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Shaken and stirred by Bob Marley headphones

Unlike most musician branded headphones, the new House of Marley headphones are the real deal.

I was treated to a nice sampling of House of Marley audio gear at a trade show recently, and came away impressed. HOM offers a wide selection of distinctly styled in-ear and full-size headphones, docks, and other gear, but when it came down to what I wanted to review I gravitated to the Stir It Up on-ear headphones ($200 with free shipping).

The Stir It Up headphone House of Marley

The Stir It Up won me over even before I heard it. Construction quality is a step up from the mostly plastic Bose Quiet Comfort, Monster Beats by Dre and Ludacris headphones. I realize a lot of folks buy headphones as fashion statements, but I could care less about style. Pick up a Stir It Up and you'll see it's made of wood, cast metal, and canvas cloth; these headphones feel substantial in your hands. The superflexible, tangle-free 52-inch-long cable isn't the least bit "microphonic," so it doesn't transmit noises from handling or rubbing against clothing. The three-button Apple controls, compatible with iPods and iPhones, let you control voice and music without reaching for your device.

The leather-like earpads and thickly padded, canvas cloth headband are fairly comfortable, at first, but the pads' pressure against my ears was higher than I'd like. The upside to that is the headphone provides a fair amount of isolation from external noise, and it stays in place even if you jump around when listening to your tunes. The Stir It Up comes with a beautifully designed canvas carry case.

With a Bob Marley branded headphone, you'd expect great bass, and it delivers. There's lots of bass, but it's not boomy or bloated; bass definition is very good. Midrange and treble response are rich and warmly balanced, so this isn't a headphone that emphasizes detail. The Klipsch Image One on-ear headphones are more comfortable, make more, though less precise, bass, but it sounds canned and more "closed-in" than the Stir It Up. The new Hifiman HE-300 open-back headphones ($249) offer the best balance of comfort and sound quality of the three headphones (review in the works). The Stir It Up's build quality trumps the others, and it comes with a two-year warranty.