We admit that finding the right pair of headphones is a very subjective task.
However, to make your choice easier, we set out to narrow down a market rife with options to a list of headphones that not only perform exceptionally well, but provide the most value for your money.
After months of testing various options, this is what we found to be the best on the market:
Best noise-canceling headphones and best goblet headphones:
Best traditional headphones:
Beats Solo 3
Best wireless earbuds:
During our testing period, we paid close attention to several of the most important aspects when it comes to headphones: sound quality, battery life, comfort during a variety of activities, and general connectivity.
We focus our testing on the most consumer-oriented options, looking for the headphones that offer the most value, so you won't find thousands of dollar options designed for the most demanding of audiophiles.
Instead, we looked at reliable options that work well with almost any device and any type of music, while also offering the top features in their respective field.
WH-1000XM4 ($ 348; amazon.com)
not only boast class-leading sound, but they also have phenomenal noise-canceling capabilities.
So much so that they toppled our former best overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-the-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise.
Be it noise from a dryer, noisy neighbors in the hallway, or high pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable.
This is a feat that other headphones, particularly the Solo Pros, couldn't compete with, which is to be expected considering its $ 348 price tag.
Beats Solo 3s ($ 199.95; amazon.com)
are a phenomenal pair of traditional headphones.
Their sound quality was among the best in our test group, with particularly clear vocals and instruments alike.
We also enjoyed the control scheme, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the design of the left ear cup.
They're also lightweight, comfortable, and look great, more than you'd expect given their reasonable price.
AirPods Apple Pro ($ 234.95, originally $ 249, amazon.com)
passed with flying colors
as 100% wireless headphones.
They offer a wide soundstage thanks to EQ technology that takes you inside the studio with the artist.
They have the best noise cancellation capabilities of all the wireless earbuds we tested, which apart from the distractions, creates a truly immersive experience.
Best noise-canceling headphones and best goblet headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4s
Whether it's drowning your neighbor when he mows the grass for the sixth time this week or blocking your roommate's endless Zoom meetings, the Sony WH-1000XM4 have your ears covered.
The joys with noise cancellation begins the moment you put these headphones on your head, even before turning on the ANC.
Thanks to their over-ear design with ample cushioning, they passively block sound.
But turn on the ANC, and the XM4s take sound cancellation to a whole new level.
With built-in microphones, they monitor the audio around you in real time to block it out.
No matter what situation we tested them in - heavy bass thumps, background conversation, sirens - no noise seemed to penetrate.
We started running on a treadmill with the XM4s.
Generally, with a pair of non-ANC headphones, you can hear the gears turning, the legs hitting the carpet, and the machine humming.
The XM4s were able to drop these sounds to, well, nothing, clearly outperforming the Beats Solo Pro in this regard.
But the XM4s really shone by blocking higher frequencies, such as the hum of a fan or air conditioning unit, chatty neighbors, and other general background noises.
We tested the XM4s against speakers that play a restaurant backing track (plates clicking, people laughing and chatting) alongside a real-life outdoor dining scene.
In both situations, these were able to block out noise, even without music playing, from nearby tables, falling silverware, and even the occasional creak of a door being slowly opened.
Turning on just the ANC provides a white noise effect, and effectively you're left alone in your own bubble.
However, adding music while the ANC is on gives the XM4s a whole new set of super powers.
Yes, you do get the benefit of noise blocking without distraction, but it also makes music sound better.
The XM4s have the ability to put you in the center of a mix, with tracks flowing clearly from left and right all around you.
Take Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire," in which you'll hear voices, organ, and eager drum beat dripping around you from left to right.
While some headphones can leave the stage a bit cramped or with white noise interfering, the XM4s leave you alone with the music.
The processor will even work twice as long to enhance tracks to a higher quality that provides a louder soundstage.
The companion app for Android and iOS allows you to customize the sound experience with various preset equalizers (or you can create a custom one).
You can even choose to let in ambient noise through the app or with the XM4's Talk feature.
Essentially, when the device hears your voice, it will lower the music and turn off the ANC, allowing you to interact with the world around you.
It's on par with the transparency mode found on the Beats Solo Pros and Bose 700s, but we really like this clever way to turn it on or off as it allows you to easily use them in more scenarios.
Sony promises 30 hours with ANC on, and in our tests we fell a bit short at 29 hours, 40 minutes.
It's still really impressive and beats anything else on our list.
No, these aren't the cheapest at $ 348, but you'll have a hard time finding a better pair that has no problems and will last for many years.
Best traditional headphones: Beats Solo 3
Beats Solo 3
The Beat Solo 3s were released in 2016, which in the headphone years means they are basically living their golden years.
But despite their age, they consistently stayed on top during our tests.
They often competed with headphones twice their price, outright beating them.
The Solo 3s produced a sound that would be expected from a much more expensive pair of headphones.
The instrumental and vocal clarity was among the best we've heard.
The drums, saxophone and synths from Joshua Redman's "Jazz Crimes" came through with incredible clarity.
Every drum beat appeared, even during the song's busiest moments with multiple instruments playing simultaneously.
During "Your Best American Girl," you could swear you were in the recording studio with Mitski as he sang and strummed his guitar.
The Solo 3s put on a great performance when it came time to bring the bass, actually beating their successors, the Beats Solo Pros.
Billie Eilish's "Bad Guy" had a lot of depth, as well as a good punch in the audio.
And while the PX5 and H8 topped the Solo 3 in this category, the scores were very close, mainly due to differences in their overall intensity.
This was most evident during Portugal's "Modern Jesus" The Man, which relies more on subtle bass.
These headphones also provide an invigorating sensation of 3D sound.
We could tell exactly where the instruments were in space while listening to Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire."
The experience made us feel like we were on stage with him, and his voice rang out with an equally impressive resonance.
Never has a song felt flattened or below its intended quality.
This was true even during the intense saxophone spikes of Joshua Redman's "Jazz Crimes."
And, as we discussed earlier, the Solo 3s could handle the unusually deep valleys of Billie Eilish's "Bad Guy" with no problem.
These headphones can make and receive calls, so we called a few people to put them to the test, and what we found was good call quality overall.
Our audiences generally described us as "pretty good", with reasonable vocal clarity.
In comparison, our voices were much more muffled during calls with the Bowers & Wilkins PX5, while the Beoplay H8is calls offered slightly better voice quality than the Beats Solo 3.
The Solo 3s were easy to operate too.
Most of the buttons reside on the cover above the left ear cup.
They're well integrated into the design, with a large center button that performs most of the functions, including play, track skipping, call control, and Siri (holding the button will conjure it up).
Around this button is a ring;
pressing at the top increases the volume, and vice versa at the bottom.
The buttons make a noticeable clicking sound, but not enough to be distracting.
The power button is on the opposite cup with a row of LEDs underneath it that indicate the remaining battery life.
The controls were easy to learn, and not difficult to find by hand.
The plastic used in these headphones seems substantial, with material that feels higher in quality than that used in most of the other devices we tested, but also decidedly lower in quality than the material in the PX5 and H8is.
The inner skeleton is metal, but it doesn't add much weight to the device.
In general, these headphones are thin and light.
The headphones also fold flat so you can store them in the included carrying case.
Visually, these headphones are remarkable in all nine color combinations (including vibrant options).
The plastic casing on the headband continually flows into the headphones, becoming the circular caps on top of them.
The cushion inside the headband blends seamlessly with the adjacent plastic, as it curves into the headphones as well.
Although there isn't much cushioning to speak of, the device manages to be very comfortable.
Not only are the headphones high-quality, but the headphones are also only 7.5 ounces, so it doesn't put a lot of pressure on your head.
Behind the beauty and power of the Solo 3s is an equally substantial battery: the Beats Solo 3s are capable of just over 40 hours of playtime.
That, in a word, is crazy.
You will rarely have to connect them.
And better yet, they have a fast charge that will give you three hours of battery life with just a five minute charge.
As we mentioned earlier, the Beats Solo 3 are quite old, having debuted in 2016. The Bowers & Wilkins PX5, on the other hand, were released in 2019, and the Beoplay H8is came out in 2018. Still, it's clear that these headphones are still around. Atop they also contain Apple's H1 chip, which powers AirPods (but not AirPods Pro) to this day and provides super-fast Bluetooth pairing.
Additionally, Apple offers a one-year warranty, plus two years and two incidents of accidental damage coverage, with AppleCare +.
By the time we finished with the Beats Solo 3, we had even more respect for Beats.
They are capable of audio quality like few others, comfortable and totally easy to see.
Even without ANC, these headphones scored at the top of our list, deserving of the title of best headphones.
At $ 199.95 (and often on sale for less), this pair continues to stand the test of time.
Best wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro
As it should be with any quality pair of headphones, the first thing you notice about the AirPods Pro is their sound quality, which is second to none.
The latest AirPods seamlessly play every note, strum, hit, or keystroke on a track.
Sound output is custom tuned in real time using Adaptive EQ.
While other headphones may come with a manually controlled EQ, the AirPods Pro work in real time to analyze drivers, amplifiers, and microphones both outside and inside the ear in an effort to reproduce tracks as true to the intent of the ear as possible. the artists.
Along with that technology, Apple increased the bass to a blunt degree compared to regular AirPods.
All of this comes into play in songs like Elle King's "Ex's and Oh's," which starts out strong with a bass tone.
High-pitched vocals are layered with guitars and a steady bass remains strong throughout.
In some headphones this leads to unwanted reverb or cracking sound creating a less than stellar experience.
But not with the AirPods.
While the electric guitar is bound to have some reverb, the AirPods' adaptive EQ didn't turn it down or up and leave it as the track is intended to play so that you can still clearly distinguish each instrument and their respective tones.
For a broader soundstage, we go back to the 80s with Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire."
The soundtrack begins with a steady snare on the left side with mixed guitars on the right.
So, like Springsteen is stepping up to the center mic, you hear his voice pounding in the middle.
It is not a very energetic track, but it is a difficult mix with instruments and sound that change from left to right.
The AirPods Pro don't add any extra vibe to the track by raising the tones, but instead present it in a balanced environment that focuses on vocals.
For a more powerful test encompassing drums, pianos, multiple voices, guitars, and a saxophone, we opted for "Born to Run."
With the AirPods Pro, you can hear each instrument clearly while the adaptive EQ works to mix the track in real time.
The volume produced at 50% is loud enough to block out most sound, even with noise cancellation turned off.
But turning on the ANC really shows the power of the AirPods Pro. Their noise-canceling capabilities rivals even the best over-ear headphones, creating a truly immersive, studio-like listening experience.
While flying with the AirPods Pro and the ANC turned on, engine noise and ambient aircraft sounds are reduced to a whisper with the volume set to 50%;
turning the volume up to 70% sounds almost the same as when you were still on the floor.
These outperform any other passive or active noise-canceling capabilities of all the earbuds we tested, and the experience is consistent whether you're connected to an iPhone, Google Pixel, Mac, or even a Surface Go2.
One small flaw with the AirPods Pro is that as an Apple-made product, connectivity with iOS devices is prioritized.
As soon as you open the AirPods Pro case lid, the wireless earbuds start connecting you to iOS devices;
With non-Apple devices, you will have to do the manual process.
While it may be faster for iOS devices, in our testing we found the connection to be robust and stable with 38 different devices, many of which were not made by Apple.
We did not experience any disconnections, and the use of non-Apple devices did not affect battery life.
Those who pair with an iPhone also get the 'ear tip fit test' during the initial pairing process.
Essentially, this uses adaptive EQ and pulsating tones to measure which size tips are correct for your ear.
You can use them comfortably for a long time, thanks to their design and long battery life, specifically five hours (you can quickly charge them through the case for an additional five hours) even with ANC activated.
You can stretch that with ANC or transparency modes off.
The AirPods Pro really land high on both the feature set and the price.
At $ 249.99, these are the most expensive, but the sound quality, battery life, connectivity, and class-leading noise cancellation will blow you away.
A quick guide to headphones
With headphone categories, it's all in the name.
Goblet headphones simply mean that they are built to go over your ears.
By encircling the ear, these create a seal around it that leads to a passive noise-canceling experience, as the materials in the headphones physically block out some noise.
They generally have ample padding, usually memory foam in higher-end options, that create a comfortable experience.
The plush allows the headphones to rest softly around the ear.
Also, the hardware setup is often a bit more powerful thanks to more physical space to work with, although the sound quality will be similar across a manufacturer's fleet of headphones.
The central difference between these and the traditional ones, however, is noise leakage and retention.
Cup headphones allow you to keep noise inside and block out something from outside.
The traditional ones simply rest in the ear itself, so it is more common for what you are listening to leak a bit.
There is also no passive cancellation.
When buying goblet headphones you will obviously want to know some of the crucial aspects, namely battery life, connectivity and sound quality, but a comfortable design is also important, as these headphones are built with the aim of blocking you. a bit of the world.
You also want the filler to make sure that these don't put too much pressure on your face or head either.
As we've already hinted, traditional headphones simply rest in your ears.
Padding and comfort levels are crucial with these headphones as they can add a lot of pressure to your ears and head.
And as a result, these generally work better with people with smaller heads.
The sound experience with traditional headphones will not have any passive noise cancellation.
Since headphones do not create a seal around the ear, but rather rest on it (usually in a circular design), the sound will not be blocked and generally leaks a bit at higher listening volumes.
In return these do not look so bulky and are a bit cheaper.
Noise-canceling headphones (also known as ANC headphones)
Noise-canceling headphones (also known as ANC headphones)
Fortunately, when it comes to ANC headphones, you have a choice.
ANC, or Active Noise Cancellation, is essentially a microphone-powered experience that blocks out ambient noises, leading to a kind of vacuum-like listening experience.
ANC headphones can fall into any part of the spectrum: wireless goblet, over-ear or wireless headphones with independent channels.
In addition to the ability to block out the world around you, many of these feature a transparency mode, which pumps out some sounds like conversations.
This allows the user a more immersive listening experience along with the ability to hear what is going on around them, perfect for when you are walking to hear traffic and the like.
When you look at the chapters of personal audio listening, you first had wired headphones.
Then Bluetooth headphones that had a cable connecting the left and right headphones.
And then someone thought of a way to cut the cord entirely, ushering in true wireless headphones.
Depending on the design, some headphones will sit flush on the ear, while others will wrap around the ear with a hook, and others will stick out a bit with stems.
The latter is the iconic design that Apple introduced with the AirPods.
While these are smaller in design than conventional earbuds, there are plenty of true wireless earbuds out there that pack some considerable power.
When choosing a pair, you probably want something that connects well to all devices, but also one that adds some magic to your most used device.
Just as important is the design, after all you want something that won't fall off, but still remains comfortable.
Note: The above prices reflect the price at the time of publication of the article.
Note: The above prices reflect the price at the time of publication of the article.