Best headphones: 10 top headphones for sound quality

High-end headband and in-ear headphones

Available in black and white, the X7i has a flat cable that coils up instead of tangling, though there's much more to it than most cables, and it can drag the earphones downwards slightly.

Onkyo ES-HF300 - £180/US$180 (around AU$280)

Best headphones 10 top headphones for sound quality
Debut cans are some of the best-judged streetwear yet

Size-wise the Onkyo ES-HF300s are smaller than traditional on-ear headband models, weighing 244g (8.6oz) and sporting machine-engineered aluminium and a soft-touch plastic band that looks simple yet special. The sound inside the soft enclosing ear cups is equally special, with bass-heavy though richly detailed sonics that aren't dissimilar to the Sennheiser Momentums'. They're closed-back, too, and in use don't spill out much sound at all.

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They are, however, not perfect. Although they fold flat, it's an outward movement that leaves cold, hard metal on skin if you hang them around your neck. Ouch. We're also not massively keen on the ES-HF300's one unique feature, its 'audiophile-grade' 110cm (43.3-inch) cable that detaches under stress. It uses two proprietary gold-plated MMCX connectors that pop out of the cups if, for example, the wheels of your office chair run them down, though in that scenario you could be left having to expensively replace the cables anyhow.

Also, the cable is Y-shaped so connects to both cups for maximum clutter (though they are attached at the back, so can be kept out of the way). On the plus side, the cable is rigid enough to curl instead of tangling.

Judged purely on sound, size and good looks, Onkyo's ES-HF300 are exceptionally versatile all-rounders for use at home, in the office or while travelling - though there are no smartphone navigation controls.

Grado Prestige Series SR125i - £195/US$150 (around AU$300)

Best headphones 10 top headphones for sound quality
Retro hi-fi headphones for the home

The Grado Prestige Series SR125i is an open-back model that sits on the ears, spilling sound out all over the place and doing nothing to cut out surrounding sonic annoyance - so they're best used at home in quiet environments where you can't disturb anyone.

That's where they do best, anyhow, with a thick, straight crystal coper cable reaching 1.5m, compete with an unusual 6.35mm jack plug, though an adaptor is also supplied. These plus the lack of a carry case provide a few of clues as to the SR125i's favoured source; an amplifier.

Even if you haven't got a high-end hi-fi, these nicely retro-designed headphones are a class act with most music. There's a remarkable amount of detail hewn from all kinds of sources amid a balanced mix, though don't expect buckets of bass. Low frequency is handled very well, but you won't hear driving bass lines.

So, so comfortable and likely to become your favourite thing if used heavily, the thoroughly professional-grade SR125is - which weigh 220g (7.8oz) including the permanently attached audio cable - make for a fine investment for the home. Just keep them there.

PSB M4U 1 - £200/US$300 (around AU$310)

Best headphones 10 top headphones for sound quality
Bulky but brilliantly realistic passive perfection

Completely passive and without any noise cancelling, PSB's M4U 1 headphones are nevertheless exquisitely designed and solid in terms of construction. Inside of the polycarbonate outer headband are the two ear cups, which rock gently in their sockets thanks to some clever gyro suspension that makes them some of the comfiest around.

Weighing 326g (11.5oz) and shipping with an extra set of soft foam ear cup pads, PSB has thought of everything; only one ear need be hooked up to an audio cable, though the choice is yours, which ought to suit both lefties and righties. The cable stretches to an impressive 150cm (59 inches) long, with an extra one supplied with an in-line instant mute and call answering for iPhone and Blackberry owners.

There's also a 6.35mm jack plug adaptor and a two-prong airline seat adaptor included, though the final accessory - a round hard case that somehow manages to house the folded up headphones - adds an extra 183g (6.5oz) and is too deep for storing easily in your hand luggage. That could be said for the PSB M4U 1s as a whole - they're pretty big, though hardly heavy.