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Motorola MOTOROKR S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones offer a comfortable fit for athletes.  (Source: Motorola)

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7 QuietPoint Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones are a solid stereo headphone offering and sport excellent sound  (Source: Audio-Technica)

V-Moda Bass Freq earphones feature a comfortable fit, good sound, and a wide array of attractive colors -- all at a reasonable price.  (Source: V-Moda)
Headphones and earphones, oh my! DailyTech has all the hottest in holiday music and audio, for you or...

Music lovers are living quite possibly the greatest era in history for their passion.  Today the music lover has a broad array of gadgets at his or her disposal with which to carry around a music collection in the palm of one's hand.  With many solid CD releases this year, and a wealth of undiscovered music -- whether you like rock, oldies, indie, rap, techno, electro, metal, glam, punk, funk or anything else -- the world is the music lover's oyster.

Part I of the guide covered MP3 players (both hard drive and flash) and music-ready cell phones.  This is the second part of the guide, which covers headphones and earbuds. 

There are two basic categories of listening devices.  The first is the earmuff/headphone style ones that go over your ears, which vary wildly in size and shape.  These headphones are typically just known as stereo headphones.

The other type of listening device sports plugs that go in your ears, typically known as earbuds.  Today users also have the option of either going for wired or wireless designs for either headphones or earbuds.  Most wireless design utilize Bluetooth, but a few feature RF transmission.  This much is pretty familiar to most.  However, the challenge is in find good stereo headphones and earbuds at a reasonable price. 

Traditional Surround Sound/Dolby headphones were skipped for brevity, as they are more tuned to the home theatre experience, while this guide focuses on audio.  Note that most headphone models can be found at cheaper than MSRP as noted, but the higher end models typically have no markdown.

Bluetooth Headphones
  • Motorola HT820 Bluetooth Stereo Headset Simultaneously Source Phone and Music ($56.99 MSRP)
    These headphones are bigger, but are not ear-muff style.  They support Bluetooth 1.2, as well as A2DP and AVRCP profiles.  They also feature a battery life that is fairly good at 12 hours of music and 17 hours of talk.  They are relatively lightweight. 

    The sound quality is reported as average, but the headphones feature "audio sink" functionality, which can improve overall sound quality.  All around, these headphones are a solid choice for everyday music listening and interfacing with top of the line music phones.

  • Motorola MOTOROKR S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones ($129.99 MSRP, $73 Street)
    These are some of the trimmest stereo bluetooth headphones.  These MOTOROKR S9 support for HS, HF1.5, Bluetooth v2.0, A2DP, and AVRCP Bluetooth profiles.  They feature a play time of around 6 hours; talktime is around 7.

    The non-resizable arc may lead to some trouble for people with larger heads.  Sound quality is relatively good, but is reported to vary between output devices.  These headphones make a good choice for athletes who want wireless stereo.

  • BlueAnt X5 Stereo Bluetooth Headset ($139.99 MSRP, $94 Street)
    The BlueAnt X5s are very comfortable and compact fold-to-store headphones.  They support stereo, with support for Handsfree, Headset, A2DP and AVRCP profiles.  Their battery life is rated around of 12 hours.  One standout feature is very good audio quality for a wireless headphone, but the quality still falls a bit short of many wired stereo headphones. 

    Overall this model is a solid choice for home music listening -- though not as good for athletics due to the larger earmuffs.

  • Logitech FreePulse Wireless Headphones ($109.99 MSRP, $80 Street)
    Logitech's phones are ready for action, being both flexible and durable.  They have average overall sound, but above average bass.   One downsides is the lack of built in playback controls, but volume control is conveniently located in the shell of earpad.  The blue tooth transmitter ransmitter works with any minijack headphone output.  The FreePuslse include a separate built in battery for the transmitter, with fairly good life.  Works from a range of 30 feet or less.  Athletes will appreciate this model's flexibility.

  • Sony DRBT50 Stereo Bluetooth® Headset ($229.99 MSRP, $150 Street)
    Who says money can't buy you love?  Sony's stereo headphones may be big (think Princess Leia), but they provide one of the best stereo sound experiences offered by a Bluetooth set.  Users report that this unit blows away such competitors as the previously mentioned Motorola S9, although this may be somewhat subjective.  The set supports Bluetooth headset and A2DP profiles.  

    The headphones sport a 24 bit D/A converter to improve sound quality and have specially designed
    40mm headphone driver units with Neodymium magnets.  Offer a solid battery life of 17 hours for music playback.  The phones have built in Audio control.  Overall this is a very solid choice for a nice sounding, but not unreachably expensive set of headphones for home music listening.

  • iMuffs Bluetooth Wireless Headphones for iPod ($179.99 MSRP, $170 Street)
    This model by iMuffs offers stereo support for A2DP profile and operates under Bluetooth 2.0.  These headphones are among the only Bluetooth ones to support noise cancellation software.  They also utilize Clear Voice Capture (cVc) echo technology to further reduce noise pollution.  They have an audio battery life of around 16 hours.  They operate from up to 30 feet away.  Their profile is slimmer than some, which may be a draw.  While the most pricey, these headphones are reported to have sound quality rivaling competitive $100 earbuds. 

    The sound quality is consistently reported as a big upside for this model.  This would be a terrific choice for people like business travellers who wants to listen to music in a noisy setting such as an airport.   
Wired Headphones
  • Sennheiser HD 202 Headphones ($29.95 MSRP, $24 Street)
    These stereo headphones fall in on the low end, but as with most Sennheiser products, they don't disappoint.  They provide reasonable noise insulation and offer up high quality sound, particularly in the treble and middle ranges.  Bass sound can be a little weak in terms of thump, but is acceptable.  The headphones come with long 10 ft y-style cord, for plenty of freedom. 

    The phones are very comfortable and have nice cushiony padding.  Durability, particularly in the cords and contacts, has been reported to be a bit low.  Overall, this lowend model is a bit of a surprise in terms of packing a good audio punch and makes a great buy for the price-concerned shopper.

  • Sennheiser PX 100 Collapsible Headphones ($59.95 MSRP, $34 Street)
    The PX 100s feature a slim and lightweight design.   They also feature suprisingly good sound isolation.  They are similar to the HD 202 in capabilities except they feature much superior bass, in addition to the already good audio quality.  Bass notes and tones are surprisingly crisp and sharp.  Midrange is noted as a bit airy, but overall good.  Between the great sound quality, improved bass and comfort, these headphones are a really solid choice for the music listener.

  • Koss PortaPro Headphones ($49.99 MSRP, $35 Street)
    These headphones aren't the prettiest looking stereo headphones, but they are comfortable, utilizing a unique comfort fit headband design.  They also feature a wide audio response of 15 to 25,000 Hz.  The sound quality is great, especially with the bass.  Across the spectrum it is solid with little complaints.    The headphones fold up neatly for easy storage.   One complaint is that the speaker is rather prone to damage and develops tears in the membrane fairly easily.  This is a good pick for those who are looking for a lower price, quality sound option that they are not going to beat up too much.

  • Sony MDR-NC6 Noise Canceling Headphones ($79.99 MSRP, $36 Street)
    These stereo headphones are a step up from the previously mentioned offerings in that they offer noise reduction.  Background noise is reduced 70% or more.  This requires and extra AAA battery, which last for 30 hours, and can be turned off at any time.  Sound quality is overall quite good, but typically the noise cancellation overshadows this feature.  Some people compare these to Aiwa HP-CN6 (Aiwa is owned by Sony), however the noise cancellation is significantly better in this model.  Pick this set of headphones if you are looking for a solid but affordable set of headphones with easily enabled noise cancellation.

  • Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7 QuietPoint Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones ($219.95 MSRP, $123 Street)
    These headphones could be called snazzier Sony MDR-NC6s because, while differing in physical design, they offer the same draws as the MDR-NC6, but just offer more.  The noise reduction is up to 85%.  High and mid range are superb, and even demolish pricey industry stalwart Bose in this area, according to many audio purists.  Bass is well done, but falls short of only Bose offerings in quality.  The headphones have a solid feel, and are durable.  The battery life for the noise cancellation is up to 40 hours.  Pick these headphones if you have a reasonable budget and want great sound and solid noise cancellation.

  • ULTRASONE HFI 700 S-Logic Surround Sound Professional Headphones (MSRP $249.99)
    A unique feature of this model is that it supports "natural surround-sound" using a technology called S-Logic to create 3-D sound effects.  This also involves the use of pricey custom designed gold-plated drivers.  The headphones are also sealed to isolate the wearer from outside noise.  The headphones provide a really nice and full soundstage that operates well at all levels from bass to treble. 

    Some high-end treble-heavy headphones will surpass the HFI-700 in terms of quality in treble-heavy rock.  Overall, though these headphones provide a unique and outstanding experience.  Pick up these if you are willing to lay down a tidy some or if you enjoy novel technologies.

  • Bose QuietComfort 3 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones (MSRP $349.99)
    Bose is the king of the audio hill and most other headphone makers strive to reach near to Bose quality.  As previously stated, some like the ATH-ANC7 by Audio-Technica nip at the heels of Bose or even surpass it in some respects. 

    These headphones are luxuriously comfortable and very lightweight for their size.  The unit provides crisp and clear audio quality across the board.  The only downside, a common problem for most Bose headsets, is that audio quality gets a bit cloudy on the low end.

    The QC 3 reduces noise incredibly well and its audio line is detachable, so you can use it purely for noise reduction if you want to sleep in a busy setting like on a plane.  The set also features a generous battery life of 20 hours. 
Bluetooth Earbuds

Note Bluetooth earbuds/earphones are small and wireless, which means reasonably good audio quality is very hard to achieve.  That said, they're still pretty neat and if you aren't compulsive about your audio quality, you might enjoy them.
  • Sony Ericsson Bluetooth Headset HBH-DS970 ($149.99 MSRP, $94 Street)
    The Sony HBH-DS970 is a stereo earphone set featuring support for Bluetooth 2.0 and the A2DP profile.  If offers caller ID for compatible phones and music browsing controls.  It features talk time of 6 hours.  The unit automatically pauses music when receiving calls.  Audio quality received slightly mixed reviews, but for the most part is cited as good, though a bit week on the bass.  Pick this choice if you want earphones with fuller calling features than the JBuds.

  • Panasonic RP-BT10 Bluetooth Headphones ($199.99 MSRP, $132 Street)
    The RP-BT10 works with both iPod or cell phones.  The unit has a good range of around 30 feet.  The battery life is 5 hours of music.  The unit has remote control playback controls.  Sound quality is decent.  The units sports a stylish design.  The units have certainly been selling well, so they may be a bit hard to find.  Pick this one if you want a phone and mp3 compatible set of headphones with decent all around features.

  • Etymotic Research Ety8 Bluetooth Stereo Wireless In-Ear ($299.99 MSRP, $200 Street)
    If you feel okay with having a rectangle next to your ear, you may embrace this strange looking, but impressive design.  The design itself is rather modern and some will find it exciting and artistic, while others will find it downright ugly.  What most users will appreciate is the solid sound quality and noise cancellation technology built-in.  Sound is very good, though bass is a bit weaker than on say, Boss wired earbuds.  The unit sports a terrific battery life of 7 to 10 hours and is very comfortable. 

    One weakness is that the range is not very good.  Past 10 feet and many users report it to have problems.  The unit supports A2DP and AVRCP profiles and Bluetooth 2.0.  Etymotic claims the Ety8 to be the first Bluetooth earphones to feature noise-cancellation.  Pick these ones if you want Bluetooth and noise cancellation and are willing to drop a good deal of cash for it.
Wired Earbuds
  • JBuds Hi-Fi Noise-Reducing Ear Buds ($49.95 MSRP, $18 Street)
    JBuds are a very cheap way to get your earbud fix.  At a going online price of about $18, they are hard to pass up for those curious.  They are pleasantly comfortable.  The sound amazingly draws great reviews and is characterized as crisp and clean. 

    While certainly not the best audio experience ever they do a lot with just a little to work with.  For a great deal on good sounded earbuds, these are a solid pick.

  • Skullcandy SC-SBB3.5 Smokin' Earbud ($29.95 MSRP, $24 Street)
    Skullcandy pleases the music lover's sweet tooth with this solid low-end offering.  The Smokin' buds feature stylish design and good noise isolating plugs.  There have been some customer gripes on fit and durability, though.  Aside from these gripes, though, the sound is crisp, clear, and full.  It is another very solid offering in terms of audio quality at a low price.  Choose this one if you are willing to treat it with care, and are looking for a cheap good sounding pair of earbuds.

  • V-Moda Bass Freq earphones (camo) ($50.00 MSRP, $30 Street)
    The V-Moda Bass Freq buds are stylishly covered with multicolored styles, comes with various ear inserts to find the optimal fit.  These earbuds are among the lowest price models to feature noise isolation technology, and do a reasonably good job of it. 

    The sound has drawn rave reviews and features excellent overall character.  The bass can be a bit too loud at times and the treble can lack a bit of crispness at times, but overall these earphones offer a rich and full audio environment.  Pick these if you want a solid, comfortable, good sounding affordable offering.

  • Sennheiser CX300-B Earbuds ($89.95 MSRP, $36 Street)
    The CX300-B Earbuds offer a variety of plugs to fit different ear sizes.  A snug fit is a must, for this and other Earbud models, especially in a pair like this with own passive noise isolation.  Sound quality is decent, with the bass being its greatest strength.  These headphones represent another solid low-end choice.  Pick these ones if you want passive isolation and decent sound quality, or are a Sennheiser fan.

  • Shure E2c Sound Isolating Earphones ($99.99 MSRP, $73 Street)
    The E2c are another one of those earbud models that is either a bit weird looking or stylish depending on your tastes.  It comes with a broad array of fit sleeves, which help to ensure and extra comfortable and well sealed fit.  Once such a fit is accomplished sound isolation from the outside world according to most users is nearly complete -- which can be good and bad. 

    These headphones are sturdily constructed as well and should have a nice lifespan.  Sound quality is very balanced, and is overall a good performer.  No particular section particularly pops out at you, but there are few complaints.  Pick this if you want a well built headphone, with excellent sound isolation and balanced sound and are willing to pay a bit more.

  • Bose In-Ear Stereo Headphones ($99.95 MSRP)
    Bose and their Stereo Headphones provide a solid middle-high end option.  They come with a small assortment of ear inserts for fit.  The fit is relatively comfortable for most users.  The sound quality is excellent, but the bass is a bit up and down at times.  Some users report the bass to be too low and murky, while others report it to be too loud and jumpy.  However most say the sound is really good and particularly shines on the mid to high end.  Pick these if you want a comfortable and proven solution at a slightly higher price.

  • Shure SE530 Sound Isolating Earphones ($499.99 MSRP, $430 Street)
    These headphones are very pricey, theres no way around it.  They almost didn't make it into this guide because of this.  However, it is good to show at least one very high end offering and discuss its merits versus its lower brethren.   One place where the extra money goes is to offering a unique design, yielding fuller sound.  The headphone actually features three separate mini-speakers -- one tweeter and two woofers.  They also feature modular cable design, with different lengths of cable that allow for easy length adjustments.  The earphones are extremely comforting in ear and can even be worn when sleeping with no discomfort.  The headphones are very durable in construction with thick and reinforced cords and earbuds. 

    The phones also feature a neat mode called push-to-hear, which utilizes a mini-mic to pipe your voice and immediate surrounding noises into your ear, to allow you to have a normal conversation, which the earphones' excellent seal and noise cancellation would usually prevent.  Lastly, the most important aspect of these earphones is the incredible audio quality.  Bass and treble are unbelievably good, and the middle end is solid.  This model blows away the competition.  The three speaker design, really shows its muscle here.  Pick these if you are willing to spend a lot of money for the best performance and a solution that will last a long time.




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