Best Headphones 2013
Best headphonesLike every other gadget there is a huge amount of choice around headphones. There are hundreds of pairs out there, from £10 throwaway ones to those that costs thousands of pounds. Yes, thousands. The Beats By Dre range have brought headphones to prominence but you won't find any rapper-branded headphones here. We're after sound quality, comfort and pure design only.
But which should you buy? We've gathered together the headphones that we think any buyer should consider, whether you're out to spend £20 or £200. Before you pick a pair and hit the checkout, though, there are a few things to consider. If you know what type of headphone you're looking for then click the arrow to get started otherwise read on for an explanation of the basic types of headphone out there.
Earbud earphonesThe much maligned earbud is the type that usually comes bundled portable audio products. It's generally pretty rubbish at blocking out sound but this type of earphone can be good from a sound perspective. Several companies out there producing top-quality buds and if you can't stand the invasive rubber tip of an IEM, check out Yuin's range. It produces true audiophile earbuds that sell for upwards of £100. None of them have made it into our best headphones round-up yet, though.
In-ear/IEMs headphonesPossibly the most common upgrade from a pair of bundled buds is the IEM or in-ear headphone type. IEM stands for in-ear monitor, and it involves a pair of earphones that ends in an isolating tip of some sort - usually silicone, occasionally foam.
The approach of the IEM is a little different to the earbud, in that it isn't tuned for compensate for sound lost by an imperfect seal. Choose the wrong tip and you'll find that the bass response and overall sound quality of an IEM pair drops dramatically.
They're our top pick for anyone looking for a portable pair, though. They're discreet, often provide superb sound and block out the outside world effectively.
On-ear headphones (Supra-aural)One big step up the size chart, we find on-ear or supra-aural headphones. These feature much larger drivers than the in-ear type and use pads that sit directly on your ears. These tend to (but not exclusively) use closed cups, as their relatively small size makes them a good second choice as a travel pair if you don't get on with IEMs.
One issue with on-ear headphones, though, is that they're often a bit picky about positioning. Not all sets will make a good seal with your ear in every position, which can result in reduced sound quality if they're not sitting right.
Comfort can be a problem too. If you can, we recommend giving on-ear headphones an audition, as much to check out the padding as the sound. If you have sensitive ears, insufficiently soft pads may cause discomfort.
Over-ear headphones, closed (Circumaural)A real hybrid headphone, the closed over-ear type can often function as a great at-home pair and an on-the-go set. If you can pull off the look, that is. Over-ear headphones are often very large, and therefore are a bit conspicuous.
They tend to side-step most of the comfort issues of the on-ear kind as the padding rests on the less-sensitive area around your ears rather than directly on them. They usually offer decent noise isolation too.
These kinds of headphone are frequently used for broadcast and professional monitoring purposes too.
Over-ear headphones, open (Circumaural)Arguably the best type for at-home use, open-backed headphones tend to offer the best sound quality of any type. This kind of design gives sound an airy, wide quality that's very hard to achieve with a closed set.
You do pay for this, though. Open headphones leak sound like no other and offer barely any isolation from the noise of your surroundings. Don't even think about using an open pair as a travel partner.
Over-ear headphones, semi-open (Circumaural)Semi-open headphones try for the best of both worlds, with a porous outer layer finishing off the ear cups. The aim is to get some of the sonic benefits of the fully-open design while reducing sound leakage and offering some level of isolation. These headphones are relatively uncommon, although there are plenty of options out there if this sounds like your bag.
Wireless headphonesUnlike the other types above, wireless headphones do not suggest a particular design, rather the incorporation of some kind of wireless tech - usually Bluetooth. You can get little in-ear headphones like the Plantronics BackBeat Go, or full-size cans like the Sennheiser RS 220.
Bear in mind, though, that they'll almost invariably offer worse sound quality than a rival non-wireless pair. Plus there's the added consideration of batteries. Few wireless headphones offer the option to plug in a cable once the power's run dry (the Sennheiser PX 210 BT are an exception), making them useless without charge.
Many cheaper wireless headphones also use lossy wireless tech, which means some information is being lost in the transition from your player to your headphones. If you're out for portable Bluetooth headphones, look for the aptX codec. It's still not 100 percent lossless, but it offers much better performance than standard Bluetooth.
Noise-cancelling headphonesThe other feature worth thinking about is noise cancellation. This is clever tech that actively gets rid of noise, rather than passively blocking it like a simple closed-back headphone.
It does this with the help of at least one microphone. The mic is used to monitor ambient noise, an inverse wave of which is then piped-out by the headphone, negating the hubbub.
Active noise cancelling works best on low- and mid-frequency noise, such as engines, air conditioners and other such drones. It's generally less effective at reducing high-frequency noise than simpler isolation. If you want the best noise cancelling in the business, look at Bose's range of headphones. They don't always offer the very best sound quality, but their cancellation is second to none.
Whichever kind of headphones or earphones you're after, we have the lot here. All the best from Sennheiser, Phonak, Philips and all the best names in the biz.
We've drawn together the best headphones available now in one convenient location so whether you are looking for wireless headphones, noise-cancelling headphones or in-ear headphones we've chosen the best cans to suit your needs. If you are wondering if the Fanny Wang On-Ear Wangs or the ACS T2 Dual Driver Monitors are the ones for you, then look no further as you will find exactly what you are looking for in our comprehensive round-up of the best headphones of 2013.
Rather watch a video instead? Watch our video round-up.