But pumping your favorite tunes through common earbuds may not deliver quite the high fidelity you deserve. I took a look at a fleet of modern headphones, both on-ear and over-ear models. I found a handful that could greatly improve your listening experience, with style.
You’d pay much more than the typical pair of earbuds — Apple sells it for $29 — but the investment is worth it considering how much better music sounds. The popular Beats by Dr. Dre aren’t the only stylish headphones on the streets. Here’s a look at a few others, branded by popular musicians, athletes and even a TV series.
— V-Moda True Blood V-80 ($230)
Supremely stylish, with a touch of the macabre, these brushed-metal, on-ear headphones boast branding from the HBO vampire series “True Blood.” Once you get past the blood-red color accents on the headband padding and on the finely braided cable, you’re still left with an excellent pair of headphones that perform as well as they look.
Allow me a moment to explain a bit of headphone technology. Drivers are the combination of a magnetic element and a moving diaphragm that creates the sound that your ears hear while wearing the headphones. A low-impedance rating indicates that the headphones are primarily suited for low-voltage amplifiers found in small, portable music players.
The V-80s have low impedance and 40-millimeter drivers. They offer a frequency range of 5 hertz to 30 kilohertz, which is a wide spectrum of frequency response. Jonas Starker’s cello solos, for instance, felt crisp and alive.
Purists will differ on how much the human ear can hear beyond 20 kilohertz. More important, I’ve often felt, is the quality of the recording you’re attempting to hear.
The V-80s handle modern wall-of-sound type rock records nicely as well. Regular MP3s as well as high-definition lossless audio tracks sound sharp and true to the recordings. You’ll have few complaints with these.
— Scosche Realm RH656md ($129.99)
These attractively priced on-ear headphones are finished in black and metal. They also sport 40-millimeter drivers and have a low-impedance rating. This pair performs fine for modern pop music, but appears to lack the detail for the high-resolution tracks that an additional $100 worth of improvements might give it.
The soaring highs in John Coltrane’s “Blue Train” hold up well, with clarity, but the lower end suffers and gets a bit lost in the mix. The frequency range on the Realms is a touch tighter at 20 hertz to 20 kilohertz, which may explain why I have to massage the equalizer settings on my player when switching musical genres.
— BiGR Audio Jam Master Jay ($149)
The outer earcups on these on-ear headphones boast a stylish woodcut design that pays homage to the late Jam Master Jay of Run-DMC fame. One side has his stage name and initials, while the other has a turntable-like arm gliding over the grooves in an LP. Under the hood of these light-duty, low-impedance headphones are 40-milllimeter drivers and a passable 20-hertz to 20-kilohertz frequency range — the same specification as the Realm headphones.
There’s a lot more plastic here than on some higher-priced, metal models, but the sound doesn’t suffer terribly from the slight build. These are nice walk-around cans that don’t lose their grip as I go about my day on the town. The budding audiophile will want to seek out something more substantial to handle finely mastered recordings, but BiGR Audio has delivered a decent pair of all-purpose gear here.
— Soul by Ludacris SL300JAM — Usain Bolt Signature Series ($349.95)
Something about me didn’t want to like these brightly colored over-ear headphones, emblazoned with a silhouette of preening Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt on each ear cup. They’re a bit ostentatious, like Bolt himself. And they are expensive.
But after I put them on, I surrendered to the most comfortable pair of headphones I’ve ever worn. My jaw dropped after I cued up Coltrane.
I give up. These are wonderful headphones.
Of the ones I tried, the Bolt headphones are the only ones with noise cancellation, which is the introduction of a discrete signal to eliminate surrounding environmental noise. Whether I had that feature turned on or off, the Bolt signature headphones stood up to each test of each genre I threw at it. I heard range and separation in Coltrane’s jazz, precise power in Metallica’s metal and the intricacy of latticed percussion in Simon & Garfunkel’s “Cecilia.”
As far as specs go, these headphones sport 40-millimeter drivers and weigh 252 grams, heavier than the others even without the two small AAA batteries. Soul would not provide additional specifications, such as the frequency range, claiming it is proprietary and patented technology, which is an unfortunate bit of non-disclosure.
But in the end, I don’t care what’s in Soul’s audio sausage. I just know that’s it sounds delicious.
The interior headband is smartly quilted and Bolt series headphones are collapsible for nice portability in their sturdy black case. If you’re OK with the Jamaican flag color palette (black, green and gold) and a bit of sticker shock, these headphones are bound to win you over.
Otherwise, for lighter duty and a less garish look, I’d have to say the V-Moda True Blood headphones should make the budding audiophile quite happy for less than $250.
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