If you travel a lot on business, then you probably own a pair of Bose, Audio-Technica, B&W or similar noise-cancelling headphones, and you've probably looked down on the ignorant youths using the mediocre white earbuds supplied as standard with Apple's audio products. Well, times have changed. Many of those kids are now sporting celebrity cans from the likes of Dr Dre, Ludacris, Jay-Z and 50 Cent, some of which cost as much or more than yours. The fashion has even reached the level that "Beats by Dre" has been adopted by tech companies such as Hewlett-Packard (in laptops) and Nokia (with Windows Phones).
However, it turns out that the pick of the celebrity headphones is House of Marley, which trounces Dr Dre's beats, according to a new report based on users of the FixYa problem-solving website.
House of Marley phones have "great sound quality" and "stand out as the best headphones in our report," says FixYa. They also score on being eco-friendly and donating a proportion of profits to charities, but they are not without problems.
The main thing users complain about is the comfort (30%) and noise isolation (25%), which are important if you're wearing them on long flights. They also suffer from some lack of treble (25%) and loss of high frequencies (10%). So you might still be better off with a pair of Audio-Technica QuietPoint or B&W P3 headphones, or whatever.
Beats by Dre headphones get dinged for noise-cancelling performance (40%) and an uneven sound (25%) with overpowering bass (10%). FixYa's report says that "with randomly varying highs and lows producing music that doesn't sound cohesive, Beats by Dre can be notoriously spotty across all genres of music." But perhaps even more worrying was the level of headphone malfunction (15%). Maybe those Bose guys have a point after all….
Soul by Ludacris headphones are an attempt to take Beats by Dre to a higher -- and maybe more expensive -- level, but they suffer from similar problems. They probably sound wonderful with bass-driven hip-hop, but, says FixYa, "for fans of non-bass driven music, the Soul headphones will be a significant disappointment."
The main complaints are about noise-cancelling performance (35%), the overpowering bass (30%), and overly-dynamic sound (10%). Users also complained about battery power (15%).
SMS Audio 50 by 50 Cent is another attempt to outdo Dr Dre, partly through the use of the KLEER wireless system. Unfortunately, this is the main source of user complaints (30%). Other criticisms are muddy sounds, overpowering bass, and uncomfortable fit (20% each). FixYa says: "Decidedly worse than Beats by Dre and Soul by Ludacris, the SMS Audio 50 is bursting with uninspiring music quality, overwhelming bass, and various other issues that make the headphone one of the most disappointing amongst celebrity headphones."
As FixYa's report points out, there are much better-sounding wireless headphones that also use KLEER, such as the Sennheiser RS 180 and cheaper R 160 models.
So, if you really want celebrity headphones and don't want to pay House of Marley prices, the best choice looks like Jay-Z's Skullcandy Roc Nation Aviators. FixYa says this is "truly a splendid headphone that can match up with the best in the market" and "one of the better values". The main complaints -- all rated 20% -- are the light bass and over-bright sound, plus the effects of outside noise.
The Roc Nation Aviators also have durability issues. FixYa says they can be adjusted in numerous ways so you can wear them how you want, but the downside to their malleability is "the tendency to become loose after prolonged use."
The report doesn't contain anything that will give Bose and other major suppliers a headache, but you could certainly consider a pair of House of Marley TTR Destiny headphones if you want to look trendy. As long as you like bass. Meanwhile the Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones work very well, are comfortable to wear, and are a safe choice if you don't mind being a bit dull and boring.
For sound quality enthusiasts prepared to fly with larger, less convenient cans, I think the top model to audition is probably the Sennheiser HD 380 Pro, with the Audio-Technica QuietPoint ATH-ANC7b becoming something of a modern classic. The AKG K495 NC is also worth hearing if you want on-ear rather than over-ear headphones.