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Best Headphones 2016: 16 great headphones for any budget

Andrew Williams



Headphones come in different shapes and sizes, whether that's earbuds, in-ear, on-ear, over-ear, wired or wireless. That means picking the right ones can feel like a daunting affair. Fortunately, we tested an incredible amount of headphones so we've made finding the right ones for you that much easier with this handy guide. So read on for headphones of every variety and to suit budgets ranging from stocking-fillers to serious investment pieces.

While this round-up covers headphones broadly, be sure to check out our best headphones for running round-up if you're looking for a pair specifically for exercising. These will not only survive sweat and moisture, but will also be far more secure so you're not constantly dealing with earbuds falling out or headphones dropping off your head. We've also got a list of purely wireless headphones – perfect for the Apple iPhone 7. If you're a frequent traveller, you might be interested in our best noise-cancelling headphones list.

Video: Trusted Explains – What type of headphones should you buy?

The round-up is arranged roughly in price order, but the curious among our readers may want to read through the entire list to see just what's available out there.

This Week's Best Headphone Deals

Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 at Amazon.co.uk | Was £269.99 | Now £199

AKG N60 at Amazon.co.uk | Was £229.99 | Now £149

Sony MDR-HW700 at Amazon.co.uk | Was £450 | Now £375

AKG Y50 at Amazon.com | Was $129 | Now $99

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x at Amazon.com | Was $169 | Now $149

Sony MDR-HW700 at Amazon.com | Was $350 | Now $219

Whether you like in-ear or over-ear, you're sure to find something that matches your needs on our list. So read on for our definitive guide to the best headphones available right now.

Best Headphones – Buying Advice and Jargon Buster

In-ear Headphones

Possibly 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

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.

sennheiser momentum

Over-ear headphones

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.

The closed over-ear type can often function as a great at-home pair and an on-the-go set. Semi-open over-ear headphones, meanwhile, aim 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 less common, although there are still plenty of options out there.

Hi-Fi Headphones

Otherwise known as open over-ear headphones, these are arguably the best headphone type for at-home use. Open-backed headphones tend to offer the best sound quality. 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.

Related: Best turntables

Other types of headphones

Those are the basic types of headphones, but there are a few variations that are worth knowing about, too. Here's a quick overview.

Earbud earphones

The much maligned earbud is the type that usually comes bundled portable audio products or smartphones. They're generally pretty rubbish at blocking out sound, but this type of earphone can be good from a sound perspective. Several companies out there produce 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.

Wireless headphones

Unlike the other types above, wireless headphones do not suggest a particular design, rather the incorporation of some kind of wireless tech – usually Bluetooth.

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 and weight. Few wireless headphones offer the option to plug in a cable once the power's run dry, 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 headphones

The 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. Noise-cancelling headphones are perfect partners for long haul flights as they block engine noise brilliantly.

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.

Related: Best noise-cancelling headphones

Lightning cable headphones

You might start hearing references to 'Lightning headphones' more often now that the Apple iPhone 7 has been released. The phone famously did away with the 3.5mm headphone jack meaning you have to either use the included adaptor, use a wireless pair or buy a new pair of Lightning-cabled headphones. As you might expect, these are wired headphones that terminate in a Lightning connector instead of a 3.5mm jack.

Related: Best Lightning headphones

Lightning headphones do bring along with them some useful features, however. By using a digital connection, functionality can be more easily added to headphones, such as an external DAC or noise cancelling headphones that don't require a separate battery. There's also the potential for Lightning headphones to sound better than their analogue counterparts, too.


May 24, 2012, 2:05 am

Just ordered the SoundMagic E10. My usual CX500's just aren't lasting the pace these days. I am very hard on them though as I use them during training so I never want to spend that much on something that I'm lucky to get 6 months out of. I've gone through 3 CX500's in a year so time for a change.

While I basically abandoned this site after the redesign (it still sucks by the way) its good to see you are still the goto source for things like this :)


July 5, 2012, 1:59 am

Well thats the end of them, the left earbud just died. Shocking.

I was very impressed with the sound quality, especially for what is still low end. Much better than the CX500's. Such a shame then I only got about 6 weeks out of them. I shall try for a replacement pair and see how that goes.


January 3, 2013, 10:28 am


Simon Hodson

January 4, 2013, 4:46 pm

I will prefer a pair of over ear headphone, which harms your Auditory system the least, and better it is a wireless one so that i can enjoy my music wherever i want freely. like the iT7x.


March 10, 2013, 3:25 pm

What about AKG TIESTO?!?! They won the Red Dot Award for Product Design 2013..


June 27, 2013, 8:37 pm

Curry's? Don't make me laugh. They don't sell quality audio products, just bass-heavy junk for the ignorant, spotty yoof market (know wot I mean?).


August 27, 2013, 2:10 pm

doesn't matter... i saw momentum on top, and i'm happy!!!


September 1, 2013, 1:22 am

Use Ajax PLEASE!


September 19, 2013, 2:53 pm

It is Ajax


September 30, 2013, 3:58 pm

Hey what abut b&o headsets?they have some of the best headsets I ever used!

Bernie S. Abel

October 16, 2013, 12:49 pm

obviously, Bang & Olufsen is unknown to the person who did that review... well.. he can keep his bose and the rest.. i keep my B&O headphones..

Bernie S. Abel

October 16, 2013, 12:50 pm

so true.. they are fantastics... i 100% agree with you my friend

János Márk Fodor

October 16, 2013, 8:58 pm

what do you think about the noontec products? they worth for the value i think :)


October 17, 2013, 6:43 pm

The 'Ignorant, spotty yoof' shop via ebay and amazon. Curry's lmao.

RJ Jacobs

November 19, 2013, 2:51 pm

That doesn't mean they sound good. One could say the Mio Liquid bottle was well designed, but that doesn't make it a good pair of headphones.

RJ Jacobs

November 19, 2013, 2:56 pm

I agree. Out of the headphones I've tried, and I've tried quite a few, these are some of the best. Plus good on a budget. $150 at Amazon. AT makes some excellent products, especially, when price is a factor.


December 2, 2013, 12:08 am

Sony MDR-7506 will always reign supreme in my world.

Joris Van Schuerbeeck

December 20, 2013, 1:06 pm

Got the Bose Quietcomfort 20 and they are awesome. Put a quick review together too about them : http://www.routerjanitor.com/2... I mostly use them in a crowded office. Can't wait to travel now (nah, that's a joke)


January 20, 2014, 7:41 am

Can anybody tell me why the hell isn't B&W's P5 in this list? With all due respect to Sennheiser, I listened to both P5 and Momentum On-ear (which is quite overpriced for what they offer, but somehow made it into this list), there's absolutely no comparison.

Raymond Fry

January 22, 2014, 4:21 pm

The best guys to review headphones are music producers that have the ears that hear frequencies and nuances that most people are unaware of. Much of the reviews from the public are quite useless and to make things more difficult it depends on the music genre they listen to. My preference is the Sennheiser HD 800 reference headphones because they give as near to a true performance as is possible.


February 17, 2014, 4:50 am

Trying once again...Bernie...You seem to know your stuff....Any recommendations for a good set for listening to on the computer while I play cards on line..???
Don't want to spend over $100...maybe a little more...HELP


March 13, 2014, 4:09 am

At first I thought Sennheisers are just overpriced and overrated just like Dr.dre Beats. I've tried quite a few headphones already; ranging from shure, akg, ath and sennheisers camp. I've tried at least 8 pairs all up and I've found that most of them are either bass heavy or treble heavy. Sennheiser hd 25 (Amperior) has the right tonal balance and the best soundstage compared to the others. I'm sorry that I've cannot remembered every model I've tried on that day. But I've shortlisted 2 headphones, namely shure SRH440 and HD 25. These are just as good as the other but Hd 25 has a slightly (very slightly) better sound control at higher volume and soundstage than Shure. Plus Hd 25 had a 33% discount on that day, so I bought that instead. I've tried the Momentum on a different day and I've found that HD 25 matches it. Luckily for me, I got the HD 25 for $100 cheaper as they are retailed at $299 in the DJ store.


May 24, 2014, 12:57 pm

nad viso hp50's ????


June 1, 2014, 3:36 pm

Anyone looking for some quality earphones <£30 have a look at the Acorn Audio E1s


June 6, 2014, 2:09 pm

My friend is visually impaired and uses screen reading software for work and study. She works using a headphone for upto 8 hours a day. I want to buy good quality headphones that will not damage hearing and also is comfortable to use. Please suggest some brands. I can spend upto £100.

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