Well after Beats headphones recently had a price drop to under $200 I thought it's was time to face that often asked query and finally put it to bed once and for all. Easily the most common question I get asked on Audiophile On Facebook and Twitter pages is "What do you think of Beats headphones" and "Can you tell what are some Beats by Dre Alternatives?". I'll tackle that first question first though as it's really quite a complicated... Wait a second. It's not complicated at all. Beats by Dre suck. They're the kind of headphones that if someone gets you them for Christmas you should slap them. Then stick them on craigslist (the headphone not your aunt/uncle) and then go buy something decent from the list down below.
Plain and simple at every price point and for every modeI there is a better alternative. I won't get into the incredibly long list of things that is wrong with the brand itself, with its marketing or how poorly the headphones are made or how bad they sound. Plenty of people have done that already within the headphone community quite simply Beats are style over substance (and I use the word style loosely at best).
It's a simple fact that people are consuming more content on the go. No longer is it just Discmans, Walkmans or iPod pumping out music but all manner of devices. We as a society are listening to movies, games, podcasts and even books with our headphones. There are a lot of options on the market if you are looking for headphones better than beats. Maybe you are looking for durable headphones? commuting headphones? comfortable headphones? there really is no single answer as to which one is going to be right for each individual. There are however a number of portable headphones that stand out, ones that offer something more than those that bear the good doctors name.
Want to know what the best headphones are in 2016? Check out the headphone buyers guide!
Oppo PM-3 - Portable Planar Magnetic Headphone
Oppo Headphones came onto the scene a couple of years ago with the release of their PM-1 and PM-2 models. Those headphones both sounded incredible and set down the goal line for what a modern planar magnetic headphone should look like. However, an open back design meant that those models weren't best suited for commuting or use in a noise environment. Well, Oppo then released the Oppo PM-3 headphones to cater for those users who demand incredible sound quality on the go. When combined with the Oppo HA-2 headphone amplifier the PM-3 come alive and offer some of the best audio performance we have ever heard from a closed back headphone and them quite simply destroy the Beats Studio and Solo models of fidelity alone. That's not all the Oppo PM-3 have to offer though as the build quality & aesthetic design are all absolutely top notch. The use of solid materials throughout the headphones design mean that the are one seriously high-end bit of kit. Finally, we should not that these closed back orthodynamics are incredibly comfortable to wear over long periods of time du to the lush ear pads and generous headband padding. One of the best portable headphones available to buy in 2016.
Beyerdynamic t51p - Tight accurate and crisp
With top notch build quality, stylish looks and a sound that will reveal all the details in your music its had to make any list of portable headphones without including the Beyerdynamic t51p. Anyone who knows audio will know that Beyerdynamic make some of the best headphones in the world and the T51 are their ultimate portable design. The all metal adjustable headband and ear cups pivot points make for a super strong headphone. One that is capable of taking tremendous amounts of abuse when used on the go. Build quality is everything you would expect from a german designer to come up with and hold a set in the hand and you will know exactly what im talking about. Theres no use of cheap and tacky plastic prone to cracking here. There is the perfect amount of clamping force to block out any unwanted external noise with us finding the T51 to offer exceptional levels of isolation. The sound from the T51p is one of clarity and detail with smooth mids, crisp highs and tight and controlled bass that works well with almost every genre of music you throw at them. For those that are looking for headphones with in line call features Beyer have gone ahead and released a T51i version for around the same price as the P model, the i model is fully iphone and ipad compatible.
Sony MDR-1ABT - Premium Bluetooth Headphones
I decided to include the sony MDR series headphones on this list for 2 reasons. Firstly, in our opinion, these are one of the best looking headphones ever made. And 2 the are one of the best bluetooth headphones you can buy.
The classy understated design and super shallow earcups meant that these full size earphones work great at home or when you are out and about. They don't look too big and bulky when on the head which in our mind is essential when talking about fashion focused on ear headphones. I liked them (and owned them) in the silver and brown trim but I have to admit the red and black combo is incredibly slick. Either way both colorways are a nice change from the often mundane creaky plastic designs of the current Beats by Dre lineup.
With no cables to get tangled, lose or snap the MDR1ABT is a joy to use especially when flying or commuting and the sound quality was found to be excellent during our time testing them. They are slightly warm sounding with a good strong bass response making them perfect for those that like listening to music with an extended low end. Really the only complaint we have about these headphones is the typical sony way of naming there products in near enough binary code!
Koss Portapro - Cheap, Stylish & Great Sounding
Ahhhh the Koss PortaPro. One of the all time great budget headphones and it would almost be sacrilege to leave this timeless classic off this list. If your going for style then these old standbys have it in bundles. The PortaPro have been around since the 90s and the design has undergone little in the way of change. Thats a good thing The portapros give off a retro cool vibe and thats something that we personally love about them.
You get the added bonus that they fold up into a tiny overall package making them extremely easy to take with you when out and about and the build quality is rock solid. The PortaPros happen to be one of the only open back headphones on this list meaning that they aren't going to be ideal if you are looking to block out external noise but that is all to the benifit of the unique sound they manage to produce.
Soundstage and space are at the forefront of the Koss PortaPro's audio and they have a particular emphasis on reproducing a highly detailed midrange. Bass is a little bit on the light side but overall its hard to think of any headphone full sized or portable that can offer this much great audio reproduction for under $40.
Focal Spirit One S - A classy beats alternative
I reviewed the Focal Spirit One S last year and was floored by how much headphone you can get for X. They Spirit One S takes a lot of design cues from the more expensive Focal Classic and refines them to work in a portable headphone. The Spirit S are a classy looking set of headphones with brilliant build quality and top of the line accessory set that makes them ideal for use when on the go. The fold flat design coupled with the included hard shell carry case means that the save space and are kept safe when throwing them in a backpack. Cable's, often the first point of failure on portable headphones are detachable by the way of jack inputs on the left earcup and you get a spare set included with the package. The Spirit One S use Focals in house designed X drivers to deliver a sound that is balanced and accurate with the slightest hint of warmth that makes them perfect for anyone wanting to listen to rock, acoustic, classical and Jazz. The well controlled and punchy bass also has the ability to get low and deliver and enough sub bass to get your head bouncing with more modern genres such as electronic and Hip-Hop.
Sennheiser HD-25 - Monitor headphones with a legacy!
I bet you though if one headphone from sennheiser was going to make this list then it would most likely be the Sennheiser Momentum. You would be wrong because even though the Momentums are a great headphone in their own right they just can't hold a candle to the amazing design of the HD-25. The HD-25 has been around in one form or other since X and has been a staple bit of kit for most of the worlds top DJ's. Why is that significant? Well DJ's tend to travel a lot and they also tend to be extremely rough on their equipment and the Sennheiser HD-25 are designed to take that kicking and keep on ticking. Replacement parts are removable for every part of the earpads, from headbands to earpads and Drivers for added piece of mind. The sound is sharp detailed and balanced something that makes them and ideal set of headphones for monitoring. The bass though is what I really like about them as they have lots of detailed, texture rich and punchy lows that make them one of the best portable headphones for electronic music. Highs are also something we should mention as the HD-25 have a great sparkle to them but never cross the line into being offensively sharp. Don't be fooled by the age of the Sennheiser HD-25 mark II there is a reason why the have been around for so long and are still regarded as one of the best sounding portable headphones on the market today.
Audio Technica M50x - Some say the best value headphones!
Another DJ monitoring headphone we have reviewed is the Audio Technica M50x. It has gained a lot of praise in the past few years for offering entry level audiophile sound quality at a very reasonable price. There M50x are a tough and durable set of headphones that have a number of features that makes them ideal for use on the go. First up there is the folding and swivelling earcups that both allow the M50x to be folded up into a nice compact size and also lie flat to your chest when worn around your neck but not on your head. They have detachable cables which again means that if your cable gets snagged or caught on something whilst out and about its not going to be a death sentence for your beloved cans. Comfort is another big selling point here with the M50x being easy to wear for long periods of time without having to worry about fatigue. When it comes to sound thought the Audio Technica M50x have a whole lot going for them often being praised for their balanced and neutral sound reproduction and many in the portable audiophile community regard these as a great starter level audiophile headphone. The M50x in its latest iteration comes in a range of colour options but we think that these cobalt blue and brown leather ones are the most striking of the bunch. Whatever colour you do decide to go for you are sure to have a great sounding set of headphones and at under $150 you aren't going to have to break the bank to get them on your head.
Master & Dynamic MH30 - Probably the best looking headphones money can buy!
Our vote or the best-looking headphones and as a result the most stylish headphones of recent years has to go to Master & Dynamic with their MH30 portable headphone. The have a whole lot of retro design nods on them and a headband slider that borrows just a little from Grados line of headphones. However, its not just a case of style over substance. The MH30 are have a standard of build quality and finish that can make other headphones feel like toys. Sound quality is excellent and we will have a full review of them on the site in may right now but these manage to work with every genre and never failed to put a smile on my face.
Make no mistake that this is a premium product in every sense of the word and at well under $400 its very hard to consider anything else. The MH30 come in 4 different colour combinations but the pick of the bunch is the silver metal and brown leather model. These headphones are the perfect Beats by Dre alternatives and the ones I have chosen as our number one.
Now of course no list is ever complete. New headphones hit the market almost every day now and companies are pushing the boundaries of what is possible for on head audio. As a result we will keep this list updated with any new additions. Remember we only recommend headphones we have tested ourselves. Unless we know something is good we won't be featuring them on our recommended buyers guides so buy in confidence they really are that damm good.