Sunday, May 18, 2008

Headphones Review

While people are being more and more MP3 players, you may not want to forget what I feel is the most important accessory – headphones. MP3 music is compressed music, meaning you start from a CD that sounds really good, and compress the audio so it does not take up as much space, but you lose some sound quality. Due to this, I always recommend getting better headphones. Unlike the Sony (with this particular model) which included headphones that actually sounded pretty good, most included earbuds/headphones are sub-par. I have seen headphones or earbuds ranging from $5 (similar to the ones included with the players) all the way up to almost $500. The headphones and earbuds that I will be talking about today range from the included earbuds to $300. They include the Sansa stock earbuds, Sony stock EX earbuds, Creative EP-630 for $40, Sony noise cancelling MDR-NC11A for $100, Altec Lansing UHP336 for $130, Sennheiser CX500 for $130, Skull Candy SK Pro for $150, and Shure SE310 for $300.

I started off with the stock earbuds provided with the Sansa players. They sounded ok for what they are. The sound was a bit muddy, small soundstage, and not very crisp. They do however sound better than stock earbuds used to. Sony stepped up to the plate with their included EX earbuds (the NWZ-A818 included them, but cheaper players may not), which Sony says are worth about $40. They were cleaner than the Sansa’s, as well as having better resolution and bass response. They actually sounded pretty good. The fit of the earbuds were amazing. The traditional design that is now used on only the cheaper earbuds fit snugly in your ear just outside of the ear canal. The more expensive earbuds, called IEM’s (In Ear Monitors) are now using a design that fits in the ear canal, and they usually come with a few different sizes of rubber tips to give you a snug fit so they won’t fall out. The Sony uses a unique design. Rather than the earbud going completely in the ear canal and sticking out, these partly fit in the ear canal and the rest that is outside of the ear canal is at an angle to fit in the outside of the canal like the more traditional cheaper style of earbuds. This design gives you the better sound like the style that goes in the ear canal, but also the snug fit like the cheaper earbuds. I love the fit! Next up is the Creative earbuds. They sounded about on par with the Sony’s, but not quite. The sound was good, with better bass response than the Sony’s, but they were a little too bright for my preference, and the resolution was not quite as good as the Sony’s. It makes me wish I could have tried Sony’s $100 EX earbuds.

Now we step up a bit in price with Sony’s $100 noise canceling earbuds. They were a bit on the bulky side for the earbuds, but that is where the mic is built in for the noise cancelling feature. The fit design was the same as the previous model, but the sound was not quite as good either. The sound was not quite as clean and not as much bass response, but they are better than stock earbuds and they do have noise cancelling. I was a little surprised with the noise cancelling feature. It only works on part of the audio spectrum (50-1,500 Hz). Listening to music in the background, I turned the feature on and off so I could hear the effect, and it did work. I would probably be more impressed with it if I was testing it in the environment it was probably designed for – on a plane or a train.

Now is where I would consider the sound as high end. The Altec Lansing’s for $130 were nice and crisp, with a nice resolution and bass response was good and tight. The vocals were very natural sounding. The imaging was very good. The Sennheiser’s for $130 equally sounded wonderful. The sound was a tad cleaner and crisper than the Altec Lansing’s but the difference was very subtle, and the Altec’s were just a tad smoother. I have used Sennheiser headphones for years due to their reputation of good sounding headphones and I am glad to see the quality has not changed. The $300 Shure’s are on a different level, and takes everything to a higher level. It is kind of like going from a good Dryer’s ice cream, to a shop that serves frozen custard – very smooth! At first I was struggling with the sound of the Shure’s. They sounded amazing, nice soundstage, excellent resolution, very clean sounding, but the sound was also something else that I couldn’t put my tongue on, until it came to me. They were so much smoother.

Last but not least is the only pair of over the ear headphones. They are the Skull Candy SK Pros. I personally prefer a good over the ear type headphone, and these were definitely skull candy! I prefer a lot of bass (I have a 12” sub in my car stereo). To test out the bass response of these larger driver headphones I turned to some old school Dead or Alive. These things were booming, and I was grinning ear to ear. Everything else sounded great with them as well. They are definitely skull candy!

I was blown away by Skull Candy’s Limited Lifetime warranty. It gave me such a laugh, I had to include it here as written in the package of the SK Pro headphones. “Limited Lifetime Product Warranty. Skullcandy is proud to provide the best product warranty in the industry: If this product should fail during your lifetime, we will replace it at no charge. If the product is damaged by aggressive music listeners sliding a rail, sliding down the emergency ramp of your aircraft, slammed in your locker, slammed in your car door, run over by a car, running into a wall, getting run out of town, mountain biking, road biking, sky diving, beating your boyfriend unmercifully, getting beat down by the man, blown up in an accidental experiment with flammable substances, or damaged in any other every day experience, it means you are living you life the way we want our product used! In these or any other damaging events, we will replace the product for a 50% discount from retail. While I would not suggest you do…some of those things, the warranty rocks! For more detailed product specs, you can find them at,,,, and