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Being a music junkie and a gadget lover is a dangerous combination for one's wallet. As a tech reviewer and audio enthusiast, I've tested and reviewed more pairs of headphones than I can count over the last decade. I love a lot of what I've heard, but there's one pair I recommend more than any other: the AKG Pro Audio K371, which offers better bang-for-your-buck sound quality than any other headphone I've used.
Headphones can range from $20 to $2,000, so it's hard to pinpoint the "sweet spot" that covers most shoppers. But for the past few years, I've found that people looking to get better sound quality (without pricey extras like noise cancellation) settle around the $100 mark. For a long time, the best-in-class for a Benjamin was the decades-old Sony MDR-7506 Large Diaphragm Headphone, which you'll still find in recording studios and radio stations across the country. But while AKG's newer K371 hasn't quite attained the same long-term pedigree, I think it's unseated the Sony model for the best headphone you can buy around that price point.
The AKG K371 may not have a flashy design or advanced smart features, but it does one thing and one thing well: sound quality. This studio headphone uses a comfortable, over-ear design that equips 50mm drivers for fantastic bass extension, clear treble and closed-back cups that virtually ensure you won't bother people around you with your music.
AKG may not be a household name, either, but they've been engineering and manufacturing audio products for almost 75 years. Now owned by Harman (and by extension, Samsung) they've continued making some of the best headphones on the market, including the relatively young K371, which was released in 2019.
The K371 isn't just another set of headphones in a sea of mediocrity, though — it's the product of years of research by Harman's team of engineers into consumer preferences. Audio is an extremely subjective area of tech, and what sounds good to one person may not fit the desires of another — if you like to crank the bass and I prefer a more balanced, "neutral" sound signature, we aren't necessarily going to buy the same headphones.
But if you conduct listening tests with hundreds of people, as Harman has done, you do see some patterns. As it turns out, a majority of people prefer that more balanced sound. So, coupled with a lot of research into the shape of our ears and its effect on headphone sound, the AKG K371 should make your music sound close to how the original engineers heard that song in the studio. Or, in other words, they sound like good speakers would sound in a good room: clear highs that aren't too harsh with enough low-end thump to get you grooving without overpowering the rest of the sound. That's a stark contrast from so many other popular headphones, which deliver floppy bass and extra distortion.
Couple that with a comfortable design you can wear for hours (which is especially useful for anyone working from home) and their ability to fold up for travel and you have a headphone that hits all the right notes on the features that matter most.
Every pair of headphones has its limitations
That said, the AKG K371 may seem a bit basic to some. It's wired, for example, so you'll need something with a headphone jack (or an adapter, for many newer phones). You also won't find any active noise cancelling here, though it still uses padding to isolate outside noise well enough for most uses (and isolate your music from others around you). If you spend a lot of time on airplanes, a noise cancelling headphone may be a better bet, though I still find the K371 works well enough.
If you're dead set on wireless, there is a Bluetooth version that costs a bit more — I haven't had a chance to try it myself, but reviewers note that it comes with slightly lower sound quality and comfort compared to its wired sibling. If you want to save money, the AKG K361 is extremely similar to the K371, with a slightly less premium feeling build (and a sub-$100 price tag). The K371 has a bit more separation that helps you hear each instrument distinctly, but both will handle just about any genre you throw at them, from classical to pop to death metal (my preferred style of music).
That's why, despite the huge amount of subjectivity in headphone preferences, the K371 and K361 are my first go-to recommendations every time someone asks me what headphones they should buy. If you're overwhelmed by the selection out there, you'd be hard-pressed to find a do-anything, bang for your buck headphone that beats it.