Some questions we hear quite frequently include, “Which headphones are the best? Which pair should I buy”? Our answer is: the best headphones for you depends on quite a few factors. In the wonderful world of music listening, production, mixing and more, we open the door to a category with way too many different shapes, sizes, and prices to count. Is it overwhelming? Well, for us it first was. However, as time has passed and research completed, we’ve been able to complete our definitive guide to buying headphones to make that shopping choice less painful (we know how some of you may feel). Now it’s up to you to decide which is best for you and your individuals wants and needs. Let’s get right into it.
Table of Contents
How to Pick the Best Headphones
To begin our guide, the type of headphones (as well as overall design) is going to be your first and foremost decision. Although there are quite a few different shapes and sizes to these things, we’ve (and most guides around the internet as well) narrowed it down to three types of headphone fits\designs to give your search some convenience:
- Over-Ear Headphones: Here we have one of the most popular types of headphones, and as we see in the diagram to the right, a look we’re all well familiar with. These have ear cups big enough to fit over your entire ear to fully engulf your ears to the source. There are however, two main types of designs when it comes to over-ear headphones as well, and it comes down to closed-back vs. open-back headphones:
- Closed-Back Headphones: As the name states, these fit around your ear in a closed-manner, disallowing your audio source to leave your ears as much as possible (cue the popular term ‘noise isolation’). Used by studio producers, recorders (vocals and instruments) and merely any leisure application, they’re great to give us some uninterrupted sound enjoyment (as well as not allowing others to hear what we’ve got going on inside — cue your pop mix).
- Open-Back Headphones: These are a lot more popular among the mixing and mastering professionals and the like. We do know audiophiles and music-enthusiasts who prefer this design as well because the openness of the ear cups allows for some sound to leak out in order to prevent buildup (typically lower frequencies) that may distort the accuracy of the sound (hence the mixing, mastering and engineer use).
- On-Ear Headphones: Some may confuse this with over-ear headphones, but they’re significantly different: they rest on your ear with a slightly smaller design than over-ear models. Some prefer this type because of the overall fit and comfort preference, while others state it can help deliver the sound directly into your ear as opposed to some extra room to allow sound to build up (especially if your ears are smaller). Many claim they’re less bulky than over-ear and are a lot better for travel. If it’s super confusing, you can read our on-ear vs. over-ear headphones article for a little more info on the differences between the two before you continue.
- In-Ear Headphones: Most of us are aware of what these are. In-ear headphones are the final build of the list and extremely popular nowadays with the rise of smart devices. They’re great for traveling, exercise, or really any use you need some convenience and versatility with. If you wanted to be even more technical, there is indeed a slight difference when it comes to in-ear headphones vs. earbuds — earbuds have a more-open type of shape (hence the ‘bud’ term) while in-ear headphones go literally inside of your ear canal (sometimes called canalphones).
Tech Hive has a great headphone type infographic to check out if you want some more help.
As the wonderful world of wireless technology continues to grow each year, we’re met with the second most important question to ask yourself before choosing the best headphones: do I want them to be wired or wireless? Just because wireless technology is readily available now, still however doesn’t mean you need to buy them just because. We know a lot of audiophiles who scoff at the word wireless when it comes to headphones, while we know others who say “why mess with a wire at all?”
Of course, there are pros and cons to both. For example, music producers, mixers and mastering engineers are definitely not recommended to go wireless since there’s a chance for latency and disruption. On the other hand, those who exercise rigorously don’t want to risk tangling wires, while others who enjoy movies and TV shows on their couch couldn’t possibly use a wired pair unless they’re up close and personal to the screen. Try to weigh out the pros and cons list for your intended use, which is up next in our deciding factor list. If you do end up going wireless, we definitely recommend making sure they have Bluetooth technology.
Below are a few of our guides you may want to check out that focus specifically on the best headphones with wireless connectivity:
To begin this section, we wanted to point out that we and many others use their headphones for multiple applications, leaving any type and use compatible for you (such as leisure listening, all headphone types and designs can technically work for it). If that’s your case, continue reading and pinpoint your choice to type, budget and connectivity. However, we know others who have a different pair of headphones for each setting they most often find themselves in (we do, at least), or even partake in a specific use more than others. This calls for a pin-pointed type of headphone, or at least with specific capabilities that appeal to the intended use.
If your use is widespread, there’s most likely a special pair of headphones made exactly for it. For example, swimmers are definitely going to pair up with waterproof headphones, music producers with studio headphones, gamers with gaming headsets, and DJ’s with DJ headphones. The list goes on, and it all depends on you as a person.
Thus far we’ve chosen the main necessities of the best headphones for us, however we’re met last with what some may consider a ceiling of sorts. How much cash do you have saved up? How much are you going to plan on saving after reading the guide and picking out your pair? There’s quite a price range within this category. You can grab a cheaper, lower-end and budget-friendly pair that will of course work completely fine with your intended uses; however, others can also spend as much as thousands on a high-end pair to fulfill those nit-picky audiophile or professional needs (did you know Sennheiser just came out with a $55,000 pair of headphones?).
Our top 10 list covers a broad range to give you some options, but with how many pairs of headphones out there in the market, it was hard to cover every single base. Due to that, here are some of our budget-friendly oriented headphone guides if you wanted some specific help within a price-point:
We have a few other anecdotes to keep in mind to help narrow down your search just a little more. Aside from obviously allowing you to listen to your favorite tunes, TV shows, podcasts, movies and more, we typically have a few little nifty features built-in to many of these that may peak your interest.
Here are some common “extra” features and technology you may have heard of: noise-cancelling headphones, headphones with microphones, control centers on the wire (to control phone calls as well), waterproof\dustproof\shockproof and the like, foldability, swiveling earcups (great for DJ’s or monitoring engineers), tangle-free cables, interchangeable cables, different types of housing builds, ear cup and head band make (leather, valeur, and more), LED light notifications, and more.
Best Buy’s headphone guide also talks about some of the popular extra headphone features that may peak your interest. Just try to keep in mind what you actually need, since a lot of headphones with bells and whistles will start to jack up the price significantly. For example, Head-Fi’s (slightly out of date) headphone buying guide actually recommends against ANC unless you really need it as well as stating it’s only worth it if the pair is high-end — it’s ultimately up to you, of course.
Don’t get us wrong, your headphones will be quite fine by themselves. However, there is definitely some extra gear you can always grab to enhance, protect, or change-up your new pair of cans. Carrying pouches\cases, extra cables, headphone stands, extra buds or ear tips, replaceable ear pads or headbands, even headphone amplifiers (especially if your headphones have a high impedance and you want to optimize its power, although it isn’t always necessary).
We’ll let you know which pairs come with extra stuff in their box, otherwise if one of these additional pieces of gear sparks your interest you’ll have to buy it separately, so keep that in mind as well when factoring your budget.
If you want to start looking at some more in-depth qualities of particular pairs of headphones, you’ll most likely see some different measurements in regards to numbers in the technical ‘specifications’ (specs) section of their respected descriptions. We’ll list the most important for those who are interested, otherwise, it won’t concern a lot of you if you plan on everyday activities, won’t be using a headphone amplifier, or working in a studio. Although out headphone specifications article goes more into detail, here are some summaries:
- Frequency response: This is the range of audio wave frequencies in which the headphones you’re looking at can cover. The wider, the better (to a certain extent) — those with a big range can cover a larger piece of the frequency spectrum. We wouldn’t stress over this when it came deciding over one pair or the other unless you were highly concerned with exact numbers. The lower a pair can cover, the deeper the bass can be, and vice versa with the highs.
- Drivers: This is the unit within a pair of headphones that produces the sound. It’s made of quite a few different technical pieces of metal and what not: magnets, voice coils, diaphragms, and more. The higher-quality this internal build of stuff, the higher-quality your pair will be, and ultimately better quality the sound (you’ll start to hear fancy wording of the metals and coils the driver is made of). When it comes to larger drivers, you’ll be getting more power the higher you go (as well as output frequency range).
- Impedance: Is higher impedance better than lower? Technically, yes. However, it ultimately comes down to your intended use of the headphones as well as what gear you’ll be connecting to. This isn’t as concrete as the previous frequency response and driver number. To summarize a rather advanced term, most low impedance headphones work completely fine when connecting an audio player, smart device, computer and more common input sources. As compared to higher impedance headphones, they have a more difficult time with noise, distortion, and bass reproduction, particularly when it comes to louder volume. In order for these headphones to reproduce them properly, they need low voltage, high-current amps. On the contrary, high impedance headphones are harder to drive with, but adding headphone amps or audio interfaces that provide high voltage and low currents provides some powerful and clear audio quality. The benefit? The noise, distortion, and clipping is less likely to happen with high impedance headphones when properly powered by amps.
The following is our list of the top 10 best headphones. Please keep in mind, it was extremely difficult to pick just ten considering how many great pairs of headphones there are in the world today. We did try to base our decisions on covering all bases when it comes to price-points, type, design, connectivity and more. Let us know in the comments if you have any suggestions, and we’ll be updating this guide numerous times a year to keep it fresh and ongoing.
Our pick: Best Overall Over-Ear Headphones, Studio\Leisure listening
- Type: Over-Ear
- Design: Closed-Back
- Connectivity: Wired
- Foldable earcups
- 90 degree swiveling earcups
- Detachable cables
- Weight: 10 ounces (without cable\connector)
- Impedance: 38 Ohms
- Frequency range: 15 – 28 kHz
- Driver: 45 mm
- Accessories included: Carrying pouch, 6.3 mm (1/4 inch) screw-on adapter
We start off our list with the Audio-Technica M50x, a pair of studio headphones so versatile that they’re great for the professional or every day, leisure-listening users. These headphones are practically famous since their release back in 2015, creating almost a cult following of sorts. Many prefer these over the over-priced beats we’ve all been marketed to aimlessly. To start, they offer a full sound with equalized mids, detailed highs and solid bass. Many praise the clarity of the sound, and even though they’re closed-back, give us a great portrayal of that accurate source the intended author wanted us to hear. They also work great with your phone, fold up and provide ear cups that swivel to offer maximum portability and storage. They are equipped with a protective cable that offers protection against wear and tear and the ear cups are made with comfortable plush leather that is perfect for long wear. They come with three different cable options (comes with a 1.2m – 3.2m coiled, 3.0m straight and 1.2m straight cable) and you will have no trouble with connectivity issues since they’re interchangeable. In regards to technical build, they aren’t considered high-end but we do have some great large-aperture drivers with rare earth magnets\copper-clad aluminum wire voice coils. Overall, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x are going to be some of the best headphones for the money for a majority of users in a wide variety of applications. They come in a couple different color schemes and offer a really sleep look and design on top of it all. The user reports really don’t lie, and you can also read our ATH-M50x review for some more info.
Our pick: Best Wired, Monitor In-Ear Headphones
- Type: In-Ear
- Connectivity: Wired
- Zinc metal housing
- Diamondback tangle-free cable
- Custom-made filters
- Weight: .7 ounces
- Impedance: 16 Ohms
- Frequency response: 2 – 25 kHZ
- Driver: 8 mm (hand-tuned dynamic)
Other version: Zn 1-button (at times priced cheaper)
The V-Moda Zn are definitely on the pricier side for earbuds, but that’s only because they are very well made, have some high-end technology and amazing sound quality on top of it all. As the case with higher performing earbuds, these come with a lot of moving parts that you will have to put together. There is a lot of detail put into the design and they are well-built to consider this buy a long-term investment. The “Zn” in the product name stands for Zinc, which is what the earpiece is made of and features a specialized frequency feature that produces sound amazing sound. It combines design with functionality as it comes with a safe cable, which will prevent wear and tear on your earbuds. In regards to their “custom-made filters” term, it’s a special design with acoustic filters installed in the middle of the drivers and housing to help with airflow (clears up the sound to prevent buildup of that air). Depending on which exact version you grab, you’re also getting a built-in microphone and three (or one) control buttons to navigate through your music and phone calls (we linked to this one, above is the link to their 1-button model). For earbuds, these are the best headphones in the market by far. Overall, the V-Moda Zn are a really good choice if you’re looking for in-ear headphones with portability and dependability. The only thing that may steer you away is the price-point, although we do feel it’s worth it if you have the cash.
Sennheiser Momentum Wireless
Our pick: Best Over-Ear, Wireless Bluetooth, Noise-Cancelling Headphones
- Type: Over-Ear
- Design: Closed-Back
- Connectivity: Wireless
- Bluetooth 4.0
- Active Noise Cancellation
- Built-in omnidirectional microphone
- Stainless steel ear cup sliders
- Leather build
- Detachable cable
- High-definition aptX codec
- Frequency response: 16 Hz – 22 kHz
- Impedance: 28 Ohms (active 480 Ohms)
- Weight: 2.1 lbs (only the package, Senny doesn’t provide the weight)
The Momentum Wireless headphones are the real deal – one of the best headphones in the market if you were looking for a high-end pair of wireless cans. German engineered, wearing these headphones will definitely give you a different experience (for a price, of course). These wireless noise-cancelling headphones are designed with real leather that provides great cushion, a metal construction and can definitely pass a stress test. In other words, these headphones are super comfortable. They boast about a 25-hour battery life (takes about 3 hours to charge) which will have you jammin’ all night because the sound quality is on point. The mid ranges are clear and the bass is pretty even, giving you that “straight from the recording studios to your ears” sound effect even though they’re not labeled ‘studio’ at all. Though they are wireless, they come with a physical cable should you choose to switch it up. Another cool feature is that these headphones can double as speakers when hooked up with the appropriate cords. In regards to accessories, they come with a durable carrier case and some extra cables. The headband will adjust to size and they are, overall, comfortable and lightweight. The Sennheiser Momentum Wireless are definitely worth the buy if you’re serious about your sound and don’t want to mess around with wires.
Our pick: Best Sports and Exercise, Wireless In-Ear Headphones
- Type: In-Ear
- Connectivity: Wireless (or option for wired)
- USB charging port
- LED light notifications
- 8 hours playing time
- Numerous accessories included
- Drivers: 6mm
- Weight: .5 ounces
Now we’re moving on to some wireless sports earbuds for you exercise junkies. We’re huge fans of Jaybird sport headphones, and these are mid-priced for the earbud category to be one of the best headphones in the market if you’re looking for a highly portable, simplistic in-ear pair for working out or merely being on the go. The safe cable offers protection against bending and wear and tear, which is so often how earbuds break (in regards to our working out headphones, I think we cycle through a new pair every 6 months!). In terms of capabilities, these headphones offer great noise isolation, so the neighbor sitting next to you will not be disturbed. As for the sound, these headphones offer a bass that is deep and vocals and mid-range that offer clarity. If you’re jogging, you should be totally safe to use these headphones without interfering with the sound quality. Vigorous exercise, on the other hand, may distort the sound a little, but it’s definitely not something completely off-putting. In terms of some additional accessories in the box, you’re getting quite a lot: memory foam ear tips, silicone ear tips, secure-fit ear fins, carrying case (silicone as well), charging cable and clips for cord management. We definitely recommend the Jaybird X2 for those into exercise and want some wireless in-ear headphones, not to mention the numerous colors you’ll be able to choose from to match your own style. The mere amount of user reviews doesn’t lie.
Sennheiser HD 598
Our pick: Best Over-Ear, Studio-Grade Headphones
- Type: Closed-Back
- Design: Over-Ear
- Connectivity: Wired
- E.A.R. technology (“Eargonomic Acoustic Refinement”)
- Neodymium ferrous magnet systems
- Surround reflector
- Lightweight aluminium voice coils
- High-gloss burl wood finishes
- Velour ear pads and headband
- Impedance: 50 Ohms
- Frequency response: 12 – 38,500 Hz
- Weight: 9.5 ounces
The Sennheiser HD 598, or really, the entire Sennheiser HD line (it’s huge — we only listed a few above in terms of ‘other versions’) are extremely famous among the headphone world. In fact, we’d consider them one of the most popular headphones ever made. They’re engineered to give you very clear and precise sound quality second to none for a really affordable price as compared to many competitors out there. They give us a very warm sound, comfortable fit (no pesky pain after long hours of use), as well as sturdy build to last us numerous years as a long-term investment. Aesthetically, the HD 598 have a very sleek look. It comes equipped with a standard 3-meter wire but also a 4-foot wire to plug into other sound equipment, like an amp or home theater. The velour ear pads are really comfortable and surprisingly, will not cause you to sweat. They aren’t foldable, so they aren’t necessarily meant to be taken out and about with you unless you plan on taking care of them properly. This should be fine because these headphones are truly designed for an awesome listening experience. If you’re looking to relax and truly take in the listening experience, the Sennheiser HD 598 studio headphones offer sound quality that will not distort or cause fatigue. They’re famous for a reason.
Bose QuietComfort 25
Our pick: Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones (Wired\Wireless)
- Type: Closed-Back
- Design: Over-Ear
- Connectivity: Wired\Wireless
- Active noise-cancellation technology
- Inline mic/remote for music\call control
- Active EQ and TriPort® technologies
- Rotating ear cups
- AAA battery-powered for ANC
- Comes with: airline adapter, carrying case, AAA battery
- Weight: 7 ounces
The Bose QuietComfort 25 are some of the best headphones on the planet if you are looking for something with superb noise-cancellation and one that hits additional marks as well. This is a higher-priced pair of headphones that is portable as it folds into a carrying case. The ear cushions are leather, which provides a comfortable fit and the structure is sturdy and can definitely withstand a stress test. The battery lasts for a whopping 35 hours, it’s Bluetooth capable and can also make calls with a built-in microphone. On top of this, the noise-cancelling component is really effective and can cut out even mundane, environmental noises. When it comes to ANC being worth it, this is where you’ll see the price justification but many would say this is where you should spend the money. Since it is so great at cancelling noise, you may feel a little more pressure on your ears but it will be worth it if noise cancellation is a top priority. However, what’s great is that even if your AAA battery runs out (which powers the ANC), you can still use them. The Bose QuietComfort 25 is a great headphone set for the traveler or every day user that wants to block out what’s going on around them.
Our pick: Best Sound-Isolating In-Ear Headphones, Budget-Friendly
- Lightweight, low-profile shape
- Single Dynamic MicroDriver
- Detachable cables with formable wire
- Enhanced bass
- Durable Kevlar reinforced cable
- Gold plated MMCX Connector
- Additional accessories: carrying case, sleeve fit kit, cleaning tool, user guide
- Frequency range: 22Hz to 17.5kHz
- Impedance: 17 Ohm
- Weight: 3.2 ounces
Now we have (what some may call) a budget-friendly pair of in-ear headphones yet still on the high-end on of sound quality, or at least what some may call “cheap” since many of the headphones in here are priced pretty high (for a reason, of course). Although we’re huge fans of Shure microphones, their headphones are actually quite amazing. The SE215‘s sound quality is crisp, powerful and excellent for an earbud headphone set. Due to the memory foam, this product is comfortable and will fit into your ears with ease. What’s also great is the reinforced cable is interchangeable to allow for easy replacement or customization. They’re designed for sound isolation (blocks up to 37 dB of ambient noise), which will lead to better quality not only because of the technology but advanced internal build. If you are looking for a heavy bass, these are also some of the best headphones for your lower frequency junkies — just keep in mind that’ll distort the “accuracy” of the sound. The Shure SE215 if definitely a pair of earbuds you will want to check out if you desire the portability that earbuds offer but don’t want to sell your self short on a really powerful sound on top of it all.
Our pick: Best Open-Back Headphones*, Mixing\Mastering\Audio Engineering
- Type: Over-Ear
- Design: Open-back
- Connectivity: Wired
- Soft ear pads with viscose
- Replaceable headband pad
- Single-sided cable (coiled) and gold stereo jack
- Drivers: 45 mm
- Frequency range: 5 – 35,000 KHz
- Impedance: Depends on model
- Weight: 10.5 ounces
The DT’s by Beyerdynamic headphones are a very reasonably priced pair of open-back cans that are extremely reputable among the audiophile community. The open back design will truly make it feel like you are in the room where the music is being played, putting an emphasis on sound accuracy and as good as they come in regards to that aspect. The sound quality is super clean and as the volume heightens, there will be no noticeable distortion from the bass (will also depend on the Ohm version you have as well as external gear you use). It comes with a 3 meter cord cable should you choose to plug it into an amp or audio interface. The replaceable headband will come in handy more than you think, merely doubling the longevity time you’ll be getting out of the pair in terms of investment. The build is leather and the ear-piece is velour, passing the optimal comfort test, which is definitely a super noteworthy aspect of this item. It comes with a 3.5 mm straight connecting cable with mini-jack plug & 1/4″ adapter (6.35 mm). Since they’re geared towards a studio, especially those mixing and mastering (still a favorite among leisure listeners as well, don’t forget), it’s not designed to be traveled with, as it has no portability features. Overall, if you are looking for a reasonably priced pair of open-backs that guarantees comfort and accurate sound quality, the Beyerdynamic DT-990 is for you.
* Quick note about the best open-back headphones: A pair that just missed the cut were one of our favorites, the AKG K 701. We’d recommend checking those out as well, especially if wherever you’re looking lists them cheaper (although it depends on the Ohm model you choose of the DT-990, they both hover around the same price and compete with each other). Both are great options at the end of the day.
Our pick: Best Over-Ear Multi-Use Headphones
- Type: Over-Ear
- Design: Closed-Back
- STEELFLEX Headband
- Analog Noise Isolation
- Detachable cables
- 3D sound stage
- Control center
- Exoskeleton carry case included
- Steel frame and interchangeable metal shields
- Memory foam cushions
- Drivers: 50 mm
- Frequency response: 5 to 30,000 Hz
- Impedance: 32 Ohms
- Weight: 9.2 ounces
The V-Moda Crossfade is an amazing pair of headphones we love around the middle price-point of this guide. They’re coined to be ‘studio headphones’, but are one of our favorite all-around over-ear headphones out there at the moment. Aside from the sleek and futuristic look, they are portable, foldable and comfort tested. One of the best features however is its durability. These headphones withstood ‘military level standards of testing’ (by the brand, albeit) and are made of steelflex and aluminum build. As for the sound quality, while there are no noise cancelling technologies and only passive noise isolation (hence the OK price-point), the overall sound is what really matters here and what sets these headphones apart. The bass levels are really balanced, the mid-range levels offer much clarity and you are truly getting a great deal if sound quality is what you are looking for. Moreover, these headphones are unique in that you can get laser engravings that are not just limited to words — you can also customize the color. Not a plus, but certainly cool if you’re into that sort of thing. Overall, the V-Moda Crossfade LP are very much worth looking into.
Sennheiser HD 800
Our pick: Best High-End Headphones
- Type: Over-Ear
- Design: Open-Back
- Connectivity: Wired
- Ergonomic Ear Cups
- Damped Headband
- Luxurious Ear Cushions
- Ring Radiator Transducer
- Detachable cable (insulated)
- Frequency response: 14 – 44,100 Hz
- Impedance: 300 Ohms
- Weight: 11.6 ounces
Other versions: HD 800 S (reference pair)
Here we have the Rolls Royce of headphones. These things will certainly stand out when it comes to price (and look perhaps) — but what about the sound? Great question. These headphones are not made for the average user that is walking the dog, doing dishes or on the train to work. No, these headphones are the best headphones for true audiophiles and the serious, focused sound-concerned individual. Sound quality here is on another level, coming in accurately, clearly and beautifully. The HD 800 still use the largest transducers than other headphones in the world today. They are relatively lightweight, comfortable and come with a custom carrying case that protects your headphones with plush satin. That being said, it’s really the sound quality that you are paying for. The Sennheiser HD 800’s are open, meaning they don’t have a noise cancelling aspect to them, but it will feel like the music is being played in the room for you. They are high-definition and will require to be hooked into a powerful amplifier in order to achieve what these headphones were designed to do. The technical specs don’t lie, and as stated previously, only recommend for those who are truly concerned with the advanced aspects of picking the best headphones for them. They are made in Germany and aesthetically pleasing – it looks like Terminator’s personal headphones with a silver and black color scheme. Overall, the Sennheiser HD 800 is not for the every day user but will absolutely satisfy the audiophile if that is you. We had to put these last since the average person won’t even look twice, but if you’re one of those out there who know what’s up, here’s your perfect pair.