With the gift-giving season well underway, we know you only have a few days to squeeze in last purchases. A pair of headphones are key for any music-lover, but certain models are more suited specifically to capture the nuances of musical theatre cast albums more than others. So if your music-lover is truly a musicAL-lover, we did the legwork to find the best options on the market. Playbill polled Broadway professionals to find out which headphones they preferred to get the most out of their cast recordings and theatre albums.
Here are the 5 leading headphones Broadway professionals pick up when they want to make the most of their music:
Bose QuietComfort 35 II (Wireless Noise-Canceling Headphones) ($349 on Amazon)
The QuietComfort 35 II finally allow users to adjust the level of noise cancellation. But, while you can customize noise cancellation, Bose controls the EQ, or equalizer precision. The most discerning listeners will want this control for themselves, but others will be drawn to the fact that Bose takes the guesswork out of it. Though Bose may forego precision of sound (you won’t hear every last nuance, but you also won’t hear flaws), the result is a warm and rich listening experience. Buttons on the base of the ear cup control volume, track, play/pause, on/off, and noise-canceling. Bose also have up to 20 hours of battery life from a rechargeable lithium-ion battery (and up to 40 hours in wired mode). Bose are among the most popular headphones out there, and even Consumer Reports rates them in their top selections for noise-canceling headphones. Most other high-end companies have caught up to, or surpassed Bose in terms of noise-canceling capabilities, user-friendly features, and overall value.
Sennheiser PXC 550 (Wireless Noise-Canceling Headphones) ($299 on Amazon)
The PXC 550s provide a clear, dynamic sound and come with NoiseGard adaptive noise cancellation. The headphones also include customizable sound modes, which can be adjusted through the CapTune app for iOS and Android by using the touch-sensitive controls on the outer left ear cup.
Sennheiser HD 280 PRO ($99.95 on Amazon)
The HD 280 Pro is Sennheiser’s closed, around-the-ear headphone to be introduced in years. Designed to prioritize precision of sound—which means you hear the album exactly as made—the HD 280 Pro boasts robust construction combined with the sound quality, modular design, and aggressive noise isolation. These are best if you plan to mix an album of your own. The unique collapsible design, combined with swiveling ear cups, offers maximum flexibility in any application.
Sennheiser CX 200 Street II ($21.79 on Amazon)
These ultra-compact ear-canal phones feature an innovative finger-contoured design for easy adjustment and optimal wearing for in-ear comfort. The CX 200 Street II headphones also have a high passive attenuation of ambient noise and powerful bass-driven sound.
Sony MDR-1000XM2 (Wireless Noise-Canceling Headphones) (On sale for $299 on Amazon)
The MDR-1000XM2 are Sony’s better-performing equivalent to the Bose QuietComfort 35, and the two are often compared in the latest reviews. The Sonys have a slightly more natural and dynamic sound compared to the Bose. They beat out both Bose and Beats for clarity of sound. Both headphones can be used wireless or wired, and the Sonys open up the sound further when wired. The MDR-1000XM2s come with an iPhone/Android app that allows for greater customization of your listening experience—from equalizer settings to the extent and shape of the noise canceling feature. Another major draw for the MDR-1000XM2: Instead of blindly searching to find buttons, the outer shell of the right ear cup is touch sensitive, allowing you to play, pause, and adjust volume with the swipe of a finger. Holding your hand over the outside of the right ear cup disables the noise-canceling feature, allowing city dwellers to hear subway announcements. The Sonys have a 40mm driver that pairs with the LDAC codec and DSEE HX software to provide Hi-Res Audio playback. This is key. (Bose, for the record, does not release any of this information.) The MDR-1000XM2 promise up to 30 hours of wireless noise-canceling playback, with a ten-minute quick-charging feature that gives you 70 minutes of play.
Note: Bose does not publish any product specs (frequency response, sensitivity, impedance, or the ways in which its noise-canceling works, etc.) while every other manufacturer tells you the precise capabilities of each of their products.
Our advice: When you’re spending this kind of money, you should know what you’re getting.
Our top pick out of the list: The Sony MDR-1000XM2.