Headphones kind of dropped dead for a bit while we were all listening to CD’s in the car and at home. Now with everyone carrying a smart phone or tablet with gigabytes of storage and respectable battery life we’re listening to audio via headphones a LOT more these days.

The headphone industry has exploded the past few years with no shortage of celebrity endorsements designed to separate your teenager from your money.

I wish there were one set of headphones that were good enough for every kind of listening but I find they are actually pretty one dimensional.

For example you wouldn’t go jogging with a $500 set of headphones, nor would you sit down to do some serious critical listening to Beethoven with a vacuum tube headphone amplifier through your sports headphones.

I personally think there are FOUR kinds of headphones for my listening style. Here goes:

I have been working around aircraft since I was 15 years old. My first job at age 15 was at the airport working in the kitchen catering aircraft. I joined the Navy at age 19 and have been around airplanes almost daily ever since. Now that I’m 51 I still hear okay however background noise makes everything sound like the adults on a Charlie Brown Peanuts cartoon. Whaan wha wha wha wa. When I am on an airplane or a bullet train (I live in Japan) I have got to have noise canceling headphones. If I don’t have NC headphones I can’t make heads or tails of the dialog in a movie or YouTube video. Best noise cancelers on the planet are the Bose QC-15’s.


Note that I did not say they were the BEST SOUNDING headphones, I said they were the best noise canceling headphones. They do that remarkably. However they have one downfall. They only pass sound with a battery. When the battery dies you’d think only the noise canceling circuit would die. Not so. Not long ago I was on a military C-130 flying from Japan to Tinian and watching Ken Burns “The Dustbowl” on my iPad and the battery in the headphones died. I was done. With no spare battery I was just done. Now I carry spares. A bit annoying.

I can’t run in these headphones, and I won’t listen to classical music critically in them either. So for pure listening enjoyment I own a set of Sennheiser HD 650’s. Over $450. Ouch.


Arguably one of the best sounding cans on the planet they have one tiny downfall. They are a high impedance headphone. Most music sources these days are low impedance making them a poor match. However I own a Bottlehead Crack OTL headphone amplifier that is a high impedance amp. Perfect match. Beautiful sound.


They aren’t made for the iPhone and at $500 a pop almost they are much better suited to staying right where they are in your living room. Walking around with them would be silly. They are designed for critical listening.

Thirdly I think you need a decent pair of cans you could walk around with, an all purpose set you can use in the iPad, the iPhone, outside, and on the airplane if you don’t have background noise issues like I do. If that is the case there really is no other choice than the Sony MDR-V6 headphones.


These are the number one Studio Monitor Headphones in the world. Preferred by audio engineers, technicians, and musicians alike. You know that guy Dr. Dre and his Beats? They have photos of him in recording studios wearing these. Probably not now, but back in the day.

And speaking of back in the day they’ve made these since 1985. They have a REAL full metal plug on them. They have a coiled cable on them just like yer Dad used to use in the 60’s and 70’s and they say “for Digital” on them. That’s right they were designed for Digital music.

Best of all they cost less than $100. They are out of production now but are still available on Amazon and eBay new. No shortage of these. Also my understanding is that they are so popular that Sony is going to restart production on them this year or next. You CAN NOT go wrong here.

As for sports headphones……..I’m a runner, well a jogger, well a shuffler ………and I have yet to find a pair of sports headphones that will stay on. If they will stay on or in they muffle up from sweat. If they have a mic / volume control it fails from sweat. I have given up running with headphones. In my opinion no such thing as a viable sports headphone. Prove me wrong and tell me there’s something good out there because I’d love to have something that works.

Your mileage may vary.