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Four stylish on-ear headphones worth hearing

R. Matthew Ward | May 7, 2013
Comfortable, portable, on-ear headphones aren’t hard to find, but ones that sound and look great are. We tested four head-turning models that claim to satisfy your ears.

RHA designed the earpieces with the ability to pivot 180 degrees, so the SA950i can double as a set of DJ headphones. The SA950i's cloth-wrapped cable, though a nice touch, is prone to kinking and doesn't feel as sturdy as the V-Moda Crossfade M-80 v2's cable. The remote's volume buttons are helpfully raised and easy to access, but the depression for the center (play/pause/talk) button is a bit too small and a bit too recessed for reliably effective pressing. I found that the glossy-plastic earpieces scratched and scuffed fairly easily, so consider using a bag or case to transport the headphones.

The SA950i looks much better than its $60 price tag would lead you to expect, and it delivers fun sound, with a slight high-end emphasis that makes cymbals sparkle. High frequencies are distinct, though they lack the realism of the treble reproduction found in higher-end models. The SA950i also has a low-end boost that provides strong bass response, including kick drums with substantial impact.

Bass quality is good overall, though it possesses some of the flab that I've come to expect from sealed (non-in-ear) headphones. Neither the highs nor the lows overwhelm the midrange, which is pleasant and offers good detail. The headset also does a good job of communicating subtleties that give music its drive. Beyond tighter bass and better high-frequency detail, the primary thing missing from the SA950i is the je ne sais quoi of higher-end models that draws a listener fully into the music.

But let's not lose perspective here: We're talking about an attractive set of on-ear headphones with a three-button remote/microphone and pleasant sound for $60. The SA950i is a great value.

(The SA950i is available from Amazon and at Apple's retail stores, though not the online Apple Store.)

Skullcandy Navigator

Skullcandy's $150 sunglasses-inspired Roc Nation Aviator was the best looking headset the company had ever released. It also showed the headphone world that Skullcandy was serious about making good-sounding headphones. With the $100 Navigator, Skullcandy has downsized that stylish look, retaining some of the sophistication of the B&W P5 but adding a little edge. If the P5 is Don Draper, the Aviator and Navigator are more Indiana Jones or the Rocketeer.

The Navigator features sunglass-lens-like earpieces, similar to those found on the Aviator; they're available in solid black or white, or semi-transparent pink or (my favorite) blue. Each version comes with a color-matched headband. I miss the brown leather and gold trim of the Aviator, but these are still great-looking headphones.

The Navigator's cable attaches to the left earpiece with a 2.5mm (sub-mini) 90-degree plug that fits into a recessed port. The earpads (or "ear pillows," as the company calls them) have a leather texture, with a mesh grille on the inside shaped like the company's logo. The headphones also fold (again like sunglasses) into a smaller shape that fits in the included drawstring carrying bag. Skullcandy provides both a lifetime warranty against manufacturing defects and a one-year accident warranty that amounts to a 50-percent discount on new headphones in the event of accidental damage.

 

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