As we look in the rear view mirror and watch 2016 fade away into the chaos of 2017, I wanted to drop my favorite headphones from last year.
As far as "Best Of" lists go this is a little late, but some of my last minute choices came to me in December so that pushed things back a bit. Despite being a month into 2017, these headphones will remain on my skull until something comes along that's good enough to knock them off.
This list covers headphones from all over the spectrum, but all of them are great for just listening to music along with any professional purpose they might have been built for.
Let us start with the headphones that are currently making their way around the world with me one trip at a time. Sennheiser PXC
Sennheiser PXC-550 Wireless Headphones
These headphones are a frequent travelers dream, and although I’ve been averse to carrying somewhat bulky over-ear headphones on my travels, the PXC-550 has proven that it’s worth space in my bag. To start with these headphones are incredibly light and comfortable which makes them fantastic for long haul flights as I often find myself wearing them for 4+ hours at a time and even when I’m walking through the terminal. The ear cups are the perfect size for my ears, and the headband has just enough padding on it to provide ample comfort on the top of my head where other headphones can sometimes fail, especially for long periods of wear.
The next thing that sets these headphones apart is their wireless connectivity and stellar noise canceling. Bose, it seemed had cornered the market on the executive level travel headphone, but the PXC-550s are a very serious rival. You get three modes, none, auto adjust and full blown shut the world out, and my favorite is full on mode which helps me fall into my own world on a noisy plane and hectic airports. The battery life is also strong touting around 18 hours of play time, so you can often charge them and pick them up a couple of weeks later and they are ready to go.
The headphones come with a nice slim case and also feature a regular wire so if you should want to go out of wireless mode or run out of juice you can easily plug in the cable and be good to go.
Last but not least is the incredible sound, these headphones provide a bright and balanced sound that is just perfect for long sessions. The headphones also can take calls quite well with dual mics to capture your voice crystal clear even in noisy situations. I use them to do calls at airports and even when I can’t find a quiet spot they perform exceptionally well.
So hats off to Sennheiser (usually it's pulled own over my face to prevent chatty passenger engagement) for creating a top notch travel headphone for people that love music and want to disappear into it.
The HRM-7 is first and foremost a studio monitor headphone that was intended to be used by DJs, producers, and engineers for getting an accurate reproduction of their sound. The sound that audiophiles or audio professionals refer to as flat, that means that the music you hear is more or less how it was recorded. Many headphones are tuned to be a little brighter or bass heavy for the average music consumer that wants their music to pop a certain way. So this type of headphone can reveal flaws in production so be prepared to have some surprises when you listen to some of your favorite tunes and now find them to be very meh.
The Pioneer HRM-7s are great cans for when you want just to kick back and listen to your music and listen to the details. They demand your full attention and trust me it’s worth it. The sounds that come out of well-produced records while wearing these things can almost make a favorite record sound brand new again.
I prefer to listen to jazz, neo-classical, ambient and more orchestral types of music on these headphones as they bring out the intricacies of the music like no other pair of headphones that I own.
As far as the production side, I use them when I’m tinkering with tracks in Ableton or Logic to get a true understanding of the sound that I’m creating. I was working on a tune that was a bass heavy dub type of jam which I thought sounded pretty solid through my external monitors, but when I put the HRM-7s, they revealed a lot of problems. You will catch all sorts of issues when you are wearing these; they are a must.
So if you are producing and need a great monitor for your tracks, these prove that Pioneer is a real player in this space. If you are looking for a headphone that will bring out the best in your more complex music without any bullshit, these do the job, and the comfort factor allows you to rock them for long sessions.
SOL REPUBLIC Amps Air
I’ve been waiting to get my hands on a pair of true wireless headphones for a while now, and the SOL Amps Air were the first pair that I got to test in this category.
They come in a nice little case that keeps them powered up for multiple charges, and the case also acts as an external battery for your phone, which is a fantastic feature. The buds last about three hours on one charge and sound amazing for what they are. When you are done listening you can just pop them back into the case to get topped up for your next session.
The case battery lasts for about 45 hours and charges for your buds roughly 15x on a full charge, so you won't have to constantly worry about charging the case.
It's a strange yet liberating feeling to have no wires attached, and that's great for working out and walking around the city. The Amps Air stayed in my ears pretty well with only the occasional adjustment and were pretty comfortable overall. The sound of these buds was super impressive as well, and they delivered a pretty full spectrum of sound with a nice bass kick to boot.
The Amps Air is not a product for everyone and something I would only recommend to people for working out or short commutes. Pop them on when you are riding the subway or the bike, and you will be in heaven.
I didn't mess with taking calls on them or using them for siri, that's just not something I would use them for. The true wireless thing is what was the most exciting and I can only imagine this tech is going to get better and better in the coming months. The freedom you feel is pretty incredible, no bulk just great sound.
Our gear editor had tested out these headphones earlier in the year and given them rave reviews, so I decided to get my hands on a pair to see what all the fuss was about. I’ve been a Sennheiser HD-25 guy for a while now in regards to my DJ headphones and wasn’t looking for any changes in that department, but with guys like Laurent Garnier, DJ Deep, and other top DJs using them, I decided to give the 4000's a try.
They arrived in a simple brown cardboard box, very similar to Grado packaging, no frills or fuss. The headphones themselves are quite light and almost feel a bit flimsy at first. The design is clean and simple with a focus on comfort along with portability. The 4000s easily fold flat and fit well into even the most crowded of DJ bags.
The first thing I noticed about the 4000s is that they were just a lot more comfortable than other DJ headphones I’ve used, specifically because of the light weight and nice padding on the headband and ear cups. Comfort is key because many DJ headphones can become very annoying and cumbersome especially on longer gigs over a couple of hours.
So far they were checking off all the right boxes, but how was the sound? Most DJ headphones are tuned to be a lot more bass and high heavy often neglecting the mids simply for the reason that many DJs mix on the high hat, snare and bass kicks when they are beat matching (yeah some DJs actually use their ears, shocker I know).
The sound is where the Phonon 4000s pull away from the pack in a pretty significant way. The balance of the highs, mids and lows is fantastic for a DJ headphone and one of the best I’ve ever heard in my 20 years of DJing. Why is it important to hear the mids you might ask? Well for most records and dance music it’s not all that essential, but when you are doing long mixes with more intricate records or mixing genres like broken-beat or jazz, there is a lot that you can miss in this range that is needed to make tight mixes.