Music is awesome. We love music around here, if you can’t tell; however, it’s not always practical to blast music through speakers in a dorm room. With that unfortunate fact of life in mind, here’s our guide on the best headphones for college students!
You’ve probably been listening to those same old iPod earbuds for most of your teenage years, so you might be thinking, “Why would I need different headphones?” In fact, those stock earbuds sound terrible in comparison to a good pair of “cans”. They may be small and fashionable, but good-sounding they are not.
Now, I’m not going to be an elitist audiophile and say you should never use stock earbuds again; in fact, I use mine every day at the gym and when I’m walking to class. They are, in one word, adequate. However, if you’re looking for sound quality or isolation, they just won’t cut it. That’s where our headphone guide comes in.
There are tons of quality headphones out there that most people don’t know about. In fact, if you asked the average person what they consider to be quality headphones, you’ll almost undoubtedly hear them say either “Bose” or “Beats By Dre”.
Bose headphones aren’t bad. They’re really not. In fact, most people think they sound absolutely amazing – and for good reason. Compared to iPod earbuds, they really are fantastic. The only problem with Bose headphones is that they’re overpriced for the quality you get.
Beats By Dre headphones, on the other hand, aren’t worth buying at all. At $350 retail, these overly bass-heavy phones are so overpriced that you might as well be giving your money to a Nigerian prince. Essentially, all these headphones have to offer is the name of an artist that’s trying to salvage his career by creating a way for you to play other people’s music.
Luckily, those aren’t the only two options. There are plenty of other headphones that are great for students, and this guide aims to show you the best ones we’ve found. When evaluating headphones for this post, I really only had two criteria in mind:
- They had to sound great
- They had to be less than $130
Other criteria, such as portability, noise cancellation, and comfort will vary in importance from student to student; with that in mind, I tried to pick several headphones, each of which will fit a different preference.
Audio Technica ATH-M50
- Standout features: Closed design, superb isolation, minimal noise leakage, great bass
- Recommended for: All situations requiring isolation; noisy environments
The ATH-M50s are unique on this list because of their closed design. The closed nature of the headphones means that these are hands-down the best for noise isolation. If you’re looking for a pair of headphones that will allow you to escape the noise created by roommates, friends, or drunk people in the hallway, read no further and buy these.
Aside from the great isolation the ATH-M50s provide, you also get great bass, mids, and highs. These are great all-around phones for sound clarity. The ATH-M50s are studio monitors, which means that they provide a much more accurate sound profile than many other headphones. Headphones that are not monitors are usually engineered to sound “brighter”, or more pleasing to the ear. Nonetheless, these are a great choice for music.
One issue you may run into with the ATH-M50s is comfort; since they are closed headphones, they tend to clamp onto your head tighter than most open headphones. Personally, I didn’t have this problem, but some people do. If you do run into this issue, a good fix is to stretch the headphones out for a night by putting them on something like a computer case or some upright books.
Like most quality headphones, these require a “burn-in” period before they reach their full potential. Upon buying them, you’ll find they already sound incredibly better than what you’re used to; however, after a few hours they get even better (the bass in particular benefits from burn-in).
All in all, the ATH-M50s are the best headphones on the list for studying and escaping noisy environments. Out of all the headphones I own, these are the ones I turn to most often – precisely for those purposes.
Audio Technica AD700
- Standout features: Open design, “3-D Wing” headband design, very wide soundstage, incredible clarity
- Recommended for: Movies, video games, music other than rock/rap/pop
Another fine pair of phones from Audio-Technica, the AD700s are a large set of headphones with an open design and a rather unorthodox look. The first thing you notice when looking at them is the colors; purple cups with gold/cream trim is not the usual color combination for headphones. Another unique feature is the “3-D Wing System”, which replaces the usual headband that most headphones have. The system features two hinged wings that act as a band. These wings are well-padded and are super-comfortable; in fact, these headphones are probably the most comfortable that I’ve ever worn. One comment a lot of people make about these headphones is that you forget you’re wearing them after a while. Yes, they’re that comfortable.
Aside from comfort, the standout feature of the AD700s is their soundstage. Soundstage refers to how engrossing the sound is – if you imagine yourself in a concert hall, soundstage would refer to where you were sitting. Most headphones will put your a few rows back; these put you right on the stage. The soundstage is just absolutely fantastic. Sound envelops your head in a complete 360 degree radius, which makes these headphones a fantastic choice for movies and games. When I bought these, I tried them out first by playing a few rounds of BioShock; I found the environmental sounds to be much, much more engrossing than they ever were coming through speakers or other headphones.
As for music, these headphones are best for genres outside of rap, rock, and pop. That’s because the bass in them isn’t fantastic, so music with a hard, driving beat won’t make the same impact that it would coming out of other headphones. However, the clarity of the highs and mids is great with the AD700s. Acoustic music and movie soundtracks in particular sound great coming though these.
- Standout features: Open design, retro look, lightweight body, great bass
- Recommended for: Rock, rap, pop – anything with a beat
Grado makes fantastic headphones for rock music. The sound that comes out of these is punchier, more raw, and much more direct than what your get with the AD700s. If rock, rap, or pop is your bag, and you don’t care much about isolation, these are for you.
The SR80i’s sport a retro look that is either awesome or too akin to an Sky Captain-inspired robot, depending on your opinion. I think they look awesome, and I would be completely comfortable wearing them in public.
Speaking of comfort, these headphones are a treat to wear. They’re not as awe-inspiringly comfortable at the AD700s, but their lightweight body and minimalist headband make them very nice on your head. The only possible nitpick is that the cups aren’t very big, so the drivers touch your ears. This might bug some people, but I’ve had no discomfort from it.
- Standout features: Open design, tighter fit, great bass, wide soundstage
- Recommended for: Buyers split between the AD700 and the SR80
Sennheiser is probably the most recognized headphone maker that you won’t find at Best Buy. They’ve been making quality headphones for years, and I know many people who swear by them. The HD518s are one of the newer models Sennheiser has released, and I was lucky enough to be able to test out a pair owned by one of my friends.
The first thing I noticed about these is that they fit a lot tighter than then AD700s or the SR80s – in fact, they’re almost as tight as the closed ATH-M50s listed above. Still, they do feature an open design, which means you won’t have as much noise isolation.
My take on the HD518s is that they are a compromise between the AD700s and SR80s. They are much better than the AD700s for rock/rap/pop, as they have much stronger bass. However, they have a much, much wider soundstage than the SR80s (although still not near as wide as the AD700s). If you can’t decide between those two aforementioned models, go with these. You won’t be disappointed.
These are our four recommended headphones for college students; they’re all affordable, and they all sound 100x better than the white buds that came with your iPod. Buy a pair and find out what you’ve been missing. If you’re looking for some great music to test a pair out with, check out our recent study music list!