The best wired headphones 2024: in-ear and over-ear options for premium sound

PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID

The best wired headphones and in-ears (often called IEMs, which is short for in-ear monitors) are the ideal gateway to hi-res audio. They also provide an extra layer of security (no losing an earbud to a puddle here) thanks to their quality cables that will either snake around your ear and into their respective 'buds or attach easily to their padded ear cups.  

And the delicate truth is that the best wired headphones still sound better than wireless. Yes, Bluetooth bandwidth is improving and the best wireless earbuds and best wireless headphones offer the convenience of simply sticking them over (or in) your ears without a snag-prone cable. But streaming over Bluetooth adds its own compression, or 'loss' to the audio you hear – and that problem goes away if you'll only embrace the wind beneath your wires and attach a cable to your device when you listen to good quality music files. Want proof? Apple Music's Lossless and Hi-Res Lossless output: you cannot currently enjoy it in its full resolution without adding at least one physical connection to the source.

Within this guide you'll find options covering regular 3.5mm, 2.5mm, 4.4mm and USB-C connections, because very few phones these days sport the good old 3.5mm jack, unless you've got your eye on a Sony Xperia 1 V, which is arguably the best phone for sound ever

Yes, we've included a couple of money-no-object sets – wired listening is the preserve of planar magnetic drivers, open-backed ear cups and audiophiles demanding clarity and nuance – but there are affordable propositions in this best-in-class roundup too. 

Our rigorous testing process involves not only listening to each product individually but also in direct comparison with the class-leaders at the level, before it can even be considered for this buying guide. Not sure whether you want wired or wireless earbuds? We've got a dedicated best earbuds roundup that includes wire-free, true wireless and wired designs to help you choose. Otherwise, read on.

Written by
Becky Scarrott
Written by
Becky Scarrott

I've reviewed over 150 audio products since becoming a tech journalist, ranging from super-budget earbuds to high-end Hi-Res Audio music players. Before joining TechRadar, I spent three years at What Hi-Fi? testing everything the world of audio had to offer; before that, I was a professional dancer. I'll always extol the virtues of listening (and dancing) to the best musical file quality and audio gear your budget can stretch to.

The quick list

Want to cut to the chase and find out which wired headphones are the best? Below, you’ll find a roundup of our choices. You can also jump to a more detailed write-up of every pick, and our price comparison tool helps you find the best deals.

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Written by
Becky Scarrott
Written by
Becky Scarrott

I've reviewed over 150 audio products since becoming a tech journalist, ranging from super-budget earbuds to high-end Hi-Res Audio music players. Before joining TechRadar, I spent three years at What Hi-Fi? testing everything the world of audio had to offer; before that, I was a professional dancer. I'll always extol the virtues of listening (and dancing) to the best musical file quality and audio gear your budget can stretch to.

Recent updates

June 20, 2024
Added this update log to our buying guide and reordered the format to make top products easier to navigate to. Added an 'Also consider' section and mentioned that we'll be splitting this guide to 'best wired earbuds' and 'best wired headphones' soon, because of the plethora of testing we've recently done (and the renewed popularity of going wired, to get hi-res audio)

The best wired headphones 2024

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The best headphones overall

The Sennheiser HD-660S2 headhphones pictured on a wooden surface.

(Image credit: Future/TechRadar/Henry St Leger)
The best wired headphones for most people

Specifications

Acoustic design: Over-ear, open-back
Driver size: 38mm
Frequency response: 8Hz - 41.5kHz
Connectivity: 6.3mm (1⁄4inch) to 3.5mm adapter, 4.4mm supplied
Weight: 260g

Reasons to buy

+
Open-back design and comfortable fit
+
Consistent, neutral sound
+
Various cable options

Reasons to avoid

-
Lack of smart features
-
Needs a separate amp to get the most out of them

These talented wired headphones were made for the mixing booth, but they're also excellent for all-round music listening thanks to their neutral sound recreation, oodles of crisp bass response, plush cushioning and the rigid headband needed to prevent vibration while you listen to your favorite tracks. 

As open-backed headphones, do they leak sound? Actually, there isn’t a huge amount of sound leakage with the HD-660S, so you should be able to sit near someone without sharing your deepest and most niche music tastes. You won’t be able to use them on the subway, though – there’s little-to-no sound isolation here and thus, they will only really suit those who listen to their albums al desko at work (or lounging in a comfy listening chair when the working day is done). 

Unlike many of the best over-ear headphones we've tested, there's no Bluetooth or alternative wireless connectivity other than a detachable cable here but then, you came here for the best in wired listening, didn't you? 

Ultimately, the HD-660S2 are best for static listening, sound mixing, or nursing a favorite album in high quality sound at home without the fear of missing a doorbell. 

Read our full Sennehiser HD-660S2 review

The best budget headphones

Sivga Oriole twisted to show ear cup movement while on a concrete floor.

(Image credit: Future)
The best gateway wired headphones for audiophiles on a budget

Specifications

Acoustic design: Over-ear, closed-back
Driver size: 50mm
Frequency response: 20Hz - 20kHz
Connectivity: 3.5mm, 3.5 mm to 6.3 mm adapter, (connectors on ear cups are 2.5mm)
Weight: 280g

Reasons to buy

+
Great sound balance
+
Beautiful wooden design
+
Light and comfortable build

Reasons to avoid

-
Better for smaller heads
-
A little light on bass power

We'll get straight to it: for the money, this is a very good set of wired over-ears. They're not the full-ticket audiophile option (for that you'd need to spend significantly more) but as a solid step up on the similarly-priced wireless earbuds you've got right now, you need to take them seriously.

The wooden cups, 50mm drivers (which is larger and more capable than those found in most of the best over-ear headphones within their price bracket), the lovely light 280g build, soft memory foam padding and high-gloss finish and specific voicing will have you hooked. 

For clarity, the Oriole feature a "balanced and wide tuning ideal for classical and jazz music", while the company's simultaneous Robin headphone release has a what the company described as a more "lively, forward sound" aimed at rock, pop, and dance music listeners.

The Oriole boast a non-taxing impedance of 32 ohms and a high sensitivity of 108dB, which is practically unheard of in this price bracket and sonically, they're very good of for this money – almost to the point you might think the $199 / £219 / AU$399 pricing on the box is a typo. 

Read our full Sivga Oriole review

The best high-end headphones

Meze Audio Liric on outdoor table

(Image credit: TechRadar)
Simply the best high-end audiophile wired headphones

Specifications

Acoustic design: Over-ear, closed-back
Driver size: 92mm x 63mm ovoid MZ4 isodynamic hybrid
Frequency response: 4Hz - 92kHz
Connectivity: 3.5mm (2x, different lengths), 3.5 mm to 6.3 mm adapter, in-flight adapter
Weight: 390 g

Reasons to buy

+
Confident, precise and revealing sound
+
Remarkable sonic control and positivity
+
Reassuring build quality

Reasons to avoid

-
Not the weightiest listen
-
Intolerant of poor sources of music
-
Sizeable case

Now then. At nearly two grand’s-worth of wired headphone prowess, if you’re attaching these cans to a mediocre music source you simply won't be getting your money's worth – and that will be on you. This is audiophile territory. Spotify free-tier subscribers, owners of virtually all smartphones that still have a physical headphone connection and folks who want to hook them straight into the side of their laptop should all a) look elsewhere, and b) spend much less money on headphones. The Liric are unapologetically intolerant of all of this.

Extended functionality? Nope. Mainstream pricing? Again no. Adaptable or undemanding? Hardly. You don’t get pampered by the Meze Audio Liric wired over-ear headphones. Buy a pair and it's you who’ll be doing most of the pampering.

That said, a considerable amount of money put Meze Audio’s way buys big, hard-wired headphones fitted with esoteric planar magnetic drivers – and though their closed-back configuration and (laughably big) carry-case makes them a bit better for your commute than most Meze Audio over-ear headphones, they’re neither discreet nor especially portable.

What they are is beautifully made, from high-quality materials. And if there's anything you take away from this bit of text, it should be that they sound superb. If it’s detail you want, a proper reading of a recording as a performance, insight into tone and timbre and shape of individual notes, the Liric are a convincing and utterly musical listen, and ranking among the best over-ear headphones for sheer fidelity.

Read our full Meze Audio Liric review

The best earbuds for most people

Sennheiser IE 300 on wooden table

(Image credit: Future)
Audio purity and functional simplicity

Specifications

Acoustic design: In-ear, closed-back
Driver size: 7mm dynamic
Frequency response: 6Hz - 20kHz
Connectivity: Detachable cable with MMCX connectors and 3.5mm jack
Weight: 4g per earpiece

Reasons to buy

+
Balanced, spacious and clear audio
+
Solid and precise construction
+
Affordable for in-ear monitors

Reasons to avoid

-
Cheaper wireless competition
-
Cable noise fairly prominent
-
No in-line remote or mic

This pair of cabled in-ear monitors (IEMs) offers a terrific entry into the hi-fi world at a reasonable price for the category. Construction is excellent, with gold-plated connectors and a kevlar-esque material coating the cables. The same attention to detail is present in the design of the audio components, with some clever engineering allowing for much more of a sense of space than in-ears are often afforded.

The sound signature is pleasantly balanced, with a slight preference towards bass, which is delivered with zeal and panache, but the IE 300 comfortably handles all genres and offers stunning levels of detail while doing so.

Some prominent cable noise means that these aren’t necessarily the best IEMs for the more active among us, but it's an issue that only really presents itself with more nuanced or quieter audio explorations. 

There’s no doubt that the IE 300 won’t be for everyone – sensational competition in the consumer true wireless realm (from the likes of Sony and Bose) does make wired propositions a little harder to justify – but if audio fidelity is your focus, these Sennheiser wired buds won’t disappoint.

Read our full Sennhesier IE 300 review

The best budget earbuds

1More Triple Driver in-ear headphones

(Image credit: Future)
Great value for money wired earbuds

Specifications

Acoustic design: In-ear, closed-back
Driver size: 2 balanced armatures + 1 dyanmic driver
Frequency response: 20Hz - 40kHz
Connectivity: 3.5mm, in-flight adapter
Weight: 18g

Reasons to buy

+
Lush sound quality
+
Excellent build and design
+
Unmatched value

Reasons to avoid

-
Rubber cable catches on itself
-
Plastic remote feels cheap

If you're after a pair of in-ear headphones that come in under $100 (£70 or AU$150), you've got a lot of choices. And these are emphatically the best of that bunch. 

We consider the 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphones among the best cheap headphones right now. If you haven’t heard of 1More, listen up, because it’s a company that deserves to be on your radar. 

We're blown away by how much they offer at the price range, easily rivalling some of the very best headphones. Sound quality is where the 1More Triple Driver stand out. While the balanced but slightly warm sound signature didn’t blow us away initially, we came to appreciate the balance in relation to the detail provided by the talented triple-driver configuration. 

Music is exquisitely detailed with a good sense of space. Instruments are layered and complex songs don’t sound muddled as each instrumental layer remains audible. While there are more detailed in-ear headphones out there, you’ll have to pay much more for the incremental gains in performance. 

Read our full 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphone review

The best high-end earbuds

Adeze Euclid earbud held in a hand on green background

(Image credit: TechRadar)
Some of the most insightful wired earbuds you can buy

Specifications

Acoustic design: In-ear, closed-back
Driver size: 18mm planar magnetic
Frequency response: 10Hz - 50kHz
Connectivity: 3.5mm cable, 4.4mm Pentaconn balanced cable, 1/4" TRS adapter
Weight: 15g per pair (without cable)

Reasons to buy

+
Balanced, engaging and all-around accomplished sound
+
Surprisingly comfortable
+
Impressive specification

Reasons to avoid

-
Unblinkingly expensive
-
Optional wireless connectivity is unsophisticated
-
Could maybe sound a little heftier

As with previous Audeze models (we might point you towards the LCD-i3 in-ear headphones, but it's enough to know that Audeze is an industry-leader in planar magnetic technology), the Euclid come with 18mm planar magnetic drivers and precision-milled aluminium casings for a lightweight build. Unlike the LCD-i3 however, you won't suffer any sound leakage with these earbuds (and neither should your fellow commuters or colleagues in the office), thanks to their closed-back design.

They come with a 3.5mm braided cable (which screams 'no more entanglements' better even than Jada Pinkett-Smith herself) and gold-plated MMCX connections with beautifully shaped ear-hooks that snake comfortably around ears, thus enabling the jewel-like black and gold earpieces to calmly assume their correct positions ready for listening. And if you want to go wireless, they are supplied with a connecting cable that includes a Bluetooth 5.0 receiver with aptX HD compatibility too.

Any downsides? They're a little big; smaller eared listeners may need to stretch their shell-likes a little to accommodate the larger housing. Unlikely as it may seem though, the Audeze Euclid in-ear monitors deliver a sound that’s even bigger than the earbuds themselves. If they fit (and you can stretch to the considerable cash needed to buy them) you're in for a rare treat. 

Read our full Audeze Euclid review

Go wireless too

Focal Bathys on wallpaper background

(Image credit: Future)
Seriously stunning in almost every way

Specifications

Acoustic design: Over-ear, closed-back
Driver size: 40mm Aluminium-Magnesium
Frequency response: 15Hz to 22kHz
Connectivity: 3.5mm, USB-C
Weight: 350g

Reasons to buy

+
Exciting, detailed, expressive sound
+
Very comfortable (and easy on the eye)
+
Excellent access to hi-res whistles and bells

Reasons to avoid

-
On-ear controls are hit-and-miss
-
Noise cancellation can be beaten for less

While Focal is marketing these talented cans as its first-ever shot at wireless over-ears, we'd like to posit them as a very talented wired option, because if you use the USB-C cable in DAC mode, you've got hi-res audio up to 21bit/192kHz. Oh, and in case it needs to be stated after looking at the picture above, they're utterly stunning to look at. 

The company makes some of the best over-ear headphones we've ever had the pleasure of placing over our ears but (there's no easy way to say this) the Bathys are expensive. We understand the reasons behind the asking fee – those patented aluminum/magnesium "M”-dome speaker drivers made in France don't come cheap; neither does the backlit flame emblem in the center of each beautiful earcup – but they're more expensive than the AirPods Max and the new Bowers & Wilkins PX8, which is significant and comes with it no small amount of pressure to perform. 

But put them on and you feel beautiful, buoyed up by their detail, insight and clarity. That said, the on-ear wireless controls feel a little less than high-end, the app is acceptable rather than excellent, and the noise-cancellation (you get 'silent', 'soft' and 'transparent' options) isn't at the level of the very best noise-cancelling headphones.

Read our full Focal Bathys review

The best cheap on-ear option

Grado SR80x headphones on white background

(Image credit: TechRadar)
The best inexpensive on-ear wired headphones

Specifications

Acoustic design: On-ear, open-back
Driver size: 44mm
Frequency response: 20Hz - 20kHz
Connectivity: 3.5mm, 6.5mm adapter
Weight: 245g

Reasons to buy

+
Fantastic sound quality
+
Light and comfortable to wear
+
Distinctive, classy design

Reasons to avoid

-
Sound leakage
-
Won't suit all environments

You’d usually have to pay much more for a pair of audiophile-grade headphones such as these. Design-wise, everything about them – how they look as well as how they feel – makes the SR80x headphones seem more expensive than they are. They have a relatively simple headband with a silent adjustable slider and super soft padding inside. The cups are constructed from plastic, and the set is pleasingly light at just 245g. 

They have an aesthetic that we described as brutalist and almost steampunk in our first impressions, and we stand by that description now. A honeycomb-like metal mesh on the earcups emphasizes the open-back design of the Grado SR80x headphones and sound does leak directly from these holes. The trade off for that minor inconvenience is excellent audio quality. And we do mean excellent.

Of course, if you don’t like the idea of sound leakage or getting used to a pair of wired headphones again, these aren’t for you. But if you’re looking for affordable headphones that sound sensational and feel very good, consider the Grado SR80x headphones. If you can handle those minor inconveniences, you will not regret it. 

Read our full Grado SR80x review

The best over-ears for analytical sound

The FiiO FT3 headphones on a wooden surface.

(Image credit: Future/TechRadar/Simon Lucas)
High-end wired headphones without the high-end price

Specifications

Acoustic design: Over-ear, closed-back
Driver size: 60mmdynamic drivers with Beryllium-plated gasket and DLC diaphragm
Frequency response: 20Hz - 20kHz
Connectivity: 3.5mm, 3.5 mm to 6.3 mm adapter, (connectors on ear cups are 2.5mm)
Weight: 280g

Reasons to buy

+
An engaging sound
+
Specified like expensive headphones
+
Good build and finish

Reasons to avoid

-
Can over-egg midrange emphasis
-
Suede earpads promote ear sweat
-
Unhelpfully long cable

Fiio has always been about value for money and it might just have outdone itself with the FT3, wired over-ears that are an astonishingly good deal, marrying impressive sound performance with a build and finish that screams high-end.

Never doubt that Fiio thinks ahead, either. Over 10 years ago, the company ordered a large amount of an especially good audio cable – it's now been discontinued, but these headphones make (good) use of it. Why Fiio has chosen to make that cable 3m / 10 feet long, though, given that the company’s supply is finite, is more confusing – that's a lot of cable to get tangled. But aside from that, and the fact that you'll need a worthwhile (read: reasonably expensive) digital audio player or DAC/headphone amp to hear them at their best, the FT3 soundstage is big and generous, with the spaces on it given just as much prominence and emphasis as the occurrences – and the silences are black and, well, silent. 

The tonal balance from the top of the frequency range to the bottom is convincing, too, and even though the Fiio headphones push the midrange forward just a touch, they still sound natural and believable.

Read our full Fiio FT3 review

The best planar magnetic

The Fiio FT5 headphones in their case, opened, outside on a warm day

(Image credit: Future)
The best planar magnetic pick

Specifications

Acoustic design: Planar magnetic
Driver size: 90mm
Frequency response: 7Hz - 40kHz
Connectivity: 3.5mm; 4.4mm; 6.3mm; 4-pin XLR
Weight: 456g (without cable)

Reasons to buy

+
Open and entertaining sound
+
Properly made from nice materials
+
Good specification

Reasons to avoid

-
Big for smaller heads
-
Fractionally rich tonality
-
Carry-case is huge

The USP here is FiiO's implementation of big (huge! 90mm) planar magnetic drivers. Why? Because at this level, the more pragmatic dynamic driver is far more prevalent  – but FiiO decided, before releasing them (in December 2023) that planar magentic drivers were the best way to get “intense energy like a thunderstorm” from these cans – and we're truly grateful FiiO's engineers persisted. 

To drill down into that tech, each earcup features a large, extraordinarily thin (6µm) planar magnetic driver, with 11 neodymium magnets on one side and nine on the other. And with it, he FT5 strike an ideal balance in every respect, from the classy build to the way they sound. If it’s total sonic neutrality you’re after, you may need to pass – but if you fancy an entertaining sound with a good dollop of audiophile credibility thrown in, do give them a whirl at your local dealership.

They’re able to hone in on the finest details, while managing to stay engaged and entertaining at the same time. The FT5 are quick off the mark with complex rhythmic passages while allowing any vocalist they're dealt to sound positive, emotive and visceral. 

Any flies in the ointment? One: Tonally, the FiiO are on the ‘fractionally warm’ side, but it’s such a small issue we mention it more as a trait than a flaw. Highly recommended. 

Read our full FiiO FT5 review

The best alternative earbuds for the design-conscious

Campfire Audio Solaris Stellar Horizon held in a hand on green background

(Image credit: Future)
The best gateway product for audiophiles on a tight budget

Specifications

Acoustic design: In-ear, closed-back
Driver size: 3x dual-diaphragm balanced armatures; 1x 10mm dynamic
Frequency response: 5Hz - 20 kHz
Connectivity: 3.5mm, Balanced 2.5mm and 4.4mm cables
Weight: Not specified (1kg total package)

Reasons to buy

+
Incredibly broad, three-dimensional soundstage
+
Detailed and energetic mids
+
Beautiful design with plenty of cable accessories

Reasons to avoid

-
A little lean through the bass on occasion
-
Can expose harshness through the treble in some recordings

If you want IEMs that feel as if the audio has escaped beyond its beautiful enclosures and wrapped itself around your head, down into your shoulders and even under each ear, these gifted in-ears should be on your wish list.

With Campfire Audio Solaris Stellar Horizon (yes, it's a bit of a mouthful) the Portland Oregon audio specialist continues to challenge notions on what is good, bad, revealing, neutral or otherwise in IEMs. 

These are some of the best earbuds we've tested in terms of breadth and texture through the lowers mids. Just as we fell in love with Campfire Audio's jewel-like Trifecta for similar money, there's something very distinctive and unique about Campfire Audio's talent in shaping sound. 

For Solaris Stellar Horizon (an update on the discontinued 2020 Solaris – and not to be confused with Astell & Kern's Solaris X earbuds), Campfire Audio has slimmed down the driver housings, which makes for a better secure and comfortable fit, although the nozzle, or neck, of the buds may be a little long for anyone not used to such designs. 

You're going to want to challenge these in-ears with a Qobuz trial and some certified hi-res playlists, to hear the extra ounce of detail, texture and panache the Solaris Stellar Horizon can reach for and serve up to your ears on a gold-on-black platter – and just look at them. We wish more buds were as bold as this.

It's not perfect though. The low end comes in with admirable timing and stays so, but it lacks a modicum of menace and clout in the mix. Higher up, there's a very fleeting, marginal harshness through the treble in some recordings. Perhaps you'll like that though. Perhaps you'll adore it, and we won't be mad at you. 

Read our full Campfire Audio Solaris Stellar Horizon review

The best cheap earbuds

SoundMagic E11C

(Image credit: Future)
The best cheap pair of wired earbuds

Specifications

Acoustic design: In-ear, closed-back
Driver size: 10mm Neodymium dynamic
Frequency response: 15Hz - 22kHz
Connectivity: Available in 3.5mm and UBS-C connections
Weight: 11g

Reasons to buy

+
Good power and volume
+
Great quality for the price

Reasons to avoid

-
Bass sounds slightly muddy

Since 2005, SoundMagic has garnered a reputation for offering high quality headphones without the extortionate price, with its flagship E series headphones that rival big brands in terms of audio quality and cost. 

And despite their 2018 launch date, SoundMagic's lovely little wired in-ears still stand up as the best entry-level option today. Overall, the E11Cs are a brilliant budget buy; we really liked the design, which looks elegant while also feeling comfortable when listening to music for long periods of time, the passive noise isolation is strong too.

They are by no means earphones for audiophiles mind – the separation between the different frequencies just isn’t quite good enough for that – but for the casual listener, the E11Cs will perform just fine, with oodles of sonic power and fun behind them for around £50 / $50 / AU$90.

Read our full SoundMagic E11C review

The best closed back headphones

Focal Stellia on a wooden table

(Image credit: Future)
Luxury wired headphones, luxury price

Specifications

Acoustic design: Over-ear, closed-back
Driver size: 40mm Beryllium dome full-range
Frequency response: 5Hz–40kHz
Connectivity: 3.5mm, XLR, 6.35mm, in-flight adapter
Weight: 435g

Reasons to buy

+
Stunning, precise sound with open soundstage
+
Supremely comfortable
+
Opulent design

Reasons to avoid

-
Extremely expensive
-
Potentially too big for listening on the move

Focal Stellia's luxurious looks are matched by the classy build quality – the headband and cups are full-grain leather (note to vegans, it's real) and the cups have memory foam cushions that are designed to mold to shape of your ears. 

This is a set of cans made to be looked at, but despite their size we found them to be extremely comfortable even while listening for long periods of time. In fact, every aspect of Focal's build here just screams opulence, right down to the leather-effect box they come in. Inside, you’ll find a sturdy woven carrying case that could easily pass as a designer handbag, as well as a leather-style wallet containing user manuals. It’s this attention to detail that makes the $3,000 price tag almost feel justified… almost.

And the Focal Stellia sound absolutely fantastic. Their wide-open soundstage and detailed, accurate sound treatment means they make any genre of music come alive and open out before your very ears. Listen to songs you think you know like the back of your hand and the Stellia's surgical separation means you'll likely hear details you’ve never noticed before. The impressive thing is how close it comes to feeling as natural as open-backed headphones, but with the sound isolation of closed-back. But that's what you're paying for.

Those who like to keep things minimal when it comes to portable headgear probably won’t like the showy, opulent design of the Focal Stellia (and they can feel a little chunky on the commute), but if luxury is your thing, the aesthetic might appeal – and the sound definitely will.

Read our full Focal Stellia review

Other wired headphones to consider

We've been hard at work testing a plethora of new wired earbuds – see our Skullcandy Set USB-C review for starters, and options from SoundMagic (inexpensive) and Final (er, not inexpensive) are in the pipeline. All are worthy of inclusion in our recommended product roundups. 

Why are we working so hard on this? Because wired audio is coming back in a big way! People now know that to get the best your music streaming service can deliver (Qobuz, Apple Music, Tidal and Amazon Music now all offer hi-res audio) you need to embrace the wind beneath your wires… Bluetooth audio is much better than it used to be, but it still can't give you the kind of lossless sound quality a direct hook-up can. All of which is leading us to the news that soon, we'll soon be splitting this guide! 

That's right, very soon you'll have not one but two buying guides for wired headphones; over-ears (read: headphones, with a band that goes over your head) and earbuds (also called IEMs).

For now, watch this space… 

How to choose the best wired headphones for you

Which is best: over-ear, in-ear or on-ear?

A lot of this will come down to personal preference. Do your shell-likes tend to overheat a bit during long listening sessions? A set of in-ears might feel cooler. Want people to know you're wearing headphones and leave you be? Nothing says 'Do not disturb' like a set of over-ears. Interested in the idea of over-ears but need something small enough to throw in a bag for your commute? On-ears might be ideal. 

Audiophiles often suggest that passive noise isolation levels are better when your listening gear physically covers the entirety of your ear, (in a circum-aural or over-ear design) as opposed to a supra-aural set (read: on-ears) but then again, on-ear designs can be cheaper – as the Grado option in our list above certainly is. Sonically, there are merits to both. This is all about you. 

Some people dislike the intrusive nature of in-ears and find the experience a little claustrophobic, while for others it opens up sonic realms as yet uncharted. Our advice? Weigh up the priorities we've mentioned above, head down to a local dealership to try out some headphones – and of course, use our 'how to choose your next headphones guide'. 

What about planar magnetic designs vs. dynamic drivers?

OK, let's do this: a planar magnetic driver is different to the more typically-used dynamic drivers in headphones in that it uses a flat diaphragm rather than the traditional cone or dome shaped membrane. This is then sandwiched between an array of magnets to create an evenly-suspended diaphragm in between permanent magnetic fields. Why is that good? Planar magnetic drivers make the headphones that use them extremely resistant to various types of audio and electronic distortion – aka clearer, more detailed, better music. 

Some extremely talented earbuds and over-ears in this list sport planar magnetic drivers. That said, plenty more headphones and in-ears in this list use just one dynamic driver, while others use a mind-bending array of multiple dynamic units, crossovers and balanced armatures where each driver handles a certain frequency. When done well, it can be magical – but integration across the frequencies is key and that is not easy. 

What's the difference between open-back and closed-back headphones?

Here's the thing: open-back headphones tend to be the sole preserve of audiophiles who crave this design's typically superior audio quality above all else – above convenience and above keeping your playlist private. 

And there's another thing too. High fidelity almost always involves some sort of compromise. Here, the trade off for audio transparency and three-dimensional clarity means headphones that leak sound to people nearby. 

To explain the issue: in closed-back headphones, the audibility of any playlist you might stream is largely trapped inside the ear cup, which keeps your choice of music private but can lead to a narrow soundstage where audio feels as if it is coming directly from inside your head – hardly a natural experience. 

However, the free movement of sound in and out of the cups in open-backed headphones means the soundstage feels far wider and less "closed off", almost as if you're at a live gig. The issue is that other people are being subjected to your aforementioned virtual gig too. Is it worth it? It depends on your priorities and where you'll be listening; we wouldn't suggest open-backed designs for crowded streets or subways. Then again, for the home listener going open-back can be a great thing. 

How we test the best wired headphones

Just like our readers, our writers' and editors' ear shapes, ages, hearing profiles, musical tastes and listening priorities all differ hugely, which is why we "second-listen" extensively among the team and we do not cut corners in any part of our reviewing process. 

As always when testing wired earbuds or headphones, a thorough 48-hour run-in period is crucial to allow components to bed in and for those drivers get used to the quick business of moving air. 

Review samples are tested against the class leaders at the level (and by level, we do mean similar price points), over a period of weeks, not days. We listen to various playlists (spanning everything from acid jazz to thrash metal) on the best music streaming sites but we also have a healthy collection of hi-res files to load onto some of the best hi-res audio players – and a collection of the best portable DACs and amps for harder-to-drive cans, too.

And having been at this game for more years than we'd care to admit, we know what's good and durable from a design perspective – and we know what isn't. We know when cables will be noisy; we know when a headband clicks; we know when the treble rolls off and we know when the bass is overcooked. 

The latest update to this best wired headphones guide

June 20, 2024
Added a quick-link to this update log at the top of the guide and reordered the format to make top products easier to navigate to. Added an 'Also consider' section and mentioned that we'll be splitting this guide to 'best wired earbuds' and 'best wired headphones' soon, because of the plethora of testing we've recently done (and the renewed popularity of going wired, to get hi-res audio)

March 4, 2024
Added FiiO FT5 owing to its new five-star review, updated copy throughout, updated author bio. 

February 23, 2024
Added FiiO FT3, removed the Westone Mach 70 as it has largely been out-performed by the Campfire Audio Solaris Stella Horizon. Updated copy throughout. 

June 30, 2023
The guide launches! The products have been chosen by our team based on our recent reviews and testing of the headphones here.

Becky Scarrott
Audio Editor

Becky became Audio Editor at TechRadar in 2024, but joined the team in 2022 as Senior Staff Writer, focusing on all things hi-fi. Before this, she spent three years at What Hi-Fi? testing and reviewing everything from wallet-friendly wireless earbuds to huge high-end sound systems. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, Becky freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 22-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance starts with a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo and The Stage. When not writing, she can still be found throwing shapes in a dance studio, these days with varying degrees of success.