Listen up: those white earbuds you got in the box with your iPhone just aren’t cutting it any more. Headphones are no longer judged against the ‘do they play music’ criterion, and it’s not just the sound quality that’s improved – now you can look great while you listen. But picking a new pair of headphones is no easy task; there are hundreds of pairs out there, from £10 throwaways to those that cost hundreds of pounds. We’ve gathered together the five best for under £150. Tested for sound quality, comfort and style, we think they are all worth parting with your hard-earned(ish) student loan for.
Bose AE2i (£149.95, bose.co.uk)
These ‘phones don’t boast the noise- cancelling technology that Bose is famous for, but the fingerprints of the technical team are definitely here. There is excellent detail in the mid-range, and although this can sometimes lead to instruments like cymbals being overemphasised, overall the sound is decent. The stand out feature is the build quality and comfort. Wearing these for hours on end was no problem, especially since they are so light. Blasting some tunes at full volume right next to my flatmate confirmed that noise leakage is minimal as promised, making them perfect for the library.
House of Marley Rise Up (£149.99, thehouseofmarley.co.uk)
These cans are big, but not embarrassingly large, and the latest range also offers options for those who are not completely in love with the colours of the Rastafarian flag. The sound is warm, with a focus on providing impact rather than meticulous detail. At times the bass felt a little heavy, but not overpowering. The noise isolation is adequate and the leakage isn’t bad but, since these headphones aren’t very adjustable, this would depend a lot on the size of your ears.
Beats Solo (£109.00 – £169.99, amazon.co.uk)
Aggressively marketed by Dr Dre and Jimmy Iovine, Beats headphones greedily take up a quarter of the market. You can buy these babies in almost any colour under the sun and the matte finish looks great. Unfortunately you’ll have to put up with the same headphones being donned by the likes of Justin Bieber. It’s well known that the bass these offer is punchy and detailed but this is slightly at the cost of balance in the mid and high end. A lot of sound escapes as well, so these aren’t exactly perfect for the King James.
Sennheiser HD 429s (£89.99, sennheiser.com)
Sennheiser hasn’t really caught on to the stylish headphone game, but its products offer great build quality and top notch acoustic. The bass is rich and smooth while the treble is crisp, giving a nicely balanced overall sound. These cans come with a long cable, which can be useful, but this one is so long it hinders portable use and you’ll be wrapping its superlative length around your iPod a good few times. It is the noise isolation that really lets these down – even the light bustle of Market Street meant I had to crank them up, losing some of the detail you get at lower volumes.
Skullcandy Aviator (£79.99 – £139.99, uk.skullcandy.com)
Originally designed for skiers and snowboarders, Skullcandy ‘phones have moved off the slopes and into the high street. The brand has a reputation for putting fashion first and sound quality second, but the aviators perform surprisingly well. The mid-range is smooth and the treble features really sparkle. The bass doesn’t pack much of a punch, so you’re not going to want to be listening to a lot of hip-hop with these, but acoustic tracks are rendered faithfully. They also go very loud (too loud, really) without a hint of distortion.