While most people buy their gear off of Amazon, it might surprise you to hear that it’s not the only place to buy headphones. But where is the best place to grab your gear? Well, that’s a complicated question—and one that only you can answer.
Editor’s note: this article was updated on July 10, 2021 in order to add some context about true wireless earphones, and clarify pre-shopping information gathering.
How to decide where to buy headphones
You should take the time to figure out which store is going to cater to your needs the best, even if that does end up simply being Amazon. Using one storefront might not be the best idea, especially when you consider that it’s not always obvious where you’re actually buying your headphones from (sometimes 3rd party sellers use a common storefront). So how do you decide where the best place to buy headphones or other audio equipment?
Sometimes what you want to buy will limit your options to one or two candidates up front, but let’s assume you have an embarrassment of vendors trying to hawk your desired headphones to you. In this hypothetical, there’s a number of things you need to do up-front.
Before shopping, pick the things you care most about:
- Is it the price?
- What about how fast you get your item?
- Do you care about the warranty if something goes wrong, or how good the customer service is when you have to call them?
- Do you need help picking out your headphones?
- Are you sure you really want the model you’ve picked out, or is there an alternative you could grab and be happy with?
Be sure to think about these at least a little bit before figuring out where you want to go to search for your desired headphones. If you need help picking out your headphones, there’s only so much we can do, and you may want someone to guide you in person. If that’s the case, you definitely should consider finding a small audio shop locally to poke around in (public health concerns considered, of course).
Additionally, maybe you care about helping the little guy stay in business in the face of an ever-more-hostile landscape to small business. Maybe you’re just sick of the big box retailers, or you’re just in need of a vendor’s more serious commitment to your goods than just a 14-day unopened box return policy.
Who has the best shipping?
This answer depends entirely on where you live. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you exactly how fast your packages come, but the retailers should be able to.
We don’t have data on all the retailers in your neighborhood, so be sure to check around for yourself. It’s possible we missed something, or that these outlets have changed their offerings and services due to one crisis or another. We live in an ever-changing world, after all.
Be sure to do your homework, and happy hunting!
It’s tough to beat Amazon’s shipping, but lost revenue has forced other vendors to adopt a more aggressive stance on getting you your goods. As you can see below, just about all the major vendors listed have started to move to match Prime shipping’s cost and speed. Some readers will live in areas where Amazon offers same-day delivery, but it’s not available everywhere. If you can wait a little while, any of these other vendors will be able to get you your headphones without too much of a wait.
Shoppers looking for more immediate payoff may want to check their local stores for curbside pickup now that this is becoming a more common thing. Again, this depends
|Vendor||Free shipping?||Free shipping window||Other|
|Amazon||With Prime||0-2 Business days|
|Best Buy||Yes||1-3 Business days||In-store pickup|
|B&H||Yes (orders over $49)||1-3 Business days|
|Sweetwater||Yes (faster shipping available at higher cost)||2-4 Business days|
|World Wide Stereo||Yes||1-5 business days|
|WalMart||Yes (orders over $35)||1-7 Business days||In-store pickup|
|Target||Yes (orders over $35)||2-7 Business days||In-store pickup|
Of course, the shipping options in your area will vary, and that can be an added pain in the neck. Because shipping methods vary so much by locale, we didn’t list them here. Be sure to keep a lookout for shipping times when you look for a vendor online. Sometimes you’ll have to pay extra for faster shipping, which is a rude shock when you want your stuff quickly.
Who has the best warranty?
Before you buy headphones, be sure to check your credit card’s policies, as they sometimes offer extended warranties for purchases on top of the warranties offered by the stores you buy from. Be sure to check out your card’s offerings, as you might be able to skip this section altogether!
Sweetwater has the best mix of “baked-in warranty” and length of time, but that assessment only applies if you’re not planning on buying new headphones for at least two years. If you’re buying true wireless earphones, it’s unlikely the batteries will keep you satisfied for that long if you’re a heavy user… so plan accordingly. If you’re hoping to buy something that will last you longer that those tiny little environmental disasters, you definitely want to look elsewhere for an extended warranty.
A 2-year warranty for just about every product it sells is not only the best product-standard warranty, it’s also great peace-of-mind for those of you looking to buy equipment that lasts. Of course, it doesn’t cover accidental damage, or items meant to be worked down quickly like drum heads and the like—but headphones fall under the purview of covered items.
|Vendor||Vendor warranty||Additional warranty add-ons?|
|B&H||Match manufacturer's warranty, up to 1 year||✓|
|World Wide Stereo||60-Day return|
|Best Buy||14-day return||✓|
|Target||No guarantee, 90-day unopened box return||✓|
That’s not to say that other vendors’ warranties are bad, but business operates on a certain level of acceptable risk. The first thing many businesses try to do to offset risk is use the manufacturer’s warranty as the main coverage for any product you’ve bought, and leave it at that. This can be a bit frustrating, as you won’t always know how long those warranties last until you open the box—thus forcing you to pay a restocking fee.
Extended warranties are also available through many of these vendors, but it’s probably not worth the money for the peace of mind you’d get. Not only do some manufacturer warranties last longer than what’s here, but extended warranties have a habit of not covering the things most likely to kill your toys; like water damage, for instance. Be sure to read any extended warranty contract carefully to see if it truly covers accidental damage.
Who has the best customer service?
While we’ve had good experiences with many of the vendors here, customer service is as tough to predict as the weather next year. Service center workers have to deal with irate customers nonstop on a good day, so be sure to be extra kind when dealing with them (no matter how pulverized your headphones are).
|World Wide Stereo||✓||✓||✓|
Because there’s no objective metric to measure “how good customer service is” for us on the outside of these companies, let’s just take a look at how you can reach each outlet instead. Of course, just because one company doesn’t have live chat or in-person customer service does not mean that it’s worse than any other store, but the table above only shows the options. Personally I like live chat (and keeping my distance from other human beings), but that’s just me. Others like dealing with a real human in person, but obviously don’t put yourself in harm’s way.
Just be sure to save your interactions with customer service, including your ticket number, until your case is closed out. That way, there’s a verified record of your interactions should something go wrong, or you need to seek follow-up help later on.
Looking for used gear? Buy smart
Times are undoubtedly tough, and buying used gear can be a great way to go. However, buying used also means that there’s no longer any protection added to your product unless the people you’re buying from offer it. While some vendors will offer protection for their refurbished gear, grabbing something off of eBay, Reverb, or another used marketplace won’t even be covered by a manufacturer’s warranty—so be careful when buying used gear blind.
This is especially true for outlets like eBay and Craigslist. While they’ve come a long way, there’s only so much a platform that allows direct person to person sales can do to protect you as a consumer. You are assuming most of the risk in this interaction, after all.
However, buying used or refurbished is generally only as risky as buying new, with the added benefit that you pay less up front. For example, Consumer Reports surveyed 3,211 people on their satisfaction with buying refurbished smartphones, and of all those respondents, 67% of buyers who purchased refurbished phones registered “no complaints” versus 69% of users buying new. That’s a pretty close result, and a very encouraging one at that. If you want to save money, refurbished products are a good bet.
If you buy from a bigger retailer, you should know that sometimes they label unsold overstock as “refurbished” just to clear out their store rooms. Try poking around Amazon’s warehouse deals, and other online retailers’ refurbished sections and sorting by “like new” for a better chance at snagging one of these units.