What are your priorities when it comes to finding the best headphones for you? Is it lush, rich sound over noise-canceling technology? Or do you favor comfort and style above all? Ah, maybe it's all about price, which is totally fair, too. A great pair of headphones — and by headphones, we typically mean the over-ear variety. If you're looking for earbuds, we have a roundup of the best of those, too — should do what you need them to do for however you plan to use them, from working out to commuting to flying to shutting out your screaming kids for a few minutes of bliss.
We've tested hundreds of pairs of headphones, and as far as we're concerned, the Sony WH-1000XM5 are the best headphones for most people. With a comfortable design and slick appearance, plus continued improvements in noise-canceling, call quality, sound quality, and charging speed, Sony leaves almost no box unchecked when it comes to headphone perfection.
If you're looking for some alternatives, though, we have you covered there, too. We've picked out a number of other excellent headphone models, each with its own specific strengths and that balance price with the features specific to your needs. We also have roundups of the best noise-canceling headphones, the best noise-canceling earbuds, and the best earbuds for making phone calls.
The best headphones, period
- Excellent sound
- Very good comfort
- Ultra-clear call quality
- Best-in-class noise canceling
- Very good battery life
- Hi-res compatible (wired/wireless)
- Hands-free voice assistant access
- Classy, modern design
- Fold-flat, but don’t fold up
Sony's technologically advanced WH-1000XM5 are the fifth generation of Sony's flagship wireless headphones. Like Sony's previous models, they offer top-tier noise canceling, excellent quality wireless audio, and plush comfort. This enticing combination earned the model a rare five-star rating in our review and — thanks to a series of continued improvements — maintains the WH-1000 series' status as the best headphones you can buy.
At the heart of the WH-1000XM5 is outstanding wireless sound. Though they use smaller drivers than their predecessors, they manage to produce a more refined and more detailed performance that trades big, in-your-face bass, with subtlety and nuance.
But the real stars of the show are the XM5's active noise cancellation (ANC) and call quality, both of which are class-leading. In an era where folks are spending almost as much time on Zoom calls as listening to music, these features matter, and Sony knows it. Comfort matters too. The XM5 are both lighter and better balanced than the already-cushy XM4, and you'll have no problem wearing them for hours at a time without fatigue.
The XM3 and XM4 models compared well to Bose's Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, but now that we have the XM5, it's no contest. Sony's top-of-the-line cans outclass the Bose in every meaningful way.
The best for workouts
- 40 hours of battery life
- IPX4 waterproof rating
- Durable build
- Easy-to-use controls
- Contradictory setup instructions
- Tight fit
- Narrow audio range
Adidas’ fabric-covered headphones may look a little odd at first, but it quickly becomes apparent why: They’re built for fitness use from the ground up, and that includes easily-washable fabric that’s extra durable while also helping to deal with any sweat. The headphones also come with an IPX4 rating so you don’t have to worry much about sweat or rain damage, always an important feature in headphones used for exercise. The overall design is also light enough – and with a tight enough fit – to give joggers and other cardio fans a comfortable, reliable experience.
Then there’s the excellent battery life, rated at up to 40 hours, and headphones don’t get much higher than this – especially workout-oriented models. And we also appreciated the effective Adidas app, an excellent complement to the onboard controls for playback, switching tracks, and calling up voice assistants like Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant.
Audio is tuned primarily toward workout-friendly bass, which is an advantage in the gym but makes these headphones a bit less useful for listening to music casually. The equalizer option helps, but don’t expect these headphones to quite reach the sound quality of some of our other top picks.
And if you’re looking for headphones with an even better battery option, check out the Adidas RPT-02 SOL. These headphones have some similar capabilities but include a solar headband that can help recharge the already-excellent battery. They’re a good pick for outdoor runs in sunnier places.
Sennheiser Momentum 4
Best for audio purists
- Amazing battery life
- Outstanding sound
- Effective wind noise reduction
- Effective ANC
- No auto-off function
Sennheiser has always been a reliable brand for a high-quality audio experience, but its outdone its past work with the Momentum 4, a pair of wireless headphones that don’t skimp an inch when it comes to incredible sound supported by the aptX Adaptive codec. Our review even found that the audio was preferable to our top Sony headphones pick, the XM5s, despite the price actually being around $50 lower.
That may already be enough to convince the audiophiles out there, but let’s go on: The upgraded Momentum 4 includes an incredible 60-hour battery, and a lightweight yet highly effective design with great passive noise cancellation. Don’t worry, the headphones come with Active Noise Cancellation as well for canceling out background noises (at the expense of some battery life). Four beamforming mics also ensure you can take clear calls on these headphones if necessary.
If you really care about sound, you may also want to tweak audio settings to match your favorite genre or instruments. The Momentum 4 offers customization options, including basic presets as well as an integrated equalizer you can play with to create a sound profile that’s just right. They may not have every feature in the book – touch controls and auto-off modes are lacking, and the three-band equalizer is a little simple – but those focused on pure audio will find that these headphones are made for them.
Bowers & Wilkins Px8
Best money-is-no-object pick
- Beautifully designed and built
- Incredibly comfortable
- Great sound quality
- Decent noise cancellation
- Not ideal for calls in noisy places
At the high end, headphone prices can stretch to hundreds of dollars or more, but there’s typically a limit where audio just doesn’t get much better no matter how much you are paying (in which case, it’s time to add a DAC and start using better audio files). But if you want the absolute best sound you can get without heeding the price, the Px8 truly delivers. Not only is the sound experience phenomenal, but the design is perfectly luxurious, sporting supple leather, polished aluminum, and an expertly comfortable design.
The design and audio are backed up by the ANC, and while it isn’t as effective as the cancellation offered by something like the AirPods Max, it’s still enough to enhance the audio in noisy places, and the transparency mode works just fine. They are also compatible with the Bluetooth AptX standard for listening to higher-quality wireless music, although this feature is sadly not compatible with iPhones. Battery life is serviceable at around 30 hours, too.
These are the best current headphones for an excellent combination of audio and comfortable, with the right compatibility features for serious listeners. But if you want to compare other high-end options, we suggest taking a look at the Master & Dynamic MW75, which offers many similar advantages (at a similarly sky-high price).
Apple AirPods Max
The best for iPhone
- Best-in-class ANC
- Amazing transparency mode
- Excellent build quality
- Excellent sound quality
- Top-notch call quality
- Charges via Lightning cable
- Heavy on head
At $550, the AirPods Max are expensive. But the design, materials, and build quality alone are almost worth the price of admission. The aluminum earcups and stainless steel headband sliders feel fantastic in your hands, and all of the parts move together with invisible, clockwork-like precision. The mesh fabric on the unusually-shaped headband all but eliminates pressure points and the ear cushions provide ample comfort.
The digital crown, which Apple repurposed from the Apple Watch, is surprisingly effective as a combo control that lets you adjust volume with much better precision than a set of buttons. The dedicated ANC/transparency mode button is equally intuitive and easy to use.
Speaking of ANC and transparency, Apple has knocked these features out of the park. Our reviewer found that the transparency was so good, it felt like he wasn't wearing the headphones at all. That's also an apt description for the head-tracking spatial audio that you can do with these cans when they're paired to an iPhone or an Apple TV 4K — it's like sitting in full surround sound home theater, but without any actual speakers.
Sound quality can't quite match what you'll get with the Sony WH-1000XM5, but there's no denying the AirPods Max are a delight to listen to.
The included carry case is one of the few weaknesses. It doesn't fully protect the headphones and it doesn't help you pack them in a backpack or suitcase. You may want to consider one from our best AirPods Max accessories post. There are even ones that push the AirPods Max into its ultra-low-power mode.
Speaking of power, at 20 hours, the AirPods Max won't win any endurance prizes, but that's still enough juice for all but the longest of flights.
Shokz OpenRun Pro
Best for running
- Light, comfy frame
- Clear and open upper register
- Fully water and dust resistant
- Solid battery life
- Open-ear design keeps you safe
- Lacking in instrumental definition
- Weak bass response
- Minor fatigue over long listening periods
If these interesting headphones look a little familiar, you may recognize them from when they were called Aeropex (as our linked review describes). The model is very similar, except the packaging is upgraded and a new quick charge feature is enabled so you can power up these headphones quickly before a run.
But let’s talk about that design: The OpenRun uses 8th-gen bone conduction technology, which transfers audio via vibrations through your facial bones. Fortunately, bones near your ears really are good conductors of sound, so the audio is quite good. The advantage is that your ears are always open to nearby traffic, joggers, announcements, etc., without having to constantly switch to a transparency mode. And it works! The latest design in particular offers bone conduction without a too-tight fit.
Additionally, the OpenRun headphones have IP67 waterproofing, so while you won’t want to wear them swimming you don’t have to worry about the rain. The lightweight design includes eight-hour battery life, and they're available in several different colors.
The OpenRun aren't for everyone, but runners who like to keep their ears (literally) open and others who prefer to hear background noise will really appreciate this tech — especially since you don’t have to empty your entire wallet to buy them. But they aren't the only open-ear option on the market: You may also want to take a look at the award-winning design of the Oladance earbuds, an alternative to bone conduction that still let you hear the environment.
SteelSeries Arctis Pro
The best for gaming
- Multiple versions, each with a wide range of supported platforms
- Doesn’t require extra software or drivers
- Hi-res audio performance
- Very comfortable
- Sleek, minimalist design
- Setup is a bit of hassle
Gaming headsets abound, all offering big sound, noise-canceling mics, and great chat features. But we keep returning to the SteelSeries Arctis Pro. Gaming sound still doesn’t get much better than this, the price is reasonable considering how high costs can go, and they offer all the game-friendly features you could want.
Supported by DTS Headphone X:v.20 surround sound and high-density neodymium drivers, the Arctis Pro have phenomenal environment sound with a wide frequency range, ideal for audio cues while playing or just enjoying the atmosphere in your favorite game. Talking with other gamers greatly benefits from the USB chat mix to quickly adjust balance, and the clear cast retractable mic includes background noise cancellation. That’s all bound up in a durable, very comfy design complete with silicone side grips.
If you’re looking for a bit more, there are a few different versions of the Arctis Pro, including both a wired and wireless option, as well as the Nova Pro that comes with a GameDAC for even more audio adjustments and optimization.
Best budget headphones
- Great sound quality
- Very comfortable for long periods
- Ridiculous battery life
- Solid ANC performance
- Great app support
- Affordable price
- No wear sensors
- Wired mode disables extra features
Scanning the most popular headphones can feel depressing on a budget. Top picks like the AirPods Max or the Sony WH1000XM5 (both of which won spots on our list) cost hundreds of dollars to get all their fancy features and audio upgrades. But if you’re looking for a model that’s $100 or less, you’ll be surprised just how little you have to give up with this affordable powerhouse from 1More.
The wireless SonoFlow have all the features that you want, including ANC, support for high-res formats like LDAC, an EQ with plentiful presets, and generally impressive audio with their 40mm DLC dynamic drivers. We also like the comfortable, lightweight design, which makes wearing these headphones for hours at a time a painless experience.
The battery is also incredible, with up to 70 hours of playback time (without ANC) on one charge, and 50 hours with ANC on. We’re seriously impressed with just how much is packed into the SonoFlow headphones at such a reasonable price, making them the top option for buyers on a budget.
PuroQuiet Active Noise Cancelling Headphones
The best for kids
- Effective noise cancellation
- Volume-limiting (85db)
- Great size for kids' heads
- Good sound quality
- Very good battery life
- A bit pricey for kids' headphones
Noise cancelation for kids? Doesn't that mean they'll ignore their parents even more often than they already do? Perhaps, but it's a risk worth taking if it means your kids' hearing will be protected over the long term. That's exactly the premise behind the Puro PuroQuiet headphones.
Not only are they wireless and great-sounding, but they also come equipped with a software limiter that keeps the volume at or below 85dB, which is considered the maximum volume that anyone (but especially children) should be exposed to for prolonged periods. Above that threshold and kids risk developing noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). The noise-canceling feature means they'll actually be able to listen to lower (therefore safer) volumes, so hopefully, when they get older they won't need to go the route of OTC hearing aids.
These headphones pack about 35 hours of non-ANC playtime (23 hours with ANC) which is very good even by adult ANC headphone standards, but there’s also the option of using an analog cable instead. An external switch lets you turn the noise cancellation on and off. Make no mistake, these might be aimed at kids, but the quality of construction, selection of materials, and color choices give them an appearance that will still appeal to your young charges long after they've outgrown their Disney phase (some of us still haven't).
While not the cheapest kids' headphones you can buy, the Puro PuroQuiet are very reasonably priced for what they offer. We think your kids’ ears are worth it.
Like the idea of the PuroQuiet but need something more adult-sized? Check out the PuroPro. Want volume-limiting without active noise cancellation? Check out the Happy Plugs Play.
Read our PuroQuiet impressions
Bose QuietComfort 45
The best for frequent flyers
- Super comfortable
- Very good noise canceling
- Very good sound quality
- Can connect to multiple devices
- No wear detection
- No EQ adjustments
Travelers often have to deal with long flights and train or bus rides – along with the waits at airports or stations. If you’re familiar with the experience and prefer to zone out as much as possible while waiting, these Bose headphones are for you. They offer the ideal combination of high-quality ANC and a very comfortable fit for long trips.
There’s also the transparent aware mode to let in environmental sounds, which can be excellent if you’re waiting for your flight or stop to be called. No matter which mode you are in, the sound doesn’t disappoint, with clear audio and an effective adjustable EQ via the Bose app.
Battery life is rated at around 24 hours, better than many Bose headphones, and able to easily handle a day of traveling without needing to recharge until you’re ready to collapse in a hotel room. They’re a bit expensive, but frequent travelers will find them a valuable companion for finding a little tranquility.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are a ton of manufacturers currently making awesome headphones, from major brands to smaller boutique outfits, so there is no clear winner when it comes to the best company in the headphone world. Some of our current favorite brands include Sony, Bose, Sennheiser, SteelSeries, and Apple. These have their own specialties, too: Sennheiser has incredible audio quality, for example, while Apple is a master at noise cancellation.
We typically recommend buying from a major retailer like Amazon, Best Buy, or Walmart. But smaller, more specialized local audio retailers might have a set of headphones that you can actually try, which is the ideal way to buy these personal audio gadgets.
That depends on what you’re using them for and how much you’re willing to spend. At the high-end, over-ear and in-ear headphones can both perform fantastically. For those of us not willing to spend thousands on headphones, over-ear headphones typically offer better bass response and a bigger soundstage, but in-ear headphones are more portable and convenient — especially wireless earbuds. And, because they're placed right up against (or even inside) your ear canals, they offer the most intimate sound quality you can get, though not everyone likes that inside-your-head sound.
Either wireless headphones, like the Adidas RPT-01, or true wireless earbud models, both of which feature sweat proofing, are far and away the best headphones for working out because you’ll never have wires to deal with. These workout-specific models also put an emphasis on low-end bass, which lets you feel the rhythm of your chosen tracks. You may also be interested in bone-conduction headphones, which keep your ears clear and are one of our favorite picks for swimming.
Closed-back over-ear headphones or snug-fitting in-ear headphones are the best way to ensure your favorite tunes won’t leak out into the world around you.
Headphones with this feature use exterior microphones to capture the sound around you. They then reproduce matching frequencies with their phase inverted to cancel ambient noise. How well the system works depends on a wide variety of factors from software to hardware to how well the headphones fit.
Yes, you can find both Lightning and USB-C headphones on the market, but given that you might want to use your headphones with something other than a cell phone, we typically recommend you buy an adapter or wireless headphones, rather than headphones with such a specific kind of connector.
These days, virtually all wireless headphones and earbuds include a built-in microphone. That said, some wired models rely on a cable with an inline microphone, while others possess no calling features at all, so be sure to check before you buy if you want to make phone calls. We also have a roundup of the best headphones for phone calls, too.
Some lower-quality wireless models do lag when watching movies and YouTube on your cell phone, but in the vast majority of cases, they do not have audio lag. If you experience lag and your headphones have a companion app that lets you adjust EQ, try disabling those adjustments. Wired headphones won’t have any audio lag at all, and most Bluetooth models have such a small lag it's mostly imperceptible.
We test headphones and earbuds the way normal people live.
We run every pair through a rigorous testing process over several days or weeks. 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.
Shopping on a budget? Here's a look at the best cheap headphones and earbuds . Looking specifically for wireless earbuds? These are the best true wireless earbuds overall, and these are the best noise-canceling true wireless earbuds.
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