Comparing The Best Earphones, Earbuds, Neckbands and Behind-The-NeckOne Man's Quest To Find The Best
Headsets for iPod, Working Out, Sports, Marathons and Jogging
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:
- are easy to put on
- stay on (buds/plugs can fall out)
- the pressure is spread over the ear (rather than in a small area)
- there's only one cable that can go out the back (buds/plugs have two cables, one from each side)
- have less cable noise (with buds/plugs, tapping and banging on the cable resonates to the ears)
1. Sennheiser PMX100
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.
2. Sony MDR-G57
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).
3. Sony MDR-G42
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).
4. Sennheiser CX380
Style: Earbuds (Noise-isolating)
Weight: 12 g (.42 oz.)
The best sound quality of the Sennheiser 80 series. Recommended by EarphoneSolutions.com 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).
The Sennheiser "80" series:
CX380, OMX80, MX85 & PMX80
5. Sennheiser MX85
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.
6. Sennheiser PMX60
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.
7. Sennheiser PMX80
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.
8. Sennheiser OMX80
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
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.
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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