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Listen Up! We Test Four Top Headphones

Our Daryl Nelson tunes in, rocks out and writes up the results

Since there are a countless number of portable devices for music listening, there's also a countless number of headphones. Whether the white flimsy kind that accompanies the iPod, or the over-the-ear bulky variety, there's no shortage of selections.

Of course headphones are easily distinguishable by their design, but unless you listen to different models side by side, it's hard to tell which ones sound the best.

So instead of listening to a particular headphone and assessing its quality of sound, I compared some of the most popular ones on the market today, in a side by side, beat for beat, note for note sound comparison.

First up are the Beats by Dre Headphones made by Monster. There are a few different models of these headphones. The one I checked out was the "Beat Mixer Over-The-Ear" model for $299.

There's been a lot of hype about these headphones, and ConsumerAffairs previously did a quick review, but this was the first time these headphones were compared directly against the competition.

I was reminded of how powerful these headphones are, and how much they're specifically designed for bass-heavy music. With bass sound you usually either get power or clarity, but Beats By Dre gives you both... loud bass, but with crispness and accuracy. No muffled bass sound here.

Within seconds of listening to a Rap tune, I was completely enveloped by the fullness and attention-grabbing-nature of the Beats by Dre headphones.

As far as the design, nothing special, but that might be a good thing. If you're looking for more musical wallop than fancy design, these headphones are just right for you.

Dre's headphones do have a somewhat futuristic look and appeal to them, and the soft leather felt quite light and comfortable around my ear, but as far as sound, they're extremely high quality.

Bose Audio

Next up was the Bose Audio Headphones for 149.99, which also sounded pretty darn good. If not known for anything else, Bose is widely known for its sound clarity, and that reputation is very well deserved.

Compared to Beats by Dre, the Bose headphones scored high in the sound test, but just average on picking up and properly distributing bass sounds. But that's kind of Bose's claim to fame. The company provides a smooth clean sound that picks up the high parts of a melody, as opposed to only picking up its bottom foundation.

If Beats by Dre are ideal for listening to Rap or Rock Music, the Bose Oe2 are perfect for Jazz, Classical, or Ambient music.

The kind of music you listen to most should directly affect the type of headphones you buy.

Roc Nation Aviator

I then tried out the Roc Nation Aviator Headphones, made by Skullcandy, that cost $149.99. The first thing I noticed was how gorgeous these headphones were. They should really be called eye candy rather than Skullcandy.

The headphones I tested were brown and gold with see through ear pieces and brown soft leather ear-cups. The head band was made of soft leather on the outside and a suede or rawhide material on the inside. And the sound?

On my phone, I brought up a song by the Doors to test out the Aviators. I can never get enough of Mr. Morrison so I was hoping the Skullcandys would do his haunting voice some justice. They really didn't though.

The sonic output was just okay, nothing spectacular, nothing horrible. It shot out mediocre amounts of sound quality, and didn't really separate each instrument by highs, lows, or mid-range. The Doors' classic tune "Crystal Ships" seemed to be at all one level, which really took away from the song.

Those who like some flash in their headphone design will love the Aviators, but consumers will give up a bit of high quality sound for prettiness.

Another thing I didn't care for in the Aviators was the cord attached to the headphones. Instead of a thick strong wire that plugs into your device, the Skullcandys uses a flimsy string.  If you're using these headphones in the rain, the cord will more than likely get wet. Then you'll have to plug a soggy cord into your device.

Soul 

The last headset I checked out was Soul, which is designed by Atlanta rapper Ludacris. If you know anything about Ludacris and his music, you know his songs are filled with in your face beats, coupled with a strong and clear vocal delivery.

Well, his headphones sound just like that. Somehow Luda was able to design a pair of headphones that sort of mimic his style.

Similar to the Beats by Dre headphones, Soul sucks you in upon first listen, and clearly picks up each individual level of sound. At $199.99 the headphones are not a bad buy, considering there are other brands for the same price that don't deliver the same quality of sound.

As far as the design, the headphones are pretty straightforward. They have large earcups and a headband that's made of a fiberglass type of material. They also feel very comfortable and light, and have an overall look that’s very similar to Dr. Dre's headphones.

The winner

Out of the four tested, which headphones were the best?

By far, Beats by Dre won for its quality of sound. The legendary Los Angeles producer says he made the headphones so consumers can hear the music just like it sounds in the studio when the music is being made.

Producers spend hours and hours, sometimes days, tweaking a snare drum sound for example, or adjusting a guitar lick to get it at just the right level in relation to the rest of the instruments.

It sounds like Dre's headphones accomplished this feat, as each individual sound seemed to come through quite loud and clear.

The runner up was Soul by Ludacris. The headphones were just a couple of notches under Beats by Dre in terms of sound quality, but didn't capture the music's fullness in the same way.

The headphones are $100 less than Dre's, and you can actually hear that $100 difference in the sound. But if you don't want to spend nearly $300 for the Dre headphones, Soul by Ludacris is certainly worth the $199.99 price tag.

The Bose Oe2s were third on the rating chart, but could also be first depending on the type of music you typically listen to. It seems as if the Bose company made the headphones for an older audience who may not choose Rock, Rap, or Dance music as their first musical choice.

Bose's headphones are ideal for those who prefer a quieter brand of music.

Last on the list were the Aviators. Although they scored the highest in the best design category, the sound quality didn't match the headphones' slick design. The music didn't sound terrible or distorted, but all of the sounds seemed to mesh together. You can get the same listening results with much cheaper priced headphones.

So the next time you shop for a pair of headphones do an extended side by side listening test. Also, plug the headphones into your own device, as opposed to using the ones on the display wall that will play only one song.

That way you can decide if the headphones you're getting will suit you and your particular brand of music.

Story provided by ConsumerAffairs.
Consumer Affairs

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