BARGAIN HEADPHONE SUMMARY / PRIMER (< $80)
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tmann

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I posted this on another site, and after all the typing thought it would be good to post here as a summary of less expensive phones (which people are always asking about). After learning so much from others here, I figured I'd earn my keep by passing on my headphone moxie. My knowledge dates to a few months ago, so if there are any new ones on the block that compete with these please add reply:

What do you want them for? The recommedations will be very different if you will be listening at home or taking them out, and whether you require a sealed phone. I have done a lot of research on bargain headphones and have a few of the most highly regarded ones.

FOR HOME USE: I think the Grado SR-60's are certainly the best value for the money ($60-70 - definitely worth the few bucks over your limit for the huge improvement over $50 phones). They are very natural sounding with good dynamics and tight, solid bass that is not boomy and artificially bloated like many cheap headphones. If you have never heard decent headphones I promise you will be very impressed. I highly recommend trying to find a local dealer that carries these and have a listen and also see if you can live with the retro design (at home - who cares?) and more importantly comfort. I also have the (discontinued) Sennheiser HD-545s, which are certainly more comfortable and are more detailed, but not as dymamic - good for jazz/classical (originally I think they were over $100 but I found a set a few years ago on ubid for $50). These are both "open" phones meaning they will not block much/any noise in or out, esp. the Grados. Others have their favorites (certain Sennheisers - Senn varies greatly in quality model to model, AKG, Beyerdynamic), but for this price you will have a very tough time beating the SR-60s for sound quality.

Closed phones don't sound as good for the money as open phones, but if necessary many like the Sony V6/V600 [EDIT: Should read V6/V7506 (same phones) , NOT V600 - the 600's are NOT well-liked], Sennheiser HD-280, and Beyerdynamic 231. (see headphone.com) EDIT: The Phillips HP-170 has received some praise here as a good closed phone, esp. for the $20 price (forgot about that one - has been found at Target and Rite-Aid, among other places. If you need a closed phone on a budget these might be worth a try.)

FOR PORTABLE USE: The Koss KSC-35s (available only on the Koss.com site, for $30) are, for me (and many others), easily the best-sounding portable headphones. They clip on your ears, so they don't have a headband and can fit easliy in a pocket, and I find them very comfortable. HOWEVER, they are open and let a lot of noise in. Because of this I got the Sennheiser PX-200s, which are small headband-type with pads that block out a good deal of outside noise, and do not leak sound out to others. They can fold up and fit in a jacket pocket. They are the only small closed non-canal phone. You can still hear some noise, which is good - you don't get run over, but bus/subway chatter is way in the background. The thing with these is you must ensure a good "seal" to get the good sound quality (can be tested by rubbing fingers together just outside phones). In a quiet environment I think the KSC-35s sound better, but that is negated when walking/bussing/subwaying around the city. I used the SR-60s for portable use for a while but they are really too big, way too open, and the cord too thick (gets twisted easily too) for city walking. It was a relief to move on to the 35s/PX-200s for convenience's sake.

For train travel the larger closed phones above could be a consideration since size is not as much of an issue compared to schlepping around town. They do not block out as much outside noise as a canal phone (see below - small, block out almost all noise).

Other highly regarded portable phones are the Sennheiser PX-100s (which fold like the 200's but are open and compete with the KSC-35s), and Koss Porta-pros and Sporta-pros, which use the same driver as the KSC-35s but have a headband (P) and behind head band (S) which position the driver closer to the ear and have more (too much, IMO) bass which muddies the sound a little. The newer KSC-50s are clip-ons, with the same driver, but fit too loosely and don't sound as good, flop around on the ear, and are ugly.

For uber-portability the best "earbuds" are Sennheiser MX-400/500 (500 has remote), and cost around $12. Some people like the Sony 888 buds, but the Senns are generally considered the best. [EDIT: These are not to be confused with canal-phones like Shure and Etymonics. The Shure E2Cs are probably the cheapest quality canal-phone (can be found as low as $80 if you look real hard). I do not have these, but I will probably be getting them for plane travel, where closed phones are a must. They might block out too much noise for safe city walking. Koss makes very cheap canal phones (The Plug) that I currently use for plane travel, but they are not very good or comfortable. There are mods for these posted on the net (inluding here) that make them sound better, if you like to tinker. I have not tried them yet.]

Headphone.headroom.com and head-fi.com are the best headphone references.

Thus concludes todays bargain headphone primer.
 
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Bolt San

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Looks good.
I'd take out the V600s and add the Sennheiser HD 280s, which are 80 from djmart.com.
I think the Sharp MD33 deserves to be on there, also.
 
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BPRJam

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And personally, I wouldn't leave out the Phillips HP170. These are around $20, and are quite good closed phones for the price. I like them better than the KSC-35s, for instance.

These actually have a small but devoted following around here. (At least they used to).

BPRJam
 
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Correction to your post: not many people like the V600. A whole lot of people like the V6/7506. The V6 is probably my favorite can.

The KSC-35 is a good can for the money and I love it. The bad: IMHO the bass is just out of control and lacks a lot of detail. The sound can get old too soon too fast. For some materials the highs can be way too shrill.

The E2 is a good value canalphone. It is not as detailed as the ER6, but it offers are more 'fun' colored sound and overall it has a good balance of low end and high end content. The isolation is very good and it is very comfortable to use.

After listening to my etys, I can no longer listen to the MX500/MX400/MX300. I am not too much of a fan of these.
 
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slchang

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I would add that E2Cs (and other canalphones, but most others are more expensive) are not only uber-portable, but highly recommended for mass-transit commuters. E2Cs can be found for $80 new if you look around, and of course for less used. If you travel often via bus, train, subway, or airplane, they're hard to beat for a good isolation/sound combo. Of course there are better-resolving canalphones, but when you're up against a jet engine you're not likely to fully appreciate the finer sonic characteristics.

I think there might be some Sony and/or Sharp canalphones that some would find suitable in the portable-for-mass-transit category, and are a little cheaper, but I can't remember model numbers off the top of my head.
 
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lini

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I'm missing the Creative HQ-1300/Labtec Elite 840 (~ 25 Euro) as well as the Beyerdynamic DT531 (discontinued and now on sale over here for ~ 80 Euro).

Greetings from Hannover!

Manfred / lini
 
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Davie

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I would add the Sennheiser 497, which some (including me) prefer to the Grado SR-60.
 
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Lisa

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You forgot the senn PX100. IMO better than the PX200.
Maybe the ksc 35 are better but from what i've read they are in the same league as the koss phones you mentioned.
 
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Davie

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Congratulations Lisa! That was your thousandth post.
 
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Lisa

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I know Davie. I was planning my 1000th post for a review, but that meant not posting for two weeks. And I couldn't resist
 
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tmann

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Updated the summary. Thanks for the replies! I left out phones I don't know much about (like the Sharps and Senn 497s) but they are there in the replies for all to see.

I hope this will be useful for somebody. I wish I had seen a post like this when I was a noob!

 
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swalker

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I know these get never recommended but I think the Koss PRO 3AA and the R80 are up there in terms of sound quality and both can be had well under $50 on the internet. Maybe I should start the team Koss cheap closed headphones.
 
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Earwax

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Excellent post!

I have one thing to add:

The Koss KSC-55 has the same driver as the KSC-50, but in a neckband style headphone. Some people say it's the same driver as the KSC-35, others disagree and say it's slightly inferior. Reports are that it's too tight for people with large heads, but it's another cheap, yet decent sounding option for those who like neckband 'phones and have smaller noggins.
 
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BigD

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Although not too many people know about audio technica ATH-EZ5CX, I think they were the best $25 spent on my trip to Japan.
These A-Ts topped over koss porta pro, koss ksc35, senn px100, senn hd477, senn hd400, a-t ath-em7, sony mdr-nc11.

ATH-EZ5CX has natural and warm sound, good detail, sweet midrange, fatigue-free, and comfort feel. I had about 50-60 headsets under $70 and these clip-ons were easily in my top 3 list among px200.

Anybody want to try my audio technica???
 
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saint.panda

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For budget I think the Beyerdynamic 231 is a real bargain as well. Nothing can beat the Ksc-35 though


Nevertheless, for me the best sounding headphones for under 70$ are the Grado SR-60. Not the best bass, but very nice highs and simply amazing midrange for that price.

Excellent post by the way.

Edit: And the Grado SR-60 can be had even cheaper if in used condition
 
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