What are the best headphones?
After a new set of headphones? There are plenty to choose from different styles, to different sizes and all types of features. Whether you’re after an on-ear, over-ear or in-ear, our selection of headphones represent the very best that we’ve tested in 2020.
There are plenty on this list to choose from, from budget cans to the latest premium efforts, and there’s enough variety to suit not only your needs but your budget. And we’ve not just plumped for the latest and greatest. There are several from a few years back that are still going strong and are worthy of a recommendation.
Below is our shortlist if you want a quick glance at what we think are the best headphones on the market. For a more detailed look, check out our summaries below, as well as the links to our full reviews.
- Best headphone: Sony WH-1000XM4
- Best sound: Bowers & Wilkins PX7
- Best mid-range headphone: Sony WH-1000XM3
- Best true wireless: Sony WF-1000XM3
- Best sounding true wireless: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2
- Best open-backed headphone: Audeze LCD-1
- Best wireless connection: Shure Aonic 215
- Best cheap true wireless: Cambridge Melomania 1
- Best for bass: Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3
- Best cheap ANC headphone: Philips PH805
- Best battery life: Lypertek Tevi
- Best for comfort: Bowers & Wilkins PX
- Best premium IEM: Campfire Andromeda
- Best cheap in-ears: Final E500
Raises the bar
- Superb audio
- Great noise cancellation
- Comfortable fit, lightweight design
- Useful smart features
- No aptX/aptX-HD
The XM4 knocks off the XM3 from top spot on this list, and it does so with an improvement in all areas. Some improvements are rather subtle, such as the design, but they reap dividends with cushier, more comfortable wearing experience. More obvious are the new smart features in Speak-to-Chat and improvements to Ambient smart Control that personalise your audio experience without getting in the way.
ANC is again terrific, suppressing noise for an even smoother and quieter noise-cancelling experience, and the sound is terrific, taking the performance of the previous over-ears and refining it in a way that makes the XM3 sound rather dated. The XM4 are Sony’s best noise-cancellers yet.
- read the Sony WH-1000XM4 review
Bowers & Wilkins PX7
Fantastic over-ear sound
- Big, textured sound
- 30 hour battery life
- Wear sensor technology
- Ambient pass-through mode
- ANC could be stronger
- Wireless strength can get choppy
With the PX7, B&W has crafted another entertaining pair of headphones. The active noise cancellation isn’t as strong as others, but fends off most distractions. Wireless connectivity can get choppy in busy areas, though, despite the presence of aptX adaptive audio.
The audio is fantastic; delivering a big, textured and sumptuous listening experience that make the PX7 one of the finest-sounding ANC headphones on the market.
- read the full Bowers & Wilkins PX7 review
Replaced, but still great
- The best noise cancellation
- Excellent sound quality
- Fast charge feature is great
- Comfortable fit
- Responsive controls
- Could do with a touch more detail in the treble
The WH-1000XM3 have been replaced by the WH-1000XM4, but they’re still a terrific purchase. Noise-cancelling remains effective, zapping noises to quieten everyday life with well-implemented and responsive touch controls, and good comfort levels.
Music playback is excellent with a bigger, more open sound than previous generations which is helped by plenty of energy and deep bass. The problem the XM3 have is that the XM4 does what it does, but better. If the XM4 are too expensive, then the XM3 are a cheaper option.
- read the full Sony WH-1000XM3 review
Super true wireless quality
- Great musical sound quality
- Super noise cancellation
- Snug, comfortable fit
- Rock solid wireless connection
- Great with all types of music
- Adaptive sound can be intrusive
- No aptX
If you’re looking for a wireless earbud with excellent noise-cancellation, the WF-1000XM3 are the best overall choice on the market.
They sound fantastic, exuding a musical quality that enhances the listening experience. Wireless connectivity is rock solid; the ambient noise feature is helpful for hearing what’s around you and active noise cancellation is the best we’ve sampled in a wireless earbud.
- read the full Sony WF-1000XM3 review
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2
- Expressive, lush sound
- Good fit
- Robust feature set
- ANC and Transparency Mode tax battery life
The Momentum True Wireless 2 refine areas the original were lacking and bump up the feature set for a a great true wireless experience.
The introduction of ANC is welcome, and even though it’s not particularly vigorous, it suppress a good amount of surrounding noise. Sennheiser has excelled yet again in the audio department, delivering a warm, lush and expressive sound that we can’t get enough of.
- read the full Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review
- Lavishly detailed and explicit sound
- Light, portable and robust design
- Sound leakage makes them anti-social
- Not exactly feature-rich
At £399, the Audeze (pronounced Aw-dee-zee) LCD-1 are the company’s most affordable headphones. Yes, most affordable.
The design is open-backed so they’re not commuter-friendly, and the feature list is small – the LCD-1 is all about the audio performance. And the LCD-1 serve up a detailed and dynamic sound that aims for neutrality and hits it. If offending fellow passengers with your music tastes appeals, these headphones produce a thrilling sound while doing so.
- read the full Audeze LCD-1 review
Shure Aonic 215
Weird looks, great sound
- Open, balanced, detailed, punchy and all-around splendid sound
- Decent battery life
- Robust wireless connection
- Flat-out odd looks
- App updates can’t come soon enough
The Aonic 215 are one of the stranger looking true wireless around with their huge antennae, but Shure’s first stab at a wireless earbud is a resounding success.
On the feature front they hit nearly every mark – Bluetooth 5.0, aptX and long battery life – but no ANC is disappointing for the price. Nevertheless, thanks to the weird antennae, the fit offered is great; noise isolation is robust and the sound quality is very satisfying: well-defined, well-balanced and never less than convincing.
- read the full Shure Aonic 215 review
Cambridge Melomania 1
Affordable true wireless on a budget
- Great battery life
- Comfortable fit
- Poised, energetic sound
- Grey finish is a bit austere
- Touch controls take some getting used to
The Melomania 1 – the name means “an inordinate liking for music or melody” – were Cambridge Audio’s first true wireless and among the finest you can buy, whatever the price.
With a battery life of 45 hours and a price of £99, they’re much less expensive than efforts from B&O, Sennheiser and Sony. With a detailed, energetic sound that exhibits good control over the frequency range, these are the best wireless earbuds under £100.
- read the full Cambridge Melomania 1 review
Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3
- Rapid, forceful and detailed sound
- Fit comfortably
- Look and feel the money’s-worth
- Quite big
- Others cancel noise even more effectively
The Momentum Wireless 3 is a monster of a headphone, both in size and in sound.
The noise cancelling is lighter than you’d expect, but as a overall package they’re up there with the best. Build quality is great; features are plentiful though battery life is just 17 hours. The sound is outstanding with well-controlled bass, plenty of clarity and a midrange that is laced with detail and nuance.
- read the full Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3 review
Confident budget headphones
- Confident, lively sound
- Polished build quality
- Long battery life
- Comfortable to use
- Not much at this price
Cheap in the true wireless market often meant rubbish. That’s not the case with the Lypertek Tevi.
Reeling off the features the Tevi have 70 hours of battery, Bluetooth 5.0 and an IPX7 rating, they’re good value for money. They deal well with whatever musical genre or track you fire at them with a confident, lively performance. If quality on a budget is what’s required, the Tevi are a great pick.
- read the full Lypertek Tevi review
Bowers & Wilkins PX
Talented and musical over-ears
- Fantastic sound
- Handy smart sensors
- Auto power/connect/play
- Attractive design
- Noise cancellation could be stronger
With the PX, B&W focused on its core strengths of design and audiophile sound and they delivered on both counts.
Noise-cancellation is not the strongest and there are perhaps too many onboard buttons to make sense of, but the wear sensor is clever, able to detect when the headphones are on or off your head pausing playback accordingly.
And in terms of sound they remain one of the best-sounding, most musically proficient pairs of headphones available.
- read the full Bowers & Wilkins PX review
Outperform their price point
- Well made from good materials
- Decent spec
- Punchy, full-fat and subtle sound
- Ho-hum noise-cancelling
- Could sound more dynamic
The PH805 aren’t the most effective noise-cancellers, but offer a decent noise-zapping experience for its £150 price.
Bluetooth 5.0 is supported and battery life reaches 30 hours (with noise cancellation toggled off). Dynamically they could be better, but otherwise there’s little to complain about, with a sound that’s a faithful-enough reproduction of what you’re listening to.
- read the full Philips PH805 review
Austrian Audio Hi-X55
A pair for the home
- Superb sound width and depth for a closed pair
- A wonderfully engaging listen
- Three-dimensional imaging
- No cable suitable for phone use
- Mids and bass are not entirely neutral
Fronted by veterans from AKG, Austrian Audio is a relatively new outfit but carries a big reputation, one that they deliver on with the Hi-X55 over-ears.
More suited to the home than the outdoors, the Hi-X55 sounds great. They offer a very wide soundstage that’s three-dimensional in scope, giving room to vocals and instruments in a way that mimics an open-backed pair of headphones. They’re not an entirely neutral sounding pair of headphones if that’s what you’re after, but they are a wonderfully engaging listen.
- read the full Austrian Audio Hi-X55 review
Confident, musical sound
- Big soundstage
- Confident, musical performance
- Impressive bass
- Comfortable fit
- Not the most finely detailed listens
We weren’t hugely impressed when we first listened to the Campfires. Match them with the right kit and high-quality music, however, and they’re a treat to listen to.
Their looks, while distinctive, may not appeal to everyone, and they don’t have the last word in terms of detail or dynamics. But the musical nature of their performance, big bass and large soundstage make up for those slights. Just make sure to have the equipment that suits them.
- read the Campfire Andromeda review
Final Audio E500
- Comfortable, light
- Spacious, punchy and quite balanced sound
- Need greater bottom-end control and more dynamism to their sound
Japanese audio brand Final have a reputation expensive and uncompromising headphones, so it’s with curiosity that we sample its £20 in-ears.
These in-ears are far better than their price would indicate, capable of drumming up a spacious sound that’s both balanced and punchy. With a generous assortment of eartips to help achieve a comfortable fit, they’re one of the more effective pound-for-pound headphones you can buy.
How do we select the best headphones?
Not just anybody can review a pair of headphones. You don’t need superhuman hearing to tell what’s good, but you do need to know what to listen out for.
Our headphone tests are done by some of the best and most prolific reviewers in the industry, with years of experience listening to everything from the plasticky freebie earbuds that come with your smartphone, to five-figure beasts of glass and marble. We love music and we want your tunes to sound good, too.
So we listen every pair of headphones we can get on or in our ears. We use a variety of sources, from basic MP3s playing on a laptop to high-quality tracks on dedicated hi-res audio players.
Our test tracks are wide-ranging to give headphones a thorough challenge. They’re also familiar, so we know every track backwards, and we know which bits might trouble the lesser performers.
We listen again and again, and we do that for weeks in case the sound changes – because it usually does. Then we’ll listen to similarly priced rivals and come up with a verdict that reflects the performance and features for the money.
Still looking for a headphone to buy? If you’re interested in delving deeper into other types, here are other pages that go into greater detail.