Headphones. As you may have noticed, there are a lot of them out there. Now, more than any time in history, headphones are everywhere, invading our ears like a conquering horde. And like most hordes, headphones come in virtually every style, color, and flavor you can imagine. As reviewers, it can be daunting. As shoppers, it can be downright intimidating.
As such, we’ve compiled our master list of the best headphones you can buy, covering several price points and a wide variety of styles and sound signatures. These are the ringers. The value picks. The top guns. So stop tearing your hair out and peruse our curated collection of the absolute best headphones for you, your ears, and your wallet.
The best all around headphones
Why you should buy them: Brilliant sound, loads of style, and highly affordable.
Who’s it for: Anyone who wants to squeeze the best sound out of each and every dollar.
How much will they cost: $100-150
Why we picked the Sennheiser Momentum On-ear
Sennheiser may have moved on from the original Momentum On-ear, offering both an update and a wireless version, but we never have. From the moment we first heard these headphones, we were hooked. The Momentum are the Honda Accord of the Sennheiser lineup, offering that sterling mix of performance, style, and affordability that strikes at your deal hunting instincts like a dinner bell.
Let’s start with the on-ear design which really plays more like an over-ear, giving you better sound isolation than you’d expect, and a full and deep soundstage that allows your music to flow freely and ring purely. The design is also stylish and essentially customizable — the radio operator-style ear cups and band come in a wide variety of colors to mix and match. Cast from metal rather than plastic for durability, the band is layered in just enough padding for comfort and easily adjusts to fit. The look is unique, without calling attention — style and subtlety poured out in equal measure. The only design detraction is that the earpieces don’t fold in (something reserved for the update), but the cans come with a black suede case that’s still pretty packable.
The most important thing is that signature Sennheiser sound, of which the Momentum (both the on-ear and over-ear versions) serve as lead ambassadors. We’re talking about thrilling detail and loads of space to play around in, allowing you to explore the depth of each instrument, voice, or effect in three dimensions. The bass is punchy and warm, and that warmth spills into the midrange, which manages to be full and weighty, yet surprisingly accurate. Up top, details are revealed with clarity and precision, without ever getting sharp or sibilant.
While these headphones will eventually be retired, for now the original Momentum On-ear stand as an unmatched bargain in the headphone landscape — instant classics that won’t steer you wrong. (Incidentally, stepping up to the Momentum On-ear 2, or the wireless version will do you right as well, but for a bit more green.)
Best over-ear headphones
Why you should buy these: You want an equal balance of power, clarity, and durability.
Who are they for? Fashion forward folk with a penchant for clumsiness and a love for great sound.
How much will they cost? $210-250
Why we picked the V-Moda Crossfade M-100
Durability, iconic style, groovy bass, and details for days. Sounds like a pretty great combination, right? Those are the hallmarks that make the V-Moda Crossfade M-100 a killer choice. These headphones put V-Moda on the map. They helped the brand become so popular that musical titan Roland eventually decided to buy it.
One of the M-100’s biggest selling points is the robust headband, which can be twisted, wrenched, and generally abused with little to no ill effect. The hexagonal earpieces are made from rock-hard plastic and they’re also customizable thanks to removable plates, which V-Moda will make to order in just about any style you can think of.
Under the hood, the M-100 boast 50mm custom drivers that deliver high-quality sound highlighted by striking clarity up top, smooth and precise mids, and powerful bass. The latter renders instruments like bass guitar and string bass with chocolaty goodness and adds booming force to dance grooves, all without upsetting the balance required for a quality sonic experience. Throw in a nimble case crafted from Batman-esque putty armor, in which the cans fold down to perfect packing size, and you’ve got a winning blend that begs you to take these cans home.
Alternative: Looking for something more refined? We’re throwing in a two-for here with the Oppo PM-3. These cans won’t take the beating the V-Moda will, but at just $100 more, their planar magnetic drivers offer crazy-accurate sound performance to stand with some of the best in the business.
Best on-ear headphones
Why you should buy them: Supreme clarity, plush comfort, durable design, Lightning connection.
Who’s it for: Anyone who wants the best on-ears money can buy — especially Apple heads.
How much will they cost: $450, $500 with Lightning cable (we know, we know)
Why we picked the Audeze Sine on-ear
Sometimes in life you have to go for the brass ring, and for on-ear headphones, there’s nothing brass ringier (?) than the Sine. They don’t come cheap, but as pricey as they are, you’re still getting a bargain. That’s because Audeze has done something incredible with the Sine, leveraging technology from its pricier (and bulkier) EL-8 headphones aimed at travelling audiophiles, to fold down a pair of planar magnetic drivers into a size and efficiency level that was unimaginable just a few short years ago.
We know what you’re thinking: What’s all the hububb with planar magnetics? Unlike traditional dynamic drivers, which create sound by pushing air like a piston for a more hatchet than scalpel approach, planar drivers use a micro-thin membrane excited by a magnet to create subtle vibrations that more accurately reproduce the music you love. What’s that mean to you? Crystalline clarity, ruddy warmth down low, and a veritable wilderness of textures and sonic colors extracted from your favorite instruments.
Audeze has helped push planar tech by leaps and bounds in recent years, allowing you to take a highly sophisticated mechanism out of the audio lab, and into the real world, and the Sine are the company’s tour de force on this front. Pushing that technology further (potential iPhone 7 buyers should take note here), the Sine can also be equipped with a $50 Lightning cable that receives digital audio directly from your iDevice and transfers it into pristine analog sound. That’s accomplished by a DAC (digital-to-analog converter) that doubles as a three-button iOS mic piece. The design also allows for a digital EQ, with other options expected to follow.
Even if you don’t roll with Apple, the Sine’s low impedance, cushy yet robust design, and stylish looks make it the obvious choice for audio nuts who must take fantastic sound along for the ride. Looking for a more affordable on-ear? See our top pick.
Best in-ear headphones (Best earbuds)
Why you should buy them: A sweet mix of style, performance, and shocking affordability.
Who’s it for: The discerning listener who craves quality, but hasn’t yet landed that corner office.
How much will they cost: $100
Why we picked the 1More Triple Drivers
Honestly, we could have gone multiple ways for this pick, but 1More’s unassuming Triple Drivers just wouldn’t stop popping up into the picture. Unlike our on-ear pick, the 1More aren’t at the top of the class in performance. But what they do have going for them is unrivaled quality and value at their (very reachable) price point.
Sure, we could recommend Ultimate Ears Pro’s custom molded RM’s, or even Shure’s mind-blowing electrostatic KSE 1500, but at $1,000 and $3,000 respectively, we may as well recommend a summer home at Cape Cod for stress relief — most people just can’t pay those premiums. More to the point, China-based upstart 1More blew our minds when we discovered how little the company wanted for the Triple Drivers. For this kind of build quality and performance, we’d expect to pay at least double.
So what specifically do the Triple Drivers offer? A gorgeous aesthetic, solid construction, and you guessed it, triple drivers inside for excellent sound. That includes one balanced armature driver each for the bass, midrange, and treble. The result is sparkling clarity, smooth and powerful bass, and balanced sound that outdoes everything we’ve heard at the $100 line. Need we say more?
Best wireless headphones
Why you should buy them: A searing blend of high performance, good looks, comfort, and features galore.
Who’s it for: Those who want to cut the cord without compromises.
How much will they cost: $370-500
Why we picked the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 2.0
Yes, we fully realize we’re being predictable here. But there’s a reason the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless sit atop so many wireless headphone best-of lists; they really are that good. In fact, the only real detraction for these cans is their somewhat shocking $500 MSRP. However, if you’re savvy, you can steal them for a good $100 less than that, and that’s where the value really starts to roll in.
Here’s the thing about wireless headphones: most of them sound pretty terrible. With the Momentum Wireless, you get everything we love about a quality headphone experience — quality, comfort, durability, reliability — all without the worry of wires. You’re also really getting two great sets of cans in one, as plugging these cans in converts them into a top-tier over-ear that competes with the best of them.
Whether you’re listening via Bluetooth or the traditional jack, these headphones boast the same brand of brilliant sound performance we raved about for our top pick, the Momentum on-ear, only with a bigger soundstage and more powerful, authoritative bass. Oh yeah, and you also get decent (though not fantastic) noise cancellation, easy and intuitive playback controls, automated voice prompts, excellent call quality, style … yeah, these are great cans.
One interesting feature of note is that if the headphones are on, so is noise cancellation — there is no off button. However, while you might think that would get annoying, the isolation really just serves to provide better sound performance and has yet to present any issue in real world use for us; if you’re jamming out with over-ear cans, you probably won’t be very responsive to the world around you, noise canceling or not.
Best fully wireless earbuds
Why you should buy them: Quality wireless buds that do what they’re supposed to.
Who’s it for: Listeners who want total wireless autonomy without sacrificing quality.
How much will they cost: $250
Why we picked the Erato Apollo 7 earbuds
Not long ago, fully wireless earbuds were a myth; something you saw in spy films or sci-fi shows, but certainly not at your fingertips. Times have changed, and there are now plenty of companies promising the freedom truly wireless buds provide. Yet, while the market is set to explode over the next year, at present, very few wireless buds deliver on their promises. Reliability issues, poor sound quality, and crowdfund ghost towns are all too prevalent in the wireless earbud market today. That’s why Erato’s Apollo 7 are our fully wireless earbuds of choice. They do what they say they will, and they do it quite well.
That means reliable Bluetooth streaming that remains relatively constant — the buds will occasionally have sync issues when fired up — with an impressive range of around 15 feet from the phone. Battery life is on par with most of buds in their class (three hours), and the case will charge the buds for up to nine hours of playback. Other wireless earbuds in the works, including Apple’s new AirPods, have begun promising 5-6 hours of battery per charge, but until we see the proof, we’ll stick with what we know.
As for sound quality, the Apollo 7’s dynamic drivers deliver an impressive punch of clear and powerful bass, especially for such minuscule buds, as well as clean and balanced sound up top. You’ll get much more clarity in the treble with the silicon tips, as opposed to the comply, but remember, as with all Bluetooth buds, quality won’t be as strong as good old wired cans. If a that compromise is worth it to you for super spy buds that will both impress the Johnsons and cut your cable woes, Erato’s Apollo 7 are the buds for you.
Best noise-cancelling headphones
Why you should buy them: To silence that screaming baby 6 inches from your face.
Who’s it for: Frequent travelers and those in the wonderful world of open-office living.
How much will they cost: $300
Why we picked the Bose QC25
Taking over for a legend is never easy, and with 30 odd years of pioneering research behind it, Bose’s QC15 was just that. So it’s no small feat that the QC25 has replaced the old timer with upgraded tech, better audio skills, and more style to boot.
That said, Bose’s wired flagship takes the prize for one reason and one reason only: superior noise cancellation technology over the competition. The QC25 is full of Bose’s latest noise killers. The cans offer a new emphasis on low frequencies thanks to more microphones, both inside and outside the earcups, along with a new chip which cancels noise within “a fraction of a millisecond.”
What all that means to you is not only better noise cancelling, but also more comprehensive cancellation across a wider spectrum of sound. Of course, you still won’t be able to kill every sonic nuisance around you, but Bose gets closer than anybody else.
Alternatives: Want to go wireless? Bose also offers the QC35, which cuts the strings for $50 more. And while $350 may seem like a lot for travel cans, both headsets best Sennheiser’s new $400 PXC 550. Speaking of Sennheiser, the PXC 550 may not cancel noise quite as well as the Bose, but they do offer better audio performance, so if you don’t mind adding on another C-note, they’re a great option as well.
Best dirt cheap headphones
Why you should buy them: You need a set of budget cans and you’re (thankfully) not at the airport.
Who’s it for: Those looking for the best price-to-performance ratio.
How much will they cost: $39-49
Why we picked the Shure SH145
We picked the Shure SH145 for their price and performance, pure and simple. As we said in our review, most headphones at this level are simply terrible. These aren’t, and that’s notable enough to grant them top status for our budget pick.
First, let’s get the detractions out of the way. The build quality, as you might guess, feels a bit chintzy when compared to upper-tier cans. We’re also not all that fond of the silver paint on the band, which gives a slightly toyish aesthetic.
That said, these cans are superbly comfortable, even for long listening sessions, and they offer impressive performance for the money. That includes clear and smooth bass, a very accessible midrange, and treble that’s shaved free of the finer details, but still offers up enough sparkle to get the job done. The cans don’t come standard with a mic piece, but you can add the option for $10, giving you some choice about just how low you really want to go. Like a great compact car, these babies will get you where you need to go on a thin dime.
How we test
We test headphones and earbuds the way normal people live.
We run every pair of headphones through a rigorous process over the course of several days. That includes playing them in all sorts of scenarios — be it on a bus, in the listening room, or at the office — and playing back from a wide array of sources. We know most people use their headphones with a smartphone, often with lower quality MP3 resolution tracks, so we do too.
However, we also move up to high-resolution audio files, as well as a wide variety of sources, including plugging in directly to a PC or Mac, using USB DACs (digital-to-analog converters), and employing high-quality dedicated portable players and amplifiers. Finally, we compare the headphones to some of our go-to models, both in their class and price point, as well as a level or two above to find out if they can punch above their weight.