I’ve tested a lot of headphones in the Reactual Labs. I’ve discovered that there are, in fact, great quality headphones priced under $100. The three of the best rated headphones are: Sennheiser, Grado Labs and AKG. Other popular brands found in electronics stores tend to have inferior sound at this price level.
Here are the best headphone under $100:
The Best Value Headphone: The Grado SR80i
When I think of the Grado Headphones, I think of rich, warm sound. Music seems livelier and more up-front, when played through Grados. The budget-priced SR-80 is no exception. These headphones have a fidelity level that is usually only found in high-end headphones costing hundreds of dollars more. The designer, John Grado, said he strove to design the best sounding phones for the money, and I would say his focus on audio clarity paid off.
These headphones are open-air headphones, and very quite comfortable to wear. They cover the full frequency range from 20Hz to 20,000Hz. They are made in Brooklyn, and they sport a retro design. My only criticism is that they could be sturdier in their construction — my first pair fell apart after a six months — but I am rough with my gear.
Best Rated Headphone: Sennheiser HD 555 Headphones
Sennheiser produces some of the best headphones for under $100. Unfortunately some of them are no longer available (like the great HD 280 ). Update: the amazing Sennheiser HD 280 is available again. The Sennheiser HD 555 is another fine choice for just under $100. They are sturdy and comfortable to wear for hours. But emphasis is on sound here — and the HD-555 produce wonderful sound. Though the bass isn’t as deep as the Grado headphones, they provide excellent quality sound. Sennhesier says they use internal surround reflector to generate an extended spatial sound field. For me, it sounds like there’s a miniature high-end stereo system with good speaker separation sitting next to my ears.
These headphones have an Open Dynamic design, so someone in the same room will be able to hear what you’re listening to. The HD 555 comes with a full-size 6.3mm jack, but the package includes a 3.5mm adapter.
The Sennhesier HD 555 is available from Amazon.
The Best Portable Headphone: Sennheiser HD 228
The Sennheiser HD 228 is by far my favorite to use outside my home. Previously, I recommended the less expensive Sennhesier PX-100 headphones. But I found they were much more fragile than the HD 228. These headphones have a great build quality, and they can be purchased for about $70. Their lightweight construction and individually-adjusting earpieces make them very comfortable to wear for extended periods. As far as sound goes, they are the best sounding portable headphones I’ve tried. While these headphones are marketed as “bass enhanced” headphones, realistically you’re not going to get the same level of bass response as Grado headphone mentioned above. Still, in terms of price and portability, this one is a winner.
Available from Amazon.