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Top 5 Best Headphones & Earbuds for the Money 2012

By Sandra Parker

headphones listening musicRegardless of whether you are jamming on the subway to your favorite tunes on your MP3 player or listening to music in the house, getting the best audio quality out of your device largely depends on the headphones you choose. But with all the options on the market today, how can you make sure that you are getting the best headphones for your money?

Here are the top headphones and earbuds that provide great sound at prices that should fit just about any budget.

Best Earphones & Headphones

1. Klipsch Image S4 In-Ear Headphones

Klipsch offers listeners a solid sound experience at a good price, as the sound quality of the Klipsch Image S4 In-Ear Headphones is on par with headphones significantly more expensive.

Price: $65

Pros:

  • Exceptional Audio Quality. These earbuds offer exceptional quality in terms of audio reproduction for a lower price than many of its competitors.
  • Comfortable Earbuds. I am a big fan of the “gummy” earbud covers, as they are exceptionally comfortable to wear. This is good news for anyone who likes to listen to their portable music device for long periods of time.
  • Included Storage Case. This earbud set includes a storage case, which goes a long way to keeping your earphones and cabling intact instead of tangled around your car keys in your purse or lost in the depths of your glove box.

Cons:

  • Cable Fragility. One of my least favorite things about these earphones is the relative fragility of the cable. I hate it when the plastic covering over the cable breaks, exposing the thin copper wire inside. This means that I am just a few short weeks away from having to head to the store for a new set. The good news is that you can minimize the wear and tear on this cable by keeping the earbuds stored in the storage case. Otherwise, I fear that these buds won’t have a long life.
  • Large Earbuds. The other drawback is that even though the gummy earbud covers work great for me, my teenage daughter and preteen son both have trouble keeping them in their ears. These buds might be sized a bit too large for smaller ear canals.

The noise-cancelling properties and solid sound quality, as well as the sub-$100 price tag, make the Klipsch Image S4 In-Ear Headphones a winner in my book.

klipsch image s4 earphones

2. Shure SE535 Sound Isolating Earphones

It’s hard to find a set of earbuds that offer the pounding bass of over-the-ear headphones, but with the Shure SE535 Earphones, Shure seems to have figured it out. And that’s not all they’ve figured out.

Price: $440

Pros:

  • Solid Bass Reproduction. These earbuds have the ability to produce some of the richest, deepest bass tones I’ve ever heard from earbuds. Bass is to audio as black levels are to video: It provides the contrast you need in order to truly enjoy your music. And Shure delivers it, tightly and without vibration or distortion, even at volume levels that would probably be considered unsafe by audiologists and your mom.
  • Integrated Noise-Cancelling Technology. These earphones do an exceptional job at blocking outside noise, so you get a true appreciation for the sound quality they offer. You’ll hear every note without having to head to the library to do it.
  • Comfortable Earbuds. The gummy earbud covers are extremely comfortable, which makes long-term listening enjoyable. Shure also added an in-line volume control, which means that you can leave your portable music device in your pocket and adjust the volume via the control on the cable of the earphones.

Cons:

  • Price. The main drawback to these earbuds is the price. These are definitely pricier than most of the competition, and while you certainly get great audio quality for the price, most people aren’t in the market to drop over $400 on a set of earbuds.
  • Large Earbuds. Additionally, like with the Klipsch earbuds, the speakers are a bit large for smaller ears, so be aware of this when making your purchase.

Shure offers one of the best earbud listening experiences on the market today, but all that audio goodness comes at a price – a steep price. If you are looking for the best and are willing to pay for it, then Shure has what you are looking for.

shure se535 earphones

3. Aiaiai TMA-1 Professional DJ Monitoring Headphones

The Aiaiai TMA-1 Professional DJ Monitoring Headphones offer a really great audio experience. It’s so good, in fact, that these are actually recommended to audio professionals, namely traveling DJs. They are rugged and offer a quality audio experience that won’t break the bank.

Price: $200

Pros:

  • Solid Audio Quality. The biggest claim to fame for these full-sized earphones is the quality of the audio they produce. You get a hard-pounding bass sound that will rock any amateur or professional DJ’s world. Of course, music aficionados like myself can also benefit from such a great musical experience.
  • Rugged Unibody Design. The rubberized, unibody design keeps these headphones intact and sounding great under the most brutal of conditions. Even the cables are rubberized and tough.

Cons

  • Lack of Headband Padding. I wish that Aiaiai has included some sort of padding along the hard rubber headband. After a while, it just felt as though the headband had started rubbing a bald spot on my head, especially after a few times of taking them off and putting them back on again. I can only imagine how a professional DJ might feel after a night of such activity.

The Aiaiai TMA-1 Professional DJ Monitoring Headphones are well worth the money you pay for them, regardless of whether or not you have earned your professional license to party. The fact that they were designed for heavy use means that the $200 you pay now will give you years of listening pleasure.

aiaiai tma headphones

4. Bose QuietComfort 3

Bose has been the industry leader in quality consumer audio equipment for many years now, so it makes sense that Bose would create quality over-the-ear headphones, including the Bose QuietComfort 3.

Price: $350

Pros:

  • Compact Design. The compact design of these headphones makes them easy to use and store at home, as well as take them on the road. They fold up and fit inside a carrying case, which makes them super portable.
  • Great Listening Comfort. I love the attention to detail by Bose to ensure listener comfort. Bose designed these headphones to rest gently on top of your ear (supra-aural), and you can expect to have your ears cradled with memory foam padding around the speakers, as well as along the headband. This makes it easy to get lost in your music for hours.
  • Fully Wireless. The Bose QuietComfort 3 headset is wireless and rechargeable, so you can clean the house while listening to music and not disturb anyone else.
  • Integrated Noise-Cancelling Technology. Bose is well known for their noise-cancelling technology. The sound quality is top-notch.

Cons:

  • Price. As with any Bose audio device, these headphones are expensive. That’s not to say that they aren’t worth every penny, but not many people are willing to part with more than $300 for a set of headphones.
  • Short Battery Life. Because this device is wireless, you must remember to constantly recharge it.

Bose offers an exceptional audio product – but at a steep price. If you are in the market for a great set of headphones, consider taking advantage of Bose’s 30-day home trial period before deciding whether they are worth the expense.

bose quietcomfort 3

5. Koss PortaPro Headphones

Koss offers some of the lightest and most compact headphones in their Koss PortaPro offering. Not only do you get a solid audio experience, but you get it from a slick-looking set of ultra-portable headphones at a great price.

Price: $40

Pros:

  • Lightweight and Comfortable. These headphones are feather light. After you get them on, it’s easy to forget that you’re even wearing them.
  • Retro Design. The design is reminiscent of something you might have seen in the ’80s, but that’s because Koss introduced them in 1984 and haven’t changed a thing in 28 years. These headphones have a supra-aural design that allows the ear cups to rest against your ears, rather than completely cover them.
  • Excellent Sound Quality. These headphones provide deep bass tones, crisp high notes, and everything in between.

Cons:

  • Hair-Pulling Design. The collapsible design can sometimes pull hair. While this isn’t as big a concern as it was in 1984 thanks to the death of big hair, it’s still somewhat of an issue. And while the retro style is in, many people will likely be turned off by the 30-year-old design.

Koss offers a great audio experience for much less than any other product on this list. If you are looking for a great sounding, ultra-portable set of headphones, look no further than the Koss PortaPro Headphones.

koss portopro headphones

Final Word

Whether you’re a professional DJ or just a lover of music, you need a good set of headphones to get the most out of your listening experience. In order to choose which headphones are right for you, it is important to evaluate your needs and determine which manufacturer offers everything you want at a price you are willing to pay. For example, if noise-cancelling technology is vital, you might be willing to forgo a little sound quality in order to find a pair that is priced within your budget.

What headphones or earbuds have you purchased recently? Were you pleased with your decision?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/PF-Pro/100003572223575 PF Pro

    I just picked up the bose qc15, they were pretty steep at $300, but I got them at half off on amazon from all the 5 for 10′s I picked up a couple months ago :)

    So far, so good, I’m going on a couple flights in the next month, so that will be the real test IMO.

  • L_bartley

    Purchased some Monster Turbine buds recently and was for the first time quite happy with the sound. Very good bass dynamics yet keeps an open lively sound I’ve not heard before.

  • Aaron

    Monoprice 8320 is the best set of ear buds I’ve ever heard. The bass is amazing, and they are only about 8 bucks!

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