Best Headphones 2015: The best headphones you can buy
We've covered all bases in our best headphones round-up – it includes the best cheap headphones, on-ear headphones, headphones for commuting, headphones for running and open-back headphones for using at home.
The most affordable headphones in our list come in at £40, but we have models to suit every budget. What's more, there isn't a set of Beats headphones to be seen.
The aim here is to find the best headphones for your needs – this isn't just a list of the most expensive, overpriced headphones around (though we have included a couple of these).
To makes things easier for you, we've split our round-up of the best headphones into categories, including cheap, in-ear, on-ear and over-ear headphones. Click on the headings below to find your perfect headphones, or scroll down to the bottom for more buying advice.
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Have a quick search for low-cost headphones and you'll find thousands of different types, most of which are dirt-cheap, rubbish and will probably break within a month. We've picked ours carefully, and while they each cost well under £100, we can guarantee they'll keep you well and truly entertained.
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.
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 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.
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.
Headphone Buying Advice and Jargon Buster
There's plenty of choice when it comes to headphones. In addition to the headphone types listed above, we've listed even more types of headphones and outlined their pros and cons below, which should help you decide what's best for you.Earbud earphones
The much maligned earbud is the type that usually comes bundled portable audio products or smartphones. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.