Smartphones and tablets have revolutionized the way we download and listen to music. Serious music fans knew long ago that the earphones included in the box with smartphones and tablets sound lousy and don’t allow you to hear all the details that your music has to offer. But now the masses are finally starting to catch on and realize what they’ve been missing. So do yourself a favour and ditch those cheap plastic earphones that came with your device and get yourself a decent pair of earphones or headphones. Not only will all of your music sound significantly better, your ears will thank you because they won’t get as tired when you listen for extended periods of time. And if you own a decent amplifier, try your new headphones/earphones with it. Did you know that a $200 pair of headphones can sound nearly as good as a $2,000 pair of speakers? We’re not kidding! With so many brands out there, choosing a new pair of headphones or earphones can be a little overwhelming. That’s why we’ve assembled several pairs that we know you can trust.
Focal Spirit One Headphones
Focal has been in the home speaker business for over 30 years – its speakers range from the very reasonably priced Chorus series to the magnificent $190,000 Grande Utopia EM loudspeaker. The Spirit One is the company’s first shot at a headphone and it’s a winner. This closed-back, circumaural headphone uses 40 mm mylar/titanium dome diaphragms, has a 32 ohm nominal impedance and a sensitivity of 104 dB, which means that it can easily be powered by smartphones and tablets. Its in-line remote control allows for calls to be picked-up or ended, volume adjustment, pause and forward/back skipping of songs and is designed specifically for Apple devices. The headband includes two pivot points, which ensure a comfortable fit for ears of all shapes and sizes, and also allow the headphones to hold flat for easy storage. $279. www.focal.com
Paradigm SHIFT E3m Earphones
Paradigm realizes that most people today listen to audio on the go from portable devices like smartphones and tablets. Paradigm has produced speakers since 1982 and has received far too many awards to count for the sound quality of its products. The SHIFT line of products is designed for the younger, hipper inner you that demands good quality sound without blowing all your money. The E3m is voice matched to the company’s high-end Signature Series of speakers, so you’ll get a taste of the company’s top-sounding speakers for a small fraction of the price. These in-ear headphones use an 8-mm super-neodymium driver, offer a frequency response of 8 Hz — 19kHz, and have a sensitivity of 105 dB. The tangle-resistant cord features a built-in microphone with smartphone functionality. They are available in white or black finishes and come supplied with small, medium and large tips to fit all ear sizes. $129. www.paradigm.com/shift
Sennheiser Momentum Headphones
Since its inception in 1945 Sennheiser has been a world leader in microphone and headphone products, in both the professional and consumer audio markets. Countless musicians and performers today use their products in the studio and on the stage. The closed back, over-ear design of the Momentum headphone offers great isolation from ambient noise to provide the best possible musical enjoyment. At the same time, they are also very comfortable for long listening session thanks to their soft, supple leather ear pads and headband. Their metal ear cups and slider enhance music playback and offer great durability. A remote with an in-line microphone integrated into the cable also allows the Momentum to be used with all walks of smartphones. Their impedance of 18 ohms and sensitivity of 110 dB makes them perfectly suited for all of today portable devices. The Momentum offer a rich and detailed sound, with a frequency range of 16 Hz to 22 kHz, thanks to the use of high-performance neodymium magnets in their drivers. $350. www.sennheiserusa.com
B&W C5 In-ear Headphones
The C5 earphones come from another manufacturer that has long been in the speaker business. Since 1966, B&W has produced some of the most respected and iconic speaker designs. Over the years, many recording studios turned to B&W for their speaker needs. The C5 serves up great music details, instrument separation and soundstaging from your mobile devices and offers a snug fit to isolate external noise. The Secure Loop feature holds the earphones securely in your ear, while the inner casing is weighted with tungsten ensuring that they are balanced towards the ear. A Micro Porous Filter acts as a sonic diffuser, which helps to make music sound more spacious than previously possible from earphones. The inline multi-function remote/mic has three buttons and is optimized for Apple devices. The C5 utilizes a 9 mm driver, offers a frequency response of 10 Hz to 20 kHz and a sensitivity of 118 dB. Its impendence is rated at 32 ohms, which makes them portable audio device friendly. $180. www.bowers-wilkins.com
Shure SE425 Sound Isolating Earphones
With a history of more than 80 years, Shure is another very well respected company that is known worldwide for its microphone and headphone products – in both the pro and consumer industries. Again, their products are commonly seen in studios and concert venues alike. The Shure SE425 is the highest priced earphone on this list but also delivers the most accurate musical experience thanks to its dual high-definition MicroDrivers – a dedicated tweeter and woofer in each ear piece. Shure includes multiple sizes of isolating sleeves for all ear sizes which provide up to 37 dB of noise isolation. This snug fit prevents most of the outside noise from interfering with your music, allowing you to hear the smallest musical details. Its detachable cable can be customized and a lock-snap mechanism allows 360 degree rotation for a comfortable fit. Technical specifications include a sensitivity of 109 dB, impedance of 22 ohms and a frequency range between 20 Hz and 19 kHz. $350. www.shure.com
To read a more in-depth guide to buying headphones, please check out this Buyer Guide on the CANADA HiFi magazine website.