Work is only part of life, I love sound also outside of work :-) I'm looking for a nice pair of headphones designed for high-quality listening and not necessarily monitoring. Basically I want a portable companion to my non-work life. I want to be able to listen to perfect and crisp music/videos/media without too much enhanced bass and a good sound stage. It would also be a plus to be able to do some basic work on the go.

To give you a feel of what I'll be using the headphones with, I mostly listen to (old) jazz, so the headphones that add/invent too much bass really destroys these recordings. I listen to a ton of audiobooks and podcasts. I also listen to a lot of electronic music such as Amon Tobin, Fourtet, Bonobo, Cinematic Orchestra, etc.

Most the time I will just be using my iPhone as a player.

Key concerns (ideally, I'm not that picky)

  • High quality sound: not exaggerated bass, or harsh trebles. Just well balanced, crisp sound and good sound stage.

  • Noise isolating: I mostly listen in public spaces or on airplanes, so being able to listen softly without hearing too much of the background is important.

  • Comfortable: I listen to a lot of audiobooks and podcasts, so I wanna be able to wear them for hours without getting hot, claustrophobic, or get a headache. I also don't want to hear the mechanics of the headphones when I'm walking (crackle/thump/cable rustling too much).

  • Portable: I want to be able to fold them up and keep them in my bag. Doesn't need to be in-ear kind of small.

  • I don't want to look like a rapper ;-) Would rather not have massively loud (visually) beat phones.

What I have in mind

I've only put closed-back headphones, but I'm open to in-ear as well. I'm looking to spend around $200 but I don't mind more or less if they are great!

If you can recommend others or you have listened to any of these, I would appreciate some thoughts on them.

Thanks so much!

  • hehe. I was going to recommend the Dre's Beatz - but you said you don't want to look like a rapper. ha!
    – Utopia
    Commented Aug 1, 2011 at 21:31
  • now you got me itching to buy myself a pair too... arrgghh
    – user6513
    Commented Aug 2, 2011 at 14:20
  • Sorry @tak... ;-) Commented Aug 2, 2011 at 14:56
  • I would look up on headphone.com check the specs and reviews to find what your looking for. Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 11:00

11 Answers 11


I would also look at the Ultrason HFI 450's. I found them to be a well rounded sound for music and film- but bent more towards the film side. The ear speakers are angled down instead of directly in to he ear which reduces audio fatigue. Also, they have a coiled cable which is

Check out the website:


  • @oinkaudio Ha! were you about to start gushing like me and stopped yourself? You also just made me realize I forgot to add the link to that series. I actually started my response 2 hours ago but got sidetracked with work. It seems that Great minds apparently do indeed think alike. lol Commented Aug 1, 2011 at 11:50
  • I read somewhere that you listened to them. Where was it? And how much are they in ZAR? Commented Aug 1, 2011 at 19:48
  • Hi Andrew. Yah, I have some pairs for sale. R750.00 Vat included. Call me and I'll lend you mine for a test drive.
    – oinkaudio
    Commented Aug 2, 2011 at 10:55

You should check out the Ultrasone HFI series. They seem to be right in line with everything you're looking for with a footprint no larger than any other mentioned in your list, yet not as small as your favorite but still an attractive design with great build quality. I couldn't recommend any companies products more than I do theirs. The only thing I would say in that regard is avoid the Zeno and HFI-15G. Not because they're necessarily bad, but that lack certain features that make the others so amazing.

I absolutely love my Ultrasones and every engineer I know that has owned a pair always say the same. I've gushed about them on here before and I can go on about them forever, so I'll spare you and my self all the reading and typing. You can probably just search the word "Ultrasone" on here to find my post.

Regardless of my opinion/preference, I hope whatever you find is perfect and serves you well!

  • Thanks so much for the input. Seems like Ultrasone are winning here ;-) Gonna have to get a pair to listen to. I really wanna hear both the HFI 450 and the Zinos. The Zino seems perfect for me, but apparently it leaks too much and has no isolation to background noise... Damn! People do seem to rave about them though, so I could always keep my cheap in-ears/hands free kit, which provide some isolation for loud environment and the Zinos for listening in quieter spots. Also being able to hear the surroundings is good when cycling and stuff. Arg, too many things to consider! Commented Aug 1, 2011 at 19:47
  • @Andrew The Zino's are based off an older model called the "iCans" a number of years back. Basically a consumer level product. When I tried them they fit awkwardly, never rested on the ears snugly (to where I was always adjusting them) and they just didn't do it for me. Granted they have a lot to live up to with the HFI and PRO series. I'd suggest the HFI15G, but they're open back and nowhere near the awesomeness of the 450's and up. My next grab will be a pair of PRO 900's. I'm lusting hard after those at the moment. Commented Aug 4, 2011 at 15:26

Another vote for the Ultrasone HFI series, although specifically the 450, 580, 680 or 780 (the others are open-backed). The 450s are particularly good value and readily available in SA.

Alternatively, you might consider the Etymotic ER-4S in-ear monitors with their custom-fit earmold option. They are particularly well suited for in-flight use as they provide more than 35dB isolation. An added bonus is that they are so accurate that you can even use them for monitoring in a pinch. They can be found for around $250 with the standard earmolds. The custom-fits will set you back a bit more, but are well worth it if comfort is a priority.

  • Thanks a lot for the extra Ultrasone vote. Definitely pointing me in a certain direction! Will try find some to listen to. Commented Aug 1, 2011 at 19:49

I have the Aiaiai Tracks, and I can highly recommend them, they are amazing! Lightweight, super sturdy, very stylish, and they sound great. And the mic/clicker thing is super handy.

Also, fantastic costumer service. I got a pair in December and a few months ago one ear developed a bit of a buzz. I contacted them and they sent me a brand new pair of the new model within a week.

I think I really like them also because they are quite different from studio headphones. Some consumer models (Sennheiser comes to mind) try to pretend to be like studio cans, and inevitably don't compare all that well. These aren't pretending to be anything other than really nice walking-around headphones.

They also come with cool packaging and extra little connector things in different colors if you want to customize.

  • Thanks so much for the first hand experience with them! I've actually Bren leaning more towards the open back headphones as a change from my monitoring ones. I also hear that they are much better sounding as a design then closed back. Still debating between those and the ultradone Zino. Commented Aug 2, 2011 at 8:47

I realize that these really only satisfy your first bullet point (high quality sound), but I wanted to speak up here for the Grado series of phones since they haven't been mentioned yet.

The SR-80s/SR-125s both sit right in your price range. I'm no engineer, but they are some of the clearest sounding headphones I've ever listened to and consistently bring out new details I hadn't heard in the music I already know.

They basically fail on all your other points (although I haven't found them that uncomfortable after long periods since they breathe so much). They are very definitely open-ear, which means you won't make many friends in elevators or close cubicles with these. For listening out in the world, I don't recommend them for long subway rides or noisy transit, but they're pretty brilliant for walks. It's quite nice to walk around a city with them on and let just a little bit of the ambience through. Plus, you won't have to worry about missing those incoming traffic honks as you zone out.

  • I've been checking them out and have heard great thing about them. Thanks for the info. I wish there were more shops to listen to all these options in south Africa! Commented Aug 2, 2011 at 20:51

My favorites, both for recording, field works and when listening to my iPhone, is the Beyer Dynamics DT-250! You can't fold em', they are after all frankly studio headphones, but they fit perfectly over most ears, give the best noise isolation I've heard in a headphone not actually feeling like it would crush your head, and they sound great with a very honest sound though with a slight bump in the lower mid. Not even close to annoying or misleading in any way though, I have a notion that the bump's there for a reason as it's in the very frequencies that often can sound very muddy on bigger HiFi-systems :-) /CvanC


For this purpose I would not recommend the HD-25 which is on your list.

I have a pair and I really like them for what they do best: isolation.

Whenever I have to do live sound (I work in theatre sound design so among other things I also mix a lot of wireless mic's live) or something else in a loud enviroment they are great. However I find them really uncomfortable when wearing them for any longer period of time.

Also they are not the most portable/compact around.

They do fit your requirement of not making you look like a rapper. However, over here (the Netherlands) they are the absolute standard / stock / go-to / sine qua non headphones for (live) sound engineers. So whenever I see someone wear a pair of these in public it screams 'sound engineer' to me and that's almost always the case ;-)


I think everyone seems to have their favourite headphones, but I didn't see people talk about learning the sound of your headphones. If you look at a frequency response graph of any set out there, you'll see it's not "honest" at all, so it's all perceptual.

Heresy follows, but I find myself in the company of in-ear Sennheiser CX-300 and, since I know they exaggerate bass, my portable player has the EQ set on bass attenuation. I can tell you when on the move I don't care about phase alignment, or getting the ultimate in pristine quality sound, as that's just diminishing returns all the way. When it comes to work, I'm wary of changing my current headphones (280s) which my ears are so accustomed to.

The audiophile community has a thing about modding headphones, and I hated to see what they do for instance to a perfectly OK pair of Grado-s. And you end up looking weird.

I used to hate the idea of in-ears, but once you get past the awkward placement phase, they satisfy the conditions for comfort, noise isolation, carry-everywhere, and protect your ears by having you listen more quietly. I'm all for less noise in the world.

There's no quick answer in here as you've requested no "industry standard" or "common for the task" model, so everyone's perception and taste are all over the place. I'd say put more emphasis on comfort and good fit, and then your brain (and minimal EQ) will do the rest, provided you didn't start with a model that cuts out a range of frequencies entirely.


Another vote here for Beyerdynamics headphones.

I use the lightweight DT-131 and heavier DT-770s at work. Lovely detailed sound, much prefer them to my own Sennheiser HD25s.


I don't know if I could help you too much but these Quincy Jones signature AKG's look pretty good and very pricey lol.


Because of the recommendations here, I just bought myself a pair of the Ultrason HFI-450s.

I saw they were on sale at Amazon.com for only $70! Compared to all the other places I checked ($100 and above), I couldn't pass it up with the recommendations.

What did you end up going with, Andrew?

  • How do you like them? I decided on getting the Aiaiai Tracks, but that's mainly cause I found a dealer in South Africa, and he's cheaper than even the States - unusual?! I haven't yet bought mine cause the guy hasen't been to my side of the world. Should phone up tomorrow. Commented Aug 21, 2011 at 20:32
  • @Andrew Hey - only just ordered them yesterday and they won't be here until about Tues or Wed next week. I'll let you know! Let me know how you like the Aiaiai's !!!
    – Utopia
    Commented Aug 21, 2011 at 22:55

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