Canstar Blue’s 2019 headphones review has seen Bose, Sony, Beats by Dre, JBL and Kmart compared on their design, comfort, value for money, sound quality, practicality, audio enhancement and overall customer satisfaction.
See our Ratings Methodology.
When you leave the house, there are a few things you will always take with you – your keys, wallet and phone – and for some people, the list also includes their favourite headphones. For those who regularly use them for listening to music, podcasts, radio, or anything else, leaving your headphones at home will leave you with a similar emptiness as forgetting your phone. While you can borrow your friend’s phone to make a call or take a selfie, you’re unlikely to find anyone prepared to lend you their headphones. There’s something extremely personal about headphones and let’s face it, who wants to use something that’s been in contact with another person’s ears.
The extent of your headphone usage is likely to determine the investment you’re prepared to make in them – if you’re quite literally never seen without them, you’ll probably be looking for headphones that give you outstanding sound quality, but are also robust enough to survive the rough and tumble that is everyday life. But if you’re just an occasional user, then you might like to buy cheap headphones and regularly replace them when they stop working.
But does price always relate to quality? To find out, we’ve again asked the people who know best – the Australian consumers you see every day on the bus, train or walking down the street with their favourite tunes playing. And in 2019, we’ve got the message from Bose users loud and clear, with the brand rated best for overall customer satisfaction.
The five brands compared in Canstar Blue’s latest review of headphones were rated in the following order for overall customer satisfaction:
Sony rated four stars for overall customer satisfaction, while Beats by Dre, JBL and Kmart were left on three stars. Bose proved the clear winner overall – while also scoring top marks for design, comfort, sound quality, audio enhancements and practicality – but Sony is worth an honourable mention after emerging as the only brand to receive five stars on value for money, as well as recording top marks for design.
Read on for a guide to the brands compared this year, with details on what they have to offer if you’re in market for a new set of headphones.
Bose has been operating for over 50 years, covering wireless and noise-cancelling headphones as well as those suited for exercise and sleeping. Its over-the-ear range includes three models that are all wireless. Bose headphones will set you back around $330 to $600, so if you’re looking for a budget friendly option you may need to look elsewhere.
Its latest model in the range is the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, featuring controllable noise cancelling technology and four microphones, claimed to pick up and isolate your voice while cancelling the noise around you so that you can be heard even in noisy environments. These bad boys are also optimised with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, so if you need an answer to a question, you can activate the voice assistant.
The Bose headphones range features:
Bose recorded five stars for overall satisfaction, design, comfort, sound quality, practicality and audio enhancements. It got four stars on value for money.
Global tech giant Sony can be found in almost every entertainment industry, including movies, gaming and music. With an audio range that covers small earphones right through to professional mixing tables, there’s plenty on offer from Sony. Its headphones come in a variety of colours and designs, with prices ranging from $60 to $1,300.
What you can expect from its most expensive headphones is high-resolution audio, claimed to capture music at a higher rate than a CD. In addition, they feature a combination of three-dimensionally sewn synthetic leather surfaces and a foam cushion to provide an ergonomic fit. These headphones come with a 4.4mm balanced connection cable and silver-coated oxygen-free copper cables.
Sony’s headphones range features:
Sony got four stars for overall satisfaction and in most other categories, except for design and value for money where it received five stars.
Most people who are big on their music would have heard of Beat by Dre. Starting out in 2006, Beats by Dre offers a number of headphones within its line-up, as well as some funky colours such as yellow, navy and red. Prices range from $140 to $500, depending on the model.
The Beats Pro headphones are claimed to deliver a solid interior sound platform to hear the highs as well as the deep bass. When you plug a cable into one earcup, the other port switches to the output mode, giving you the ability to share the music you’re listening to. They’re made with an aluminium gunmetal frame and leather ear cups for comfort. The ‘RemoteTalk’ cable allows you to control the music as well as take phone calls.
The Beats by Dre headphones range includes:
Beats by Dre got three stars for overall satisfaction in 2019, as well as value for money and practicality. However, it achieved a solid four-star review for all other rated variables.
JBL has been operating for more than 70 years and is well-known within the audio industry. Its website allows you to refine results by price, colour, as well as design features including wireless models, noise cancelling, or waterproof headphones. JBL’s headphones cost from as little as $40, but can go up to as much as $400.
The latest in the range is the JBL Tune 500BT headphones featuring wireless Bluetooth streaming and JBL Pure Bass Sound technology. They provide 16 hours of battery life, with a two-hour recharge time or a quick five-minute charge for an additional one hour of music. You can also make hands free calls with a 1-button remote. They’re claimed to have a lightweight and foldable design, allowing you to wear the headphones for extended periods, according to the brand.
Here’s what the JBL headphones range includes:
JBL got three stars for overall satisfaction, design, sound quality, practicality and audio enhancements. It scored four stars in two other areas – comfort and value for money.
The cheap and cheerful department store that is Kmart features a wide range of electronics, including earphones and headphones. Kmart has no less than 25 models available at the time of writing, including fun headphones for the kids with plush unicorn, panda and shark shaped models. If you’re on a budget, Kmart might have you sorted with its headphones range priced between $6 and $39.
Its Bluetooth Active Noise Cancelling Headphones are claimed to reduce low frequency background noise. They’re apparently designed with soft cushioned ear pads and headband, plus have a foldable design for easy storage. They include a micro USB cable and microphone.
Kmart’s headphones line-up features:
Rounding out this year’s review, Kmart got three stars for overall satisfaction and for all other variables except value for money where it got four stars.
One in five survey respondents (18%) said the brand name was an important factor in their purchase decision. But while different marketing campaigns will attract consumers to different models in the first place, their satisfaction with their purchase will be determined by other factors – like whether or not the headphones live up to the expectations that come from the ads and celebrity endorsements. We found the drivers of customer satisfaction to be:
Headphones tend to be marketed around providing more enhanced sound quality, better design and comfort, so it’s not surprising that consumer satisfaction is ultimately driven by the design more than anything else. If you’re using your headphones whenever you’re out and about, including on your daily commute, you want them to feel and look good, as well as be easy to store away.
There are numerous types of headphones for sale, but in this particular study we’re focusing on the larger end of the spectrum – lightweight, full size or noise cancelling headphones. Basically, you don’t stick headphones inside your ears! If you’re interested in those that do fit in your ears, please visit our earphone reviews.
In the case of large headphones, we found consumers spent an average of $164 on their latest pair, with women ($168) slightly outspending men ($162) and those aged between 18 and 29 ($185) spending the most of all. But regardless of who spent the most, only 13% of survey respondents wish they had purchased better headphones. And with technology constantly changing, it’s likely you’ll be buying headphones every few years, so make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.
Picture credits: Dean Drobot/shutterstock.com, Dusan Petkovic/shutterstock.com, Rawpixel.com/shutterstock.com
*Prices taken from retailer websites, correct as of October 2019
Our headphones review saw a range of brands perform well in different areas:
Canstar Blue surveyed 3,000 Australian adults across a range of categories to measure and track customer satisfaction, via ISO 26362 accredited research panels managed by Qualtrics. The outcomes reported are the results from customers within the survey group who have purchased new headphones in the last 2 years – in this case, 457 people.
Brands must have received at least 30 responses to be included. Results are comparative and it should be noted that brands receiving three stars have still achieved a satisfaction measure of at least six out of 10. Not all brands available in the market have been compared in this survey. The ratings table is first sorted by star ratings and then by mean overall satisfaction. A rated brand may receive a ‘N/A’ (Not Applicable) rating if it does not receive the minimum number of responses for that criteria.
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