Better Than Beats? 10 High End Headphones NOT by Dre
Who knew artist-branded headphones would be a billion dollar business? Apparently record exec cum tech exec Jimmy Iovine and his business partner super producer Dr. Dre did.
Apple's acquisition of Beats Electronics for a whopping $3 billion price tag, is of course one of the most talked about news stories of 2014 and especially relevant to rap fans because the good Doctor is on track to become hip-hop’s first official billionaire (yeah, with a "b"). And though the Beats line has never garnered the respect of audiophiles or gadget reviewers, Beats by Dre are without a doubt king of the streets. But what if you want to stand out from the pack? What's a hi-fi enthusiast to do?
Despite Beats by Dre’s dominance with consumers in terms of brand recognition, there’s definitely a lot of other contenders that are worth getting familiar.
So if you’re looking for a step up in sound quality or just looking to standout from the #BeatsArmy; check out our list of the most slept on headphones.
The Executive is Beats’ entry into the active noise-cancelling headphone product segment. A quick primer on “active” vs. “passive” noise-cancelling headphones: “active” noise-cancelling uses microphones to filter out ambient noise whereas “passive” noise-cancelling simply tries blocking out sound. Beats touts their Executive live to be the idea headphones to go “from boardroom to tarmac” but with it’s slightly less plastic-y finish and less than stellar reviews, I’m sure we can find a better use of the bills.
The Audio-Technica ANC70 is another active noise-cancelling headphone that uses a powered source to block out whatever ambient noise may distract you from your tunes - whether a noisey subway ride or engine of a G5, the ANC70 uses a AAA battery to block out the world around you. Unlike the Executive, you can still use the ANC70 after the battery has died (and die it will). Best of all, the ANC70’s will only run you $199 MSRP.
Bose QuietComfort 15
We know, we know; Bose makes stuff that your parents probably own but you gotta hear us out on this one. The Bose QC 15s are hands down the best product specifically for noise canceling and one of the more elegant looks in a pair of headphones. If boardroom to tarmac aesthetics are your thing - the QC15s are far and away the best choice for the same $299 as the Beats Executive.
In-ear & Sports Headphones
By this point you’ve seen LeBron stop his Imagine Dragons playlist/workout to answer a call and you’ve known at least one person thought they looked like this when they bought those Diddy by Beats in-ear buds, but isn’t it time you stepped up your sound game?
Simply put, the AKG K376 are serious in-ear buds for those that take their music seriously. Designed with 9mm drivers and closed-back aluminium housing these in-ear headphones are made to sound like on-ear headphones - no wonder it garnered praise from The Wirecutter in their in-ear headphone round-up. ($99 at Adorama)
Whether you’re Team iPhone, Android, or Windows Phone (you rebel/weirdo) finding a set of inline-mic headphones that works perfectly seems like a never ending quest; especially if you’re using a Windows Phone device the struggle is real. A-Jays are little known Swedish headphone company that designs gorgeous minimalist buds with crisp sound. The best part is they make a version of the Fives specifically designed for each operating system. So step up your game to a set of buds that look like they belong in a museum - you too Windows Phone guys/girls. ($99 from A-Jays direct)
Sennheiser OCX 685i
Getting beach ready with those wack $10 headphones? Worse yet, sweating into your expensive memory foam ear cups? That’s just nasty. Pick yourself up a pair of Sennheiser OCX 685is instead. The OCX 685’s share the same specs as the more expensive Sennheiser PMX 685’s and don’t come in 90’s Sony Sports Walkman colors. Best of all unlike the $150 Powerbeats, the OCX 685i will only set you back $60 so you can spend the other half of the Powerbeats on a couple of tubs of protein to get your weight up. Enjoy taking your talents to South Beach.
Premium Cans (Pro, Studio, and Solo competitors)
Rounding out this headphone battle we’ve come to the premium section; it’s time to ditch the plastic bands for something that looks as good as it sounds.
If you’re looking to be noticed and not have sound leak out of your cans look no further than the AKG K551’s. Though they’re only passive noise-cancelling phones, these premium pair of headphones can take on the Beats Pro easily and save you serious cash as well. Our favorite thing about the K551’s are their unapologetic size - these suckers are like pillows for the sides of your head. These will set you back $329 on Amazon.
If you’re looking for a Beats Studio competitor look no further than the Sony MDR-1R. It’s a black monolithic look speaks to the serious sound these cans produce. We’ve asked some of our sound engineer friends and these are their choice for reasonably priced cans that don’t look like toys. If you want pro sound then you should check out what pros are using. $179 on Amazon.
Grado Labs SR80i
Honestly the best $99 pair of cans you will ever own. Grado is known for the audiophile line of cans but their more consumer centric offerings do not skimp on sound quality. The throwback look also appeals to us. If you’re considering a pair of Beats Studio headphones you’d be better off buying two pairs of these.
The Danish headphone maker’s TMA-1’s are yet another gorgeous to look at set of cans that sticks with a matte finish and minimalist design. They’ll provide a rich bass like the Beats Studio without ignoring the rest of the audio range. ($169 on Amazon)
Last and far from least are the Sennheiser MOMENTUM. We got a chance to stop by their CES booth this year and got to try these out for a few. They are simply amazing! With an retro-industrial look to them they’ll definitely turn heads on your commute or while you’re chilling poolside at the Revel. These are premium cans all around so expectedly they come at a premium price but well below the Pros’ $399-$429 MSRP. ($299 on Amazon)