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So you’ve taken the plunge and bought (or are going to buy) a sweet new personal media player. iPod, Zune, Walkman or other, they’re all capable of holding all your favorite music. But what’s the point if it sounds like garbage on that chintzy pair of included earbuds? Every pair of white headphones you see represents someone who cares more about the look than the sound. Is that you? Didn’t think so.
Now, you don’t have to drop a ton of money to get great sound, but if you’re game, then there are vast and beautiful sonic realms just waiting for you to visit. I’ve had my eyes opened in the last few years as I’ve become… well, I wouldn’t call myself an audiophile, but I’m certainly enjoying my music more than ever these days. Here are a few pairs we’ve liked, from surround-sound to in-ear, and from budget to luxury.
Sleek Audio SA6: $249
My new “reference” pair of headphones, this excellent in-ear pair not only sounds great, but is customizable with different tips which change the sound. Sure, you can EQ your songs and albums individually, but being able to blow up the bass or extend the treble in the hardware is fun and can really bring new life to your music. Aside from that aspect, the SA6es, I felt, added power to almost every song I played. I’m not sure how, but there you have it. It’s a lot of money for a pair of headphones, but if you (or a loved one) spend a lot of time using the ones you’ve got, it may just be worth the investment.
If you’re not sure, Sleek is just now starting to ship a cheaper ($80) customizable pair, though we haven’t had a chance to put them through their paces yet.
Radius Atomic Bass: $35
Looking for a good pair of in-ears to replace those stock headphones, but don’t want to spend a bundle? Peter loved the Atomic Bass in-ears from Radius, which completely block out external sound and have a great low end. For subway riding, jogging, or editing video in a crowded cafe, these are a good bet. For $40 you’re not going to get crystal-clear quality, but you’re going to be getting a lot more than with those tinny things that came with the Walkman.
Logitech G35 7.1 Surround-Sound headphones: $120
Know someone who enjoys playing games or watching movies on your computer? A good pair of surround-sound headphones can be a game-changer. Most modern games support surround sound, and the G35s use Dolby’s virtual surround technology to make even plain stereo sound bigger. I found that with movies and shows it could be hit or miss, but whether they were providing “true” surround sound or not, there was always power and detail. For games I soon came to find them indispensable. As a bonus, they’re closed-type headphones, meaning they’re great for college dorm rooms where speakers or open headphones (like the similarly good Megalodons) can disturb roommates.
Altec Lansing Backbeat 903: $99
Wireless headphones used to be big chunky affairs with huge IR or RF bases. These Altec Lansings, however, pair via Bluetooth and in addition to sounding good, have integrated phone control buttons and a microphone. If your (or a loved one’s) phone has a weird headphone jack (likely), these are a great alternative. And of course they’re a good option for jogging or going to the gym with, since there’s 100% less cord to worry about.
JBL Roxy reference 430: $70
Teens are hard to please when it comes to fashion, much less on audio quality, so these JBL Roxy on-ears came as somewhat of a surprise. All the young ladies who saw them pronounced them cute, and the sound was impressive both to our seasoned reviewer and the teens who gave them a try. There are two color choices that both look ridiculous to me, so they must be cute.