4 Great Alternatives to 4 Overhyped Headphones

Enough is enough.

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Shopping for headphones is like shopping for wine.

1) Everyone has an opinion, but few people really know what they’re talking about.

2) Buy something under $5, and you’ll wake up the next morning with a headache.

3) Buy something over $1,000, and you won’t notice the difference unless you’re a connoisseur.

4) Most people will buy solely based on price and label, feel quietly insecure, then retroactively justify their purchase, despite knowing next to nothing.

Enough is enough. Dump out that $4 Chardonnay. Sell your $1,300 Bordeaux. And most of all, stop buying the hype and start shopping smart. Here are four great alternatives to four popular, overhyped headphones.

Apple EarPods ($29)

The Hype

Apple EarPods are, in many ways, the distillation of every invention in human history. For the first time, we have a product that blends the power of technology with the beauty of the human figure. It’s the first—and only—pair of earbuds to actually fit the human ear.

The Reality

It’s all baloney: manufacturers have been designing headphones to fit human ears for decades. Worse, experts report EarPods only sit snugly in some ears. Whoops. In fairness, Apple’s one-size-fits-some EarPods do beat the original Apple Earphones in raw sound quality. Two and a half cheers for Apple innovation.

The Better Choice: RHA MA 350 ($39)

At $39, you’ll have to drop an additional ten bucks for the MA 350, but your ears will thank you. They’re more consistent, provide better balance, and fit a much wider range of ears.

Beats by Dre – Tour ($149)

The Hype

Legendary rapper Dr. Dre was fed up: “People aren’t hearing all the music.” He set out to create professional-grade headphones for the masses—a line of products designed to capture every subtlety of the modern-day recording studio. Today, A-list celebrities, pro sports players, and Grammy-winning recording artists all use Beats by Dre gear. It’s simply the best in the business.

The Reality

Beats by Dre really is the best in the business—when it comes to marketing, not sound. Today, A-list celebrities, pro sports players, and Grammy-winning recording artists all use Beats by Dre because they’re paid to wear them. In fairness, you can do worse than the in-ear, Beats Tour earphones, but you can also do a lot better at half the cost.

The Better Choice: Klipsch Image S4 ($79)

Every bit as solid as the Beats by Dre model, the S4 can be found for a tidy $50, instead of $115. Buy two pairs, send one to your favorite relative, then buy your favorite Dr. Dre album for the remaining $15. Don’t worry: you’ll still hear all the music.

Skullcandy Navigator ($100)

The Hype

Skullcandy makes “the sickest headphones” on the market, designed exclusively for rebels, misfits, gamers, and extreme sports fans. Hit the slopes (or the living room couch) with a pair of Navigators and get top quality sound at an affordable price.

The Reality

Skullcandy makes headphones $25 to $50 more expensive than most brands, but designs them to appeal to teens and young men. The Skullcandy premium may not buy you better audio, but it will get you a little skull logo, a few translucent colors, and if you’re lucky, that elusive streak of rebelliousness you’ve been chasing ever since you were 16.

The Better Choice: Sennheiser PX-100-II ($40)

Granted, it doesn’t feature cobra skin, leopard prints, or skull silhouettes, but the PX-100-II offers comparable sound quality, sleek construction, and a price tag that’s $60 cheaper. Even better, they’re still compatible with skis, snowboards, and Xbox Ones. Just don’t tell Skullcandy.

Bose QuietComfort 15 ($270)

The Hype

Bose products are made for the sophisticated consumer. While the kids tromp around the house shouting into mobile phones, blasting rap music, and playing video games, relax with a Pinot Grigio and a pair of QuietComfort 15s.

The Reality

While Beats by Dre and Skullcandy compete for the young demo, Bose smartly targets the older and wealthier, with a strong emphasis on “wealth.” Just about every Bose product comes with a 2x premium, charging an extra hundred or two for minimal improvement.

The Better Choice: Audio-Technica ATH-M50 ($199)

While Bose buys ads in an attempt to snap the perfect stock photo, Audio-Technica stays laser-focused on producing top-quality sound. The ATH-M50 is still a great choice for home listening, and you can use the money you saved to buy the kids a trip to the movies the next time you need to relax. Even Bose can’t beat that.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

4 comments
Vancouver
Vancouver

I own both the QuietComfort and M50, and I have to disagree with the author's statements. These two headphones are not comparable because they serve two completely different purposes: the QuietComfort is specifically designed to cancel noise, while the M50 is not. It's true that the QuietComfort is overpriced and that the M50 does offer better sound quality, but if the consumer is looking for headphones that cancel noise, the M50 is not an appropriate alternative to the QC.

TheoBrinkman
TheoBrinkman

I'll admit to being confused by the "great alternative" to the Apple EarPods.  The RHA MA 350 ear buds are $10 more expensive, and worse in every presented metric but one.

victoria123
victoria123

I have had a pair of  Bose QuietComfort 15s for nearly 3 years and I found while they don't have amazing  sound quality. They are extremely comfortable and they block most external noise not to mention they are surprisingly durable. Although to be fair I have never used Audio-Technica's  headphones so they may very well be a better deal then Bose's QuietComfort line.

Black12Phoenix
Black12Phoenix

@TheoBrinkman  And yet they sound better. I've personally checked Apple's EarPods and I can tell you that they lied about the specs. 5Hz low frequency? Get real, Apple!
No surprise here, though. All brands lie.
Besides, headphone specs mean nothing to the consumer. 
(Less ohms means more easily powered headphones, especially by portable devices.
And more sensitivity means they play louder relatively to each other.)

What I can advise you to buy are the AKG K 315. Those I know and vouch for.

Further advice: go to Amazon and check the average review of the headphones. Then check the worse reviews. They are usually quite accurate at pointing out the best and worse about a product.