The headphones you have plugged into your iPod, portable DVD player, or home receiver will, in large part, determine the quality of the sound that fills your noggin. Earbuds are cute, and some of the skinny, folding-headband models can sound pretty decent, but the best sound still comes from full-size, over-the-ear headphones such as Sennheiser's nifty $100 model, the HD 485.
The HD 485s employ Sennheiser's revised high-current, aluminum voice-coil and diaphragm geometry drivers for improved sound quality. The large headphones are awfully light, just 7.7 ounces, and thanks to their generously padded earcups and headband, they're a pleasure to use. The 10-foot long cable is fitted with a standard 1/8-inch minijack, and an adapter is included so that you can plug the HD 485s into a home stereo. For good measure, Sennheiser also throws in a sturdy holder/wall bracket that easily attaches to any horizontal or vertical surface to give your HD 485s a convenient docking station when not in use.
Plugged into our iPod, the HD 485s upped our estimation of the little player's potential as a high-fidelity device. Bass was big and beautifully defined, midrange was crystal clear, and the treble had plenty of sparkle without a hint of harshness or glare. We plugged in a pair of our reference for a brief comparison--their bass didn't reach as low, and voices and guitars lacked the rich sound they had over the HD 485s. If you want to hear how good your iPod or MP3 player can sound, buy a set of HD 485s!
Back at home, the Sennheiser 'phones killed when we checked out the Saw DVD. Not for the faint of heart, this DVD is loaded with grisly, blood-splattered scenes, and the HD 485s' über-detail-resolution put us in the thick of it. The open quality of the sound made it easy to forget that we were listening to headphones. We also sampled the Led Zeppelin II CD, cranked up to skull-crushing volume levels. The HD 485s held their own but were in some ways bettered by our faithful old Sennheiser HD 580 headphones ($300 when they were new five years ago). The 580s had even more and better low-end power, but the 485s were more transparent in the midrange and treble. So we're not about to proclaim the Sennheiser HD 485 as the world's best headphones, but they might be the world's best $100 contender.