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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.

In an improvement on the P5, the P3 folds into a smaller package, though the P3's earpieces don't swivel to the degree that the P5's do, making the P3 slightly less comfortable to wear. I liked the P3's rigid clamshell carrying case, which offers more protection than the P5's quilted carrying bag. Like other B&W models, the P3's remote and microphone module is perfectly cylindrical except for a depression that indicates the location of the center button. This makes the center button easy to press, but it's also hard to determine the front of the volume up and down buttons, making them hard to press.

Moving directly from the Navigator to the P3, I noticed improvement in the treble frequencies, which also do a better job of standing up to the P3's bass. However, though the P3 dials back the bass in comparison to the Navigator, the bass is still excessive and a little sloppy. As a result, the P3's midrange frequencies, which are recessed relative to the low and high frequencies--are largely overwhelmed by the low frequencies. Overall, I liked the P3's sound better than the Navigator's, but I still found listening to the P3 for long periods of time to be fatiguing.

I borrowed a friend's P5 headset to assess how it sounded next to the P3--and using the P5 after the P3 was a revelation. Not only did I get the luxurious feel of the P5's leather, but the sound was vastly superior. Bass was tighter and extended deeper; high frequencies were more detailed, and the P5's lovely midrange was clearly audible against the bass. The P5's sound isn't strictly neutral (it still has slightly exaggerated bass), and it isn't the last word in detail (it errs on the warm side), but it's well-balanced and exceedingly pleasant to listen to, a quality that the P3 is somewhat deficient in.

V-Moda Crossfade M--80 v2

V-Moda made its name with bass-heavy, in-ear headphones, and the company's older $200 Crossfade LP is a full-size offering that continues that bass-heavy sound signature. In making a more portable version of the Crossfade LP, however, the company signaled that the resulting Crossfade M--80 targeted audiophiles.

The M--80 (as well as the V--80, a version featuring branding and design touches from HBO's True Blood television show) has remarkably solid metal, plastic, and cloth construction. The design is much more angular, industrial, and edgy than any of the other headphones here; it won't be to everyone's taste, but I think it looks great. The headphones are available in shadow (black/dark gray) and pearl (white/light gray) color schemes. Notably, you can customize the outside of each earpiece with interchangeable "shield" faceplates that are available in various of colors, with optional text or logos (including the option to submit a custom logo). You get an additional pair of shields free if you purchase the M--80 directly from V-Moda, or you can purchase them later for $25 per pair.


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