth mentioning. As such, we’re only going to highlight a higher-end option.

Audiophile: Bose QuietComfort 20 (CA, UK)

Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones, Apple Devices, Black Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones, Apple Devices, Black Ideal for iPod, iPhone and iPad Buy Now At Amazon $249.00

For top-notch consumer-grade noise cancellation, you really can’t go wrong with the QuietComfort series. The Bose QuietComfort 20 is the in-ear model, and in-ear models truly are the most effective when you need to block out as much noise as possible. Plus, this one is very comfortable.

The sound quality is only decent — that tends to be the case with noise-cancelling headphones — but it’s far from disappointing, so these should suffice for all but the pickiest of audiophiles. After all, if you’re buying a noise-cancelling set, you can’t expect to have your cake and eat it too (without spending a LOT more cash).

Making Your Wired Headphones Last

Wired headphones are obviously pricey, so make sure you practice good habits and take good care of them so that they don’t break prematurely This Is Why Your Headphones Keep Breaking This Is Why Your Headphones Keep Breaking I can’t be the only one frustrated by the constant breaking of my headphones, earbuds, and pretty much anything else that has wiring, right? There are few feelings in the world that are worse than... Read More . A quality set of cans should last many years if you aren’t rough and reckless.

If they do happen to break for some reason, consider fixing them by hand How to Fix Broken Headphones How to Fix Broken Headphones Despite having a reasonable pair of Sennheisers and looking after them, my headphones broke recently — like they always do. Rather than replace them, I decided to repair my headphones. Here's how. Read More before dropping a wad of cash on a replacement set.

And depending on how much you care about the absolute quality of your audio, you may want to supplement with a headphone amplifier What Is a Headphone Amp and Do I Need One? What Is a Headphone Amp and Do I Need One? If you're serious about music, you may be disappointed by the audio quality your mobile device manages -- particularly when paired with high-end headphones. The solution? A headphone amplifier. Read More . It’s overkill for most folks, so we don’t recommend one unless you know that you’ll benefit from it.

When you buy wired headphones, do you look at expensive or budget devices? Are there any other wired headphones out there that you think deserve to be on this list? Let us know in a comment below!

Image Credit: MDR-1A via Sony.com

  1. Steve
    October 21, 2016 at 5:31 am

    the ATH-900X is r/headphones subreddit best kept secret. much wider soundstage & more fidelity and can often be found at or below the M50X MRSP. For reference I own both. I know this isn't the end all be all list but thought it was worth a mention :)

  2. Robert Bryant
    September 26, 2016 at 6:15 am

    Almost all headphone speakers are manufactured by a factory in china whether the cans sell for $20 or $500, the speakers are the same. You pay extra for name brand, looks, design, heavier plastic, paint, chromed metal/plastic, better quality cord and and any bragging the retailer says about their product. The shape of the cup inside plays a major part in how headphones sound. I have heard $15 no-brand headphones that sound incredible and $160 big-brand phones that sounded horrible! Source: Decades of disassembly, study and repairing of headphones and audio equipment. Hundreds of hours of internet research.

    • Joel Lee
      September 29, 2016 at 1:09 am

      Thanks Robert, that's good to know! You're definitely right that price does not always correlate to product quality. If you remember what those $15 no-brand headphones were, I'd love to know!

      • Robert Bryant
        September 29, 2016 at 6:31 am

        Actually I do! Sold by Walmart around 20-25 years ago for $14.95 and purchased for just-get-rid-of-them price of $3.89, I bought four. Very low quality, all plastic parts would break and the cord would oxidize and open within years, but they sound surprisingly good for kick-arounds. Made by Cata Technology (China) Model 1261. I can no longer find this Co. on the web but years ago they had 50+ pictures of the headphones they manufactured and the pics looked exactly like many different low to mid price phones sold in the U.S. --minus the brand names of course!

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