The best headphones 2016: which headphones should you buy?

The best headphones around for your every need

In recent years, the cheap earbuds that come packaged with most music-playing devices have gotten pretty good, but you'll still get a great deal more from spending just a little bit more on a separate pair of headphones. 

Music that sounded tinny and lacking impact through bundled earbuds will sound fuller and more vibrant if you spend a little more money, and you'll also be able to opt for headphones with features that match your specific listening needs. 

These features range from wireless connectivity, to noise-cancellation, to choosing between the three major form-factors, in-ear, on-ear and over-ear headphones. 

That's where our guide to the best headphones steps in. We've selected the best headphones for each form-factor, and we've even picked out a budget option for each so that you should be able to find an excellent pair, no matter what your budget. 

Don't forget we've also got our form-factor specific guides to the best in-ear headphones, the best on-ear headphones and the best over-ear headphones in addition to our guides to the best noise-cancelling headphones and the best wireless headphones if you can't find what you're looking for on this list.

What headphones does TechRadar recommend?

We think the two most important things to consider when buying a pair of headphones are form-factor and price, and so that's exactly how we've organised our guide.

Below you'll find our top picks for the best in-ear headphones, the best on-ear headphones, the best over-ear headphones, the best noise-cancelling headphones and finally the best wireless headphones.

As well as a top pick for each form-factor we've also included a budget pick which manages to offer great sound at a much more competitive price point.

Optoma NuForce HEM6

Best in-ear headphones: Optoma NuForce HEM6

Premium in-ears with a price point to match

Acoustic design: N/A | Weight: 0.01 pounds | Cable length: 4.52 feet | Frequency response: 18Hz - 40kHz | Drivers: 3 per ear | Driver type: Knowels balanced armature | Sensitivity: 113dB+/-3dB | Impedance: 37 Ohms | Battery life: N/A | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: N/A

Great frequency response
Comfortable to wear
A little warm-sounding
Pricey

It's hard not to love the NuForce HEM6s from Optoma. They come with everything you could possibly need from a high-end pair of headphones from multiple detachable cables (one with a remote and one without for better sound quality) to a range of earbuds that allow you to choose your level of noise-isolation.

It might take you a couple of tries to wear them properly due to the way the cable loops around the top of your ears, but once you do you'll find that they rarely, if ever, come loose.

But the most important reason why the NuForce HEM6 are our best pair of in-ear headphones is the sound quality. Their warm and rich sound is a pleasure to listen to, and they sound far more refined than their small size would suggest.

Read the full review: Optoma NuForce HEM6

Sennheiser Momentum In Ear

Best budget in-ear headphones: Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear

Fully-featured and powerful in-ear headphones

Acoustic design: N/A | Weight: .3 pounds | Cable length: 4.2 feet | Frequency response: 15-22,000Hz | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: 18 ohms | Battery life: N/A | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: N/A

Affordable
Stellar sound
Different model for each mobile OS

With the appealing candy apple detailing, Sennheiser gets you in the door. But once you're in, you'll stay for the killer sound quality that comes from the Momentum In-Ear earphones.

These are the among the best deals in the headphones market as it stands today. The company has a version available for each flavor of mobile OS, so everyone can get in on the goodness.

Read the full review: Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear

Bang and Olufsen H2

Best on-ear headphones: Bang and Olufsen H2

Posh headphones with grand sound and comfort

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: .34 pounds | Cable length: 3 feet | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: Two 1.5" drivers | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A

Comfortable
Warm sound
Not cheap
Inline controls aren't universal

When you wear the B&O H2, people will look at you with intrigue, desperately trying to figure out who makes it so they can buy their own later online. We should know: it's how we found out about them.

The H2 sounds as good as it look. The sound performance should please even picky listeners with its warm, evenly-balanced sound. We're trained to assume that good looks are a guise, but the H2's slick design complements the sound performance quite nicely.

Read the full review: Bang and Olufsen H2

Skullcandy Grind

Best budget on-ear headphones: Skullcandy Grind

These headphones pack a ton for a tiny price

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: N/A | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: N/A | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: No

Stellar sound
Unbeatable price
Divisive style
No volume controls

You, like everyone else, probably wants a set of headphones that nails the tricky blend of design, useful features and incredible sound. You might think that you need to flush your savings to enjoy such a pair of cans. Protip: you don't.

At $60 (£40, about AU$77), the Skullcandy Grind is priced well below its competitors, but the low price tag isn't a trick to get you in the door. It's an invitation to find everything you want in a set of headphones (and then some) for an unbeatable price.

Read the full review: Skullcandy Grind

Best Headphones 2016

Best over-ear headphones: Oppo PM-3

Closed back planar magnetic headphones from the gods

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 0.71 pounds | Cable length: 9.8 ft or 3.9 ft | Frequency response: 10-50,000Hz | Drivers: 55mm | Driver type: Planar Magnetic | Sensitivity: 102dB | Impedance: 26 ohms | Battery life: N/A | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: N/A

Stunning sound quality
Great isolation
Faux leather earpads
Less precision than open-back cans

The Oppo PM-3's are a truly stunning pair of headphones. Make no mistake, we've reviewed a lot of headphones in the last 10 years but none have we become more fond of than the PM-3.

They're equally comfortable being plugged into a headphone amp at home as they are commuting through the hustle and bustle of a big city, and they stand head and shoulders above rival products from bigger brands. We really can't recommend them highly enough, they're just amazing.

Read the full review: Oppo PM-3

AKG K92

Best budget over-ear headphones: AKG K92

Budget over-ears that make no compromises on sound quality

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 0.44 pounds | Cable length: 9.8 ft | Frequency response: 16-20,000Hz | Drivers: 40mm | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: 113dB | Impedance: 32 ohms | Battery life: N/A | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: N/A

Comfortable to wear
Great sounding
Budget plastic construction
No detachable cable

AKG has the right idea when it comes to budget headphones. Instead of spending lots of money on an expensive, heavy construction, the company has instead clearly spend the bulk of its money on the K92's drivers, which sound appropriately excellent.

So yes, the K92's might feel a little plastic-y, but they have a good amount of power where it matters the most.

Read the full review: AKG K92

Bose QuietComfort 35

Best noise-cancelling headphones: Bose QuietComfort 35

Bose has cut the wires off its flagship noise-cancellers with great success

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 0.68 pounds | Cable length: 3.94 feet | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 20+ hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: Yes

Broad and clear soundstage
Amazing noise cancellation
Active EQ an acquired taste
Boring looks

Bose has finally brought its fantastic noise-cancelling technology to a pair of wireless headphones and it's done so without any of the traditional drawbacks of wireless headphones. They sound great, and their battery life is long enough for all but the longest of flights.

At $349.95 (£289.95 / AU pricing tbc) the QC35s sit firmly at the premium end of the spectrum, but if you want the best noise-cancelling headphones available right now then you can't get any better.

Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort 35

Best Headphones 2016

Best budget noise-cancelling headphones: Creative Sound Blaster EVO ZxR

An all-around headset offering quality sound and noise cancellation

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: N/A | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: 20Hz-20kHz | Drivers: Two 1.9" drivers | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 8+ hours | Wireless range: 33 feet | NFC: Yes

Decent sound
Wireless
Divisive looks
Build quality lacking

If the design of the Bose QuietComfort 25 is a little too tame for you, check out the Creative Sound Blaster EVO ZxR. The name of these headphones is a bit of a tongue-twister, but you'll get equally tripped-up running down the exhaustive list of features found in them too.

Active noise cancellation helps keep your immersion at an all-time high with support for listening over Bluetooth. You can even tap an NFC-enabled device for a super-quick wireless connection. But if you feel like keeping things wired, connecting a 3.5mm cable opens up support for PS4, Mac and PC. As mentioned earlier, the design is bold, but it matches the feature-set packed into the offering.

Read the full review: Creative Sound Blaster EVO ZxR

Sennheiser Momentum Wireless

Best wireless headphones: Sennheiser Momentum Wireless

Incredible audio fidelity backed by a serious price

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: N/A | Cable length: 4.6 feet | Frequency response: 16-22,000Hz | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: 28 ohms | Battery life: 25+ hours | Wireless range: 30+ feet | NFC: Yes

Comfy, rugged build
Best-in-class sound
Everlasting battery life
Terribly pricey

These no-holds-barred wireless headphones are oozing with positive qualities, but for many, they're almost prohibitively expensive. However, if you're an audio lover that can spare the expense, do not hesitate on this comfortable, hard-working set of headphones that will likely last for years.

Read the full review: Sennheiser Momentum Wireless

Sony MDR ZX770BT

Best budget wireless headphones: Sony MDR-ZX770BT

Affordable wireless headphones that deliver big

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: .52 pounds | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: 20-20,000Hz | Drivers: Two 1.6" speakers | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 20+ hours | Wireless range: 30+ feet | NFC: Yes

Comfortable fit
Fantastic battery life
Cramped soundstage
Light on bass

While not the fanciest option available, those only looking for the must-have features will find that there's a lot to like here. The build quality and materials are top-notch for the price. The sound quality won't blow your mind, but it's totally serviceable for listeners looking for a full sound. Its most treasured feature is the battery life, which lasts for 17 hours. Personally, I was able to squeeze 20 hours out of them.

Read the full review: Sony MDR-ZX770BT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jon Porter is Techradar's UK Home Technology Writer covering everything from TVs to Hi-Fi, gaming and home automation. He's also super into keyboards, and I think we can all agree that the obsession has gone a little too far at this point.