Welcome to Buy Choice, in which we pick one everyday item, cut out all the noise, and present you with nothing but the best options on the market.
The paradox of choice decrees that having too many options causes inaction and stress.
Reducing choices, then, reduces anxiety. (Note: Does not apply to elections.)
Take headphones: every day we hear about a new pair, and yet very few of them represent an improvement on the status quo. But the eight you’ll find below? Truly the best of the best.
Our criteria: No preorders, no Kickstarters, no six-figure diamond-encrusted cans.
They also have to look as good as they sound — which is why we’re including the just-released sequel to the best-looking headphones in the world.
For immersing yourself in life’s rich tapestry: Blue Ella
We’ve already dubbed Blue the world’s best-looking headphones (we called their wired Mo-Fi the “Mustang GT of headphones.”). The company’s newcomer, Ella, is an ergonomic wonder that utilizes planar magnetic technology (meaning low distortion, fine detail and punchy bass), a built-in 250mW audiophile amp and a multi-jointed headband inspired by the suspension of Formula One racers. A bit big to haul around, these are your conduits for anything dubbed “headphone music.”
Alternatively, Blue’s new-ish Sadie ‘phones were built to enhance your music pleasure specifically via laptops, smartphones and vinyl: they feature three all-analog amp modes, including one that restores the missing bass to vinyl-era recordings. And available just this week, Satellite is basically Blue’s classic Mo-Fi in a wireless mode. It utilizes two drivers in each ear, one for audio and one for noise cancellation.
For wireless comfort: Master & Dynamic MW60
Memory foam wrapped in lambskin? You’ll never take these ridiculously handsome wireless earpads off (having used them in our office, we can vouch for their comfort). The New York-based M&D crafts striking, industrial-looking headsets with a rich, warm sound. And if you truly want to show them off wherever they go, carry the pads in their own aluminum briefcase. (Note: A slick Leica variation launched this week, trading in blue and brown leathers for a stark New York black-on-black design.)
For earbud minimalists: Beoplay H3 ANC
Active noise-cancelling ‘buds crafted from a block of gunmetal grey brushed aluminum. The control unit lies behind your phone tucked in your pocket, which you flick on and off with a finger. With 20 hours of listening time between charges, you’ll disappear from the outside world in comfort.
For workout flair: Hellas by Urbanears
Fully wireless and providing 14 hours of playback on a single charge, the Hellas have ear cushions and a headband built to wick away moisture. When it's ultra-soiled, the cushions can be thrown in the wash. Available in four bright colors, you can find ‘em for less than $100. (For an even more colorful, in-ear take, try Urbanears’ new Stadion headsets)
For the budget conscious: Status Audio HD One
Basically, foldable on-ear headphones with no branding, a fingerprint-proof matte, 40mm drivers and a tangle-free cable. Just $40, but it sounds like $400. (A slightly more stylish version, the noise-isolating CB-1, goes for $79 and is great for your desk.)
For an AirPod upgrade: Rayz Plus
Pioneer’s sleek new earbuds allow you to charge your iPhone while listening to music, thanks to a charging port built into the headphones cable. A smart noise cancelling feature allows the right amount of ambient sound in (so you won’t, say, get hit by a car), while auto-pausing kills your music whenever you take the buds out. Available in graphite or bronze, with a cool metallic finish.
For mobile rockers: Marshall Mid Bluetooth Black
Our favorite on-ear headphones gone wireless. Built from black vinyl, solid metal hinges and brass details, these puppies stream for 30 hours on a single charge and look badass. Recently launched, they’re going for $200.
Bonus: Most of these headphones come with their own carrying case, but upgrade with This Is Ground’s Headphone Sleeve from their new limited-edition Connoisseur Collection. A mix of unique Italian leather (Mole! Nutmeg! Amaranth!) and lined with soft microfiber suede, this is the pampering your head cans need. And when you’re not on the move, pair your ‘phones up with an elegant charging stand, like Twelve South’s Fermata.