Best Headphones Not Made in China

Best Headphones Not Made in China

After researching for my article on best earbuds not made in China, I figured I’d do a post on the best headphones.

As much as in-ear headphones have taken off because of their convenience, if you want true high fidelity sound you should consider a set of over-ear headphones, preferably wired so that it connects directly to your stereo, computer, or smartphone (if you’re lucky enough to have a model that still has a headphone jack; you can find a few good ones here). Whether you’re an sound editor or producer or just someone who wants to immerse yourself in music the way it was intended to be heard, you’ll want to invest in a good set.

Sadly, as with most consumer electronics, most brands dove head-first into China, including Bowers and Wilkins, Apple, Shure, Bang & Olufsen, JBL, and all the “cheap brand” you can think of. As you’ll read below in my review of Grado, this has resulted in every major brand becoming dependent on China as a supply chain, since China has been given a stranglehold on making components. We’ve seen this over and over again in almost every industry, one of the foolish unintended consequences of giving China MFN status in the first place.

The good news is that there are some options. Most of them are on the pricier side, but remember that you do get what you pay for.

 

Best Headphones Not Made in China

1. Grado RS2x

The Grado RS2x is rated as the best over-ear headphones you can buy anywhere by Consumer Reports, the only brand to surpass a score of 90/100 based on sound quality, reliability, and satisfaction. Other Grado models including the SR325x, the SR225x, the SR125x, the SR80x, and the SR60x also rate very highly. The main difference between the different models is the frequency range, but even the entry level SR60x will provide performance superior to the vast majority of other choices.

I’d never heard of Grado before, but I was pleased to discover that they’re located in Brooklyn, NY, which is not too far from where I live. I was also extremely pleased to learn that each RS2x is hand-built by their team right in their Brooklyn factory. The company was founded in 1953 by Joseph Grado, and every one of their wired headphones are still made in Brooklyn (their wireless headphones are made in China).

While the RS2x was rated way beyond all others, its $550 price point may put it beyond most people. The Grado SR80x is the best balance of affordability and performance at $125. It tied the SR225x and the SR325x with a Consumer Reports score of 87/100 and the second-best headphones after the RS2x.

As of 2011, John Grado (Joe Grado’s nephew who took over the operations of the business) stated that he just didn’t see a need to outsource. They were forced into it with their wireless Bluetooth headphones, mainly because other American companies has allowed China to monopolize any electronics with a Bluetooth receiver (they say that the cost of their $275 headphones would have been over $1000 if they made it in the US). Let’s hope that they continue to be able to make their wired headphones in the US, and let’s hope that the big brands recognizes how much damage they have done to the industry by allowing China to be in a position to call the shots with new technology.

2. Bose QuietComfort Noise-Cancelling Headphones

These Bose QuietComfort Headphones are Bose’s most recent entry into the world of over-ear, noise-cancelling headphones.

Bose is the poster child for what goes wrong when a brand abandons its roots and chases China manufacturing. I can give you a personal account. A long time ago I bought a set of Bose QC2 headphones which were made in either the US or Mexico and they continue to last to today.

Thrilled, I purchased a set of wired noise-cancelling earbuds back in the days when I didn’t check country of origin. They literally disintegrated after about a year of use—the wires frayed and the switch fell apart. I got a replacement set under warranty, and it too disintegrated within a year. As a brand loyalist, I also bought a set of wireless headphones. These too fell apart—the plastic separated and rendered the headphones useless. I realized later on that indeed, all of these were made in China.

They used to give a little card inside every set of Bose headphones for you to hand to friends. I handed out dozens of them. I don’t anymore. Bose traded short-term profits for long-term loyalty, and they should be ashamed.

That said, maybe it’s because of “old times” that I list them here. The Bose QuietComfort headphones, the latest successor to those QC2s I bought 20 years ago, are listed by Consumer Reports as their best noise-cancelling headphone. They’re also listed by

It looks like Bose has decided to simplify their naming. The original set of over-ear headphones they sold were the QuietComfort (sold from 2000-2004), followed by QuietComfort 2 (the ones I bought, sold from 2003-2009), QuietComfort15 (2009-2015), QuietComfort25 (2014-2019), QuietComfort35 (2016-2021), and QuietComfort45 (2021-2023). With this new model, they seem to be phasing out numbers and will just sell one model at a time (thank you).

Every model from the QC2 to the QC45 had at least some units made in China, but starting with the QC35 they’ve been moving their production to Thailand. Reportedly, all units of the new models are being made in Thailand now, but double-check to make sure.

Here’s a handy tip. If you look at the serial number of your headphones, the seventh digit in the serial number always indicates the location of manufacture. If it’s a “Z” it means it was made in China. If it’s a “T” it means it was made in Thailand.

If you’re in need of noise-cancelling over-ear headphones, you can’t do much better than these for a good balance of quality and accessibility. You can buy from from Amazon or directly from Bose.

3. Sony WH-1000XM5 Headphone

These headphones from Sony are very highly reviewed on Amazon and have received a 76/100 on Consumer Reports. Like their WF-1000XM4 earbuds, they’re made in Malaysia.

Sony, of course, has always been known for its technology and has been a favorite brand among audio professionals for years. The noise cancellation in these headphones is impressive: two processors control 8 microphones to provide optimal noise cancellation in almost any situation. At 30 hours, the battery life is also exceptional.

Their WH-1000XM4 headphones are also highly rated and available at a slightly more affordable price.

4. Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro 250 ohm Over-Ear Studio Headphones

Beyerdynamic is a well-known brand out of Germany, and they still produce their headphones there. They’re widely used by professionals in mixing, mastering, and editing. The DT 990 Pro, DT 880 Pro, and DT 770 Pro are their iconic models; unlike other brands, these are all the same price and quality, the key difference lies is in the nuance of sound that you need to master. There’s a good thread about it here.

You can buy them directly from the manufacturer or from Amazon.

5. Sennheiser Consumer Audio HD 600

This is one of Sennheiser’s top selling models, and it’s a perennial favorite. Years ago these were made in Ireland, but it seems that production has shifted to Romania. I’m good with that.

Be careful, as many of Sennheiser’s lower models are made in China. Also, Sennheiser had been one of the stalwarts insisting on keeping production in Europe, but they recently sold their consumer division to Switzerland-based Sonova Holding AG. So far, they seem to be keeping production in Romania, but keep a close eye, as the new company that owns them very likely will be under pressure to move production to China to boost profits. Which, again, would be suicidal.

6. Audio-Technica ATH-M50X

I’m recommending these Audio-Technica ATH-M50X headphones and their lower-priced alternatives the Audio-Technica ATH-M40X headphones with a little bit of an asterisk.

Every single piece of information I can find online speaks to their being made in Taiwan. But the Amazon product listing itself says that its country of origin in China.

My guess is either than Audio-Technica has switched the contractor who makes these to China after years of using a Taiwan contractor (which would be suicidal), or they’re manufacturing these in both countries. The only way to make sure is to find it in a brick-and-mortar store and check the box.

Do you know of other headphones that have avoided the China trap? Let us know in the comments!

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