Tag Archives: Headphones

Anker’s SoundBuds Curves Run For 12 Hours On a Charge, and Are Only $22 Today

Anker’s SoundBuds Curves were a runner up in our recent affordable headphone poll (they were only beat out by Anker’s own SoundBuds Slims), and you can grab a pair for just $22 today. Just use promo code 4N7I447D at checkout to save $4.

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Headphone Showdown: Grado SR80e vs Audio-Technica ATH-M50x vs Sony MDR-V6

Headphone Showdown: Grado SR80e vs Audio-Technica ATH-M50x vs Sony MDR-V6

Buying headphones is an incredibly personal decision, but there are still a few models that are so popular, you have to try them out. Today, we’re comparing three of the world’s most popular cans.

http://lifehacker.com/5800772/how-to…

The Contenders

Today’s contenders are based on your votes for best headphone, professional reviews, and general popularity on sites like Head-Fi. The goal was to compare the three most popular and well-reviewed headphone models in the sub-$200 price range. Each is pretty different from the others, so depending on your preferences, it should be easy to decide between the three. The models include:

  • The Grado SR80e ($99): winner of our headphone hive five, this is the #1 favorite headphone of you, our loyal readers. It occupies the middle of Grado’s reasonably priced Prestige Series.
  • The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x ($150): Arguably the most popular and oft-recommended budget headphone around, the M50x is a closed-backed headphone with a fun, “v-shaped” sound signature that cranks up the bass and treble. Perfect headphones for those graduating from Beats by Dre.
  • The Sony MDR-V6 ($79) and it’s nearly identical sibling, the MDR-7506 ($79): These headphones are incredibly popular with professional audio producers, and with good reason: they’re inexpensive, comfortable, closed-backed, and have a more “flat” sound signature, so you hear the music closer to how the artist and producer intended.

While these price points may seem a little less than equal, comparing these headphones is like comparing apples and oranges. Just because the M50x is $70 more than the V6 doesn’t mean it’s better (quite the opposite, if you ask some people). We debated comparing the more similarly-priced ATH-M40x, but the sheer popularity of the M50x made it impossible to leave out. Besides, the M50x goes on sale so often that you can easily get it for less than its normal $150 price tag.

Each of these headphones are incredibly popular for their own individual reasons. Let’s talk about why.

Design

Headphone Showdown: Grado SR80e vs Audio-Technica ATH-M50x vs Sony MDR-V6

The design of a headphone isn’t just about looks. It’s about build quality, ease of use, portability, and…well, okay, it’s a little about looks, too.

The Grado SR80e has a distinct retro look and feel. The old-school pads sit on your ears, not over them, and the back has an open grille that allows for passage of sound. The headband is a simple leather band, and the adjuster is just a metal bar connected to each cup. They’re more durable than they look, but they probably wouldn’t put up with as much abuse as some other cans (like the M50x). Some people love the way the SR80e looks, some people hate it, but you can certainly step it up a notch if you’re willing to mod them with wooden or aluminum cups.

The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x (pictured above) is one of the most well-built headphones I’ve used at this price point. The cups swivel for perfect ear position, the joints are smooth and don’t creak, and you can fold the headphone into a nice portable package for travel (it even comes with a little bag). The cable is detachable, and comes with a short cable, a long cable, and a coiled cable. The ear pads, while pleather, are nice and cushy. The adjustable bars click very smoothly between settings for larger heads.

The Sony MDR-V6 and MDR-7506 occupy a nice space between the other two headphones. They’re light like the Grados, but feel a bit sturdier. They also fold up for travel, and are a bit more compact than the M50x (and also come with a pleather bag). There are some small wires going from the headband to the cups, which is a little annoying, and the ear pads tend to start flaking little pieces of leather after a while, which means you’ll definitely want some replacement pads. They come with a coiled cable, which I appreciate, but it isn’t detachable. So if you prefer straight cables, you’re out of luck.

http://lifehacker.com/get-better-sou…

Sound

Headphone Showdown: Grado SR80e vs Audio-Technica ATH-M50x vs Sony MDR-V6

The most important part of picking a headphone, obviously, is how it sounds. But quality is not a simple “1 through 10” rating—every headphone has its own unique sound, and each excels at different types of music.

The SR80e (pictured above) puts the midrange front and center, which means guitars and vocals sound very present. It gives rock and metal an awesome in-your-face feel, whether you’re listening to the buttery guitars of the Allman Brothers or the face-melting crunch of Humanity’s Last Breath. It also sounds pretty good on the more acoustic-y side of pop as well. The SR80e lacks a little in the deep bass department, so electronic and rap—while they still sound decent—won’t get you grooving quite as much as a bass-heavy headphone. This isn’t really a problem with rock and metal, since that guitar crunch will get you rocking out pretty hard.

The real winning feature of the Grado, however, is the fact that it’s open-backed. Open headphones allow sound to pass through the cups, which gives your music a much more natural and—for lack of a better term—“open” feeling. This alone makes them my favorite of the bunch. It does, however, mean you can still hear the outside world, and the outside world can still hear your music—so these aren’t headphones you’d want to wear on a plane or in the library. That may automatically disqualify them from your search, depending on what you’re looking for.

The ATH-M50x, on the other hand, is a closed headphone. That means the lower end of the spectrum is going to sound a bit muddier, but you are much more isolated from the outside world, which is great for travel and work. The highs are still remarkably clear on the M50x, and the bass packs an awesome punch. They have a bit of a dip in the midrange—so they aren’t really ideal for rock and metal—but pop, hip-hop, and electronic sound absolutely banging on these headphones. If those are your genres, these are the cans for you. Approaching Nirvana never sounded so good.

The MDR-V6 and MDR-7506 are also closed headphones, but they occupy a nice space in between the SR80e and M50x in terms of sound. They don’t have the natural, airy feel of an open headphone, but they sound less muddy than most closed cans. They also aren’t lacking in any frequencies like the SR80e and the M50x, either. They aren’t perfectly “flat”, but the bass, midrange, and treble are all there in more even proportions than the other two headphones. The bass is present, but not bangin’, the mids are a touch forward, but not too harsh, and the highs are clear and pleasant.

As a result, the Sony doesn’t excel at any one genre, like the Grado and Audio-Technia. However, no genre will sound lacking, either. It’ll sound pretty great no matter what you throw at it—rock, electronic, classical, or otherwise. If you listen to a lot of different genres, the Sony is a great all-arounder.

http://lifehacker.com/open-and-close…

Comfort

Headphone Showdown: Grado SR80e vs Audio-Technica ATH-M50x vs Sony MDR-V6

You’re going to wear these headphones for more than a few minutes at a time, so comfort is important. More important than you probably think. Comfort can be the difference between love and want-to-chuck-it-out-the-window, so don’t neglect it when picking your next set of headphones.

The SR80e feels a little weird when you first put it on. You have to adjust it a bit to find the right fit, and even then, the foam feels kind of harsh and itchy. You might be tempted to write it off immediately, but give it a chance. Once you get past the first few minutes of wear, the SR80e is actually very comfortable. It’s light on your head, and breathes a bit better than over-ear headphones so your ears don’t get too hot. After a while, I forgot it was even on my head.

The ATH-M50x is kind of the opposite. When you first put it on, it feels nice and plush, but becomes uncomfortable after a few hours of wear. It has a pretty strong clamping force, which is good for sound isolation—and that heavy bass—but after a while it feels a little like your head’s in a vice. The pleather ear pads envelop your ears so snugly that they can get a little hot, too. Worst of all, though, is the bar across the top, which puts a lot of direct pressure in a small space on your head and starts to hurt after awhile. You can alleviate some of these problems to a certain degree, but the M50x will probably never be quite as comfortable as the SR80e or the V6.

The MDR-V6 (pictured above) and MDR-7506, once again, fall in between the other two cans. They are over-ear headphones like the M50x, so your ears can get a little hot over time, and they do clamp a little bit. But the headband is a bit wider, which means you don’t have quite as much direct pressure on top of your head. For closed headphones, the Sonys are decently comfortable.

http://lifehacker.com/5886125/make-y…

It’s Up To Your Ears

All three of these are pretty great headphones, especially for this price range. You really can’t go wrong with any of them, but the best headphone will depend on what you listen to and where you listen to it. If you listen to pop, hip hop, or electronic music, the ATH-M50x will blow you away, though they might get a little uncomfortable. For other genres, the M50x is the worst of the three. If you listen to rock or metal at home, where no one will mind sound leakage, you’ll love the open sound of the SR80e. If you listen to rock out in the world, though, and need a closed headphone, the V6 will be a better choice. You get the idea.

Of course, these aren’t the only three headphones in the world, either—just three of the most popular. If you want an all-around headphone like the V6, but prefer open-backed, try the AKG K240 MK II ($109). If you like the sound of the SR80e but have a bit more cash to spend, upgrade to the Grado SR125e, or the SR225e. Remember, your holy grail of headphones will be different from everyone else’s—it’s all about your budget and needs.

http://smile.amazon.com/Grado-Prestige…

http://smile.amazon.com/Audio-Technica…

http://smile.amazon.com/Sony-MDRV6-Stu…

Photos by Ryu1chi Miwa, Jonathan Grado, and Charli Lopez.

Headphone Showdown: Grado SR80e vs Audio-Technica ATH-M50x vs Sony MDR-V6

Headphone Showdown: Grado SR80e vs Audio-Technica ATH-M50x vs Sony MDR-V6

Buying headphones is an incredibly personal decision, but there are still a few models that are so popular, you have to try them out. Today, we’re comparing three of the world’s most popular cans.

http://lifehacker.com/5800772/how-to…

The Contenders

Today’s contenders are based on your votes for best headphone, professional reviews, and general popularity on sites like Head-Fi. The goal was to compare the three most popular and well-reviewed headphone models in the sub-$200 price range. Each is pretty different from the others, so depending on your preferences, it should be easy to decide between the three. The models include:

  • The Grado SR80e ($99): winner of our headphone hive five, this is the #1 favorite headphone of you, our loyal readers. It occupies the middle of Grado’s reasonably priced Prestige Series.
  • The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x ($150): Arguably the most popular and oft-recommended budget headphone around, the M50x is a closed-backed headphone with a fun, “v-shaped” sound signature that cranks up the bass and treble. Perfect headphones for those graduating from Beats by Dre.
  • The Sony MDR-V6 ($79) and it’s nearly identical sibling, the MDR-7506 ($79): These headphones are incredibly popular with professional audio producers, and with good reason: they’re inexpensive, comfortable, closed-backed, and have a more “flat” sound signature, so you hear the music closer to how the artist and producer intended.

While these price points may seem a little less than equal, comparing these headphones is like comparing apples and oranges. Just because the M50x is $70 more than the V6 doesn’t mean it’s better (quite the opposite, if you ask some people). We debated comparing the more similarly-priced ATH-M40x, but the sheer popularity of the M50x made it impossible to leave out. Besides, the M50x goes on sale so often that you can easily get it for less than its normal $150 price tag.

Each of these headphones are incredibly popular for their own individual reasons. Let’s talk about why.

Design

Headphone Showdown: Grado SR80e vs Audio-Technica ATH-M50x vs Sony MDR-V6

The design of a headphone isn’t just about looks. It’s about build quality, ease of use, portability, and…well, okay, it’s a little about looks, too.

The Grado SR80e has a distinct retro look and feel. The old-school pads sit on your ears, not over them, and the back has an open grille that allows for passage of sound. The headband is a simple leather band, and the adjuster is just a metal bar connected to each cup. They’re more durable than they look, but they probably wouldn’t put up with as much abuse as some other cans (like the M50x). Some people love the way the SR80e looks, some people hate it, but you can certainly step it up a notch if you’re willing to mod them with wooden or aluminum cups.

The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x (pictured above) is one of the most well-built headphones I’ve used at this price point. The cups swivel for perfect ear position, the joints are smooth and don’t creak, and you can fold the headphone into a nice portable package for travel (it even comes with a little bag). The cable is detachable, and comes with a short cable, a long cable, and a coiled cable. The ear pads, while pleather, are nice and cushy. The adjustable bars click very smoothly between settings for larger heads.

The Sony MDR-V6 and MDR-7506 occupy a nice space between the other two headphones. They’re light like the Grados, but feel a bit sturdier. They also fold up for travel, and are a bit more compact than the M50x (and also come with a pleather bag). There are some small wires going from the headband to the cups, which is a little annoying, and the ear pads tend to start flaking little pieces of leather after a while, which means you’ll definitely want some replacement pads. They come with a coiled cable, which I appreciate, but it isn’t detachable. So if you prefer straight cables, you’re out of luck.

http://lifehacker.com/get-better-sou…

Sound

Headphone Showdown: Grado SR80e vs Audio-Technica ATH-M50x vs Sony MDR-V6

The most important part of picking a headphone, obviously, is how it sounds. But quality is not a simple “1 through 10” rating—every headphone has its own unique sound, and each excels at different types of music.

The SR80e (pictured above) puts the midrange front and center, which means guitars and vocals sound very present. It gives rock and metal an awesome in-your-face feel, whether you’re listening to the buttery guitars of the Allman Brothers or the face-melting crunch of Humanity’s Last Breath. It also sounds pretty good on the more acoustic-y side of pop as well. The SR80e lacks a little in the deep bass department, so electronic and rap—while they still sound decent—won’t get you grooving quite as much as a bass-heavy headphone. This isn’t really a problem with rock and metal, since that guitar crunch will get you rocking out pretty hard.

The real winning feature of the Grado, however, is the fact that it’s open-backed. Open headphones allow sound to pass through the cups, which gives your music a much more natural and—for lack of a better term—“open” feeling. This alone makes them my favorite of the bunch. It does, however, mean you can still hear the outside world, and the outside world can still hear your music—so these aren’t headphones you’d want to wear on a plane or in the library. That may automatically disqualify them from your search, depending on what you’re looking for.

The ATH-M50x, on the other hand, is a closed headphone. That means the lower end of the spectrum is going to sound a bit muddier, but you are much more isolated from the outside world, which is great for travel and work. The highs are still remarkably clear on the M50x, and the bass packs an awesome punch. They have a bit of a dip in the midrange—so they aren’t really ideal for rock and metal—but pop, hip-hop, and electronic sound absolutely banging on these headphones. If those are your genres, these are the cans for you. Approaching Nirvana never sounded so good.

The MDR-V6 and MDR-7506 are also closed headphones, but they occupy a nice space in between the SR80e and M50x in terms of sound. They don’t have the natural, airy feel of an open headphone, but they sound less muddy than most closed cans. They also aren’t lacking in any frequencies like the SR80e and the M50x, either. They aren’t perfectly “flat”, but the bass, midrange, and treble are all there in more even proportions than the other two headphones. The bass is present, but not bangin’, the mids are a touch forward, but not too harsh, and the highs are clear and pleasant.

As a result, the Sony doesn’t excel at any one genre, like the Grado and Audio-Technia. However, no genre will sound lacking, either. It’ll sound pretty great no matter what you throw at it—rock, electronic, classical, or otherwise. If you listen to a lot of different genres, the Sony is a great all-arounder.

http://lifehacker.com/open-and-close…

Comfort

Headphone Showdown: Grado SR80e vs Audio-Technica ATH-M50x vs Sony MDR-V6

You’re going to wear these headphones for more than a few minutes at a time, so comfort is important. More important than you probably think. Comfort can be the difference between love and want-to-chuck-it-out-the-window, so don’t neglect it when picking your next set of headphones.

The SR80e feels a little weird when you first put it on. You have to adjust it a bit to find the right fit, and even then, the foam feels kind of harsh and itchy. You might be tempted to write it off immediately, but give it a chance. Once you get past the first few minutes of wear, the SR80e is actually very comfortable. It’s light on your head, and breathes a bit better than over-ear headphones so your ears don’t get too hot. After a while, I forgot it was even on my head.

The ATH-M50x is kind of the opposite. When you first put it on, it feels nice and plush, but becomes uncomfortable after a few hours of wear. It has a pretty strong clamping force, which is good for sound isolation—and that heavy bass—but after a while it feels a little like your head’s in a vice. The pleather ear pads envelop your ears so snugly that they can get a little hot, too. Worst of all, though, is the bar across the top, which puts a lot of direct pressure in a small space on your head and starts to hurt after awhile. You can alleviate some of these problems to a certain degree, but the M50x will probably never be quite as comfortable as the SR80e or the V6.

The MDR-V6 (pictured above) and MDR-7506, once again, fall in between the other two cans. They are over-ear headphones like the M50x, so your ears can get a little hot over time, and they do clamp a little bit. But the headband is a bit wider, which means you don’t have quite as much direct pressure on top of your head. For closed headphones, the Sonys are decently comfortable.

http://lifehacker.com/5886125/make-y…

It’s Up To Your Ears

All three of these are pretty great headphones, especially for this price range. You really can’t go wrong with any of them, but the best headphone will depend on what you listen to and where you listen to it. If you listen to pop, hip hop, or electronic music, the ATH-M50x will blow you away, though they might get a little uncomfortable. For other genres, the M50x is the worst of the three. If you listen to rock or metal at home, where no one will mind sound leakage, you’ll love the open sound of the SR80e. If you listen to rock out in the world, though, and need a closed headphone, the V6 will be a better choice. You get the idea.

Of course, these aren’t the only three headphones in the world, either—just three of the most popular. If you want an all-around headphone like the V6, but prefer open-backed, try the AKG K240 MK II ($109). If you like the sound of the SR80e but have a bit more cash to spend, upgrade to the Grado SR125e, or the SR225e. Remember, your holy grail of headphones will be different from everyone else’s—it’s all about your budget and needs.

http://smile.amazon.com/Grado-Prestige…

http://smile.amazon.com/Audio-Technica…

http://smile.amazon.com/Sony-MDRV6-Stu…

Photos by Ryu1chi Miwa, Jonathan Grado, and Charli Lopez.

I’ve Found My Holy Grail of Headphones: The AKG Q701

I've Found My Holy Grail of Headphones: The AKG Q701

The search for the perfect headphones can feel like a never-ending journey. And since everyone has different tastes, it’s impossible for someone else to recommend the perfect cans for you. But world be damned, I’ve found mine, and I’m never giving them up.

Every audiophile’s headphone journey is different, but it usually goes a little something like this: Buy cheap pair of over-ear headphones. Be blown away. Get sucked into the world of headphones by buying something a little more expensive. Then maybe your tastes change, or you get bored, and you get something even more expensive. Then maybe you get a headphone amp. et cetera, et cetera, all the way til the end of time and the bottom of your wallet.

But my search is over. I’ve tried more headphones than I can actually name, through various purchases and Head-Fi meetups, and I can’t find any that I love more than my treasured AKG Q701. I’ve owned it for two years, and while wasn’t perfect out of the box, I have no intention of ever upgrading to anything else.

My goal with this post is twofold: Share what I consider to be my holy grail of headphones, and to help you find yours.

Why the Q701 Rocks

The Q701 (which currently retails for $180) isn’t just a great set of headphones, it’s a very unique set of headphones. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard, and it’s probably unlike anything you’ve ever heard either (even if, for you, that isn’t a good thing). Here’s what I love about it:

  • It’s light on your head. Unlike some headphones, which can have a strong “clamping” force, the Q701 is very light on your ears. The pads are made of this weird hard foam. You wouldn’t think it’s comfortable, but it is. It also has a self-adjusting headband that is so awesome I don’t know why it isn’t on every headphone ever made. You don’t “size” the headphones through a series of clicks, you just slide it on your head and it adjusts itself. Which only contributes to its lightness—it feels perfectly sized every time. (The headband is uncomfortable, but we’ll get to that in a bit.)
  • It’s “flat”. By that, I mean it doesn’t have particularly over-emphasized bass, midrange, or treble. Compare it to something like the Audio-Technica ATH-M50, which has a “V” shaped sound (heavy on the bass and treble, recessed in the midrange), and you’ll hear a very big difference. This is not a headphone for bass heads. Flat headphones are most popular with fans of classical music and jazz. But even though I listen to metal and electronic, I’ve found that it works with just about any kind of music. After all, “flat” sound aims to reproduce the music as it was originally mixed and mastered, so very few things will sound “bad” on it.
  • It’s open-backed. Most people are familiar with closed headphones, which isolate you from outside sound. You can’t hear what’s going on around you, and other people can’t hear your music. Open headphones, on the other hand, let sound pass through the cups—you can still hear outside sounds, and if someone’s sitting nearby, they can hear music coming out of your headphones. Open headphones aren’t ideal for the library or an airplane, but they usually produce better sound—and the Q701 certainly falls into that category.
  • It has an enormous soundstage. If “soundstage” sounds like a stupid audiophile buzzword to you, then you aren’t alone—I thought the same thing. Until I heard the Q701. It is the headphone that finally made me realize what that word meant. It gives the music a very real sense of space, which adds a whole new dimension to your music. Some will love it, some will hate it. Incidentally, the Q701’s soundstage also makes it great for gaming, because you really get a feel for where sounds are coming from.

That last item is what really separates the Q701 from other headphones. There are plenty of great, comfortable “flat” headphones out there (Sennheiser makes some phenomenal ones), but the Q701 has a unique sound you just don’t hear anywhere else. Some may find it overly analytical or robotic, but I feel just the opposite. When comparing it side-by-side with the Sennheiser HD600 and the Beyerdynamic DT880—its most oft-compared brethren—the Q701’s soundstage just made my music feel “alive”. It made me want to bang my head and groove every time I put it on. And two years later, it still makes me feel that way.

How I Made Up for the Q701s Shortcomings with DIY Mods

No set of headphones is perfect. I think this is partially what causes people to get on that “upgrade treadmill”, where it feels like you’re always looking for the next best thing. But there’s a lot you can do to improve a pair of headphones if you’re willing to get your hands dirty.

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The Q701, in my eyes, had two flaws: The bass is a little anemic, and the headband is extremely uncomfortable. I solved both of these problems with DIY mods.

The bass was quite simple to fix, thanks to Head-Fi user mms6. His mod, detailed here, involves taking a few pieces of felt or microfiber and putting them behind the headphone’s cups. It’s super easy, takes just a few minutes, and is completely reversible, so it won’t void your warranty. Here are the basic steps:

  1. Use two toothpicks or nails to remove the “Q” plate from the back of the Q701. Just stick them in the holes and gently twist counterclockwise as shown here.
    I've Found My Holy Grail of Headphones: The AKG Q701
  2. The Q701 already has a piece of felt there. Grab that and cut one or two circles the same size from a piece of microfiber. I used the black cloth that comes with Macs and iPhones.
    I've Found My Holy Grail of Headphones: The AKG Q701
  3. Place the one or two circles on top of the existing piece of felt and close the headphone back up. The more pieces you add, the more bass you’ll get, though it will decrease the soundstage just a tad. I’m not a serious basshead, but I needed just a tad more oomph to my music—so it was well worth the tradeoff.
    I've Found My Holy Grail of Headphones: The AKG Q701

Fixing the Q701s headband was a bit more of a challenge. The stock headband has these horrible hard bumps along the top. I have no idea who thought these were a good idea, but they dig into your skull and make the headphones massively uncomfortable after an hour or so. So what’s a soft-headed nerd to do? Inspired by a few intrepid DIYers on Reddit, I replaced the entire headband with a piece of an old leather belt.

I've Found My Holy Grail of Headphones: The AKG Q701

This was no easy task. I basically had to pop the “L” and “R” caps off the side of the headband, then drill out the rivets that held them in place (my drill was broken, so I poked at them with a screwdriver for about a half hour. I cut my finger in two places. I do not recommend this method.) After that, I cut my leather with some sharp scissors, poked a couple holes in it, and screwed the headband in place with a few nuts, as shown below.

I've Found My Holy Grail of Headphones: The AKG Q701

There are other ways to deal with the bumps, but this was my chosen method, and it worked fantastically well. And now my headphones are perfect for both my head and my ears.

Cheap (and Expensive) Alternatives to the Q701

I've Found My Holy Grail of Headphones: The AKG Q701

The Q701 is the definition of bang for your buck. $180 may seem expensive, but in a field of products ranging from $10 to $1000, $180 is pretty great—and the Q701 easily competes with cans in the $300 or $400 range. But if you have a vastly different budget, there are other similar headphones out there.

Most obvious would be the Q701’s cousins: AKG’s K612, K701, K702, K712, and K7XX from Massdrop. All the headphones in AKG’s “x7xx series” are very similar, but can differ slightly in comfort and sound. This Head-Fi post is a great primer on the differences between each. Finding the best model for you is all about personal preference, but I think the Q701s are king for their modability and great, sub-$200 price.

If you really want to go cheap, a brand called Superlux is famous for making low-end versions of popular brand-name headphones, including AKG’s K series. The Superlux HD 681 ($30) and HD 668B ($40) are both clones of AKG models, and the 681 is one of the best sub-$50 headphones I’ve ever heard. If you’re willing to spend a little more, AKG’s K240 ($70) is the headphone Superlux based the 681 off of, and occupies a nice price point in the middle.

If you don’t love AKG’s wide soundstage but want a good flat headphone in a similar price range, the Sennheiser HD600 ($350) and the Beyerdynamic DT880 ($200) are AKG’s most common competitors. The HD600 in particular is probably tied for my all-time favorite headphone, but costs significantly more. The Beyerdynamic DT880 sounds almost identical, in my opinion, to the HD600, for less money and a bit less comfort. You might also try the Sennheiser HD598 ($150), which is a step down in Sennheiser’s product line.

http://lifehacker.com/are-high-end-h…

Go Find Your Holy Grail

The moral of this post is not just “the Q701 rocks and you should buy it” (but it does, and you should at least try it). After all, headphones are extremely subjective. The other thing I really want to illustrate here—besides my inappropriately deep love for this specific pair of headphones—is that you can get off the upgrade treadmill. Not every headphone search ends after decades of flushing money down the toilet until you finally cave and buy the $1700 LCD-X. All it takes is the following:

  • Know what you want. Explore different headphone models. Try to make it to a Head-Fi meetup or something similar so you can audition as many pairs as possible. Maybe you’ll find that you aren’t the bass head you thought, or that you really like Grados despite what some dude on the internet told you. The more you try, the more confident you’ll be in your final decision because you’ll know what else is out there.
  • Set your budget. You don’t have to spend $1000 to get a great set of headphones. High end headphones are great, but if you’re on a strict budget, you can get some pretty good headphones for $20 too. Once you know what you want, find a similar model within your price range. Remember the Q701 alternatives I listed at all those different price points? You’ll find the same “lines” exist with most headphone brands.
  • Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. When you’re confident you’ve found the closest thing to your holy grail in your price range, go ahead and void that warranty. Buying the right pair of headphones will get you 85% of the way to your perfect sound—the right mods will take you 10% further. Plus, they’ll also take away that itching desire for something new. Doing a mod is like having a new set of headphones to play with all over again. And if your headphone is even remotely popular, there are probably already tons of documented mods out there on the internet.

Of course, I can’t truly know what’ll happen in the future. Maybe 10 years from now my tastes will change. Or maybe my Q701 will finally break and I’ll find something better. But the more I try other headphones, the more I become enamored with what I already have. And if they died on me today, I’d buy another pair in a heartbeat.

http://smile.amazon.com/AKG-Signature-…

Amazon’s Awesome Magnetic Earbuds are Only $10 Right Now

Amazon's Awesome Magnetic Earbuds are Only $10 Right Now

Amazon’s in-house magnetic earbuds are actually pretty great, not to mention one of the most popular items we’ve ever posted. Normally, they sell for $19, but today only, you can get a pair for $10, the best price we’ve ever seen. [Amazon Premium Earbuds, $10]http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HX0SRXW/…http://gizmodo.com/the-amazon-fir…

h/t Christopher


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Most Popular Portable Headphone Amplifier: FiiO Alpen 2 E17K

Most Popular Portable Headphone Amplifier: FiiO Alpen 2 E17K

Whether you have a pair of headphones that could use an amplifier, or you have an audio source that could use one, a portable amp can change the way you listen to music on the go. Last week we asked you for good picks, then looked at the five best portable headphone amplifiers. Now we’re back to highlight your favorite.

Most Popular Portable Headphone Amplifier: FiiO Alpen 2 E17K

Voting was pretty tight across all five competitors this week, and no one took home a clear, wide margin of the votes. That said, the FiiO Alpen 2 E17K took the top spot in our poll with over 25% of the votes cast, thanks to its bang-for-the-buck value, portability, battery life, design, and of course, above all, its performance and improvement in sound quality when it’s in use.

The top five had a bunch of FiiO models in it, a consequence of the nominations round, but it wasn’t another FiiO that took second place. The Lucid Labs CMOY Headphone Amplifier brought in 21% of the vote, and delivers a great amplifier inside an Altoids or other candy tin. Plus, they’re handmade and hand-tested before each one ships. Demand means they’re out of stock right now, but when they’re back, we recommend picking one up. 20% of the votes cast and third place went to the FiiO Fujiyama E6, an amplifier that’s by no means one of the best in its category, but it’s certainly one of the most affordable, easiest to use, and most portable—all of which earned it big points in this category. In fourth place with close to 17% of the vote was the FiiO Mont Blanc E12, a sleek and thin portable amp that can be used at a desk or on the go. Bringing up the rear with over 16% of the vote was the Objective2 Headphone Amplifier, which is customizable for your needs and a little bigger than the others, but sounds amazing.

For more detail on each of these and the honorable mentions not listed here, head back to our full Hive Five feature to read more.

The Hive Five is based on reader nominations. As with most Hive Five posts, if your favorite was left out, it didn’t get the nominations required in the call for contenders post to make the top five. We understand it’s a bit of a popularity contest. Have a suggestion for the Hive Five? Send us an email at tips+hivefive@lifehacker.com!

Five Best Portable Headphone Amplifiers

Five Best Portable Headphone Amplifiers

If you use a pair of portable headphones, or even budget headphones, you could probably do with a decent amplifier. But if your favorite way of listening involves music on the go, it’s got to go with you. This week, we’re looking at portable headphone amps, based on your recommendations.

Earlier in the week we asked you for the best portable headphone amps. You turned up a ton of great options, as always—but we only have room for the top five, based on your nominations. Here they are, in no particular order:

FiiO Mont Blanc E12

Five Best Portable Headphone Amplifiers

The FiiO E12 is a mid-range amplifier that’s still small enough (and battery powered) to be considered portable. You can get a full 12 hours of juice out of the pocket-sized amp, which is only about 5 inches by 3 inches, and just over a half-inch thick. It only weighs about five ounces, so whether you keep it in a pocket or in your carry all, it’s not going to add a ton of weight while you listen to it. The E12 has an all-aluminum body to protect it from drops and shocks, can boost the performance of just about any set of headphones (16~300 Ohm), and has a USB port on the side to charge from a laptop, your phone, or a tablet as well as a wall charger while you use it if you want, which makes it versatile for on-the-go listening as well as rocking out while you work. If you want one, they’ll set you back $129 at Amazon.

Those of you who nominated the E12 pointed out that it may not be the absolute best at doing what an amp is supposed to do, but it’s a best option because it delivers huge bang for your buck. It may be midrange, but the improvement in audio quality you’ll get when listening to even middling headphones or a mild audio source is huge compared to the amount of money you’ve spent—so if you love your phone, or your laptop has middling audio but you love your headphones, or vice versa, the E12 is worth a look, and a great starting point for skeptics who want to try our an amp without draining their bank accounts. Read more in its nomination thread here.


FiiO Alpen 2 E17K

Five Best Portable Headphone Amplifiers

FiiO’s Alpen 2 E17K is the most recent model of the older Alpen E17, which made our list of the best digital-to-analog converters (DACs). The E17 proper turned up again in the nominations, but seeing as the Alpen 2 E17K is the current model (and it’s cheaper than the older E17) we’re focusing on it. The E17K is a little bigger than the E12, about 6 inches by 4 inches, and a good two-plus inches thick. Despite its larger size, it’s still only about five ounces, and packs a serious punch when it comes to audio performance. It’s also battery powered, and packs a bigger battery and holds about 15 hours worth of charge, again rechargable via wall socket, your phone or tablet, or any other USB device. This model is designed for more demanding headphones (15~150 Ohm), and can be used either as a standalone DAC or headphone amp, or (with added equipment) as an external sound card for desktop use. The E17K also supports dual-function inputs, and has a coax input, adding to its versatility as both a portable and a desktop device. If you want one, it’ll set you back $139 at Amazon, fifty dollars less than the $189 previous E17 model.

Those of you who nominated the E17 and E17K praised it for being useful for all sets of headphones, whether you’re on the go and listening to portable cans or IEMs, or you’re sitting at home in a quiet environment listening to your favorite pair of monitors. That versatility makes it worth the extra money, and knowing that you’re getting something that can be used for more than just portable use is worthwhile. Beyond that though, many of you noted that its battery life is great, it can serve as a USB audio source when plugged into a computer for a clean audio source, and its aluminum look and design aren’t bad either. You can read more in this nomination thread or this thread here.


Lucid Labs CMOY Headphone Amplifier

Five Best Portable Headphone Amplifiers

If you’ve ever wanted your superior sound to come out of an Altoids tin, or an old ginger candy tin, or a mint tin, or even just a plain aluminum tin, Lucid Labs makes quality amplifiers that come in a variety of altoid-tin sized cases that you can choose from. It’s a little personalization (you can choose from 8 different tin options!) that goes into an otherwise extremely portable, excellent-sounding amplifier that can drive all sorts of headphones (30-300 Ohm.) They’re battery powered and pocket sized, and can run for up to 20 hours on a pair of 9V alkaline batteries. Plus, every single amp they make is tested before it’s shipped, and they’re all custom made. You get a standard stereo input and output, but that’s about it—don’t expect too many bells and whistles, but they do sound great. Oh, did we mention that’s only $34 dollars at Amazon? You can check out all the case options at Amazon here, or just pick up one from Lucid Labs directly, where all of the cases are available and the price is the same.

Those of you who nominated Lucid Labs’ amplifiers pointed out that the look alone is fun and whimsical, and the sound quality is incredible for the money that you spend on the amplifier. Lucid Labs also does a great job of describing on their web site why you would consider an amplifier for your mobile device. Some of you pointed out that CMOY amps are great because you can always build your own if you like, but for the price of one of these, you’re saving money on the time to assemble as well as the parts, which makes it a pretty smart purchase. You can read more in its nomination thread here.


Objective2 Headphone Amplifier

Five Best Portable Headphone Amplifiers

The Objective2 amplifier from JDS Labs actually made an appearance with the ODAC in our list of the best DACs a while back. The newer model is still small and still doesn’t have to be paired with the ODAC if you don’t want one. While it’s definitely pushing the line of “portable” thanks to its design, it’s still only 4 inches by 3 inches and about an inch or so thick. The knob off the front is a little tricky to handle in a pocket, but if you keep it in a bag or carry-all, you’ll have no issue. It’s also battery powered and rechargeable, and can run for about six to eight hours on its pair of internal 9V NiMH batteries. It’s also customizable, so you can tweak the components and the inputs to suit your needs. The standard models though come in silver and black, have standard stereo or RCA inputs, 3.5 or 6.3mm stereo outputs, all of which can be customized if you prefer a different configuration of inputs and outputs. The O2 is built for virtually any type of headphone, and promises improvements at all levels, regardless of the headphones you’re listening to or the source. If you want one, your best bet is to snag one for $129 direct from JDS Labs.

Those of you who nominated the O2 noted that this is another extreme bang-for-the-buck option, one that has the power to rival full-sized amps but is small enough to fit into a pocket for on the go or stationary listening. Its design is clean and minimal, but still rugged enough to go anywhere, and those of you who have had your own noted that it’s a top notch amplifier, regardless of what you plug it into. The fact that you can either buy the default configuration or have a say in what inputs and outputs are on your model is a huge benefit too. You can read more in its nomination thread here.


FiiO Fujiyama E6

Five Best Portable Headphone Amplifiers

The FiiO E6 is a tiny (only 1.6 inches square and less than a half-inch thick) headphone amplifier that epitomizes the idea of “portable.” You could stick this sucker on the back of a phone case, or just leave it in your pocket with your phone and have no idea it was even there—it only weighs about half ounce. Of course, in this case its strength is portability and price, not necessarily power—which even FiiO is quick to point out. It boasts a simple single input, single output, and a volume rocker on one side, concealed power indicator that changes color when charging or on battery power, and the battery usually works for about 10 hours on a charge. Somehow there’s even a triple-mode EQ built into the tiny thing. It even has a removable clip you can attach to a bag strap or inside of your pocket to keep it in place while you listen to it—that’s how small the thing is. It’s designed for a decent range of headphones (16~150 Ohm), and will set you back a pittance compared to the others in the roundup—$28 at Amazon, a perfect price for people wondering whether or not an amp can make a difference for their headphones at all, and a great starting point if you’re curious whether the audio source you listen to (or the headphones you wear) on the go could use an amplifier.

The E6 was our own Whitson Gordon’s nomination, and while everyone was clear on the notion that it’s probably not the best amplifier on the market, you can certainly consider it one of the best for most people—and the best for your wallet. It’s so cost effective and the benefit you get from it is more than worth the money you’ll pay for one. More than a few of you chimed in with your experiences with the E6, pointing out that you got one with your headphones, or that you’ve had yours for years with no problems—and while the documentation isn’t exactly great, it’s definitely worth it, just for the bang for the buck. Read more in its nomination thread here.


Now that you’ve seen the top five, it’s time to put them to an all-out vote to determine the Lifehacker community favorite:


Honorable Mentions

This week’s honorable mention goes out to the Emmeline, The Shadow, from Ray Samuels Audio. It’s a custom made amplifier—bespoke, as it were—so you’ll have to wait your turn to have one hand-crafted for you and your specific needs, but once you have one, you’ll have something truly personal and handmade that you can appreciate both on the go or sitting at home listening to whatever audio source you may have to listen to. These things are almost works of art, not just amplifiers, and just reading the description at the homepage tells the tale—just enough goes into the making of each one, no more, no less, and certainly not so much that it’s over the top. Some of you shared your experiences with them, and suffice to say, we’re impressed. It’s pricey, at $395, so it’s certainly not an entry level model. You can read more in its nomination thread here.

Have something to say about one of the contenders? Want to make the case for your personal favorite, even if it wasn’t included in the list? Remember, the top five are based on your most popular nominations from the call for contenders thread from earlier in the week. Don’t just complain about the top five, let us know what your preferred alternative is—and make your case for it—in the discussions below.

The Hive Five is based on reader nominations. As with most Hive Five posts, if your favorite was left out, it didn’t get the nominations required in the call for contenders post to make the top five. We understand it’s a bit of a popularity contest. Have a suggestion for the Hive Five? Send us an email at tips+hivefive@lifehacker.com!

Title photo by Miki Yoshihito.

Five Best Portable Headphone Amplifiers

Five Best Portable Headphone Amplifiers

If you use a pair of portable headphones, or even budget headphones, you could probably do with a decent amplifier. But if your favorite way of listening involves music on the go, it’s got to go with you. This week, we’re looking at portable headphone amps, based on your recommendations.

Earlier in the week we asked you for the best portable headphone amps. You turned up a ton of great options, as always—but we only have room for the top five, based on your nominations. Here they are, in no particular order:

FiiO Mont Blanc E12

Five Best Portable Headphone Amplifiers

The FiiO E12 is a mid-range amplifier that’s still small enough (and battery powered) to be considered portable. You can get a full 12 hours of juice out of the pocket-sized amp, which is only about 5 inches by 3 inches, and just over a half-inch thick. It only weighs about five ounces, so whether you keep it in a pocket or in your carry all, it’s not going to add a ton of weight while you listen to it. The E12 has an all-aluminum body to protect it from drops and shocks, can boost the performance of just about any set of headphones (16~300 Ohm), and has a USB port on the side to charge from a laptop, your phone, or a tablet as well as a wall charger while you use it if you want, which makes it versatile for on-the-go listening as well as rocking out while you work. If you want one, they’ll set you back $129 at Amazon.

Those of you who nominated the E12 pointed out that it may not be the absolute best at doing what an amp is supposed to do, but it’s a best option because it delivers huge bang for your buck. It may be midrange, but the improvement in audio quality you’ll get when listening to even middling headphones or a mild audio source is huge compared to the amount of money you’ve spent—so if you love your phone, or your laptop has middling audio but you love your headphones, or vice versa, the E12 is worth a look, and a great starting point for skeptics who want to try our an amp without draining their bank accounts. Read more in its nomination thread here.


FiiO Alpen 2 E17K

Five Best Portable Headphone Amplifiers

FiiO’s Alpen 2 E17K is the most recent model of the older Alpen E17, which made our list of the best digital-to-analog converters (DACs). The E17 proper turned up again in the nominations, but seeing as the Alpen 2 E17K is the current model (and it’s cheaper than the older E17) we’re focusing on it. The E17K is a little bigger than the E12, about 6 inches by 4 inches, and a good two-plus inches thick. Despite its larger size, it’s still only about five ounces, and packs a serious punch when it comes to audio performance. It’s also battery powered, and packs a bigger battery and holds about 15 hours worth of charge, again rechargable via wall socket, your phone or tablet, or any other USB device. This model is designed for more demanding headphones (15~150 Ohm), and can be used either as a standalone DAC or headphone amp, or (with added equipment) as an external sound card for desktop use. The E17K also supports dual-function inputs, and has a coax input, adding to its versatility as both a portable and a desktop device. If you want one, it’ll set you back $139 at Amazon, fifty dollars less than the $189 previous E17 model.

Those of you who nominated the E17 and E17K praised it for being useful for all sets of headphones, whether you’re on the go and listening to portable cans or IEMs, or you’re sitting at home in a quiet environment listening to your favorite pair of monitors. That versatility makes it worth the extra money, and knowing that you’re getting something that can be used for more than just portable use is worthwhile. Beyond that though, many of you noted that its battery life is great, it can serve as a USB audio source when plugged into a computer for a clean audio source, and its aluminum look and design aren’t bad either. You can read more in this nomination thread or this thread here.


Lucid Labs CMOY Headphone Amplifier

Five Best Portable Headphone Amplifiers

If you’ve ever wanted your superior sound to come out of an Altoids tin, or an old ginger candy tin, or a mint tin, or even just a plain aluminum tin, Lucid Labs makes quality amplifiers that come in a variety of altoid-tin sized cases that you can choose from. It’s a little personalization (you can choose from 8 different tin options!) that goes into an otherwise extremely portable, excellent-sounding amplifier that can drive all sorts of headphones (30-300 Ohm.) They’re battery powered and pocket sized, and can run for up to 20 hours on a pair of 9V alkaline batteries. Plus, every single amp they make is tested before it’s shipped, and they’re all custom made. You get a standard stereo input and output, but that’s about it—don’t expect too many bells and whistles, but they do sound great. Oh, did we mention that’s only $34 dollars at Amazon? You can check out all the case options at Amazon here, or just pick up one from Lucid Labs directly, where all of the cases are available and the price is the same.

Those of you who nominated Lucid Labs’ amplifiers pointed out that the look alone is fun and whimsical, and the sound quality is incredible for the money that you spend on the amplifier. Lucid Labs also does a great job of describing on their web site why you would consider an amplifier for your mobile device. Some of you pointed out that CMOY amps are great because you can always build your own if you like, but for the price of one of these, you’re saving money on the time to assemble as well as the parts, which makes it a pretty smart purchase. You can read more in its nomination thread here.


Objective2 Headphone Amplifier

Five Best Portable Headphone Amplifiers

The Objective2 amplifier from JDS Labs actually made an appearance with the ODAC in our list of the best DACs a while back. The newer model is still small and still doesn’t have to be paired with the ODAC if you don’t want one. While it’s definitely pushing the line of “portable” thanks to its design, it’s still only 4 inches by 3 inches and about an inch or so thick. The knob off the front is a little tricky to handle in a pocket, but if you keep it in a bag or carry-all, you’ll have no issue. It’s also battery powered and rechargeable, and can run for about six to eight hours on its pair of internal 9V NiMH batteries. It’s also customizable, so you can tweak the components and the inputs to suit your needs. The standard models though come in silver and black, have standard stereo or RCA inputs, 3.5 or 6.3mm stereo outputs, all of which can be customized if you prefer a different configuration of inputs and outputs. The O2 is built for virtually any type of headphone, and promises improvements at all levels, regardless of the headphones you’re listening to or the source. If you want one, your best bet is to snag one for $129 direct from JDS Labs.

Those of you who nominated the O2 noted that this is another extreme bang-for-the-buck option, one that has the power to rival full-sized amps but is small enough to fit into a pocket for on the go or stationary listening. Its design is clean and minimal, but still rugged enough to go anywhere, and those of you who have had your own noted that it’s a top notch amplifier, regardless of what you plug it into. The fact that you can either buy the default configuration or have a say in what inputs and outputs are on your model is a huge benefit too. You can read more in its nomination thread here.


FiiO Fujiyama E6

Five Best Portable Headphone Amplifiers

The FiiO E6 is a tiny (only 1.6 inches square and less than a half-inch thick) headphone amplifier that epitomizes the idea of “portable.” You could stick this sucker on the back of a phone case, or just leave it in your pocket with your phone and have no idea it was even there—it only weighs about half ounce. Of course, in this case its strength is portability and price, not necessarily power—which even FiiO is quick to point out. It boasts a simple single input, single output, and a volume rocker on one side, concealed power indicator that changes color when charging or on battery power, and the battery usually works for about 10 hours on a charge. Somehow there’s even a triple-mode EQ built into the tiny thing. It even has a removable clip you can attach to a bag strap or inside of your pocket to keep it in place while you listen to it—that’s how small the thing is. It’s designed for a decent range of headphones (16~150 Ohm), and will set you back a pittance compared to the others in the roundup—$28 at Amazon, a perfect price for people wondering whether or not an amp can make a difference for their headphones at all, and a great starting point if you’re curious whether the audio source you listen to (or the headphones you wear) on the go could use an amplifier.

The E6 was our own Whitson Gordon’s nomination, and while everyone was clear on the notion that it’s probably not the best amplifier on the market, you can certainly consider it one of the best for most people—and the best for your wallet. It’s so cost effective and the benefit you get from it is more than worth the money you’ll pay for one. More than a few of you chimed in with your experiences with the E6, pointing out that you got one with your headphones, or that you’ve had yours for years with no problems—and while the documentation isn’t exactly great, it’s definitely worth it, just for the bang for the buck. Read more in its nomination thread here.


Now that you’ve seen the top five, it’s time to put them to an all-out vote to determine the Lifehacker community favorite:


Honorable Mentions

This week’s honorable mention goes out to the Emmeline, The Shadow, from Ray Samuels Audio. It’s a custom made amplifier—bespoke, as it were—so you’ll have to wait your turn to have one hand-crafted for you and your specific needs, but once you have one, you’ll have something truly personal and handmade that you can appreciate both on the go or sitting at home listening to whatever audio source you may have to listen to. These things are almost works of art, not just amplifiers, and just reading the description at the homepage tells the tale—just enough goes into the making of each one, no more, no less, and certainly not so much that it’s over the top. Some of you shared your experiences with them, and suffice to say, we’re impressed. It’s pricey, at $395, so it’s certainly not an entry level model. You can read more in its nomination thread here.

Have something to say about one of the contenders? Want to make the case for your personal favorite, even if it wasn’t included in the list? Remember, the top five are based on your most popular nominations from the call for contenders thread from earlier in the week. Don’t just complain about the top five, let us know what your preferred alternative is—and make your case for it—in the discussions below.

The Hive Five is based on reader nominations. As with most Hive Five posts, if your favorite was left out, it didn’t get the nominations required in the call for contenders post to make the top five. We understand it’s a bit of a popularity contest. Have a suggestion for the Hive Five? Send us an email at tips+hivefive@lifehacker.com!

Title photo by Miki Yoshihito.

Five Best Portable Headphone Amplifiers

Five Best Portable Headphone Amplifiers

If you use a pair of portable headphones, or even budget headphones, you could probably do with a decent amplifier. But if your favorite way of listening involves music on the go, it’s got to go with you. This week, we’re looking at portable headphone amps, based on your recommendations.

Earlier in the week we asked you for the best portable headphone amps. You turned up a ton of great options, as always—but we only have room for the top five, based on your nominations. Here they are, in no particular order:

FiiO Mont Blanc E12

Five Best Portable Headphone Amplifiers

The FiiO E12 is a mid-range amplifier that’s still small enough (and battery powered) to be considered portable. You can get a full 12 hours of juice out of the pocket-sized amp, which is only about 5 inches by 3 inches, and just over a half-inch thick. It only weighs about five ounces, so whether you keep it in a pocket or in your carry all, it’s not going to add a ton of weight while you listen to it. The E12 has an all-aluminum body to protect it from drops and shocks, can boost the performance of just about any set of headphones (16~300 Ohm), and has a USB port on the side to charge from a laptop, your phone, or a tablet as well as a wall charger while you use it if you want, which makes it versatile for on-the-go listening as well as rocking out while you work. If you want one, they’ll set you back $129 at Amazon.

Those of you who nominated the E12 pointed out that it may not be the absolute best at doing what an amp is supposed to do, but it’s a best option because it delivers huge bang for your buck. It may be midrange, but the improvement in audio quality you’ll get when listening to even middling headphones or a mild audio source is huge compared to the amount of money you’ve spent—so if you love your phone, or your laptop has middling audio but you love your headphones, or vice versa, the E12 is worth a look, and a great starting point for skeptics who want to try our an amp without draining their bank accounts. Read more in its nomination thread here.


FiiO Alpen 2 E17K

Five Best Portable Headphone Amplifiers

FiiO’s Alpen 2 E17K is the most recent model of the older Alpen E17, which made our list of the best digital-to-analog converters (DACs). The E17 proper turned up again in the nominations, but seeing as the Alpen 2 E17K is the current model (and it’s cheaper than the older E17) we’re focusing on it. The E17K is a little bigger than the E12, about 6 inches by 4 inches, and a good two-plus inches thick. Despite its larger size, it’s still only about five ounces, and packs a serious punch when it comes to audio performance. It’s also battery powered, and packs a bigger battery and holds about 15 hours worth of charge, again rechargable via wall socket, your phone or tablet, or any other USB device. This model is designed for more demanding headphones (15~150 Ohm), and can be used either as a standalone DAC or headphone amp, or (with added equipment) as an external sound card for desktop use. The E17K also supports dual-function inputs, and has a coax input, adding to its versatility as both a portable and a desktop device. If you want one, it’ll set you back $139 at Amazon, fifty dollars less than the $189 previous E17 model.

Those of you who nominated the E17 and E17K praised it for being useful for all sets of headphones, whether you’re on the go and listening to portable cans or IEMs, or you’re sitting at home in a quiet environment listening to your favorite pair of monitors. That versatility makes it worth the extra money, and knowing that you’re getting something that can be used for more than just portable use is worthwhile. Beyond that though, many of you noted that its battery life is great, it can serve as a USB audio source when plugged into a computer for a clean audio source, and its aluminum look and design aren’t bad either. You can read more in this nomination thread or this thread here.


Lucid Labs CMOY Headphone Amplifier

Five Best Portable Headphone Amplifiers

If you’ve ever wanted your superior sound to come out of an Altoids tin, or an old ginger candy tin, or a mint tin, or even just a plain aluminum tin, Lucid Labs makes quality amplifiers that come in a variety of altoid-tin sized cases that you can choose from. It’s a little personalization (you can choose from 8 different tin options!) that goes into an otherwise extremely portable, excellent-sounding amplifier that can drive all sorts of headphones (30-300 Ohm.) They’re battery powered and pocket sized, and can run for up to 20 hours on a pair of 9V alkaline batteries. Plus, every single amp they make is tested before it’s shipped, and they’re all custom made. You get a standard stereo input and output, but that’s about it—don’t expect too many bells and whistles, but they do sound great. Oh, did we mention that’s only $34 dollars at Amazon? You can check out all the case options at Amazon here, or just pick up one from Lucid Labs directly, where all of the cases are available and the price is the same.

Those of you who nominated Lucid Labs’ amplifiers pointed out that the look alone is fun and whimsical, and the sound quality is incredible for the money that you spend on the amplifier. Lucid Labs also does a great job of describing on their web site why you would consider an amplifier for your mobile device. Some of you pointed out that CMOY amps are great because you can always build your own if you like, but for the price of one of these, you’re saving money on the time to assemble as well as the parts, which makes it a pretty smart purchase. You can read more in its nomination thread here.


Objective2 Headphone Amplifier

Five Best Portable Headphone Amplifiers

The Objective2 amplifier from JDS Labs actually made an appearance with the ODAC in our list of the best DACs a while back. The newer model is still small and still doesn’t have to be paired with the ODAC if you don’t want one. While it’s definitely pushing the line of “portable” thanks to its design, it’s still only 4 inches by 3 inches and about an inch or so thick. The knob off the front is a little tricky to handle in a pocket, but if you keep it in a bag or carry-all, you’ll have no issue. It’s also battery powered and rechargeable, and can run for about six to eight hours on its pair of internal 9V NiMH batteries. It’s also customizable, so you can tweak the components and the inputs to suit your needs. The standard models though come in silver and black, have standard stereo or RCA inputs, 3.5 or 6.3mm stereo outputs, all of which can be customized if you prefer a different configuration of inputs and outputs. The O2 is built for virtually any type of headphone, and promises improvements at all levels, regardless of the headphones you’re listening to or the source. If you want one, your best bet is to snag one for $129 direct from JDS Labs.

Those of you who nominated the O2 noted that this is another extreme bang-for-the-buck option, one that has the power to rival full-sized amps but is small enough to fit into a pocket for on the go or stationary listening. Its design is clean and minimal, but still rugged enough to go anywhere, and those of you who have had your own noted that it’s a top notch amplifier, regardless of what you plug it into. The fact that you can either buy the default configuration or have a say in what inputs and outputs are on your model is a huge benefit too. You can read more in its nomination thread here.


FiiO Fujiyama E6

Five Best Portable Headphone Amplifiers

The FiiO E6 is a tiny (only 1.6 inches square and less than a half-inch thick) headphone amplifier that epitomizes the idea of “portable.” You could stick this sucker on the back of a phone case, or just leave it in your pocket with your phone and have no idea it was even there—it only weighs about half ounce. Of course, in this case its strength is portability and price, not necessarily power—which even FiiO is quick to point out. It boasts a simple single input, single output, and a volume rocker on one side, concealed power indicator that changes color when charging or on battery power, and the battery usually works for about 10 hours on a charge. Somehow there’s even a triple-mode EQ built into the tiny thing. It even has a removable clip you can attach to a bag strap or inside of your pocket to keep it in place while you listen to it—that’s how small the thing is. It’s designed for a decent range of headphones (16~150 Ohm), and will set you back a pittance compared to the others in the roundup—$28 at Amazon, a perfect price for people wondering whether or not an amp can make a difference for their headphones at all, and a great starting point if you’re curious whether the audio source you listen to (or the headphones you wear) on the go could use an amplifier.

The E6 was our own Whitson Gordon’s nomination, and while everyone was clear on the notion that it’s probably not the best amplifier on the market, you can certainly consider it one of the best for most people—and the best for your wallet. It’s so cost effective and the benefit you get from it is more than worth the money you’ll pay for one. More than a few of you chimed in with your experiences with the E6, pointing out that you got one with your headphones, or that you’ve had yours for years with no problems—and while the documentation isn’t exactly great, it’s definitely worth it, just for the bang for the buck. Read more in its nomination thread here.


Now that you’ve seen the top five, it’s time to put them to an all-out vote to determine the Lifehacker community favorite:


Honorable Mentions

This week’s honorable mention goes out to the Emmeline, The Shadow, from Ray Samuels Audio. It’s a custom made amplifier—bespoke, as it were—so you’ll have to wait your turn to have one hand-crafted for you and your specific needs, but once you have one, you’ll have something truly personal and handmade that you can appreciate both on the go or sitting at home listening to whatever audio source you may have to listen to. These things are almost works of art, not just amplifiers, and just reading the description at the homepage tells the tale—just enough goes into the making of each one, no more, no less, and certainly not so much that it’s over the top. Some of you shared your experiences with them, and suffice to say, we’re impressed. It’s pricey, at $395, so it’s certainly not an entry level model. You can read more in its nomination thread here.

Have something to say about one of the contenders? Want to make the case for your personal favorite, even if it wasn’t included in the list? Remember, the top five are based on your most popular nominations from the call for contenders thread from earlier in the week. Don’t just complain about the top five, let us know what your preferred alternative is—and make your case for it—in the discussions below.

The Hive Five is based on reader nominations. As with most Hive Five posts, if your favorite was left out, it didn’t get the nominations required in the call for contenders post to make the top five. We understand it’s a bit of a popularity contest. Have a suggestion for the Hive Five? Send us an email at tips+hivefive@lifehacker.com!

Title photo by Miki Yoshihito.

What’s The Best Portable Headphone Amp?

What's The Best Portable Headphone Amp?

If you have a pair of portable or budget headphones and use them on the go, you probably could use a portable amp to go along with them and pump up their sound a bit. This week we’re looking for the best ones, and we’re curious what you use with yours.

Don’t get us wrong, you can pay a lot for a good amp on your desktop, but we’re specifically looking for pocket-friendly amps that you can use with portable devices like your phone or tablet. If you have a pick, sound off in the discussions below!

Let’s hear your vote in the discussions below! To cast your vote, follow these guidelines:

  1. Follow this format for your vote, including the bold print. If you don’t, it won’t be counted:
    A PHOTO OF THE BEST PORTABLE HEADPHONE AMP
    Vote: [BEST PORTABLE HEADPHONE AMP]
    Why: Explain why this amp is the one you adore. Maybe you own it and you love it. Maybe it’s portable and packs light, or it’s so durable you could kick it around and it’d still work. What makes it the one you’d recommend to others, and why? Make your case!

  2. Don’t duplicate nominations! Instead, if someone’s nominated your pick, star (recommend) it to give it a boost, and reply with your story instead.
  3. Please don’t leave non-entry, direct comments on this post. They’ll just get pushed down. Save your stories for others’ submissions!

If you’re not sure what we mean, just check out the nominations by our writers below. We’ll give you a head start, and they should all be in the proper format, so you can just follow our lead.

The Hive Five is our weekly series where you vote on your favorite apps and tools for any given job. Have a suggestion for a topic? Send us an email at tips+hivefive@lifehacker.com!

Photo by Miki Yoshihito.