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Best headphones

We take a look at the best headphones out there... for most people, anyway.
March 10, 2023
Best noise canceling
Sony WH-1000XM5
By Sony
Product shot of the Sony WH-1000XM5 in black on a white background.
Check price
Sound quality
USB Type-C charging
Superb noise canceling
Touch controls
The Bottom Line.
If you're looking for active noise canceling, Sony is the undisputed king in 2022. The WH-1000XM5 over-ears feature best in class ANC and improved battery life over the WH-1000XM4.Read full review...
Best iPhone
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation)
By Apple
The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) wireless earphones in white coming out of the MagSafe charging case which stands vertically.
Check price
Active noise canceling
Battery life
H2 chip
Spatial audio
Bad on Android
A little expensive
The Bottom Line.
Apple followed its first-gen fix for the AirPods unsealed fit with something that offers among the best noise canceling you can find, great sound, and lots of good software features.Read full review...
Best connectivity
Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless
By Sennheiser
Check price
Analog and digital wired connection
SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, USB-C, and 3.5mm connections
Multipoint connectivity
Battery life
Sound quality
No folding hinges
ANC is good but not the very best
The Bottom Line.
This is a great set of high-end consumer headphones with creature comforts like noise canceling, great sound, long battery, and plenty of ways to connect.Read full review...
Best sound
AKG K371
A product image of the AKG K371 headphones in black on a white background.
Check price
Sound quality
Fair isolation
Poor fit can cause issues
The Bottom Line.
AKG nails it with the K371 wired headphones. This ticks all the important boxes when it comes to comfort, sound quality, functionality, and portability.Read full review...
Best high-end
HiFiMan Sundara
By HiFiMan
The Hifiman Sundara headphones in black against a white background.
Check price
Sound quality
Excellent price-to-performance ratio
Comfortable ear pads for glasses-wearers
Very easy to equalize
A bit heavy
No isolation
Not portable
The Bottom Line.
Among high-end headphones, the HiFiMan Sundara may not be the king of the hill, but they absolutely perform way outside their price bracket.Read full review...

If you’re looking for the best headphones on the market, it’s tough to get a straight answer. What works for some people doesn’t work for others, and few product categories are as diverse as headphones. In-ears, on-ears, over-ears—there’s just so much to choose from, and it’s hard to tell what’s right for you.

However, because the needs of every person out there vary so wildly, we’re going to run down the best options for most people — not necessarily the best headphones by objective performance.

Editor’s note: This list was updated on May 26, 2023 to expand the FAQ section.

For our top five picks, you can find the isolation and frequency response charts at the end of each image gallery. You can learn more about how to read our charts here.

Why is the Sony WH-1000XM5 the best pair of noise canceling headphones?

Now that Sony has released the Sony WH-1000XM5, it takes the crown as the best active noise canceling (ANC) headphones. This new model outperforms its closest competitors in noise attenuation and microphone quality. The default frequency response is a bit bassier than what we typically recommend, but you can easily equalize this from the Sony Headphones Connect app (iOS/Android) or your preferred third-party equalizer. To see frequency response and isolation charts for any of our top picks, scroll to the end of each photo gallery.

Sony WH-1000XM5
Sony WH-1000XM5
A top down view of the Sony WH-1000XM5 resting on a dark grey graph patterned surface.Top-down view of the Sony-WH1000XM5 with the ear cups folded flat and upwardsThe Sony WH-1000XM5's ANC unit does a good job of canceling noise, but it also isolates very well.The Sony WH-1000XM5 boosts sounds up to 300Hz by about 5dB.
Sony WH-1000XM5

The WH-1000XM5 offers top-of-the-line specs and features, including a custom equalizer, Sony’s 360 Reality Audio, and auto-pause/play sensors. The Sony WH-1000MX5 includes speak-to-chat, which pauses your media when you are speaking to someone and resumes playback 30 seconds after so you don’t miss the person’s response. You also have Bluetooth multipoint which is a great productivity feature for those who like to keep an ear on their phone while connected to their laptop. The microphone system is among the best we’ve seen in a headset like this and cancels out background noise effectively no matter the conditions. Take a listen to two of our microphone demos below!

Sony WH-1000XM5 mic demo (Ideal):

Sony WH-1000XM5 mic demo (Wind):

If the price tag of the WH-1000XM5 is just a bit too high, you also can’t go wrong with the older Sony WH-1000XM4, which was previously our pick for best noise canceling headphones.

Sony WH-1000XM5Sony WH-1000XM5
SoundGuys Editors Choice
Sony WH-1000XM5
ANC performance • Outstanding microphone • Useful app features
The king of the ANC pack extends its reign
Although its predecessor set the high water mark for excellent performance, the Sony WH-1000XM5 pushes it ever higher. Now featuring new drivers, it's an intriguing set of headphones among the flagship active noise-cancelling (ANC) devices on the market. Not only is it full of useful features, but it also excels in travel or at the office, in particular.
Side-on view of Sony WH-1000XM5 beside the Sony WH-1000XM4 hanging over a white horizontal pipe
The Sony WH-1000XM5 (left) looks a bit cleaner than the WH-1000XM4 (right).

When comparing the Sony WH-1000XM5 to the WH-1000XM4, it’s clear that these headphones are closely related. Even though the XM5 model has better ANC and sound quality to boot, the Sony WH-1000XM4 is still worth getting if you don’t want to spend as much money. The fourth-generation headset shares many of the premium features found on the WH-1000XM5 and you can expect the older model to go on sale.

If you want a budget alternative, the Sony WH-XB910N is a solid ANC headset if you can find it. However, you’ll only save $100, as the price tag is most often around $250. The fact of the matter is that good ANC is tough to get at a good price, and Sony currently has the best.

That honor would belong to the Focal Bathys, though this product is $799. Definitely not for the light of wallet. We generally recommend the best products for a lower price point than that, but if you want the best: there they are.

The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) is the best set of wireless earbuds for iPhone owners

True wireless earphones took the market by storm after being dominated by the Apple AirPods for so long. Now there’s plenty of competition, much of which offers a more compelling experience than most of Apple’s audio products. However, with the company’s latest release, the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) is back on top of the pole for iOS users. These buds offer great ANC, sound quality to match, and sound better than the AirPods (3rd generation) simply by virtue of the fact that they can seal your ear canal.

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation)
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation)
A hand holds the left earbud of the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) to show off the stem.The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) sensors decorate the earbuds which lay on a yellow, textured surface.The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) case is open to reveal the noise canceling wireless earbuds inside.The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) case is open and laying at an angle to show the earbuds and their sensors.A chart depicts the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) and AirPods Pro (1st generation) frequency responses, revealing the newer pair has a louder bass response.A chart depicts the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) noise canceling and isolation performances; the former is very effective when you get a good seal.
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation)
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation)
Buy now
See review
See review

These earbuds bring a big improvement to ANC and battery life, and the retain the same IPX4 rating, which now also covers the charging case. Speaking of the charging case, that’s where a lot of the more notable changes come. The AirPods Pro (2nd generation) charging case features Apple’s new U1 chip, which makes it compatible with Apple’s Find My service and the new integrated speakers will emit a noise to help you find it, plus the H2 chip in the buds.

Much like all the other AirPods, this is best used with Apple devices. It only supports SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs, so there’s no high quality codec for android users. Also, many of the earbuds software features are found in the iOS settings app, so you’ll miss out on other platforms in that respect too. Still, this is about as good as it gets for wireless earbuds for Apple users.

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation)Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation)
AA Recommended
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation)
Impressive ANC • Comfortable fit • Wireless charging
One of the best true wireless earbuds for iOS users
The second generation of AirPods Pro features top-quality active noise cancelation in a water-resistant package.

The AirPods Pro mic sounds best in quiet environments but can filter out some background noise. Listen to our samples below.

AirPods Pro (2nd generation) microphone demo (Ideal):

AirPods Pro (2nd generation) microphone demo (Office):

AirPods Pro (2nd generation) microphone demo (Street):

How does the microphone sound to you?

5798 votes

Don’t lose pace with the Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless

Sennheiser combines most of what you want in a great set of over-ear Bluetooth headphones in the MOMENTUM 4 Wireless. With support for a variety of high quality codecs like AAC, aptX, aptX HD, and aptX Adaptive, plus a 3.5mm headphone jack and USB-C listening, you’ll hardly ever get caught without a connection. You even get Bluetooth multipoint. More to the point, a stellar 56 hours and 21 minutes of battery life (with ANC on) outperforms most headphones.

Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless
Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless
The Sennheiser momentum 4 wireless sits on a headphone standA person uses the capacitive touch controls to control media playback.A man wears the Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless around his neck while outside.The cloth-wrapped band of the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless.The Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless headphones lay on a wooden table with the USB-C charing port in focusThick pads dress the ear cups and band of the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless.A chart showing the attenuation performance of the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless, able to block out anywhere between 75 and 93% of outside noise depending on frequency.A chart showing the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless' frequency response closely matching the SoundGuys Consumer Curve, with only minor deviations.
Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless
Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless
Buy now
See review
See review

While the MOMENTUM 4 Wireless doesn’t beat out the Sony WH-1000XM5 on noise canceling, the ANC onboard is still rather effective and adjustable. That sound experts at Sennheiser tune the MOMENTUM 4 Wireless to sound frankly great, is unsurprising. It gets very close to our target curve with just a bit more bass. However, if that sound is not your preference, you can utilize the Smart Control app to adjust EQ. In addition you can create automatic listening settings for different locations and adjust ANC.

The touch controls are intuitive, and little luxuries like on-ear detection contribute to the overall flagship worthy experience of the MOMENTUM 4 Wireless. That you get a carry case and an airplane adapter means you don’t have to shell out for accessories either. Plus, the Sennheiser cans undercut the price of most premium headphones without significant compromises.

Sennheiser Momentum 4Sennheiser Momentum 4
Sennheiser Momentum 4
App for EQ changes • Simple, elegant design • USB-C charging
High-end ANC over-ear headphones focus on style and comfort
If you need total immersion in your music, you need some ANC over-ears. The Sennheiser Momentum 4 focus on style and comfort while delivering the core features high-end shoppers need with their headphones.
A chart showing the microphone frequency response of the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless extending from 100 to 7kHz, where it falls off steeply.
The microphone system of the Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless should be able to pick up voice sounds.

Sennheiser does a pretty good job with the MOMENTUM 4 Wireless, although, it has some issues with noise rejection, but nothing unusual for headphones without booms. Take a listen to the following demo recordings.

Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless microphone demo (Ideal conditions):

Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless microphone demo (Wind conditions):

Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless microphone demo (Street conditions):

How does the microphone sound to you?

4289 votes

Can’t go wrong with the new “old standby” AKG 371

Though people have been picking the Sony MDR-7506 for decades, a true successor in the “budget monitor headphone” category has finally taken center stage. The AKG K371 offers a really good baseline for what constitutes good sound in the consumer market.

AKG K371
AKG K371
The AKG K371 wired over-ear headphones on an iron bedrame lit by blue and orange lights.A picture of the AKG K371 wired over-ear headphones with the AKG headband in focus.A picture of the AKG K371 wired over-ear headphones on a nightstand in front of boxing gloves.The AKG K371 wired over-ear headphones' ear cup rotated back 45 degrees while being worn by a woman in profile.An isolation chart for the AKG K371, which shows a decent degree of attenuation.A frequency response chart for the AKG K371 closed-back headphones, which shows output very close to our house curve (albeit a bit quieter).
AKG K371

That’s not because these are super bassy, or that they’re flashy—if anything they’re the opposite of both. This pair of headphones sounds excellent for what it is, and provides a really good double-life as a dependable studio monitor. Sure, these are a set of wired cans with a rather cumbersome cable. But if you’re listening at home, mixing a track, or working at the coffee shop: these are the headphones you want.

AKG K371AKG K371
AKG K371
Excellent sound • Replaceable parts • Great sound
One of the best wired headphones on the market
The AKG K371 is one of the best over-ear headphones combining sound quality, comfort, functionality, and portability. The ear pads are rotatable and replaceable.

The HiFiMan Sundara is an excellent pair of high-end headphones

Sure, you could spend thousands of dollars on headphones that may or may not sound better, but the HiFiMan Sundara is at the perfect crossroads between affordability and top-tier performance. Sure, that sounds a little weird to say for a set of $300 USD planar magnetic headphones, but our testing shows the Sundara does an excellent job at providing listeners with good sound quality when compared to its closest competitors.

HiFiMan Sundara
HiFiMan Sundara
A person wears the HiFiMan Sundara headphones in an office setting.The Y-cable connects to the HiFiMan Sundara headphones.The headband of the HiFiMan Sundara showing off the company logo.Hands hold the HiFiMan Sundara open-back headphones in front of a black backdrop with wooden accessories.The HiFiMan Sundara open-back planar headphones in full view on a gridded surface with wooden accessories in the background.The HiFiMan Sundara is a set of open-backed headphones, and as such doesn't block outside noise much at all.The HiFiMan Sundara follows the SoundGuys Studio curve very well, though has a bit of high-end emphasis.
HiFiMan Sundara

However, many headphones in this bracket are very heavy and uncomfortable, and the Sundara has this issue to an extent. However, the choice to use cloth in the padding of the ear cups and the form-fitting band do a lot to make this product far more comfortable to use for those who wear eyeglasses. If you don’t wear eyeglasses, all the better.

Of course, as open-back headphones, these let in just about every sound around you. So be sure to note that before you start spending like crazy. Additionally, if you’d like to equalize these headphones any: you’re probably going to want an amplifier of some sort to avoid volume issues.

HiFiMan SundaraHiFiMan Sundara
HiFiMan Sundara
Excellent sound • 3.5mm TRS jack • Low sound distortion
A pair of high-end level sound quality open-backed headphones
The HiFiMan Sundara is an open-backed headset that diminishes the resonance issues in the bass and offers an excellent, natural-like sound.

Why should you consider the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700?

Neither the Shure Aonic 50 nor the Bose Headphones 700 (pictured, black) have folding hinges.
The Bose NCH 700 features touch controls and have three buttons in total, one of which is for pairing, another is for controlling the level of ANC, and a third which activates Google Assistant.

While the ANC on the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700 may not be quite as impressive as the company’s Bose QuietComfort 45 headphones, Bose has shown commitment to users by improving the ANC with a comprehensive firmware updates.

We also like the NCH 700 for its sleek design and seemingly perfect touch controls. Many companies make calibrate their headsets’ touch panels to be too sensitive, resulting in many misfires, but Bose’s headset is a breeze to operate. The default frequency response (chart) is excellent and requires little fixing, but you can change it directly from the Bose Music app (iOS/Android) if you’d like.

Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700
SG recommended
Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700
Excellent ANC • Lightweight design • Rotable ear pads
If you want some of the best ANC you can get, Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700 have you covered.

Those with unusually low voices may sound a bit “off” or “hollow” to those on the other end but this is to mitigate the proximity effect. For the most part, the NCH 700 microphone is quite good in all contexts since it filters out quite a bit of environmental noise.

Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700 microphone demo (Ideal):

Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700 microphone demo (Street):

Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700 microphone demo (Wind):

How does the microphone sound to you?

6907 votes

Audiophiles should consider the Drop x Sennheiser HD 6XX

The Drop x Sennheiser HD 6XX on a desk.
Premium headphones like the Sennheiser HD 6XX don’t offer many features, but they do pack performance.

If you’re looking for the absolute best way to spend money on headphones for the computer, Drop’s partnership with Sennheiser brought a legendary audiophile option—the HD 650—down to roughly half the original asking price with the HD 6XX. Budget-conscious audiophiles would be doing themselves a disservice by not giving these a spin.

There are a few minor differences between the HD 6XX and the HD 650 ($304.78 at Amazon), but most are cosmetic in nature and more plasticky on the HD 6XX. The performance of the HD 6XX is top-notch, and is much lighter than it looks. If you’re the kind of listener who spends a lot of time at the computer, this is the kind of headphones you should be looking for. Just be aware that the open back is a double-edged sword: it allows for better sound quality and clarity, but it also lets in all the outside noise around you.

Sennheiser x Drop HD 6XXSennheiser x Drop HD 6XX
Sennheiser x Drop HD 6XX

The best headphones: Notable mentions

A photo of the Sennheiser HD 660S2 sitting atop a slab of wood, with cable bundled up.
The Sennheiser HD 660S2 is one of the best if you’ve got the funds.

We can’t highlight every headset the way we’d like, so instead, we’ve put together a bulleted list of alternative standouts that didn’t quite make the best headphones cut.

  • Apple AirPods Max: iPhone owners who want something beefier than the AirPods Pro for international flights should invest in the AirPods Max. We do mean invest: this set of headphones goes for $479.99 at Amazon but occasionally goes on promotion for less. This has some of the best ANC we’ve seen and excellent sound quality. If you have an iPhone you can take advantage of the headset’s H1 chips for hands-free Siri access, automatic device switching, Adaptive EQ, and more.
  • Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2: Enthusiasts sing the praises of the original ATH-50x for its rugged build and reliable performance. The second-generation Bluetooth version carries over everything we love about the tried-and-true wired model with LDAC support and excellent battery life for $199 at Amazon. At under $200 USD, this is a solid headset.
  • Beyerdynamic DT 900 PRO X: If wired is your sole interest with a studio style frequency response, this is a great pick. The open back design wears comfortably, it gets very close to our ideal sound without reaching astronomical pricing ($249 at Amazon). Its closed back companion, the DT 700 PRO X, has less treble on tap and is another great choice.
  • Bose QuietComfort 45: As an incremental update over the Bose QuietComfort 35 II, it’s not exciting, but the QC 45 offers improved ANC that’s up there with the best. At release, it was too trebly, but you can easily use the Bose Music app EQ to fix that. It’s still one of the most comfortable headphones out there for $329 at Amazon.
  • Grado SR80x: If you can’t shell out for top of the line open back headphones, these unique Brooklyn built on-ear headphones (for $125 at Amazon) are comfortable with repairable parts and a more trebly frequency response.
  • Sennheiser HD 600: Long considered one of the best headphones on the market, not much has changed in the last thirty years for the HD 600. It missed our top picks due to cost, that’s it — though you can sometimes get lucky $399.95 at Sennheiser.
  • Sennheiser HD 660S2: Certainly not the cheapest of the wired open back headphones on our list ($599.95 at Amazon), this set offers a very pleasant and analytical frequency response. Like most open back designs, it’s not for bass heads. If you find its predecessor, the HD 660S, for less cash it is equally good. The Sennheiser HD 600 is also a tried and true choice in the same style with replaceable parts.
  • Sony WH-1000XM4: Sure, it’s not the newest set of Bluetooth headphones on the block, and the WH-1000XM5 outpaces it by basically every measurement, however, the WH-1000XM4 costs less money ($348 at Sony) and gets you most of the way there.

Hold up! Something’s different:

Some of our picks’ frequency response and isolation charts were measured with our old testing system. We have since purchased a Bruel & Kjaer 5128 test fixture (and the appropriate support equipment) to update our testing and data collection. It will take a while to update our backlog of old test results, but we will update this article (and many others!) once we’re able with improved sound quality measurements and isolation performance plots. These will be made obvious with our new chart aesthetic (black background instead of white).

Thank you for bearing with us, and we hope to see you again once we’ve sorted everything out.

If you want more portable options, check out these earbuds

A hand holds the Sennheiser MOMENTUM True Wireless 3 earbuds above concrete.
The new stabilizers help give the MOMENTUM True Wireless 3 a more universal fit than its predecessor.
  • Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: In typical Bose fashion, the QC Earbuds has excellent sound quality to boot and some of the best ANC around, except for the WF-1000XM4 from Sony. These earbuds are pretty bulky, as is the case, but they still fit comfortably because of the StayHear Max ear tips. You can pick it up for $189.99 at Amazon. Due to the tuning of the updated QuietComfort Earbuds II, we still prefer the originals.
  • Google Pixel Buds A-Series: For the Android user seeking a good set of earbuds with Google Assistant integration can get these for $93.02 at Amazon. Those looking for ANC and some extra luxuries like spatial audio should check out the Google Pixel Buds Pro.
  • Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro: This is a truly great pair of wireless earbuds with solid sound and features like direct Spotify for easy listening. You get excellent ANC and 360 Audio too. Pick your favorite colorway for $189.99 at Amazon. Battery life per charge could be better, but it’s not bad.
  • Sennheiser MOMENTUM True Wireless 3: This is among the best wireless ANC earbuds you can buy and it has a premium design with an IPX4 rating. The Smart Control app lets you adjust the sound quality and you can find a very secure fit with the included ear and wing tips. The main downside, like many premium wireless earbuds, is the price ($199.95 at Amazon).
  • Sennheiser IE 200: Folks looking to get a set of in-ear monitors that also sound great for general listening, can take a look at these premium wired buds for $149.95 at Amazon.
  • Shure SE215: If you can forego true wireless for strictly wired earbuds, this set balances great sound, comfort, and Shure’s industry renowned reliability for only $99 at Amazon.
  • Sony WF-1000XM4: These premium priced ($178 at Amazon) wireless earbuds have active noise canceling, a decent microphone, and best of all sound excellent. Their battery life isn’t the best, but they offer quick charging to make up for it. These earbuds support SBC, AAC, and LDAC. When you download the Sony Headphones Connect app you can EQ the sound signature and enable adaptive sound control.

What you should know about the best headphones

The Philips Fidelio X2 open-back headphones lean against the Shure AONIC 50 Bluetooth headphones with noise canceling.
Lily Katz / SoundGuys
Open-back headphones are really only for at-home use, limiting their functionality compared to closed-back ones.

Calling something “the best” at anything is controversial at best, so we create our best lists with the caveat that your experiences will almost certainly vary from our own. Sometimes people have a unique set of needs that can’t be satisfied by going to a list of “best headphones” because the article doesn’t address what the best headphones out there are… for you. Consequently, we encourage all of our readers to write down all the things they want out of their headphones first before rolling the dice on a pick. This list has a lot of all-time greats, but if you need something a little bit more tailored to your needs, definitely keep reading our other lists and features to arm yourself with enough knowledge to make the right purchase.

Think hard about what types of headphones you like (in ears? over ears? on ears?), and also try to figure out what features you need. Maybe you need to go to the store to see how they fit on your head? Do you wear glasses or have ear piercings? Maybe you should look into getting velour pads instead of leather! These are all things covered in our reviews and other best lists.

Are wired headphones better than Bluetooth headphones?

A man wear the Monolith by Monoprice M1070C looking to the left.
Wired headphones like the Monolith by Monoprice M1070C have their place but they also come with compromises like portability and convenience.

This list has a few wired options if you want great sound, but we also have a few wireless options if you prefer convenience. If you opt for a Bluetooth pair, there are a few things you should know. First and foremost, the rumors you’ve heard are true. Bluetooth just can’t party with wired headphones, at least as it pertains to sound quality. Even some of the best codecs available aren’t as great as they seem at first glance. AAC is basically only good if you’re on an iOS device which means Android users should probably stick to aptX, and LDAC isn’t truly hi-res. The good news is that you most likely can’t hear any of the details in the data that’s being dropped, but it’s still not a great selling point. Of course, if you do think that you have superhuman hearing feel free to test yourself with our simple hearing test.

There is hope, though: Bluetooth SIG announced LE Audio and the LC3 codec, an efficient alternative to SBC. We’re excited to see the benefits to the hard-of-hearing community play out in the real world, and know that LC3 will provide a 50% increase in audio quality relative to SBC. What’s more, headphone stutters will be lessened as packet-loss-management is improved, so instead of hearing annoying, intermittent drops, the dropout process will be much smoother. Even the best headphones will benefit from the new codec.

We mentioned codecs in the last section, but what exactly is a Bluetooth codec? If Bluetooth is the technology that enables two devices to communicate with each other, then codecs can be thought of as the language that they speak.

When two devices speak the same language, they can communicate faster and send more data between each other which results in better sound quality. Some of the best codecs have high transfer rates if both devices are compatible, and if they aren’t then everything just reverts down to the basic codec called SBC.

Unfortunately, codecs can be a bit finicky and as we mentioned before don’t always work the way they’re intended to which is why wired headphones usually sound better. Though it is worth mentioning that Qualcomm’s aptX adaptive that seems promising, but we’ll have to wait to test it ourselves before we get our hopes up.

How does active noise canceling work?

If you were wondering how active noise cancellation works, don’t worry you’re not alone. There’s a lot that goes into it and some companies like Bose and Sony have their own ways of achieving it technologically, but it all comes down to basic physics. Active noise canceling is actually something called destructive interference. If you take one wave with an amplitude of +1 and combine it with another wave that has an amplitude of -1, you’re left with zero.

How active noise canceling actually works
Constructive and Destructive Interference Sound waves of equal amplitude, offset at 1/2 wavelengths result in compression waves with an amplitude of 0—canceling out the sound.

Active noise canceling headphones take advantage of this by using tiny microphones to hear what sounds are around you and then creating an opposite sound wave to cancel that before it reaches your ears. Of course, this isn’t perfect and works better for long, droning sounds then sudden, screeching ones. So don’t expect ANC headphones to block out that crying baby on your next flight. But when you combine noise canceling technology with good isolation, you can get pretty close to completely blocking the outside world.

This is harder to achieve when it comes to earbuds, as they don’t completely cover your ear. So instead, a solid pair of memory foam ear tips might be worth looking into as they do a better job at isolating sound than the silicone ones that come with most buds.

How we choose the best headphones

A man wears the Logitech G435 gaming headset sitting at a computer.
If it’s a gaming headset we game with it, if it’s a workout headset we work out with it, and so on.

If you’d seen this list before, you’ll probably notice that it’s completely different than it was in years past. Now it’s a perpetually updated piece. Gone is the Sennheiser HD 800, and the rest of the exorbitantly expensive headphones. That’s because we realized that what’s “best” objectively, isn’t what’s “best” for everyone… so our selections needed a bit of tweaking.

Just like it is with power tools and kitchen utensils, different headphones are built for different purposes. Using the right tool for the job is important, and ensures that you get the best experience possible. You wouldn’t use a chainsaw to cut butter any more than you’d use a set of AKG K7XX on an airplane.

We tested the Sony WH-1000XM5 in the lab with state-of-the-art equipment.
We tested the Sony WH-1000XM5 in the lab with state-of-the-art equipment like the B&K 5128.

In that light, we took extra time to take into account how most people actually use headphones. What makes a good pair of gym headphones? What makes a good pair of wireless earbuds? What’s the good in having a best headphones list that doesn’t help most people buy headphones they like?

While we took the time to highlight some Bluetooth headphones, active noise cancelers, and open-backed cans—be sure to read the descriptions to see if they’re right for you. Many people want a set of headphones that will do everything, but those models are few and far between. That’s why our winner isn’t a set of headphones you’d see on other outlets’ top 10. It’s more about what people actually want than what’s objectively the best performing set out there.

While many might be upset that we chose more consumer-geared models than the stunning halo products of audiophile lore: it’s important to us that our readers aren’t dissatisfied with their headphones. To that end, we find that the ultra-expensive headphones are generally a poor fit for most, often leaving your average consumer frustrated and feeling like they wasted a lot of money. Those with a more developed idea of what kind of headphones they want should also check out our other best lists. Not every best headphone model listed here will meet all of your needs.

With that being said, all of our picks were used by at least one team member, and all of these picks sound fantastic. Because our ad-free business model relies on you enjoying your headphones without returning them, this list represents what we earnestly feel is the most deserving of your money. We knew that we wanted to create a list of financially attainable headphones that meet realistic use cases, rather a drool-inducing, unrealistic list for your average consumer.

Why you should trust SoundGuys on the best headphones

In short, you should trust us because we show our work, strive to provide as much unimpeachable information to you, and pin our revenue model on the happiness of our readers with our recommendations. If you return the product we suggest, we don’t see a dime.

A photo of Chris sleeping in a bed, while using the Bose sleepbuds near an air conditioner.
We do what it takes to test the best headphones, including napping.

When it comes to audio, the SoundGuys team has years of experience reviewing products between them (and even more listening to them). Chris spent years reviewing audio products, among other things, at publications such as USA Today and, Lily clocked in countless hours at radio stations and reviewing products independently before joining our team, and Adam has been listening to headphones and speakers for nearly five years as part of SoundGuys. So needless to say, if a product makes best headphones list it’s because we were genuinely impressed by them and had some hands-on experience with them (or at the very least put in hours of research).

Frequently asked questions about the best headphones

Assuming by “realistic” you mean something akin to a studio style frequency response and aiming to get an accurate representation of what you’re listening to with noise cancellation, you might’ve noticed that a lot of headphones with ANC don’t have that. Most ANC headphones have consumer oriented tunings.

Depending on your device, you could get a pretty accurate frequency response with lots of noise cancellation if you simply turned down the bass in the equalizer on the Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless or even Apple AirPods Max. Both headphones have great ANC, with the AirPods Max having more ANC, but fewer options in terms of connectivity such as the AAC codec and SBC codecs only, rather than aptX HD on the MOMENTUM 4 Wireless for instance.

All of our best headphones picks have good sound quality, but what “good sound” is varies from person to person even if the fundamentals are well agreed-upon. If we were picking one that balances price, connectivity, and frequency response, the AKG K371 rates as a great choice. It boasts an excellent frequency response and a wired connection which means you’re getting the optimal connection for sound quality.

If you’re a basshead, the options above may not suit your tastes. In that event, you should poke around our picks for best bassy headphones.

If you’re looking for Beats headphones and nothing else, you can check out our picks.

I wish I could give you a definitive answer of one perfect pair of wireless headphones, but truthfully, the answer to this question depends on your personal preferences. Do you want really good active noise canceling? Go for the Apple AirPods Max or Sony WH-1000XM5. Are you looking for great wireless sound quality and don’t want to spend a fortune? Check out the Audio-Technica AT-M50xBT2. Is long battery life important to you? Try the Anker Soundcore Space Q45. There are a lot of good headphones out there, and we do our best to outline all the objective facts and describe our subjective experiences with each product so you can make an informed decision based on your personal priorities.

The Apple AirPods Max are bound to be a fine pair of headphones for any iPhone user, but the noise canceling headset is extremely cost-prohibitive. It affords a lot to the right listener, though. Each ear cup houses Apple’s H1 chip for extensive processing power so the headset can deftly perform tasks like hybrid ANC, passthrough audio, hands-free Siri access, Spatial Audio, and more. If you have multiple Apple devices all synced up to the same iCloud account, you’ll enjoy automatic device switching.

The Sony WH-1000XM4 feature several upgrades from the Sony WH-1000XM3 including improved noise canceling, Bluetooth multipoint, and speak to chat functionality. That being said, the WH-1000XM3 is still an excellent pair of headphones, if outdated compared the even newer, WH-1000XM5.