I hadn’t really thought of it until a coworker asked, but I’m something of a headphone snob / nerd.  I have probably gone through well over a dozen pairs of headphones in the last 5 years.  So, since I already took the time to share much of my thoughts with him, it naturally makes sense to share this out more broadly.

First off, I’ll just say that I’m not an audiophile. I probably can’t discern the difference between a $500 and $1500 pair of headphones.  I just happen to like trying tons of different types of headphones and it’s nice to listen to the experiments I have in music (DJing / EM production / etc) through different audio sources.  I also am listening to music all day long through headphones so comfort is important to me.  Despite not being a true audio nerd, I can tell the difference between garbage headphones and awesomeness. I’ll start by contradicting a few things that I have seen said generically about entire brands:

  • Skullcandy headphones are toys – Although most are horrid, some of the skullcandy headphones are decent
  • All beats headphones are trash – I think the top of the line Beats headphones (Beats Pro) are worth a listen and are well balanced
  • Sony headphones are awesome – In my experience, Sony’s headphones are best avoided. Fidelity is decent but I have broken every pair I have owned within the first year (ever wonder why they have a 90-day warranty?).

Without further adieu, my opinions on headphones.  Recommendations have links to Amazon.

In-ear headphones

Zune Premium Ear Buds ($20)
I loved these headphones.  For the price ($25 on Amazon) you will not get better in-ear headphones. They will probably be a little scarce because they were replaced by the V2 premium headphones which also sound great but cost a good bit more. Fit wasn’t perfect but the sound was significantly better than the bundled headphones.

Skullcandy Titan ($30)
I have owned about 5 pair of Skullcandy headphones and only one pair did I like, the Skullcandy TITANs.  These have a nice long cable and happened to fit my ear fairly well.  They were comfortable and sounded decent.

Shure SE-215 ($100)
I think I paid ~100 for mine and I really like these.  The thing (good and bad) that really makes these stand out is the noise isolation. I can’t hear any outside sounds when I have these in, as though someone pressed a mute button on the outside world. These headphones are pretty much the best sounding in-ear headphones I have ever used.

Etymonics MC5
I’m not sure what I paid for these, but it was too much.  These headphones come with tons of different accessories for making them fit well, but none of them seemed to fit me quite right.  The sound was nothing to call home about either. The cable was too short to reach from my PC to my head. I can’t recommend these.

DJ Headphones

Pioneer  HDJ-2000
Love these, they’re overkill (me too!) for most people and are bass heavy. Made of metal and feel like they could take a bullet.  Magnetic magnesium snappies and detachable cables make them awesomer and way more durable than the HDJ-1000s, which sound roughly the same but aren’t nearly as durable.  I hope these are the last pair of headphones I have to buy for beat matching / etc.

Sony MDR-v700

These are super comfy. Like the HDJs they are overly bassy which I prefer when listening to dubstep and electro.  These break, I can’t say how many pairs / similar pairs I have owned, but it’s more than 2 and
they all broke in different ways (I have had the black ones and the headband broke, I have had the sound die in one ear, etc).  In general, Sony makes headphones that break, I recommend avoiding.

Reference Headphones

Sennheiser HD580 / HD598 / HD595
I haven’t tried these but headphone nerds say these are supposed to be the best value “reference” headphones .

Thunderpants headphones
These are very interesting… $500 hacker’s headphones that sound like $1500 headphones.  They are custom built headphones that use a wood grain that balances the sound. As with the Sennheisers, I haven’t really had a good listen with these but reviews say they’re the cat’s meow.

Gaming Headphones

Tritton 720 7.1
The Tritton line of headphones are rebranded MadCatz products that look like something that Daft Punk would wear.  From playing with them for a few weeks, I concluded that Tritton gaming headphones are pretty meh as far as I can tell. They’re pretty comfy, but don’t deliver on performance. I bought these with the intent of taking full advantage of their surround  sound features (tracking enemies in FPS games).  They are alright, but they’re not as good as the manufacturer claims.

Turtle Beach X-41
These are awesome!  Using these headphones for gaming is synonymous with cheating because they give you a huge advantage in games like Call of Duty. These wireless headphones have a bass boost feature that lets you hear and pinpoint footsteps across the map.  They’re that awesome.  Each earpiece has 3 speakers in it for true surround sound, they are as good as the manufacturer claims. They’re comfortable and light, I can use them for long sessions.  The only drawback that I have for them is that they do not have a rechargeable battery and they BURN through AAA batteries.  There’s a wired version that I wished I had bought instead – wireless audio still has too many quirks.

I could go on about speakers but that’s a topic  best reserved for another post.