Those earphones that came in the box with your phone or MP3 player are fantastic – so long as you don’t mind music that sounds as though it was filtered through a cardboard box, think nothing of the painful red marks left in your canals by their hard plastic earbuds, and have no need for useful features such as noise isolation and Bluetooth. If, on the other hand, you demand a superior personal audio experience, you may want to consider some of the options below.
V-Moda Crossfade M-80 ($230) Try as I might, I can’t find any significant faults with V-Moda’s latest set of on-ear headphones, a pair of luxury cans that marry elegant style and high quality materials to superb sound.
Stain- and sweat-resistant black suede covers a flexible metal headband that clamps the skull with just the right amount of force – enough to keep the ‘phones firmly in place, but not so much as to give rise to an earache.
A fork of thin, strong steel reaches down to small, sound-isolating ear-cups lined with pleasantly cushy memory foam. Brushed metal plates – black by default, though they can be swapped out for customized shields of your own design (sold separately) – provide protection for the powerful 40 millimetre dual diaphragm drivers hidden beneath.
Packaged inside the included exoskeleton carrying case are two thick, knitted cables braided with Kevlar to deliver extra durability. The spare is thoughtful, but the odds of accidentally damaging or even tangling one of these light but heavy-duty cords are pretty much nil. Would that all headphone cables were so terrifically tough.
Built into the cords near their top is an inconspicuous button that – depending on context and how many times it’s clicked – can pause music, skip tracks, and even answer calls if you’re connected to a phone (a mic is built into the back side of the button). It worked well with the Apple and Android devices I tested, and V-Moda says it’s compatible with all 3.5 millimetre headphone jack smart phones.
All this and great audio, too. The Crossfade M-80 deftly delivers a wide range of frequencies, including subtle highs, meaty mid range and pounding bass. I often use headphones to listen to audiobooks, but relegating these cans to reproducing mere spoken word seemed a waste. Instead, I found myself frequently queuing up my favourite electronic and rock artists just to make the most of their capacity to deliver thick, juicy music.
The Crossfade M-80 will come to popular online retailers including Amazon and Newegg by the end of the summer. If you want a pair right now you can pick up the True Blood-themed V-80 edition from the HBO website. It sports ear piece shields etched with images from the specialty channel’s popular bloodsucker series.
Sennheiser MM 100 ($179.95) I’ve never used neckband headphones before, so it took a while to grow accustomed to Sennheiser’s MM 100 wireless Bluetooth headset, which sees a thin, lightly flexible band of plastic connecting the ear pieces curve around the back of the user’s neck. It didn’t even touch my skin – it just hung in the air behind my head. The band curves up and over the ear, like spectacle arms in reverse, ending on both sides with broad, light foam muffs that press up gently against the ear.
I could hardly tell that they were there, which convinced me that they would fall off at any moment. Turns out they held their position better than any traditional headphones I’ve ever tried. They wouldn’t budge a millimetre, regardless of how I shook, bopped, or jerked my head, making them well suited for kinetic activities.