Best Sony headphones in 2024, tested by experts

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Alex Bracetti/CNN Underscored
Alex Bracetti/CNN Underscored

Sony should always be the first name that comes to mind when discussing the best headphones. The company popularized these small loudspeaker drivers back in the ‘80s during the Walkman era and has revolutionized the product category every decade, introducing new and innovative models spanning across different styles from wired to wireless to truly wireless.

We’ve seen the Japanese electronics giant put out many of the best noise-canceling headphones and best true wireless earbuds these past few years. Many of these feature Sony’s signature bass-forward sound, along with award-winning active noise cancellation and endless features that can be enabled via the Sony Headphones Connect app. Battery life, connectivity and controls have also evolved with every new launch.

You can’t go wrong with any of the brand’s critically acclaimed releases. However, determining the ones that best suit your needs do require expert feedback and research. That’s where we come in. The CNN Underscored crew has tested all of Sony’s top headphones and earbuds extensively to help you pick the right pair based on practicality, purpose and of course, price.

Sony WH-1000XM5
Best Sony headphones


An exceptional balance of premium performance and standout functionality, the WH-1000XM5 check off every box to earn our pick for the best Sony headphones overall. Stellar noise cancellation, special features and sound place them atop many headphone categories.

Sony WF-1000XM5
Best Sony earbuds


These earbud alternatives to the WH-1000XM5 share many of the same hallmarks but also tout newer features, rewarding listeners with incredible ANC, sound and wireless performance across all platforms.

$278 at Amazon
$280 at Best Buy

Best Sony headphones: Sony WH-1000XM5

$398 at Amazon or $400 at Best Buy

Mike Andronico/CNN Underscored
Mike Andronico/CNN Underscored

The Sony WH-1000XM5 are considered the best over-ear headphones for several reasons. They provide everything a flagship noise-canceling headphone should: impeccable ANC, prominent sound, sharp call quality, top-tier battery life and a robust feature set in a comfy design.

Dual processors combined with a carbon-fiber 30mm driver and upgraded sound technologies give the Mark Series 5 headphone a significant sonic edge over other high-end competitors. Music and movies sound superb, and you’re given multiple customization options to personalize output. At the top of the list is DSEE, which works magic on lo-fi recordings to boost clarity and depth. Equalizer comes in handy to switch up frequency responses, while the Find Your Equalizer mode effectively tailors audio to your hearing by developing a sound profile based on a series of listening tests. LDAC codec support gets you smooth, clear-sounding streams at faster bitrates. Lastly, 360 Reality Audio with head tracking brings a natural-sounding presence to compatible media, pinpointing effects and instruments and properly adjusting them to head movements.

ANC is only second to the Bose QuietComfort Ultra. These cans can block out up to 93% of unwanted noises, no matter the frequency and without compromising sound performance. We’ve tested them in many social settings, as well as different travel scenarios from flights to road trips. The results were peacefully quiet. More impressive is Sony’s 20-level Ambient Sound mode to fully control the number of incidental sounds you want to hear. It’s arguably the strongest transparency mode we’ve ever tested.

Sony finally developed a fantastic calling headset with the WH-1000XM5. Quality has drastically improved from previous Mark Series entries, producing loud and clear-sounding calls, while keeping ambient noises to a minimum. Using these headphones for voice chats has been wonderful, mainly because of multipoint technology, which pairs the WH-1000XM5 to two devices simultaneously. This way you can seamlessly switch between iOS/Mac and Android devices without missing important calls.

There’s a lot more to enjoy such as multiple smart features, one-tap Google Fast Pair, Tidal optimization, up to 30 hours of ANC playtime (40 hours with ANC off) and compatibility with Sony’s wireless TV adapter to pair the headphones with Bravia XR TVs for Dolby Atmos sound.

Best Sony earbuds: Sony WF-1000XM5

$300 $278 at Amazon or $300 $280 at Best Buy

Alex Bracetti/CNN Underscored
Alex Bracetti/CNN Underscored

The best Sony earbuds are also the best true wireless earbuds overall. Noticeably improved on multiple fronts, the WF-1000XM5 come fully equipped with Sony’s elite noise cancellation and sound technologies to deliver an engaging and distraction-free listening experience unlike anything we’ve heard so far in the category.

These buds come with the same sound-enhancing features as their over-ear counterpart: 360 Reality Audio, DSEE, Equalizer, LDAC and Tidal optimization. Their soundstage is accurate and versatile, managing a balanced, but thumpy, low end with crisp mids and emphasized highs. Spatial audio with head tracking adds an extra layer of realism that immerses you into movies and songs; sonic elements are properly positioned for convincing 3D presentation. Streaming music on Android devices gives you fuller and richer sound over Bluetooth via LDAC. Extras like DSEE and Equalizer are user-friendly features that make fine-tuning sound a breeze and greatly enhance sonics.

Sony’s adaptive ANC mode optimizes noise reduction based on your environment and their Ambient Sound mode grants full control over how much noise you want to hear. The WF-1000XM5 eliminate up to 90 percent of background interference across the frequency spectrum. Ambient Sound demonstrates excellent vocal capture to hear conversations from across the street, making it an ideal solution for sparking conversations on the go without removing the buds.

Smart controls like Quick Attention and Speak-to-Chat are spot-on, making it easy to lower your volume or automatically pause your music when you need to talk to someone. The Auto Play app extends functionality by providing select automated services: you can assign music to play instantly or read incoming messages when putting on the buds.

Rounding out these beauties are adequate playtimes (8 to 12 hours per charge), superb call quality and an updated design that’s sleeker than the previous version, as well as 25% smaller and 20% lighter.

What you need to know about Sony headphones

Sony’s collection of headphones and earbuds is massive, spanning across different styles and price points. All models adopt the brand’s neutral and sophisticated looking aesthetic and are normally sold in trademark colors like Black and Silver, with select products receiving new variants (like Midnight Blue) months after release. Powerful bass performance is expected, along with fine-tuned sound profiles that are customizable in the companion app. Lengthy battery life, reliable connectivity and undeniably strong noise cancellation often apply to the latest and upcoming releases.

What separates Sony models from the pack are the company’s sound technologies. The 360 Reality Audio platform is a solid spatial audio format that can be optimized for hi-res streaming platforms (e.g., Deezer, Tidal). DSEE upscales the quality of recordings by increasing clarity, depth and imaging. Sony’s LDAC codec streams hi-res audio at the transfer rate of 990kbps. Then there’s the Headphones Connect app for iOS and Android that hosts a variety of features such as adjustable audio settings, battery life monitoring, customizable controls, listening mode selection, voice and wear detection and firmware updates.

All Sony headphones and earbuds come with a one-year warranty, though online retailers like Amazon sell multi-year protection plans at different prices.

Sony vs. the competition

Alex Bracetti/CNN Underscored
Alex Bracetti/CNN Underscored

When it comes to headphones and earbuds, Sony has been at the forefront of many categories. Over-ear models like the Mark Series 4 and 5 achieve noise cancellation similar to, if not better than, Bose’s latest releases, depending on which critics you ask. Low-cost entries such as the WH-CH720N prove that Sony can develop entry-level headphones that nearly mirror their flagship on all performance fronts. The AirPods Max and Bose QuietComfort Ultra closely rival Sony’s best headphones in ANC and sound, plus they offer superior spatial audio.

As for true wireless selections, the WF-1000XM5 sound and look better than the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, though the latter has superior ANC and spatial audio technologies. The AirPods Pro 2 are also considered a worthy adversary with a wider feature set and constant software updates that introduce new features every few months.

Other Sony headphones to consider

Sony ULT Wear

$200 at Amazon

The ULT Wear headphones are what you get when you merge the best of the Extra Bass and Mark Series for an excellent price. Sony developed these mid-range cans to deliver flagship sound with signature bass, while carrying over other brand staples such as Bluetooth multipoint, DSEE and spatial audio. They’re well engineered and come with various features to personalize sound. ANC doesn’t up as well as it does on Sony’s other models, but what’s available is sufficient for blocking out low- and mid-frequency noises. Four different control schemes are available: motion detection, physical buttons, touch input, and voice activation. Topping off this bad boy is 50 hours of playtime per charge (30 hours with ANC) — not bad for a set of cans half the price of Sony’s flagship.

Sony WH-1000XM4

$350 $278 at Amazon

Despite being a last-gen release, the WH-1000XM4 headphones remain an outstanding pair of noise-canceling headphones with the audio and ANC prowess to compete with the market’s top picks. They are slightly warmer in sound compared to the WH-1000XM5 and share most of the same features. A recent firmware update has welcomed headtracking into the mix for a more atmospheric 3D listening environment. Sony’s ANC technology operates at an incredibly high level, employing two feedforward mics and Dual Noise Sensor technology that works with the HD Noise Cancelling Processor QN1 chip to analyze and filter out most ambient sounds from the soundscape. An exceptional ambient listening mode, NFC tap-to-pair functionality and up to 38 hours of battery life round out this gem.

Sony WF-C700N

$120 $96 at Amazon

An update to one of the best budget earbuds, the WF-C500, this follow-up improves on architecture and sound design with stronger specs. Sony’s 5mm driver unit with a high-compliance diaphragm brings forth a more refined soundstage that doesn’t skimp on bass or clarity. Adaptive ANC is introduced to the series, learning your behavior while successfully optimizing noise reduction to environments at the same time. Many of the same features found on upscale Sony buds can be found here, including 360 Reality Audio, DSEE and several sound customization tools in the companion app. The robust feature set and battery life (up to 15 hours per charge) make these buds a terrific value for the price.

Sony WH-CH720N

$129 $115 at Amazon

For the bargain shoppers wanting Sony sound at a more attainable price, these mid-range headphones are a great buy. Bass sounds natural but remains boomy, bringing more enticement to contemporary tracks. Sony’s V1 processor does a surprisingly great job of stabilizing frequencies to get an adequate amount of mids and highs in mixes. Lengthy battery life (34 -50 hours) accommodates noise-canceling use, which is awesome for the price and removes up to 90% of ambient noise from the soundscape. Many of Sony’s top features are accounted for such as 360 Reality Audio, DSEE and EQ with multiple presets that complement numerous music genres. We wish the design was better implemented (the plastic construction is flimsy), but this is trivial compared to the WH-CH720’s overall performance.

Sony LinkBuds S

$200 $148 at Amazon

A midranger that nearly matches their flagship, the LinkBuds S are a less expensive but still-satisfying alternative to the Mark Series 5 buds. Pressing playing on your favorite playlists will reward you with balanced, well-defined sound that can be tweaked in the Headphones Connect app based on preference. All major Sony technologies are supported: 360 Reality Audio, DSEE and LDAC. ANC isn’t far off from the first-rate performance offered on luxury rivals. The smaller in-ear design is pleasant on the ear and remains stable, courtesy of multiple-sized tips with tight grip control that lock the buds in place. Sony recently released a special edition set of LinkBuds S with the help of singer Olivia Rodrigo, who worked closely with engineers to create exclusive custom EQs optimized for each of Rodrigo’s albums.

Sony MDRZX110

$13 $10 at Amazon (no mic)

$30 $15 at Amazon (with mic)

One of our favorite under $25 scores, the MDRZX110 bring forth energetic sound in a minimalist on-ear design. Deep bass and dynamic frequency range keep music lively and detailed with minimal distortion. A wired connection means zero latency when streaming tracks on your favorite music streaming services. The microphone version with inline remote offers different ways to operate the headphones, be it standard input methods such as single/multi-press gestures or voice commands via Siri and Google Assistant.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailers' listed price at the time of publication.

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