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5 'commuter headphones' that put the bass in your face

Mark Sullivan | Jan. 23, 2014
We like our music loud and loaded with bass. At least that's what the recording industry seems to think: Popular releases from artists such as Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake, and Kanye West reliably push the VU meters way into the red. Many consumer-level headphones are designed to reproduce that very sound.

The P7 smells and feels like a big, comfy leather chair. The headband is made of cushiony brown leather and silver steel. This is a nice-looking set of headphones.

I like the way the large, rounded-square cans angle slightly inward to fit tightly and comfortably over my ears. Everything about the P7 — the materials, the physical design, and the audio performance — seems to be guided by a "smooth" aesthetic.

Sporting large, 40-millimeter drivers inside, the P7 headphones create a powerful bass kick, but it doesn't leap out at you as with some of the other popular headphones in this roundup. You feel as if there's some room between your eardrum and that bass sound.

I also like the fact that I can hear some nice separation between the sounds in the middle and high frequency ranges of the music. In one song, it sounded as if there was some space between a ride cymbal panned over toward my right ear and a guitar playing in the right rear of the mix. Recording engineers spend a lot of time creating such separation, and the P7 reproduces it fairly accurately.

Comparing the P7 with my test headphone set (the Sony MDR-V6), I noted some limitations in the clarity and crispness of sounds in the higher frequency ranges. 

All in all, however, I found the P7 satisfying from an audio point of view. Not surprisingly, these headphones are especially good for listening to jazz and classical music.

Bose OE2 ($150)
The Bose OE2 isn't the best-sounding set of headphones in this roundup, but I've used it more than any of the others. I like the compact design and the way the soft leather of the ear pads fits over my ears. The OE2 is designed so that the cones swivel to fit the exact angle of the front of your ears (everyone is different).

Although the headphones are mainly plastic, they don't seem delicate; I've had no problem wearing them for workouts.The joint in the overhead arch allows them to fold inward for toting in a pocket.

I like the removable cord, too. If the cord gets caught on, say, something on your bike, or a machine at the gym, or on somebody's briefcase on a crowded train, your headphones don't come flying off. The cord comes out, and your expensive headphones are saved.

However, the OE2 is the only set in this roundup that does not include a volume control and phone mic on the cord. 

The OE2 headphones are a little less impressive in sound performance. You'll hear plenty of bass response, without any muddiness. But everything above that — namely, the mids, the high-mids, and highs — will sound a little more remote and boxy than on, for instance, the Momentum set. The sound isn't terrible, just lackluster.


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