Beats by Dre headphones are everywhere.
You see them at your office, on the train, and at your favorite coffee shop–the unmistakable candy-colored ear caps clasped tightly to the craniums of your friends and colleagues. Everyone’s got Beats by Dre, and they seem to like them. The headphones look solid, and the celebrity endorsements are pretty convincing.
In many ways, Beats are good headphones. Compared to the earbuds that come with most smartphones, they offer a wider range of sound. You might even be impressed by the powerful bass, which is arguably their most dominant feature.
But here's the thing: If a pair of Beats is in your price range, you should consider other headphones too. There are several alternatives to Beats by Dre from smaller, craft manufacturers who are passionate about building high-quality, great sounding headphones. These companies choose to spend their resources on research and development to improve their products, rather than big marketing budgets and high-profile celebrity endorsements.
Here are five high-performance headphones that sound excellent and will help you stand out from the crowd. Some of them may look similar to Beats headphones or may have a similar price. The point is, if you're considering Beats headphones before you make a purchase, these are worth considering.
1. Master & Dynamic MH40
Master & Dynamic calls these headphones “modern thinking caps,” and we agree.
If you’re determined to experience music the way your favorite artists want you to hear it, it would be hard to do better than the MH40s. Tuned to provide a complete listening experience, Master & Dynamic MH40s let you experience all of the textures and dimensions that reside within your favorite tracks. Not only do you not miss anything with MH40s, you gain a richness and warmth that standard consumer headphones simply aren’t designed to deliver.
And if you’re tired of plastic, get this: MH40s are 100% plastic-free. An aluminum body and stainless steel components provide inimitable sturdiness without compromising flexibility. Thanks to all that metal, plus some heavy-grain cowhide on the exterior and lambskin on the interior headband and earpads, MH40s are a decidedly elegant alternative to Beats and company. You’re really going to stand out with these headphones–and in a good way.
If you love the MH40s but prefer wireless, check out the Master & Dynamic MW60 headphones. MW60s offer all the rich tones of the MH40s plus wireless listening via Bluetooth 4.1 with AptX audio and 16-hour battery life.
2. Grado Labs SR325e
Grado has produced stereo equipment since the 1950s, and they’ve never compromised on quality. Part of the company’s Prestige series, the SR325e headphones, represent over 60 years of sonic innovation. They also happen to be one of the more affordable sets of headphones on our list.
Looking for warm, full-bodied sound? The SR325e delivers. With a frequency response of 18 to 24,000 Hz, you’re not missing a thing. Grado gives you all the bass, mids, and treble textures that you’re supposed to hear–nothing compromised and nothing omitted for the sake of producing a cheap set of cans. Thanks to an open-back design, the SR325e also provides a wide sound stage. It feels like the music is being played right in front of you, a sensation that closed-back headphones like Beats can't offer.
These headphones are just cool. With circular ear caps, a black headband, and a powder-coated aluminum housing, your friends will think you pulled these out of a box in your parents’ attic.
The SR325e headphones look like the 60s and they sound like sonic nirvana.
3. Audeze SINE
These Audeze headphones look as modern as Grado’s Prestige series looks vintage. The SINE headphones are jet black all around with an ultralight build and foldable, travel-ready design. They also use planar magnetic technology for exceptionally true-to-life sound.
Distortion? Nada. Audeze SINE headphones include voice-coil technology that reduces distortion to almost zero.
And don’t let the black housing fool you. These headphones are not made of plastic. An aluminum frame, genuine leather earpads, and a leather headband provide ultimate comfort and durability.
Audeze says the SINE headphones will last a lifetime. We believe them.
4. Bowers & Wilkins P7
Sound from the Bowers & Wilkins P7 is as immersive as it comes. All you really need to know is that B&W developed the P7 drive diaphragm from their long-standing, unrivaled speaker design. It rocks. Even people who think they’re satisfied with “basic” headphones like Beats have to admit that the P7 offers a completely different listening experience.
One major gain is the damping material, which cuts distortion and resonance more effectively than just about any set of headphones out there. You can also remove and replace the ear pads or just take them out to replace a damaged cable. In other words, you won’t have to buy a whole new set of headphones due to a single damaged component.
5. PSB M4U 1 and M4U 2
If you're looking for headphones that look like Beats but have much better sound quality, PSB headphones are a perfect choice. According to PSB, the M4U 1 offers “true-to-nature” sound quality, and we couldn’t agree more.
The M4U 1 is a great choice for more experienced listeners who are ready to step up from simple headphones. The M4U 2 is similar, but it also offers noise-cancelling features–so you can get lost in the music and enjoy a more complete, visceral experience.
Both models feature PSB’s Room Feel technology, which aims for a richness mimicking the effect of high-end loudspeakers in a room with perfect acoustics. If that sounds like your thing, these are your headphones.
Plenty of headphones beat Beats
Ultimately, people buy Beats by Dre for the same reason they buy Starbucks coffee. It’s a familiar brand that delivers a predictable experience. But if you’re looking for true high-fidelity sound, you might be disappointed with Beats.
Luckily, there are plenty of alternatives that let you experience music the way your favorite artists intended. You can enjoy a full spectrum of sound, not to mention solid build quality, that's sure to last for years to come.
You'll also stand out from the crowd as someone who appreciates individuality, craftsmanship, and superior sound. It’s a nice fringe benefit.