As the owner of a pro recording studio in Chicago, I'm picky about my headphones. I own more than a dozen pairs, and not a day goes by where I don't make use of headphones in some form or another. While you can spend hundreds of dollars for hi-fi quality, I've learned you can also get great sound (if not durability) from phones that cost less than a chicken Parmesan sandwich and a bag of chips.
Below, we present five headphone bargains, plucked from the site. Need help deciding what to buy? Remember that in general, a great set of headphones should be comfortable, lightweight, durable, and deliver a solid frequency response across the audio spectrum. The ideal ranges from 20Hz (that deep low end) to 20kHz (that crisp high end). And while humans can't technically hear those frequencies, we can feel them — just as we can sense a good deal when it sings to us, right?
- Skullcandy 2XL Shakedown Over-Ear Headphones
Price: $7.99 plus free shipping
Lowest By: $23
Is It Worth It?: Looking at these headphones, I see plenty of potential for breakage and flimsiness, which no serious music jockey would use on a recording session. However, for recreational use, you can't beat the price. Try ordering two pairs instead of one though; that way you'll have a second as a backup in case the first break, and you'll still pay much less than you would for a single pair of most other similar headphones.
- Koss PortaPro Semi-Open Headphones
Price:$19.99 plus $4.99 s&h
Lowest By: $6
Expires: August 20 at 5 am ET
Is It Worth It?: I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for Koss, the Milwaukee-based company that invented headphones as we know them. The high-end response (25kHz) is far above human hearing range, so you can count on nice treble definition. Plus, these headphones fold for easy transport. As the Koss PortaPros don't totally enclose your ears, you won't get the isolation that higher-end sets can offer. But in quieter listening environments, they should work fine — and you'll get a few nice bonuses, such as a carrying case and adapter for 1/4" input jacks.
- Able Planet True Fidelity Noise-Canceling Headphones
Price: $39.99 plus free shipping
Lowest By: $37
Is It Worth It?: Yes, as you're getting the dual benefit of a noise-canceling feature and in-line volume control. Amazon customers give this model high marks, though that's based on just a handful of reviews. The Able Planets also fold for easy storage, a big plus for travel situations where noise-canceling headphones get a workout. While I'm not a huge fan of such headsets — a headphone with great ear isolation does the trick for me — I can easily justify $40 for these babies.
- Shure Sound Isolating Earphones in Clear (scroll down to find them)
Price: $49.99 plus free shipping
Lowest By: $2
Is It Worth It?: Heck yeah! Shure was doing earbud-style phones way before its competitors. It makes in-ear monitors for the most demanding rock musicians, and how they squeeze all that sound quality into a bud the size of a thumbnail still escapes me. Do note that if you're used to big, padded phones, it's possible no earbud-style headphone will do the trick. But if a better, clearer, more isolated mini-earphone exists, I've yet to find it. Shure has been my go-to brand for years, and I've always been satisfied. Highly recommended.
- Ultrasone S-Logic Surround Sound Pro Headphones
Price: $159.95 plus free shipping
Lowest By: $89
Is It Worth It?: Hard to say. The ultra-wide frequency response on both the high and low ends makes it a great bet you'll love your music through these cans, and New York's mighty B&H is known for selling top-grade merchandise at rock-bottom prices. That said, I'm not sure what makes these so "pro," as the recording studios I frequent use brands such as AKG, Sennheiser, and Shure. So while the price and specs look great, see if you can try a pair at a store near you; or, buy with the understanding that you might decide to return them. With any investment of $100 and up for headphones, you'd be smart to test them for comfort, flexibility, and fidelity. Never having heard of the Ultrasone brand, I can't personally vouch for them — but that doesn't mean they aren't "ear-riffic."