The Superlux HD-681 Evo is a budget-priced pair of headphones intended for professional use. Their semi-open design means that pro use will likely be limited to checking mixes and overdubs, and not live-room tracking, but they also simply double as over-ear headphones for anyone looking for excellent sound on a budget. We’ve seen various prices for the HD-681 Evo, but they’re available for $42.95 from Amazon, which is an insanely low price given the quality of audio they deliver. Sure, the build quality doesn’t feel all that great, but if audio performance is your top priority, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more affordable option.
Available in black or white, the circumaural HD-681 Evo headphones doesn’t look like a bargain pair. The leatherette earpads and headband may not scream luxury, but the design avoids looking cheap. However, the lightweight plastic frame feels a bit lacking, though the overall fit is quite secure and relatively comfortable. The headband’s underside lacks padding, but it can be adjusted so that it doesn’t put much pressure on the scalp while the earcups still fit securely.
Internally, each earcup houses a 50mm diaphragm neodymium driver. The headphones also have a semi-open design—not something we typically see in the budget-priced landscape. Superlux claims the frequency range for the HD-681 Evo is 10hz to 30kHz, with an impedance of 32 ohms.
There are some design quirks that stand out. The cables are detachable, but instead of a typical connection on one of the earcups, there’s a hardwired cable terminating in a 3.5mm male connection that descends roughly 1.5 inches from the bottom of the left earcup. The included cable then attaches to this dangling connection, which is an odd design choice that we rarely see on headphones. There’s an included cable clip to keep the connection from pulling apart accidentally.
That said, there are two detachable cables of different lengths, 3.3 feet and 9.8 feet. That is a generous inclusion in this price range, but the lack of an inline remote control on either of them is likely to annoy some who may have preferred a single cable with a remote and mic for calls instead. However, given that the headphones are ostensibly intended for professional monitoring, this is a forgivable omission.
Superlux also includes replacement velour earpads, a quarter-inch headphone jack adapter, and a black drawstring tote bag. In all, it’s a nice haul for under $50.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the headphones deliver accurate, powerful low frequency depth that is balanced nicely with the highs. Those looking for exaggerated mega-bass will be disappointed, but nothing sounds thin or brittle—when there’s bass in the mix, the headphones deliver it without distortion.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the HD-681 Evo’s general sound signature. The drums on this track get a little added bass depth, but nothing too strong—in fact, they sound close to ideal, with fullness and a roundness that sounds powerful, yet restrained and natural. Callahan’s baritone vocals receive the ideal amount of richness in the low-mids, coupled with a crisp higher frequency presence that allows for solid clarity. The acoustic guitar’s strums and higher register percussive hits receive a solid high-mid and high frequency presence—they aren’t teeming with brightness, but there’s a good balance between the bass response and the highs.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop receives the ideal amount of high-mid presence to help accentuate its attack, while its sustain gets a decent helping of bass depth as well, giving it some solid thump. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with excellent depth. As far as bass goes, you get plenty, but it’s delivered with restraint, for a sound signature that favors something far closer to accuracy than most bass-forward headphones we test.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene from John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, get some added richness presence that brings out the lower register instrumentation a bit in the mix without sacrificing the overall balance. The higher register brass, strings, and vocals still have a bright, crisp presence to them that keeps things crystal clear, but you get a little extra body for the lower register instruments here. The bass boosting is subtle, and the mix still sounds natural.
In terms of audio performance, the HD-681 Evo headphones are shockingly solid for the price, delivering a beautifully balanced, rich, clear listening experience for under $50. The only drawback is the quirky design—there’s the odd plug choice, and despite feeling comfortable over long listening sessions, the headphones do feel a little cheaply made. But hey—they’re also cheaply priced. And sonically, they are overachievers for this price range.
Under $100, we’re also fans of the studio-friendly Sennheiser HD 280 Pro and the Beyerdynamic DT 240 Pro, as well as the even cheaper Shure SRH145m+. Music lovers looking for relatively accurate, affordable headphones—or studios on tight budgets—can rest assured, however, the HD-681 Evo is a solid pair for the price.