The Underrated Upgrades – Audio Part 1

This is a particular section that I hold dear to my heart as an audiophile. Now this upgrade isn’t nearly as underrated as the seating on, but I feel like it is often left out of people’s budget. I’m going to try to keep this within a reasonable budget but I’m also going to provide some higher end sound options for those of you with deeper pockets.

Headphones

Now before you read all of this and get upset because I didn’t list your headset that you think is great. As a general rule of thumb I do not recommend gaming headsets because 9 out of 10 times you pay for a lot of marketing and get an inferior product. Also I am going to provide a mix of in ear, on ear, and over the ear headphones.

$15 – $50 USD

With most products in the budget category sacrifices are made somewhere in the product in order to offer it at such a low price, in the headphone market this is usually between Build Quality and Sound Quality. I won’t list anything that is just terrible in here, but some products will have great sound but feel cheap and vise versa.

Koss KSC75 – $15 USD

I owned a pair of these headphones when I was 11, my budget was pretty modest and I needed some decent headphones so I could listen to music that wouldn’t break the bank. Honestly for $15 you’d be hard pressed to find a soundstage as even as these. Now these headphones are made of plastic and feel pretty cheap but if you take care of them they should be fine. For those of you who are bass heads you should probable shy away because the bass can be pretty weak.

Panasonic RP-HTF600 – $28 (Amazon)

I’m a huge fan of over ear headphones because I find earbuds to be uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time. The RP-HTF600 is a solid entry in to the budget over the ear headphone market. As a musician I have bought a lot of headphones over the years of varying quality for one reason of another and I came across the Panasonic RP-HTF600’s while I was in High School as a budding keyboardist. These cans are incredibly bassy, the attacks on the bass are kind of weak but these things will still rattle your ear drums. The cable is really long on these so they are good for people whose PCs are a little bit of a distance away. The build quality is meh, but like I said, sacrifices must be made somewhere and the sound on these a pretty good.

Monoprice 8323 – $21

Monoprice makes good, well….everything. Ok that is a bit of an exaggeration, but they really make a wide variety of great products that are incredibly cheap. The 8323’s are no exception coming in at only $21. Now these headphones I don’t have an incredible amount of experience with. These cans I bought for my brother because I trust Monoprice and he needed a new set, but boy was a blown away by these. They have a removable cable which is always the first thing to fail on a pair of headphones and at this price range removable cables is usually unheard of. The build quality is nice and the mids really shine through on these. Unfortunately after long periods of use they can become pretty uncomfortable as they are really tight on the head, but then again I have a big head so your milage may vary.

Sennheiser HD 202 – $24

Sennheiser has been a well trusted brand among audiophiles for years and the HD 202s are no different. Although they don’t quite have the frequency response or soundstage of some of their more expensive brothers they are still a very solid pair of headphones at a great price. I personally don’t really have much experience with these, but they are talked about regularly on HeadFi as being a solid pair of budget headphones that will treat you right if you treat them right.

Sony XB500 – ~$50 

S-S-SSSuper bass, seriously these headphones are so bassy that it muddies the mids and the highs a bit. I am still recommending these because they are incredibly comfortable and are still fun to listen to if you are looking for a teeth rattler. I picked up a pair of these before a trip out of the country because I didn’t want to risk any of my nicer pair of cans. Just don’t try to listen to metal on these because it just sounds awful, the kick drum just overpowers everything. These may be discontinued, but they can be picked up on Ebay as cheaply as $25 in some cases. I bought them for $50 new.

$50 – $100 USD

Now this is when we start getting in to the meat of things. For most audiophiles this is still considered budget as many have $600+ cans.

Sony MDR-V6/7506 – ~$70 

If you are looking to step up your headphone game a bit without making a trip to the bank and watch as your bank account quickly depletes to support your audio addiction….. not that I would know what that’s like… then these are the cans for you. Sony makes a wide variety of headphones from the cheapest consumer pieces to cans trusted by professionals everywhere. These headphones have remarkable sound considering their price. They have a very neutral sound which means that no one pitch overpowers the other, but unfortunately in the case of these headphones their sound can be a bit flat. I still highly recommend these because their neutral sound offers a wide range of listening experiences.

HiFiMan RE-400 – $79 (Amazon)

Now for those of you who travel and need a good pair of noise isolating headphones then these in-ear headphones are where it is at. HifiMan is well known for making some very technical headphones and these are no different. Now although the bass can be weak I wouldn’t say that these headphones are clinical because the mids are still very pronounced so a wide variety of music can be enjoyed, but rap/hip-hop lovers are left out in the cold.

Audio-Technica ATH-AD700 – ~$80

Alright so if you are someone who likes to listen to a lot of classical music which in most cases caters to sharp clarity then these cans are for you. Now while these over the ear headphones are all about the details they can often feel like audio razorblades because they are just so precise. The sound feels very cold and clinical, but for competitive FPS gamers this is ideal as it will allow you to pick apart what is going on around you.

Fostex T50RP – ~$90

These cans sound great and are heralded by the audio community as one of the most easily modifiable headphones on the market. I picked up a pair for some modding applications and after a lot of trial and error they sound just as good as some headphones that I have experienced that cost in the $300 range.  Now one downside to these headphones is they are ugly as hell. Usually how a set of cans looks doesn’t bother me, but holy sweet god these are ugly. Un-modded these sound pretty neutral without being overly technical, but with mods the sky is the limit. For those of you who are interested in modding, you can buy an excellent kit from Mayflower Electronics. Now keep in mind if you plan on modding these you may need to buy (or build) an amplifier to get the volume you are looking for.

Grado SR80e – $100

Now these headphones I don’t personally own, but my friends know how much I love listening to different pairs so I often get a lot on loan. I have roughly 40 hours of experience with these cans so I’m no expert, but in my short listening time if there was one thing that stuck out pretty strong was the treble. These cans are BRIGHT which isn’t really my preference, but drum tracks sound great and gun fire in FPS games sounds amazing. Hearing bullets slap the walls around me in Metro was truly terrifying. Now comfort was a major issue with these in my opinion because I have a large head and the band pressed hard on the top of my head. Now you can greatly improve the comfort of these on the cheap with a little weather stripping tap from a hardware store. I recommend this stuff. Now that link is to a hardware store in the US, this is just to show the product I am referring to I’m sure you can find something similar in other areas.

$100 – $200

This price range is usually the cap for PC gamers unless they have other applications in mid for their setup so this is where I am going to stop even though I have a lot of experience with higher tier headphones.

Creative Aurvana Live 2! – $105

Now at times these headphones can be found as low as $60 as matter of fact they are on sale on Amazon US right now. These cans are great for general purpose listening because they have really strong bass while still having super clean mids and highs. I was super impressed with these cans as they as incredibly comfortable and even have a removable cable. The isolation in these are mediocre, but that isn’t really a selling point for me as I usually game in a quiet area.

Audio Technica M50x ~$150

If you can pick these up manufacturer refurb DO IT. This usually knocks $50 off the price and because of their popularity you can usually find a lot of these. These cans have good solid bass highs without overpowering each other. The mids are pretty weak on these, but that is a sacrifice many of us are willing to make. These cans are super popular among musicians as they fold up nicely, have a removable cable, and are super comfortable. These are my number 1 pick for gamers who have a decent budget because they just sound great across a wide variety of games and remain comfortable after MANY hours of continuous use.

Dunu DN-1000 – $150

If you are looking for good in-ear headphones with nice punchy bass then these are the headphones for you. This is another pair I got on loan (don’t worry I always use my own tips on these things). These things are CLEAR which is a rare find for ear buds outside of true in ear monitors. The bass is pretty heavy without being muddy although the highs can be a bit sharp at time depending on what you are listening to, highly dependent. The sound isolation is pretty good but will diminish as the rubber tips age.

Beyerdynamic Dt990 Pro 250 Ohm – $180

Now before you go out and buy any DT any model from Beyerdynamic there is something you HAVE to keep in mind and that is the resistance on each pair (Ohms). So far throughout this entire article I have not included a single pair of headphones that require a separate amplifier, but I am including these because I am actually using a pair as I write this article. Unfortunately I do not have any experience with the 32Ohm model which will have a different sound. This model out of all of the DT series has the most recessed mid so its sound is very V shaped with incredible bass and pretty sharp highs. Psychedelic Rock from any era is really fun to listen to with these cans. I have played a lot of CS:GO as well as other shooters with these on and footstep clarity is amazing, I have often been accused of using wall-hacks because of it. Despite its V-shaped sound these cans are great for day to day gaming with its downfalls only really noticed when listening to certain genres of music. For a cheap headphone Amp if you feel like a little DIY I recommend you build this little guy.  If not the same company sells pre-built models. If there is a lot of interest I may do a video build guide for this one.

Audio Technica ATH-AD900x – $200

Shoot for the closed back version of these which while unfortunately have been discontinued can still be bought on Ebay. The closed back version will give much stronger bass and better sound isolation, but if you must the open back ones are $50 cheaper and while have weaker bass have a wider sound stage. Either model is incredibly clear and super comfortable and is just all around a great pair of headphones.

Conclusion…sorta

Ok so even though I would like to list headphones $200+ I realize It’s likely for naught just based on comments on previous articles about what you guys are willing to spend on different things. I also was going to include microphones but this article is already incredibly long so I am going to save microphones for next week so stay tuned.

Let me know what you thought of this article below in the comments. I love talking about audio so ask any and all questions you have, I will TRY to get to all of them.

Matt Followell

Matt Followell is another contributing author here at DSOGaming. A long time fan of PC Gaming and a huge supporter of the open source and homebrew movement. You’ll see him interacting with the community from time to time going by the user-name of Radapples. Contact: Email