The best headphones!
The best headphones offer an outstanding feature set, effective and flexible active noise cancellation, or the most exquisite styling and comfortable design. Sometimes they can be a bit pricey but no matter what the price, they all offer great value.
When buying a new pair of headphones, it can be helpful to think about where you want to wear them. If you’re going to use them on a run, for example, maybe you don’t want huge over-ear headphones. Commuting to work or traveling a lot? Well, you’ll probably want noise-canceling headphones to keep the sound out.
Looking for a specific headphone style? Then check out our best over-ear headphones, and best wireless earbuds buying guides. Once you make your purchase, be sure to check out our guide to getting the best headphone sound.
Sony’s new flagship headphones are the ultimate all-rounders, offering superb noise-canceling, exceptional sound performance, tons of comfort, intuitive controls, and plenty of special features. So, pretty much as the previous XM4s did, then.
These Sonys are a confident, convincing, and enjoyable listen in every respect: low frequencies are muscular but agile, highs are well managed and there’s plenty of detail across the range. Noise-canceling always an XM-series strong point banishes pretty much all external sound, and the excellent Sony Headphones Connect app allows you to personalize your audio according to taste.
The touch controls and battery life (30 hours with ANC on, 40 with it off) also beat the competition and though the design tends toward the bland, the fact that both the headphones and packaging are made almost entirely from recycled materials is a further mark in its favor.
The XM4s are still around and cost $50 less, but the XM5s are the new headphones against which to judge all others. If you’re still not convinced then check out our Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. WH-1000XM4 face-off to see how they compare.
The Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 over-ear headphones are priced the same as the Sony. They feel good, are beautifully constructed, and are either good-looking in an understated way or a bit too understated for their own good it depends on your taste. They have active noise-cancelation and a control app but ‘extended functionality’ is not their thing.
They’re designed to deliver the best wireless sound this sort of money can buy, and they do. The entire frequency range hangs together well, with nothing overstated and nothing struggling for representation. Tonality is clean, consistent, and entirely convincing. If you want every wireless headphone feature under the sun, you have plenty of choices. If, however, you want headphones that make the most of the digital audio information you give them, the Px7 S2 really needs to be in your thinking.
The Bose 700 on-ear headphones are still the runner-up in our best headphones list and sport a smart design and cool features. They’re equipped with a whopping eight microphones, six of which are employed to deliver Bose’s champion noise cancellation when listening to music or talking on the phone. It offers up to 11 levels of adjustable ANC that work equally well to neutralize noise across different frequencies. The 700s produce clean, balanced audio for crisp highs and solid bass; lows are felt more when at max ANC level.
Battery life holds up strong at 20 hours with ANC on. Smart assistant integration, touch controls, and multipoint technology also make these some of the most intuitive noise-cancelers for commuters and music lovers alike.
Although the revamped design of Sennheiser’s fourth-generation Momentum Wireless headphones doesn’t stand out quite like their classic-looking predecessor, the 60-hour battery life is a real crowd pleaser and makes these the one to beat. Add in the easy-going Sennheiser sound and effective noise canceling, and the Momentum 4 are one the most practical wireless headphones we’ve seen, perfectly built for a life on the road rather than tethered to a power socket needing regular battery top-ups.
Sennheiser’s smooth house sound handles a wide range of music content, from pounding beats to more mellow tunes with aplomb. It has Bluetooth 5.2 and aptX Adaptive support, and there’s a supplied 3.5mm cable for audiophile wired connections. ANC performance is effective, and auto Wind Noise Reduction is very impressive when standing on a windy train platform on daily work commutes.
It’s a shame the AirPods Max is so much more expensive than their noise-canceling rivals, but once you try them it’s hard to take them off. The plush design and comfortable fit present an immediate feeling of luxury, and this only grows once you start playing music.
The active noise canceling works brilliantly, the general sound quality is crisp and impactful, and the 3D Spatial Audio feature is a game-changer if you’ve never used it. This uses head-tracking tech to create a surround sound effect, which can give movie playback a definite edge compared to other headphones. Battery life is respectable too, with Apple’s 20-hour estimate tracking well with our own testing.
A year on store shelves and Apple’s noise-canceling earbuds are still arguably the top model in their class. The level of engineering demonstrated on the AirPods Pro cannot be overstated. Underneath the smaller, redesigned casing is six sensors, a powerful three-mic array, and Apple’s renowned H1 chip that boosts performance on all fronts. Audio is significantly improved from the AirPods 2, with the buds producing clean, balanced sound to enjoy music, podcasts, and movies peacefully. Adding to its sonic capabilities are new features like spatial audio that were introduced with iOS 14 and create a theater-like soundscape that makes watching movies even more immersive.
ANC is also surprisingly effective, as the outward- and inward-facing mics manage to neutralize a large amount of ambient sound; low-humming noises and neighborly chatter will go completely silent. The inclusion of ear tips makes a world of difference, insulating sound while providing a comfy and customized fit, which can also be optimized for better audio output through the all-new Ear Tip Fit Test. Hands-free Siri just keeps getting better and better, while cool features like Announce Messages, Audio Sharing, and auto-switching showcase the AirPods Pro’s multifunctional talents.
The new $179 AirPods 3 also gets some of these features, including spatial audio, Announce Messages, and Adaptive EQ, plus MagSafe charging, water- and sweat-resistant design, and 6-hour battery life. But the AirPods Pro still has ANC in its favor. Look out for a review of the AirPods 3 soon.
Grado’s GT220 true wireless earbuds are not overburdened by features such as ANC or a control app to tinker with the sound output. Compared to rivals listed here, these are a very straightforward design indeed that simply goes about the business of connecting you to your favorite music and as such, are one of the best-sounding earbud designs we’ve heard.
Offering decent battery life and recharge time, they’re perfectly pitched for music listening on the move and the sound quality delivery will also appeal to those who want to enjoy more serious listening at home from a compact earbud. Aimed at audiophiles looking to hear Grado’s signature sound in a true wireless product with top audio quality as a priority over everything else, the lack of extra facilities really shouldn’t be seen as a deal breaker at the price.
Master & Dynamic’s MW08 joins the AirPods Pro among the best headphones with a true wireless earbud form factor. The MW08 is more expensive than Apple’s pair of buds, which is saying something, but you won’t be worrying about the price too much when you’re enjoying deep, impactful sound with adjustable active noise cancellation.
The MW08 scores high on battery life and comfort, too, though it’s the design sensibility that really stands out. The D-shaped outer panels look great, all polished ceramic and precisely machined stainless steel, while IPX5 water resistance keeps rain and sweat at bay. You even get real buttons as the onboard controls, instead of unreliable touch sensors.
Bose has another ANC success on its hands. Noise cancellation on the QuietComfort 45 is just as good as the 700, eliminating a significant amount of ambient noise across the frequency spectrum. Proprietary TriPort acoustic architecture and a volume-optimized Active EQ give these cans solid audio performance with a well-rounded frequency range for a nice mix of lows, mids, and highs. Bose Music app support is beneficial for personalization and connectivity with other Bose devices check out SimpleSync opens in a new tab. Most importantly, battery life has been increased from 20 to 24 hours, making the QC45 the brand’s longest-lasting ANC model to date.
It’s hard not to mention certain flaws such as the inability to turn off ANC and the absence of features that are available on other Bose headphones, but the overall performance more than makes up for these drawbacks.
The Technics EAH-A800 follows the classic on-ear headphone design built for comfort and performance. In some ways they’re as complete and convincing a sonic proposition as any sub-$400 headphones of this configuration certainly, you’ll be hard-pushed to find an equivalent pair that’s more expressive on the finest details in your favorite recordings. From the bottom of the frequency range to the top, the EAH-A800 are beautifully judged they’re never less than realistic and convincing, and they reveal masses of detail in terms of instrument texture and timbre making it easy to make a connection to your music.
When it comes to ANC they don’t deal with as much external sound as the best of their rivals do and that’s not just Bose. Battery life figures are more impressive with up to 30 hours of playback time with hi-res LDAC and noise-canceling switched on. This doubles to 60 hours of listening via AAC with noise-canceling switched off. Overall, these are a nicely judged pair of headphones, but they’re hardly short of competition at the price.
The Technics EAH-AZ60 is quite a bargain and brings a high-end sound that can be enhanced via EQ or LDAC support, but also dynamic noise neutralization and a wide feature set that not many luxury models offer. The addition of Bluetooth 5.2 and intelligible controls for responsive operation adds to the buds list of strong selling points.
Not all functions hit their mark, however. Call quality is surprisingly disappointing considering how well the mics and ANC perform, and the lack of wireless charging feels like a considerable oversight at the price.
These drawbacks are forgivable, though, especially when considering Technics audio specialty, which is where these earbuds excel. This alone makes it well worth the investment for music lovers.
The Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus has a long name and an even longer list of reasons to buy it. This pair of true wireless earbuds is cheaper than Apple’s AirPods, but sounds better, lasts longer, and offers better water resistance.
There’s no ANC, but the Melomania 1 Plus is armed with more than enough extras to make up for it. Take the unique High-Performance mode, which activates the same hi-fi-grade amplification that Cambridge Audio uses in its CX range of stereo amplifiers. Or the mobile app, which delivers a range of well-judged sound profiles as well as the ability to tweak the EQ yourself.
The Clear Enduro ANC isn’t the most immaculate-sounding pair of headphones, and both Sony and Bose have better noise cancellation tech. But what’s remarkable about this particular pair is how it still manages to be pretty good at both, while throwing in plenty of extra features and qualities, for what is relatively a very low price.
In addition to affordable noise cancellation, the Enduro ANC also offers a fully foldable design, Hi-Res Audio support when using the detachable 3.5mm cable, and even NFC pairing. Battery life, however, is the star of the show: no other pair of headphones we’ve tested has beaten its 50+ hours of ANC playback.
The AirPods 3 snags most of the AirPods Pro’s biggest features, introduces new ones, and retains most of the series hallmarks, culminating in one well-rounded pair of wireless earbuds. Proprietary technologies like Adaptive EQ to adjust frequencies in real-time for more detailed sound, and Spatial Audio for producing 3D-like effects, play pivotal roles. Battery life has been increased to 6 hours, giving it the longest playtime of any AirPods model out there. Even new features that were introduced via the iOS 15 update make their way onto this third-gen product, including Enhanced Find My, which tracks lost AirPods while they are within close distance of iDevices or a MacBook.
The new ergonomic design is appreciated, though it doesn’t provide much on-ear stability. Not having ANC or a transparency mode might also encourage you to spend extra on the Pro version. However, if you’re just a few dollars short of owning Apple’s flagship buds, know that the AirPods 3 is an exceptional second choice.
We thought the Beats Studio Buds were a fantastic value, but their sportier version is an even greater value. Besides the AirPods Pro, the Fit Pro is the only other pair of Apple-related wireless earbuds to come with Spatial Audio, giving listeners 3D immersive sound and dynamic head-tracking technology to hear sounds accurately, no matter where your head turns. Active noise cancellation performs similarly to the AirPods Pro, silencing most ambient noises for peaceful listening sessions. The updated design with integrated ear tips is much appreciated for optimal fit. IPX4 water resistance ensures the buds are protected from moisture damage as well.
All the sweet software perks that come tied to the H1 chip are also available, including automatic switching between Apple devices, Hey Siri voice activation, and FindMy support to easily locate misplaced buds. Sadly, Android users don’t get to experience these features, but can at least enjoy ANC and Spatial Audio.
The OnePlus Buds Z2 accomplishes quite the feat for its price point. These buds package adequate ANC, strong sound, and ridiculously powerful charging into a nicely built design. Music, movies and video games sound loud and well-rounded, while noise cancellation is good enough to block out most frequencies and keep your concentration on whatever your mobile device is playing. Speaking of devices, Google Fast Pair makes it seamless to pair the Buds Z2 to any Android smartphone. However, it is the company’s Warp Charge technology that steals the show, generating a full charge in just 10 minutes.
OnePlus device owners do gain exclusive perks like Dolby Atmos support and Pro Gaming mode, which may rub some Samsung Galaxy or Google Pixel users the wrong way. The finicky controls can also be annoying to deal with at times, but neither of these flaws takes away from the Buds Z2’s value.
How to choose the best headphones for you
Many factors come into play when shopping for the best headphones, but your decision should always come down to intended use. That being said, you’ll want to take the following categories into account before settling on any pair.
Design usually takes precedence over everything. Are you looking for in-ear, on-ear, or over-ear headphones? Wired or wireless? Luxury or sporty? Since these are headphones that will be used for multiple occasions, you want something that suits your lifestyle. Whatever type you choose, make sure the headphones are well built, easy to carry, and comfy to wear for about 1 to 2 hours daily.
Sound is the second box to check off. Different models offer different sounds, and since you’re buying a pair to enjoy music individually, it’s important to find headphones that match your sound preference, be it heavy bass or distinctively clear to where you can hear the littlest nuances in recordings. Some models offer personalized sound via the companion app, which allows the user to create their own profiles and tweak EQ levels to their hearing.
Most premium wireless headphones are rated at 15 hours and higher. Wireless earbuds can last about 5 to 10 hours and offer extended playtime with their bundled charging cases always make sure one is included.
Accessories are just as important, especially for wired models the manufacturer must include the aux cable. Any headphones that come with a carrying case, charging cable, user guide, and extra ear cups or tips are solid purchases.
How we test the best headphones
From the design and comfort to the sound quality and overall value, we evaluate several areas when picking the best headphones. In addition, Tom’s Guide employs a rigorous review process that compares products with similar fit, features, and pricing.
Each pair of headphones and earbuds is worn over the course of a week for 2 hours at a time. During this time, reviewers evaluate comfort and fit, ease of use, and audio. We test sound by listening to tracks across different music genres, including hip-hop, rock, jazz, classical, and pop. Volume, clarity, and fullness of sound are taken into consideration in our ratings. Movies, podcasts, and video games are considered, when necessary.
Find out what we listen for during our testing process and how to get the best headphone sound for you.
When it comes to features, we test the effectiveness of active noise canceling, Bluetooth range, and battery life for wireless and wired headphones. Additional features are also tested for app-enabled headphones, along with ease of setup. Build quality, controls, and fit are taken into consideration for all headphone types. Fitness-focused headphones go through vigorous workouts, as we analyze fit while exercising and how well they handle ambient sound in loud environments.
Once testing is complete, we rate headphones based on our five-point system (1 = worst, 5 = best). If a product is truly exemplary, it’s awarded an Editor’s Choice.