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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.

Weigh the appealing design, comfort, and price against those aural considerations, and you have your verdict on the OE2. Whether you'll like these headphones depends a lot on what you plan to use them for.

Outdoor Technology Privates ($100)
With the Outdoor Technology Privates, you also have some trade-offs to consider. The sound profile of the Privates is pretty similar to that of the Bose OE2, with one important difference: These headphones kick out plenty of bass, but they don't contain it in a defined space nearly as well as the OE2 set does. The bass seems to bleed over the lines and spill out over other sounds in the low-mid and mid frequencies, which creates a muddy sound at the low end, especially in music that's bass-heavy to begin with.

In the upper half of the frequency range, the sound isolation and definition are a little better but, as with the OE2, nothing to write home about. When I compared the Privates with my Sony test headphones, the high-frequency parts of snare and cymbal sounds sounded dull on the former.

And yet, despite their aural limitations, I really like these headphones. I like their simple construction, even including the wire things that connect the cans to the headband. And yes, I'll admit, I like the little red and white Bigfoot logo.  

These are the only headphones in this roundup that connect to a phone wirelessly via Bluetooth. In my experience using the Privates at the gym and on my bike, they connect easily and hold the connection.

Some cool design innovations are worth mentioning, as well. One of the cans contains a small microphone for taking calls while connected to your phone via Bluetooth. To turn the volume up and down, you swipe your finger up and down on the outside panel of the right headphone. You swipe forward or backward to move between songs in your playlists. 

These cans are worth the hundred bucks right now. They'd be worth even more if they just sounded a little better.

Picking a winner
Out of all the headphones I tried, the Momentum set from Sennheiser offered the best mix of tasteful design, comfort, and good audio quality. Although they do not create the massive blob of bass that some listeners may prefer, they do pump out a lot of volume. Most important, their sound is crisp and well defined in all frequency ranges. 

I found things to like in all of the headphones in this mix, however. And because they cover a wide price range, the overall value of these headphones can be an important factor when you're weighing their pros and cons.


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