2020’s Best Wired Headphones Under $150

Photo taken by the author.

It was a relatively quiet year for affordable wired headphone releases. Most of the movement in the consumer sector is now in the wireless space, and that shows no sign of slowing down.

Last year was also a tough act to follow, thanks to the huge splash made by the AKG K361 and K371. Sennheiser made some aggressive moves with their new HD 560S, and its $200 price tag and high level of performance seem bafflingly designed to eat away at the market share of their own massively popular HD6XX model.

Still, $200 is too much to pay for a huge swathe of the market. If you want to get into good audio at a fair price and you want the latest-and-greatest in wired headphones, my favorite pick this year is the Philips SHP9600. You can check out their official site by clicking right here. That’s not an affiliate link, as I think those are gross.

You’re not paying for fancy packaging, just for great audio. Photo taken by the author.

Like the Sennheiser model mentioned above, the SHP9600 has a wildly popular predecessor to contend with…and at first glance, the new one is on the back foot. The older SHP9500 has been a star of the budget space for a few years now, regularly selling well below its standard $99 price point. It offered folks a way to check out the benefits of well-designed open back headphones without spending a ton of money. What could a follow-up possibly improve?

Turns out: it could improve absolutely everything.

The SHP9600 is a little bit better in every important way than its predecessor…save for MSRP. The price is bumped up to $129.99, but like its older cousin I have no doubt it’ll receive regular discounts. Unlike the 9500, it doesn’t have any obvious flaws. The sound is far smoother and more enjoyable to listen to, with a bass presence and warmth that the original model was lacking. The build has been updated with a more modern-looking design. The clamping force and ear pad foam have been adjusted to increase the comfort. And the previous model’s wide soundstage is still fully intact.

The SHP9600 is a true taste of high-end audiophile listening at a lower price. Its detachable, non-proprietary cable makes it delightfully easy to connect to just about anything you’d like, and its efficient drivers mean it’ll sound loud and rich even out of stubborn sources like the PlayStation 4 controller. You won’t need any special equipment to make the SHP9600 sound great, but it has enough inherent detail that it’ll let you go crazy trying to discern the differences between amps down the road, if you want to.

The large soft ear pads are light and easy to wear for hours. Photo taken by the author.

It’s not quite as good-sounding as Sennheiser’s legendary 600 series open backs, but it’s not asking for nearly as much from your wallet. The previous version never quite resonated with me as it did for some fans, but the tweaks to the sound and design of this new model make it very exciting to me. It’s one of the best-sounding and most-comfortable open headphones you can buy, and if it follows the same pricing trajectory of its predecessor, it’ll be a nigh-unstoppable force. If you’d like to read even more details about it, check out my full review from earlier this year.

You don’t need to spend a lot to get good audio out of a headphone, and this pair is a beautiful example of that. The SHP9600 sounds good enough that you could buy it and never have to search again. It’s not for those that want special frills like Bluetooth connections, noise canceling, or spatial head tracking, but rather for those that want every dollar spent to come through as pristine audio.

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