Office Headphones

I’ve been meaning to get some headphones to keep at the office for a while. About a month ago I started doing some research, inspired by Amazon’s Black Friday deals and watching Jason Fried’s TEDx talk about interruptions. Here is what I’ve gleaned so far.

There are three basic kinds of headphone designs that are currently popular:

  1. In-ear – the little earbud design that you insert into your ear. These typically provide noise isolation.
  2. Open air – an over the head design with big ear cups that are open to let sound escape and create a more natural sound. These are considered to deliver the best overall sound quality.
  3. Closed – an over the head design with big ear cups that keeps sound in. Also referred to as “monitor” style headphones. These often include noise isolation or active noise reduction (for travel on airplanes, etc.).

I’ve read a bunch of reviews and gotten a series of recommendations regarding specific models. I’ve always been pleased with Sennheisers and they seem to be well regarded; Grados seems to be universally considered even better for open air headphones. I’ve also had recommendations for Shure and Bowsers & Wilkins for closed options. These aren’t cheap, but they seem to be a reasonable balance between budget cans and the ultra-expensive models. I expect to get a few years out of them.

For use at the office, with our open floorplan, it seems that open air style headphones are probably not appropriate. They, by design, allow sound to leak out which means people nearby can also hear what you’re listening to. I don’t really like the in-ear design due to comfort preference and concern over durability.

This is the first time in ages that I’ve done research in detail like this for something to buy and to be honest, I got fatigued by it. I guess I don’t enjoy this type of immersive shopping as much as I used to.

Ultimately, I ended up getting the Shure SRH840s1 and I’ve been pleased with them. They are balanced, monitor-style headphones – you get a sound true to the original recording (if you want heavy bass, look elsewhere). From what I’ve read, they should sound even better once I get more hours logged on them and they “break in” a bit more. Initial feedback from the rest of the team on them has been positive as well.

  1. Actually, I got them for the whole team. We will be in temporary office space in early 2011 while our office is remodeled, so this will help give everyone a quiet work environment no matter where we end up during that time. [back]