Headphones quality test
Posted on 12 Feb 2010 at 15:01
We've assembled a panel of 20 people to see if they can tell the difference between cheap and expensive headphones based solely on sound quality
There’s a thriving market in third-party headphones intended to replace those that come with portable players. But will you hear a significant difference if you invest?
To find out, we played our judges the same selection of clips used in the media player test, but now invited them to listen with four different pairs of headphones and rate the quality once again. For a fair comparison, we used the same player throughout this test – the Cowon iAudio S9, a device with a relatively neutral tone.
The Real-World Quality Test
The headphones we used included those that came with our cheap Reddmango player and the familiar white earbuds that accompany the iPod nano.
We also invited our judges to try a pair of Sony MDR-EX300 in-ear headphones, available online for around £30, and a top-end Sennheiser IE8 pair, with an eye-watering retail price of around £180. The judges weren’t given any information about the headphones, and tested them in random order.
Almost every listener found the cheap Reddmango headphones unsatisfactory. Time and again we heard words such as “weak” and “tinny”, and 18 out of our 20 judges felt they were either the worst or second worst of the bunch.
The iPod headphones received a more ambivalent reception: a few judges hated their sound, but most found it merely average.
The third-party headphones were much more enthusiastically received. The Sony and Sennheiser models polled near-identical scores overall, each taking top marks from 11 judges (including four first-place ties).
The Sony headphones were generally agreed to give a “loud, powerful sound”, and many people also praised their ability to exclude external noise, thanks to a design that penetrates deeply into the ear canal.
The £180 Sennheiser units created a more refined impression: our judges described their tone in terms such as “rich” and “pure”, with one commenting that they were the only pair that didn’t sound like they were “struggling” with the detail in the music.
Sony verdict: "These are nice and loud, and they really shut out the outside world. They'd be perfect for the train."
Apple verdict: "They're not bad, but they don't exactly kick. It just feels like there isn't much depth to the music."
Reddmango verdict: "You need to chuck these in the bin, mate. If I'd paid money for these I'd be very disappointed."
Sennheiser verdict: "I didn't know you could get a sound like this from little headphones. So much depth and detail."
People may disagree over media players, but it seems that almost everyone can appreciate the difference between bog- standard in-box headphones and decent third-party replacements. That applies most obviously to the Reddmango, but even pricey high-end players often come with mediocre headphones.
The good news is that you don’t need to spend the earth to upgrade. The Sennheisers may take the audiophile crown, but our respondents’ scores indicate that they’d be just as happy with the pumping Sony units costing one sixth of the price.
Author: Darien Graham-Smith
Your testers might have been able to discern differences better if you gave them better quality music to listen to.
Crap in crap out! & crap sounds even worse on better equipment.
A better test of the 'phones would use 24bit/96kHz digital downloads, not mp3 rubbish.
By realafrica on 10 Feb 2011
For more details about purchasing this feature and/or images for editorial usage, please contact Jasmine Samra on email@example.com
- Sony Xperia Z3 specs leak online
- iPhone 6 release date, rumours, specs and features: when will the iPhone 6 come out in the UK?
- Windows 8.2/Windows 9: release date, features and free cloud version
- Samsung Galaxy Alpha release date, specs and rumoured price in the UK
- Vodafone has worst reception but Ofcom tests questioned
- Boxed iPhone 6 photos leak online
- Still on IE8? You've got 18 months to upgrade
- iPhone 6 launch event tipped for 9 September
- Feature updates coming to Patch Tuesday
- What's new in OS X 10.10 Yosemite Developer Preview 5 and iOS 8 beta 5?
- 20 years of PC Pro: our greatest review mistakes
- 20 years of PC Pro: our first A-List
- Wikipedia's "right to be forgotten" protest hits the wrong note
- 3D printing hits the high street for plastic selfies
- 20 years of PC Pro: What amazed us in our first issue
- How Google Glass ruined my lunch hour
- Smartphone battery packs: can a USB power pack beat the festival battery blues?
- Windows Easy Transfer – not so "easy" in Windows 8.1
- Formula 1: what a difference virtualisation makes
- Office of the future: comfy chairs and tablets everywhere