Can anything beat Beats? The essential guide to headphones that really rock

view gallery VIEW GALLERY


You can't beat Beats. Or can you?

Headphones are a notoriously subjective choice. One person’s desire for lightweight, open-backed sound is balanced by another’s need for cans heavy on design statement, or just heavy. A frequent traveller will value noise-cancellation. If you just want better audio from your iPhone, there’s plenty of choice. Do you want in-ear, over-ear or that in-between option, on-ear? Corded or wireless? Do you want to spend your money on a celebrity musician’s name or an established audio company? Read on for our selection of seven of the best mid- to premium-price headphones.

Best for iPods

Atomic Floyd SuperDarts + Remote headphones

Apple’s latest iPhone, iPod nano and iPod touch all come with the much improved earphones which Apple calls EarPods. Even so, things get spectacularly better with this cute, effective upgrade. The compact fit on these in-ear headphones is snug to create noise isolation: they keep the music in and the outside world, er, outside. The strong sound matches decent bass with great clarity. They’re very light and the build quality is impressive. The remote control on the cable makes it easy to pause, play and change tracks with your iDevice in your pocket or bag.


Best for hi-fi sound quality


The 1 series is just out. Built from high-end materials that make them rigid but versatile, they have silent joints and very comfy cups. There are three models, starting at £299, and all have exceptional audio, not least thanks to the elements like the exotic-sounding liquid crystal polymer film diaphragm. There’s a wireless pair mid-range and this top-of-the-range model has impressive natural sound. A dual noise sensor means the noise-cancelling effect is remarkable.


Best all-rounders

B&W P3

These headphones sit on, rather than over, the ears. So your ears stay cooler than with more enclosing ’phones. This pair has clear, attractive audio and superb comfort thanks to memory foam that moulds itself to your lugholes’ shape. It’s also a material which is breathable enough to stop your ears getting too hot. While the fit means much outside noise is muffled, they don’t stop the music getting out to entertain anyone nearby. The sound B&W is known for is clear, natural and neutral, and that’s what you’ll find here. This shines when there’s a digital input like an iPod, though higher bit rates will work best. These cans are a good balance of sound, design and price.


Best for style

Beats by Dr Dre Solo HD

Above all, Beats by Dr Dre offer a trendy styling that is a strong design statement, and instantly recognisable. These on-ear cans are lightweight and highly portable. They have enough movement in the cups to offer a good fit. The sound is dominated by the same pounding beat and deep, beefy bass that the brand is known for. Where the bass is strong, some other parts of the sound are a little blurry, with vocals sometimes suffering. Still, they’re comfy, undeniably powerful and available in a bunch of super-bright colours, but they can’t compete with the audio on most of the rivals here.


Best for Bluetooth

Zik Parrot by Starck

These Philippe Starck-designed noise-cancelling headphones are smarter than average. There are sensors which know when you’re taking them off your head and pause the music, ready to start again when you replace them. Then there’s Bluetooth and NFC (the wireless data transfer system found in Oyster cards and some office entry doors). These offer wireless connection. Even better, the controls for volume and track selection are on the right ear piece in a touch-sensitive surface that responds to taps and swipes. The Starck design sense is evident – matte steel frame and matte rubber earcups. Audio is strong, with strikingly good noise cancellation. But these cans are a little heavy and a touch overpriced.


Best for travelling

Denon AH-NCW500

Noise-cancelling works by using clever electronics to match outside sound – like aircraft engine noise – and feeding the opposite frequency through the earphone, cancelling it out. Denon’s skill with noise cancelling is on a par with Sony’s above, creating a natural sound. The advantage of this technology is that you can turn the volume of the inflight movie down, which is better for your hearing. This pair of on-ear headphones are deeply comfortable and offer great build quality.


Best for comfort

Philips M1 Fidelio

These headphones are superbly light but still have rich, clear sound with plenty of bass. Vibration dampening lets every detail shine through and memory foam in the pads makes extended listening in this on-ear pair deeply comfortable – though they do have a grip some will find too firm. They offer sound isolation, rather than noise-cancelling, but the effect is excellent. They’re well-crafted and have an attractive but subtle design (if you want more discretion than Beats offers, look no further).


On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    IT Project Manager (technical, applications, infrastructure)

    £55000 - £60000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: IT Proj...

    SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's Stortford / Stansted

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's ...

    IT Portfolio Analyst - Prince2

    £45000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client, a glob...

    Project Co-ordinator - Birmingham - Permanant

    £20000 - £25000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week