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headphone reviewsOwning a quality pair of headphones is very important for anyone who wants or needs to listen to music by themselves on a regular basis. In fact, they’re more important than the device actually playing the music itself, whether it be a home stereo system, an mp3 player, or a smartphone. A decent pair of headphones can make up for a trashy player.

However, headphones do not have to cost a fortune. Sure, audiophiles who can detect the slightest flaw in playback will need to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars acquiring all the equipment needed to deliver that perfect experience. But the majority of us, who are proudly anything but audiophiles, can spend a small amount of money on equipment that will suffice. And with no Dr. Dre Beats in sight.

Please note all the prices are as listed on Amazon.com and were correct at the time of writing.

Audio-Technica ATH-M30

headphone reviews

The ATH-M30 from Audio-Technica are closed-back stereo headphones designed for home users and studio engineers. The cushioned headband, large soft earpads, and lightweight design should ensure comfort even after long use. Sound quality is superb but these aren’t listed as being noise-canceling. Build quality is great, with a robust feel throughout.

Tech: 40mm driver, 20-20,000Hz frequency response, 100dB sensitivity.
Price: The list price is $119.99 but these can be bought for around $45.

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Sennheiser HD203

quality headphones

The HD203s from Sennheiser are closed-back stereo headphones designed primarily for home use. These are quite comfortable for short periods of time but can start to annoy after being worn for longer periods. Sound quality is good, with clear, clean, and subtle definitions between the low, mid, and high ends. Build quality is good if not a little plasticky.

Tech: 40mm driver, 18-18,000Hz frequency response, 115dB sensitivity.
Price: The list price is $49.95 but these can be bought for around $38 on Amazon.

JVC HARX700

quality headphones

The HARX700s from JVC are closed-back stereo headphones again designed mainly for use at home thanks to their bulky nature. These are very comfortable to wear even for long periods, although your ears will become warm and sweaty. Sound quality is fantastic, although some users suggest they need breaking in to truly shine. Build quality is just fine.

Tech: 50mm driver, 8-25,000Hz frequency response, 105dB sensitivity.
Price: The list price is $59.95 but these can be bought for around $32 on Amazon.

Sony MDR-XB300

quality headphones

The MDR-XB300s from Sony are closed-back stereo headphones that are big and bulky but ultra-comfortable as a result. The ear pads are very soft to the point you can forget you’re wearing headphones at all. Sound quality is great, but these are all about the bass at the expense of the low and mid ranges. Build quality is solid, and these should last a long time.

Tech: 30mm driver, 5-22,000Hz frequency response, 100dB sensitivity.
Price: The list price is $49.99 but these can be bought for around $32.

Koss PortaPro

cheap headphones

The PortaPros from Koss are collapsible stereo headphones that sit on, rather than over, your ears. They have been on the market for many years but still hold their own against new contenders. These are the only small, portable headphones on this list, but both the sound quality and build quality are good enough given the type of user they’re being aimed at.

Tech: 30mm driver, 15-25,000Hz frequency response, 101dB sensitivity.
Price: The list price is $49.99 but these can be bought for around $32.

What About The Rappers?!

headphone reviews

I wrote this article after researching headphones to purchase for myself, and I ended up buying one of those listed above. What really struck me was how expensive the named brands are, and by named brands I mean those named after rappers. Dr. Dre Beats are everywhere, but for several hundred dollars you’re getting headphones that are arguably only equal in quality to ones many times less expensive.

If you need to be seen to be wearing headphones backed by Dre, Ludacris, or RZA then that’s up to you, but you need to be aware that you’re not necessarily getting the best bang for your buck. I enjoy mocking Apple fanboys every time they spend a fortune on a computer that’s available in another form for a lot less money, but they look positively sensible compared to those buying headphones purely for the name that’s written on the side.

Conclusions

The five pairs of headphones listed here will all serve you well, and there are many more at around the same price point that will suffice. Push your budget closer to $100 and the options grow considerably. As always when buying new hardware of any kind be sure to read a range of reviews from different sources, and if possible also head into a store to try those on your shortlist out for yourself.

Image Credits: Five Wun o Clothing, Poolie

  1. Floss
    October 6, 2016 at 8:59 am

    People disappoint me when they talk too negatively on headphones made by rappers because of the price. Scrutiny is always welcome there for sure and always for sure but there's a thin line between being really right or just overly opinionated in a bias manner. As for the beats. The sound is impeccable. The price y feature is the principality of it as well as the fashion appeal. the very distinct and

  2. AZMBNZ
    April 18, 2016 at 5:20 pm

    I was tracking well until you decide to hate on Apple users. You lost all credibility as a tech reviewer. I would agree that any purchase, solely based on image, is not a wise decision. Yet, you tend to enjoy "mocking Apple fanboys" as if all Apple product adopters are only purchasing an image. It seems you are perfectly fine in bed with the "image" of being an apple hater. Your credibility would benefit from giving up the strong bias you have, especially when reviewing technology.

    • Dave Parrack
      April 18, 2016 at 5:26 pm

      I do enjoy mocking Apple fanboys though. Because I believe spending more than $1,000 on a Mac shows that you have been suckered by marketing.

      I'm not an Apple hater, and I myself own an iPad Air. It's that particular breed of fanboys that I personally can't abide, and having an opinion -- even if it differs from yours -- is perfectly fine.

  3. Dave
    November 24, 2012 at 10:58 pm

    Nice article, I'm always looking for great headphones at a good price. The author is correct, those Beats headphones are ripoffs. I've been doing a lot of research lately and I found that your next headphones need to have a Comfortable Fit, Crisp Clear Sound With Bass, Long Cord and Noise Isolation. You don't necessarily need multiple drivers to get a great sound. Here is a great reference if you're looking for earbuds for the best bang for your buck http://www.frugal5.com/Best-Earbuds-For-The-Money

  4. Edmar Diego
    September 14, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    is skullcandy the same quality as those mentioned?

  5. alexister
    August 29, 2012 at 4:02 am

    Have anyone mention Superlux 668b? I've heard it's critically acclaimed by some reviewers.

  6. adlaj
    August 9, 2012 at 11:12 pm

    that's very interestic comparition. From my own research I found also great sound and comfy pair of cans - more for home use than outside. Samson SR850 cheers, wish more comparitions like this one

  7. RIchard
    August 2, 2012 at 11:03 am

    I bought Audio Technica ATH-M50 and the sound is pretty nice indeed, but they are not comfortable at all. I regret not having other, less expensive, but morecomfortable options :/

  8. Stephanie Woods
    August 1, 2012 at 11:55 pm

    I love the sony headset I bought last Christmas. It was the most expensive I spent on headsets too for 20 bucks.

  9. Bila Box
    August 1, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    i found that Sennheiser HD203 looks good than the others

  10. Preston Steffey
    August 1, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    never been impressed by beats. besides i think PortaPro have a cool retro look to them.

  11. Bulilit Toralballa
    August 1, 2012 at 7:04 am

    Helpful. Thanks!

  12. Lambvolution
    August 1, 2012 at 3:24 am

    i'm use sennheiser 202 and the performance is good

  13. Timothy Emery
    July 31, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    i have always wanted a pair of Bose but there to much money

  14. David Mcleod
    July 31, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    Thanks Dave, you just saved me research time I can spend playing Angry Birds or something else constructive. Don't worry about seeing me with Dr.Dre's, I'd write my name on them with magic marker before that happened. Wouldn't want anyone to think I took his headphones??

    • Dave Parrack
      August 1, 2012 at 11:59 pm

      That Dre fella sure owns a lot of headphones. You'd think he would have beefed his security up by now as they keep getting stolen. Enjoy Angry Birds ;)

  15. Ellen Odza
    July 31, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    Some of these look really good. I must admit, I've got a pair of Bose noise-cancelling headphones, because I spend lots of time hanging out in waiting areas with my laptop while my kids are in one after-school activity or another. The Bose block a reasonable amount of noise on their own, even when I'm not listening to audio material, so I can focus on work and ignore the other parents and kids. But if I didn't have that particular need, I'd definitely be looking at one of the ones here.

  16. Jerick Dilla
    July 31, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    Well as long as you're not an audiophile, anything less than $50 is already a treasure. Well, for me, all I require is good bass support, clear audio delivery which can support up to 48000 kHz of audio and maybe comfortable while wearing.

  17. Daniel Voyles
    July 31, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    Definitely not a audiophile, so my $20 ATH-M2X will suffice.

  18. Hendrik van Staveren
    July 31, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    Where to buy the Koss PortaPro for around $32?

  19. Emma Evony
    July 31, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    I've never been one for massive headphones as I find they uncomfortably overheat my ears. Howeer I've heard very good things about Base headphones though. Sad to see they weren't listed.

  20. Harron Subhani
    July 31, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    A good share.

  21. Jahnezzy Eltime
    July 31, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    IM GON A B FOR MY RECORDING STUDIO

  22. Sebastian Valero
    July 31, 2012 at 12:50 pm
    • Dave Parrack
      August 1, 2012 at 11:57 pm

      Thanks for the recommendation :)

  23. abdo Elborady
    July 31, 2012 at 10:01 am

    thanks for the list it was helpfull

  24. pyrextv
    July 31, 2012 at 12:08 am

    im get those first headphones

  25. Mishaal
    July 31, 2012 at 12:01 am

    nice

  26. Steven Kim
    July 30, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    thanks for the info!!

  27. Rob Long
    July 30, 2012 at 6:03 am

    The Koss ones look like they are from the 80's

    • Dave Parrack
      August 1, 2012 at 11:57 pm

      That's because they are :)

  28. Rutul Parikh
    July 29, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    This is really helpful article. I was thinking about buying one.

  29. Dave
    July 28, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    Great review, looking for a good cheap pair, like the Technika if I can find them for $45 and deliver to the U.K.

    • Yudono Ra
      July 28, 2012 at 10:20 pm

      try Amazon website :), i found them there

    • Gaurav Rajasekar
      July 28, 2012 at 10:42 pm

      The M30s are only available as cheap as 53 pounds on Amazon.co.uk. Only M20s less than that.

  30. Gaurav Rajasekar
    July 28, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    Nice list, especially the Audio Technica ones that a friend recently bought. He spent more than the list price though. Any idea where I can find those at the reduced price you quoted? Would be very grateful.

    • Yudono Ra
      July 28, 2012 at 10:20 pm

      i found them on Amazon website, u should check it out :)

      • Gaurav Rajasekar
        July 28, 2012 at 10:28 pm

        Thanks, I checked Amazon a while back and found a listing for like $110..... should have looked harder cos there is indeed one for $40.

      • Gaurav Rajasekar
        July 28, 2012 at 10:33 pm

        Now I know why it cost him more, my friend bought a pair of M50s.

  31. Nizar
    July 28, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    err, you said that "The list price is $119.99 but these can be bought for around $45.". is there any way to get it that cheap? i mean, i look for it everywhere but they all sell ATH-M30 for $119, not $45 :(

    • Dave Parrack
      August 1, 2012 at 11:56 pm

      Amazon.com had all these at the prices quoted at the time of writing :)

  32. Muhammad Ahmad
    July 28, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    I really like this collection. Please include any of these headphones to giveaway.

    • Dave Parrack
      August 1, 2012 at 11:56 pm

      I'll make inquiries on your behalf, Muhammad.

  33. Rich Wyatt
    July 28, 2012 at 5:25 am

    Sennheiser is quality gear, Yo!

  34. Emmet McKenna
    July 27, 2012 at 3:32 pm
  35. Halim3050
    July 27, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    Gorgeous stuff but still kinda expensive if you ask me plus

    where is the wireless headsets !!

  36. Megan-Harley Hayden
    July 27, 2012 at 11:19 am

    great review, I had a pair of the Koss PortaPro for years and they were great, especially as I do a lot of traveling , so they're well suited for those who have a daily commute! Would love to see an article like this about earphones as I just cannot find a good pair!

    • Dave Parrack
      August 1, 2012 at 11:55 pm

      I will look into earphones but they don't tend to have these out on display to test because of the risk of infection, so it's a tricky one.

  37. Victor Kang
    July 27, 2012 at 3:57 am

    Helpful

  38. Michael Smolkin
    July 27, 2012 at 1:44 am

    Thanks for the review. If possible, like Mr. Jordan mentioned, could you find and review headphones with a built-in out-of-your-way-when-you-don't-need-it microphone? When, no if, my Sennheiser HD201s ever break, I'll probably be buying the Audio Technica M30s (unless I can find one's with equivalent sound quality and a mic at a comparable price). Completely unrelated, dow do I change my name on MUO? I don't really want it showing the same name I use on facebook. Can I use a username, etc?

  39. Elijah Swartz
    July 27, 2012 at 1:07 am

    When someone mentions Beats by Dr. Dre headphones, the first thing that comes to mind is this quote. "There's a sucker born every minute." It seems like people do no research when buying things these days. It is astounding to pay that much to get muddy bass. They are good headphones, but not at all for the price range they go for.

    The Monoprice Premium Hi-Fi DJ Style (8323) are popular for a budget pair of headphones. They are a rebrand of the Kicker HP541. They come with two sets of cables of different length. Those cables can detach from the headphones so you don't need to worry about the wires getting pulled. Superlux makes good headphones as well for that price range. The Panasonic RP-HTF600-S use the same drivers as the JVC HARX700 and is slightly cheaper.

    Also, it should be worth mentioning that humans really can't hear outside the 20-20,000 range. I don't think traditional musical instruments goes outside those frequencies, if I am recalling correctly. Those numbers shouldn't be a gauge of quality the quality of the sound. Also, you could have mentioned the why open and closed headphones excel at. Open tends to have larger sound stage which allows you to hear minute details in video games, where closed give you isolate and more of a "fun" bass which may be better for your music preference. It might be beneficial to list the cable length, and whether they are supraural, binaural, or circumaural. Long cables are good for home theater use and shorter better for a computer or portable media player. Supraural, binaural, or circumaural regard how the headphones fit on a person's head. Listing the warranty would also be nice. One of the perks of the Koss PortaPros is that they come with a lifetime warranty.

    For real audiophile information, you should browse an audiophile website such as head-fi.org.
    Here is a good guide of many headphones reviewed. Please keep in mind that people such as audiophiles and audio engineers are often are more interested in flat (neutral) sound which cheap headphones won't have. Most normal people don't like the flat (neutral) sound.
    http://www.head-fi.org/t/433318/shootout-102-portable-headphones-reviewed-panasonic-rp-htf600-added-04-29-12

    Also, does MakeUseOf update their manuals? I skimmed the "audiophile" manual and some websites listed there no longer exist.

    • Dave Parrack
      August 1, 2012 at 11:53 pm

      I think you're spot-on with your views on Beats. A little research would save people so much money. This article is intended for non-audiophiles, but thanks for the link that people who are that way inclined will find useful :)

      I'll inquire about the updates to manuals but as far as I know they're correct at the time of publishing and then left as is.

  40. jamesbirtwistle
    July 27, 2012 at 12:13 am

    I like my Grado SR60i's quite a bit. Nice range, bass isn't overpowering. Not quite under $50 but still a steal at $80.

  41. Richard Borkovec
    July 26, 2012 at 10:46 pm

    I love to see an article like this, but for earbuds/earphones. It seems the cheap ones are either good or totally suck. Personally I just got a pair of Monoprice 8320's, and they are awesome. And at $10, you can't beat the price!

    As for the headphones, I've only ever heard good things about the Sennheiser brand.

    • jamesbirtwistle
      July 27, 2012 at 1:42 am

      I just got a pair as well. Best $7.11 I have ever spent!

    • Tom Sobieski
      July 28, 2012 at 1:12 pm

      trouble with buds is that the only pair that actually fit my ears were a set my kids gave me as a present, and the cost over $200 ( etymotics)

    • Dave Parrack
      August 1, 2012 at 11:50 pm

      It's trickier doing earbuds because I can't test them so readily, but I'll look into it :)

  42. Lee
    July 26, 2012 at 9:27 pm

    I got a pair of Sennheiser HD203's when I bought my iPod Touch from Newegg. They definitely start to feel uncomfortable after a while of using them, but overall they're pretty nice.

  43. Joe Johaneman
    July 26, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    I'd really like to see an article about the best sports headphones. Also, an article that talks about what to look for in headphones (What exactly do all the specs mean, for example).

    • Yang Yang Li
      July 26, 2012 at 8:43 pm

      Do you mean earphones? I have only seen 1 or 2 sport headphones. Personally, I would go with sport earphones because headphones would be difficult to keep on my head. I do some strenous exercises. :-)
      If you are looking for something to check out, Polk makes great sounding sports earphones.

      • Joe Johaneman
        July 26, 2012 at 9:17 pm

        I'll look into Polk. I bought my partner Sennheiser Sports Headphones and he loves them (http://www.amazon.com/o/ASIN/B0034L3G8U?tag=adapas02-20)

        I have an old pair of Sony Sports Headphones. I like them, but not as much as my partner's Sennheisers, lol.

        I don't like earbuds or in ear headphones. I've very narrow ear canals and they just fall out constantly. :-/

    • Dave Parrack
      July 26, 2012 at 8:57 pm

      Great suggestions, thanks Joe :)

  44. Luis Gomez
    July 26, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    Dr. Dre headphones are the most overpriced bad-sounding headphones ever!!!.

    I grow up trying to get the best sound possible of my music given a modest budget.

    For music enjoyment I personally use Sennheiser HD25-1 II.

    • Yang Yang Li
      July 26, 2012 at 8:40 pm

      "Dr. Dre headphones are the most overpriced bad-sounding headphones ever!!!"
      - That is what I thought in the beginning as well. Now my views on Beats has changed. The latest versions are much better so you should give them another try. Beats Audio makes headphones that are high quality and sound great. Do not dismiss them just because the brand is heavily marketed.
      Beats are also the best for listening to pop, rap, and hip-hop. The bass on those phones is crushing.

      • Luis Gomez
        July 26, 2012 at 11:43 pm

        You give me an internet point here. Loudspeakers and headphones are supposed to be as flat as possible. Frequency enhancement, correction or treatment has to be done before the sounding device.

        If I want extra bass I use an equalizer, either physical (like my Yamaha EQ-32) or software (built-in in most MP3 players).

        I do agree with you that branding has to be dismissed in order to make a intelligent purchase. When I hear the Dre my very personal review its that it competes with the 100-150 range headphones, not the >$300.

        Regards.

  45. Gian Singh
    July 26, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    Koss PortaPro looks really wierd

    • Dave Parrack
      July 26, 2012 at 8:56 pm

      That's retro styling! ;)

  46. Ken
    July 26, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    Sounds like you haven't done much research or you'd know that equivalent comps from other companies are almost the same price as a Mac.

    Not in all cases but when it comes to laptops, finding the equivalent spec'd machines without it falling apart on you in the next 6 months is more of a challenge than you know.

    • Dave Parrack
      July 26, 2012 at 8:56 pm

      Hmm, this article is about headphones. I can only assume you're referring to one line - "I enjoy mocking Apple fanboys every time they spend a fortune on a computer that’s available in another form for a lot less money" - which is one I stand by. Sure, ultrabooks are pricey, but Windows laptops are often 2 or 3 times less expensive than a Macbook. Mine has lasted almost 3 years being used for 12 hours a day.

    • Tom Sobieski
      July 28, 2012 at 1:08 pm

      Headphones, the articles is about headphones. Focus Ken, focus !

      • Dave Parrack
        August 1, 2012 at 11:49 pm

        Perhaps Mac users have trouble focusing. No idea why!

  47. Elaheh Sadegh
    July 26, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    I got one Dr Dre as my birthday gift , but all other 5 headphones are great, specially I like "Koss PortaPro" design.The "Sony" seems light and easy to carry everywhere too. with tight budget these headphone are really perfect.

    • Dave Parrack
      July 26, 2012 at 8:53 pm

      If someone bought me a pair I would happily accept them ;)

      • Tom Sobieski
        July 28, 2012 at 1:06 pm

        Can I interest you in a "vintage" set of Pro 4A's?

  48. Ronn Jordan
    July 26, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    I would like to see the top 5 headsets /w.mic for under $50.00, I do an online radio show and that would help me out a bunch. Thanks!!!

    • Dave Parrack
      July 26, 2012 at 5:41 pm

      Noted, thanks for the suggestion. Will do some research and try to put together an article in the near-future :)

    • Brian
      July 26, 2012 at 10:17 pm

      How about 5 WIRELESS headsets?!?!? I would love to buy a pair since my wife falls asleep 20 minutes into every single movie we watch.

      • Matt
        August 16, 2012 at 1:31 am

        Hi Brian! I'd advise the Sennheiser RS120 Headphones. They seem to be the best budget wireless headphones out there.

  49. Yang Yang Li
    July 26, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    A very good lineup.
    I have tried the Sennheiser, not the exact model though. The sound quality was decent and it was comfortable. Listening for longer periods made my ears heat up but not to the point of being unbearable.
    The Koss Portables are great. They feature a unique design that turns heads and packs into a neat package. The sound is surprising coming from an ultra portable. It has crisp highs and accurate reproduction. As expected, the lows are not that good.
    One addition I feel should be on this list is the Sony MDR-NC7. They are exceptionally comfortable and portable. The sound quality is not to be scoffed at. An added bonus is the noise cancelling which Sony claims to block out %87.5 of noise. The noise cancelling also boosts the bass, giving this headphone a wide range. The bass is not overpowering though, it maintains faithful reproduction of high notes at the same time.

    • Dave Parrack
      July 26, 2012 at 5:41 pm

      The MDR-NC7s have mixed reviews, so I went with another Sony set instead. That's the thing though, it really is up to the individual, which is why I recommend everybody tries out different sets in a store if they can.

      • Yang Yang Li
        July 26, 2012 at 8:45 pm

        I just recommend the MDR-NC7s because they make me feel bad for blowing $400 on a pair of headphones.
        The sound quality + noise cancelling impressed me quite a bit.

        • Dave Parrack
          July 26, 2012 at 8:52 pm

          Oh, of course. And I'm grateful for the recommendation :)

  50. Shanterra Bland
    July 26, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    Unfortunately Ive already bought a pair of Beats...

    • Dave Parrack
      July 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm

      Oh dear, I hope you're not offended lol. Out of interest how are you finding them? They're good headphones but they're just no better than some that cost 5 times less money.

      • Tom Sobieski
        July 28, 2012 at 1:05 pm

        BUT, which of these do you consider the bestt bang-for-buck headphones?

        • Samuel
          July 30, 2012 at 7:52 pm

          I do not mind having an online job. Please tell me how do i go about that ?

        • Dave Parrack
          August 1, 2012 at 11:48 pm

          Hmm, they're all good but I personally went for the Sony's because I wanted high volume and a lot of bass to get lost in the music while I worked.

      • Muhammad Ahmad
        July 28, 2012 at 1:34 pm

        I already bought headphones of "Towers T-777" worth 6$. Still working good.

        • Dave Parrack
          August 1, 2012 at 11:47 pm

          If they do the job for you then that's an absolute bargain :)

    • Tom Sobieski
      August 1, 2012 at 6:37 am

      I guess it sucks to be you

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