We asked a few companies to send us their headphones so that we could put them to the test. Each of the four sets below is of a different design. This gave us the opportunity to examine the benefits and downfalls of each design. The people at Marantz were also nice enough to supply us with their SR8500 surround receiver equipped with Dolby Headphone decoding.

Grado SR80To the eye, the Grado SR80 headphones look like a blast out of the 1950s. Their purposeful utalitarian look will catch the attention of those who enjoy retro styling. The SR80s are the smallest and lightest over the ear headphones that we tested in this session. With rotating ear pieces, the headphones collapse into an even smaller package that makes them easy to transport. The SR80s are an excellent choice for portable devices due to their small size, light weight and because they are easy to drive. Their supraural design means that their foam pads fit on top of the ear, rather than around it, which makes them not as comfortable as the other headphones in this session. The supraural design does not provide the best sound isolation either, so don’t plan to use these headphones in loud environments. To the ear, is where the SR80s truly shine – they are decades ahead of their appearance. Grado has an excellent reputation for the sound quality of their headphones and listening to the SR80s showed us exactly why. The headphones are an open back design with a non-resonant air chamber. They produced a deep bass, an outstanding midrange and highs that were crisp and natural. With the smallest price tag ($150) of the headphones in this review, the SR80s performed right up to par with the higher priced sets, with all the material that we tossed their way.

Beyerdynamic DT 770The unique appearance of the Beyerdynamic DT 770 makes them one very attractive pair of headphones. Out of the headphones in this review session, these were the largest, heaviest but most comfortable. Their adjustable velour ear cushions and soft leather-padded headband give them a luxurious fit and ultimate comfort. These puppies are the Cadillac of headphones. The perfect fit, together with the closed back design, give the DT 770s amazing sound isolation. Since these headphones are large, they are intended for home use and would be tough to drive by portable devices. The DT 770s do not let any sound escape which makes them ideal for listening in situations where open back headphones may be inappropriate. On the performance side, these headphones reproduced mid and high frequencies clearly with great detail. The bass response was tight and powerful. These headphones did not exhibit the boxy characteristics associated with some closed back designs. The Beyerdynamic DT 770s were fantastic for music and home theater use alike. With a price tag of $315, these were the most expensive headphones we tested but they delivered exactly what you pay for – sound and comfort.

Sennheiser HD 555The smooth curves of the Sennheiser HD 555 headphones make them the most attractive of the three over the ear headphones we tested. They are very comfortable with their soft material ear pads and head band and are also fairly light for their size. The headband is twistable making it easy to pull one ear pad off as we all do with headphones sometimes. The Sennheisers also have a unique earpiece design – the drivers are angled slightly backwards to better direct the sound into your ears. The circumaural design of the HD 555s means that they create a good seal around the ear, although some outside noise still gets into your ears since these are open back headphones. The HD 555 headphones are easy to drive which makes them great for use at home and with portable devices, as long as you are not in a noisy environment. They had a warm but detailed sound on every recording we listened through them. Their open back design also gives them a nice spacious sound with a bass that never lacked. They performed great while listening to music although their strong side seemed to be in the home theater. At a price of $199.95, the Sennheiser HD 555 headphones are a great contender.

Shure E3cShure’s E3c sound isolating earphones were a slightly different type of contender in our review session. Other than producing sound, they shared nothing in common with the other headphones. The E3c styling is simple – these are tiny, lightweight L-shaped headphones that come with a variety of foam and flex sleeves (of different sizes) to fit anyone’s ears. Their in-ear design means that they fit right inside your ear and fire sound right at the eardrum. This may sound a little intrusive but it’s really not. An airtight seal is very important to achieve best bass performance and finding the perfect sleeve took some experimentation. The E3cs provided a tight and comfortable fit along with sound isolation like no other headphones in our review. On the performance side, the E3c headphones were nothing short of a champion. High and mid frequencies were naturally balanced and pleasant to the ears. Bass extension was also very impressive coming out of these little earphones. There is no question about it, their compact size and incredible sound isolation makes the Shure E3c headphones an ideal choice for mp3 players and other portable devices. They are the perfect replacement for iPod headphones for those wanting more out of the iPod. Since they create such a tight seal in your ear, you can listen to music at a lower volume level than with other headphones. This will allow you to listen to music for extended periods of time with less fatigue to your ears. At $249, the Shure E3c headphones may be small but are well worth the investment.

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