Thanks to mobile devices, our bottomless wells of songs, video games, and the latest episodes of The Walking Dead, headphones have all but supplanted wristwatches as man’s favorite accessory. And the latest batch of upscale “over-the-ear” headphones to hit the market comes packed with an aural punch rivaling Dolby surround-sound theaters.
Like many people, I own two pairs: Bose noise-canceling headphones for travel, and the standard-issue Apple earbuds that never fail to emerge a tangled mess from my pocket. The reality is that I can do much better—and so can you. There are several new technologies and edgy looks that are pushing the bounds of listening pleasure and physical comfort. (Some you can even design yourself.) To upgrade your ear wear, follow these steps.
The first step in buying headphones is to match them to your playlist. If you’re a hip-hop guy, or a connoisseur of other bass-heavy music such as dubstep, consider a model from Beats by Dre, which built its name by packaging the deep rumble. The newest lightweight iteration of its popular Beats Studio, which features an active noise-cancellation function, retails for around $300.
If you’re into pop, rock, or—dare I say—something even softer, you may wish to consider plunking down for a set from Bose or Sennheiser, which deliver crisp sounds at higher registers. For a classic Bose, look for the “Quiet Comfort” line (the model 15 is by far the most popular, at costs of around $300). For an even more refined experience, go for the luxuriously padded and Kevlar-cabled Sennheiser HD 650, engineered for distinctly lifelike vocal reproduction, which sells for upward of $500. (If you’re searching for the closest thing to a pure sonic experience—and money is no object—check out the specialized Stax headphones for around $1,000, or Beyerdynamic Headzone Home headphones for about $2,000.)