A good pair of headphones can be hard to find. Especially with the sheer variety of products in the market. To find the best headphone with the perfect blend of audio quality, noise isolation and durability we had spent over a week testing headphones.
We even got an experienced sound engineer, Mr Jacob Abraham from Rontek. The reason we worked with Rontek is they are not just audio consultants, but also manufacturers of speakers and amplifiers. But that was a year ago, and now there are some new products on the market, while some have received price cuts so we felt this was the right time to update the article.
After spending over 24 hours researching the new products through customer reviews and reputed technology reviews here are our best picks.
The Best Headphone under 3k
AKG K 52
AKG’s K52 headphones are quite possibly one of the most comfortable and best-sounding headphones at this price, making them truly a great pair of headphones for regular users and audiophiles alike. With balanced sound and a nice airy soundstage despite a closed back, the AKG K52 is truly one of the best headphones under 3000.
Second Best Headphone under 3k (Wired)
Sony Extra Bass MDR-XB550AP On-Ear Headphones with Mic
The Sony Extra Bass MDR-XB550AP was the best sounding headphone in this category. Despite the focus on extra bass, the headphone did very well at all frequencies. Being a Sony it was very well built with an elegant matte finish body, comfortable paddings and durable tangle-free cables. Noise isolation was also the best in the range despite being an on-ear headphone. For taking calls when connected, it has an in-line mic and a remote that can come in handy.
The Best Budget Headphone under 3k (Wireless)
Boat Rockerz 510 Wireless Bluetooth Headphones
The Boat Rockerz 510 is a with its funky gamer-headphone like design and the convenience of wireless (and wired) connectivity is a superb headphone, more so with its recent price cut. The Rockerz 510 features large 50mm drivers for improved bass and sound really good for their price. Comfort too is taken care of with a flexible headband and padded ear cups. Add in the great battery life and we finally have a good and affordable reason to go wireless. Read more about how the BoAt Rockerz 510 performs in our best headphone under 2000 article.
This is a really long post! Use the links below to jump around.
Why Trust Us?
To best find the best headphones under Rs.3000 we had spent over 1-week testing different aspects of the headphone. To do justice to the audio testing we partnered with Rontek, a company with over 20 years of experience in manufacturing high-quality audio amplification systems and loud speakers. At Rontek we measured the sound quality of each headphone subjectively & objectively.
Good sound quality isn't all that makes a headphone good, so we used each headphone for at least 2 & 1/2 hours to test their comfort. Similarly, a noise isolation test was carried out to understand if external noise can seep through. Lastly, we called up all headphone manufacturers to understand their warranty and service policies.
But with time passing quickly and new products launching in the market, we went back to researching these new products and saw how they compare with our reviewed products and accordingly updated the list.
How we selected
When we last reviewed headphones under Rs.3000, we started with an initial list of 30,000 headphones, from Amazon and Flipkart. We started by removing all headphones with poor ratings and reviews. We finally selected the most highly reviewed and highly rated headphones online today.
Finally, we had two best picks, the Sony XB550AP and the BoAt Rockerz 510. But with a year being passed we wanted to add more picks and possibly ones that had a balanced sound signature that would really be a great pick for audiophiles on a budget.
How we tested?
For headphones, we give sound reproduction a high weight but we also focus on the smaller things like the comfort of the headphone, durability of the headphones and cables, sweat resistance, noise isolation and warranty.
Our previous headphone testing involved the following test parameters.
Sound Quality: The sound quality testing was done at Rontek with the help of Mr Jacob. We split the sound quality testing into two parts, Objective and Subjective. The Subjective testing is where Mr.Jacob listens to a selection of songs from different genres and then grades each headphone for sound quality.
The Objective testing is where things get interesting. Objectively testing a headphone is much more difficult than a normal speaker. Still, with the help of Rontek, we built our own test rig, which consisted of a box (see image above) to simulate the human head, fitted into which was a calibrated microphone to record sound. With this setup, we managed to perform the LARSA test on all the headphones. LARSA test helps to plot the frequency response curve of the headphone which shows the frequency and loudness of the headphones.
Note : Objective testing cannot be conducted on the Bluetooth only headphones as the calibrated microphone was designed to work with wired headphones only
Comfort: As we said before, we don’t want you to be stuck with headphones that hurt your ears. So, to test the comfort of each headphone our researcher wore each headphone for over two hours, looking out for any sort of pain in the ear, irritation, sweating etc.
Durability: Next we wanted to check the durability of the headphone padding. So we checked the sponge quality, softness, thickness of padding on each of the headphone. We also checked verified reviews on Amazon and Flipkart to assess whether people had problems with the padding.
Next, we checked the cable quality to see if they were actually tangle-free. We tried tangling the cable and then tried removing the tangles.
Noise Isolation: To test the noise isolation, we sat down next to a TV and put the headphones on. We kept increasing the volume on the TV until the sound from the TV was louder than the sound from the headphone. We noted the exact point at which this occurred. We compared this with the performance of the other headphones.
Quality of Mic: We tested the mic by using it to make calls with different people and check for call clarity and volume.
Warranty and Service: We called each headphone company to find out the warranty and service policy and process for getting a headphone replaced or fixed for each headphone.
What makes a good headphone - inputs from our audio expert
After testing was completed we sat down with our expert to discuss what makes a headphone good and what you must look for when you are buying a new headphone.
As the price tag on headphones goes up you will see a lot of reviews talk about something called frequency response. A frequency response curve can be seen attached with our AKG K52 section as well. So what is frequency response? And how does it help?
Headphone sound quality is something many say cannot be judged objectively, the frequency response curve helps you do that with the help of a graph. Not just that it also tells you what are the differences between each headphone and how they will sound based on their responses.
Each headphones are tuned to give a different listening experience, some headphones don't boost (Boost means the sound is louder) any frequency and have what is known as a flat sound, examples of these being AKG, Audio-Technica, Shure etc. Flat headphones don't mean a bad sound it simply means you hear the sound exactly as the composer intended it to be. Some headphones boost the bass like most Sony Extra Bass headphones, Beats Audio etc. Then there are bright headphones where the highs are boosted, few Grado and Beyerdynamic headphones have this type of sound. There are a few more types of sound signatures that give different headphones different characteristics. But flat/balanced and bass boosted are the most common ones.
Now on sound signatures, our expert is very firm on what he likes and what he feels that people should also prefer- balanced sound or maybe a slightly warm sound. What that means is you must look for headphones that can produce not just the bass but also the mids and highs faithfully as that will actually help improve your sound quality.
Now coming back to frequency response, it is very easy to read a frequency curve. As you can see in our AKG graph you have a frequency in Hertz on the x-axis and sound in decibels on the y-axis. Now frequencies are mainly split into the following three categories.
Bass lies between 20Hz to 500Hz and consists of sounds like Bass Guitar, Kickdrums. To overcome this size limitation manufacturers use a Passive Radiator to help with Bass. Bass is the most difficult sound to recreate for a speaker.
Mids lie between 500Hz to 5,000Hz and consist of sounds like dialogues, on-screen effects & most musical instruments. Most speakers have decent mid range
Treble lies between 5,000Hz to 20,000Hz and consists of high pitched sounds and instruments like cymbals & triangles
Now if you trace the curve from left to right you get to see how much a headphone boosts a particular frequency. As the graph shows the Db from negative to a positive value we can see how much a particular frequency is boosted or lowered in volume. For example, at 200Hz the AKG K52 has a 6Db boost in sound while at 2000Hz it drops by 6Db (-6Db). But because the overall rise and drops are pretty consistent from 20 to 20000Hz we can consider the AKG as a balanced headphone. The spikes and drops that we see as something that is present in most headphones but as the prices go higher the number of spikes and drops reduces and you get a much smoother sound.
This was just a small look at how to read frequency response curves stay tuned for more of such tips we bring to you in partnership with our sound expert.
The Best Headphone under 3k
Balanced sound with airy soundstage
Extremely comfortable earcups
Comfortable for long listening periods
Well built yet light
Replaceable ear cups
Long 2.5m cable
Can work perfectly with phones (32 Ohms of impedance)
Headphones can't be folded for added portability
Quality of Sound: A whole lot of balance
AKG is a 70-year-old acoustics engineering and manufacturing company from Vienna, now under the leadership of Samsung. AKG is known for its high quality yet affordable headphones which have won a lot of awards including best headphone from What HiFi? The K52’s are one of their most affordable headphones which make their signature design and sound accessible to more people.
With a 5 star rating on What HiFi? The AKG K52 is said to sound really good. With 40mm dynamic drivers and a closed back, the K52 offers superb sound without any heavily boosted bass which makes it a must-have for audiophiles in this price point. But despite having closed backs What HiFi? found the soundstage to be amazingly wide and open giving it a feel of open backs but with the convenience of closed backs. Furthermore, they said they really liked the control of the sound, from well-done highs to tight bass without any boominess or bright spikes to the sound. All this make it really comfortable to be used for a long time.
For our more technical users, we have published frequency response and sensitivity curves of the AKG K52 taken from reference-audio analyzer.
The frequency response shows a pretty flat sub-bass and bass with a clear drop around the mids. There is still some amount of treble present, unlike most low-end headphones. There is as can be seen no obvious lack of sub-bass and if you look at the sensitivity all the frequencies up to 20kHz are around 100Db. This high sensitivity (and a low impedance of 32 Ohms) means you can use them with low powered devices like smartphones and MP3 players without a hassle.
Do note however these headphones are not for people who love overemphasised bass with a lot of thumping beats. If you want that, look at our second best pick as it will suit you well.
Build and Comfort: Light, durable and comfortable
The design of the K52’s is classic AKG with a minimalistic headband and large circular ear cups. At around 200 gms they are very light but still feel well build as found by Firstpost. You also get a unique band that lets you adjust the fit of the headphone around your head. What Hifi? loved the leather ear cup padding which they said felt soft without making your ears warm after long usage.
The headphone despite being lightweight isn't that portable as the earcups do not fold or rotate.
The headphones come with a 2.5m fixed cable (3.5mm plug) and a 6.3mm adapter for use with larger audio products.
There is sadly no remote or mic support and the cable too cannot be detached.
The AKG K52 offers a unique product at an astonishingly low price offer. You get a balanced sound, supremely comfortable fit and amazing built quality. This makes it great for people who want to use a headphone for long hours and are not fans of bass boosted sound.
Second Best Headphone under 3k (Wired)
Excellent sound reproduction with a good focus on bass
Good build quality
Very good noise isolation
Quality padding makes headphone comfortable to use for long hours
Tangle-free flat cable
In-line remote and mic for hands-free calls with good clarity
Sony SmartKey app lets you personalise the remotes call key
No Volume Control Buttons
Headphones can't be folded for added portability
Quality of Sound: Reproduces Bass that is worthy of its name
Sony has made a name for itself for making affordable headphones that have a mix of great and clear sound but also has a focus on the bass. Now bass is a tricky aspect to manage, have too less of it and the sound feels lacking, have too much bass and well your not going to hear anything else clearly.
The Sony MDR XB550AP manages to beautifully manage the bass without it overpowering the mids and highs. Mr.Jacob loved that the headphones could deliver top-notch sound quality for its relatively low price. While the AKG K52 still inches ahead due to its airy presentation and much more balanced sound, the XB550AP makes sense for people who love a lot of bass in their music. The warm sound reproduction also makes them great for not just music listening but also movie watching.
As far as noise isolation goes this headphone managed to suppress external noises to a great extent thanks mainly to the thickness and diameter of the padding.
Build and Comfort: Premium materials make it very durable
The Sony Extra Bass MDR-XB550AP being an on-ear headphone had ear cups that completely covered your ear, and were comfortable for extended periods of listening. Listening to the XB550AP for more than 2 ½ hours did not give us any strain on the ear. So you can easily watch a full movie without experiencing any discomfort.
Despite the design being similar to most Sony headphones in this price bracket, the MDR XB550AP manages to look more premium. This is because of the powder coated like the finish on the ear cups, the beautiful satin chrome material on the headband, the body coloured cushion on the ear cups and headband and the ribbed flat cables all ooze style and quality.
They ear-cups are not fully sweat resistant so they may not be your best bet for the gym or long-term outdoor usage. Having flat cables completely prevents it from getting tangled. Despite actively trying to tangle the cable, we couldn't do it. This was further confirmed by lack of complaints about the cable quality or durability from online reviews.
This headphone has an inline mic and can be used for calling purpose, but no volume control buttons. The single call button can be customised to be used for other function from the Sony SmartKey app
Sadly this headphone can’t be folded completely, but the ear cups can be rotated.
Based on our extensive testing and with inputs of our sound expert, we can say the Sony XB550AP offers one of the best experience if you are looking for something that sounds very good, looks and feels premium and is comfortable to listen to for long hours. At under Rs.3000 this is an excellent alternative to the AKG especially if you won't prefer the balanced sounds of the K52 and need a little bass in your life.
Who are our best picks for?
The AKG K52 with its wide soundstage and balanced sound is an instant choice for audiophiles who don't like boosted bass and a heavy price tag. The headphone is also great if you want to move on from your regular pair of cheap headphones and onto something much better sounding. Whether it is movies or music the soft cushion of the ear cups and the light body makes the K52 a treat to use for a long time. Just one little niggle is the long cable and the non-foldable design which limits them to in-home use only.
The Sony XB 550AP meanwhile is for people who love a little foot tapping especially when it comes to R&B and Rock. Its superb sub-bass reproduction gives you the right amount of rumble and the comfortable cushion and design make it a treat to wear. If you classify yourself as a bass head then this is your step in the right direction.
The BoAt Rockerz 510 is for people who do not want the hassle of wires but still want that powerful bass that most headphones in this class provide. WIth great battery, funky design and comfortable fit the BoAt is one of the best wireless headphones under Rs.3000.
A note on Warranty and Service
AKG offers a 1-year warranty on the K52 and you need to take it to their service centre for any issues. The product can be repaired and there are 9 service centres of Harman in India.
Sony: Sony has a 1-year warranty on all their headphones. For any issues with the product you drop off the product at the service centre or ring up the customer care for assistance. Headphone replacement under warranty is valid only if the product is purchased from the following authorized sellers given below here. Make sure you check this list before you buy. If the product is brought from a different seller, the warranty will not be respected.
BoAt: BoAt headphones have 1 year of warranty from date of purchase for headphones. Initial registration of the product is required. They have only one office in Mumbai. Customer needs to log the complaint on their website. The headphone is picked by the company person from client location and a unique code is assigned. Once it’s found faulty, the replaced product will be sent to the customer. The products are only replaced and cannot be repaired.
Those that didn’t make the cut
boAt Rockerz 600 Bluetooth- The boAt Rockerz 600 has a fantastic design, it certainly has the vintage charm to it, but look closely and it's basically a look-alike of the Marshall Master II. Given how good it looks we are not complaining.
But it lags behind our best picks in terms of sound quality. Also given the ear cup design the noise isolation is not very good and the ear cup damping is very thin which further degrades to the listening experience.
The only saving grace is the fact that it supports audio playback through Bluetooth and Aux.
Mivi SAXO Wireless Bluetooth Headphones - The Mivi Saxo headphones have a simple, pleasing design and good build quality. However, the sound quality isn't as good as our best picks. We even felt hearing fatigue just 15 minutes into its usage.
The Rs.3000 can be considered a sweet for the start of quality headphones, you do not just have the same ol’ wired bass boosted headphones but a lot more on offer at this price range. With our extensive research, we managed to find three different headphones for three different users.
If you prefer your music almost unadulterated like black coffee you can pick the AKG K52 with its balanced sound and wide soundstage. It also delivers when it comes to comfort courtesy of the leather earcups and well-designed headband. Also given the price it is undoubtedly one of the best headphones under Rs.3000.
The Sony MDR-XB550AP boasts excellent sound quality, superb build quality and remarkable noise isolation and at their price point, they offer a lot of for people who love modern electronic music.
BoAt’s Rockerz 510 is more about convenience with their wireless headphone that even has music control buttons on the ear cups. All that makes it very easy to use without being tied down with a cable. In terms of sound, it is close to the Sony and comes with great battery life and a seriously low price tag.