Stop harshing your sonic buzz with cheap hearing aids. Here are the latest and greatest headphones for your inner music fan.

Tune in, turn on, and drop out was once an invitation to expand your consciousness through mind-altering drugs. Today it means download tunes, hit the pavement with a portable audio device, and joyfully tune out the din of everyday life. Unfortunately, the crappy headphones supplied with most players, like your iPod, can ruin your sonic euphoria faster than a bad hit of acid. That’s why discerning listeners are investing in better buds that meet their particular needs. Here are some of the best offerings.

Kind Buds

  ULTIMATE EARS metro.fi 2
$80
  DENON AH-C700
$200
  SHURE SE210
$150
 
 

You shouldn’t expect much for less than $100, right? Wrong! These tiny tots offer much better performance than any bargain-bin music maker we’ve ever tested. The lows and mids are surprisingly crisp, clean, and melodic, though the upper register leans toward the hot side. (Reducing the treble on your player’s EQ will remedy the problem.) The 46-inch cable is capped with a gold-plated mini jack and is unlikely to tangle. The buds are slightly uncomfortable, even with the six earpiece tips provided, but don’t let these shortcomings give you pause—the metro.fi 2’s overall appeal is incredible.

 

You shouldn’t expect much for less than $100, right? Wrong! These tiny tots offer much better performance than any bargain-bin music maker we’ve ever tested. The lows and mids are surprisingly crisp, clean, and melodic, though the upper register leans toward the hot side. (Reducing the treble on your player’s EQ will remedy the problem.) The 46-inch cable is capped with a gold-plated mini jack and is unlikely to tangle. The buds are slightly uncomfortable, even with the six earpiece tips provided, but don’t let these shortcomings give you pause—the metro.fi 2’s overall appeal is incredible.

 

If money’s no object and top-notch sound is imperative, these tiny metallic buds will deliver the sonic goods and do it in style. The bass is thumping, tight, and clean—never muddy—and the mids and highs are lively and detailed. The result is a deep, warm, rich soundstage that works with all music genres. The metal earpieces feel sturdier than the typical molded plastic designs, and the aluminum connector is fitted with a gold-plated, 3.5-mm mini jack for a better connection. The 47-inch, oxygen-free copper cable is less tangle-prone than most headphone wires.

 
 

Kind Buds

  SONY MDR-J12G $15   SENNHEISER MX75 $50  
 

These headphones are as plain-Jane as it gets. Aside from the silver trim covering the ear, the MDR-J12Gs look downright sterile. They’re lightweight, designed to wrap around your ears for a secure fit, and come with a coiled cord that’s much less intrusive and tangle-prone than a straight wire while exercising. The mids and highs are good but they lack real bass, which is common with many open-air models. Regardless, with the cash you save on these workout earphones, you can buy a good pair of isolating ear buds for your commute.

 

Regardless of your thoughts on having Kermit the Frog–colored cords dangling from your ears, you will grow to love Sennheiser’s Twist-to-Fit system. Each earpiece has a rubber stopper above it that locks into the outer ear and ensures a snug fit. Their unique design may not work for every ear and they require a little adjustment to find a position that is secure and sounds best, but once in place these earphones sound great. While not exactly boomers, they deliver clarity and crispness that’ll impress even the most die-hard audiophile. The 47-inch cable feels solid, but is a bit long and tangles easily. Considering the bargain price, these still live up to the strong Sennheiser name and reputation. Maybe it’s good to be green.

 
 

Kind Buds

  KOSS PRO 4AAT
$100
  GRADO SR325i
$295
 
 

Being hefty is usually a negative thing. But in electronics, it frequently means you’re getting a solidly built product. Well, this classic “circum-aural� (or large ear-cup) model weighs a ton. The Pneumalite cushions provide a comfy fit and maximum sound isolation but don’t allow the skin to breathe, and a sweaty ear is an uncomfortable ear. The coiled eight-foot cable is fitted with a 3.5-mm portable-audioplayer plug, but a 6.3-mm adapter is included for home stereos. And that’s where these big boys shine—at home. The 4AATs deliver oodles of bass and have great top-end detail and impact, though the mids are slightly muted, resulting in thin-sounding vocals. Their punchy sound will< most likely appeal to rap and rock ’n’ roll fans.

 

The retro design makes these headphones look like they’d be more at home reproducing Mozart than pumping out Jay-Z. But looks can be deceiving: The gold-colored cans churn out unrivaled sonics no matter what’s sent through them. They produce strong, accurate bass, warm and natural mids, and crisp, clean highs with almost no tonal coloration. The 82-inch copper cable and gold-plated 6.3-mm plug (a mini-plug adapter is not included) make the Grados strictly for the couch potato. They’re impressively lightweight, but the foam ear pads offer only basic comfort.

 

By Chuck Tannert

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