As summer winds down and students head off to college or high school, many A/V enthusiasts find themselves wanting to send a young person in their lives off with a new set of headphones. Of course, with so many options, it’s tough to know what to choose. Sure, we’ve all seen teenagers wearing Beats. But with high price tags and sound quality that hasn’t yet managed to live up to the sticker price, Beats really are more about the label than the performance. So what to buy? When it comes to picking headphones for the teenagers in your life, think about their personality and interests, and choose a headphone that will best accommodate their activities. To help get you started, we’ve hand-picked some great choices for varying kinds of students.
For the Student Athlete
Whether on the track, at the gym, hiking the wilderness, or trekking across campus, you’ve got an active student on your hands. You’ll want headphones that are durable, IPX-rated water resistant, and Bluetooth compliant so that annoying cords won’t get in the way of their activities. A great choice is the JayBird Bluebud X, which meets all of the above criteria, and comes with a lifetime warranty against sweat damage. Jaybird also has a great customer service reputation, so if something goes awry, your student will be in good hands. Comfortable to wear for long workouts, but with a customizable-fit design that stays put, the Bluebud X comes with a hard-shell carrying case that can endure being carted around in a gym bag. For young people who are hard on their headphones, the Bluebud X is worth every penny.
For the Aspiring Studio Musician
Whether they dream of being a DJ, recording their own music, or being the next top producer, music students will want headphones that are more than just headphones. They need a good, solid piece of equipment that will carry them into their next venture. For years, many recording studios have relied on the Sony MDR-7506, and with good reason. They are durable, and feature replaceable earcups, a headband with a metal (as opposed to plastic) core, and a coiled cable that prevents cable snag disasters in the recording booth. I’ve seen rock stars drop kick a pair of the 7506, and afterward, they still worked. But most importantly, the 7506 has a neutral and relatively flat frequency response that is perfect for someone interested in mixing their own tunes. While boosted frequencies in headphones can be fun to listen to casually, it can spell disaster when mixing music. The even sound of the Sony headphones won’t add any color to the track that your musician doesn’t want in the final cut. And at about $100, the MDR-7506 is affordable, too.
For the Fashion Conscious
One of the reasons Beats are popular is the array of color options available. But label worship is so 10 years ago. One of fashion magazines’ best kept secrets are UrbanEars headphones. Used in tons of editorial spreads and ad campaigns, UrbanEars come in dozens of seasonally-rotated, on-trend colors and are devoid of logos or labels. The Plattan ADV and Plattan ADV Wireless are among the best sounding in the line, and feature removable cables, washable headbands, and the ability to daisy-chain to another set of headphones, so your student can share the next hot single with a friend. In addition, both wired and wireless versions are available for under $100. Sleek, stylish, comfortable, and are able to blend seamlessly into any style, these headphones will be your favorite fashion fan’s best accessory.
For the Budding Audiophile
Maybe all your student has expressed is that they want something better than the headphones that came with their iPhone, but don’t know where to start when it comes to great sound. In this case, there are two suggestions we can offer that won’t break the bank. For in-ears, the Sony XBA-H1 is a balanced armature pair of headphones for under $150. Rather neutral sounding with delicate, dexterous highs, and full-bodied lows, the X1 is able to hold its own quality-wise with headphones that cost $100 or more. Or, for over-ears, the original Sennheiser Momentum is a little bass-intense and warmer, but has been a favorite of audio fans ever since it was released. These headphones have a fantastic luxe build quality, and a three-button in-line remote. Plus, since the Momentum 2.0 has been released, the original models are available at a highly discounted price.
Whatever the young person in your life is into, the love of music unifies us all. Nothing gets one through a marathon study session, or an actual marathon, better than the right soundtrack. Helping your student discover great sound that fits their personality (and your budget) is sure to make them happy, and make hitting the books easier than ever. EH
LAUREN DRAGAN is an audio tech writer and voice actor who has been published in Wirecutter, HE Mag, Home Theater, Sound + Vision, and Time, among others. Since 2012, she’s tested over 250 headphones.