true audiophile headphones under $50

Over the last year or so, I’ve really come to appreciate the simple pleasures of escaping into an album with a set of excellent headphones. I’ve been looking for quality sets to enjoy among reviews, and keep finding very inexpensive pairs with close followers on Reddit, YouTube, and various audio forums.

The headphones are Superlux HD 681. Available locally for just $39, these headphones are praised for clarity, comfort, and balanced sound. At that price, they are worth betting on.

The HD 681's look and feel is a bit shabby, but it's light and sounds great.

The HD 681’s look and feel is a bit shabby, but it’s light and sounds great.

When the package arrived, I assumed that it must be a fake; the headphones are vacuum sealed in thin plastic with a piece of cardboard between the cups. But after checking the forums, I’m convinced that this is what a Superlux pair looks like; every corner to get these headphones under $50 proudly showcased.

Inside the plastic shell is the kind of tote bag the airline might give you to throw up, with an airline adapter and maybe a warranty card or manual. It’s hard to say, as I’ve had these headphones for months and I’m sure the bag was accidentally knocked over the day they arrived.

Load

The open-back headphones are quite bulky by design, and manufacturers will often lean on this by adding exaggerated buckles, stitching, or other items of flair. That makes the category a bit flashy, but even by these standards, the Superlux HD 681 are easily the ugliest headphones I’ve ever bought. The Superlux has the look of a cross-stitch leather molded straight into the plastic, with highlights dipped in red, and a hideous font on the headband.

The design borrows heavily from the AKG K240, right down to the striking cross stitch pattern, with the Superlux selling for a third. Most Superlux models are heavily based on studio headphones from more expensive manufacturers, but it’s this AKG clone that counts as the model to buy. In fact, the go-to website for high-end av equipment, rtings.com, rates the Superlux’s sound quality above the AKG they emulate.

They are so amazing, proud of plastic. But it gives them durability which means they might survive being tossed around by high school students.

After months of daily use there is no creaking in the plastic when I move, a feature of many cheap headphones and some expensive ones. The plastic makes it very light to wear, and thanks to the open back design that allows airflow, you can wear it all day long without feeling tired.

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