Headphones mega-review

Marco Arment:

My criteria for this review is what someone seeking good headphones today probably wants:

Semi-portable, over-ear headphones — not pocketable, but should fit comfortably in a small bag; suitable for listening at your desk and bringing on an airplane, or maybe wearing outside

Closed-back design with at least moderate isolation

A straight, short cable with a 3-button clicker

The hard price cap is $400, but ideally, these should be under $300.

I’ve been thinking about new studio headphones so Marco’s review was of interest for the variety he tested if nothing else.



  • sleepcountry

    For studio monitoring, just pick up a pair of AKG K240s and call it a day. There’s a reason why they’re in every photo of just about every famous recording session.

    If you’re worried about leakage while tracking, some cheap and cheerful Audio Technicas will fit the bill. You don’t really need audiophile sound quality when you’re laying down guitar or drums or something.

  • Terry Maraccini

    Headphones, like any other transducer, are a subjective lot. AKG 240s are a nice choice. But, no headphone is accurate. That’s why people like different ones.

    • sleepcountry

      Very true. And headphones will never replace a good pair of nearfield monitors. You’re probably best off getting serviceable headphones to check mixes on and spending more money on the speakers which you’ll spend the bulk of your time mixing on. (In my experience, headphones in the studio are mostly for tracking, and I’ve only got one cup on my ear at that.)

      That said, when listening for pleasure, I still prefer open headphones by a long shot. I think Marco overstates the importance of closed back designs. It seems you’ve got to be blasting your music pretty loud to annoy neighbors on a noisy bus or in a bustling office.

      • Jeff

        You don’t need to have the headphones turned up very loud for people around you to hear them in a quiet environment. On a bus or on a plane you need to turn them up even more to counteract the ambient noise in those environments. If you do that, I’m sure the people sitting next to you can hear your music too.

        That’s the advantage of a closed back design. You can block out a lot of that ambient noise while not disturbing those around you with music they probably don’t want to listen to.

        I’ve travelled with a pair of Sennheiser HD600 headphones in the past, but nowadays I mostly use B&W P7s or C5s while on the road. While I still think the HD600s win in overall sound quality, they are terrible travel headphones. The B&Ws win in portability and the ability to isolate me from noises I don’t want to hear.

  • dreyfus2

    Without going into many details, I am amazed about how subjective these impressions are. I know many of the cans he wrote about, and I do not agree with him on a single one of them. It is not only the ranking, I do not even get some of the sound characteristics he is describing. It is almost like he has a problem hearing highs (most cans he says lack highs have plenty in my experience – and due to occupational risks my ears are checked every two months).

    For travel and commuting I have settled on the B&W P7 and I absolutely prefer them over all semi-portable models he rated higher.

    And talking about studio cans, I stopped using my AKGs after getting some dirt cheap KRK Rokit KNS 8400 Studios (paid around $100 for them), best value piece of kit I ever bought, after a friend recommended them.