In this guide, we focus on stereo headphones that have solid performance, valuable features and unique accessories. Also, although wireless headphones are higher quality than they used to be, we chose not to include them here. Stereo headphones are built to play clear, distinct, uninterrupted sound, and even the best wireless headphones have problems with interference and static. Wireless models also must be charged, which is inconvenient. If you’re interested in wireless headphones, you can find more information on our wireless headphone review site. Some earbuds have high-quality stereo sound, and you can find more information about them on our earbud review site.
Below, we provide information about how to choose stereo headphones and we make a few recommendations. For additional information, read our articles about stereo headphones.
Best Stereo Headphones for Sound Quality
Music is all about performance, and no two brands of headphones will give you the same sound. The V-MODA Crossfade series stereo headphones have overall excellent sound quality with deep, resonant base; crisp highs; and clear mid tones.
Every pair of headphones has a frequency range, which indicates how well they can reproduce low, mid and high frequencies. Frequency is expressed in Hertz (Hz), which is a measure of the speed of vibration. The frequency range determines the lowest and highest tones a pair of headphones can reproduce. Tones lower than 20Hz or higher than 20kHz are generally inaudible to humans.
The V-MODA Crossfade series stereo headphones have very wide frequency response ranges of around 5 to 30,000Hz. While they produce sound outside of the normal human hearing range, those outside tones still affect your listening experience. In general, the larger the range, the better the speakers are at delivering sound, and the headphones in the series make it feel like the musicians are right next to you performing.
Another measure to consider is headphone sensitivity, which is how efficient the headphones are at converting an electrical signal. This is recorded in decibels (dB). Headphones with low sensitivity struggle playing music from higher-decibel devices, which causes distortion and rough vibrations. When audio gear is taxed to the max, the audio is less clear and the music may have an artificial tone. If you’ve ever had an aching feeling in your ears after wearing headphones for an extended period, it may have been caused by low-range sensitivity. The V-MODA headphones in this series work well with low-power portable devices and in studios with high-power equipment.
The most important feature of any set of headphones is its sound performance. The stereo headphones in the V-MODA Crossfade series have deep, responsive bass; crisp highs; and clean mids. They have a flexible frequency response of around 5 to 30,000Hz, depending on the model you choose. It is important to note that the normal frequency range for human hearing is 20 to 20,000Hz – by expanding beyond the range of human hearing, the Crossfade series adds richness to its sound reproduction.
Best Stereo Headphones for Comfort
Although quality sound is important, it’s essential that your headphones have a snug and comfortable fit. Sennheiser is known for its comfortable headphones, and those in the Sennheiser HD series are worn by professionals.
Weight makes a big difference. After a while, a few extra ounces may wear you down and cause additional strain on your neck. At around 7 ounces, the Sennheiser HD series headphones are also some of the lightest.
You also want headphones that are adjustable so they don’t fall off when you move around and are also not so tight they feel like a vice. The HD headsets have ergonomic, adjustable designs that fit snuggly on any head shape.
There are other features that contribute to the comfort of on-the-ear headphones you may not have considered. Cables connect to headphones in one of two ways. Y-connection cables attach to both earpieces and limit your ability to move around freely, and they tend to tangle easily. The most comfortable headphones have cables that only connect to one earpiece.
Other comfort features are more subjective. The cushion around the edge of the headphones should feel comfortable against your ear, and you shouldn’t feel the hard plastic beneath. The Sennheiser HD series headphones have cushions that create a good seal without feeling too tight.
Sennheiser HD series stereo headphones use low-impedance transducers to deliver high-quality sound without needing an additional amplifier. This makes them great to use with portable devices such as tablets, MP3 players, smartphones and laptops. While many of these over-ear headphones are geared toward people needing portable headphones, they are still strong enough to use with higher-impedance audio equipment like DJ mixers.
Best Stereo Headphones for Commuter Convenience
Most commuters either stick with the earbuds that come with their smartphones or try Bluetooth wireless headphones, but stereo headphones cancel out more noise than earbuds and don’t require a charge like Bluetooth headphones. The most popular commuter stereo headphones are those in the Beats by Dre EP series
If you want high-quality sound on the go, you should look for headphones that fold up into a smaller package and come with a carrying case. The Beats by Dre headphones in this series are durable and lightweight, and they come with a carrying pouch or an optional hard carrying case. Also, the earpieces fold into the headgear, so they fit well in a purse or messenger bag
When you buy headphones for your commute, they should be as light as possible and have a long cord that reaches your pants pocket as you walk around with your phone. Beats EP stereo headphones are battery-free, have a long cable and work for both listening to music and taking phone calls.
Beats EP stereo headphones have a frequency response of 20 to 20,000Hz, which is the range of normal human hearing. Because of this, they provide incredible clarity, good balance and crisp bass. These headphones work with a wide variety of music genres and are a favorite of DJs.
Over-the-ear stereo headphones and higher-priced earbuds have similar sound quality, and the differences come down mainly to convenience and comfort. Earbuds are smaller, so they’re easier to pack and can fit in your pocket. Stereo headphones have become more compact and even fold up into small carrying cases, but they’ll never be as small as earbuds.
Also, earbuds are usually more comfortable for those who wear glasses, and they work better when you’re laying down or trying to sleep on a plane. If earbuds are more your style, you can read about them here.
The biggest advantage stereo headphones have is noise reduction. They create a seal around yours ear to provide clear sound and reduce noise in the surrounding area. This is especially helpful on a long commute or when you’re out for a weekend walk. A great pair of noise-canceling headphones can drown out even the loudest sounds such as crying babies on planes and loud, screeching subway tracks.
If you’re at home and plan to move around a lot, you’ll want a pair of stereo headphones that won’t keep you tied down. You should consider over-the-ear headphones that come with an additional extension cable. All the headphones in this guide work with extension cables, but a couple, such as the V-MODA Crossfade, include one in the box.
Professionals should consider whether the headphones will work with all of their equipment. The stereo headphones we highlight here are all made for 1/8-inch jacks, so you may need an additional 1/4-inch adapter as well.
Finally, don’t forget that stereo headphones are not as easy to carry around as smaller Bluetooth headphones or earbuds. Look for headphones that fold up into a smaller package and come with a suitable carrying case you can throw in your backpack or luggage.