The Top Rated Portable Headphones Of 2012

by Justin Thomas •

Bowers and Wilkins P5

The Top Rated Portable Headphones Of 2011:

To create this list, I examined some of the most comprehensive headphone reviews available online. I also scouted Hi-Fi forums for recommendations, and I tested many portable headphones myself.

My top review sources for this article were: CNET, Consumer Reports, PC Magazine, Good Cans, Good Gear Guide, Amazon reviewers, Trusted Reviews, and Headphones.Com.

Portapro Headphone By Koss ($32)

Koss Portapro Headphone

Top Review Sources:

  • CNET: 4 out of 5 stars, which they consider “Excellent” & received Editor’s Choice Of 2008
  • Amazon Reviewers: an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars from 832 reviewers

For the last 27 years, the Koss Portapro has been a top pick as an inexpensive portable headphone. Basically, the excellent sound quality and price of the Portapro are the keys to its staying power. Koss hasn’t change the inner and outer design of Portapro since it was introduced in 1984.

The Koss Portapro is available from Amazon. Many reviewers also recommend the $13 Koss KSC75 which has a “sport clip” design — something that many prefer to the heftier Portapro.

Sennheiser HD238 Headphone ($49)

Sennheiser HD238 Headphone


  • Excellent sound
  • Comfortable
  • Great value for money


  • May leak too much sound for commuters

Top Review Sources:

  • Headphone.Com: “Astonishingly Good”
  • Amazon Reviews: An average of 4 out of 5 stars from 56 reviews

Sennheiser HD238 is a great all-round portable headphone for under $50. It’s robustly built, and features earpieces that fold down for compact storage. As you can expect from Sennheiser, the sound quality is above-average for a portable headphone at this price level.

If you’d like a closed-style headphone by Sennheiser that doesn’t leak sound, try the very similar HD218.

The Sennheiser HD238 is available at Amazon.

Ultrasone HFI-580 Headphone ($189)

HFI 580 Headphones by Ultrasone


  • Closed headphones (they leak no sound)
  • Very good bass reproduction
  • Solid construction


  • Bass might be overpowering for some listeners
  • Mid-range sound could be clearer

Top Review Sources:

  • PC Magazine: 4 out of 5 stars
  • What Hi Fi? Magazine: 4 out of 5 stars
  • CNET: 3.5 out of 5 stars, which is considered “Very Good”
  • Amazon Reviewers: an average of 4 out of 5 stars from 11 reviewers

If you are looking for a pair of portable headphones that won’t disturb your fellow travelers, you might consider the Ultrasone HFI-580. Unlike many close-style headphones, the HFI-580 performs very well connected to portable players like the iPod. The headphones have Ultrasone’s patented S-Logic technology, which attempts to make the sound seem like it’s coming from much further away. It makes for an incredibly open and clear sonic presentation.

The Ultrasone HFI-580 is available at Amazon.


Bowers & Wilkins P5 Headphone ($299)

Bowers and Wilkins P5 Headphone

Top Review Sources:

  • Consumer Reports: 80 out of 100 (Highest In Portable Category)
  • CNET: 4 out of 5 stars, which they consider “Excellent”
  • Amazon Reviewers: an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars from 42 reviewers
  • Trusted Review: 9 out of 10 stars (their 2010 “Best Headphone Gear” Runner Up)

Bowers & Wilkins is a legendary name in British Hi-Fi. Recently, they have been trying to appeal to a more mainstream audience. Their P5 Headphone is made for iPod or MP3 player listening, and provide above-average sound reproduction. These headphones block out a lot of external noise, but they contain no active noise-cancellation circuitry. The P5s feature a detachable cord with an integrated volume control that will work with some iPods and iPhones.

Many reviewers note that these headphones are extremely comfortable. They have sheep leather ear pads, which are soft, but they may become sticky in hot weather.

The Bowers & Wilkins P5 Headphone is available at Amazon.

Comments 2

  1. Thanks! Sweet reviews of some really awesome headphones. I really like the Sennheiser HD238s, they are one of my favorites. Keep the good posts coming.

  2. Those are seriously some good picks for headphones, nicely spaced out too as far as pricing goes. Another I would like to put in the running for this would be the ATH-ANC23 because of the ultra portable buds and noise cancelling propery. I know you said headphones, but I can’t let this go without recommending these after testing them!

    Check them out here: http://bit.ly/e7yYGI

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