Retro headphones have a really wonderful look and style, and the best of them can offer so much more – in addition to their undeniable cool factor, they are often really incredible sounding headphones, which can also reflect the old-school values of high material and build quality and real durability.
And really, no matter how great a headphone looks, it will always, without exception, look much better if it is well made and high quality – and sound much better too. So let’s focus on those important factors, great retro style, great sound and great overall quality – the whole package – in this Speakergy guide to the 10 best Retro Headphones of 2023!
We’re going to look at a bunch of different headphones here, and talk a bit about each one of them, but if you’re in a hurry and just want to get to the picks, here are my top three choices:
- Best Budget Retro Headphones JLab Rewind Wireless Retro Bluetooth Headphones
- Best Retro Headphones Overall – My Personal Choice Sennheiser Momentum 3 Over Ear Bluetooth Wireless Headphones
- Best Wireless Retro HeadphonesMaster and Dynamic MW65 Active Noise-Cancelling Wireless Headphones
What Are Retro Headphones?
Basically, all we’re talking about here is the look of the headphone – a kind of style that harkens back to the 70s or 80s, when headphones were really coming into their own and reaching new levels of performance and sound, as well as (sometimes, at least) very high material and build quality.
And today, 4 or 5 decades later, there are a few companies which make headphones very much like those oldies – well, actually there are tons and tons of companies which make retro-looking headphones, but there are a few that make really great ones – retro headphones that not only nail the look, feel and aesthetic of that period, but which sound absolutely amazing and are built to last.
The best retro headphones may be really old school not just in looks but in functionality as well, doing little or nothing more than playing music with a big, warm sound. Or they may have such space-age features and innovations that they are truly at the leading edge in terms of technological advancement – they may just not look like it!
But again, regardless of whether they have new-gen Bluetooth wireless, active noise cancelling and voice assistant compatibility, or they have little more than a cable to attach them to your hi fi or gadget, you can be sure that every choice on our list of the best retro-style headphones will sound absolutely amazing!
The Best Retro Headphones in 2023
Best Cheap Retro Earbuds
- Frequency Response - 15-20,000Hz
- Impedance - 16ohms
- Included Components: 1 Headphone Set, 1 Each
- Connectivity Technology: Wired
Maybe it’s their resemblance to the true classic original Apple earbuds, which it seemed were all you saw 20 years ago, but the amazing little JVC Basic Gumy earbuds – especially in white – seem so very retro to me.
But the coolness of their ultra-minimal appearance is not the reason I felt I had to include them – the Basic Gumy have become a bit of a legend for their superior sound on the cheap.
No, for a bit under 10 dollars you are not going to get the last word in high fidelity sound, but I am frankly amazed every time I try these little Gumy ‘buds, with their almost startlingly dynamic and clear sound and their super-comfortable and effective fit.
Bass is strong, fast and sometimes intense – boosted beyond what we might call “neutral,” but so much fun. Vocals and mid frequencies come through with real presence and without distortion or harshness, and high frequencies are surprisingly well extended, fast and almost liquid in sound.
If you compare the JVC Basic gumy to great headphones at higher price levels you can easily hear why people pay more, but compared to anything at this sub-bargain price level these are absolutely amazing sounding buds, and it’s easy to understand why even audiophiles love them, and so many people make them their beater / daily commute in-ears of choice.
And, besides all that, they are pretty cool looking – kind of retro, kind of modern, kind of unnoticeable.
A great cheap pair of retro headphones, and one of the best values you can possibly find!
Best Cheap Retro Headphones
- GO RETRO: Let the Rewind Wireless Retro...
- 12-HOUR PLAYTIME: Keep your music hassle-free...
- TAKE CONTROL: These headphones come with a...
- EQ3 SOUND: Our radical EQ3 setting lets you...
- TWO YEAR WARRANTY/30 DAY GUARANTEE -We are so...
The JLab Rewind look startlingly similar to the headphones that suddenly began appearing everywhere – really everywhere, by the thousands and the millions – with the introduction of the Walkman and similar personal portable stereos.
But they are, for all their retro chic, pretty advanced headphones – amazingly so, for the money – with Bluetooth wireless and 12 hours playback time, compatibility with Google Assistant, Siri and other digital assistants, sophisticated and useful playback controls, a very high quality built in microphone and three EQ sound settings accessible from the headphones.
The sound is, of course, not as good as some of the very expensive headphones on our list, but for the money it is amazing – very, very dynamic, with real energy and excitement, great clarity all the way up and down, and much deeper and more solid bass than you’d expect from headphones of this size.
And they are very well made – much better quality, in fact, than most of the Walkman-type headphones back in the day – and very comfortable to wear.
Just for their features and functionality, and their fabulous sound, the JLab Rewind are a pretty obvious choice at this price level, and if you love the retro headphone style they are a no-brainer!
A True Classic!
- Designed for deep bass performance
- Comfortable, secure fit with adjustable...
- Two adjustable temporal-comfort zone pads...
- Collapsible for maximum portability, includes...
- Connector Type: 1 x Headphones (mini-phone...
The Koss Porta-Pro aren’t just retro-style headphones – they were actually originally made back in the day (first released in 1984!) and have been in Koss’s product lineup ever since.
And not only have the Porta-Pro been in continuous production for nearly 20 years, they have remained consistently at the top of so many best-of lists and buyers guides every single year!
Known for their incredibly open, natural and low distortion sound, the Porta-Pro are an open-back headphone, giving them something in common with some of the most expensive and superb sounding audiophile cans out there. This means that the sound will come out of the back of the ‘phones when you’re playing them – a disadvantage on the bus or subway, or late, late at night, maybe, but giving these Koss retro headphones a really big, open sound with unprecedented ease.
So there’s the unique, retro style, the related amazing comfort – so light and automatically adjusting – and the wonderful sound, but maybe the most amazing thing about the Koss Porta-Pro is their price – not the cheapest, perhaps, but so inexpensive that they rank as one of the truly great bargains on the high-fidelity audio market – today as much as back in 1984!
Accurate and Fun, and So Comfortable
- Precisely Balanced Response Provides...
- Professional 40Mm Drivers For Extended 16Hz -...
- Over-Ear Design And Lightweight Construction...
- Closed-Back Design Maximizes Isolation
- English (Publication Language)
Decidedly retro looking, with their big ear pads, their long, thin metal bands and the nice black and gold color scheme, the AKG K92 over ear headphones are designed not just to be cool looking, but to be amazingly comfortable.
And in this too they’ve succeeded admirably. The K92 are, in fact, one of the lightest, most comfortable big headphones I’ve ever used, and I can wear them for hours and hours with no discomfort whatsoever.
What’s really great about these headphones is that not only are they comfortable, they are remarkably non-fatiguing to listen to. This is especially noteworthy because the 92s have a pretty bright, detailed sound, with so much upper end detail and clarity they seem like they would be harsh.
But in fact they are quite low distortion, sweet and warm, for all of their high frequency detail, and this makes extended listening even nicer. They also have rich, accurate and lifelike midrange, beautiful vocal sound and super-deep, fast and nicely (though not overly) boosted bass.
A well made pair of headphones that is the perfect choice for people who don’t want to spend a lot of money, and who want first-rate quality, very high levels of accuracy and musical fidelity, and at the same time a fun, exciting sound that works great with all kinds of music.
Basic, wired headphones that don’t even have a microphone, the AKG K92 are retro in all the best ways, and highly recommended!
Ugly but Loveable!
- Connectivity Technology: Wired
- Frequency Response - 10-20,000 Hz and...
If by “retro” we mean ugly, the Koss Pro-4AA headphones have absolutely nailed the aesthetic!
A little harsh? Yeah, sure – and in fact these amazing headphones are not really that ugly… Or beauty is in the eye of the beholder… Or, ahem, form follows function. Or, beauty is only skin deep.
No, I can’t do it! However you look at it, however I say it, these are not the most beautiful cans in the world. The Koss Pro-4AA are, though, for all their retro homeliness, fantastic sounding headphones, with staggeringly accurate and neutral sound that would satisfy even the most demanding audiophiles.
While the trend today is for sometimes overwhelmingly boosted bass, the Koss – which are designed to be accurate enough for demanding studio engineering work – take another approach: fast, solid, low distortion bass that goes much deeper into the deep bass and sub-bass regions, but is not artificially increased or accented.
And it’s amazing how engaging, how satisfying, really deep but neutral bass can be – even with rap, hip hop, electronica and EDM. Not fatiguing, not overwhelming, just deep, strong and powerful. Of course, if you want more you can always equalize the bass up, and given the quality of the Koss’ low end, it will still sound way, way better than so many other headphones.
All across the range, in fact, the Koss Pro-4AA are neutral and accurate, low distortion, open and detailed, and yet similarly highly engaging and fun to listen to.
They are also surprisingly comfortable to wear – much more than their appearance might suggest – and designed for hours and hours of continuous use.
And yes, back to that appearance! These headphones look more like a pair of 70s ‘phones than anything else on my list of best retro-style headphones – not surprising, since they, in their first incarnation, were originally released in 1970 – and they are absolutely unlike anything else today – except, of course, for the many poor copycats.
The Koss Pro-44! are also one of the best values in accurate, musical high fidelity headphones available today, and so much fun as well – a perfect example of the retro ideal!
Slammin’ Bass and Great Sound
- BLUETOOTH WIRELESS CONVENIENCE - Built-in...
- LONG-LASTING BATTERY LIFE - With a full...
- OVER-THE-EAR HEADPHONE COMFORT - Super-soft...
- PREMIUM HEADPHONE SOUND - Hear every song,...
- RETRO COLORS & STYLING - With a timeless...
So many of the best retro headphones available today have a kind of neutrality about them that other popular ‘phones – Beats by Dr Dre, as a prime example – intentionally avoid.
And while yeah, this neutral, high fidelity sound is just what the audiophile ordered, and really does let you hear music exactly as the original studio artists captured, many people want a bit of enhancement – the sometimes strongly boosted bass, slightly recessed mid frequencies, sharp and bright highs that can make any music sound, admittedly, pretty darned exciting.
And Panasonic understands this, and knows what so many customers want, and have delivered that popular “v-shaped” sound signature in a nearly ideal way in these RP-HTX80B retro over-ear headphones.
They aren’t as boomy as Beats – not anywhere close, in fact – but these Panasonic 80s do have remarkably deep, strong and dominant bass. And their high frequencies are sparkling and prominent, and yet have very low distortion and always sound sweet.
These are Bluetooth wireless headphones only – if you want the retro-cool option of connecting them to your 8 track with a wire, you’ll have to look elsewhere – and they do not have active noise cancelling, but the Panasonic RP-HTX80B do have a full 24 hour playing time per charge.
And, for their price level, they have really amazing sound – again, not for audiophile purists, maybe (except when their audiophile purist friends aren’t looking), but for everybody else they have a clear, clean and highly dynamic sound, with tons of bass, bright clear highs and a much more sweet and musical signature than most others in their class.
Exceptional Accuracy and Durability
- Neodymium magnets and 40 millimeter drivers...
- Closed ear design provides comfort and...
- 9.8 foot cord ends in gold plated plug and it...
- Folds up for storage or travel in provided...
- Frequency Response: 10 Hertz to 20 kilohertz
Sony’s marketing clearly brings our attention to the large diaphragm of the MDR7506 wired over-ear headphones, and this really does say a lot about the design and sound of these legendary cans.
Because one of the main and most obvious qualities of the 7506 is deep, deep bass. They go really low, with speed, accuracy, detail and incredible dynamic energy. In this they also reveal a bit of a trend among all of the best retro headphones on the market – accuracy over hype.
With almost every single choice on this list – and among almost all of the most popular and beloved retro headphones among actual users – we see again and again that the sound is not boosted or optimized or made to sound more exciting or bassy or popular or anything else.
Instead, much like the best headphones 20-40 years ago, these Sony and other retro headphones prefer flat, neutral frequency response, accuracy, low distortion and musical fidelity – and in doing so they remind us that these qualities actually make headphones much more fun, engaging and exciting to listen to – more musical and more satisfying with every kind of music.
And the Sony MDR7506 are one of the best examples of this, a superbly musical and accurate pair of headphones that are legend in recording studios as well as among normal music lovers everywhere.
There’s no advanced tech here – they’re just basic wired headphones – but the sound, the build quality and the comfort, among other things, make them one of the best retro headphones you can get.
They also just look like proper headphones, big, with glossy earpads, large cups and a heavy coiled wire, and an overall high quality look that takes us back to a time when products were just a bit more solid and reliable.
Superior Quality and Lots of Fun
- High sensitivity due to lightweight aluminium...
- Capable of handling very high sound pressure...
- Very lightweight and comfortable, even if...
- Tough, detachable, single-sided cable
One of the coolest and most fun looking pairs of headphones available, the Sennheiser HD 25 are also really fun to listen to, with an excitingly energetic sound and deep, fast, solid bass.
They are also, in almost every way, decidedly non-tech – there is no wireless connectivity, just a professional quality audiophile cable to connect to your device. There’s no noise cancelling, just well designed ear cups that keep the music in and outside sounds out.
But where it really matters – in sound quality – the tech is extreme! Superb proprietary aluminum voice coils and the highest quality components and engineering lead to a sound that is not just fun, it is incredibly accurate and life-like.
This, along with their extraordinary strength, durability and wearing comfort, are why the Sennheiser HD 25 are the true choice among the hippest DJs today – and why they make an amazing choice for anybody else.
From rap and hip hop to electronica, jazz, rock, acoustic, even classical, whatever you listen to, the Sennheiser HD 25 will deliver the music with amazingly high accuracy and fidelity, and yet somehow always manage to sound so fun, so engaging and exciting – a superb pair of retro headphones for a pretty amazing price!
My Personal Choice for Best Retro Headphones
- Auto on:off and smart pause never miss a beat...
- Active noise cancellation and transparent...
- Exceptional comfort soft ear pads and...
- Three button interface provides easy...
- Automatic pairing mode makes setting up...
Full disclosure – this is my own personal headphone of choice, and my favorite headphone of all! I’ve owned these Momentum 3 headphones for around two years now, and use them more than all of my other pairs – uhm, yes, I do have quite a few pairs of headphones, thanks for asking…
And before I got these, I had the original Sennheiser Momentum wired headphones, and loved them – in most ways, at least – just as much.
But these new ones,-the third generation of this true modern classic, with not just the latest Bluetooth but amazing active noise cancellation, hear-through technology, smart switching, digital assistant compatibility, a wonderful phone app and incredibly simple and intuitive operation – are more useful and integrate better into my life.
They are, in fact, one of the most technologically advanced – and technologically successful – headphones I’ve used. Not bad, considering they are my top pick in this buyer’s guide for the best retro headphones!
But as much as I love their innovations and features, all of that is absolutely nothing compared to their sound. Although a bit expensive, the Momentum 3 wireless on-ear headphones are often cited as perhaps the best value in true audiophile sound on the market today.
They have a richness and smoothness that is unparalleled at this price level, and yet with detail, transparency and dynamic energy that is at times quite astounding. Deep bass, and plenty of it, is perhaps the only thing that keeps these from being at the very top of the “most accurate” category, but that same deep, strong, emphasized bass makes these some of the most exciting and fun headphones I’ve ever heard.
A beautifully manufactured and cool looking pair of headphones, with premium leather and nice, strong and easily adjustable metal bands, the Sennheiser Momentum 3 over-ear headphones are really retro looking in the best way, and they are easily the best sounding headphones on my list.
Superb Audiophile Wireless Retro Headphones
- Wireless Bluetooth technology: Bluetooth...
- Active noise cancelling headphones: two modes...
- Premium materials: crafted from lightweight...
- Built in Dual microphones: enjoy...
- Sound QUALITY: Great for all genres of music....
Most of the headphones on this list of top retro-style cans have been made for many years, decades even, and so their retro headphone style is totally understandable.
These Master and Dynamic headphones are brand new, however, and their retro style – probably unintentional – is more a result of the superb materials, including anodized aluminum and caramel lambskin, and the solid, premium quality that is evident in every single detail.
A true high fidelity product, intended for the high end audiophile market, these M&D 65s stand out in another way as well – they are, unlike any other choice on the list, neutral almost to a fault.
Even the wonderful Sennheiser ‘phones, just above, as beloved as they are among audiophiles, have a somewhat boosted bass and a slightly popular sound, but this is not the way for the Masters!
These super-premium headphones – which, in sound and in fit and finish, remind me of headphones which can cost literally thousands of dollars more – have no bass boost whatsoever, and can in fact boast one of the flattest, most neutral frequency responses you can get.
The Master and Dynamic MW65 are also incredibly fast, high resolution headphones, with transient response, resolution of detail, phase and time coherence and tonal purity – among many other aspects of sound reproduction – that are truly top notch.
This all leads to a sound that is pure, liquid, incredibly musical and ravishingly beautiful – exactly what the artists and recording engineers originally laid down, that’s all you’ll hear, and you’ll hear that original vision with almost perfect fidelity.
Their tech – including superior ANC noise reduction, Bluetooth with an exceptionally long range, great battery life and a lot more – makes the MW65 a good choice for pretty much any modern listener, but the sound is perhaps too pure and unprocessed for many – that is one of the highest compliments I can possibly give, but also a bit of a warning.
I call the Sennheiser Momentum 3, just above, the best sounding retro headphones on my list, but in fact many true audiophiles would choose these astounding Master and Dynamics MW65 over them, and these do have, to be sure, a slightly more accurate sound.
They are also among the most beautiful and highest quality premium products I’ve ever seen, and get our very highest recommendation.
Conclusion: Why Are Retro Headphones So Great?
I’m supposed to end these buyer’s guides with questions like:
How can you find the best retro headphones for you and your needs?
Who makes the best retro headphones?
…but honestly I have gotten so worked up writing about all of these fantastic products – not to mention listening to them – that I can’t help but close this particular article with a little more gushing enthusiasm.
Because the best retro headphones really are great choices for anybody – not just fun, but really great products on all levels!
All of the ‘phones on our list have brilliant and beautiful sound (often the best available at their respective price point), are very high quality and very well made, and some of them can even offer not just tech, but the latest and the greatest tech currently available.
I noticed a couple of trends when considering which retro headphones are the best, and which ones I would choose, and these two tendencies seem to help explain just why so many retro headphones are so excellent, and why they can be such a great choice:
Made for Years – several of my choices for best retro-style ‘phones have been in production for decades – one for more than 50 years! – and while a lot of tech has been introduced in that time, the basics of high fidelity sound – light, low distortion drivers, solid housing, low diffraction and high phase coherency and more – haven’t changed much at all (although these headphones have often benefited from many years of subtle improvement and refinement).
And even the models that are relatively new seem very much inspired by, and pay homage to, not just those established and well-loved sonic designs and established engineering practices, but also the old-school values of high quality and durability.
Accurate and Fun – I was surprised by how many of my choices are, in fact, either designed for recording studio use, or have become favorites among recording artists and engineers. This is a reflection of how so many of the very best retro headphones are far more accurate and high fidelity than other choices in their class.
Yes, they do often have a bit of bass boost, or slightly emphasized highs, to make them more in line with modern listeners and their wants, but I firmly believe that every single pair of headphones on this list presents the music really quite faithfully, with less modification, distortion or false emphasis than most others – the perfect balance of fun and accuracy, and so very satisfying with all kinds of music!