Chances are you can find great headphones from all manner of manufacturers, but what if you’re after something a little more distinctive, something unique? Here are six pairs of cans worth checking out.
SMS Audio Star Wars First Edition STREET by 50 - £169.95
SMS Audio is one of the latest companies to license the infinitely marketable Star Wars brand, with a wave of cans sporting insignias and detailing from the Star Wars universe.
All four of the first edition headphones use the same underpinnings as the company’s classic STREET by 50 offerings (like the two pairs we gave away at Christmas). As such, the audio experience is pretty stellar; you can expect great bass response from those 40mm drivers as well as a balanced offering in the mids and highs. Passive noise cancellation is also pretty impressive when you clamp the comfortable Oval-Fit foam pads over your ears.
When it comes to the design, we love the silver/grey/orange colour scheme of the Rebel Alliance version, which folds away into a colour-matched carry case, embossed with the Star Wars logo. Speaking of logos, the Alliance Starbird is embossed in 3D on each ear, so everyone will know which side of the galaxy you side with.
For convenience there’s a removable wired lead with an inline remote and microphone for making and taking calls, as well as basic media playback control. Being official Star Wars merchandise also affords you a colour-matched, branded cleaning cloth, Rebel Alliance poster and even stickers. It’s an easy option for the die-hard Star Wars fans amongst you and rumour has it, more designs are on there way soon…
Update 11/6/2015: SMS Audio has just launched a range of Marvel Avengers-themed cans too, including Captain America, Black Widow and Iron Man, available for pre-order now and purchase from July 2015.
Philips Fidelio M2L - £200
Back in 2013 Apple released new specifications for its signature Lightning connector bestowing the company’s unique port with the power to accommodate digital audio.
Whilst the average user might not see any reason to stray from the humble headphone jack just a few millimetres away on the base of their iPhone, Philips’ Fidelio M2L headphones are for those who want a superior listening experience and are comfortable trying something a bit different.
The ‘L’ stands for Lightning, referring to the M2L’s most distinctive feature; a hard-wired Lightning connector on the end of its ridged, tangle-free cable, precisely where you’d expect the 3.5mm jack to be.
The obvious constraint here is that you can only opt to charge your iPhone when you’re not listening to music, so it does require you to think about power management a little more than usual, however in return you’re given a set of DAC cans that support 24-bit/48KHz audio quality – something Apple’s supplied Earpods can’t hold a candle to.
The M2L’s DAC system means the digital audio signal doesn’t get converted to an analogue one until it hits the 40mm neodymium drivers on each ear, delivering an unmistakably richer listening experience than many similarly specced headphones. You get a wide, responsive frequency range with a balanced overall sound – acoustic performances are particularly enjoyable to listen to thanks to the M2L’s penchant for rich mids.
Whilst the cable itself is absent of any inline microphone or remote, the right ear, which it’s connected too features a jog dial for volume control and a three switch plate that makes up the outermost face of the right can; letting you pause, play and skip tracks intuitively.
The aesthetics might not be to everyone’s taste but we liked the blend of black anodised metal and leather, stitched around the adjustable headband and surrounding the comfortable, albeit small foam ear cups.
The Philips Fidelio M2Ls are certainly unique, but a great buy for iOS users who want a superior listening experience.
Griffin Woodtones - £74.99
Whilst Griffin’s Woodtones On-Ear cans look great, the choice of wood is more than just a cosmetic feature. The real wood panels covering each driver help reverberate the sound and offer up a unique audio experience.
What really grabbed our attention was the comfort factor. These sizable cans are amazingly unobtrusive and offer a snug fit without ever feeling uncomfortable, truly the best headphones in our line-up for extended use hands-down.
The rotating ear cups aren’t the most durable things in the world, but if you’re careful with them, you won’t regret laying down cash for exemplary the comfort and audio experience on offer.
Sennheiser HD 335s - £79.99
In our eyes (and ears) these conventional on-ear cans pump out the most balanced authentic audio experience of the bunch. Built by the sound specialists at Sennheiser with smartphones and tablets in mind, the HD 335s’ boast leather padding on the headband and ear cups for comfort, an in-line remote for music playback and phone calls, an integrated microphone and a volume control wheel built into the side of right-hand driver, which proves impressively convenient.
The hinged right ear cup also adds convenience for when you need to keep one ear open to the outside world. The balance of quality, performance, price and innovation is spot on with the HD 335s and as such, they come highly recommended.
Monster iSport Freedom Wireless - £229.95
These eye-wateringly lime green on-ear cans look sleek, modern, feature a sturdy aluminium frame and fold away neatly for storage. Built by Monster with athletes in mind and those looking for headphones that offer a richer, fuller sound than typical sport-centric in-ear headphones with their tiny drivers.
The iSport Freedom Wireless headphones have rubberised anti-bacterial ear-cups for comfort and on one side feature hardware controls for music playback whilst you’re working out, bearing in mind it takes practice to learn where each control is. Speaking of working out, the sweat-proof construction means you need not worry if they get a little wet during a heavy workout.
Apt-X and AAC codec support also mean that despite the Bluetooth wireless connectivity, audio quality doesn’t take a hit. Nice.
Creative Audio Sound Blaster EVO ZxR - £249.99
The priciest headphones in our line-up deliver a broad set of features, though audio quality seems to be low on the priority list here. Things perk up slightly when you hit the the SBX Pro audio button located on the side of the cans, but they're best used for gaming rather than music, particularly as they offer a pseudo 3D experience and noise cancelling. The ZxR’s can be a little hit and miss, with lacklustre music playback, but work well for audio effects such as gunfire, car engines and so on.
Whilst these PlayStation 4-certified headphones are made with gamers in mind, their flexibility as heavy-duty mobile headphones is notable too. The inclusion of NFC makes it easy to wirelessly connect a compatible smartphone, simply by tapping it to the side of your head and the included case is handy as the ZxRs carry a fair amount of weight.
Article last updated 29/4/15 with the Philips Fidelio M2Ls.