Best Headphones 2018: 16 top headphones for every budget

Looking for the best headphones but not sure what to get? You’ve come to the right place. We’ve reviewed hundreds of different options and compiled a list of the finest you can buy right now.

Related: Best turntables

This round-up covers all the different types of headphones on the market, but if you already have an idea of what you’re looking for, check out our more specific buying guides.

If you’ve just bought a iPhone 8 or another modern phone without a 3.5mm headphone socket, you should look through our list of the best wireless headphones and best true wireless headphones.

Are you a frequent traveller? Then you might want some silence with the help of the best noise-cancelling headphones. We also have a round-up of the best running headphones for you fitness fanatics. Just in time for Christmas and the subsequent New Year health kick.

We’ve also just seen a load of exciting new models announced, such as the Jabra Elite 65t and the new B&O Play headphones with proximity mode. We’ll be testing all the latest releases and updating this page regularly.

What type of headphones should you buy?

There are countless headphones out there but most of them fit into a handful of categories. Here’s a quick breakdown of what each one does, so you know where to start looking.

In-ear Headphones: Also known as earphones, as well as IEM, which stands for in-ear monitor. This is the discreet option as in-ears don’t take up much space. They’re not for everyone, though – some don’t like the feel of the tips in their ear canals, and most don’t sound quite as good as a full-sized pair.

On-ear Headphones: These are the most popular kind of portable headphones at the moment, particularly for a workout or commute. They generally sound better than in-ears, and they can be more of a style statement. They don’t dig into your ears either, but the trade-off is that tighter fitting sets can get uncomfortable, especially for those who wear glasses.

Over-ear Headphones: The biggest and most conspicuous of the lot, but they are the most comfortable because they sit around your ear. That does They usually offer decent noise isolation, and better sound than on-ears. Open-back versions have perforated ear cups and sound more spacious, but you’ll want to avoid those for use outside the home.

Noise-cancelling Headphones: Increasingly popular, especially among commuters and frequent travellers. These headphones actively scrub out noise, rather than passively blocking it out. Microphones are used to monitor ambient noise, an inverse wave of which is then piped-out by the headphone, negating the din. Great for blocking out plane engine sounds, or just the office air conditioning.

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On-ear headphones for less than £50

Key features:

  • Multiple colour options
  • On-ear design
  • In-line remote
  • Review Price: £49.99

You don’t need to spent Beats money to get a good pair of headphones. The AKG Y50 are some of our favourite budget pairs of the last few years.

They have style, decent build quality and good sound. You can also get them in all sorts of colours, if you’re tired of boring old black headphones.

Their sound style isn’t a million miles away from that of the £150-plus Beats Solo 2. You get an extra injection of bass for a fun sound, plus it’s otherwise detailed, smooth and very easy on the ear. And easy one to recommend.

Buy Now: Beats Solo2 On-Ear Headphones Luxe Edition at Argos For £99.99

Buy Now at Amazon

Read the full AKG Y50 review

Sennheiser HD 201

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Over-ear and closed-back for less than £20

Key features:

  • Closed-back design
  • 21 – 18,000Hz frequency response
  • 3m cable
  • Review Price: £16.99

On a really tight budget? A while back we looked at a whole bunch of sub-£20 headphones, and the Sennheiser HD 201 came out comfortably on top in terms of sound quality.

These are full-size headphones, and have a nicely-balanced, detailed sound that a lot of more expensive pairs fail to match. It’s clear Sennheiser got a lot right with these ultra-long-standing headphones. Of course, being a very cheap pair they don’t feel anywhere near as ‘fancy’ as more expensive pairs, including Sennheiser’s own sets.

The frame is pretty light and a tiny bit creaky, and the pads’ fake leather is very basic stuff. Still, if money’s too tight to mention they’re a great pick.

Buy Now at Amazon

SoundMagic E50

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In-ear headphones for less than £50

Key Features:

  • Aluminium earpieces
  • Carry case
  • 6x pairs of tips
  • Review Price: £49.99

SoundMagic is a Chinese company well on its way to becoming a household name in the west, simply because of the quality of its headphones. We’ve heard dozens of positive reports from readers about SoundMagic sound quality.

The SoundMagic E50 are a great affordable upgrade, and offer a fantastic sound that gets you a higher-end vibe than most other pairs at the price. You may have heard of the SoundMagic E10, one of the most popular pairs of the past five years, but these are altogether more serious. A bit more accurate.

Less common for SoundMagic headphones, they actually look pretty good, too.

Buy Now at Amazon

Read the full SoundMagic E50 review


Good value over-ear headphones

Key features:

  • Removable cable
  • Folding cups
  • Full-size closed design
  • Review Price: £139

Now available for a shade under £120 online, the Audio Technica ATH-M50X offer some of the best sound you can get at the price. They get you sparky treble and a bit of extra bass, resulting in an all-round energetic and fun sound without the bassy bloat feel you get with some lively, affordable headphones.

They’re essentially ‘style’ headphones, without the style headphone price. Not all of you may love the design, though.

These are DJ headphones at heart, with a tough, bulky frame that values physical flexibility over being small and sophisticated-looking.

Buy Now at Amazon

Read the full Audio-Technica ATH-M50x review


In-ear headphones for less than £100

Key features:

  • 3-button remote
  • Metal aperture
  • iOS and Android versions
  • Review Price: £69.99

An easy earphone to recommend for just about everyone is the Sennheiser CX 5.00. These are very rich-sounding, accessible earphones that just sound huge compared with some at the same price.

We’ve seen them online for as little as £49.99, but they’re worth their £69.99 asking price too.

The look is quite a bit different from the showier Sennheiser Momentum In-ear, but it’s actually these we’d tend to recommend instead. They tone down the bass a little, giving a slightly more natural sound. Still, if you want big bass too be sure to consider the similarly-priced Momentum In-ear.

Buy Now at Amazon

Read the full Sennheiser CX 5.00 review

Grado SR80e

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On-ear headphones under £100

Key Features

  • Retro design
  • Open-back (so no good for portable use)
  • Superb sound for the price
  • Review Price: £99

Grado isn’t just another headphone company. Pairs like the Grado SR80e are truly unusual, because while they have portable dimensions, their open-back style values sound quality over everything else.

They leak music to the outside world and block out minimal noise. We still love them, though. Their sound is hard to beat at the price.

Dynamic, fast and exciting, they get you a taste of hifi without a scary price or draining all the fun out of music in favour of pure accuracy. The SR80e are not the most soft, relaxing listen out there, but if you really want to engage with your music they’re worth checking out.

Buy Now at Amazon

Read the full Grado SR80e review

Shure SE425

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In-ear headphones for less than £200

Key features:

  • Removable cable
  • Dual driver
  • Silicone and foam tips
  • Review Price: £299

They have now been around for years, but the Shure SE425 are as worth auditioning as ever. These are dual-driver earphones that offer stunning mid-range detail.

They also used to cost significantly more a few years ago, making them a better buy than ever. It’s not as if earphones really age, do they?  Well, not until the cables start fraying anyway.

These are actually an update to a similar earphone that’s even older. But this newer version has a tougher cable, which is removable.

Buy Now at Amazon


Stylish headphones for around £200

Key features:

  • Comfortable and attractive
  • Dynamic driver
  • Removable cable
  • Review Price: £269.99

Surely one of the most popular sets of headphones around, we couldn’t go without giving the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 a nod. They have a sound that balances portable use with high-end audio style.

You get refinement, a bit of extra bass kick, and an easy-going but detailed treble. They’re also very comfortable. We often wear this pair for hours at a time.

The Momentums are also great-looking headphones. In this second generation, Sennheiser enlarged the ear cups after criticisms that they were just that bit too small for a lot of people.

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Read the full Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 review


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Key features:

  • Active noise cancellation
  • Detachable cable with universal remote
  • Bundled flight adapter
  • Passive listening mode
  • Review Price: £229.99

For years, Bose has easily won our pick for the best noise cancelling headphones. However, right now it has serious competition from the AKG N60.

They offer more refinement than the Bose QuietComfort 25 and, for once, isolation that can stand up to the Bose standard. The N60 are very portable too. These are on-ear headphones, giving you great portability. If you want a full-size pair, though, you should definitely have a look at the Bose QC25.

Buy Now at Amazon

Read the full AKG N60 review

Sony MDR-1000XM2

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Our favourite noise-cancelling headphones

Key features:

  • Very effective noise cancellation
  • Great Bluetooth wireless performance
  • Excellent sound quality
  • Review Price: £329

A lot of people will tell you to buy Bose if you want a noise-cancelling headphone. We would have too, until the Sony MDR-1000X came along – and these successors are even better.

These wireless active noise-cancellation headphones can zap noise just as well as the Bose QuietComfort 35, but have a more dynamic sound, and extra features too. These include NFC, gestures that let you control your music with a flick on one of the earcups and a quick monitoring mode that lets you hear what’s going on around you.

They don’t blip and splutter like some cheaper wireless headphones and the battery lasts for up to 20 hours. You may think ANC headphones like the Sony MDR-1000XM2 are just for frequent flyers, but we found they make our journey to work much more bearable too. They’re not cheap, but are worth every penny.

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Read the full Sony MDR-1000XM2 review

Oppo PM-3

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Luxury over-ear headphones for commuters

Key features:

  • Removable cable (four included)
  • Planar magnetic driver
  • Closed-back, over-ear headphones
  • Review Price: £350

Oppo is a relatively new name in headphones. It has been making high-end Blu-ray players for years, but it really blew us away with the Oppo PM-3. These are planar magnetic headphones, getting you amazingly low-distortion, high-accuracy sound in a package that is also dead convenient.

Planar magnetic headphones are generally big and heavy. Not here. These are no less convenient than the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0. What they offer over that pair is a slightly more ‘audiophile’ signature, with higher-quality mid-range texture.

The treble isn’t concentrated menthol-potent, but the sound quality in general is simply outstanding.

Buy Now at Amazon

Read the full Oppo PM-3 review

AKG Q701

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Open-back headphones for awesome home audio

Key features:

  • Semi-open design
  • Removable cable
  • Green/white/black finish
  • Review Price: £265

Pretty much all the headphones we’ve talked about so far are suitable for portable use. Meant for it, in fact. However, the best sound comes from open-back headphones.

These put open air between the driver and the outside world. Funnily enough, it gives headphones a much more ‘airy’ and open sound. It means they’re rubbish for noisy environments, though.

Our pick of this sort is the AKG Q701, partly because their price has halved since launch. At £249, their sound quality flattens any style headphone at the price, and virtually any closed-back pair too. Useless for the commute, but fantastic for movies and music at home.

Buy Now at Amazon

Read the full AKG Q701 review

Sony MDR-HW700

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Surround sound headphones for movie lovers

Key features:

  • ‘9.1’ surround sound
  • HDMI breakout box
  • Wireless
  • Review Price: £450

Think surround sound is the preserve of rubbish-sounding gaming headsets? Think again. Sony has come up with a great set of wireless headphones that can handle 9.1 surround audio.

To be clear, they don’t do this by packing a million drivers into the admittedly-large earcups. Instead, they have a dedicated breakout box that plugs into your console, AV receiver and TV and does the necessary processing.

There’s a lot of tech wizardry involved, then. However, it does work pretty well. The Sony MDR-HW700DS have a gigantic soundstage that successfully places elements of the sound all around you, rather than just in the usual stereo field. Just bear in mind that they’re no use for portable use. At all.

Buy Now at Amazon

Read the full Sony MDR-HW700 review


Money-no-object over-ears

Key features:

  • Open design
  • Removable cable
  • 56mm driver
  • Review Price: $1,599

Want to spend megabucks on your headphones? There are lots of good options. And at this level it’s about what sort of sound you’ll appreciate most rather than necessarily ‘which is better’.

At the top of the must-audition list, though, are the classic Sennheiser HD 800. These are massive-sounding headphones, with the most intense micro-detail rendition you’ll hear in just about any headphone, anywhere.

They are pretty bright, though, so not for those who like a nice relaxed treble. Out for this kind of headphone? Be sure to consider the new Sennheiser HD800S (review coming soon hopefully), Oppo PM-1, Grado PS1000 and AKG N90Q.

Buy Now at Amazon

Read the full Sennheiser HD 800 review


Luxury commuter headphones

Key Features

  • Classy, premium design
  • Plenty of cable options (with free Lightning cable available soon)
  • Superb sound quality
  • Review Price: £700

The Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature were released to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary – and what a way to usher in a half-century they are. These are Bowers & Wilkins’ flagship over-ear headphones and they sound marvellous. The transducers are angled so they follow the shape of your ears so that the sound more closely resembles that of loudspeakers. The P9 Signature have a frequency response of 2Hz to 30kHz, so plenty of low-end presence, but the mids and trebles are positively delightful, too.

There are plenty of luscious, premium materials and the design oozes class and sophistication. These are the first pair of headphones Bowers & Wilkins have released that don’t come in brown, too, so you feel rather exclusive. While the headphones are wired, you get plenty of cables included. Future models will include a Lightning cable in the box, making iPhone 7 users very happy. If you buy a pair today, you can send off for a free Lightning cable.

Buy Now at Amazon

Read the full Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature review


The best in-ears you can buy

Key Features

  • Amazing airy sound
  • Nine drivers per earpiece
  • Custom earpiece artwork
  • Review Price: £1699/$1850

If you think £300 triple-driver earphones are crazy, prepare to have your mind blown. The Noble Audio Katana have nine drivers per earpiece and cost an eye-watering amount.

This puts them well out of the reach of most people. But that’s why they’re at the end of this buyer’s guide, not the beginning. The Noble Audio Katana are the only earphones we’ve reviewed that get you the amazing airy sound of a high-end full-size open headphone in an in-ear form. The sheer engineering needed to get nine drivers to work together to do this is astounding.

You can also get them custom-fitted in all kinds of colours and finishes, as well as having custom artwork or inlays on the earpieces. Check out the full review to see the genuine watch cogs in our review pair.

For a slightly more bassy balance but less treble extension, there’s also a joint flagship, the equally awesome Noble Audio Kaiser Encore.

At time of review the Noble Audio Katana were available for £1699/$1850

Read the full Noble Audio Katana review