By Brian Brecker
Headphones can cost you a lot of money. Some of the higher end models like the HiFiMan SUSVARA can cost upwards of $6000. However, unless you have that kind of money to spend on audio tech, this will be out of your price range.
There’s a myth that if you want high-end audio electronics you have to spend over $200. This really isn’t true, as you can get lifetime usage headphones for under $200, as I will demonstrate.
You may think that Beats by Dre or Skullcandy are high-end, well-made electronics, and if you do I’m afraid I’ll have to pop that bubble. While they do host strong bass and treble response, that really distorts the original mix, and unless you listen to trap music all the time, you should probably find alternatives.
The build quality of Beats by Dre and Skullcandy are mediocre to poor, and do not warrant their price tag reaching upwards of $200. If you’re prone to sitting on your electronics the headband will snap, ruining your pair unless you want to get some tape and superglue. The detachable AUX cables are handy and easy to replace if broken, they range at around $3 to $7. If you want to look cool to your friends, I doubt there’s a better option than a Beats by Dre, but if you must get one: handle deftly.
Now that we’re past the brands people have heard of because they spend most of their sales cost on advertisements, we can find new and exciting products from quality makers such as Audio-Technica and AKG. These are my two recommended brands for quality long-lasting headphone seekers on a budget.
The Audio-Technica ATH series provides very durable and powerful providing 38 Ohms, a unit of electrical resistance, for their M50x line. The M50x and M40x provide a smooth, studio-quality sound, giving the listener an even mix. Also, both the M50x and M40x are highly portable, able to be folded up into a compact shape. The newer of the two, the M50x, will cost you anywhere from $100 to $150. The M40x can cost anywhere from $80 to $100. They also look fairly snazzy and have a reputation for being comfortable.
Have you ever heard Eddie Murphy’s 1980s classic “Party All the Time”? Have you seen the music video? You will notice Murphy wearing a very special set of headphones with a leather headband and two larger wires overtop to keep its shape. A wondrous golden ring encircles the AKG logo, underneath it reads “55 Ohms.” Yes, we are talking about the legendary set of headphones that have been around since the 1980s, which I am surely not hyping up too much, the still-relevant and working AKG-K240s. Can you tell this is the pair I own?
The AKG-K240s are cumbersome, hard to transport, dorky, and, quite frankly, fantastic. These headphones sound incredible, not in the sense that it has some sort of elevated bass or treble response, but in that it picks up on audio details usually lost due to compression and provides a highly accurate sound. These headphones are often used in music production, audio engineering, and in the illustrious career of the “Internet’s Busiest Music Nerd” Anthony Fantano.
Connected to the headphones is a mini three-pin XLR to AUX cord, the kind usually utilized in amplifiers and professional audio production. The headphones, similar to the Audio-Technicas are over-ear headphones, as opposed to on-ear headphones. This distinction is important, as it means that they give space in between your ear and the speaker, which will help preserve ear health and give a more three dimensional feel to the sound. The pair, feels like a cloud and has adjustable bars on the side for length. When I first got my pair of AKGs after hearing Anthony Fantano rave about them in an online video, it fit very easily. I’ve had my pair for two years and have sat on them hundreds of times.
But there are some drawbacks. Like the M50x and M40s, they are not noise cancelling headphones. If you prefer to have headphones with adjustable bass and treble response functionality, you must go elsewhere or buy an amplifier. However, both AKG and Audio-Technica have other headphones that utilize that option.
The AKG-K240s are also not very good for head-banging as they tend to slide off your head. Still, I have worked out with this incredibly cumbersome thing on the treadmill and it works fine for passive exercise. It’s much better to find a pair of mobile headphones for workouts such as the Koss Porta Pro (around $40) and the Sennheiser PX 100-II (around $60).
AKG K-240s are a classic audiophile choice, and dirt cheap. They tend to range from as low as $44 to only $70 and they will last you a long time.