Even audiophiles will tell you that sourcing the ultimate headphones is a hunt for the Holiest of Grails. Rather than look for an all-purpose solution, we surveyed the latest models to come up with the following favorite pairs tailored for different uses. Matched with some recent tracks that have been on heavy rotation in the CH offices recently, consider this your guide to total listening pleasure.
Ideal for workaholics, the wireless Sennheiser RS170 means you'll never miss a beat of your favorite song—whether typing at your desk or grabbing the twentieth coffee of the day. Features include bass and surround-sound on/off options, incredible acoustics, 260-feet of free range mobility and impeccable comfort. Absolutely worth the $280 price tag, pick up a pair from Adorama.
Sony brings pristine audio and clear tones to the table with their MDR-ZX700s. An extremely lightweight design fits over the entire ear, relieves the typical ear pressure and isolates the outstanding acoustics. Long the brand of choice for video and audio production both in the field and studio, these will stand up to hours of recording and editing. At $120 (available from Sony), there's good value for the dough here too.
Listen: "Rolling in the Deep" by Adele
On the Bus
Urbanears' Plattan, a full-sized, not-too-bulky headphone, is ideal for hitting the road. With a fabric cord at just about waist-length, the mobile-friendly design helps avoid tangles on the go. And with their "zound plug," your new best friend sitting next to you can plug directly into your 'phones to share the sweet tunes. Available in tons of on-trend colors and running $60 a pop (from Urbanears), they're a good one for parents to gift to college-age kids.
Listen: "County Line" by Cass McCombs
For the record, we never, ever encourage wearing headphones while snowboarding, skating, biking or any other activity requiring a full set of senses. But our homies over at Frends sure do. Enter the Alli, designed by snowboarders for snowboarding. These small, over-ear headphones sound great even if it feels like you're going Mach 10. Hit the smartphone-compatible pause button to chat with buddies, then hit play to drown out the chatty weekend warrior next to you on the lift. Plus, at $35 (from Frends), they're cheap enough to be replaced after a nice biff.
Long flights, missed trains, loud engines and babies crying equals no fun. Add the Phiaton PS 20 NC and enjoy your music without the distractions. The superior noise-canceling technology and comfortable in-ear design allow for amazing acoustics that make any song sound better. No more listening to your fellow subway rider's less tasteful music, keep yours at a comfortable level while blocking out the world. Well worth the retail price of $130, they sell from Ritz Camera.
Listen: "Battery Kinzie" by Fleet Foxes
Small, sleek and solid, Moshi Audio's Vortex stays in tune while you literally run around. Dial in the superb bass to get through your workout and rely on the braided cord to avoid tangles. Amazingly enough to actually stay in your ear during fast-paced activity, $80 gets you great sound and beautiful design—from Moshi's online store.
Listen: "Boom" by jj
Contributions from: Karen Day, Graham Hiemstra, Ami Kealoha, Evan Orensten and Tim Yu