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.
But knowing what to get can be a tricky task. Buying a pair that doesn’t suit you is an easy mistake to make. The influx of new tech means there’s a wealth of different headphones to choose from, with very specific uses.
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 commute, or in the office; 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 the type of headphone, factors such as audio quality and battery life need to be considered – two things that are difficult to gauge without real world testing.
And just around the corner are the new Sony WH-1000XM4. They’ll be replacing the Sony WH-1000XM3, so either now would be a good time to get the XM3s as they drop in price, or you can wait until the XM4 are officially on sale.
To make sure you don’t invest in a bad pair of headphones. If you’re in a rush our current picks are:
- Best overall: Sony WH-1000XM3
- Best sound: Bowers & Wilkins PX7
- Best true wireless: Sony WF-1000XM3
- Best sounding true wireless: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2
- Best open-backed pair: 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 noise cancelling: Philips PH805
- Best battery life: Lypertek Tevi
- Best mid-range in-ears: Flare PRO 2HD
- Best for comfort: Bowers & Wilkins PX
- Best premium IEM: Campfire Andromeda
- Best cheap in-ears: Final E500
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 noise cancellation on the Sony WH-1000XM3 is terrific, zapping noises to quieten everyday life. The use of touch controls is well-implemented and responsive, and comfort levels are good with the headphone both light on the head and comfortable to wear. Music playback is excellent with a bigger, more open sound than previous generations which is helped by plenty of energy and deep bass.
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 good enough to fend 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 one of the finest-sounding ANC headphones around.
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.
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2
Expressive and lush sound
- Expressive, lush sound
- Good fit
- Robust feature set
- ANC and Transparency Mode tax battery life
The Momentum True Wireless 2 refine the areas where 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 is on the light side, it works with the TW2’s fit to 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.
- 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 offending fellow passengers with your music tastes appeals, these headphones offer a thrilling sound while doing so.
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 weirder 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 lasting battery life – but no ANC is a bit 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 it how it presents music.
Cambridge Melomania 1
Affordable true wireless on a budget
|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 – the name means “an inordinate liking for music or melody” – are 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 new price of £99, they’re 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 (just) under £100.
Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3
|Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones with Alexa, Auto On/Off, Smart Pause Functionality and Smart Control App, Black||$315.29|
- 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. We’ve enjoyed previous efforts in the Momentum range, and this pair shows that it just keeps on improving.
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 disappointingly low at 17 hours. The sound is outstanding with well-controlled bass, clarity and a midrange that is laced with detail and nuance.
Confident budget headphones
|LYPERTEK TEVI - True Wireless Earbuds, Bluetooth 5.0 Stereo Hi-Fi Sound Wireless Earphones, IPX7 Waterproof, Upto 70 Hours Playtime, in-Ear Bluetooth Earphones with Charging Case||$89.00|
- 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, well, rubbish. That’s not the case with the Lypertek Tevi.
Reeling off some of the features: 70 hours of battery, Bluetooth 5.0 and an IP7 rating, they’re comfortably offer good value for money. They deal well with whatever musical genre or track you fire at them with a confident, lively sound. If quality on a budget is what’s required, search out the Tevi.
Flare PRO 2HD
Great sound wired or wireless
- Clean, robust and thoughtful design
- Interesting spec and configuration
- Speedy, accurate and full-bodied sound
- Relatively cumbersome wireless module
The Flare PRO 2HD 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
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 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.
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.
Confident, musical sound
- Big soundstage
- Confident, musical performance
- Impressive bass
- Comfortable fit
- Not the most finely detailed listens
We’ll be honest, we weren’t hugely impressed when we first listened to the Campfires. Match them with the right kit and high-quality and music, however, and they’re a treat to listen to.
You’d expect that from an £1000 pair of high-end, hand crafted in-ear monitors. Their looks, while distinctive, may not appeal to everyone, and they’re not 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.
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 for its expensive and uncompromising audio performance, so it’s with great interest that we have listen to 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.