While a truly excellent pair of headphones can cost $300 or more, there are plenty of very good choices out there for smaller budgets. In the $85-and-under range, we found the most recommendations for the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro (Est. $85) . Like the much pricier Sennheiser Momentum (Est. $300) , these Sennheiser headphones have a closed-back, over-the ear design that helps shut out ambient noise. Multiple expert reviews say these headphones provide much better sound than you'd expect from headphones in this price range: balanced and detailed, with just a touch of extra emphasis on the extreme high and low ends. Experts also find their light, well-padded frames very comfortable.
Owners at Amazon.com are impressed with the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro as well, awarding it 4.4 out of 5 stars overall following more than 1,200 reviews. Some owners describe them as uncomfortably tight, but most praise their comfort as well as their sound quality and durable build. However, the more demanding users at Head-Fi.org are less impressed. Although more than 80 percent of them still recommend these Sennheiser headphones, a significant percentage say their sound is weak, especially on the low end.
Although the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro can fold flat for storage, it's a bit too bulky and heavy to be portable. For on-the-go use, a better choice is the Koss PortaPro (Est. $35) . These retro-looking Koss headphones have been essentially unchanged since they debuted in the 1980s, and they've continued to deliver quality sound at a very affordable price. CNET, which named these headphones an Editors' Choice in 2008, says they "simply blew us away with their range and ability to maintain quality at a high volume." However, reviewer Justin Yu notes that their on-ear design allows a lot of sound leakage.
In general, reviewers describe these Koss headphones as surprisingly comfortable and lightweight, despite their old-school looks. Their metal headband has a feature Koss calls the "Comfort Zone," which lets you adjust the pressure of the earpiece against your head. The downside of this feature is that the headphones can't be locked in place, so some users say they tend to slide around and can get caught in hair. The lightweight headphones can also fold up for travel, though some users say folding and unfolding them can be tricky. One feature that reviewers universally love about the Koss headphones is their limited lifetime warranty, which allows owners to get repairs even years after their initial purchase. Considering that most pricey headphones are covered for two years or less, this is a nice perk.
Another great budget choice is the Sony MDR-7506 (Est. $85) . In tests last year at TheWirecutter.com, these beat out nine other sets of headphones in the $150 range, including the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro. Multiple professional reviews say these Sony headphones offer amazingly good sound for their price, with good balance and detail that suit all styles of music. Most reviewers also say they're quite comfortable, with a fit that works for a wide variety of head sizes and hairstyles. Some reviews note the faux-leather-covered ear pads can get very hot and sweaty in the summer, but swapping the covers out for velour ones is an easy fix. The team at TheWirecutter.com also praises the headphones' build quality, saying, "Some reviewers on Head-Fi and Amazon discuss having pairs over 10 years old and still going strong."
Finally, for users who prefer the sound of open-backed headphones, there's the Grado SR60i (Est. $80) . These are essentially a scaled-down version of the on-ears Grado SR80i headphones (Est. $100) mentioned in our discussion of the best headphones. In professional tests, they don't perform as well as the pricier Grados, but experts still say they have the best sound you're likely to find in this price range. Editors at What Hi-Fi? gently mock their old-school styling, but they say the sound has everything you could want except for "ultra-deep bass." The SR60i headphones get a lot of positive feedback on Amazon.com as well, with over 60 percent giving them a perfect five-star rating. The one drawback reviewers note about these headphones is that their open-back design tends to leak sound, making them unsuitable for use in public places.