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Comfortable and durable on-ear headphones--Ask the Editors

Digital audio editor Jasmine France answers a reader e-mail about on-ear headphones that have great durability, portability, and comfort.


Q: I have been digging through the CNET Web site for a perfect set of on-ear or over-the-ear headphones for listening to music on the subway--but I just can't find a pair that fits all my needs. I'm not an audiophile, but I do need the headphones to be comfortable for extending listening, durable (head band that won't snap easily), and portable (not too bulky). Since I am using them on the subway, it'd be great if they offer some kind of noise cancellation (passive or active, whichever). And I'm a student, so I'm working with a budget of around $100. -- Anonymous, via e-mail

A: By nature of the fact that on-ear headphones are also semi-open, they are highly unlikely to offer anything in the way of passive sound isolation, though the thickness and material of the earpad may contribute very slightly in this area. Unfortunately, I have not come across any on-ear models with active noise-cancellation in the price range you are looking at. The closest would be the Sennheiser PXC-300s, which can be found for around $125 online. (The Bose QuietComfort 3s would also be a great option, if they didn't blow the budget out of the water.)

Now, if you remove the noise-canceling feature, you get a couple of excellent options that fall at, or below, $100. The first is the Koss PortaPro, which has kind of a funky, retro look, but is very reasonably priced and offers good sound quality. (Plus, Koss headphones come with a lifetime warranty, so if the headband does break from normal wear and tear, the company will replace it.) If you're after something newer with a more low-key style, the Ultrasone Zino is a fantastic choice that also offers impressive sound quality and a flexible headband.