Go large on lugs

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YOU may not have heard his music but you’ll have seen his headphones. Dr Dre is an American rap musician who also created an electronics empire founded on ostentatious and eye-wateringly expensive earware.

Dr Dre’s Beats headphones are not just popular in their own right; they’ve made it acceptable again for somberly-dressed non-rappers such as you or I to venture onto the street or the train with large boom-boxes on our heads instead of discrete, Apple-like ear-buds.

This is good news for music lovers, because units this size are capable of exceptionally high-quality sound. And now that all the audio manufacturers have jumped on the bling bandwagon, there is a huge selection at all prices. However, not all sound as loud as they look. Buying a pair of headphones has always been a minefield, because sound quality is highly subjective, so it’s important to try before you buy – using your own phone or iPod to trial each pair.

What may not be immediately apparent as you do so is the extent to which others in the shop can also hear your music. Headphones with an “open back” design are capable of wonderfully natural sound but allow the waves to pass both ways, making them unsuitable for use on public transport. Closed-back models tend not to leak sound in this way, creating a more personal, “boxed in” listening experience.

With so much variation – £15 at the bottom end of the market to £450 for Dr Dre’s “Pro Over Ear” models – it’s hard to know what constitutes a fair price for an unostentatious, decent-sounding pair. It depends, of course, how highly you value quality, but for most users, £50 is plenty. Be wary, though, who you hand it over to – because the headphone market is notorious for infiltration by counterfeiters.

Let your taste in music also guide you: if you prefer Rachmaninov to rap, you will be better served by headphones from a traditional hi-fi company than from a street musician. Long-established names like AKG, Shure and Audio Technica all turn out reasonably-priced units that often outperform trendier rivals.

Finally, though it sounds obvious, make sure your chosen model is comfortable. The move towards bigger, chunkier cases makes it difficult sometimes to fully turn your head – and you don’t want to be the first person outside the Bronx ghetto to get whiplash from your headphones.