With all the options out there these days, it’s a pretty big question: what are the best headphones? Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, because it all depends what you want from them, whether that’s great noise-cancellation, impressive battery life, sports-readiness, or simply to get the best sound quality for your sterling. That’s why we’ve brought together a selection of the most highly-rated in-ear, on-ear and over-ear headphones to help you decide.
- See our full list of the best noise cancelling headphones for trains, planes and the office
- Find your new workout buddy in our roundup of the best fitness headphones and earbuds
- The best Beats headphones
But before you begin, a few considerations. First, do you need noise-cancelling? All on-ear and over-ear headphones will supply a degree of what’s called ‘passive noise cancellation’, so if you don’t frequently find yourself having to tune out lots of outside din, they might be up to the task. However for concentration at work or filtering out noise on long-haul flights (opens in new tab), you can find our best active noise cancelling courtesy of the Sony WH-1000XM2 (opens in new tab), closely followed by the BOSE QuietComfort 35 II (opens in new tab).
Secondly, there’s the matter of shape and size. For workouts, we’ve found wireless in-ears to be the best bet, as there are no cables to get in the way and their light weight won’t slow you down. Elsewhere, it seems to be purely a matter of preference.
On one final note, there’s the brands. When it comes to building the best, recognisable names BOSE (opens in new tab) and Sony (opens in new tab) are still the big players, but resist the temptation to dismiss the little guys, because they’re coming out with some impressive offerings: just see our first pick headphones by relative unknowns Oppo (opens in new tab).
Our friends over at TechRadar described these headphones (opens in new tab) as being heaven-sent in their full review, and by the looks of it we’d have to agree. Simply put, they’re best in class, offering an aesthetically and aurally pleasing combo of great design and powerhouse sound. The closed-back design is employed so as not to leak sound or let any in, making them ideal for the office or your close-proximity commute, and for the price, reviewers say the sound quality blows the competition away.
With one reviewer calling them “a complete revelation”, and another “pure audio ecstasy”, Sony’s WH-1000XM2 headphones are already an intriguing prospect, even if you’re not sure you need the active noise cancelling. Users found that not only did noise simply melt away when they popped these headphones on, they were comfortable over long periods of use, offered a good fit, gave out wonderfully clear sound, and were easy to control via the touch-sensitive right can, meaning no faffing with your phone or MP3 player for simple adjustments.
The first thing you notice about these closed-back headphones is that they’re rather on the large side, but it’s a small price to pay for what What Hi-Fi? (opens in new tab) called “the best closed-back headphones we’ve heard”. Those oversized cans are said to offer supreme comfort and great passive noise-cancelling as well as pumping out quality sound with great balance of tone, and while this might not be the discerning audiophile’s first concern, it always helps to know: the look and build are phenomenal too. A stylish, solid, great-sounding pair.
Keeping a beady eye out for our best headphones for sport? You’ve found ‘em. These in-ear headphones from Jabra combine wireless design, sports-specific functionality and Bluetooth connectivity for a pair that can really stand up to the rigours of your daily run – plus, they’re a great alternative to the AirPods (opens in new tab) if you don’t want to give Apple the satisfaction. While some might balk a little at the price, the automatic rep-counting, heart rate monitoring and range of integrated workouts make them a considerable cut above competitors. Don’t feel secure without a cable? See our best wired in-ears at number 7.
This smaller, sleeker take on Sennheiser’s Momentum headphones trade in the original over-ears for less bulky on-ears, making them a good choice for portability and compactness. Their ease of transportation, impressive 22-hour battery life and – if we might be so shallow for a second – good-looking design make them tip top for quieter commutes, however while they do offer a bit of noise cancelling, they aren’t our best pick for that alone. If your day is filled with noisy trains or open-office banter, see BOSE’s QuietComfort ‘phones below, or Sony’s WH-1000XM2 above.
No matter what competition comes their way, Bose’s QuietComfort 35 II will always be an impressive pair of headphones. The active noise-cancelling is said to rival our prior Sony pick for best in class, they’re comfortable to wear for the up-to 20 hours the battery life permits, and reviewers report an awesomely rounded, balanced sound. You could scout around for the lower-priced original QuietComfort 35s if budget constraints are unavoidable, but little extras like Google Assistant functionality to help your day go more smoothly do make these next-gen headphones worth the extra.
You could be forgiven for thinking it given the nature of our previous earphone pick, but in-ears aren’t just for sport, y’know. If you find on-ear headphones heavy or uncomfortable, these AKG in-ears look to be a great shout, as their small stature doesn’t indicate a loss of quality. What AKG call a “world class acoustic signature” is backed up by users, who loved the choice of three easy EQ filters to boost the sound in line with their preferred profile, not to mention the loop-over design that kept the earphones where they should be without tightness or discomfort.
Found your new favourite gym headphones in our list? Get fully kitted out with one of our best fitness trackers for smarter workouts (opens in new tab), too.