Cans

Yeah, all the cool kids call them ‘beats’ now, but I never got down with the shoe/kicks vibe either. To me, headphones will always be cans (thanks for that, studio life), and an integral part of my life both personally and professionally. Obviously a clear, uncolored set of cans/headphones are great for studio work so you can translate your mixes/etc to the real world more effectively, but I’ll admit for recreational listening I tend to go for a little more ‘oomph’ in the low end. Having tried a TON of headphones (and headsets) over the years, I’m slowly settling down to three pairs (plus one ‘wildcard’). Here they are, why I still use them all regularly, and their pros/cons from my perspective.

Beats by Dr Dre - Wireless

Beats Wireless – General Listening
Somewhere between the Pro & Studio and the Solo models, the Beats Wireless cans have a great balance of fidelity with some fat low end for a rich listening experience. Although the Studio model is much more accurate, there’s just something about the sound of these that I’ve come to love, they tend to warm up the bass guitar range (my personal focus area of the spectrum) and have a pleasing high end, not too brittle or crisp. But the convenience is the best part, they’re so comfortable and easy to use without the connecting cable that I often forget I’m wearing them, or need to stay within range of my phone/tablet/laptop.

But the flip side- If you’re planning to pick up a pair of Beats Wireless cans for use as your phone headset+mic I’d look elsewhere, though. Although this is definitely one of the key marketing points of this model, in action the microphone is rather oddly placed and has yet to give a good, clear signal to the other end of the line. Although the call always sounds tight to me, I heard too many complaints about the quality/clarity of my voice on the other end over the span of a few months, so have given up using them at all for the mic. Which is a shame, because if the mic was as good as the cans I’d probably be using the Beats Wireless pair a lot more.

All in all- I strongly recommend the Beats Wireless cans for general listening and usage. Sure, they’re spendy, but I’ve definitely gotten my money’s worth so far and they’re usually the first pair I pull out, generally speaking. I use these around the house, exercising, chilling at the beach, etc. They are definitely the go-to pair right now.

Bose QuietComfort 15 Headphones

Bose Quiet Comfort 15 – Travel and Work
You get used to seeing regular travelers sporting these if you spend any time in airports, as the Bose Quiet Comfort 15s are highly-regarded for their noise cancellation, and particularly handy for those noisy flights with the screaming kids behind you in coach. It’s like stepping into a cone of silence, even without the music playing – and far more comfortable than foam earplugs. This in itself really does make a big difference to the listening experience- almost 100% distraction-free, and in noisy environments these cans are almost indispensable.

Quality-wise, however- they’re OK. The bass is tight – but not as deep as I’d prefer – and the high-end is smooth and not harsh. But there’s still something lacking- I’m not sure whether it’s the noise cancellation that’s thinning out some frequencies across the board or just the drivers themselves, but they just don’t punch as much as the Beats Wireless pair for general listening. That said, these will always be my first choice for the office and travel, where noisy environments can be tedious. And the headset mic is great for phone calls, although I do have to watch my vocal volume as the noise-cancellation makes it very hard to tell how loud you’re talking to those around you. I occasionally have to slide one ear off a bit during a call just to make sure and not shout. But aside from that, these are really a great set of phones if you generally listen in loud environments. Indispensable if you’re a traveller.

Thumbs up on the Bose Quiet Comfort 15s with a caveat- make sure you get used to the noise cancellation before you try using them on a call, and are OK with their overall sound/usage while traveling and/or using in the office. Also spendy, but worth the extra cash if this type of usage is your norm. These sit in my desk at work for daily use, and go straight into my laptop bag whenever I’m headed to the airport.

Sony MDR-V700DJ Headphones

Sony MDR-V700DJ – General Pro Use
I’ve had two pairs of Sony MDR-V700DJs for a decade, and they still rock 10 years later. Not a flat frequency response – a little wonky in the midrange if I was being anal-retentive but they sound great and cover most of my pro uses well once I got used to how they translate a mix. They sound warm and nice, particularly for electronic music with a super-wide range. They’re a bit awkward for general use, exercise or transit due to the bulky, curly cable and their weight, but for fixed listening positions they’re great- I always have one pair at my mixing console and another in my DJ bag. They fold out well for DJ use, and although they aren’t a fully-enclosed construction they still block outside noise decently and are pretty comfortable for long sessions at the console. These are also indispensable when on my electronic drum set for the same reasons as DJing- they can fold off an ear easily to can hear the stage mix and the IEM feed simultaneously, and sound fat at volume.

The MDR-V700DJs are not the best DJ (or general) cans out there, but there’s a reason this model’s still getting made after 12 years- they’re solid as hell, affordable – over $100 less than either of the two above – and sound great. I’m seeing more and more of the V700DJs over the years in pro situations, and environments where I’d normally expect snobbish reactions to such a ‘DJ’ pair of cans. Not perfect, but if I had to have one pair of cans to use for pro and consumer listening, Sony’s MDR-V700DJ model could still be the one. Seriously. A badass pair at a great price.

Wildcard – Jawbone Era
WTF? Yeah, I do listen to tunes with one other head(set). And yeah, it’s one of those douchey Bluetooth headsets, which only give you a mono/single-ear feed and generally sound crappy. There’s a reason this is listed last, and with some major disclaimers- I can’t say the Jawbone Era sounds good, nor that it’s a good listening solution. But it’s incredibly handy and gives you one free ear to boot. I only mention the Era here as it gives adequate audio quality for when I’m riding my bike and need to be mindful of my surroundings, and is a great handsfree set for talking with Siri and catching that important call while I’m bombing down the trails (whereas in the past I’d just bail on a ride entirely if I was waiting for a call). And it pipes in my Runkeeper.com audio prompts so I’m not blaring them from my handlebar-mounted phone while on the trail, another scenario that used to get me some serious stink-eyes from my less tech-obsessed trail partners.

In a nutshell- don’t buy a Jawbone Era if you want quality audio in the least. Don’t even remotely consider it an alternative to any of the three cans above. Consider an Era only if you find yourself needing something that works great as a phone headset but can still feed your ear some beats between calls in places where you can’t (or shouldn’t) really tune out the rest of the world.

What are you listening with these days?

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Scott

Bassist. Designer. Writer. Polymath. Father.