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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. Because the needs of every person out there vary so wildly, we’re going to run down the best options for most people based on a healthy balance of objective performance.
- This list was updated on November 23, 2023, to add the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones to our Top Picks, refresh our Notable mentions, and embed our Best of 2023 YouTube video.
- While this list covers the best headphones overall, if you are shopping with a specific budget in mind, be sure to check out our lists of the best headphones under $50, under $100, under $200, under $300, under $400, and under $1000.
- For specific use cases, see our lists of the best headphones for bass, the best headphones for sleeping, the best headphones for cycling, the best headphones for gaming, the best studio headphones, and the best headphones for kids.
- Learn more about how to read our frequency response charts.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 is the best 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. Still, you can easily equalize this from the Sony Headphones Connect app (iOS/Android) or your preferred third-party equalizer.
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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.
If the price tag of the Sony WH-1000XM5 is just a bit too high, you also can’t go wrong with the older Sony WH-1000XM4 ($348 at Sony) which was previously our pick for best noise canceling headphones.
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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 conditions):
Sony WH-1000XM5 mic demo (Office conditions):
Sony WH-1000XM5 mic demo (Street conditions):
Sony WH-1000XM5 mic demo (Windy conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
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 headphones share many of the premium features found on the WH-1000XM5, and you can expect the older model to go on sale.
The Apple AirPods Max is the best headset for iPhone owners
When it comes to seamless integration with the iPhone, nothing outperforms the AirPods Max. These headphones take noise canceling to a new zenith. With the ANC feature enabled, everyday disruptions, whether it’s the rustling of papers or ambient conversations, are virtually eradicated. The caveat? Full control over ANC is available only if you’re part of the Apple ecosystem. So, for iPhone users, it’s an exclusive perk.
Transparency Mode is another feature that sets the AirPods Max apart, designed with the kind of intuitive thinking only Apple could offer. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill ambient mode that merely lowers your music volume; it uses external mics to amplify real-world sounds, harmonizing with whatever you’re listening to. It’s like having your cake and eating it, too—you enjoy your playlist while remaining acutely aware of your surroundings. Coupled with the iPhone, you get to enjoy customized controls that allow you to toggle between ANC and Transparency Mode effortlessly.
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In terms of audio quality, the AirPods Max offers a stellar listening experience that complements a wide range of genres. From the deep, resonant sub-bass to the clear and present vocals, the sound profile is robust and versatile. While they may not replace studio headphones, they bring a richness that is optimized for the everyday listener. Yes, the $549 price tag is steep, but you’re investing in an experience that’s finessed to perfection for Apple loyalists.
The microphone quality is not great if you have the wrong device, but it’s not always clear which devices are the “wrong” ones. That’s because it’s not entirely the headphones’ fault—it’s just that some devices have different defaults and settings when they handle data from the AirPods Max itself. For best results, always use a flagship Android or Apple device.
Apple AirPods Max microphone demo (ideal):
Apple AirPods Max microphone demo (office):
Apple AirPods Max microphone demo (street):
Apple AirPods Max microphone demo (wind):
How does the microphone sound to you?
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra is the best Bluetooth headphones
If you’re looking for high-performing ANC headphones that will keep up with your current (and next) Android phones, seriously consider the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones. They pack a cutting-edge chipset that grants support for the aptX Lossless codec. Currently, the only other audio product that offers this is the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds. Bose is new to higher-bitrate Bluetooth codecs, but it’s good to see that these headphones are far more future-proof than some of their older options.
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As we expect from premium Bose cans, the noise canceling is great. They absolutely go toe-to-toe with other top picks on this list, namely the Apple AirPods Max and Sony WH-1000XM5, with both the noise attenuation and the audio passthrough modes. Simply put, these are easily some of the best noise canceling headphones around.
Battery life nets around 27 and a half hours of playtime with ANC, which is enough for about a week’s worth of commutes — or three work days. As these headphones charge with USB-C, you should have no difficulty finding power for them around your house.
At its best, the microphone array on the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones sounds pretty good in several simulated situations. Take a listen below and let us know what you think in our poll.
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones microphone demo (Office conditions):
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones microphone demo (Street conditions):
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones microphone demo (Windy conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
The Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless sounds great in any environment
If you’re looking for a slightly more affordable set of ANC headphones in comparison to the Bose or Sony offerings, the Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless is not a bad way to go. While its ANC is technically behind the other top-tier headphones, its sound quality and battery life still more than hold up.
With support for a variety of high-quality codecs like AAC, aptX, aptX, 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. and a stellar 56 hours and 21 minutes of battery life (with ANC on) outperforms most headphones.
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The sound 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.
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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?
The Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless is one of the best value buys
When the price tag matters as much as performance, the Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless emerges as a strong contender. Known for sound quality that doesn’t compromise, these headphones offer a well-rounded auditory experience, all at a fraction of the cost of high-end competitors. They’re not the champs in noise canceling, falling short against industry leaders like Bose and Sony, but they can still reduce ambient noise by up to 75%.
They’re light enough to wear all day, thanks to well-placed padding akin to the comfort features of Bose QuietComfort Headphones. They may lack a carrying case and weather resistance, but their build quality assures you can toss them into a bag without a second thought. Just don’t expect these to be your go-to for the gym or a rainy day.
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The headphones themselves offer a straightforward user experience. For those who love tinkering, the Sennheiser Smart Control app provides granular control over settings and a 5-band equalizer. Battery life lasts an impressive 47 hours on a full charge. For those who prioritize sound quality and affordability, the Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless checks almost all the boxes.
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True to form for a set of wireless headphones, the Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless can be used for phone calls. The 2-microphone array of the headset uses beamforming to pick up your voice over the din of the outside world and cuts off pickup at 8kHz — it wouldn’t make it over a mobile network anyway.
Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless microphone demo (Office conditions):
Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless microphone demo (Street conditions):
Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless microphone demo (Windy conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
As you can probably hear, there’s an issue with noise rejection and mitigating wind noise, but intelligibility is okay.
The Shure AONIC 50 (Gen 2) can connect to anything
The Shure AONIC 50 (Gen 2) is for anyone looking to up their noise canceling headphone game but is unsatisfied with the Sony, Bose, and Apple options. Shure offers a competing form factor and a comprehensive app that could meet your needs if you’re looking for headphones with maximum device compatibility.
These headphones can use 3.5mm, USB-C, and a deep bench of Bluetooth codecs, including aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, aptX Voice, SBC, AAC, and LDAC. Essentially, it’s the all-in-one solution for any device. For example, you can use the headphone cable when you use the headphones with older equipment, swap to Bluetooth when you’re out of the house, or use the USB-C cable at the computer to enjoy lossless audio.
The sound needs a little tweaking, but if you’re okay tinkering with the app it allows you to use a host of parametric EQ filters to fit your sound profile.
The Beyerdynamic DT 900 PRO X are the perfect headphones for bedroom producers and creative professionals
The Beyerdynamic PRO X series caters to the modern creator with a low 48Ω impedance and comfortable build. The Beyerdynamic DT 900 PRO X has an open-back design, and all of the parts are easy to replace without the need for tools. This is a great pick for engineers who want to focus on production and can’t afford to get bogged down with difficult repairs.
If you’ve used a set of over-ear Beyerdynamic headphones before, you’ll feel right at home with the DT 900 PRO X and its plush ear pads. A mini-XLR input sits on the left ear cup, and the included cable locks into place.
Since this is an open-back headset, its utility is a bit limited. You’ll hear everything gone around you should you choose to take it on a stroll. But hey, that’s unlikely anyway since this is built for studio use. When you do get the headset into a quiet environment, you’ll enjoy excellent audio reproduction with consistent volume output from the bass and mids. There’s a 5dB boost relative to our house curve, from 4-7kHz, but that can make it easier to hear string attacks during a particularly busy part of a song. This isn’t always ideal when mixing audio, so you can always EQ it down via a desktop application.
The 1MORE SonoFlow is the best bang for your buck
Coming in at under $100 with a feature-rich and stylish design, the 1MORE SonoFlow headphones are a top contender in the over-ear active noise canceling (ANC) headphone market. The plush padding makes these very comfortable and lightweight to listen with throughout its 50 hours plus battery life.
The ANC is adequate to dull down any distracting noises in your environment, and the sound quality out of the box doesn’t;t deviate too far from our headphone preference curve. The EQ section in the 1MORE app is the key to unlocking the true performance of the SonoFlow headphones with 12 “studio grade” presets or making your own with the graphic EQ.
Overall, while these headphones are inexpensive, they aren’t made cheap. They check all the boxes when it comes to modern features and will suit computers and travelers alike.
The best headphones: Notable mentions
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.
- AKG K371 ($176 at Amazon): 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 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.
- Anker Soundcore Space Q45 ($149 at Amazon): These headphones tick most boxes for the price. The Bluetooth or wired-equipped over-ear headphones supply good codecs: AAC and LDAC, and sound pretty good. You also get decent noise canceling as well.
- Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2($198 at Amazon): 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. At under $200, this is a solid headset.
- Beyerdynamic DT 900 PRO X ($269 at Amazon): If wired is your sole interest with a studio-style frequency response, this is a great pick. The open-back design wears comfortably, and it gets very close to our ideal sound without reaching astronomical pricing. Its closed-back companion, the DT 700 PRO X, has less treble on tap and is another great choice.
- Bose QuietComfort 45 ($279 at Amazon): 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.
- Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 ($279 at Bose): These are an older yet decent can of Bose headphones that are still supported by Bose, and will save you quite a bit of money if you’re okay without all the extra bells and whistles.
- Drop x Sennheiser HD 6XX ($199 at Manufacturer site): If you’re looking for the absolute best way to spend money on headphones for the computer, Drop’s partnership with Sennheiser brings these legendary audiophile headphones down to roughly half the original asking price. Budget-conscious audiophiles would be doing themselves a disservice by not giving these a spin.
- Grado SR80x(for $125 at Amazon): If you can’t shell out for top of the line open back headphones, these unique Brooklyn built on-ear headphones are comfortable with repairable parts and a more trebly frequency response.
- HiFiMan Sundara ($299 at Amazon): This is the set of headphones to get if you want high-end audio but don’t want to shell out a king’s ransom for it. These planar magnetic headphones are comfortable, straightforward, and excellent performers.
- JBL Tune 660NC ($79 at Amazon): Simply put, this is the best value you can get from a set of on-ear headphones.
- Sennheiser HD 600 ($399.95 at Sennheiser): 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.
- Sennheiser HD 660S2 ($499 at Amazon): Certainly not the cheapest of the wired open-back headphones on our list, 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-CH520 ($38 at Amazon): The Sony WH-CH520 are competent entry-level pair of wireless headphones. They sound decent for the price and have an incredible battery life. With features like Multipoint and Fast Pair, they are also reasonably future-proof.
- Sony WH-1000XM4 ($348 at Sony): 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 and gets you most of the way there.
What you should know about the best headphones
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! It’s possible you just want the best-sounding headphones at the expense of all other factors. These are all things covered in our reviews and other best lists.
Are wired headphones better than Bluetooth headphones?
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 basically only plays its best 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 are 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 to 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 seems promising, 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 cancelation 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.
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 than 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
If you’ve 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 are 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.
In that light, we took extra time to take into account how most people actually use headphones. What makes a good pair of gym earbuds? 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. It’s more about what people actually want.
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 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. This is due in part to the law of diminishing returns because some cheap headphones are already pretty darn good; it can be hard to really bitter pill to swallow if you don’t hear hundreds of dollars difference. 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 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 than a drool-inducing, unrealistic list for your average consumer.
Why should you trust SoundGuys for 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.
When it comes to audio, the SoundGuys team has years of experience reviewing products between them (and even more listening to them). So, if a product makes the 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
The Sony WH-1000XM5 is the best overall choice for listening to music due to its superior noise canceling, excellent sound quality, and advanced features like custom equalizer and 360 Reality Audio. If budget is a concern, the Anker Soundcore Space Q45 offers a good balance of price and performance with decent noise canceling and sound quality.
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 cancelation, 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 cancelation 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 on the MOMENTUM 4 Wireless, for instance.
All of our best headphone 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.
I wish I could give you a definitive answer to one perfect pair of wireless headphones. Still, 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 Sony WH-1000XM4 features 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 a great pair of headphones for listening to music, even if outdated compared to the newer WH-1000XM5.