Silence is golden, but music has become a necessity in the past few years as office workers get asked to do more and more work in ever noisier environments - it's no wonder sales of headphones have rocketed in recent years.

They're just as useful in noisy city streets and the aircraft cabin, where the dodgy headphones handed out to passengers in economy class can leave you straining to hear the dialogue in a film. Some are so uncomfortable that your ears can be burning by the time you touch down at your destination.

Noise cancelling is handy if you're flying or working in very loud offices, but forget Bluetooth at 40,000ft - and, actually forget Bluetooth completely; it's more of a pain to pair with a smartphone than untangling a pair of in-ears, and the headsets need regular charging, too, which makes them high maintenance. Wait for NFC connectivity.

For work, you'll need a comfy pair that doesn't spill noise sideways to colleagues, while for those in a home office - or listening to old LPs in the loft - that's not so important.

We've selected some old classics, newer styles and our favourites from throughout the genres, but they all have something in common: they all cost north of £150/$180, and for good reason.

Pioneer HDJ-1500-S - £150/US$180/AU$250

Best headphones: 10 top headphones for sound quality
Made for the DJ booth, these flexible cans are hard-working and high volume

These headphones are all about loudness in noisy environments. A model designed primarily for DJs, they're very well made, with easily turnable hinges (which ought to help avoid accidental breakages) above the rather narrow leather ear-cups that spin 90 degrees without any friction.

Sporting a high-end yet sleek design and feel, these mid-range 305g (10.75oz) cans have a comfy foam and leather-backed headband and ship with a detachable coiled cable with a 3.5mm gold-plated connector that easily stretches out to around 3m.

Worn around the neck, these cups move easily, though they can feel a little restrictive despite their narrow design, which slips into a 27 x 23cm (10.6 x 9.1-inch) fake leather drawstring bag. A 6.35mm jack plug adaptor is also supplied.

Sound quality is best described as full - and loud; we're talking booming bass levels and plenty of dynamism. Probably the best aspect of these is that they are extremely efficient at blocking out ambient noise despite not having any active noise cancelling trickery.

However, a major factor in that success is that the leather-lined cups fasten onto the head just a little too tightly for comfort. Wear them for 20 minutes and they're thoroughly impressive, though much longer than that and they become quite uncomfortable. Available in silver or black, a little sound spillage makes these best used at home (the coiled cable is a little unwieldy for work) - or, of course, in the DJ booth.

Klipsch Image X7i - £150/US$200 (around AU$230)

Best headphones: 10 top headphones for sound quality
Tiny teardrops with an anti-tangle cable

Earphones with a three-button remote and a 'Made for iPhone' badge are ten-a-penny, but we've not come across a pair as tiny as the Klipsch X7i.

Working best with the iPhone 3GS and above, the teardrop-style inserts are so small we feared they'd never emerge post-test, but they did after a throughly comfortable and darned impressive few outings.

Sound quality is best described as warm, lively and full, with pin-sharp detail and stereo separation atop a mix that's got plenty of well-judged bass tones. Tunes go to high volumes without distorting, too, while blocking out more than enough ambient sound to rightly prove their 'noise isolating' claim; be careful when crossing roads. Being so small, they do occasionally slip and need repositioning, but rarely.

They sell with a small elliptical zipped pouch made from neoprene (diving suit material), and surprisingly well-made it is, too. This contains a two-prong airline seat adaptor, shirt clip and four contrasting sizes and styles of silicon in-ear tips. Our only complaint is that you have to pretty much rip off and destroy the sturdy box it sells in, which is a little unsettling having just spent all that money.