A good pair of headphones is special. They’re part gadget, part fashion statement and sometimes even a status symbol. But they only have one true job and that’s to make your music sound great. If you’re in the market for a new pair — or just like seeing what’s out there — I have a few recommendations for you.
• Best headphones if you like things really, really loud
Beats headphones are popular because they’re stylish and sound good, and if you absolutely need your music at an ear-splitting volume, the Beats Mixr headphones ($249.95) have you covered.
These beasts come in a bunch of different colors and are designed to blast audio so that DJs can hear their tracks over a roaring party, but you don’t have to be a DJ to appreciate them. Whether you’re hard of hearing, or work at a job where noise pollution is a way of life, the Mixr headphones can handle it with style.
• Best wireless headphones if you need to be free
Wireless headphones are very hit or miss, even today, so I was shocked at how great the Jam Transit Bluetooth headphones ($49.99) sounded as soon as I placed them on my ears. They don’t have the power to puncture your eardrums, but they deliver music with plenty of bass and crystal clear high notes, and they can do it for up to 11 hours between charges. The real killer feature comes when you get a call during your music session, as the Transit headphones work perfectly for impromptu phone conversations as well. One of the best all-around pairs of headphones I’ve tried.
• Best headphones if you want to ‘feel’ the beat
Alpine has long been a big name in the auto-audio world, but believe it or not they haven’t dabbled much in headphones. That changed this year with the release of Alpine Headphones ($299.95), and they’re like no other headphones I’ve ever seen (or felt).
Not only are they super comfortable — seriously, it’s easy to forget you’re even wearing them — but they have built-in haptic feedback so that you actually “feel” the base. There’s a small transducer in the middle of the headband right on the top of your head that vibrates with deep bass tones. I couldn’t feel it all that much during my recent review, but I like the idea of having a more immersive experience with music through headphones. The Alpine Level Play app for your smartphone also organizes your music collection and even curates playlists based on your mood and energy level. How cool is that?
• Best headphones if you believe in karma
Want to make life better for someone else while picking up a pair of super cool-looking headphones? Lstn’s Wood Troubadours (149.99 ) are the most unique headphones on our list — no, seriously, they are made from authentic upcycled wood that makes each pair one-of-a-kind, and every pair sold helps fund hearing aids for those who need them all around the world. The headphones themselves probably won’t win any awards for sound delivery, and they’re generally better for bass-heavy tracks than acoustic tunes. Sound aside, they’re gorgeous-looking headphones and they come from a socially responsible company, if that factors into your decision.
• Best gaming headphones even if you’re not a gamer
Believe it or not, I don’t usually spend my weekends in front of a gaming PC scoring headshots on digital bad guys. Despite that, the Razer Kraken Pro $79.99) have seriously impressed me with their sound quality — which rivals much more expensive options from companies like Bose — and the comfort factor. They’re made for gamers, so you can wear them for hours on end without feeling like your brain is about to burst, and they deliver deep bass, high highs and rich sound throughout their range. The microphone that sticks out in front of your mouth is a little weird (like something Madonna used to wear to perform on stage), but it really does deliver better sound when you’re talking to someone. You really don’t have to be a gamer to appreciate audio quality like this, especially for the price.
• Best headphones if you just got your wallet stolen
You had some unexpected car repair bills come up, your college loan is overdue, and you’re probably going to be eating Ramen noodles for the rest of the month. Don’t worry, I found a pair of headphones for you, too! The JVC FLATS ($9.99) are shockingly good considering their price, and offer a no-nonsense solution to your budget problem. They don’t have any fancy extra features, but they’re good looking and produce some surprisingly decent sound while also folding completely flat for storage. Not a bad option for the price of a couple of lattes.
• If I have to pick one overall winner
When it comes to a serious sound smackdown, I’ve never tried anything that bests Bose QuietComfort 25 ($399.95) for all-around sound quality and the ability to totally tune out that crying baby sitting next to you on the airplane. I also love the custom colors. But nearly $400 is a lot of money to spend on a set of cans, so one budget trick to mention here: You can make just about any headphones pretty much noise-suppressing by putting a plain ole’ pair of earmuffs over them. You look a little dorky, but it really works.
If I left out a set of headphones you can’t live without, be sure to share your favorites in the comments section.