Great Sounding Affordable Headphones
I read tmo's “cosmetic equipment + more research” post and was going send all this to him. But in the interest of preserving my keystrokes and the realization that the information here might be helpful to others as well, I've turned this into its own post.
If you're looking for affordable over-the-ear headphones, check out the Philips SHP9500. They are open-back headphones. So, something meant to be used at home — definitely not in a library or public setting. They are so comfortable and they sound good with most types of music. They are great for playing video games and watching movies.
I bought them exclusively for playing video games. This is so I can hear when one of my kids wake up while I'm playing. But they turned out to be really good all around headphones for use at home.
Did I say they were comfortable? These are so comfortable that my wife, who is not a fan of headphones, asked me to buy one for herself. We now have two of these at home. We use them to watch movies at night while the kids are asleep. And it's been really good for that use-case too.
And the price? It usually costs less than $80. They are definitely what I would call “bang for the buck” over-the-ear headphones.
Grado SR60e and SR80e
Other affordable options are the Grado SR60e and SR80e. They should both cost less than $110. These consistently get great reviews. I have never tried one though, so I can't comment from experience. But again, they generally get great reviews. They too are open-back headphones. But note that these are on-ear headphones, instead of being over-the-ear. They're supposed to be really good for listening to rock music. So, if that's what you like to listen to, then you might love these.
If I didn't already have the Philips SHP9500, I would be buying either one of these. Actually, I might even buy the SR80e just to try it out.
Audio Technica ATH-M50s
If you're looking for closed-back headphones, then I would definitely recommend the Audio Technica ATH-M50s. I have an older ATH-M50. The newer versions, like the M50x, are even better. You could get those with detachable audio cables. You should be able to find it for $150, or sometimes less than that when it goes on sale. There's also a wireless version, but that one goes past the $150 dollar mark.
Obviously I haven't sampled a lot of headphones as I'm not into that business. But in my opinion, with the right EQ setting, the Audio Technica ATH-M50s are probably the best sounding headphones for $150 or less.
Note that above I said, with the right EQ setting. When you listen to it bare, it kinda sounds bland. It sounds very balanced, because that's what a studio monitor is for, but bland. However, if you hook it up to an external sound card or DAC and play with the EQ settings a bit, you'll be surprised at how good it can sound. I know I was.
I do have a couple of complaints with the ATH-M50. First, is that it clamps hard on your head. So, you might not be able to wear it for longer periods of time. You can slightly remedy that with softer pads. You can also lessen the clamping force over time, by leaving it over a box of tissue while you're not using it.
My second complaint is that over time, the faux leather on the headband will start to peel. This happens to other headphones too, so not solely an ATH-M50 issue. The fix for it is to buy a headband cover. I got one from eBay or Amazon, I can't remember anymore. But with the cover in place, it is no longer an issue. I don't know if you can tell from the picture I shared right below the heading. It has the headband cover on in that photo.
So there you have it. If you're looking for great sounding open-back over-the-ear headphones, look into the Philips SHP9500. Alternative open-back choices are the Grado SR60e and SR80e. If instead you wanted a closed-back headphone, then the Audio Technica ATH-M50x is a great one to try.