Five Affordable Headphones for Isolation
Music makes lockdown life more bearable, says Matthew Jens, so here are five of his favourite survival secrets…
It's a tough time for us all right now, being caught in the midst of a global pandemic – so it's vitally important to maintain your mood. Music is of course a great way to do this, and those in small spaces, and/or sharing them with others, will naturally turn to personal audio. So I thought I'd share some of my recent experience with a range of headphones to help you through the rough stuff we're all experiencing right now. Whether you need them for your essential work duties, or simply for enjoying some time off during the lockdown, headphones are the perfect way to get lost in music without annoying those around you. Now more than ever, keeping your closest relations happy is no bad thing…
First on my list of headphone heroes is the Audio-technica ATH M50x ($279), which is ideal for those wanting an accurate, neutral sound signature – and also great for people looking to build a home studio. Indeed it's a keen favourite for many music producers and vocalists alike and often seen as a modern 'gateway drug' into audiophilia. Boasting a fiercely competitive price, as well as a strong track record, it's often the first (and sometimes last) closed-back headphone that many will buy. It has a mostly flat frequency response, but with a neat, well-contained mid-bass hump. Those classy 45mm drivers give a taut, punchy bass, a stellar midband and excellent isolation to boot. Read the StereoNET review on the 'Special Edition', here.
If you're looking for something a little sweeter sounding, and a touch less 'matter of fact', then consider the Grado SR60e ($119 RRP). This is actually a personal favourite of mine thanks to its sheer charm. Admittedly, it won't give a neutral, accurate and flat frequency response, and nor is it a good studio companion. What this does deliver however, is an almost sickly-sweet, open, airy and bright sound signature. It will work wonders for your ears when you want to drown out the world, kick back and listen to music. Its open-backed design helps to give a wide soundstage and a lightning-fast transient response. And of course, if you're stuck at home, do you even need closed-back headphones or noise-cancelling right now? Another bonus is that the cheaper Grado models are highly tweakable – with a little bit of elbow grease and know-how, you can substantially improve the sound.
Those wanting something cheap as chips should consider the Koss Porta Pro ($79.95). This is a classic favourite that's been around since 1984, and has made a lot of friends along the way. Loved for its affordable pricing and delightful portability, this bass-heavy little nugget was given a refresh back in 2018, with several different colours and a Bluetooth variant. There are some unusual quirks with the headband that might be worth looking into before you dive in, but trust me when say – a pair of these sounds terrific. I love headphones that exert plenty of bass, and this is the ultimate when it comes to that! Its neat collapsible design is a boon, as is the limited lifetime warranty, too.
People wanting to live in a wireless world should look at Sennheiser's HD 4.40 ($249). It's a strong contender in the race for being the best value design as far as wireless phones go. It offers intuitive touch controls, aptX support, as well as NFC pairing to make your life that little bit easier. A reliable Bluetooth headphone, it works with any mobile phone, and gives up to 25 hours of battery life. You can't complain about the two-year warranty from this highly trustworthy brand, either. The best part about this wireless wonder is that when we're all finally released from house arrest, you'll still have a fine sounding Bluetooth companion to keep you company in the office or on public transport.
Last but not least, those preferring in-ear monitors should think about the seriously impressive Tin T2 ($75). Whether you buy from AliExpress, Amazon or Drop, the rock-bottom pricing on this pair of IEMs is hard to beat. Featuring two dynamic drivers per ear, this budget warrior serves up a bright and crisp sound signature, with plenty of speed and articulation. Its low price and fun sound have grown a cult following online – thanks to an airy, light sonic balance, stunning build and that stupidly low price. There's really nothing you can mark this design down for, which isn't something you can typically say of budget 'phones of any description.
Now more than ever, music is important to keep our spirits high and our mental health in balance. What better time to invest in a decent pair of headphones than now? And when it's all over, we can enjoy them out and about. Stay safe and be kind!
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Constantly keeping himself busy, Matthew is a production manager, Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt, Head-Fi fanatic, coffee enthusiast and all-round cool Dad.