What are the best headphones?
After a new set of headphones? Well there are plenty to choose from all different styles, sizes and features. There’s never been a better time to get a new pair without spending a huge amount.
But knowing what to get can be a tricky task. Buying a pair that doesn’t suit you can be an easy mistake to make. The influx of new tech means there’s a wealth of different types of headphones to choose from, each with very specific uses.
With supreme Active Noise Cancellation, beautiful audio quality and a sleek design that allows you to simply tap for skipping songs, answering calls and activating, these are an excellent pair of True Wireless headphones.
As a result, you’ll want to do your research before investing in a pair of headphones. If you want some peace and quiet during your morning commute, or in the office, then active noise cancellation (ANC) is a must.
Are you a sporty, active user. Then a pair of headphones with wing tips, a good fit and an IP sweat resistance rating ought to be considered. If convenience is what you need, then a small, discrete set of true wireless earbuds may be your best option.
But even after making a decision on what form factor you want, factors such as audio quality and battery life need to be considered – two things that are difficult to gauge without real world testing.
We’re here to make sure you don’t invest in a bad pair of cans. Below is a list of five-star headphones across all types that we’ve reviewed in the past few years. If you’re in a rush our current picks are:
- Best overall: Sony WH-1000XM3
- Best sounding: Bowers & Wilkins PX7
- Best true wireless: Sony WF-1000XM3
- Best open-backed pair: Audeze LCD-1
- Best battery life: Lypertek Tevi
- Best for bass: Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3
- Best cheap noise cancelling: Philips PH805
- Best cheap true wireless: Cambridge Melomania 1
- Best in-ears: Flare PRO 2HD
- Best for comfort: Bowers & Wilkins PX
If you’re more interested in delving deeper into other types of headphones, we’ve listed other pages that go into greater detail below.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II Wireless Headphones
The only difference is colour when it comes to this competitive price, making this the lowest price you can pick up the fantastic Bose QC 35 II headphones. Don't be fooled, these RRP at £329.95.
Best noise-cancelling headphones
- 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 third and best iteration of its 1000X series of headphones, the WH-1000XM3 excel in a number of areas.
Noise cancellation is terrific, zapping noises to greatly quieten everyday life. The use of touch controls is well-implemented and responsive and comfort levels are good, both light and comfortable. Music playback is excellent with a bigger, more open sound than previous generations which is complemented by plenty of energy and deep bass.
Bowers & Wilkins PX7
- 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 produced yet another entertaining pair of headphones. The active noise cancellation isn’t as strong as some others, but is good enough to fend off most noises. Wireless connectivity can get choppy in busy areas, too, despite the presence of aptX adaptive audio.
However, the sound is fantastic; delivering a big, textured and sumptuous listening experience. They are one of the finest sounding ANC headphones on the market.
Superb 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 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.
Like the WH-1000XM3, the WF-1000XM3 stand tall among their rivals. It’s going to take something great to dislodge them.
Nothing if not uncompromising
- 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.
The design is open-backed so they’re not commuter-friendly, and the feature list is small – this 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 you don’t care about offending fellow passengers with your musical tastes, these headphones offer a thrilling sound.
Affordable and enjoyable
- 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 not very good. But the latest wave of affordable wireless earbuds have proven that cheap can actually be very good.
Step forward the Lypertek Tevi. 70 hours of battery life, Bluetooth 5.0 and an IP rating of IP7, which protects it from sweat and water, making it a good choice for a gym user.
They may lack flash – a new finish has given them a bit more pizazz – but they deal well with whatever musical genre or track you fire at it. If quality on a budget is what you need, the Tevi offer great value for money.
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 new Momentum Wireless is a monster of a headphone, both in size and in sound. We’ve enjoyed previous efforts in the Momentum range, and this pair are one of its best yet.
The noise cancelling can be rather lighter than you’d expect at this price, but as a overall package, they’re up there with the best. Build quality is great (and comfortable); features are plenty, though battery life is low at 17 hours, and the sound is outstanding. Bass is well-controlled, clarity is expressed well and the midrange is laced with detail and nuance. The Momentum Wireless don’t just sing, they soar.
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.
They’re a headphone that punch above its weight class, delivering noise-cancelling on the cheap.
Cambridge Melomania 1
Right in the sweet spot for affordable true wireless
|Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Earbuds Pair, True Wireless Bluetooth 5.0, Hi-Fi Sound, in-Ear Stereo Earphones with Portable Charging Case (Black)||$99.95|
- Great battery life
- Comfortable fit
- Poised, energetic sound
- Grey finish is a bit austere
- Touch controls take some getting used to
The Melomania 1, which if you’re wondering about the name it means “an inordinate liking for music or melody”, were Cambridge Audio’s first true wireless and they’re among the finest you can buy, whatever the price.
With a long battery life at 45 hours and a new price of £99, they’re much less expensive than B&O, Sennheiser or Sony’s latest efforts. With a detailed, energetic sound that shows good control over the frequency range, these are the best wireless earbuds (just) under £100.
Flare PRO 2HD
Great wired and wireless sound
- Clean, robust and thoughtful design
- Interesting spec and configuration
- Speedy, accurate and full-bodied sound
- Relatively cumbersome wireless module
The Flare PRO 2HD are by far the company’s most expensive earphones, but they justify the price with an impressive sound whether it’s wired or wireless.
Nicely finished and sturdy, they come with a DAC/wireless module that enables Bluetooth connectivity. The PRO 2HD offer a rapid, spacious and detailed performance, with smooth integration across the frequencies. Wireless performance is slightly less impactful, but you’ll hardly notice the difference when in full flow.
Bowers & Wilkins PX
- 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 absolutely delivered on both counts.
Noise-cancellation is behind the likes of Bose or Sony 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’re one of the best-sounding, most musically proficient pairs of headphones you can find right now.
What type of headphones should you buy?
Most headphones 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 — Also known as earphones, earbuds or 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 — 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 — 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 — 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.
How we test 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.
Each one of these products has been fully tested and rated, and you can click through to the full review on each. If you’d like to know more, read our comprehensive guide on how we test headphones.