Meet the new small-business productivity tool: headphones. That's right, you heard us. Portable audio devices have spawned a new generation of discriminating audiophiles who use music to help them think more clearly, to relax and, generally, to be more productive at the office. And that means there's demand for a new generation of headphones that, when used properly, can turn long flights, cramped cubicles and even busy home offices into focused zones of workplace excellence. Here's a look at our favorites.
Best entry-level sealed headphones
Beyerdynamic DT 235 ($60)
Made by German audio legend Beyerdynamic, the DT 235 sets the bar for fit over the ear--and for blocking outside noise. This surprisingly comfortable set will drive out the drone of your next business flight, without the need for finicky or pricey active noise-reduction technology. Great sound at a great price.
Best in-ear headphones with mic
Woodees W100B ($50)
Better-known headphone makers such as Ultimate Ears, Shure and Etymotic Research make quality ear buds with microphones built in. But Woodees, in Baton Rouge, La., gets the nod for small-business use. Excellent audio quality, crisp voice sound on calls and, believe it or not, a comfy, natural-feeling wood make these the pick of the in-ear litter.
Best midprice active noise-reduction headphones
Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7B ($220)
Active noise-reduction headphones are based on a strange concept: They make their own noise to keep other noise out. But they work, and, for our money, Stow, Ohio-based Audio-Technica and its ANC7B is the way to go. Slim and foldable, these work great on the plane and in the office. Put them on to drown out the world and get some work done.
Best midprice luxe headphones
Bowers and Wilkins P5 ($300)
Lavished with ridiculous technologies such as Mylar diaphragms and neodymium magnets that render sound oh so crisply, the P5s are fabulous-looking, top-quality headphones that fold up and fit in your bags. Not exactly cheap, but these headphones offer remarkable audio quality and design for the money.
Hands-down best headphones (if cost is no object)
Sennheiser HD 800 ($1,400)
These are, quite simply, the best. The sound is clear to the point of absurdity. Using a quality headphone amp and proper cables, you can have a true audiophile experience while sitting right at your desk. If you want to hear what sound is supposed to sound like, give the 800 a listen. Nothing else compares.