You can't talk about headphones without mentioning the name Sennheiser. The company earns more total recommendations for its headphones than any other, with choices ranging from the budget-priced Sennheiser PX 100-II (Est. $60) to the ultra-luxurious Sennheiser HD 800 (Est. $1,500) . Among Sennheiser headphones, however, none earns more thumbs up from reviewers than the Sennheiser Momentum (Est. $300) . These closed-back, over-the-ear headphones are designed specifically to be used with mobile devices, while still delivering the top-notch audio performance that Sennheiser is famous for.
While not every reviewer considers the Sennheiser Momentum to be the best headphones on the market, virtually all of them agree that it's a contender for that title. Professional testers consistently describe the sound quality as excellent: rich and generally well-balanced, with a hint of extra punch on the bass. Reviewers are also impressed with the Momentum's luxurious design, featuring leather lining on the ear pads and a sturdy metal headband. Most reviewers describe the headphones as comfortable, but some -- both professionals and users -- say the ear cups are too small.
If you want what audiophiles call "reference" audio quality, the open-air Sennheiser HD 650 (Est. $500) gets excellent reviews. These are big headphones, certainly better for listening at home than for portable use. CNET says the full-size Sennheiser headphones provide a "sweetness … that flatters all sorts of music," though performance tends to be laid-back rather than front row. In his review for PCMag.com, Mike Kobrin writes, "These very comfortable cans are the best I've ever heard, bar none, and I use them extensively in both of my professional lives: as a musician and an audio reviewer." If you're looking for open hi-fi headphones, the Sennheiser HD 650 headphones are worth a look.
Bowers & Wilkins headphones also get excellent reviews from critics: the Bowers & Wilkins P7 (Est. $400) and the Bowers & Wilkins P5 (Est. $300) . The P5 is an on-ears model, while the P7 is a larger, over-the-ears style. Both headphones have a closed-back design, which helps isolate sound, though they won't block sound as completely as headphones with active noise cancellation. Both are also luxuriously built, with padded leather lining on the headband and ear pads and metal hinges that allow them to fold flat for storage.
In professional tests, the P5 and the P7 headphones earn very good scores for sound quality. However, in direct comparisons between the two, the P7 tends to come out on top. Geoff Morrison of TheWirecutter.com says the P7 sounds every bit as good as the Sennheiser Momentum, but in a slightly different way: "The P7s sound a little more open and spacious, while the Momentums have a little more bass." Most reviews also describe these Bowers & Wilkins headphones as extremely comfortable; although they're on the heavy side, most users don't find them at all fatiguing to wear for long periods. Their main drawback is their $400 price tag. Some professional testers think their superb build and sound quality make them well worth it, but others argue that other headphones, such as the Sennheiser, provide equally good sound for less.
Many reviewers are also enthusiastic about the performance of the Bowers & Wilkins (also known as B&W) P5. Joe Brown of Wired raves, "We suggest you skip meals for a couple of weeks and divert the money you would've spent eating on a pair of Bowers & Wilkins P5s." However, we saw more quibbles with both sound level and comfort than we did for the P7. Several reviews say the P5's leather ear pads, which rest directly against the ears, can become uncomfortably hot. Moreover, several reviewers at Head-Fi.org, an audiophile website, say the sound of these B&W headphones isn't good enough to justify their $300 price tag.
For users who prefer the sound of open-backed headphones, we found the best reviews for the Grado SR80i (Est. $100) . Audio authorities call these lightweight, on-ear Grado headphones one of the best bargains in high-performance headphones on the market. While their retro styling might not appeal to everyone, most reviewers say the headphones are very comfortable to wear. They also get excellent ratings for sound quality, easily matching or even trumping the Sennheiser and B&W headphones in professional tests. Their main drawback is that their open design will not spare others from hearing much of what you hear. As a result, many reviewers deem them a poor choice for use in public.