My Favorite Headphones, Ranked
Here now is my list of my favorite headphones, in ranked order from most good to least good, along with a few bonus picks. Because everyone loves a good ordered list!
1- Bose QuietComfort 25
I know it’s cool to hate on Bose headphones. People don’t like the sound. They don’t like the price. They think of Bose as some weird Beats competitor. But the truth is much different from this weird, subjective, internet-hate-filled reality we live in.
To wit: Bose headphones are very good. They are the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever had the pleasure of using…that’s saying something, as I have a big head and I wear glasses. It doesn’t matter which model I’ve tried, they’ve all been tremendously comfy and just disappear on my head in pillowy comfort.
The signature Bose sound is also quite good, and if you look at measurement diagrams (and really…maybe don’t start doing that because it’s a hole you’ll never escape), they actually measure really well compared to industry standards. Punchy, well-rendered bass…defined mids…crisp-but-not-harsh highs…what more could you ask for?
I’ve listed the QuietComfort 25 because it’s the flagship, and because of its outstanding noise cancelling technology. I always test out headphones in a moderately loud coffee shop, and the QC 25 is the only model that’s ever truly let me disappear into my work or my beverage, if I don’t want to listen to whatever is going on around me. But, if you don’t need that level of isolation and still want comfort and sound quality, the other models are great also. Start your search with Bose. Check out some demo models in a store to see if you like the comfort. Honestly, it’s okay. It won’t hurt you. I promise!
2- Audio- Technica ATH-M50X
Ah, the internet’s darling. The most popular headphone on Amazon. The one that every critic recommends…except for those few who hate it vehemently.
Lately, this has become a polarizing headphone, but it’s a great one in my opinion. It has long-wearing comfort. It has a bold sound signature with solid bass, emphasized mids, and ringing highs that are just one step back from being too harsh. The soundstage isn’t terribly open…but these were designed for monitoring, so they put the nuances of the sound right in your face.
If you just really want to hear some audio and you don’t care as much about aesthetics, these are a great pick.
BONUS BUDGET ALTERNATIVE — Sennheiser HD 280 Pro
You might have been expecting me to pick the Audio- Technica M40X here…and while that’s a solid headphone, I find it uncomfortable on the top of my head after about an hour. The HD280 is big and clampy and stupid-looking, but I never had the same comfort issues. Plus, it has a similar bold studio-style sound to the M50x’s. And it’s about half the price. But it’s stupid-looking.
3- Hyper X Cloud II/Takstar Pro 80
This headset is like, 99 dollars. Often you can find it for less. The Cloud II in particular is a stupidly good value. It comes with a detachable mic and a USB soundcard, an extra set of velour earpads, and a carrying bag. The Cloud I is also a good value, though the headband padding isn’t as good.
Cloud is a great name for these, because they’re incredibly comfortable. For hours and hours. The earpads get sweaty pretty quickly, but other than that, you’ll experience no comfort issues here(Noticing a pattern to my favorite picks?). They’re just heavy enough not to disappear on your head like Bose headphones do, but they still feel great. They have a solid, slightly-warm-of-neutral sound, but if you’re looking for a great place to jump into the headphone hobby, this is it.
Why did I list multiple names up there? Well, the HyperX Cloud II is actually a rebrand of a headphone from China called the Takstar Pro 80. There are a few other rebrands of this headphone out there as well. They’re all great. This is a really well-built headphone. The only bad part is that it might be a little snug on your head if you have a really big melon. It barely fits on me, and my head is huge, so you should be okay but it’s worth mentioning. Also, the cable isn’t removable. If they were a little bigger and the cable was removable, they would compete directly with Bose’s products, but they’re stupidly cheap so whatever.
ALTERNATE PICK- Sony MDR-1a
The Sony MDR-1a is three times the price of the Takstars, and has a similar, refined sound signature. I…realize that it seems weird to have my alternate pick cost three times more, but hear me out (BOOM headphone pun). If you were to try the Cloud/Pro 80, decide you love it, decide you want to take a big step up, and decide that you don’t want the noise cancelling of the Bose or don’t like their headphones, then the MDR-1a is where you should go.
Sony’s flagship consumer model is super comfy(here’s that word again!), available in multiple models and colors, and built really well. Critics of this headphone don’t like its slight bass emphasis, but most music benefits from it and I don’t find it so colored as to sound artificial. A great headphone that I’ll review in full sometime soon!
4- Audio-Technica ATH AD700X
This is the only open headphone on my list. I don’t love open headphones. I get that they sound more “natural” than closed headphones, and these AD700x’s do indeed have a wide soundstage. I prefer closed headphones for their sound isolation, and these have none. Zero. Zip.
What you get instead is a bright, treble-focused sound that stretches all around your head. If you like acoustic music, boy, you’ll love these! I included these on the list mostly to show that I don’t 100 percent hate open headphones. The only bad thing about these is that the cable is the worst cable in the headphone industry. It’s a nightmarish 10 foot mess that never uncoils.
That didn’t sound very positive, did it?
You’ll notice there are no IEM’s on this list. I don’t like them. I make a lot of ear wax, and I don’t like pulling an ear wax- covered thing out of my ear when I’m done listening to music.
Blue MoFi- These are a weird crazy thing, designed from the ground-up to be different from other headphones. They are super super super heavy, but still somehow maintain their comfort. These are not headphones you can ignore. Their bulk and their sound signature put the sound at the very top of your mind. I tried to go to a cafe and work with these on one time, and just kept sitting and listening to my music and doing no work. These headphones demand your attention.
They’re pretty great, but they’re so different from other headphones that they defy categorization.
Bose SoundTrue Ultra- This is the one IEM I haven’t totally hated. The design of the eartips makes them quite comfy to wear for a long time, and they have a very flat, balanced sound signature.
They still turn into an earwax-covered mess if I wear them too long. But that’s my own personal issue.
AND THERE THE LIST ENDS. These are where you should/could start your headphone search. Every headphone mentioned above is a good one. The really fascinating/difficult thing about the headphone market right now is that there are so many good products out there, that, rather than being better or worse than each other, are simply different in their features and characteristics.
Also, and I cannot overstate this enough, AESTHETICS MATTER. Don’t let an “audiophile” tell you otherwise. If you like how something looks and/or feels, you’re going to like using it more. That’s why I mention that some of these headphones above are ridiculous-looking. Also, comfort should be your absolute top priority. If something is uncomfortable on your head, you’re not going to be able to enjoy the sound coming out of it.
I’ve had to return headphones before because they didn’t fit my massive head correctly. That’s a really fun thing to explain to an employee at Best Buy.
So go forth, and buy some headphones! Or don’t! I mostly just wanted to make a list.