2015 Editors’ Choice: Headphones $400 or Less

Equipment report
Bowers & Wilkins P3,
Bowers & Wilkins P5,
Grado Laboratories Grado SR60i headphones,
HiFiMAN HE-400,
2015 Editors’ Choice: Headphones $400 or Less

Grado SR60i
One of the great audio bargains, the SR60i has the signature Grado midrange excellence. It also delivers just enough midbass warmth to satisfy, though for bandwidth, low-level detail, and neutrality, you can do better if you pay more.

Bowers & Wilkins P3
B&W’s P3 on-ear headphones are compact, ergonomically satisfying, and beautifully made. Neutrally balanced and harmonically correct, it has a midrange our reviewer described as “a thing of beauty,” staking out that elusive middle ground between “too warm and rich, and too lean and analytical.”

Bowers & Wilkins P5
The P5’s balance is attractive, especially if you value a clear midrange. Its treble is also better than most. Instruments and voices are conveyed with a smoothness and level of detail reminiscent of the way things sound in life. Seductive-sounding, comfortable, easy to drive, and relatively portable.

HiFiMAN HE-400
The planar-magnetic HE-400 is quite well balanced, and unusually open and transparent for its price. It’s also better than most at revealing subtle inner details in the music. The effect is like a “junior” version of the firm’s superb HE-500. Can be driven by an iPod but sounds best when pushed by a good portable amp.

PSB Speakers M4U 2
Designed and developed by PSB’s Paul Barton, the M4U 2 is one of the cleverest, most wellthought- out, and best-executed headphones on the market. It boasts a wonderfully extended and neutral tonal balance, with voicing that deliberately adds a touch of bass lift to emulate the low-frequency “room gain” most loudspeakers enjoy. Very good, though not class-leading, in clarity and dynamic swagger, the M4U 2 also offers active noise-cancelling to suppress background noise. If you only plan on owning one headphone for all possible listening contexts, strongly consider this one.