Looking is out. Listening is in. The only media that matters these days — and we say this as the producer of a wonderfully archaic print magazine, so we really ought to know — is audio. Podcasts. This new-fangled Clubhouse app. We’re told music might finally go mainstream in 2021. The list goes on.
And in the midst of a pandemic, when exercise is the only way we have of entertaining ourselves, and noise cancellation technology is the only thing that can drown out the obnoxious Zoom conversations your housemate has with Americans who say things like “loop back” without vomiting, it’s worth investing in a decent set of headphones. Here are five we think you’ll enjoy.
For brilliant design: KEF’s Mu3 wireless earphones
Designed by frequent KEF collaborator Ross Lovegrove, these striking little buds take their visual cues from the natural world — picture molten mercury, or drops of jupiter in your ear. (Was that the lyric?). More ingeniously, they are ‘smart weighed’, meaning they’ll never drop out of your ears like other wireless pods. And the sound, as you’d expect from the glorious obsessives at the titanic KEF, is exquisite. They are ideal for the WFH desk life: comfortable, smart, and they’ll stay put even during your most animated Zoom arguments.
For glorious silence: Sony WH-1000XM3
Often cited as the greatest noise cancellers on the market, the catchily-named Sony WH-1000XM3s are packed with engineering genius. There are lovely little touches across the board: the Atmospheric Pressure Optimiser, which maximises noise-cancelling performance at high altitude, may sound superfluous right now.
But you will fly again — and when you do, you’ll be glad you could block out that bawling infant at 30,000 feet. (And just imagine how they handle the binmen). On top of this, the sound quality is resolutely superb: balanced, refined, wonderfully detailed — and yet full of oomph and emotion.
For durability and reliability: Audio-Technica ATH-ANC900BT
In a world that’s rapidly re-opening, it’s a comfort that some headphones come tooled-up and kitted-out with an ‘Airplane Mode’. Even more heartening is that certain pairs of those — for instance this pair of Audio-Technica on-ear headphones — also have battery lives as healthy as 35 hours.
Pair that with a good dose of powerful digital hybrid noise cancelling technology, reliable Bluetooth 5 technology and handy touch and swipe controls built into each ear cup, and you’ve got a perfect travelling companion. And the best part? The similarly airport-friendly ‘Switchable Quick Hear-Through Function’, that allows ambient sounds (such as announcements) to be heard through even the loudest tunes.
For incredible build quality: Apple AirPods Max
It’s easy to poke fun Apple products. (And fun, too.) The mortgage-worthy price tag. The gushing fanboy hype. The almost childish blobbiness of the design. But the company’s first proper over-ear headphones are quite remarkable. Yes, the build quality is head and shoulders above everything else on the market (even if that case feels near superfluous.)
But it’s the audio quality that really, well, sings. Spacious, achingly crisp, and with an enveloping boominess, they make every song sound better than you ever anticipated. Plus, their cinematic spatial audio makes film watching an even greater treat, too.
Apple Airpods Max
For truly luxurious comfort: Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H95
Sound is one thing. Comfort is another. Bang and Olufsen have opted for both. The Beoplay H95s have butter soft lambskin ear cushions, filled out with memory foam padding and a headband that moulds to your head. They are like pudgy clouds around your ears — meaning you can listen for longer, no matter how dull the Zoom rants get.
What’s more, the headphone’s new titanium driver system produces wonderfully dynamic and detailed sound. And there are four dedicated voice microphones which ensure almost studio-grade recording — ensuring your brilliant conference call points will ring out in crystal cut clarity.
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H95
For work and leisure: Bose Sport Earbuds
Yes, we know the title says ‘these are the best headphones for your desk.’ But nowadays, a man’s daily run is as much a part of his working day as his morning email purge. And it’s useful to have a set of headphones that can happily make the transition from Google Meets to pounding the streets. Bose — lovely reliable bose — have made just the thing.
The Sport Earbuds boast truly lifelike sound quality and an eerily comfortably fit that is pleasingly difficult to dislodge, while music sounds clear, balanced and crisp — even at the most motivating volumes.
Bose Sport Earbuds
Want to learn more about KEF’s earphones? Here’s why the British brand’s new Mu3 wireless headphones are easy on the eyes (and the ears)…
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