5 Awesome Headphones That Won't Overwhelm Your Head

Ditch your crap earbuds for a pair of my favorite compact, stylish headphones

Aug 3, 2014 at 12:00pm | Leave a comment

Headphones are a legit fashion accessory now that a bunch of celebrities either make them or wear them at all times. But as cool as a pair of Beats Studios may look around Katie Holmes' neck, it does not escape my notice that those things are way huge on her.
 
The Dr Dres, 50 Cents, and Tim Tebows of the world might prefer giant cans on their heads, but some of us are looking for headphones with a smaller profile. Good thing it's far easier to find a non-bulky, attractive, premium headphone now than it was just a year ago.
 
Before I get into that, I can hear some of you gearing up to tell me that the solution to this problem is earbuds. They come free with every phone and iPod and have long been a status symbol that screams I have an iThing, hear me roar!
 
I'm here to tell you: Earbuds are crap. 
 
Especially the ones that come with most smartphones and MP3 players. They sit precariously outside your ear canal (if they stay), delivering the tinniest, stingiest audio quality in the history of ever.
 
No matter how you dress them up or rebrand them as "EarPods," they are still terrible.
 
In-ear headphones can be better, especially on the high end. They still represent a problem for me: putting things deep in my ear.
 
And I do have to go deep in order for them to stay. That hurts after a while.
 
Plus, you know what else is deep inside your ear? Wax. Cleaning the little rubber tips so they don't get gross is not how I want to spend my time.
 
Trust me: headphones. Compact, stylish headphones that let you experience music the way it was intended. Not only do they make a fashion statement, but good ones will block out a lot of the noise around you.
 
This includes unwanted comments from harassing assholes on the street. Walking at a brisk pace with sunglasses on my face and the V-Moda XS on my head eliminates 90% of nonsense. I can legit say I did not hear what that gross guy had to say and my lack of reaction gives him no satisfaction.
 
Of the many headphones, I have owned and tried, there are a few I really like (and one pair I love). To prove how awesome they are I grabbed my favorite selfie cam and took to the streets to show them off.
 
V-Moda XS ($200) 
 
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The XS are, hands down, my absolute favorite headphones. I wear these almost every day and only give them up when I go to the gym. They can probably handle some sweat, but I don't want to chance ruining them, even a little bit.
 
Even among high-end headphones you see a lot of plastic construction that isn't very durable. The XS are made from metal with leather accents. I don't get nervous every time I fold or unfold them and I never worry that the band will break or the fabric cord will fray as it's reinforced with Kevlar. 
 
V-Moda designed the XS specifically with women in mind, so the headband hugs the head closer than most other models and the hexagonal shape of the earcups fits on ears more comfortably than circular ones.
 
The cups press to the ears and head just enough to stay on, even when I dance around, and not so much that it hurts after an hour. 
 
Audio quality is phenomenal. No matter what kind of music you listen to, it will sound better coming from the XS. The audio is designed to bring out whatever the artist intended with the music and doesn't add extra bass or mess with the soundscape.
 
 
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For those of you who are into having more bass in everything you listen to without having to mess with equalizer settings, check out the Inspiration Lite.
 
Once again, these are designed specifically for women. They're a smaller, lighter version of Monster's Inspiration headphones which sound and look great but are big and take over the whole side of your head.
 
The Lite version keeps the rectangular earcup and elegant, steamlined style. They feel good on the ear and are a bit more comfortable if you wear glasses, like I do.
 
The Inspiration Lite is not yet out in the US (next month!). When it is it'll come in black and white/silver. You can spice it up and customize a bit with interchangeable headband accents that come in many different colors and patterns.
 
 
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Looking for headphones with a seriously small profile? You want these.
 
Harman Kardon has a long history of making great audio products. So even though the Sohos have very small earcups they produce big sound.
 
You won't get as much blocking of outside noise as you will with the V-Moda XS, but you may prefer that.
 
Just like the XS these are made of metal with leather accents and feel sturdy and not like they will fall apart even if you toss them, unprotected, to the bottom of your purse. No need to be so callous since they come with a cute carrying case.
 
Beats Solo 2 ($200) 
 
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Beats by Dre are among the most popular headphones and a favorite among the brand conscious fashionistas. Nothing wrong with that, I say. And look, there's even a model that isn't giant and overwhelming.
 
The Solo 2 comes in several colors, including pink lady pink and the red associated with all Beats products. I prefer the gray/blue ones you see above. 
 
Though the Solos aren't as big as the other headphones in the Beats line, they have larger earcups than the XS or the Soho and make a bigger arc over your head.
 
If you have a than less-petite-head (as I do), this isn't a bad thing. The round earcups sit on the ears and boast very cushiony padding. They work best for people who don't wear glasses.
 
 
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By now you're probably wondering if I am ever going to mention headphones that cost less than $200. There are some really good ones for around $100 and a few under that price point that may surprise you with their superior sound.
 
The best ones are usually bulky and/or ugly. That's not what we're here for.
 
The exception is these cool headphones from Urbanears. The Humlan have a slim profile, come in a variety of fashionable colors, and the fabric parts are machine washable.
 
Wear them to the gym or out on a hot day and, once they get sweaty, remove the soft bits, put them in the included bag, and toss them in the laundry with your clothes.
 
At this price you're not going to get mind-blowing audio quality nor are these guaranteed to last you for years and years. But at least they're a significant step up from earbuds.
 
What are your favorite headphones? Have you found a bargain pair that's worth way more than the small price tag?