Want to remember the past without living in it? Our roundup of retro headphones is just what you need to get that totally radical look without going back to the stone age.
It seems like retro is in. 90’s fashion, 80’s music, and everything in between. And if you’re wondering how your childhood years are now considered retro, we can’t help you there. It’s a surefire way to know you’re getting old. So read on and remember times past. We’ve provided handy links to current pricing as well as availability for all retro headphones listed in this article.
1. Panasonic Retro Headphones
It’s almost like Panasonic made these retro headphones just for our article. These sturdy headphones have amazingly loud and rich sound quality while not skimping on design. In fact, they may also wind up on our list of best Bluetooth headphones for battery life, as they have a listening life of up to 24 hours. The design is pretty darn cool too.
Available from Panasonic for
- Bluetooth connectivity works flawlessly. We’ve reviewed headphones in the past that had trouble connecting to various devices. Our list of best Bluetooth headphones under $100 chronicles that journey. All said, Panasonic got this one right. The Bluetooth connection sounds great, and worked right away with our iPhone, outdoor Bluetooth speakers, and even our equally retro Bluetooth record player! It’s one of the benefits of buying from a major technology brand: You’ll get the best compatibility and no shortcuts on experience and ease of use.
- Super cool retro color options! You can get Panasonic’s retro headphones in four authentic to period colors. We like the dijon color option featured above. The sangria looks pretty amazing as well, and is certain to make a statement with the right outfit. If you’re not feeling very adventurous the standard black color option is offered.
- Loud, rich sound that doesn’t flake on range. The overall sound quality here is to die for, even when compared to wired models. We were able to hear crystal clear notes throughout a variety of environments including busy city street, working out, and in flight. It’s common for audiophiles to complain that Bluetooth doesn’t sound as good as analog wired sound, but in reality we can’t tell the difference. You’ll enjoy loud, thumping bass, crisp high notes, and overall rich lows.
- Slightly heavier than other models. Do you ever wonder why older stuff feels heavier? Back in the day headphones were made from sturdier metals and fabrics. We love how Panasonic stays true to period with their retro headphones. But we would love it more if they could have cut a few grams off the total weight. This is a minor complaint. These headphones do not get cumbersome or painful even while working out for an extended period. But we did find that they are a step up in weight from our regular over ear headphones and certainly earbuds.
- No active noise canceling. We’ve analyzed the science behind noise canceling earbuds. One of our biggest ongoing complaints are headphones and earbuds that claim noise cancellation simply by blocking your ear canal. Active noise cancelation requires technology, and it isn’t cheap. Panasonic does not make any claims of active noise cancellation here. That said we would love to see some tech come in at this price range in a retro form factor.
- No option for a cable. Panasonic’s Bluetooth connectivity works very well. But it would have been great to have the option for a 3.5mm cable if we wanted wired sound. Many Bluetooth over ear headphones on the market today provide this option as a standard. Unfortunately this means you can’t use Panasonic’s retro headphones with older non-Bluetooth devices.
2. Symphonized Retro Headphones
You may have read our glowing coverage of Symphonized in our wood grain headphones and earbuds roundup. The hits keep on coming for this newer company. Their entry into the retro headphones space offers a high quality wood grain finish that comes in four beautiful grain options. That means you can match them to your unique style without losing that high quality retro feel.
Available from Symphonized for
- Beautiful, real wood in four unique grains. Symphonized kind of owns the wood grain market for audio devices. It’s a smart way to differentiate as a brand. Four beautiful woods are available including zebra wood, walnut, maple (pictured above), and cherry. The cool thing is once you pick a wood grain you can enter an entire ecosystem of matching products. Check out Symphonized cool new wooden Bluetooth speaker for example.
- Wired option for better versatility. Symphonized improves on Panasonic’s error and includes the option to use a cord. They also are nice enough to include a cord with microphone so you can take calls and use voice commands while listening to music. Be careful here as not all Symphonized headphones include Bluetooth functionality. You may not care as the wired versions never need to be charged and are generally more straightforward to use.
- Super high quality sound for the price point. The Symphonized models feature sound that’s out of their price range. We’ve looked at super expensive DJ headphones that can cost as much as a used car and sound like a chorus of angels. Since we’re talking about consumer level retro headphones we know the price point is going to be in the more affordable category. But thanks to some great engineering, Symphonized achieves superior sound quality at all ranges. Way to go!
- Fake news noise canceling. Shame on you Symphonized! These headphones while snug and comfortable around your ears have NO active noise canceling features. If you are expecting total sound isolation from the outside world these will get you part of the way there, however Symphonized advertises them as noise canceling, which just causes confusion. We get it Symphonized – you need to rank highly for search terms with competitors, but this practice no doubt makes for some unhappy customers.
- Sound can be a bit leaky at loud volumes. On the opposite side of the noise canceling spectrum is sound leakage. It’s not a topic we often cover, but it can have a big impact on how and where you use your retro headphones. At higher volumes people around you may start to hear your music. This isn’t a problem in noisy urban environments. But if you like to listen to your music at a loud volume in quiet spaces these headphones may disturb others around you. For example, these would not have been great to take along on our recent trip to Tokyo, where public spaces are generally quiet even during peak commute times. The good news here is that these headphones are very loud when you want them to be!
3. Marshall Major II Retro Headphones
It’s the real deal from a real retro brand. Genuine leather. Solid metal hardware connecting the ear cups to the headband and external wires. That’s what Marshall is all about. We’ve also recognized them in our retro Bluetooth speaker roundup for the same reasons. The Major II uses that same super authentic formula without skimping on materials. That’s a feat in today’s consumer electronics landscape where corners are cut at every opportunity.
Available from Marshall for
- The original retro headphones brand for the most authentic look. People may think you actually own a pair from the old days! That translates from materials all the way down to the analogue control knob used to play, pause, shuffle and adjust volume. That same control knob also works for Phone functionality to answer or end calls and even reject them. Talk to the hand – er – knob! These also work great for those of us with smaller ears, as the ear cup is somewhat subdued compared to other studio-style headphones.
- Wired or wireless options in all colors and styles. Marshall offers a highly customized approach to their retro headphones. First you should pick from one of three styles. There’s the original Marshall brown style and color, an all black version, and a striking all white style. Wireless options have a 30 hour playback time. That’s pretty astounding considering the size of these headphones.
- Matches your other Marshall gear. If you’re a musician you probably already own at least one piece of Marshall equipment. They’ve been making audio gear for decades. That gives the brand a pedigree when to comes to retro headphones. Because Marshall doesn’t deviate from the design formula that made them famous, these headphones are both instantly recognizable and matching to any older gear you may own. That’s a point both for style and authenticity.
- Retro ear cover may bother some listeners. Let’s get this out of the way. Marshall is an awesome company that makes super high quality audio gear. But with their retro headphones they have not been great at keeping up with the design times. 90% of you won’t have any issues with the ear cups, but we have noticed that some people just don’t like the relatively small, squarish shape. for extended periods of time. That may not matter if you are going for the purely retro aesthetic, but it’s worth calling out.
- Not great for active movers. While the head band and ear cups are fine for regular activities, we would not recommend the Major II for working out. Aggressive motions like jogging or high intensity training could cause drops or discomfort. The headband is really meant to be used the old fashioned way, sitting on top of your head while you are stationary. Besides, these retro headphones are made from genuine leather, which won’t stand up too well for the long term if you’re constantly sweating on them.
That’s all for now nostalgia lovers. Doing this roundup of retro headphones gave us a brief, but totally enjoyable look back at the evolution of headphones. It’s cool to see so many brands investing serious dollars in producing high quality, authentic, and stylish products that transport you back to the past, but without skimping on the modern tech we’ve all come to love.