Whether you own a tablet, smartphone or MP3 player, most of us love the convenience of carrying our favourite music with us wherever we go. Unfortunately, we don't all love the sound quality of included headphones - which is why there's a huge market for stylish, comfortable, and superior-sounding earphones.
We've gone through some well-reviewed, high-quality headphones to give you our opinion on whether they're worth trading in your cheap white earbuds for.
Audio Technica Quiet Point ATH-ANC9
Audio Technica’s over-ear headphones promise superior noise-cancelling ability as well as high quality audio performance. The design is pretty standard for headphones – basic black, with large, comfy earpieces and a lightweight headband. The ATH-ANC9 come with three noise-cancelling modes, which can be shuffled between depending on the level of background noise you’ve experiencing.
Listen to music through the ATH-ANC9s with the noise-cancelling feature off, and you’ll find the sound is flat although listenable in a pinch. However, flick the switch and sound becomes richer, with clear vocals and prominent bass free from distortion. The audio quality on both rock and hip-hop tracks is great, although not quite as dynamic as on other models we’ve tried; you may find yourself with the volume up higher than normal if you like your tunes turned up to 11.
RRP: US $349.95 at Audio Technica
Jabra Revo Headphones
The Revo over-ear headphones come with a cable, but also work wirelessly via Bluetooth. The headphones come in a stylish orange, grey and black colour combo, and are incredibly flexible and easy to store compactly, without feeling flimsy. They’re also quite comfortable to wear, despite actually being slightly heavier than their size and appearance would suggest.
Wireless connectivity was a painless experience, but unfortunately using the Jabra Revo headphones touch control pad on either earpiece wasn’t easy to get the hang of. Figuring out how to successfully adjust volume or skip songs took a lot of trial and error. In spite of this gripe, the sound quality of the Revo headphones is great – music has a bassy, exaggerated quality to it, with drums and vocals especially sounding full and multi-dimensional. We mostly tried rock tunes, but the bombastic sound of the Jabra headphones would equally benefit pop and dance tracks.
RRP: US $199.99 at Jabra
As with the Jabra Revo headphones, the Denon model also has its own smartphone app that features an audio player with various EQ presets. The app is optional and free, and may be worth downloading if you want to get the most out of your earphones.
The Denon headphones we looked at feature a very durable feeling, non-tangle silver cord and black in-ear earpieces. The in-ear design is comfortable despite the relatively long earpieces – the foam cushion is pliable and soft and keeps the headphones securely in place.
Sound-wise, the earphones are great, with a detailed sound that really picked up often overlooked elements of a track, such as the hi-hat. We also found it easy to separate the lead and rhythm guitar, which even in well-produced music can come across obscured with low-quality headphones. One of the problems we did notice is that any movement or bumps to the cable was picked up by the earpieces, which could be irritating.
RRP: US $219.99 at Denon
Beats by Dre Tour
Dr Dre’s ‘Beats’ headphone line is aptly named, being founded by a man who infamously assaulted a female journalist by beating and kicking her repeatedly while his bodyguards looked on. Despite being a violent misogynist, the industry has forgiven Dre and his personal audio range has proved extremely popular.
The Beats tour earphones have a vibrant, red-orange flat-cord design will really stand out in a world of white Apple headphones, and best of all, the cable is tangle-free. Similarly to the Denon earphones reviewed above, the in-ear pieces are surprisingly long, but not quite as comfortable. The rubber covering isn’t exactly soft, and despite fitting into the ear well, the earpieces can get uncomfortable after a time, although not the level of discomfort a woman would feel after being repeatedly punched in the face by Dre.
Despite this, the sound quality of the Tour series is what we expected. It’s bass-heavy without being too fuzzy, and both rock and rap/hip-hop was reproduced faithfully and clearly. The drum tones especially sound rich and full, with all the power of a kick in the ribs from Dre in a crowded nightclub. Overall, all the instruments and vocals were crisp, and we could pump the volume up without distortion affecting the sound quality.
RRP: US $149.95 at Apple
Sennheiser CX 685 Sports
Produced in partnership with Adidas, the CX 685 in-ear range is designed especially for use in the gym or on a run. At first glance the design seems awkward, but the ‘slide to fit’ earpieces were actually much more comfortable and secure than expected. The big pro for exercise junkies is that the earphones are sweat and water-resistant, and made from shock-absorbing material – so you can feel confident that a workout won’t ruin your audio accessories.
Sound reproduction was impressive, with a clear, loud sound that didn’t overdo the bass. The brand is promoted as having ‘natural sound reproduction’ and that’s a pretty accurate summation of what you’ll get with the CX 685. Disappointingly, there’s no remote connected to the cable – not even a volume control button – so we can see that being an inconvenience if you’re wishing to adjust sound or pause a track in the middle of a workout. Cable noise may also be an issue, and if you’re running or moving when wearing the earphones it’s something you’ll find it hard to avoid.
RRP: US $69.95 at Sennheiser
Main image credit: Pete Prodoehl at Flickr