As a tech journalist, Iâm lucky enough to review a lot of expensive headphones, and try out even more. I like most of what I test â itâs really hard to find badÂ headphones nowadays â but itâs rare that Iâm truly impressed.
Enter Status Audio, a small Brooklyn-based company thatâs been gaining some momentum for its wallet-friendly headphones with legit audio chops. The company only sells directly to the consumer, which helps trimÂ overhead costs from distributing and marketing its products and apply it to R&D instead.
CEO James Bertuzzi emailed me and casually offered two models up for review, the closed-back CB-1 and open-back OB-1Â I was enticed by previous impressions comparing the former to the venerable Audio Technica ATH-M50, but at an alluring $79 bucks. The M50s are, after all, probably the most recommended headphones at the ~$150 price point, and with good reason.
A contender at half price is hard to ignore, given Iâve spent more sleepless nights than I care to admit researching some of the best budget options on audiophile forums throughout the years. Thankfully, Status Audio delivered in kind.
Design-wise, the two have little in common. The CB-1 have a fairly generic DJ monitor look, with earcups that turn outwards so you can listen in on the outside world. They have a bit of a brushed pale gold trim that looks like it could come off after a few drops, but the headphones otherwise feel pretty durable. While they wonât win any style points, they donât look bad either.
The single-sided cable is removable, and the box comes with both coiled and long options. No microphone, but these arenât really aimed at commuters (although theyâre easy to drive out of a smartphone).
The CB-1 are amply padded, light and extremely comfortable to wear for hours on end. They also provide solid, though not exceptional isolation.
As a testament to Status Audioâs boutique nature, the company quickly responded to customer feedback after the release of the CB-1s and adjusted the padding on the cups to be softer and sit more comfortably around the ear.
I tried out both versions of the headphones, and though I didnât have an issue with the original pads, the improvement was night and day. Itâs pretty cool to see a headphone company is actually, you know, listening,Â and acting upon complaints quickly.
The OB-1 look a bit more spiffy, with an open back, Sennheiser-esque aesthetic, with the added pizzazz of a red acousticÂ visible through each cupâsÂ grill. Theyâre also very comfortable thanks to the velour padding, although some might find the clamping force a bit high.
Unlike their closed back sibling, the OB-1 come with a non detachable 10-foot long cable running out of both ears. I donât mind it, but that, coupled with the open-back design, means most people will want to use these exclusively at home (though I took them out and about a few times).
Both headphones also have thick cables with solid strain reliefs, which bodes well for durability.
Where theÂ designs are practical but unremarkable, the sound impresses.
The twoÂ headphones have a surprisingly similar sound signature given their different designs.Â Iâd describe them as a âfunâ-neutral sound (a mild U-shape, for the more technical folks). That basically means the bass hits harder and treble has a bit more sheen than the traditional neutral sound often preferred for monitorÂ type headphones meant for at-home listening or in the studio.
But Iâm not complaining, as thatâs pretty much my favorite sound signature. I have have wildly varied tastes ranging from Gregorian chants to Carly Rae Jepsen, and I like a headphone that can keep up. Itâs an immensely pleasurable tuning thatâs hard to dislike for almost any genre.
The OB-1, as expected presents the wider soundstage of the two, adding to the illusion the sound isnât coming right from your ears. But unlike many open-back headphones, it maintains as solid a bass presence as itâs closed back sibling while providing superior positioning. In fact, I think its the slightly âdarkerâ sounding of the two models.
The CB-1 can reach a bit deeper into the sub-bass regions, for that deep rumble from organs and extra bass kick, but itâs not as much of a difference as you might think. On the other hand, the CB-1 have a surprisingly wide soundstage for a closed headphone in this price range, making them adept for classical music.
The midrange is relatively free of muddiness from the powerful bass, and the treble sparkles nicely. I also didnât notice any sibilance (harsh âsâ sounds and other abrasive noises) from either model, and both headphones are pretty easy drive out of a smartphone.
Compared to the ATH-M50s (powering them both through the excellent LG V20), the CB-1 has slightly less harsh treble and more kick in the bass. There seems to be a bit less detail in the treble, but that might be down toÂ overall highs beingÂ more pronounced on the M50 anyway.
Bass feels similarly textured, and I think the CB-1s actually have a noticeably better soundstage.Â If you want something more neutral, youâll prefer the M50s, but overall sound quality is a wash.Â Meanwhile, the OB-1 just sound better than either to my ears, although again, with the sound tuned a bit more on the âfunâ end of neutral.
I tried them against some more expensive models too, including the $400 Oppo PM-3 and $200 Moshi Avanti.Â They all have very different sound signatures â the Oppo are laid back, the Avanti have very foward treble â but I was impressed at how well Statusâ headphones kept up. They were pretty much as good as the Avanti â which I liked a lot and though they lost out to the Oppoâs just on detail and refinement, I still preferred the Statusâ house sound signature.
Bottom line is that the OB-1 hasÂ a slight edge inÂ sound quality of the two models, but your preference will be subjective and contingent on whether or not you mind your headphones letting sound in and out. And really, they both sound great â I canât think of any headphones that obviouslyÂ sound better until I start looking in the $200+ range, and even then, itâs a tough call.
Audiophilia on a budget
At $79, the CB-1 and OB-1 both punch well above their weight. No, the detail isnât going to live up to the fanciest headphones out there, but they get closer than they have any right to. With several headphones in the $200+ range, I ended up coming back to Statusâ products a lot more than I anticipated.
Even if they arenât the most detailed cans Iâve ever listened to, they feel like theyâve been carefully tuned for a variety of genresÂ (evidenced by the similar sound signatures despite radically different designs). That makes for an awesome listening experience with any type of music I could throw at them.
That being said, these arenât for folks looking for convenience on their commutes. I couldnât care less what my headphones look like or if they have a microphone as long as they sound good, but those limitations are worth keeping in mind. The company does have more commuter-friendly products with in-line mics, but I didnât get to try these.
Itâs also worth noting thatâs itâs not like these are the only headphones that punch above their weight. Iâve seen products from brands as variegated as Phillips, Superlux, Monoprice, JVC, and more provide great options in the sub~$100 range. Itâs worth spending some time in forums and reddit investigating the best budget offerings across a variety of price ranges and sound signatures.
Those caveats aside, the refined tuning and personal touch of a smaller company have helped Statusâ headphones become my top recommendations for anyone looking at headphones at $150 and under if youâre not looking for any fancy features. Even if your budget is higher, these are well worth a look.