We review 16 pairs of headphones priced from $198 to $300.
Through our rigorous testing, we reveal which headphones:
- have the best sound quality
- are the most comfortable to wear (even when wearing glasses)
- are the easiest to use
- are the most efficient.
On this page, you'll find:
Headphones come in many shapes and colours, some even with extra headbands to allow you to colour coordinate with your outfit. Many now come with a microphone on the cord for use with a mobile phone.
But how they sound is still the most important issue, so we had our listening panel rank them for sound quality and comfort, then ran them through some technical tests. Not surprisingly, traditional headphone manufacturers do very well, but there are some with more of an eye on fashion that aren’t too far behind either.
Brands and models tested
• beats by dr. dre solo HD
• Bose OE2i
• Bowers & Wilkins P3
• Fanny Wang On Ear Wangs 1003
• Grado SR225i
• Harman Kardon BT
• Monster Inspiration Passive
• Philips Fidelio M1i
• Pioneer HDJ-1500
• Sennheiser HD 558
• Skullcandy Aviator
• SMS Audio street by 50 over-ear
• Sol Republic Tracks Ultra V12
• Sony MDR-1R
• Sony MDR-7506
• Ultrasone HFI-780
How we test
One expert (sound engineer) and three experienced listeners appraise each headphone for use with a variety of music genres (classical, popular and rock).
The following areas of comfort are appraised by three testers for up to one hour, some wearing glasses and others without them:
Fit and stability of the headphone
Pressure of the headphone on ears and/or head
Subjective weight of the headphone.
During use the headphone is checked for any interaction with clothing, such as cable friction noise. The length of cables is also taken into account where applicable.
Ease of use
The following areas of ease of use are appraised by three testers:
- Using the device buttons
- Using the device buttons.
They also look for sharp edges or other problematic parts.
The following technical tests are performed where appropriate:
Efficiency is measured by applying a 1k Hz tone at 1mW and measuring the decibel level produced by the headphones along with the voltage drain and impedance of the headphones.
The headphones are normalised at 80 dB SPL (1kHz tone) and the frequency response of the headphones recorded from 20Hz to 20kHz.
The total harmonic distortion of the headphones are analysed for inputs at 1kHz and 500Hz.
The amount of pressure applied to the sides of the head is measured on a testing rig, which is 145mm thick. This represents a medium-sized head width as defined in AS/NZS 1270:2002.