Top headphone picks for back to school students
Picking the right pair of headphones might seem like a tough task, but you'll find some ideas in this roundup of CNET's top picks. From over-ear cans to Bluetooth earbuds and even one or two planar magnetic headphones, there's something in here for everyone.
Skullcandy Grind Wireless
Give your student the gift of wireless audio with the Grind on-ear headphones by Skullcandy.
For under $100, the Grind Wireless is offered in six colors, and it performed well in our sound tests despite Bluetooth's inherent audio limitations.
Bose SoundSport In-Ear Headphones
Regardless of whether your student is the active type, there's no arguing with the benefits of getting outside for a little exercise. It's something we can all use, and the same goes for the Bose SoundSport In-Ear Headphones.
They feature a weather- and sweat-resistant design for improved durability as well as splash-resistance so you don't have to worry about them breaking midway through a run. Plus the drivers offer well-balanced sound with punchy bass performance.
Focal Sphear Earbuds
Not everyone is into the big, flashy over-ear headphones that seem to dominate the market these days. If subtlety is the ticket, then get your student deserves a pair of the Focal Sphear earbuds.
Thanks to their supreme comfort, you can wear them for long stretches at a time without experiencing listening fatigue, and they happen to work well with a variety of music genres.
Audeze Sine Headphones
If you're shopping for a discerning audiophile, you can't get much better than the Audeze Sine planar magnetic headphones.
This one's optimized for portable use so you can use it with a mobile device without leaking sound, and Audeze makes two versions: one with a traditional miniplug and another that adds an Apple Lightning connector instead. It's one of those headphones that sounds so good it'll make you want to go back and listen to your music collection to hear the little details that lesser headphones don't reveal.
Bose QuietComfort 35
Students, commuters, and everyone in between have been waiting for these headphones to come out, and Bose has finally delivered an active noise-canceling headphone that's also wireless.
Thankfully, Bose delivered on its promise; the QuietComfort 35 combines top-of-the-line active-noise canceling with wireless Bluetooth operation in an extra-comfortable, fold-up design. The sound is excellent for Bluetooth, and it doubles as a great headset for phone calls.
Bose SoundSport Wireless
Bose's SoundSport Wireless, the company's first Bluetooth sports headphone, isn't perfect but it may just be the best Bluetooth sports headphone currently out there.
What makes it the best? Well, it's very comfortable to wear, sounds good, seems well built, and at $150 it isn't outrageously priced, which makes it a great idea for students looking to add a soundtrack to a workout or active lifestyle.
Final Audio Design Sonorous III
The Final Sonorous III headphones are big and comfortable, like a plush couch. They also happen to sound great, too.
1More Triple Driver In-ear Headphones
If your student is always looking for the next big gadget, be sure to check out the 1More Triple Driver earbuds. You probably haven't heard of 1More, a Chinese company based in Shenzhen, but its Triple Driver is one of the best sounding in-ear headphones we've heard for $100.
Monster Adidas Sport Adistar
The big trend in headphones this year is absolutely wireless earbuds, and these Adidas-branded sports in-ears are a particularly good one. They offer a comfortable, secure fit with noise-isolating functionality, so long as you jam the tips into your ears for a proper seal.
Parrot Zik 3.0
Parrot's new Zik 3 headphones are by far the classiest-looking headphones in the lineup, with an eye-catching design and an excellent build quality worthy of the fashionista on your gift list.
Plantronics BackBeat Sense SE
Let's face it, students aren't exactly delicate with their gadgets and who can blame them? If you're shopping for a pair of headphones that can withstand the elements, the Plantronics BackBeat Sense SE has two words for you: "water resistance."
The SE has a special "nano coating" technology that makes it water-resistant, which might come in handy for students using them outside, near the pool, or sweating in the gym.
AKG N60 NC
A campus dorm can be a noisy place to study, but these noise-canceling headphones are a great way to drown out the world and focus. And if you can't afford to drop the money on a pair of Bose's top-selling QuietComforts, the AKG N60NC is a worthwhile alternative - they're a little smaller, which means they're better suited for smaller heads, and they fold up flat to fit in an included neoprene carrying case.
B&O Play BeoPlay H7
TB&O Play BeoPlay H7 by Bang & Olufsen is the company's first wireless headphone, but they knocked it out of the park on the first shot. The headband is crafted out of sleek, anodized aluminum, and the plush memory foam earcups can produce excellent sound without causing ear fatigue.
Bose SoundTrue Around-Ear Headphones II
These are one of the lower-priced headphones in the Bose line, but that doesn't mean they cut corners on sound or features. This model has a design refresh with a detachable headphone cord and a tight seal that filters out a lot of the noise from the outside world.
V-Moda Crossfade Wireless
If your student is hunting for a pair of premium wireless cans, you need to seriously consider picking up a pair of the V-Moda Crossfade Wireless headphones. They're not the lightest headphones out there, but they make up for it with a near-indestructible design and impeccable sound quality, even over Bluetooth.
Though the brand name might not be as recognizable as others, French company Focal is making quality headphones. Consider the Sphear earbuds if your student is always listening to music. The multiple ear tip options help make them one of the more comfortable sets we've used.
The Sony MDR-1A is a relatively lightweight, very comfortable full-size headphone that offers sound that's improved over the model that came before it. Audiophiles are proud to be picky about their sound, and this model flaunts better definition from the bass through the midrange to the treble. There are also two cables included in the box, one of which has an in-line remote for smartphones, along with a nice carrying pouch.
The Urbanears Hellas are great for the athlete on your shopping list. They're sporty headphones with touch controls that also let you remove the headband and ear cups and throw them in the washing machine.
Let's end this list with a pick for serious audiophiles. The Oppo PM-3 uses planar magnetic drivers, which tend to sound very spacious with low distortion. They're great for listeners with discerning ears, and this is a rare closed-back design that's optimized for mobile use.