Denon is well respected throughout the audio community, so its no surprise that we love these Denon AH-MM400 headphones. Launched with a £349 price tag, they can already be found for under £200 in the UK.
The build quality is fantastic, offering a combination of good looks and functionality. They’re portable listeners, easy to fold up and take out and about. We loved the wood design, which gives the headphones a touch of class and prestige.
The sound quality of the AH-MM400 is very impressive, given its size and portability. Compared with the competition in the portable headphone market, these are definitely among the best we’ve tested. You can tweak the sound quality of your Denon headphones through the Denon Audio app, too.
Denon dominates the top of the headphones chart over on our sister site PC Advisor too, with these beauties sitting comfortably at number two.
If you’re keen on buying a pair of Denon headphones but aren’t a fan of the over-ear design, we offer the Denon AH-C821 in-ear headphones as a decent (and cheaper!) alternative. With an RRP of £169, the C821s offer a great combination of design, comfort and audio quality based on Denon’s 50-year headphone engineering experience.
While they aren’t marketed as noise cancelling, the Denon C821s come with specially designed Comply TX500 tips with built-in memory foam to provide a secure fit without compromising on comfort over long periods. While generally we tend to avoid in-ear headphones as they tend not to be as secure as over-ear headphones, we’ve not had a single issue with the fit of the C821s, making them ideal for use when exercising too.
As well as that, the headphones are actually the first in the world to feature Double Air Compression Drivers, which moves more air inside your ears to help deliver powerful (but distortion free) bass. While we think that there are small sacrifices in the high end to compensate for impressive levels of bass, it’s not enough to put us off using the headphones on our daily commute.
B&O Play E4
Bang & Olufsen has an excellent reputation for superior audio products, and these in-ear headphones are no exception. Despite a design that places a clunky ANC (active noise cancellation) box in a position that tends to tug the ‘phones out of your ears slightly.
We got round this by tucking the box into our pocket, and then these worked a dream. They come with several sizes of ear buds to suit you and promise 20 hours of noise cancelling on a charge.
The ANC works brilliantly for such small cans, and songs across the board showed a top range of sound – bass is particularly impressive. If you want subtle noise cancelling in-ears, these could well be the ones.
The ATH-WS77 boasts a large-driver design, styled in black plastic with polished metal details. The headphones are described as acoustically sealed, said to minimise bass sound leakage, although they’re not really a closed-back design – some midrange audio did leak out of the ‘double air chamber system’. This makes them less suitable as headphones to use on public transport – that is, unless you’d like the person sat next to you commenting on your music taste.
Cables are fixed on both sides, leading to a 3.5mm jack plug below the chin. You can either plug in a 0.8m plain cable ending with another 3.5mm plug, or add the supplied cable with one-button remote and universal sliding volume control for use with iOS devices. The cups are large but not excessive, so they fitted our ears snugly without undue pressure. The leatherette ear muffs and matching soft padding under the top of the headband help makes these headphones comfortable to wear over long periods of time.
These headphones can have a light and delicate touch where required, but they’re also very capable of a firm and confident pulsing beat. Tonally they’re quite neutral, with a slightly raised top end.
Slightly crisp sound overall that could tend toward the tinsel with wispier recordings, showing off hi-hat patterns clearly enough though. Fast and unforced upper bass didn’t especially thicken and gulp up a song like other similarly priced headphones may. There was an excellent sense of drive and rhythm, without forcing dynamics.
Bose QuietComfort 20
Close to the summit of the noise-cancelling pile is this great pair of headphones from Bose. Reknowned for its quality audio products, the QuietComfort 20 carries on the good reputation of the company’s on-ear cans into a smaller form factor.
The intelligent sensors on the earbuds ‘listen’ to the noise atround you while in use and cancel out frequencies that would otherwise interrupt the music you are listening to. This results in effortless, excellent audio quality straight out the box.
The earphones are a tad pricey, but you’re paying for quality here. Make sure you get the model specifically designed for iPhone and iOS devices, as opposed to Android.
Bowers & Wilkins P5 Series 2
Bowers & Wilkins is one of the most stylish brands in the audio world. The P5 Series 2 look great in the stylish and sleek combination of black and silver. As with the first generation, the cups are leather-clad on the front and back with the headband also making use of the material with almost invisible black stitching.
The back of the cups and the remaining construction is crafted from aluminium and you can tell just from looking at these headphones that a lot of thought has gone into the design. What’s really impressive is how small and lightweight (195g) these headphones are, and the cups don’t stick out too far either, which makes for a nice change.
Although the P5 Series 2 are closed-back headphones, they sound nicely open but still do a good job of noise isolation whether you’re in the office and don’t want to be distracted or trying to relax on the commute. You don’t need to pump the volume up to uncomfortable levels to compensate.
By far the biggest improvement in the sound is at the top end which now has much more sparkle – without getting to the point of irritation. Cymbals sound particularly alive and crisp thanks to this change. Like the original P5 headphones, the Series 2 still sound warm, smooth and balanced. With a nice boost to the top-end, B&W hasn’t forgotten about the rest of the frequency range. The bass sounds great most of the time, with impressive power for small headphones, but can get a little out of control occasionally allowing other elements to get somewhat swallowed up.
Echobox Finder X1
This set up is a bit harder to achieve, but worth the effort. Echobox’s Finder X1 headphones are already excellent. They have an acoustic filter tuning system that allows you to change filters on both ears and pick the right ones for you – bass, middle or treble to accentuate the music to your tastes.
However, only when paired with Snugs do they truly excel. Snugs are custom made rubber tips that are moulded and unique to your ear. We had some made using the scanning technique, and when paired with the X1s and they are phenomenally good. Check out how Snugs are made here.
So you could get the already excellent X1s, but you can get the Snugs tips fitted in a national fitting centre as directed on the website, and your earphones not only will never fall out, they will perfectly isolate sound without the need for big on-ear cans. Simply take off the included rubber tips and put the Snugs on and voila.
You just need to make sure that you’re buying Snugs made to fit your headphone of choice and that’s the beauty of them – we recommend the X1s, but they can be made to fit any type of earphone with changeable earpieces. Consult with Snugs for peace of mind. In fact, you can get Snugs Originals (headphones and tips) for under £200, saving you a lot of money.
EchoBox Finder X1: $229 (ships from the US)
Snugs tips for X1s: £139
Snugs Originals (earphones and tips): £199
Snugs only (tips for your existing headphones): £179
We were impressed with Kef’s in-ear headphones, particularly considering how young the company is. These offer excellent build-quality, a lightweight and comfortable design as well as nicely balanced and crisp sound performance.
They’re not as pricey as we had expected when we first got our hands on them, making them a solid choice for a pair of in-ear headphones to replace your Apple Earpods.
The RHA T10i in-ear headphones are the premium, older brother of the RHA MA750i headphones. So, what makes these noise-cancelling premium headphones worth the £150 price tag? First things first, the design of the headphones and quality of materials used scream premium, especially the hand-made steel drivers. The drivers themselves are a little rough around the edges per say, but we think this adds to the overall design and personality of the product, rather than detracting from it.
That’s not all, though. The T10i features a gold plated, reinforced, oxygen-free copper cable that should help to improve overall sound quality and help the cable last longer – however, there’s also a downside to the cabling. We’ve found that the material its covered in generates quite a lot of friction when passing over clothes, which can at times be enough to dislodge the headphones from your ears. It hasn’t happened often enough for it to be a recurring issue, but it’s definitely worth keeping in mind.
The T10i also features a three-button remote built into the cable for use with iOS devices, enabling an easy way to change volume/song and talk to people hands-free.
The headphones come with a total of 10 sets of tips (including two sets of memory foam tips and 2 sets of double flange tips) to help find the perfect fit for your ears. The issue with in-ear headphones is that unless you find the perfect fit, you’ll be left with a sub-standard listening experience with very little or no bass. It took us around 45 minutes to go through and decide which pair fit us best, but we think it was worth it as the audio experience is completely different with a perfectly fitting pair of earbuds.
The T10i also comes with three custom drivers – one for reference, one that boosts treble and one that boosts bass. After testing all three, we preferred the bass drivers because we love bassy music, and these headphones achieve a level of bass that we haven’t experienced with in-ear headphones before. There’s always a worry that using bass enhancement will ruin the treble and mid-range, drowning in a sea of bass. We didn’t find this to be the case with the T10i and overall, the headphones produced a great level of clarity and a satisfying sound.
There’s only one area that isn’t quite up to scratch, and that’s the patent pending mouldable over-ear hooks. These kinds of over-the-ear hooks are present in many high-end in-ear headphones, but none boast a mouldable feature. Though the hooks do indeed mould, we found that they wouldn’t stay in the exact position we wanted, and they’d ever so slightly retract to their former shape. This resulted in the earphones becoming slightly uncomfortable at times, and even resulted in them becoming dislodged once or twice.
With all that said, what do we think of the T10i in-ear headphones overall? They’re great, possibly even fantastic, but they’re not quite there yet. There are certain elements of the headphones that need more work (i.e. the cabling and hooks) but with regards to audio, which is what matters most, they whole-heartedly deliver. The level of customisation available with the T10i isn’t something we see every day, and the company should be commended on getting the experience right for every single user (no matter the shape of their ears!).
Rock Jaw Kommand
Traditionally, headphone manufacturers will either opt for balanced armature, which delivers excellent detail and clarity for high frequencies, or dynamic drivers, which offers better bass and warmth for mid-tones. However the Rock Jaw Kommand Hybrid IEM (in-ear monitor, another word for ear buds) opted for both 8mm dynamic drivers and balanced armature.
That’s not the only reason these headphones are an impressive piece of kit – you also get interchangeable filters, which change the characteristics of the sound. By default, the silver ‘bass’ filters are installed, which enhance lower frequencies without compromising the treble clarity. However if you prefer a more neutral sound that doesn’t favour highs or lows, the champagne coloured filters may be the better option for you.
The headphones are crafted from both ebony and aluminium, using the same twisted cable as the Rock Jaw Alfa Genius. It features a built in microphone and button, which is compatible with iOS, Android and Windows Phone, enabling the user to skip tracks, answer calls or activate Siri on the iPhone.
You’re given two sets of filters, but these are easy to loose and tend to fall off the ear buds when in use. Our colleague dropped a bud and the filter fell off, meaning he spent the following 10 minutes on his hands and knees trying to locate it (which he did in the end). But what if that was happened in a train station and not the office?
Audio wise, the Kommand Hybrid is impressive. The level of clarity on offer means there’s a great soundstage where instruments are defined and separated and you may even pick up sounds in your favourite songs that you hadn’t heard before (like the creaky chair in Birdy’s “Skinny Love”). The bass is great if you can get a tight fit, something, which we struggled with when using the supplied buds. However with custom sleeves, the experience is much better and makes the headphones sound amazing.
It’s punchy and tight, but the only downside is that the treble is a little too harsh, which becomes apparent when you turn up the volume. Vocals had nice warmth to them and were clear when using any of the supplied filters. This is a very personal product and the different filters means that you’re more likely to find your perfect fit and sound.
The RHA MA750i are premium headphones produced by British company RHA. So, what sets the MA750i apart from others in the same price range? The first thing you notice about these headphones is the quality – the wire isn’t thin and cheap, it’s thick, heavyweight and durable. It also boasts a stainless steel driver housing and a gold-plated 3.5mm audio connector. RHA claim that the drivers are handmade, adding to the premium feel of the headphones.
In the box, you’re supplied with a metal holder and zip case for the 10 pairs of tips that come with the headphones. Yes, that’s right, 10. This is more than you usually see from headphone manufacturers, and should ensure that you get the perfect fit for your ears. Most are made from silicone, but there are also two pairs of memory foam tips for those that prefer a softer touch.
While on the subject on comfort, it’s important to note that these headphones come with moulded cables, shaped to be looped over the top of your ears to prevent extra weight pulling the tips out. While this is fine for most users, some people find it fiddly and less comfortable than standard in-ear headphones.
As with many things in life, you’ll have to use the MA750i for a while to get used to it. Your audio experience is highly dependent on using tips that correctly fit your ears, and if the incorrect sizes are used, you’ll struggle to hear any bass – an issue with most in-ear headphones.
In the case of the MA750i, even with perfectly fitting buds, bass isn’t that powerful. It’s clear and defined but if you’re looking for a pair of headphones to drown you in bass, this isn’t the choice for you. With that being said, the MA750i is all about flat response, so no frequency overpowers any other. This produces neutral sound quality, which is what you want if you’re looking for reference sound on a sub-£100 budget.
Best headphones for iPhone: Lightning headphones
With the removal of the traditional headphone jack on the current iPhone, many of us are thinking hard about our next choice of headphone.
Wireless is one option, and we’ll talk about that next; but with prices generally higher and audio generally lower than the audio equivalent, it’s not right for everyone. Another option is to get a pair of headphones that connect via the Lightning port.
The first few Lightning headphones are now available to buy in the UK. If you’d like to know more, read our guide to the best Lightning headphones for iPhone & iPad.
Best headphones for iPhone: Wireless headphones
In this feature we’ve looked at the best wired headphones, but these days many music fans – and particularly those listening to music while exercising – would prefer to go wire-free.
It’s a question of priorities: for the amount of money you’re spending you’re likely to get better sound quality with wired headphones, but wireless models are generally more convenient to use; and with the removal of the headphone jack on the iPhone, they’re more future-proof too.
If you would prefer to cut the cord, take a look at our article looking at the best Bluetooth wireless headphones.