Top New Headphones

Courtesy of Bowers & Wilkins

Get your audio game right with bigger headphones that deliver both style and substance.

It wasn’t that long ago that tiny earbuds were the height of cool. They signaled that not only were you wired into a portable music player, but you were also jacked into a hip scene in which music and technology met.

How times have changed. After swimmer Michael Phelps walked into the pool at the U.S. Olympic trials earlier this summer wearing a pair of over-the-ear headphones from Oregon’s Sol Republic, discreet earbuds seemed passé. Phelps’s preference helped cement an emerging trend of larger headphones, led by a small army of celebrity rappers sporting big cans like those from Beats by Dr. Dre.

Bigger headphones mean better sound. But unlike the models of yesteryear made to use with a home stereo system, today’s versions are designed for portable devices like smartphones, digital music players and tablets. (And though music remains the primary draw, larger headphones make the movies and TV fare downloaded onto an iPad, for example, much more enjoyable.) Choose from over-the-ear models (like the sonically immersive Destiny TTR from the House of Marley) or lighter, less-enveloping on-ear options. (They tend to lack the bass response of over-the-ear versions, but there are exceptions, such as the Bowers & Wilkins P3.) Today’s choices are also more fashion conscious, featuring high design and a wide variety of colors. Monster’s new Inspiration model, for example, lets you switch headband colors on a whim.

When it comes to traveling, headphones with some type of noise-suppression circuitry is a must for diminishing engine noise. Wireless Bluetooth technology eliminates the threat of tangled cords, its 30-foot range also allowing for untethered wandering. But take note: Not every headphone kit comes with an adapter for the two-prong jack still used by some in-flight entertainment systems. You can often still jack in to one of the holes without a problem, but airplane adapters are available at most gadget shops if you want to be on the safe side.