When looking for headphones, sound quality is the obvious first factor to take into consideration. Everyone wants to have the best possible listening experience, and the quality of the phones, as well as fit and comfort, are important to achieve this. If the headphones don’t fit properly, the sound quality will be compromised. So, let’s say you’ve got those bases covered in your headphone options. There’s just one last thing: You also want to leave the house, or maybe work in your office, and not feel like a total dork.
I get it, some headphones may sound fantastic, but are seriously lacking in the looks department. And hey, if you’re a sound engineer, that’s totally encouraged. For audio jobs, headphones are equipment; they’re tools of the trade. But if you’re someone for whom sounding great just isn’t enough, fear not: There are a few headphones out there that not only sound great, but look pretty darn attractive as well.
First up are the offerings from Master & Dynamic. Beautifully designed with high-quality leather detailing and an aluminum and steel body, both the MH40 and MH30 (over- and on-ear, respectively) are retro-chic. Depending on your color preference, either would work with a casual or professional aesthetic. If that’s not enough designer cred for you, Master & Dynamic recently partnered with renowned fashion house Proenza Schouler to design the look of the MH40-PS, its limited edition designer version of the MH40.
Don’t think these lookers are all style and no substance, however. Both the MH40 and the MH30 sound fantastic, with even mids, full, rich lows, and clear, crisp highs that have a slight boost in the 4kHz range, which adds extra detail to consonants and snare drum hits. All that quality comes at a price, however, as they range from $350 to $495.
More affordable options are the always well-designed headphones from harman/kardon. I’ve seen these headphones on more than one television show, and they’re always worn by a well-heeled character. Modern, minimalist, and sleek, the entire line (NC, BT, and Soho) look as timeless and modern as a Le Corbusier LC chair. Available in black, white, and brown, they have leather detailing and aluminum skeletons. They also sound great, with a slightly rounded-off high end, and ample mids and bass. harman/kardon headphones aren’t as pricey as the Master & Dynamic models, but they will still set you back between $200 and $300.
Another brand always associated with beautiful design is Bang & Olufsen. From its luxe-looking H6 over-ear to the more urban-cool H2 on-ear, B&O knows how to combine smooth, minimal design with fun, surprising pops of color. The H6 and H2 are available in five different color combinations, and are crafted from premium leather and polished aluminum. Both sound really great, and for someone who wants good looks with quality sound, they’re worth the price.
While generally in-ears are not as noticeable as their on- or over-ear counterparts, B&O’s H3 in-ear headphones are also lovely looking and sound fantastic. They have an aluminum bud that’s available in four colors, so for those looking for a more portable and subtle choice, the H3 may just fit your needs. The B&O headphones range from $199 to $399, depending on design and features.
If your look is more contemporary urban pop, or you want a different pair of headphones to complement your every look, then Urbanears are the headphones for you. Urbanears are the underground darlings of the photo-shoot community, mainly because they lack any sort of visible branding, have a timeless shape, and come in a seasonally rotating palette of of-the-moment colors.
The best sounding Urbanears are the Plattan ADV, which are currently available in 10 different colors and feature a few unique design choices. The fabric headband cover is washable so there are no worries about dirt or stains. The headband itself is durable and torques without warping: perfect for those who are tough on their headphones. Also, they have a Ã¢…â€º-inch jack on both sides of the headband that you can use to daisy chain to another pair of headphones to share your music with a friend.
All in all, for $60, you can’t beat the Plattan ADV, especially if you’re looking for something on a budget, or to give to that fashion-conscious young person in your life. Plus, the ADV is available in a Bluetooth version.
There’s no shame in wanting to look your best. Where most folks trip up when selecting headphones is choosing them purely based on looks. Headphones are supposed to sound great above all. If they don’t, you’re wasting your money on an overpriced accessory. But with a little extra info, you can find headphones that will make both your ears and your eyes very happy. EH
LAUREN DRAGAN is an audio tech writer and voice actor who has been published in the Wirecutter, HE Mag, Home Theater, Sound + Vision, and Time, among others. Since 2012, she’s tested over 250 headphones.