Drop That Beat: The Best Bass Headphones in 2019
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Buying the best bass headphones isn’t just about selecting headphones with the loudest bass; it’s about finding headphones that deliver full, clear, well-rounded sound without compromising on the bass. In this guide, I’ll share my analysis for the best bass headphones on the market right now that fulfill this promise.
Bass. Isn’t that what we all care about in popular music? Loud beats, thick basslines, sharp snares. Good bass can make or break songs – and the headphones you use to listen to them.
But too often, headphone manufacturers make the mistake of confusing “good bass” with “loud bass”. Loudness is important, but you need clarity to balance things out. Headphones that focus too much on the low-end often feel “rumbly” and disorienting.
This was my objective in creating this roundup on the best bass headphones. I wanted to find not just headphones that deliver loud bass, but a pleasurable listening experience – robust mids, clear highs, and round bass.
Search for bass headphones and you’ll be confronted by hundreds of options. Besides well-known brands – Beats, Audio Technica, Sony – there are countless startups, Chinese makes, and small brands offering surprisingly competent products.
For this review, I evaluated 17 different headphones. My top 5 picks for the best bass headphones from this list were:
- Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7GM SonicPro ($$$)
- V-MODA Crossfade M-100 ($$$)
- Beats Solo3 ($$$)
- COWIN E7 Pro ($$)
- JVC HARX700 ($)
There is a lot that goes into buying the perfect bass headphones. I’ll cover my top picks below. After that, we’ll do a deep dive into the things you should look for when buying the best bass headphones.
To quickly jump to the right section, use the navigation below
With all the basics out of the way, let’s answer the question you originally came here for: what are the best bass headphones on the market right now?
From the cheapest TaoTronics to the most expensive V-Moda, I’ll share my list of the 8 best bass headphones you can buy right now, segregated into different categories.
Best Premium Bass Headphones
Premium headphones, i.e. headphones priced over $100, have a lot to offer for serious listeners. Because of superior materials and design, headphones in this category usually balance bass with performance in the mids and highs. They might be expensive, but if you have the money, I recommend going for bass headphones in this category.
Here are my picks for the best premium bass headphones:
Build quality & Design
The M-100 is arguably the best built headphones on this list. Fittingly so – it is also the priciest. Every part feels hefty and premium.
What I particularly like is the heft and durability of the headband. I tried twisting and turning it a million ways but it wouldn’t bend or break. And yet, it doesn’t weigh you down.
- The frame is made of steel, not plastic. While this does add to the weight, it also adds tremendous durability to the headphones. You’ll be hard pressed to break them, even with significant abuse.
- The cable is also reinforced with kevlar. V-Moda claims that it can withstand a million bends, which is more than what you’ll ever end up doing.
- The earcups use BLISS memory foam which contour to your ears. Memory foam is always a plus in earpads and I appreciate their inclusion here.
- My final favorite build feature is the CLIQFOLD design. These headphones collapse on themselves into a small, easy-to-carry package. Collapsing the hinges creates a very satisfying “click” sound – hence the name.
Finally, there’s the design. Now the M-100 is arguably an aggressive looking pair of headphones. I had the gun metal finish which, along with the hexagonal earcups, makes it look very much like part of any tactical gear. It’s not a design that will appeal to everyone.
The plus point is that you can customize the look of the M-100 with custom face plates. I’m not a big fan of their existing customization options, but if you like the military/metal/gilded aesthetic, this might be right for you.
Overall, the build quality is extremely satisfying and the design is good, if not for everyone.
One of my favorite features in the M-100 is the detachable cable. Cables are often the first things to break in any heavily-used set of headphones. A detachable cable means that you can change the cable instead of the entire headphones in case of breakage. Not only that, you can plug in the cable into either of the earcups. You can even plug into another set of headphones for tandem DJ (i.e. SharePlay).
The M-100 comes with two pairs of cables just for this very purpose. You also get a carrying case.
The final feature that wins big in my review is V-Moda’s “Immortal Life” program. This program basically gives you a 50% discount in case you happen to damage or break your headphones for the entire life of your headphones.
Now comes the most important part – sound quality.
The M-100 uses patented dual diaphragm drivers. V-Moda claims this helps separate the mids/highs from the bass. In theory, this should help deliver clearer, crisper sound.
And the M-100 doesn’t disappoint. Unlike most bass-heavy headphones, the low-end doesn’t feel crowded here. You can feel the thump of the beat, but you won’t miss the shimmer of a synth or the body of a sax. The mids aren’t quite as clear as they can be, but it doesn’t bother me much.
Speaking of bass, the 50mm drivers deliver some of the best bass in the premium headphones category. The bass is loud but not distorted. And the dual diaphragms do a good job of separating it from the mids/highs.
Overall, I would give this a solid 4.8/5 on sound quality.
Alternative. Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7GM SonicPro
I’ve made no secret of my appreciation for Audio Technica as a company and as a headphone manufacturer. The ATH M-50X remains my favorite studio headphones and I regularly rank their turntables among my top 10.
So you can imagine my excitement when I heard that Audio Technica was coming out with a bass-heavy pair of headphones – the MSR7GM Sonic Pro.
And like before, Audio Technica did not disappoint.
Build quality & Design
While not quite as “can survive the nuclear apocalypse” sturdy as the V-Moda M-100, the AT Sonic Pro is nevertheless a very durable offering. The frame is built from aluminium (not steal) coated with plastic and covered in ample memory foam. The use of aluminium reduces the weight without compromising on sturdiness. You will be hard-pressed to break these headphones.
The headband and earcups are covered in high-quality memory foam, sewn together in faux leather. The outer cups get a brushed aluminium finish. I like both the design and comfort on offer.
The Sonic Pro comes in two colors – Black and Gun-Metal gray. The black looks like any generic pair of headphones, but the gun-metal gray has a delightful brown finish. It looks truly premium and will shift eyes in your direction. Great design without the ostentatious of a Beats or even the M-100.
Overall, this is exactly what you’d expect from Audio Technica. Great build quality coupled with classy design and comfort.
One of my favorite features in the Audio Technica MSR7GM is the detachable cable. As I said earlier, cables are usually the first point of breakage in any headphones. Since these are detachable, you can replace just the cable in case of a fault. These headphones even ship with three cables in the box to serve as replacements.
Another feature is the air damping technology. Audio Technica claims that it helps improve mid and high-frequency response, though it doesn’t really explain how it works.
The MSR7 is admittedly light on features. You don’t get a lifetime “50% discount” program, nor do you get SharedPlay.
The MSR7 performs exceptionally well in this department. These are the best sounding headphones on the market in this price range, period. The sound quality is lush without being overwhelming, loud without being annoying. If you appreciate the nuances in your music, you will love these headphones.
First, the bass. Now unlike the M-100, the bass on the MSR7 isn’t overwhelmingly loud. In fact, I would even say that it has softer bass than some of the cheaper headphones in this category. That’s not to say that the bass isn’t enjoyable. Far from it – you’ll appreciate the tightness and fast response, especially on complex EDM tracks.
These headphones shine in the mids, which are lush, loud and present. There is a palpable sense of “weight” in the mid-range. Considering that these headphones were designed in, and for the Japanese market, the focus on mids is understandable – Japanese music has an abundance of nuanced instrumentation in this range (unlike more bass/treble heavy western music).
The highs are detailed, bright and energetic. You’ll be able to hear sounds that you didn’t even know existed in the record. That said, the brightness of the highs can be confused for shrillness if you are overly sensitive.
On the whole, the MSR7GM isn’t the perfect pair of headphones if you want a loud, thumping bass. But if you want a well-rounded sound and sonically diverse listening experience, you’ll love its balanced profile.
Best Wireless Bass Headphones
It’s a good time to be alive if you’re not a fan of wires and cables. Wireless technology has never been better. Bluetooth headphones today have longer range, better battery life, and most importantly, nearly the same performance as wired headphones.
Compared to wireless earbuds, headphones benefit from a larger size. This improves the battery life substantially. While you’ll be hard-pressed to get more than 6-8 hours of battery life from earphones (4-5 hours realistically), headphones are often rated for 20+ hours.
My evaluation criteria for wireless headphones is slightly different. While sound quality is still important, I place a premium on battery life and easy pairing. After all, you buy wireless headphones for the wireless bit – if you can’t connect it to your phone or play music for hours, it’s not really worth your time.
Based on this criteria, I’ll look at some of the best wireless bass headphones available on the market below:
Build quality & Design
Despite their price tag, Beats headphones have always been slightly on the flimsier side. As a teardown by iFixit shows, Beats constantly uses poor quality parts and questionable design choices meant to reduce weight (such as using glue instead of screws).
The Beats Solo3 is no different. There is a flimsiness to these headphones that feels cheaper than the price tag. The headband is light and the folding hinges feel like they’re going to fall apart by your 10th fold. The earcups don’t have the plushness of the the ATH MSR7, and the underlying frame is all plastic, unlike the V-Modas or the Audio Technicas.
All in all, the build quality is a definite letdown. You pay a premium price for the Beats brand, but you don’t get premium build quality.
The design, however, is still eye-catching. Beats has always been promoted as a fashion accessory. The Solo3 is no different. You get a huge range of colors to choose from (gold, silver, and red being my personal favorites), and they all sport that familiar Beats logo. The colors also mean that you can be as loud or understated as you want to be. Pick a bright red and you’ll stand out. Choose black or silver and they’ll look classy.
Overall, this is exactly what you’d expect from a Beats headphones – great design backed by poor build quality. Don’t expect these to be a family heirloom.
There are three reasons why I rank the Solo3 so highly:
- It has a stupidly good Bluetooth range at nearly 120+ feet.
- The new W1 chipset makes pairing with Apple devices quick and easy. It’s literally the best pairing experience I’ve had with any Bluetooth headphones, especially on Apple.
- You actually get the battery life as advertised – 40 hours.
These features are some of my top priorities in any wireless headphones, and the Solo3 doesn’t disappoint. If you use Apple products, you’ll enjoy the Solo3 user-experience a great deal.
There is a long-running joke among audiophiles that with any Beats headphones, the beats is really all that you hear – everything else is drowned out by the bass.
Now normally, I’d rate the Solo3 poorly because of its unbalanced sound profile. The bass is always too loud and the mids muted and unclear.
But since we’re talking about the best bass headphones, the Solo3’s bass focus is an advantage. There is a lot of thump and room in the low-end, which makes these the perfect headphones for any bass-heavy genre, especially hip hop and EDM.
In true Beats fashion, the trebles are also sharp and clear. There is a roominess to the highs without the shrillness that often accompanies it.
The mids are somewhat disappointing. There is some muddiness that impacts clarity. If you listen to genres with a lot of tonally complex instrumentation (jazz, classical music), these won’t be much fun for you.
Having said that, the Beats Solo3 serve the purpose – they are among the best bass headphones on the market right now. And thanks to Class-1 Bluetooth, you don’t lose much of the sound quality.
Alternative. Bluedio U Plus (UFO) Pro
Bluedio doesn’t have the prestige of Audio Technica or the appeal of Beats, but this Chinese manufacturer makes some surprisingly competent products.
While it normally sticks to low to mid-range Bluetooth gear, the Bluedio U Plus Pro is one of the company’s few premium models. Despite the lack of pedigree, these headphones don’t disappoint.
Build quality & Design
Most of Bluedio’s headphones are notoriously bulky. The U Plus Pro, however, stands out with its better design and improved build quality. Although large in size, they feel smaller thanks to a sleeker form factor.
These headphones have a metal frame and plus earcups and headband. Metal finish on the earcup exterior looks great. They come in two colors – black and white. While the black looks generic enough, the white has hints of beige that stand out. From the design, it is easy to mistake these for Beats.
One of the great design features is the rotating earcups. The earcups swivel a complete 180. You can use them while DJing (though I can’t imagine any DJ using wireless headphones), or if you just want to be aware of your surroundings.
A negative point is the tight headband. The entire headphones feel like they’re pushing down on your ears, which makes them uncomfortable for long hours. You’ll want to wear them in for some time before they become comfortable to use.
The overall build quality is solid. There is some real heft to these headphones and they definitely fit the premium price tag.
The Bluedio U Plus Pro advertises 12 drivers – 3 each for bass, mids, and trebles, and another set for controlling them. It also boasts a built-in chipset to control these drivers.
I’m not convinced these additional features are anything more than marketing hype. While the sound quality is good, it is nothing revolutionary – at least not enough to warrant the additional features.
A clear negative is the battery life. At 25 hours, it is just about average. The Solo3 gets much better battery life in a smaller package. Given the size of these headphones, I was expecting at least 30+ hours of playback.
Bluetooth range and quality is acceptable, though nothing outstanding.
There are volume and track controls on the right earcup. The buttons are nice and clicky. You can even switch between EQ modes using the on-ear controls.
Bluedio U Plus follows the same principles as its design inspiration – the Solo3. You get a ton of bass, muted mids and sharp trebles. Normally, I wouldn’t recommend these because of the unbalanced sound, but given that we’re looking at the best bass headphones, I’m giving it a bass.
The bass is constantly loud and punchy. In my tests, the bass was higher than the standard by around 7db. The bass frequency response is almost completely flat, though it trails off near the far end. You’ll hear a lot of details in the extreme low-end. D&B fans will love what these headphones do to subs and basslines.
Performance in the mids is even worse than the Solo3, however. The strong focus on the bass eats into the mids at the lower frequencies. You’ll struggle to hear higher-pitched basslines and low horns. The mids improve in performance as you reach the treble end though.
The trebles are loud but inconsistent. The low-trebles sound great, but anything in the extreme high-end is muted. There is a dip in the mid-trebles that reduces sibilants. However, there is an overall sharpness to the high-end that often risks turning into shrillness.
Overall, get these headphones for the bass. The sound is unbalanced, but if you’re looking for the best bass headphones, you won’t be disappointed.
Best Mid-Range Bass Headphones
The mid-range – is where you often find some of the best offerings on the market. Products in this range aren’t the flimsy, cheaply-made headphones at the low-end of the market. Nor are they overpriced, overloaded premium offerings. You get a nice mix between quality and cost – great for buyers who care about value for money.
Some of my favorite products can be found in this range. I’ll look at a few of the best bass headphones below.
Build quality & Design
The E7 Pro’s build quality is an upgrade from the E7. The earcups have a brushed metal finish that gives it a more premium look. The headband has a metal frame and ample cushioning. And the earcups have soft foam that is comfortable without getting too hot.
While these headphones won’t break at the drop of a hat, there is a cheap plastic quality to them. They certainly don’t feel as premium as the Audio Technicas or even the Beats Solo3. Yet, for this price, you can’t really complain.
The design is an improvement over the E7. The headphones look and feel sleeker. The addition of the brushed metal earcup plates makes them look more premium. They come in three shades – black, red, and silver. For my money, the silver looks the best, though the red is also a great looking option.
Overall, the design is nothing outstanding. It looks good but not overly so. You won’t manage to break these in a few months, but don’t expect them to last you for years either.
The Cowin E7 Pro stands out among the competition because of its active noise cancellation.
Unlike noise isolation headphones, which passively block outside noise, active noise cancellation constantly listens to outside sound and creates a reverse signal to cancel it. This creates a much greater sense of silence and isolation.
The E7 Pro’s noise cancellation works great in low to medium noise environments. If you’re working in a slightly chirpy office or coffee shop, they’ll do a great job of blocking off noise.
The active noise cancellation fails at higher volumes, however. Don’t expect them to block out the noise in a crowded train or market.
A negative point is the noise cancellation system’s sensitivity to movement. Shake your head a little to quickly and the system will cut off, creating annoying gaps in music. I hope Cowin fixes this issue in future iterations of the software.
Other features include a built-in microphone which is clear enough for most purposes. The battery life is great at nearly 30 hours, though it also takes a lot of time to charge (~4 hours). A missing power saving feature means you have to switch them off manually every time.
Overall, the active noise cancellation feature alone is worth the money.
The Cowin E7 was famous for its sublime bass performance, especially in the low-low end. Unfortunately, it was mediocre at best at mids and highs.
The Cowin E7 Pro has fixed the unbalanced performance. You get much better mids and trebles along with the proven bass.
The bass response is nearly flat in the mid-high bass ranges. You’ll hear all the nuances in complex basslines. However, the low-bass range is muted. Subs and kicks will be slightly inaudible. Unlike its predecessor, the E7 Pro lacks that famous thump, but you get more clarity and nuanced performance.
The mids are really strong. The frequency response is nearly flat save a slight lift in the high-mid ranges. You’ll hear a lot of sounds you might miss otherwise.
The highs are actually the highlight of these headphones. A flat frequency response in the low-treble range allows sharp vocals and leads to shine through. Sibilants are muted thanks to a slight dip in the mid-high frequencies.
On the whole, the Cowin E7 Pro offers a well-balanced performance. The bass is loud and clear, and the mids-trebles are neither muddy nor muted.
Alternative. Sony MDRXB950AP/H
Sony’s MDR XB950 is actually two different sets of headphones. AP/H refers to the wired version while B1 (i.e. XB950B1) is the wireless version. Apart from the wireless capabilities – and the higher price tag – the headphones have the same performance.
Since I’ve already covered a number of wireless headphones, I’ll focus on the wired version – XB950AP/H – here. I also feel that the wired version offers far better value for money.
Build quality & Design
The build quality on the MDR-XB950 is classic Sony – solid, no-fuss, premium. Despite the lower price tag, the earcups have high-end cushioning. The headband has a durable metal frame that feels good to touch. The earcups have a glossy black finish, and the stitching quality on the cushioning is good.
Overall, these headphones feel more premium than perhaps the price warranties. They have a heft that you’ll only find headphones priced in the $150+ range.
The design is, once again, classic Sony. It doesn’t stand out in a crowd. Yet, it doesn’t get lost either. The silver finish of the metal frame sticks out against the black of the headband and earcups which breaks the monotony of the black.
If there is one complaint, it is the headphones form factor. The earcups are relatively large and look a little bulky when worn. If you plan to wear them on the subway, be prepared for a few strange glances.
As far as comfort is concerned, the slender headband reduces the weight but also reduces cushioning. I’m personally not a fan of heavy headphones so I appreciate the low weight. But if you prefer extra padding on the headband, the thin cushioning here will be disappointing.
On the whole, the build quality and design are good if not exceptional. In this price range, however, I’m inclined to give it a solid 4.0/5 rating.
These headphones don’t have a long list of features. Sony advertises its “acoustic bass booster” which is supposed to utilize the design of the earcups to improve bass delivery. I’m not sure how that plays out in actual use since the bass, while strong, isn’t overly so, nor does the earcup design stand out in particular.
You get in-line controls with a built-in mic. Combined with the low-weight and swivel earcup design, this makes the XB950 great for commutes.
Apart from this, you can also download Sony’s SmartKey app. Use it to customize the controls of the in-line remote. I didn’t find much use for it but I can’t fault Sony for trying.
On the whole, this isn’t the most feature-rich headphone offering on the market. But it isn’t missing any essential features either. 3/5.
As the name promises (“EXTRA bass”), these headphones do offer a great bass performance in this price range. But it’s not just about bass – you also get very clear mids. The trebles, however, are a problem and detract from the otherwise well-balanced sound profile.
Let’s start with the bass. The frequency response in the low-end is uniformly flat, save a little wobble near the high-bass end. It is also elevated by at least 5db. This creates a thick, loud sound, especially in the low and mid-bass ranges. You’ll hear nuanced basslines and chunky subs aplenty.
The mids are among the best I’ve seen in any headphones. Save a small dip in the low-mid frequency range, you get nearly flat frequency response. The mids aren’t artificially elevated either. These are great headphones for listening to jazz and other musically complex genres.
The trebles are a disappointment, to say the least. The performance is highly inconsistent. Some frequencies are muted, others jump out with a horrible shrillness. There is little clarity and any treble-heavy song will suffer for it.
On the whole, the bass and clear mids make up for the poor treble response. If you care about the beats more than you care about the highs (which you likely do if you’re reading about the best bass headphones), these would be perfect for you.
Best Budget Bass Headphones
There was a time when being on a budget meant listening to tinny headphones with wimpy bass and shrill trebles. Want something wireless? Be prepared to shell out another $100 for crappy Bluetooth (or worse, RF) headphones that wouldn’t work beyond 10 feet and deliver a weak signal.
That was then. Now you can get exceptionally well-made headphones with premium design and superior performance for under $50. And heck, if you look beyond the legacy brands like Sennheiser, you can even get wireless variants for the same price.
It’s truly a great time to be a budget bass headphones buyer. And in the next section, I’ll cover some of the best offerings on the market right now.
Build quality & Design
There is a definite plastic feel to the TaoTronics Bluetooth headphones. The earcups feel flimsy and the hinges don’t have that satisfying “click” sound you get in premium models.
This was expected, of course. For this price, you can’t really expect a metal frame and finish.
Having said that, the plastic feels like it is of good quality. Combined with the ample cushioning and memory foam on the earcups, you can even get away with thinking that these are more expensive than they actually are.
The design is inoffensive and classy. You get a single color emblazoned with the TaoTronics logo against a patterned background on the earcups. It won’t draw a lot of attention – of the negative or positive kind. I see this as a plus for people who want headphones that work well, not a fashion accessory.
The feature list is packed. You get 4.1 Bluetooth connectivity and an advanced CSR chip to make pairing faster. The battery life is decent at 25 hours. You get fast charging – a full recharge in just 2 hours. And you get on-ear voice controls and hands-free calling.
There are a bunch of design features as well – the headband is adjustable and the headphones fold nicely into a small box. You can also swivel the earcups to get a better idea of your surroundings. The earcups use memory foam which is infinitely more comfortable.
On the whole, these are some of the most feature-rich headphones in the budget price range, and I wouldn’t mind recommending them on the features alone.
When evaluating headphones in the budget range, it is important to compare them against their peers. If you’ve been listening to Audio Technica’s MSR7, it’s easy to find the performance underwhelming. But when compared against similarly priced headphones, the sound quality is more than adequate.
The same is true for TaoTronics Bluetooth headphones. Will the sound quality blow you away? Will the bass make you grow hair on your chest? Will the mids and highs make even Justin Bieber sound tolerable?
Not really. Like most headphones in this range, the TaoTronics don’t do anything exceptionally well. The bass is loud, but it feels artificially inflated with little dynamism. You will feel the chunkiness of the bass, but you’ll be hard-pressed to hear the nuances in Dream Theater’s bass solos.
The mids and trebles are again satisfactory without disappointing. You can hear the thrash of electric guitars and the high pitched vocals in a Led Zeppelin song, but it won’t rock your world.
To their credit, these headphones do a good job of balancing the sound. Nothing stands out in particular, which is a nice thing to have.
On the whole, the sound quality is above average, decently balanced with a slight emphasis on the bass.
Alternative. JVC HARX700
They’re big, they’re bulky, and they look like they belong to another era.
Yet, the JVC HARX700 is probably the single best-sounding pair of headphones in this price range.
Sure, they don’t have any of the features of TaoTronics offering above – no memory foam earcups, no Bluetooth, not even CVC 6.0 passive noise cancellation.
But where they do deliver, is in the sound quality. Few headphones in this price range can match up to HARX700’s rich bass and clear highs. And for this reason, they remain one of my top picks in the best bass headphones category.
Build quality & Design
There is no other way of saying it: the HARX700 is not a good looking set of headphones. The gray-black color scheme and huge earcups would have looked good in the ’90s, but stick out in an era of sleek, beautiful headphones.
But it’s not all terrible. Despite their size, the plastic quality on the earcups is nice. There is a surprising amount of heft to them.
One of my favorite design features is the headband. You get a soft cloth-like headband that fits perfectly over your head and keeps the weight low. Sure, the earcups might be enormous, but the lightweight headband actually makes these perfectly comfortable for long use.
Overall, don’t buy these if you’re looking for something fashionable. Buy them because of the sound quality.
The features are pretty much non-existent. Apart from an extra long audio cable (11 feet!) and a 6.3mm plug, you don’t get anything else in the box.
Not really a product for feature hunters.
The sound quality is where these headphones shine. The bass is deep and rich. The trebles are strong and clear. And even the mids get their moment to come through. Honestly, these are the best sounding headphones that you can buy in this price range.
Let’s talk about the bass since that’s what we care about in this roundup. The frequency response is nearly flat save a slight dip in the low-bass range. You get a lot of thump and chunkiness throughout the low-end. The bass can easily compete with much more expensive headphones.
The mids are fat and clear. You’ll hear a lot of rhythmic clarity coming through. Great headphones for jazz and other complex genres.
The trebles are sharp without being shrill. There is a richness to the high-end. The frequency response in this range is flat except for the very-high end. And the dynamism is great – you can feel swift changes in volume.
On the whole, you’ll have to spend over $150 to get headphones with similar sound quality.
As I noted in my guide to buying studio headphones, there is a lot of nuance to buying any pair of headphones. The problem is particularly acute in bass headphones where the robustness of the bass has to be balanced by the clarity of highs and mids.
Sound might be the most important factor in buying headphones, but it isn’t the only one. You also have to decide on the price, design, build quality, and value for money. Unlike studio headphones – which are worn indoors in studios – conventional bass headphones are worn publicly. You also have to care about the look and feel.
I’ll help you make sense of all of these issues below.
How Bass Headphones Work
Headphones are technically complex products. Although the basic design is rather simple (which is why you see earphones selling for a few dollars), small differences in construction and materials leads to a big difference in quality.
Before you can start evaluating bass headphones, it’s important to know how they work.
Headphones essentially work by turning electrical signals into sound. The process works as follows:
- Headphones are made up of small speakers housed inside a shell or case. This holds the headphone speakers together, amplifies the sound, and stops it from escaping. Open back headphones have, as you’d expect, an open case. This allows sound to come in and out of the speakers, creating a “roomier” sound profile.
- The main component of a headphone is called the driver. The driver consists of a diaphragm, a permanent magnet, and a metal coil (sometimes called a “vocal coil”).
- The driver is connected to the audio unit (such as your phone) by a pair of wires. This current passes a tiny electric current to the drivers.
- When electric current flows through the headphone driver, it charges the metal coil and turns it into an electromagnet. This electromagnet can reverse its polarity based on the current. Thus, it is repelled or attracted to the permanent magnet in the driver based on current.
- The rapid back and forth movement of the coil causes the diaphragm to vibrate in accordance with the sound waves. This vibration of the diaphragm produces sound in your ears.
Here’s an illustration of the diaphragm vibrations from Inner Fidelity:
All headphones, speakers, and earphones work on the same principle. Electric current causes a coil to be attracted/repelled to a magnet. This movement causes the diaphragm to vibrate, producing sound.
Going by this explanation, you’d think that the most important part of any headphones would be the driver, and you’d be absolutely right. Manufacturers will often advertise the size, quality, or type of the driver.
Let’s look at drivers in more detail.
Headphone Drivers Explained
As the primary sound-making unit in any pair of headphones, the driver is the single most important component in it. The quality of the driver has a big impact on its performance.
Drivers usually come in four varieties:
1. Dynamic drivers
Dynamic drivers are the most common type of drivers used in headphones. They follow the same building principles as I explained above – a large diaphram vibrates to produce sound. The size of the diaphragm makes them ideal for producing strong bass, though it often comes at the cost of clarity.
2. Balanced armature drivers
In balanced armature drivers, the diaphragm is tiny and horizontally installed within the headphones (or more commonly, in earphones). Most earphones that use these drivers have multiple armature drivers, going up to as many as 20 in high-end earphones.
3. Planar magnetic drivers
High-end headphones often come with planar magnetic drivers. In these drivers, the diaphragm is placed between two permanent magnets. A coiled wire going through the diaphragm makes it move back and forth between the magnets, producing vibrations, and thus, sound
4. Electrostatic drivers
In these drivers, the diaphragm is suspended between two electrified plates. Current flowing through the plates creates an electrostatic field, moving the diaphragm and producing sound. These drivers require a highly amplified signal and are usually found only in audiophile-grade headphones.
Most headphones you’ll find in retail stores use dynamic drivers. Most will also advertise the size of the driver. In theory, the larger the driver (i.e. the larger the diaphragm), the louder the bass (though this isn’t always true).
For example, TaoTronics bass headphones advertises its “50mm drivers”:
Others, such as the V-Moda Crossfade M-100, also advertise new driver designs such as their patented “dual driver” system:
Most low-end headphones (and notoriously, early Beats models) use generic drivers. But high-end headphones usually use drivers from companies like Japan’s STAX.
Essentially, when you’re buying headphones, consider the kind and quality of drivers it uses. The better the drivers, the better the overall experience.
I’ll look at a few other features you should look for when buying bass headphones.
What to Look for in Bass Headphones?
Regardless of your budget, here are a few things you should keep in mind when looking for the best bass headphones:
- Drivers: As I mentioned above, the drivers are the most important element in the headphones. Large drivers (~50mm) are generally better for bass performance than smaller ones. Look for headphones that use branded drivers (such as from STAX) or their own in-house designs.
- Build quality: Your headphones will take a beating, no matter how carefully you use them. Good built quality is essential lest you want to waste money replacing them every few months. Pay particular attention to the quality of the foam, audio cable, and hinges (if they’re foldable) as these are the first points of breakage.
- Design: Headphones are undoubtedly as much about fashion and design as they are about sound quality. While it shouldn’t be your top criteria, design should definitely matter in your eventual decision when picking the best bass headphones.
- Wired/Wireless: Wireless headphones have come a long way in quality but can’t really match their wired counterparts. If you do pick wireless headphones, pay close attention to the battery life.
- Open/Close back: Open back headphones, as the name implies, have an “open”, perforated enclosure. This allows the headphones to breathe and creates a roomier sound. Closed back headphones are (obviously) housed in a closed enclosure. This creates a tighter sound. Usually, most bass headphones are closed back.
- On-ear/over-ear: On-ear headphones sit on top of the ear while over-ear headphones cover the ear completely. The former are lighter and more comfortable to wear, but cause sound leakage. The latter can get hotter, but enclose the ear for better noise isolation.
- Comfort: Pick comfort as a priority if you plan on using the headphones for long hours. Padded earcups (bonus for memory foam), lightweight headbands, etc. are welcome features. If you’re a casual listener, you can overlook this aspect.
- Value for money: Rather than price, I suggest that you consider the headphones’ value for money. Don’t just sort by low-to-high price; it’s better to invest in an expensive pair of headphones that will last for years than to waste cash on cheap headphones that will break in months.
- Features: Lastly, consider any bonus features the headphones might have. Some have built-in amplifiers. Others allow you to customize the design. Consider this as the cherry on top of the headphone cake.
These are the exact same factors I considered when making this roundup. In the next section, I’ll quickly share my review methodology before diving into my list of the best bass headphones on the market.
To create this roundup of the best bass headphones on the market, I first looked through currently available headphones on the market that emphasize bass. I removed low-quality and extremely expensive, audiophile grade offerings. I ended up with a list of 17 of the best bass headphones:
From this list, I selected 8 headphones for final evaluation. I looked at the headphones’ sound quality, design, build quality, features, and value for money.
To calculate my final score, I used this formula:
Final score = (Sound quality * 0.50) + (Build quality * 0.10) + (Design * 0.10) + (Features * 0.05) + (Value for Money * 0.25)
Over to You
Buying bass headphones comes with a set of unique challenges. Do you prioritize bass performance, or do you choose something that delivers robust, well-rounded sound with a special emphasis on bass?
Most of the headphones I’ve picked in this roundup of the best bass headphones focuses on the latter. This should help you buy headphones that deliver great performance on every track – with or without bass.
For more recommendations and advice, don’t hesitate to reach out to me here.
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