Mobile / Hands-on Review

Holiday 2012: Eye-Catching Earphones


When you need a pair of sunglasses, you don’t just walk into a store and purchase the very first pair you lay your hands on. Even the least image-conscious individuals will take a moment to peruse the available options, choose a pair that appeals to them, and glance in the mirror when they try them on. Like eyewear, earphones are accessories that are worn directly on your head. Their design can dramatically impact your overall visual appearance, and so, just like eyewear, earphones are available in a wide variety of colors, shapes and sizes.

Among a sea of available options, there are certain models that stand out from the pack. What makes them shine isn’t necessarily loud colors or outrageous, attention-grabbing design choices. Many of the models included here feature low-profile colors and subdued designs. In this article, we’ve selected headphones that have design elements which caught our eye and offered unique attributes. There are models at every price point, from entry level to first class, and they’re broken up into two categories: Larger Headphones and Compact In-Ears. More than just a collection of products, think of this article as a star-studded event, with appearances from luminaries such as Lady Gaga and Jay-Z.   

Larger Headphones

If you watched season two of The X-Factor, then you likely caught sight of a contestant wearing the new Sony X Headphones. Like that TV show, these headphones are the creation of Simon Cowell, which means that they were subject to his strict judgment of what is good and what is worthless. The exterior of the X Headphones is loud and proud, featuring premium materials in flashy colors. The interior houses a pair of large 50mm drivers, which deliver a wide 3 Hz – 29 kHz frequency response, supplying a healthy amount of bass, mids and highs. Two linguini-like, tangle free detachable cables are included, one of which features an in-line remote for Apple devices. A carrying case is included as well.  

Because they wear their headphones for long stretches of time, DJs have specific needs when it comes to headphone design. They need to be comfortable and lightweight, yet also effective at blocking ambient noise—so they can tune out the din of the club and hear their tracks. A model from Skullcandy called Mix Masters are DJ headphones that were partially designed by Mix Master Mike, the Beastie Boys’ longtime DJ. These headphones feature multiple detachable output cables, one of which is short with an in-line remote/mic for Apple devices, the other longer and coiled, a style that some DJs prefer to use when they’re working in the booth. A mute button is integrated into an earpiece, so you can cut the feed to the headphones to listen to the crowd, and the cable can be attached to either side. They’re available in Black, Red, or with a professional basketball team colors and logos for The Knicks, The Bulls, The Celtics, Miami Heat, or The Lakers.  

Wearing headphones regularly has become a central part of the lives of many people. We use them so often at work, home and when we travel, it’s worthwhile for some people to invest in a more premium listening experience. The hallmarks of a great pair of headphones are top-notch sound and a comfortable fit, and both of these qualities are delivered with the Klipsch Mode M40. They feature 40mm dynamic moving coil drivers and 15mm tweeters for rich sound quality, leather earpads for comfort, a leather case for travel, a sleek black/copper exterior and active noise canceling that will quiet your surroundings. The noise cancellation is battery powered; however, should the battery die, the Mode M40s will continue to operate as regular stereo headphones. Two detachable cloth cables are included, one of which features an in-line remote/mic for Apple devices.

All of the headphones in this article so far have been “over-the-ear,” meaning that the ear cups completely surround your ears. The V-Moda Crossfade M-80 is a durable yet high-quality headphone that has ear cups that rest on your ears. With 40mm dual-diaphragm drivers, they still deliver a very full sound, but the smaller ear cup means that the overall physical mass of the headphone is more than 50% smaller than larger models. Interestingly, these headphones don’t fold for traveling. However, a molded hard-shell “Exoskeleton” case is included, and it’s very space efficient. The build quality of these headphones is very tough. They have a comfortable “Steelflex” headband, metal components, memory foam ear cushions and Kevlar-reinforced cables. One of the cables is dedicated to Apple devices, the other is for Android, Windows and Blackberry phones. The Crossfade M-80s are available in Black or White.

AKG by TIËSTO is a new range of DJ-friendly headphones that were recently announced, and they offer durable aluminum construction and a 3D-Axis folding design. They are closed-back headphones that attenuate unwanted ambient noise, while providing a rich musical experience for the listener. Featuring large, 50mm drivers, the K267 TIËSTO is the top-of-the-line model. They have a unique switch that enables you to adjust the frequency response. You can set them to “Studio” for a flat frequency response, or choose “Club” and “Stage” to boost the bass for playing larger and larger venues. They also feature a detachable coiled cable that can be attached to either ear cup. The K167 TIËSTO features an “over-the-ear” design with 40mm drivers, and the K67 TIËSTO features a more compact on-ear design, but also features 40mm drivers.   

Jay Z’s Roc Nation and Skullcandy collaborated to create the Aviators line of headphones, which offer great sound and slick finishing touches. The name of this model is likely a nod to their visual resemblance to the headsets worn by pilots. Like aviator sunglasses, there’s a timeless quality to this design. They feature solid ear cups, which help block out ambient noise. If you’re flying a Cessna, this is useful for keeping out the roar of the propeller engine. If you’re listening to tunes, it’s useful for being able to hear little else. The Aviators are available in color combinations of Brown & Gold, shiny Chrome & Black, Red & Black, and just plain Black or White. They come with a travel case and a cable with an in-line remote/mic for Apple devices. 

Lots of headphones provide extra bass these days, but none of them visually express it as well as Sony’s MDR-XB series. When you think of subwoofers and bass cabinets, you typically picture huge, black speakers inside of large boxes. With generously sized, puffy ear pads, the MDR-XB series look like large, headworn speaker cabinets. The latest addition is the Extra Bass MDR-XB800, which feature 50mm drivers and a folding design. The more affordable and compact MDR-XB300 feature 30mm drivers, and the cables connect to each ear cup. Both models are great choices for lovers of low-end boom.  

There are many more budget-friendly options, like Fostex TH-5 headphones, which are lightweight and semi-open. They’re available in White or Black, and feature eye catching green accents. Panasonic makes affordable DJ headphones called the RP-DJS400, which have 40mm drivers and swiveling ear cups that fold for travel. They’re available in Pink & White, Green & White, Blue & Black and Red & Black.

Skullcandy offers a nice pair of over-the-ear headphones called Agent, which feature 40mm drivers and a single-sided cable. They’re available in Black, White and a robot-themed Blue & White model. Plattan headphones from Urbanears have a striking minimalist, monochrome design, and are available in a range of tasteful colors, such as Aubergine, Indigo and Dark Gray. They feature 40mm handmade drivers and an integrated mic/control button for smart phones. With a retro-futuristic style that’s reminiscent of old Walkman headphones, iLuv Sweet Cotton headphones feature a built-in SpeakEZ mic/remote for Apple devices, and they’re available in Blue, Powder Blue, Pink, Powder Pink, Green, Powder Green, and just plain old Black or White.

Compact In-Ear Headphones

If it’s flair you seek, look no further than Lady Gaga. Heartbeats are top-notch in-ear headphones that were designed by the notorious diva herself. Their look is described as “gunmetal studs… that hang on a leathery cord.” The metal-stud theme is carried through to the stud-shaped button on the built-in remote/mic, which is compatible with Apple gadgets, as well as Android, Blackberry and HTC phones. The leather-esque cord is flat and designed to avoid tangles. To show her commitment to the design, Ms. Gaga can be seen wearing these headphones in the video for the hit song Bad Romance. Heartbeats are available in White with shiny gold accents, or just Black. A leather pouch and seven pairs of ear tips are included.

You can’t really have an article about eye-catching headphones without mentioning Beats by Dr. Dre. Designed to deliver a performance that’s similar to over-the-ear headphones, the Beats Tour Earphones feature a flat cable that resists tangling, and a built-in remote/mic that features volume, music and phone controls. A hard travel case is included, as well as seven pairs of ear tips, so you can be sure you’ll be able to find a perfect fit. Beats by Dr. Dre Tour Earphones are available in Black & Red and White.

Since headphones are capable of making a fashion statement, it makes sense to have an accomplished fashion designer create them. Monster Power Butterfly in-ear headphones are the brainchild of designer Vivienne Tam, and they’re adorned with colorful images of butterflies. The housings are solid metal, with a light champagne-gold hue. A ControlTalk remote/mic for Apple gadgets is built in, which allows you to answer calls, select songs and adjust the volume. Multiple ear tips are included so you can achieve a perfect fit, and a cable management clip and travel case are also included, both of which feature images of that majestic, winged insect.

With tasteful gold-and-black elements and nice-looking, two tone cloth-covered cables, the Koss KDX300 in-ear headphones have a pleasant appearance and a deep sound quality. The speaker drivers were designed to deliver crisp performance with low and punchy bass, while the earpieces themselves help to isolate outside noise. Three different sized ear cushions are included, so you can find a snug and comfortable fit. A soft leatherette carrying case is also included.

Earphones that are made with dense materials stand up better to abuse, and to that end, Skullcandy offers their Heavy Metal Earbuds. Like many of the other offerings featured in this article, these headphones have a built-in mic/remote for controlling the volume and chatting on Apple devices, and they come with multiple sets of ear tips. Most notably, they also come with a set of Hearing Components Comply foam ear tips, which I can personally say are the most comfortable kind I’ve used. The Heavy Metals are available in Gold & Black, Chrome & Black, and low-profile Black

If you’re a fan of the HBO series True Blood, or if you just want a good pair of in-ear headphones, the V-Moda True Blood O Positive are worth checking out. Sporting a blood-transfusion-like crimson and black color scheme, the True Blood O Positives feature durable, all-metal construction with Kevlar reinforced fabric cables, yet they’re still lightweight. Three sets of ear tips are included, so you can get the all-important snug fit, and a single button remote/mic is built in, which is compatible with many kinds of smart phones and tablets. The back of the in-line remote/mic features a small True Blood logo.

The ear-tip design on most in-ear headphones is similar, if not identical. They all have a flexible tip that supports itself by sticking into your ear canal. Medis Earbuds from Urbanears offer an alternative approach. Instead of sticking into your ear canal, they have a unique “EarClick” pad that secures itself by hooking into the bottom and top of the inside of your ears. Because they don’t stick into your ear canal, they don’t isolate sound as much as standard earphones. This means that you can still hear the outside world when you wear them, which some people prefer. They also feature fabric cables, and an in-line remote/mic that’s compatible with many devices. The Medis are available in a range of fun colors: Black, Dark Gray, True White, Sage, Indigo, Cream, Grape and Tomato.    

If you’re on a tight budget, you can still get a decent set of in-ear headphones that aren’t dreadfully dull. iLuv’s iEP322 City Lights earphones are a great option for those who need a cost-effective musical solution. They’re nice looking in-ear headphones that come with multiple sets of silicon ear tips, so you can get a good fit. The City Lights are available in Black, Silver, Red and Pink.

What do you think? Is there a pair of headphones that has an eye-catching quality that you appreciate? If you have any further thoughts or questions, we encourage you to submit a Comment below, or contact a B&H Sales Associate via live chat, over the phone or in the B&H SuperStore.