These $125 headphones are surprising in the best way possible

Samson z45 headphonesBusiness Insider/Jeff DunnSamson’s Z45 over-ear headphones.

One thing I love about headphones is their capacity to surprise.

With most tech, you know who’s making what. An iPhone is an iPhone, a ThinkPad is a ThinkPad. But with audio, good things can more easily come from unexpected places.

So it goes with the Samson Z45, a relatively recent pair of over-ear headphones that you can find for around $125 today. They didn’t inspire much confidence at first blush — the all-black, largely plastic finish is the definition of nondescript, New York-based Samson isn’t exactly a household name, and my rationale for testing amounted to “whoops, I left my earbuds at home.”

After spending a week with the cans, though, I can easily recommend them to audio lovers on a budget.

Still, again, don’t get the Z45 for fashion. This is an affordable pair aimed at studio use, and as such they aren’t built to feel luxurious. Their earpads aren’t as the most padded, either, and they leak some sound at max volumes. While they come with two detachable cables, neither of those have a remote, and they’re both slightly longer than usual.

That said, they are comfortable. They’re also well-made: They fit snug without being overly tight, they fold up to be nicely compact, and they’re lightweight. Even with the plastic, they aren’t flimsy. I had no major complaints taking them around.

As you can guess, though, what makes the Z45 worth buying is their sound. It’s warm, balanced, and accurate. There’s a good sense of body to the whole thing, but no one part of the signature feels overblown. The bass is full yet well-measured, there’s good detail and clarity in the mids, and the highs, while
slightly less emphasised, aren’t harsh. It’s a smooth listen, but not a boring one.

For the money, my main complaint is that they could have better imaging. There’s a decent sense of width, but not a ton of depth — something like the Sennheiser HD598 does better to make you feel like things are playing at different points in a room. Also, while the Z45’s bass isn’t dull, it’s not huge, so EDM fanatics might want to look elsewhere.

The Z45’s closest competition is the HD598 mentioned above, which isn’t very portable, the cult favourite Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, which might be better if you find them at the same price, and the Sony MDR-7506, which sounds a bit thinner but only costs $80. Either way, the Z45 deserves a spot next those more well-known names.

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