If I was looking to buy over-ear headphones for $300 or less, I’d get the PSB M4U 1, our recommendation for the second year running. After researching dozens of new headphones and testing 17, the PSBs remain the best for most people because they sound just as great playing acoustic concert guitar as thumping hip-hop.
We spent 20 hours researching the new headphones released since last fall. Anything on the new list that had good reviews or was too new to have any reviews yet, we brought in to be tested by our panel of four experts with decades of audio reviewing experience.
The idea behind our panel is this: listen to all of these headphones back-to-back to get a sense of sound, build quality, comfort, and features as compared to each other. (To our knowledge this is the first time any publication has directly compared some of these products in the same test session.) Because these are headphones of a higher price range, we tested using an iPhone, Android phone, and iPod, in addition to the Sony PHA-2 Hi-Res DAC and the Dared HPA-55L headphone amp to see if there were varying results in sound quality.
The panel agreed: The PSBs simply have a fantastic overall sound. Clean treble sits lightly on clear mids, complemented by full, rich lows that don’t boom or thud–they bring a sense of depth to the sound that creates the feeling of space, rather than a flat wall of sound. In other words, consonants in words are clear without sounding harsh and strings have a full, rich sound rather than a tinny one. And when the bass drops in your favorite party anthem, the PSBs won’t rattle, sound sloppy, or lose the detail in the other instruments.
In addition to sound and comfort, these headphones have a universal single-button remote and mic on a detachable (and therefore replaceable) cable. They come in black, red, and gray.
We’d love an iPhone three-button remote option, but when headphones sound this good, we’re willing to put up with the single-button universal remote. And although the shiny plastic overlay on the PSBs has held up for us so far, we would like a design that feels as though it could take a bit more abuse. Overall, those are minor quibbles.
The Mo-Fi by Blue are the microphone company’s first-ever headphone offering; and what sets them apart is that they include a built-in, rechargeable headphone amp. Four of our reviewers slightly preferred the sound of the Mo-Fi over the PSB M4U 1. They’re more neutral-sounding when compared to the PSBs, with a little less sibilance to the consonants in words and a little less intensity in the bass (unless you select the On+ bass-boost mode). Between the two, it really becomes a matter of preference rather than quality.
So why aren’t they our pick? At more than one pound, they’re kinda heavy. All that solid build material, internal amp, and rechargeable battery create a headphone that weighs more than an iPad Mini.
For folks who wear headphones all day long, this could become a literal pain in the neck. We’d rather have someone decide to try the $350 Blue and say we were crazy for questioning the weight than have someone buy the Blue and be miserable because they couldn’t wear them all day.
The $240 Sennheiser Momentums are a good choice if you like smaller ear cups, must have an iPhone-specific remote (with volume control), or prefer more intensity in the bass. While they have a cool, compact styling, the ear cups may be a bit small for folks with larger outer ears.
If you want something with a tad more visual panache, we’d recommend the $400 Master & Dynamic MH40. They look stunning and have the sound quality to match, albeit with the slightest boost in the treble and bass. Like the Momentums, they have replaceable cables–one of which has a three-button iPhone control. However, they’re $100 more than our main pick.
The $220 Beyerdynamic Custom One Pros are a versatile option, with sliders on the back of the ear cups that customize the amount of bass you hear. Panels on the ear cups can be changed to suit your style preference and they feature removable cables and a removable boom mic for folks who want to use the Custom One Pro as a gaming headset. The downside to this modular design is a slight loss in the fidelity of sound in the heavier bass settings.
In a category flush with amazing headphones, the PSB M4U 1 are the winners for the second year running because they’re comfortable, they sound phenomenal, and every single one of our panelists liked them. We think you will too. Happy listening!