Part of

Headphone Reviews

Comparing The Best Earphones, Earbuds, Neckbands and Behind-The-Neck
Headsets for iPod, Working Out, Sports, Marathons and Jogging

One Man's Quest To Find The Best
By Andrew Hudson

Music To My Ears

Featuring a renowned ear model
sporting the latest in aural accutrements

Best by Sound Quality
as perceived by me

Headphones are like running shoes — a lot depends upon fit and personal preference. For me, the biggest weakness of portable headphones is the bass; it's almost non-existent in most models. Being a fan of bass (and even a bass player), my preference is skewed somewhat by perceived bass response. And I prefer neckbands.

(Notes: The price listed is what I paid, not what they cost today. The weight is without the cord. All headphones reviewed have a 3.5mm mini-phono iPod connector. Photos © Andrew Hudson 2009.)

Neckbands vs. Buds

I prefer the neckband design over buds/plugs, as they:

  1. are easy to put on
  2. stay on (buds/plugs can fall out)
  3. the pressure is spread over the ear (rather than in a small area)
  4. there's only one cable that can go out the back (buds/plugs have two cables, one from each side)
  5. have less cable noise (with buds/plugs, tapping and banging on the cable resonates to the ears)

Sennheiser PMX-100 Headphones
Sennheiser PMX-100 Headphones Sennheiser PMX-100 Headphones

1. Sennheiser PMX100

Price: $50
Style: Neckband
Weight: 60g (2.1 oz)

These are my favorite headphones to run in. OK, they're big, but the sound just takes me away, as though I'm right there in the recording studio. And anything labeled "Natürlicher Klang" must be good (apparently it means "Natural Sound" in German).

Pros: A big, full bass. Comfortable and evenly fitting "cans".

Cons: The bass is somewhat boomy and overpowering — I turn it down using the iPod's EQ setting of "Acoustic" (which, I admit, is cheating when comparing headphones). The headphones are intended more for home use than running, and, on a windy day, the open design permits wind noise (maybe some windbreak baffles would reduce this). Also, they are relatively heavy, coming in at 60g (2.1 oz) without the cable. So I use them for training, not racing.

Actually, that's quite a lot of cons for my #1 pick — guess I better do some more research…

Coming soon: Bluetooth

I’ve just received the RocketFish RF-MAB2t ($58. Weight: 54g 1.9oz) bluetooth headphones. They don’t sound quite as good as the Sennheiser PMX100 but they’re very comfortable and I love the wireless freedom and the sound is pleasing. I’ awaiting arrival of the Sennheiser MM-100 for comparison. Right now I’m using the Sony TMR-BT8IP transmitter but it’s not allowing the “Next Track” control so I’ve ordered a Kokkia i10s for comparison.

Sony MDR-G57 Headphones
Sony MDR-G57 Headphones Sony MDR-G57 Headphones

2. Sony MDR-G57

Price: $30
Style: Neckband
Weight: 63 g

A good all-rounder.

Pros: Decent bass and a distinct mid-range with nice vocals. Reflective stripes on the rear of the cans may provide some additional safety while running.

Cons: The frame design requires bending to make the headphone lay evenly on the ear, otherwise the bass is easily lost. Also they are inefficient with the power i.e. they are relatively quiet (although I bought them ages ago and things might have improved since).

Sony MDR-G42 Headphones
Sony MDR-G42 Headphones

3. Sony MDR-G42

Price: $15
Style: Neckband
Probably replaced by Sony MDR-G45LP

Similar to the MDR-G57, with perhaps a little more bass (but muddier) and less distinct mid-range.

Pros: Cheap and OK bass response.

Cons: The sound is a little muddy. Inefficient (quiet).

Sennheiser CX-380 Headphones
Sennheiser CX-380 Headphones Sennheiser CX-380 Headphones

4. Sennheiser CX380

Price: $63
Style: Earbuds (Noise-isolating)
Weight: 12 g (.42 oz.)

The best sound quality of the Sennheiser 80 series. Recommended by and David Colker.

Pros: Nice, full, "studio-like" sound. Decent bass.

Cons: An oddly uneven cord length, where the right ear cord is longer than the left ear cord. Presumably the right ear cord is supposed to run under the chin or around the neck so that the combined cord hangs from left side, but it just feels unbalanced. Lots of cable noise (due to the "bud" type).

Sennheiser 80 Series Headphones
The Sennheiser "80" series:
CX380, OMX80, MX85 & PMX80

Sennheiser MX-85 Headphones
Sennheiser MX-85 Headphones Sennheiser MX-85 Headphones

5. Sennheiser MX85

Price: $55
Weight: 9 g (.32 oz.)

An interesting design that uses a rubber disc to twist into the fold in your ear just above the canal. Recommended by Bestcovery.

Pros: The cool "twist-to-fit" system holds the headphones better than mere buds, and they are more comfortably than canalphones.

Cons: Lacking in bass, they have a "radio" sound. Not easy to tell left from right with small, non-colored "L" and "R" letters. Cable noise.

Sennheiser PMX-60 Headphones
Sennheiser PMX-60 Headphones Sennheiser PMX-60 Headphones

6. Sennheiser PMX60

Price: $29
Weight: 55 g (1.94 oz.)

Similar to the Sony/Nike/Phillips design.

Pros: The fit is light and pleasantly comfortable, like ear muffs.

Cons: The sound is thin, muffled and indistinct.

Sennheiser PMX-80 Headphones
Sennheiser PMX-80 Headphones Sennheiser PMX-80 Headphones

7. Sennheiser PMX80

Price: $55
Style: Neckband
Weight: 16 g (.56 oz.)

Over-the-ear and behind-the-neck, in-ear headphones.

Pros: Looks sporty. Easy to put on. One cable (hanging from the left side).

Cons: Weak, thin sound. Pressure squeezing on the ears.

Sennheiser OMX-80 Headphones
Sennheiser OMX-80 Headphones Sennheiser OMX-80 Headphones

8. Sennheiser OMX80

Price: $55
Type: Clips/hooks
Weight: 11 g (.4 oz.)

Pros: Easy and comfortable (even pleasurable) to wear.

Cons: Thin, weak sound — worst of the Sennheiser 80 series. Some (but not much) cable noise.

Other Headphones Tried

Philips SHN-5500 Headphones
Philips SHN-5500 Headphones

Philips SHN5500

Price: $57
Type: Neckband noise-cancelling headphones

Only a fool would think that these 'phones would be good for running — so I bought some.

Noise cancelling seemed like a good idea (since I run near a noisy freeway) but I couldn't detect any significant noise reduction, just increased loudness. Intended more for a plane ride than for running, the padded off-ear design attracted a great deal of swooshing wind noise, making the headphones more noise-creating than noise-cancelling. I could barely hear any music, even with the extra loundness. And they didn't even fit on the ear properly (they drooped down).

A nice detailed sound profile however, so good in a quiet office, but that's not what this Web page is about.

Shure SE-210 Headphones
Shure SE-210 Headphones Shure SE-210 Headphones

Shure SE210

Price: $150
Type: Plugs ("Sound isolating" earphones)

With an extra zero in the price tag, these headphones are in a league of their own.

A lot of people rave about the Shures so I tried a pair. Big disappoinment. Try as I might, I could not get these ear buds to stay in my ears. Every few steps, one of the buds would fall out. It just became annoying and after a few miles the headphones got relocated to my pocket.

Good job I could get my money back (thanks BestBuy!)

If you have any suggestions, please let me know.

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