It was only recently that I developed an appreciation for headphones, as being an earphone’s guy I always used to feel that headphones are bulky to use, carry and store. But, thanks to my over-chatty colleagues at work, I decided to put on my friend’s headphones while working and I was transitioned right in that productive zone of zen.
We can argue that even my earpods have excellent noise reduction and sound great but there is that surround sounds characteristic with the headphones which even in-ear earphones fail to deliver. So, this marked the beginning of my question for the best headphones.
- Should be comfortable to wear for longer periods.
- Should produce superior audio clarity and quality.
- Must have great noise reduction capability.
- Must be under ₹2,000 ($30).
- Good bass!
Let the quest begin!
While this sounds like a simple enough request to fulfil, I’ve spend the better part of July searching for the ONE!
- Phillips SHL3000
- Sennheiser HD 202 II
- Audio Technica ATH-AX1iSBK
- Sennheiser HD 180
- JBL C300SI
- Sony MDR-XB450
So, I made sure that I personally attest each of the choices here and was open to more suggestions here. Let me share my brief opinion about the list above in iterative fashion in which I tried them:
These pair of babies did blow me away as I didn’t expect much from them. Phillips does know their stuff when it comes to electronics. SHL3000 may not look the best but they offer the best bang for buck under ₹1000. This headphone provides you powerful sound and bass. Designed together with the rotational soft cushioned ear shells, you get a perfect listening experience on the go allowing you to be the DJ for the night.
- Mids and Highs are exceptionally good.
- 32mm speaker driver delivers powerful and dynamic sound.
- Over the ear soft ear cushions for comfortable, long listening sessions.
- Looks pretty badass in its Black finish.
- You may need a high-end phone with good audio output to get the most out of these cans.
- Not for the Bass-heads.
- Inadequate Noise cancellation leaves a lot to be desired.
Who should buy this:
- Anyone who isn’t a bass junkie and appreciates a VFM product should try this. Phillips SHL3000 will really surprise you where you won’t expect it, i.e Dynamic sound with comfort.
Being Sennheiser, I had pretty high hopes from HD 202 II as I have heard a lot about how Sennheiser focuses solely on quality audio experience instead of blowing up moolah on marketing like some of its competitors *cough*BEATS*cough*.
Also, on earphone front, CX 180 Street II rule the sub-₹1000 ($15) segment.
- Believe me when I say that HD 202 II is the best audio experience I ever had in this range.
- The audio reproduction is crystal clear with perfectly balance Highs, Mids and Lows.
- Even cranking up the volume to max doesn’t have any effect on the clarity of audio.
- An additional 6.3mm gold plated jack inside the package for amplifier or DJ instrument is a plus.
- Replaceable earpads (a huge plus point in my book).
- 3-meter cord! It could be a plus for someone, but for me, it’s a hassle managing that cord (even with the provided clip on).
- On-ear oval construction of drivers is not very comfortable when used for longer periods. Also, the earpads hold very tightly against the ears (could be my big head, but never had this problem with any other brand).
- Lack of microphone in this range is a tad disappointing.
- Not portable, not an ideal companion for travel.
Who should buy this:
- Anyone just shopping for a pair of great-sounding headphones for listening to music or watching movies at home (thanks to its 3m cord) should consider the Sennheiser HD 202 II.
At just under ₹1,500, the Audio Technica ATH-AX1iS is the Japanese company’s most affordable around-ear option. Sitting completely around your ears, the headphones offer a level of comfort that is similar to what I felt with the Sennheiser HD180. They are super light and ultra comfortable to wear. After a while, you may forget that you are even wearing anything on your head. Soft cushion around the ear cancels out ambient noise pretty nicely. I did try them a couple of times as a colleague also owns a pair at work.
- 36 mm drivers produce ‘clear crisp notes’.
- Inline remote with mic and volume control is pretty convenient and works well with iPhone and most of the Android devices.
- Super light weight, can be used for outdoor activities.
- Ear cups fold flat for easy storage thus making it portable in a way.
- The headphones are SNUG. Really snug. The construction is solid and won’t let up if you have a wider head, which I didn’t think I possessed until I wore these headphones.
- Headphone wire is way too thin (thinner than my earpods), which doesn’t inspire much confidence about the durability of the product.
- You may need some equaliser tuning to get the best out of it. They don’t sound *magical* out of the box, but considering they are ~$22, it’s justified.
Who should buy this:
- The sonic signature is uneven and sensitivity drops too much after the sub-bass, but if you’re used to listening to bass-heavy electronica and Bollywood tracks, it should be fine. It’s also extremely comfortable, and will work well for most.
While checking out Sennheiser HD 202 II in Croma, I fumbled across it’s younger sibling – HD 180. I have seen this particular headset in my office with a lot of people. Without much expectations, I plugged em up, and sadly, HD 180 doesn’t deliver anywhere near the Phillips SHL3000. The output is quite muted and dull even on full volume despite trying it on my Samsung Galaxy S6 (best in class -Wolfstan DAC) and iPhone 6s (famous for low impedance clean output). Bass is just non-existant and Highs/Mids will disappoint you. It is simply very low even when cranked up to full volume!
So much for the expectation with Sennheiser in this budget, I guess.
- Pretty comfortable due to over-the-ear cups rather on-the-ear ones.
- Noise isolation is on par with its range.
- More suited for multimedia systems like Television, Gaming console instead of using it with portable devices like iPod, Smartphone.
- Extra long 3-meter wire (with no clip) makes it very difficult to carry around.
- Audio output is low, both in volume and quality.
Who should buy this:
- A casual listener who wants to use them with his multimedia system (TV/PS4/XBOX) with good comfort and noise isolation. This pair is definitely not for the audiophile ones.
JBL is one brand which is synonymous with quality sound. JBL is pretty famous in India for their Automobile audio systems (especially Bass tube is a common sight). JBL C300SI were one of the most popular headgear in this budget. Finding one for testing proved to be a pain in the north-west region of the Capital. Nevertheless, I was roaming around in Rajouri garden to feast on some juicy chicken and stumbled upon JBL official store on the main ring road itself.
I decided to give these babies a try and started with some light Rock followed by Dubstep, EDM and then melodious old Bollywood songs. I am happy to report that JBL C300SI performs like a champ for this range.
- Lightweight construction with adjustable earcups sits on the ear with a snug fit.
- Perfect balance in Highs, Mids, Treble, Clarity and Volume of audio output.
- 3.5mm gold-plated connector (because why not) 😛
- Sometimes bass can be excessive which overpowers the vocals. Something I noticed in quite a few songs.
- Long term listening may be a bit uncomfortable as it was a bit tight around my head (could be an initial thing too).
- Lack of the mic is a bit of a bummer but let us not be nit-picky here as C300SI is a great pair of headphones nonetheless.
Who should buy this:
- JBL C300SI is a perfect fit for you if you are looking for something more toward the bassy side of things with good treble under ₹1,200. A must have for bass-heads in this budget.
Sony! It’s one company which was a lot of nostalgia associated with. I grew up in the 90s listening to a Sony OG Walkman (yes, the one with magnetic tape cassettes player) and a Sony Transistor Radio. Those were some good times.
Anyway, zoning back to 2016, Sony MDR-XB450 (AP model is with mic and remote control) consistently came off as the most recommended pair of headphones on almost every e-commerce platform with ratings ~ 4.5/5.0. I was really curious to experience the “pure bliss” was told my one of my friend who owns this beauty. I headed into Sony centre because Croma didn’t have a pair for testing.
The executive provided me with a black headset, which looks killer btw. I put them on and played my playlist. Track after track, I was blown away by the performance of these cans. MDR-XB450 proved to be best in its class with super dynamic sound range (5 Hz-22K Hz), audio output quality, ample volume and that extra bass well balanced with the treble on tap when you need it. They are on-the-ear type but surprisingly ear cushions are very comfortable.
- Super comfortable despite being the on-the-ear type.
- Best in the class bass with well-balanced highs/mids/lows.
- Noise cancellation is crazy good.
- Looks killer with the metallic finish on the cans.
- Easy to store with swivel design and serrated cord to keep it untangled.
- Inline remote mic & control works perfectly with both iOS and Android.
- Ear cushions are not replaceable (a far cry for this segment, but the consumer is the king).
- Loud Bass can get overwhelming at times in some songs.
- No carry pouch is given out of the box.
Who should buy this:
- MDR-XB450 is just perfect for everyday music and won’t hurt your ear. I am very specific about how my music sounds and can say that this is perfect value for money. This should satisfy the bass head inside you while respecting the usual Bollywood melodies along with Rock-Pop genre.
What did I choose?
Can you take a guess?
The headphones use supra-aural closed-back 30mm neodymium dynamic dome drivers and aluminium acoustically bass boosting earcups to deliver a frequency response of 5 to 22,000 Hz into a 24-ohm load with a sensitivity of 102 dB/mW. The 30 mm drivers in these babies are capable of producing great quality & powerful sound. When I tried some bass tracks, it delivered great audio performance with intense and well-balanced bass response. If there is deep, rumbling bass in the mix, you’ll hear it with no distortion even at top volumes.
The guitar strummings are bright, sharp and have a commanding presence. Even if you are listening to instrumental tracks, it outputs great sonic performance. It does a wonderful job in the low end, crisp high-mids and highs. Thus bass lovers who want something big on sound, but also clarity in the mids and highs, will be pleased. Vocals sound clear even at lower volume levels.
The headphones feature a Direct-Vibe structure and pressure-relieving urethane foam earpads for noise isolation, an adjustable headband, and swivel-fold cups for improved portability when placed in a bag. The cable terminates in a gold-plated L-shaped mini plug for connecting to your device.
Bottomline– MDR-XB450 is a pair of headphones which will satisfy you no matter what genre of music you play.
Do you disagree and think your headphone is superior or you have a better suggestion?
Let me know in the comments below so we can discuss it. 😎