Someone recently sent me a 2015 article in the New York Times that pertains to my column last week about investing in quality engineering and design rather than buying cheap.
The article, "The Financial Benefits of Buying What You Love," describes author Carl Richards' journey to purchasing a high-end, handmade Moots titanium road bike instead of something cheaper and arguably higher tech. Moots was more than just a quality benchmark in the author's mind -- everything he'd heard about the brand led him to trust that the result would be satisfying.
He wrote the article after 11 years with the bike, and described how it was made so thoughtfully that he enjoys its subtle charms now even more than when he purchased it. Most importantly, because it brings him joy, he uses it regularly.
"If you love it, you will keep it; if you keep it, you will use it," reads Carl's No. 1 reason for his purchase. That's exactly what I'm trying to express about audio. The higher prices of quality headphones actually present better value in the long run than the cheaper options.
With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for headphones that will deliver joy and be a solid investment.
Mr. Speakers is a strange name for a headphones company, but I actually know where that came from. In my profile picture, you see a large set of headphones. They're heavily modified Fostex T-50RP — a planar studio monitor. I was part of a group in an online forum that experimented with these and created many different mods for the relatively inexpensive (about $139 on Amazon) cans.
At the time, Mr. Speakers was the forum handle of Dan Clark, creator of his eventual brand, and his early mod work on that forum became the foundation of his now-booming business.
In years since, he moved away from the Fostex mods and created designs of his own from the ground up. And his are now some of the best-reviewed headphones on the market.
His Ether range ($1,499 to $1,849) is world class, but the new Aeon series condenses that tech into a lower price point. The $799 Aeons I heard recently at a demonstration flat out blew me away. Fit and finish are impeccable, and a two-year warranty makes you feel good. Highly recommended.
Master & Dynamic have seduced me from moment one with their $399 MH40s. They've got more models on deck now, and even a speaker, but given my experience with my personal pair of MH40s, I would trust any offering from M&D. They're excellent and also probably the best looking of the bunch.
One of my favorite pro audio microphone companies, Blue, has stepped into the fold with their new planar magnetic model, the Ella. At $699, these compete with the also-fantastic HiFiMan HE400i ($499) planars. Both are companies that make excellent decisions.
And in the end, it's about decisions — yours in purchasing, and theirs in design and creation. Pay more up front for a level of care and attention that, over time, will provide much more joy than the cheap purchase that breaks or that you end up tossing.