UPDATE: I added some new headphones to the list! (12/26/16) I’ll probably add to this again in the future.
I don’t like to trash headphones.
Today I’m gonna trash some headphones.
Some of which I even reviewed more positively in the past. Yikes! Come with me as I revel in the bad and correct a few mistakes.
What makes a headphone good?
A good pair of headphones combines long-wearing comfort, accurate and/or fun sound, and a solid build/design together for a price that meets or beats the competition.
All of the headphones below failed in at least one of the categories mentioned above.
More like NO-la.
The Blue Lola, and its active amplified cousin the Mo-Fi, both feature a unique and complicated headband mechanism. The headband is a series of metal arms attached together with springs, and instead of bending outward, it expands laterally, keeping the ear cups parallel the whole time.
On the Mo-Fi, the headband tension is adjustable. The Lola is supposed to auto-adjust its clamp to your head width. On my head, the above would happen. The headband sits crooked every time, and only straightens out if I jam it over towards the center with my hand.
You might think, “oh, he got a defective unit.” Nope. I tried multiple units. My first unit did have an obvious defect outside the non-centering headband: one of the headband arms was rubbing against itself, and slowly cutting a grove into the paint and underlying metal.
I emailed Blue about this issue and they were somewhat dismissive, but fortunately the retailer I bought it from saw the issue immediately and was happy to issue a return. The Lola has a decent, forward sound thanks to its huge custom drivers…but it lost a little of the fun the amp on the Mo-Fi provided. Speaking of which…
I gave the Mo-Fi a positive review. I was wrong to do that.
The sound is pretty good…but not really the balanced signature that they claim is “perfect” for pro use. But it’s still a solid, fun sound, with rolled off/scooped treble and nice punchy bass, especially on the “+” setting on the built-in amplifier.
The amplifier switch on mine is really prone to dust. I’m not sure why. It makes a lot of ruffling dusty sounds when I use it, like some crap got in there somehow. Furthermore, after my Mo-Fi sat for a while it now has trouble properly outputting sound to both channels. I didn’t do anything rough to it. It sat on a shelf for a while. Mediocre!
You’d think it would be better built for how heavy it is. This thing is heavy. It’s the heaviest headphone I’ve ever encountered. It’s fatiguing on the head, even with its impressive array of adjustments. It weighs a little over a pound. That’s a lot of weight to put on your head.
Blue got a fun sound right…and everything else wrong with their headphones. I was wrong about them before, and I apologize if you checked out the Mo-Fi on my recommendation and hated it. (Only five people have read that review as of this writing, so that’s unlikely, but still…) It’s the definition of not-for-everyone, and it turns out it’s not for me. I changed my mind twice in the past about these headphones, and I’ve finally landed on the truth.
Sometimes these things take more time than I’d like.
Sony Extra Bass XB950BT
I’m talking specifically about the Bluetooth Model here. The regular 950 is a respectable wired headphone, with a fun, dark sound.
I know the XB950BT is popular. It’s often on sale. It comes in a few different colors. It’s pretty darn comfy on the head. It looks a little bit silly, but it’s still definitely a style headphone.
Why is it on this list then?
The bass oh man.
In standard mode, the bass on these is overwhelming and slow to decay. It’s muddy and flumpy.
If you press the bass boost button on the bottom of the headphones…your head may very well just explode.
This is not the precise, hilariously stupid bass of the Skullcandy Crusher Wireless. It’s an order of magnitude more insane. It’s so much bass going everywhere that you won’t know what you’re even listening to. Some people want that. If you want that, it’s totally fine. I thought it was fun at first. Now that I’ve heard a much larger sample of headphones…I just can’t anymore. I can’t do it.
Also, several folks online have reported durability issues with these, particularly in the arms that attach to the ear cups. I never had an issue with my pair, but I only had it for a few months. It doesn’t surprise me that this is a problem since it’s a relatively cheap wireless pair, although Sony’s build quality is usually pretty good. Just something to be aware of.
Sennheiser Urbanite XL
The Sennheiser Urbanite XL is a great idea, but broken. The original Urbanites are great, for an on-ear. The XL’s? Not so much. The pads and cups are so big that they wouldn’t seal on my head, and I lost all bass response. I have a pretty big head, so you have to work hard to make this problem happen.
Regular Urbanites: yes. XL: no.
Sennheiser HD280 Pro
I actually really like the 280 Pro. It’s a classic headphone, with a good, time-tested sound. So why is it on this list?
Because it looks like an old telephone on my head.
One of my criteria for headphone design is that I should be able to take it out with me, to a coffee shop or whatever. I like my headphones to be portable, and not too silly-looking. The 280 Pro folds up in a bunch of different ways…but just look at this thing. It looks completely goofy. It might look too goofy to wear in a studio.
The goofy looks meant I stopped taking them outside with me, and eventually gave them to my dad. He is also a fan of these headphones. They sound great, they’re built pretty well…but the design is awful.
The design was actually updated recently to include a little recessed bit in the headband pad. I have no idea why they did this. Usually that’s done to help prevent hotspots on the top of the head…but I thought the old 280 pro headband pad was basically perfect.
Maybe they did it so they could lower the cost of producing the headband by not putting as much foam in it? I don’t know. Speaking of headband problems…
Sennheiser HD 558
Another headphone I legitimately liked. But after I wrote that review, the glue on my headband’s padding failed.
Very disappointing. I was crushed.
The headband is made of a rigid plastic that had to flex pretty extensively to fit on my large head. The pad is just glued onto the bottom without much fanfare. It started to come off and there was no going back, even when I tried to add more glue.
Many Sennheiser headphones share this design, so I’m paranoid about their newer models now. Did I mention the 280 pro had a great headband pad design?
I’ve had a hankering lately to check out one of Sennheiser’s newer models, so that might still happen. Keep your eyes open for more on this soon!
UPDATE: It happened. Here’s my review of the excellent Amazon-exclusive Sennheiser HD 598Cs.
This is a cute little headphone with a great, folding design. Unfortunately it’s so small that it wouldn’t fit on my head. Not even close. A shame. I’d only recommend this if you have a tiny head or are buying it for a kid.
I’ve had this fit problem with a few different Steelseries models, in truth. Except for the Arctis. The Arctis has one of the best, most comfy fits on the market, even on my big head.
Beats Solo 3 Wireless
The Solo 3 Wireless is the year’s most disappointing headphone, because it changed nothing important from the Solo 2. The Solo 2 is a pretty great headphone as clampy on-ears go, but better battery life bluetooth range do not merit a new purchase, no matter how much they’re hyped up.
I know I’ve said this so many times this year, but I really wish that Apple had improved the comfort or sound of this headphone. Or maybe added active noise cancelling. Give me something. Anything. A single important change.
There’s always the Solo 4?
Beats Studio Wireless
I really wanted to like the Studio Wireless. It’s a great-looking headphone, and the build is solid too. I bought a red pair on a heavy discount during a sale.
But the clamping force was so high that I couldn’t wear them for more than an hour without discomfort.
Also, unlike the Solo 2/Solo 2 Wireless, which share the same solid sound signature, the Studio Wireless has worse audio performance than the wired Beats Studio.
Its noise-cancelling has a high level of hiss, and its distracting in quieter moments of songs.
For all the frustration I’ve thrown at the Solo 3's…please don’t buy the Studios.
JBL Everest Elite 300
A weird clone of the Solo 2 wireless, with a slightly less-solid build and a bunch of gimmicky features. It has okay active noise-cancellation, and several cool options you can control with your phone, like auto-EQ adjustment and several manual profiles. The auto-EQ uses a sonar-like pulse to map your ear canal and the seal of the headphones against your head, which I thought was great.
Trouble is…once you’ve set up all these special features, you never really need to touch them again, and you’re left with perfectly unremarkable headphones. They’re not as stylish as the Solo 2, and they don’t cancel noise as well as Bose’s products. The sound is decent, and you can change the sound signature to your liking, but most people will do this once.
The build is a little flimsy. I’ve seen several demo units for these break/die at my local Best Buy. Demo units holding up is a good sign of build quality, because demos get handled far more roughly than average day-to-day use.
A good deal if you find them on sale, otherwise you’re better off with a different product. Also, any time that a headphone manufacturer gives me the option to tweak the sound of their product…I kind of feel like I’m doing their work for them. Maybe that’s just me.
Razer Kraken USB
The Razer Kraken USB is a cheaper version of the original Kraken Pro…and it’s bad. It feels too cheap. It doesn’t have the same plush ear cups, instead using shallow, thin pads. It has smaller drivers that sound much more tinny. It has a mic that doesn’t retract, but instead awkwardly folds up and down.
The Kraken USB is the definition of a bad budget product. It didn’t cost that much less than the far-superior Kraken Pro, and with the V2 out there now, there’s no reason to get this.
That’s it! That’s the list. I try to avoid anything that’s outright terrible by doing lots of research ahead of time, as I’m going on this odyssey for myself first, and the reviews second.
Sometimes headphones are great, and they displace something in my small personal collection.
Other times, they get returned or sold immediately. With a little time spent, you can find a good headphone at a good price pretty easily. Good luck!