An under-$100 headphone for bass-loving audiophiles

It's more than just the bass. The House of Marley Liberate headphones score decisive wins in comfort, build quality, and well-balanced overall sound.

House of Marley Liberate headphones
House of Marley Liberate headphones House of Marley

The House of Marley Liberate headphones don't look or feel like any other $100 pair. Most are flimsy plastic things, while the Liberate's metal, wood, hemp cloth, and vinyl construction gives it the feel of a more expensive design. The Liberate features 40mm drivers and an unusually flexible cable with an iPhone/iPad-compatible mic and inline controls. The headband isn't hinged and the earcups don't fold flat, but the upside to those design choices is the Liberate will probably withstand rough treatment better than most hinged models. Then again, the Liberate's cable isn't user-replaceable, so when it breaks you'll have to return the headphone for service.

As you would expect from a Marley-branded headphone the Liberate makes bass, lots of bass, but it's not sloppy or overblown; definition is actually decent. Vocals sound rich and warm, but again, detailing is fine, and stereo imaging is spacious and broad. There's a pleasant sweetness to the sound balance of the Liberate. I listened to a wide range of music genres on these headphones, and really enjoyed the sound with every one. They may not be the best headphones for folks who crave accuracy, but for everyone else there's a lot to like about the Liberate. If accuracy is what you want, check out the Noontec Zoro , which Amazon sells for $63. More comfortable than the Zoro, I found the Liberate headphones easy to wear for hours at a time.

The Liberate model also wasn't embarrassed by a comparison with the well-regarded $199 Audio-Technica ATH-M50 over-the-ear headphones. The ATH-M50's sound was more open, less stuck inside my head, and it had superior resolution, bass control, and definition. The ATH-M50 is better, but the differences weren't all that huge. Shop around for the House of Marley Liberate headphones and you'll find them for $65 or less online. At that price they're hard to beat.

Read the full CNET Review

Noontec Zoro (Black)

The Bottom Line: Bona fide $100 audiophile headphones are rare, but the Noontec Zoros' remarkably clear and balanced sound will wow the cognoscenti. / Read full review

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The Bottom Line: The Audio-Technica ATH-M50 Professional Studio Monitor Headphones are among the best available for less than $200, offering excellent sound and build quality. / Read full review

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About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.



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