Best Songs for Testing Wireless Over-Ear HeadphonesMusic industry insiders talk about how to pick the right over-ear headphones.Published: April 09, 2019
In the market for wireless over-ear headphones? We’ve got you covered. We know what you’re thinking: so many options! Which is why we enlisted experts from around the music industry —from artists to composers—to dish on how they pick out the right headphones. They told us what to look for (clarity, aesthetics), what to listen to (Sade, Bruno Mars), and picked their favorite out of our top 10. Now you can test out their methods at your favorite local, and you’re sure to find the perfect wireless over-ear headphones for you.
Brooklyn-based artist VÉRITÉ released her debut album, Somewhere in Between, in June 2017. Known for penning alt-pop gems, we thought she was the perfect person to educate us about why Sade’s “Hang on to My Love” is the perfect headphone-testing tune, and why you should go for aesthetics when it comes to over-ear headphones.
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H4
If I'm not using studio headphones for critical listening, I go for aesthetic and I love the way these headphones look.
“Phase Me Out,” VÉRITÉ
I know every one of my songs so well, when anything is off with balance or harshness in headphones, I’m able to distinguish what it is.
“Hang on to My Love,” Sade
My front of house engineer always checks PA systems with this song. He says it’s to distinguish low-end issues in speakers. The same logic can be applied to testing headphones.
“Uptown Funk,” Bruno Mars
This song is so familiar with live elements and pop production. You’re getting all frequencies from the sub bass to the hiss of the vocal.
After years playing dive bars and making ends meet with dull administrative day jobs, TOMI caught a break: RCA Records signed her in 2016 on the strength of her early demos. The Los Angeles-based artist talked to us about Beach House, bass, and the excellent mix in her Sennheisers.
Sennheiser PXC 550
Sennheiser headphones are my favorite because of their overall mix balance. There is enough bass to headbang, enough high end to hear the lyrics, and enough mid to move you. These are my go-to headphones.
“Myth,” Beach House
As soon as this song comes on I feel like I’m floating, it’s a perfect song to test out texture and clarity. This song is great with over-ear headphones because of its vast sonic space and its ability to fit so much sound into an intimate listening experience.
“Drunk In Love,” Beyonce
When I need my 808 fix I blast this song. It’s a great way to hear how your headphones process sub. You’ll need a solid pair of over-ears to carry the bass without crushing it.
“Strandbar,” Todd Terje
There’s nothing like a dramatic instrumental build to get your ears tingling. This song goes on a journey of textures, tones, and pure fantasy. It’s a great test for presence and overall punch.
Guitarist Sulene van der Walt has played everywhere from dimly lit Brooklyn clubs to the East Room of the White House (seriously). Her voice has been featured in film and TV, and her debut EP, Strange, came out in 2017. We talked with van der Walt about Bose’s top-tier sound quality, and why gang vocals can help you find the perfect pair of over-ear headphones for you.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II
Bose has a reputation for having the best sound quality and these headphones are definitely no exception.
“Might Not Make It Home,” LPX
This song has a big chorus with live drums and gang vocals. Listening with a great pair of over-ear headphones, you’d be able to grasp the full scope and depth of the sound.
“The Spot,” Your Smith
I’d test over-ear headphones with this song because it has a more intimate arrangement while still incorporating a lot of organic “band” sounds—with the right pair, you’d feel how these balance each other out.
This song has more of a live-band arrangement. If you can gauge the whole spectrum of the performance of the live instruments when you’re testing over-ear headphones, you’ve found a good pair.
Dylan Lewis is a New York-based musician and music industry professional who has held roles in digital sales and marketing at record labels and music distribution companies including The Orchard.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II
I picked these because I needed a pair of headphones for air travel and commuting that provided isolation without sacrificing sound quality and added comfort.
Mahler's 5th symphony, 1st movement, Berliner Philharmoniker
With over-ear headphones, usually the listener is searching for isolation. Mahler's 5th Symphony allows you to hear not only individually mic’d voices, but an entire body of musicians with dramatic fluctuations in dynamics all while transporting you to a room where all of those musicians were during the recording process.
“Non Photo Blue,” Pinback
If you can hear the picking of the bass and guitar in a way that makes you feel like they are taped to the inside of the cups without distorting, you found a good pair of over-ear headphones.
“Body Love,” IDER
Listen to the two lead vocals and convince yourself they are not the same person while the bass kicks in during the second chorus. You'll know if the bass response is money if you feel a gentle massage of the brain, thanks to a good pair of drivers.
Missy Scheinberg works at Lunatic Entertainment, an Australian music management company. Scheinberg’s current roster includes CHVRCHES, The Temper Trap, Gang Of Youths, and More.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II
I'd go with the Quiddity top-rated for the over-ear pick. Bose is the absolute top when it comes to sound quality and noise cancellation, which are definitely the most important characteristics in over-ear headphones. She stressed the importance of hip hop, why clean vocals help identify good headphones, and how electronic music can really pop with over-ear models.
“John Cage,” Ross From Friends
Over-ear headphones are much more about picking out the complexities, so a good starting point would be a lo-fi house instrumental number like “John Cage” that's more about layered beats, pitched samples, and how these electronic elements fit together.
Kllo is a perfect example of an act who uses sparse production and instrumentation but in a very specific, layered way that is really best heard in all of its intricacies—and the addition of clean, glossy vocals makes it an entirely different beast than a lo-fi house tune like “John Cage.”
“CLOUT COBAIN,” Denzel Curry
And finally, it would be very important to test a hip-hop track, as hip-hop is similarly complex but tends to work very differently underneath rapped vocals (as there's less of a melody) than singing.