Last month I posted "The Audiophiliac's top 10 (full-size) headphones for 2015" list of the world's best and most expensive models, this time it's an affordable headphone list.
I've limited my selections to just one model from each brand, and I've spent many hours listening to each of these headphones, they're listed in alphabetical order. All of them are full-size headphones, unless otherwise noted.
Audio Technica ATH MSR7
The ATH-MSR7 from Audio Technica is a big step up from other headphones in its price class in terms of resolution, so it's the sort of sound that gets strong reactions from listeners. There's a lot of clarity, so you feel a strong connection to the music, but it's also the kind of headphone that's not shy about revealing harshness or distortion in recordings.
Beyerdynamic DT 880 Edition
The DT 880 Edition is available in three different versions, a low 32 Ohm model for use with portable music players, and 250- and 600-ohm models for home use. I came to really admire the 600-ohm DT 880 Edition' sound with music and movies, it's a great home-theater headphone.
FiiO EX1 In-Ear Headphones
Let's cut right to the good part, the FiiO EX1 is a great sounding $89.99, £69.99 in-ear headphone. The low bass pulse coursing through Nine Inch Nails "Hesitation Marks" album was profoundly deep and tight, the EX1's low-end will blow you away! Stereo imaging is expansive, detailing is good, but not so extreme as to render over compressed recordings unlistenable. In fact, the EX1's sound was consistently flattering to all music genres.
Focal Sphear In-Ear headphones
The Sphear's bass is ripe and full, and yet definition and impact are first rate. Treble is pleasantly crisp, detailed and clear; midrange presence and body were exceptional. All of that made classical and acoustic music of all types come alive over the Sphears, and that's hardly a given with most similarly priced in-ear headphones. Sphear runs $179 in the US, and £100 in the UK.
I've covered the wide range of Hifiman's headphones, from their downright affordable to high-end full-size headphones many times on the Audiophiliac. Even so, the new over-the-ear HE400S made me sit up and take notice, and not just because this headphone is the lowest price planar magnetic design ever offered by Hifiman. The HE400S is the best-sounding $299 (around £190 in the UK) headphone of any type I've ever heard.
This headphone has a fresher, more contemporary look, feel, and sound than other Koss headphones, but like the other ones the Pro4S is sold with a lifetime warranty! The Koss Pro4S sells for $150 in the US, and £130 in the UK.
Monoprice Hi-Fi Lightweight On-Ear Headphone
The Monoprice Hi-Fi Lightweight On-Ear Headphone is sonically on par with headphones that sell for up to $100! So at $14.99 (plus Monoprice's $4.99 flat-rate shipping in the US), it's a steal! The headphone is sold direct by Monoprice with a 1-year replacement warranty, and a 30-day money-back guarantee. Unfortunately, the Monoprice Hi-Fi Lightweight On-Ear Headphone is not sold in the UK or Australia.
The Oppo PM-3 is fuller in the bass and sweeter in the treble than strictly neutral, which isn't a bad thing if you listen to a lot of less than pristine sounding MP3s or low bit rate streaming music. Everything goes down nice and easy, but when you play high-res music the PM-3's sound comes alive. The PM-3 is now available in black, white, red, and blue finishes and sells for $399 in the US, and £349 in the UK.
PSB M4U 4 In-Ear Headphones
Where most in-ear headphones have dynamic or balanced armature drivers, the M4U 4 Hybrid Dual-Driver System uses both. Resolution of fine detail is very good, but not to the point less than stellar recordings sounded harsh. The PSB M4U 4 sells for $299 in the US and £229 in the UK.
Sennheiser RS 175
The Sennheiser RS 175 is a full-size, home-bound (not portable) RF wireless headphone, The RS 175 system demonstrates how far, literally, high-end wireless performance has come. Sound quality is quite good, more or less on par with similarly priced wired headphone models, and that's high praise for a wireless, affordable headphone. The RS 175 sells for $249 in the US, £168 in the UK, AU$599 in Australia.
There's a lot to like about the Sony MDR-1A, first and foremost, it's super comfortable, and the even tempered sound is easy on the ears. The MDR-1A just sounds right. The balance of bass, midrange and treble is as smooth as can be, the stereo soundstage is spacious, and dynamic range is, well, dynamic. The Sony MDR-1A sells for $299 in the US, and £170 in the UK.