Best headphones you've ever heard/used

Well, the subject says it all I guess. I'm looking for two sets of good quality headphones.

The first one is an earphone for use with my iPod. I'm looking for a small pair of compact in-ear earphones. I take long boring flights to Asia often so it'd be nice if they were high quality and helped out with noise canceling. I've heard good things from Shure. Any other recommendations?

The second one will be for night time listening in my bed. These headphones can be big but hopefully not too heavy. I also need them to be wireless for at least 15ft.

Thanks in advance,
For portability and quality for the $ I like the Koss SportaPro or the PortaPro. I've had both and don't hear much of a difference between the two, so I recommend going for the less expensive one (all portable headphones break over time). They fold nicely and sound pretty damn good. I use them daily on my commute to work.

Stax Omega beats all.
For the iPod on the plane, you might try one of the Etymotic earphones. I have a pair of the lower priced ER-6's that have worked well for me on planes w/iPod. I understand there is now a special 6i model just for iPods (don't know if there are any real differences from the 6). There are also more expensive versions.

Haven't tried the Shure's but generally same idea.
Agree w/Wstritt re: Etymotic Research in-ear phones. They cancel noise while sounding quite good for such a small transducer. Check out their Website.

For home use I like the Sennheiser HD-650 circumaural headphones. Detailed, yet smooth and musical, not irritating.
I have a 40G iPod and many pairs of headphone of different types. For nighttime listening, I like the Sennheiser HD-650. Many people will tell you that iPod cannot drive the Sennheiser but it is just not true unless you like to listen to heavy metal at 100db. The HD-650 is not as light as ear plugs but it is very comfortable to wear for long time. I highly recommend it to be used with an iPod, especially if you like classical, female vocal, and jazz.
Etymotic in-ear headphones (and probably all ear-buds) don't have noise cancelling per se, but do supress the external noise levels by virtue of their design. And they apparently do it very well. I use Bose noise cancelling headphones on the 'plane with a CDP and a Total Airhead.

For your second application, why do you want wireless? You won't get really high performance if you require wireless.

Are these also going to connect to your iPod, or are you planning to run these from your main system?

Don't know about small headphones, but the Grado RS-1 with RA-1 amp (runs on batteries so it is portable) is good. Some consider it to be bright. I'd have to agree that it is not as smooth as the senns (I have both senns 600) but with the RA-1 amp there is synergy.

The Grado is no bargain. The Senns are.

I listen to the Grado's more. It's just more intimate to me.
etymotic er4-p.

I also travel a lot. I've tried a few things. Shure E3's sound great and cost $179. I also have a pair of Sennheiser HD580's. They sound terrific, but they are "open" which means they are worthless on a plane because they let too much noise in. Also, don't know what your sleeping situation is, but the open headphones also let a lot of sound out, which means if someone is trying to sleep in the bed next to you -- you will bother them. So, though I love the open Sennheisers, I hardly ever get to use them. I also bought a pair of Sennheiser 280 PRO's, which are closed headphones. I have a buddy who bought the Bose "noise cancelling" headphones and we took a flight together.
IMO, the Sennheiser 280 Pro's sounded better than the Bose and the Sennheisers only cost $100 compared to the $300 he paid for the Bose. "Noise cancelling" means the hedphones have microphones in them. They pick up the ambient noise and then the headphones put out a tone that "cancels" the ambient noise. It does work -- the ambient noise disappears, but the noise the headphones put into your ears means you are getting noise mixed with your music. With the Sennheiser 280 Pro's, they are closed, so that blocks out some of the ambient noise and then when you play music, you cannot hear anything outside. If you get the Sennheisers, play music through them for about 40 hours before using them -- they really improve and then sound good. I haven't tried the Shure E3's on a plane yet, but they sound a little better than the Sennheiser 280 Pro's, so I would bet they will sound better than the Bose Noise cancelling headphones as well -- and cost more -- and when I have them in my ears, I cannot hear anything outside, so based on that, I would bet they will also sound great on a plane. If you need something for travel and to keep from bothering those around you, the Sennheiser 280 Pro's are a great bang for the buck. One other issue -- you've got to decide whether you like having earphones "in" your ears or headphones "on" your ears.
Bose -- $299

Shure E3 -- $179

Sennheiser 280 Pro -- $100

Cannot help with wireless headphones. I've tried a few and have never found anything satisfactory. That was a number of years ago, so maybe the technology has improved since then.
Etymotic ER-4p is what I'd recommend. I have the ER-4S, and it remains the best audio purchase I've ever made.
Thank you everyone for awesome feedbacks. The two headphones I'm looking for are for different purposes.

The in-ear phones are for use with my iPod, and the wireless headphones are for night time listening in my bedroom. I need them to be wireless because my bed is about 10ft away from my audio system and I really don't want to sit next to it with a chair.

Thanks again,
Well, you could always buy a 10 foot extension cord. 10 feet of extension cord is likely to cause far less degradation than going wireless. I would rather have one great set of headphones or earphones than to split your purchase over two pieces just to overcome the 10 feet between your system and bed. If you decide to buy etymotics, the best price I've seen was from....

I, personally, have not heard the Etymotics. They are $40 more than the Shure E3's. I'm happy with the Shure E3's, but that's without hearing the Etymotics. Either the Sennheiser 280 Pro's or the Shure E3's will sound great with an i-pod and Etymotic also makes a set to go with players like the i-pod.

If you're looking to get bang for the buck and don't like things "in" your ears, go with the Sennheiser 280 Pro's, they'll work on a plane or in your bed with an extension cord. If you're not on a budget and don't mind earphones that must be inserted, demo the Shures and Etymotics.

10 feet's not a problem. Get a long cord.

On the Bose n/c phones, I have had Sony $200 n/c phones for three years or so and was sitting next to a traveler with the Bose jobs, so I listened to both through my Total AirHead. I did not think there was much between them in sound quality, but the Bose definitely had better noise supression, but this probably came from acoustic isolation (something the Sony does not have) rather than from a better n/c circuit. The Bose are far more comfortable.

I know when I compared my Sony n/c phones to a pair of $100 Sennheiser 495 (open back) in an office environment (not too much background noise) the Sony's sounded terrible.

I am pretty happy with the Bose headphones on a 'plane. I am not happy to own a Bose product though - they are my first and only. I'll look out for travelers with the different sets mentioned here and try to get a comparison on board - that's the only meaningful test for me.

I have a friend who bought the Sony n/c the same time as me, and he no longer uses that technology. He uses the Etymotic-type and claims he gets just as much noise supression with that design.

Me - I don't like earbuds at all - so the Etymotic are out.

Concerning the in-ear phones, I own the Etymotic ER-4P and the ER-4S. Both models are highly regarded by the folks at However, I recently bought another in-ear phone--the Shure E2c. They are now my favorites.

1. They seem more durable than the Etymotics
2. Everytime you move your head or move the cable, the Etymotics rumble; the Shures are quiet.
3. The Shures cost only $100 new.
4. The Shures are less colored as measured by an electrical engineer named Siegfried Linkwitz.

Here is a quote from his website:

"There are definite differences between the three earphones that I tested, though not so much in their sound, if you equalize two of them. The ER-4S definitely need equalization, otherwise their sound is quite colored, which is easy to spot on most recordings. The MDR-EX71SL could almost be used without equalization since the canal resonance shows only on certain program material. This might be acceptable for general listening but not for use as a sound reference. The E2 meets my sonic requirements right out of the box. These are the sturdiest phones of the three in all aspects. Vibration transfer from the cable is low, on par with the Sony and far better than the Etymotic. Sound isolation against ambient noise is not quite as high as for the ER-4S, but higher than with the EX71SL. The $100 price tag of the E2 falls between the EX71SL at $50 and the ER-4S at $270.

I want to emphasize that anyone who makes critical evaluations of loudspeakers needs to know the quality of his source material. Any one of the three earphones that I investigated can become a useful reference transducer."

One drawback to the Shures for my ear canals is that the Shures do not fit inside the canals as well. So I take the silicone inserts from the Etymotics and put them on the Shures. Voila! The fit is great FOR MY EAR ANATOMY. YMMV.
But you can buy the inserts directly from Etymotic for $14 for 5 pairs. Etymotic calls them Flanged Eartips.

Good luck.
I would definitely not recommend the EX71SL. I bought these headphones and I found them very muddied. The midrange is completely butchered. The bass is satisfying once you get a seal but the sound is just... horrible. What a waste of $50.
The etymotics are better, I havent heard shures, but they're supposed to be good. Basically you do compromise on any of these mini-phones, no doubt about it. Id pick the sub $200 HD-580 over the top of the line etymotics any day of the week. The Etymotics are still the best I've heard in a small package.
For at home listening, I would pick (in this order) the Sennheiser HD650, the HD600, the HD580 or the Grado SR-125 (havent heard any of the higher end grado's but I assume they'd be move up the quality range just like the sennheisers do.) I dont like any of the new Sennheisers as much (the 590s, etc.)
My opinion is stay away from Sony. At every price range above $40, someone makes a better set of headphones for the same cost.
Of course I haven't heard mega-buck 'phones like the Stax, so my choices are in the under-$500 category.
Also if your budget permits, buy a headphone amp. It opens up the music tremendously. Even the battery powered Airhead will greatly improve your iPod listening experience.
>>Id pick the sub $200 HD-580 over the top of the line etymotics any day of the week.<<

I know where you can get HD-580's for around $150. I own these and they are excellent headphones and an excellent value -- BUT -- when I tried to use them on an airplane, I couldn't hear anything -- even at top volume. This is because they are open backed, which lets sound in and out -- the noise coming in from the Jet drowns out the sound from the headphones. This is why I purchased the Sennheiser 280 Pro's. They are closed. Now, I have purchased the Shure E3's to compare, but I haven't flown with them yet. Having heard my Sennheiser 280 Pro's on an airplane against the Bose, I think I can safely say you don't have to give any money to Bose. The web-site I posted has the Etymotics for $219. I believe that if you go for a closed back headphone like the Sennheiser 280 Pro's or an insertion type earphone like the Shures or Etymotics, you don't need to go the "noise cancelling" route.

Bose -- $299

Etymotic -- $219

Shure E3 -- $179

Sennheiser 280 Pro -- $100

Shure E2 -- $100


I enjoy my Senn 600's at home and work, but they are not practical to travel with. I tried the Ety's and they did not fit my ears at all, they hurt and did not seal the canal properly so I returned them. I now use Grado SR60's when I'm traveling; they fold flat and fit in my laptop case, are comfortable, sound pretty damned good, and cost $60. I fly 100,000 miles a year, I'm always open to new cans for traveling but cannot use in-ear headphones.

Best, Jeff
I've been listening to my Shure E3's against my Sennheiser HD580's. I've got to say the Shure E3's are superior to the Sennheiser 580's. The Shure's are more dynamic, fluid, more definition, and, for want of a better word, more fun. With the E3's in, my head is bobbing, when the 580's are on, it isn't -- the "head-bob" test is a biggie with me.
I would just use a longer cord for your bedroom headphones. That's what I do. The gains in sound quality more than make up for it.
The problem with in-ear 'phone for me has always been the positioning or soundstaging. Even good in ears like the etymotics sound 'wrong' not because any part of the frequency range is off, but because the imaging is wrong. All headphones sound like the soundstage is inside your head to varying degrees, but larger open headphones are not as bad at this as any other kind. In ears dont even bounce the sound off your outer ear the pinnae (sorry if I spelt that wrong) and all the other ridges etc on your ear. Believe it or not this is an important part of sound shaping and decoding.
To me, the etymotics and I'm totally guessing here, the shures would have a similar problem. They get fatuiging fast because they your brain knows that the imaging is wrong. I can very well believe that not everyone has the same reaction to headphones and in-ears (and I'm still a headphone fan despite all I say) but that's my reaction to headphones.
Of course there are problems with open phones. Other pointed out the problems when using them outdoors. I listen to mine at night in the bedroom when I dont want to disturb, but I can still listen at reasonable levels. For other uses, other phones may be a better match.
Just my $0.02.
Rsbeck, how is the tonal balance of the Shure e3's compared to the hd-580s? do the Shure's have good bass, or do they sound thin?
Bass *response* seems remarkably similar in the E3's and HD580's, but the bass seems more *detailed* and specific in the Shure E3's. What distinguishes the E3's from the HD580's are the dynamics. The 580's seem to smooth out the dynamic level of all of the instruments while the E3's are more specific, have more punch, air, and variety. Also, I have not heard the Etymotics, but I can say that the Shure E3's do cause the singer and other instruments to image in your head. I used to love my Sennheiser HD580's -- but the more I go back and forth between them and the Shure E3's, the more I find myself eager to get back to the E3's. They are accurate *and* musical. I find myself reaching for the most overused cliche' in audo -- damn if the music doesn't just come alive with the E3's. And I do not find them fatiguing,
which is surprising considering the level of detail, dynamic complexity, and the fact that they are *in* my ears. I fell asleep with them in my ears last night, which tells you something. Whether or not these have enough bass prominance will be a matter of taste, but I feel confident in saying the "level" of bass is quite similar to the Sennheiser HD580's. The E3's do a far better job of communicating rythmic drive, which accounts for the constant "head bobbing" and foot tapping while wearing the E3's.
I'm kind of repeating these comments from another thread, so please excuse me if you read this before.
I sold my Senn 600s (they were claustrophobic & had a distant sound & miniaturized instruments too much for me). I replaced them with Grado RS1's that I really love: relaxing, not edgy, they don't shout either. It is an upfront sound, though, but not assaultive at all. I have found myself listening for hours, way longer than planned. I use a Headroom Max amp. One warning: you must buy the Comfy pads (available from Headroom I believe) to replace the stock pads. With the comfy pads, the Grados are extremely comfortable, resting lightly on the ear, not around it; no sweat. I really swear by the RS1s. Get a nice mellow cable & a relaxing CD player (I have an Accuphase DP75V) & you won't miss having a speakerbased system.
The Etymotic Logic ER-4S's are by far the best I've heard. I prefer them to the Sennheiser HD-600's and 650's (w/Cardas cable upgrade). Detailed, extended and neutral, with a nice, intimate "head space." The foam ear pads work best for me.

The Sennheiser MX-500 earbuds, at $20, are the best cheap headphones I've used.
Head-Fi has great discussions from dedicated hi-end headphone folks who know and love their headphones. The issue with high end headphones is the requirement of a matching high end headphone amp, your existing amplifier / receiver can't do justice to high end 'phones. Of course it goes without saying a high end source is also a must.

The most loved phones probably are:
Sennheiser HD-650
Beyerdynamic DT880
Sony Qualia 10, R10, and CD3000 (in order of decreasing quality and cost)
Grado RS-1, HP-1
Stax Omega
AKG K1000
Sennheiser Orpheus

The last three are electrostats or other planar headphones, and usually need special amps. I personally have not heard the Stax Omegas and the Orpheus (rare and expensive).
Of the others I'd pick the Qualia or the Senn 650s driven by a high end headphone amp. The Qualias cost 6x more than the 650s though.
I haven't said much about the canalphones such as Ety ER-4P/S or the Ultimate Ears, etc. as I think they are only practical for use on planes etc where you really cant have your entire high end setup anyways, and I think they are very uncomfortable. They sound pretty good for small headphones, but give me any of the full sized cans I mentioned any day.
Oh, I missed the "wireless" requirement for the home setup. Well, there isnt a single high end pair of wireless headphones that holds a candle to what I just mentioned. The only chance I see is to use a wifi device, but then feed it to a regular headphone amp + headphone pair. So you would need a wifi enabled source player, a wifi enabled receiving device, an amp and 'phones. If you really care about sound quality, wireless is a killer.
Are there any decent in ear phones that are not buds but cone shaped for those with smaller ear canals???
How about that Sony Qualia's $3000+ headphones? Has anyone heard of them?
Some of the folks at head-fi really like the Qualias but the opinions have been mixed, FWIW.
The Shure E3's come with an assortment of ear pieces of different size and stiffness so you can use one that fits your particular ear. If it is a real problem, you can even have an ear specialist design something from an imprint of your particular ear that can be used with the Shure earphones. I would guess that would be true of other ear phones as well.
Sid SSP: What kind of adaptor do you use to make your 650's fit in the IPOD ? I've got a 40g Ipod as well and Senn 600's. It would be the same adaptor, I'm guessing.
It is discomforting when one adds up all of the extra money spent on the adapter, case, etc. that is spent by the time the purchase of the ipod is completed. $250.00 becomes $450.00.

Still, a really good set of headphones should not be ignored.
I own the Stax Omega. They are amazing phones, but they can also be very very demanding as far as upstream components are concerned. I have really heard them at their best in someone else's system, specifically, a system with an Audionote M-8 linestage and DAC-5 signature digital source and Verdier/Allaert phono setup. In my own system, I am a bit bothered by the dry sound of my solid-state stuff (Levinson Ref. No. 32 and Naim CDS3). For detail, speed and complete freedom from resonant overhang, the Stax are hard to beat.

I have not heard the Qualia phones, but I am sure they are very good. I really liked the dynamic phones Sony use to make about five years ago that cost about $500. I expect that a $3,000 version of a Sony would be an improvement.
Forget the adapter, you will need a headphone amp to get the Ipod to drive the relatively high impedence Senns to anything close to their full potential. W/o an amp, I would recoomend the Etymotic 4Ps which are designed to run off a "p"ortable player.
EX71SL's/Fontopias by Sony are exactly as Sonance said. However, they can be obtained for $30 on and come in a good Apple matching white. For the price, they offer a fair amount of isolation and bass and are pretty fashionable (not something to say around audiophiles) look. They are short plug which makes for good usage with the iPod remote, white to match and have asymmetrical lengths so you can wear them so the right can be worn w/ the wire behind the head. You probably don't care about aesthetics or matching, but given that you own an iPod, you just might. Matching earbuds offered by Apple are $40 and matching earbuds by Shure are $110. If money is no object...

As for home headphones. I honestly think nothing has better bang for buck than Grados. I like them better than any in ear or isolation headphones because I think they sound more natural and I prefer the open sound. I think it's weird listening to music that gets piped directly into your head. If you could put aside the need for wireless, they could be a good pick.

If you really want to learn about headphones, you should go lurk on
Swampwalker: I already own the XCan headphone amp. Will this work w/ the Hd600's and 40g IPOD w/ adaptor?
The X-can should work just fine, IF you can get a line level signal out of the iPod. I don't know enough about the i-pod to know if that is possible. Check with the folks on headfi-org about the details. Run a search there and you will probably find out what you want to know, immediately.

Thanks . I'll do that.
The Sony Qualia is by far the best headphone. Smokes the Senheiser HD650. I was very impressed by the demo.
Sony EX71 are ok with a portable and no external amp - good sound for the money. They are colored and congested as revealed by a top headphone amp and source.

Grados are colored in a nice way - musical but not neutral.
SR 60 is most bang for bucks.

Etymotic 4p (more efficient) or 4s is the best sound for the money in terms of neutrality with accurate timbre, but require some care in use and keeping ythe wirs from moving around (vibrations of the wire can carry as minor thump noises in the phone at times).
Has anyone compared the different Shure E series Earphones?

Are the difference worth the money? Money no object which is best for Jazz and female vocals??
I have not compared earphones extensively, but I had a pair of Sennheiser HD580's and I was pretty happy with them, but they are open design so I needed earphones for airplane travel. I bought a set of Shure E3's and the E3's sound way better than Sennheiser HD580's. I never listen to the Sennheisers anymore. When I got the Shure E3's, I listened to them with an ipod for so long, I fell asleep wearing them.
I'll probably catch alot of flak on this but I dumped my Sennheiser HD600 for the Koss ESP/950 and never looked back. To my ears, there was no comparison; the low distortion and low coloration of the Koss made the Senn sound crude in comparison.

In addition I found the Koss to be a little more comfortable. By the way I found a brand new pair on Ebay for $375. It's been said many times that the Senn HD600/650 needs good amplification and that adds to signifcant cost.

There is a downside to the Koss, though. Build quality isn't as good as the Senn. For whatever marketing reasons Koss imagined this as a portable/home unit which compromised build quality. The phones come apart if handled in a certain way. Really, how many people are walking around with a Walkman attached to 6 cell battery pack attached to the dedicated amp unit attached to phones that are about the size of the HD600? What was Koss thinking? It would have been much better to construct an amp with better rca connectors and a dual concentric volume controls that accurately tracks.

I really think the Koss is an overlooked gem if you can find it priced under $400 or so. And, no, I haven't heard Stax phones in many years. I have no doubt that they rule supreme.
Shure E3's are truly amazing with the foam inserts. You roll them up and insert, allowing the foam to expand. That acts as noise cancellation and creates great bass extension.
Can you listen to the E3s at reasonable volume since they are very close to the ear drums?

Are the SUre E3s better than the etymotic er4-p especially in terms of bass and microdynamics??
I agree with Theduke that the ESP 950 is a terrific headphone. It is smooth and full sounding while managing to NOT muddle detail -- a pretty hard trick. I too find the Senn to be a crude and rough sounding phone, relatively speaking, but then again, I did not hear it with a topnotch dedicated amp.
I used to have Etymotic er4p's, and unfortunately left them on an airplane never to be recovered. I now have the Shure e3's. In comparing the two, I like the Shures, but not quite as much as the Etymotics, which I just loved. I think the Etymotics sound clearer with better bass, and they fit in my ears better because of the three-flanged earpieces. The Ety's are probably worth the extra money. That said, both of these are great earphones and perfect for airline travel.
Grado RS-1 with RA-1 amp.

I prefer these to the Senns. I own the Senn 600s also, and they do sound more like speakers. They are less fatiguing, but not as musically involving as the Grado RS-1s.

I'm sure there are better headphones out there. I just haven't listened to them.