Firstly…what defines best when it comes to headphones?
Comfort for days. Good accurate sound that’s still a little fun. The best build for the price. A decent selection of extras. That’s it.
$100- Pioneer HRM-5's
I almost returned this pair because of how unremarkable a first impression it made. On further examination it became a true favorite.
They’re quite stylish for studio-focused headphones. The ear pads are made from plush memory foam and more comfy than anything else in this bracket and style that I’ve tried, as far as included ear pads go. The cable is removable and uses a proprietary connection, though other models use it as well so you should be able to pick up additional cables if the two included ones don’t do it for you.
The build is a good mix of metal and plastic. The included bag is nice, and they fold down.
Sound-wise, they’re pleasantly neutral and work well for just ab0ut any genre or taste. They’re one of the few models I’ve heard in this range that should please everyone with their sound.
If you want colors or wireless, these are not for you. If you want sound, build, comfort, here you go.
Runner-Up #1- HyperX Cloud II/Cloud X/Cloud
The Cloud would rank at the top if it had a removable cable and was a little bit bigger. I have to wear it adjusted all the way open, so it’s best for smaller heads. Comfort is exceptional, and HyperX includes a million extras in the box. Sound is a bit more aggressive, thumpy, and grainy than the HRM-5’s.
Runner-Up $2- Sony MDR-V6/MDR-7506
These classic Sony models fall just short of the top spot due to their attached cable and love-it-or-hate-it sound signature. The sound is a little more clinical and “studio-esque” than pretty much every other pair I’ve heard. The lows and mids are accurate, and the highs brush right into the fatigue barrier. If you’ve tried the rest and you want the best headphone that doesn’t just sound like every other headphone at this price, here you go!
$200- Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro
The DT770 Pro’s are my favorite headphones in the world. They’re built like tanks, their giant pads are soft and comfortable for hours, and their sound is a beautiful mix of the best characterstics of consumer and studio headphones.
The soundstage is massive, and the speed of the drivers is so quick that you’ll hear every little detail in your music. Whether you go for the 32 ohm, 80 ohm, or 250 ohm model, you’ll have a great time. The only negative to these headphones is that the cable isn’t removable. However, they’re entirely user-serviceable, so if you wanted to open them up and add your own removable cable, you totally could.
Some people might find their highs a little bit harsh, but I love this pair of headphones so much. They’re the gold standard in headphone audio that I compare everything else to, and nothing has worked as well for me personally so far.
They regularly go for around $180! And they’re the best pair of headphones in this article. Seriously. Just stop and go get some. I own all three versions because I’m nuts for them.
Runner-up #1- Sennheiser HD598Cs
A great twist on an old classic. The build is 90 percent plastic, but the comfort is wonderful and the sound is great. The cable is removable. If you want the best bang-for-the-buck pair from this legendary brand, here it is. Sometimes these drop as low as just $99, but they’re not in the above category since that’s a sale price.
Runner-up #2- Audio-Technica M50X
The headphone everyone loved…and then turned on. You get a great build, decent comfort, and a great selection of cables. And a nice folding mechanism. Not to mention sound that perfectly exemplifies the Audio-Technica house signature. It’s got emphasis in all the right places. If these were just a touch more comfy out of the box, they’d be right in line with the Beyers.
$300 — Bose QuietComfort 25
The Bose QuietComfort 25’s are still an exceptional product, several years after their release. Their light weight and extreme comfort combine with one of the flattest sound signatures Bose has ever produced to make a fantastic pair of headphones.
If you’re after comfort, these are the definition of top tier. They’re more comfy than the more-expensive QC35’s and MDR-1o00X’s, and more comfy than many cheaper headphones as well. They should work well for all head sizes.
Sound is flat, warm, and natural. It’s nice and pleasant. Bose’s more recent products employ more aggressive EQ to enhance certain frequencies and are a touch more boomy in the bass as a result. They don’t necessarily sound “Better” than any of the models above, but they do have a sound and quality that matches the price, in my opinion.
Build is not as strong as the studio headphones above, but still uses very nice materials that are worth the premium price. The use of triple A batteries is a nice touch, and battery life still trumps almost every wireless headphone/rechargeable headphone on the market.
Runner-Up #1 — Audio Technica MSR7NC($299)
The MSR7NC is the only pair of headphones I’ve ever used that truly competes with the featureset of the QC25. Their ANC is almost as good. Their comfort is almost as good. And they sound better to me, with a nice mid-high focused sound that might fatigue some listeners.
Runner-up#2 — Sony MDR-1A
The Sony MDR-1A’s are just as comfy as the Bose pair, and a little more punchy in the bass. They also have a better build. They don’t have any features though. They’re just good comfy headphones that make sound go into your ears. Still, if you crave that simplicity, these are worth a look.
(But I’d take the DT77o’s all day over all three of these. Don’t tell them I said that).
But What About Wireless?
Wireless headphones are going to cost you a lot, if you want something good that meets my criteria at the top. That’s the world we live in. The Bose QC35 and Sony MDR-1000X are both solid offerings with stupidly high price points ($349 and $399). The Skullcandy Crusher Wireless($199) is a good “value” option, as is the Pioneer MS7BT($129). But this article has price points right in the title, and dollar for dollar, wired headphones always give you more for your money.
Someday that might change, but that day is not today.