Yes, there are newer models available, but we still rate the Sony WH-1000XM4 as the best headphones for most people when balancing performance and price. The audio quality is rich and exuberant, the noise cancellation is strong, they work wired or wireless, and they offer great battery life.
For some very affordable earbuds that offer excellent audio quality, the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus remain among our favorites – they're just an incredible price these days.
Matt Bolton, Managing Editor – Entertainment
The best headphones are a must if you love listening to music, podcasts and movies. They’re essential if you travel regularly, have a lot of video calls, need music to focus while you’re working or to keep you motivated while you’re working out.
There are many different types of headphones out there, and new ones are launched every week, which means finding the best headphones or the best earbuds for you isn’t easy. You have to consider several factors, including your budget, the features you need and any preferences you have about how they look and fit.
For sheer sound quality you can't beat a good pair of wired headphones. But if you want the convenience of cable-free listening there are some excellent unwired options too. In fact, there are so many that we've put together two separate guides: one for the best wireless headphones and one for the best true wireless earbuds.
We've also put together a guide to the best noise-cancelling headphones. They're particularly good for travelling or for drowning out the ambient noise of open-plan offices. If you're on a tight budget, though, some of the best over-ear headphones' ear cups do a pretty good job of cutting out ambient noise without any technological trickery.
We've spent many happy hours testing the best earbuds and headphones over the years and over our ears, and we know exactly what makes a great pair of cans or buds: sound quality, of course, but also comfort and convenience. And you don't necessarily need to spend huge sums of money to get all three of those things, as this guide demonstrates.
There's a huge variety of headphones and earbuds here, but they share important features that make them easy to recommend. Those features include comfortable design, class-leading audio performance, and useful extra features such as built-in voice assistants or rock-solid wireless connectivity. Whether you want to listen with your smartphone, laptop, or one of the best MP3 players, you won't be disappointed with any of these pairs – but if you're looking for gaming headphones with built-in mics, we'd suggest checking out our best PC gaming headset guide, as that's laser-focused on gaming performance, surround sound and in-game chat.
The best headphones 2023: our picks
The Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones deliver excellent noise-cancellation and sound quality in a design that we found comfortable and lightweight throughout our testing.
They don’t look different from their predecessors, the Sony WH-1000XM3. However, new features, including multipoint pairing, DSEE Extreme upscaling, conversational awareness and auto-play/pause using a built-in sensor, mean they’re a significant upgrade.
The WH-1000XM4 headphones also support Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format, which delivers spatial audio on stereo headphones, plus the LDAC codec that can send a bitrate of up to 990 kbps. However, it no longer supports aptX or aptX HD, so your hi-res audio support mileage may vary.
There are a wonderful pair of wireless noise-cancelling headphones and deliver exactly what they promise and then some thanks to their exceptional noise cancellation and cutting-edge codec support.
Read our full Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Headphones review
Now that they've received a permanent price cut, dragging that tag down to more than half its original price, the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus are a much more appealing option than ever. Not that they weren't already at their original cost, receiving the coveted five-star rating in our review.
A clear upgrade from its predecessors, these offering excellent audio performance, a helpful app, and easy-to-use controls. In terms of audio quality, we found during testing that they offer tons of dynamism and character, with a lively presentation, high accuracy, and a lot of detail.
And, while there's no noise cancellation on offer, the sound isolation is very good. Finally, if you're ok with using them in low power mode, you should get up to nine hours of battery life per earbuds charge (up to 45 hours with the case).
Read our full Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus review
We said under intense review that Sennheiser's welcome update to its 2019 Sennheiser Momentum third-generation Wireless headphones would soon be sitting pretty within this buying guide, and here they are. The Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless are the newest August 2022-issue wireless over-ear headphones from Sennheiser and if Sony (listed above and below) isn't worried, it should be.
These cans boast an incredible 60-hour battery life, a likeable app, an extensive feature set, easy on-ear controls, talented adaptive noise cancellation and a zealous sound that'll have you nodding your head happily wherever you go. Yes, they're a tad plain aesthetically, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and these headphones sound outrageously good for the level.
Sennheiser has packed everything and the kitchen sink into the Momentum 4 Wireless’s spec sheet, including Sidetone to better hear your voice during calls and 'Sound Zones', EQ and ANC presets which can be set to magically kick in when you're, well, in the zone. Make no mistake though, the headline-grabber is still the sound. And what a sound it is! Think open, detailed, expansive, neutral and crisp. Never is it overly warm; never is it congested or muddied through the bass.
Move over Sony XM5, there's a new set of cans in town and honestly, they're just that little bit better across the board. Oh, also, they're a little cheaper than the XM5…
Read our full Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless review
These new Sonys would be at the top of our table if it weren't for the fact that right now the outgoing model, the WH-1000XM4, is substantially cheaper and does almost everything the newer Sonys do. These are better headphones, but at the moment the XM4s are the better buy.
In our Sony WH-1000XM5 review we said that the XM5s are "the best headphones in the world thanks to their class-leading noise-cancelling features and well-balanced audio". However, "a steeper price point and similar functionality to earlier models make the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones an ever-so-slightly tougher sell than before."
The new design is more elegant and contains slightly smaller drivers than before, and while there's less wind distortion the trade-off is that they don't fold neatly like the previous model did. The noise cancelling is best-in-class, doing an excellent job of muting the higher pitched sounds that ANC headphones tend to find challenging, and sound quality is exemplary. Your co-workers or fellow commuters won't take a dislike to you either: these headphones don't leak as badly as some over-ears do.
The other headline feature here is battery life, which is now 10 hours longer: expect up to 40 hours with the ANC off and 30 with it on.
If you don't already have noise cancelling headphones, these are as good as it currently gets – but the older, cheaper model is almost as good and better value as a result.
Read our full Sony WH-1000XM5 review
With the Sony WF-1000XM4s, Sony has combined performance, ergonomics, and build quality more effectively than ever before in a noise-cancelling true wireless package. During our testing we found that compared to their predecessors, the Sony WF-1000XM3, the newer wireless earbuds offer enough quality-of-life features to make them worth upgrading to, even if they are a little more expensive. Features like auto-pause and being able to tune the buds to the shape of your ears are truly useful.
While other true wireless earbuds surpass the Sony WF-1000XM4 in particular areas – in terms of noise cancellation, for example – no other model comes close to offering such excellent quality across the board. That’s why the Sony WF-1000XM4 are hands-down the best true wireless earbuds you can buy today.
Read our full Sony WF-1000XM4 review
The Apple AirPods Pro 2 offer improved audio performance over the original AirPods Pro and fantastic ANC in a comfortable, true wireless form factor.
The Pro 2 buds are a step up from the original AirPods Pro. Design changes might be subtle, but audio performance is upgraded with new drivers and amplifiers. During our testing, we rated the sound from the Pro 2 as brilliant—there’s rich audio across genres and a wide and expansive soundstage.
ANC is also greatly improved and performs exceptionally well, we found it blocked out most external noises. Transparency mode is more useful too. It's adaptive, allowing you to have natural conversations when you don’t want to take them out.
Battery life has been boosted to 6 hours from the buds with ANC on, and 30 hours from the charging case, which is now IPX4 water resistant—withstanding light showers and sweating—and has a speaker, handy if you lose them as you can activate a 'Find My' request.
We still rate the original AirPods Pro, but the Pro 2 are one of our favorite options if you're looking for a pair of the best headphones in a true wireless design. If you want the comfort of over-ear headphones, there are better headphones on this list, like the Sony WH-1000XM4s at the top. But the AirPods Pro 2 prove you don't necessarily need an over-ear design anymore for truly immersive sound and excellent ANC from your headphones.
Read our full Apple AirPods Pro 2 review
Samsung has truly turned a corner with its latest Galaxy Buds 2 Pro, which forego futuristic looks in favor of great 24-bit sound, head-tracked spatial audio and a design that fits comfortably.
Apple, Sony, Bose, Sennheiser and in fact all of the best wireless earbuds manufacturers now need to take a good look at what Samsung has done with the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro. They're good. No, really, they're good.
These smaller, more comfortable and less arrogant earbuds (remember the rose gold, kidney-bean shaped Galaxy Buds Live? These are nothing like those) are packed full of useful perks such as excellent ANC, voice detect, wearer detection and customizable on-ear controls – all of which work very well indeed – plus IPX7 water ingress protection.
But the headline-grabber, if you own a Samsung Galaxy device (and thus, access to the Samsung Wearable companion app and home-screen widget) is 360 audio with optional head-tracking, thus allowing you to use your phone as the focal point to direct more of that new end-to-end 24-bit high-res audio to whichever ear you prefer.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro review
After testing the 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphones for a few weeks, we're certain that they deliver fantastic sound and equally fantastic value for money. That's why we consider them to be the best headphones for those who prefer wired earbuds.
For $100 / £100 (about AU$168), it’s hard to find a better-sounding and more well-built pair of earphones than the 1MORE Triple Drivers – although if you want a little extra refinement and more luxurious materials, the same firm's 1MORE Quad Drivers are even more impressive, albeit at twice the price.
But at this price, and with such excellent build and design, it’s hard to fault the Triple Drivers. The inbuilt remote feels a little cheap, but that's more than made up for by the lush sound quality offered by these luxe-looking earbuds. For the price, you can't do better than 1MORE's Triple Driver in-ear headphones.
Read our full 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphone review
The SoundMagic E11BTs are an extremely capable pair of wireless in-ear earphones, and given their low price, it really is difficult to fault them. The audio quality on offer here is fantastic with vocals sounding clear and smooth, while a hefty amount of bass helps elsewhere.
Treble frequencies are sharp and crystal-clear too with a good level of attack. Although we also found that they might be a little harsh for anyone who wants to have a very warm soundstage.
We found these headphones comfortable to wear thanks to their ergonomically designed eartips, and we thought they looked elegant too. They're attached to a flat neckband that didn't irritate our skin while running or working out. They have an IPX4 rating, which means they should withstand sweaty sessions, so they're a solid option as a spare pair of workout earbuds.
Read our full SoundMagic E11BT review
When we first reviewed the original Lypertek PurePlay Z3 true wireless earbuds (then known as the Lypertek Tevi), we were blown away. The Lypertek PurePlay Z3 2.0 true wireless earbuds are their successors. They’re similar to the originals, include a few key improvements, and are available at the same affordable price point of $99 / £99.
That price gets you everything we loved about the original PurePlay Z3, including detailed balanced sound, a whopping 80 hours total battery life from its petite USB-C charging case, and a comfortably fitting bud with physical buttons. But the Z3 2.0 earbuds also add wireless charging, a powerful new LDX Audio mode, improved app functionality and a hear-through ambient mode.
The bad news is that we found the app connectivity to be patchy, and the ambient hear through mode isn't a patch on what you get from the likes of Sony’s noise cancelling WF-1000XM4. The hear-through mode is a shame, then, but these remain very impressive earbuds in terms of sound quality, stamina and affordability. They're more than a match for headphones two or three times the price.
Read our full Lypertek PurePlay Z3 2.0 review
Sonically, the Bowers & Wilkins PX8 are now the wireless over-ear headphones to beat. There, we said it. If that's all you need to hear, thank you for reading this particular buying guide. But if you want to know why we said "sonically" rather than "across the board", and why we gave them four-and-a-half stars rather than the full five, read on.
The simple fact is that the B&W PX8 are expensive. There are good, tangible, understandable reasons for this – a new carbon cone 40mm drive unit replaces the bio-cellulose driver in the more affordable Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 and the die-cast aluminum arms, diamond-cut bright metal detailing and Nappa leather trim elevates the build to high-end territory – but for some, anything priced hotter than the AirPods Max is too rich for the blood given the current financial climate. We hear you.
But we have also heard the Bowers & Wilkins PX8 headphones and, cost of living crisis or no, they're exceptional.
Read our full Bowers & Wilkins PX8 review
If the Sony WH-1000XM4s are the current king of noise-cancelling headphones, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are next in line for the throne. We think the Sonys sound slightly better, but the Bose noise cancelling is superior – so if you're a frequent flyer these may well be the better option for you.
By applying noise cancellation to phone calls as well as music, Bose has made great strides in the field of noise-cancelling headphones. We found the sound quality to be undeniably good, with a vibrant, lively character and well-balanced soundstage.
If you’re trying to decide between buying the Sony WH-1000XM4s and these Bose headphones, we’d recommend going for the former because of that lower price and better battery life – they're our number one pick for those reasons. But you wouldn’t be making a mistake if you opted for the Bose cans instead (and we wouldn’t blame you if you did) – they sound great, look stunning, and the noise cancellation is out of this world.
Read our full Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review
This is Bose’s second attempt at a set of true wireless headphones, and the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are leaps and bounds better than the older SoundSport Free.
The design of these earbuds much improved and the noise cancellation is also exemplary. There are ten levels of ANC on offer here. At maximum, you’re practically cut off from the rest of the world, encased in a cocoon of sound that’s made entirely of your favourite tunes. You’ll only be able to hear some of the highest frequency sounds such as sirens, and even they’re muted to a large degree.
The Bose headphones aren't quite as bassy as Sony's rivals, but we enjoyed their superb clarity and consistently impressive sound quality. During our testing, we found these noise-cancelling earbuds incredibly comfortable and well balanced, too, and while we expected their bulky form factor to be an issue they're much more comfortable than they look.
Read our full Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review
For just $79 / £69/ AU$99, the Jabra Elite 45h gives you Bluetooth 5 connectivity, 40mm full-range dynamic drivers and a smattering of physical push-button controls in a wireless on-ear frame.
We like how the faux leather, memory foam and happily un-creaky plastic combined to deliver a fit we found extremely comfortable, although we weren't so keen on the way in which the ear pads reflect body heat right back: these phones get rather warm when you've been wearing them for a while.
Tech-wise, they hit all the key features. There’s voice control available from Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri. Jabra’s Sound+ control app even walks you through a brief hearing test to establish exactly how the EQs should be set to best suit your ears, giving you a surprisingly personal experience compared to others in this price range. By the standards of overtly affordable headphones, the Elite 45h are feature-packed.
Read our full Jabra Elite 45h review
Testing the Sony WH-CH510, we were amazed that wireless on-ear headphones could cost this little while delivering really decent sound, a USB-C port, and 35 hours of battery life.
If you’re looking for headphones at this price point, you’re likely already willing to make a few sacrifices. Thankfully, most of the compromises Sony has made with the WH-CH510 haven’t been too crucial – the lack of analog input mirrors, the loss of the 3.5mm port on most modern smartphones – and while the construction is a little plasticky they're lightweight, portable and comfortable.
While they won’t have the superb clarity, balance, and sense of space that their WH-1000XM4 siblings deliver, the sound these on-ear headphones produce is much better than you'd expect from their size and price. You’ll find most genres perform well here, although tracks that already have low mids and bumped treble might get uncomfortably exaggerated.
Read our full Sony WH-CH510 review
If money's no object, the Focal Stellia headphones could be the best headphones on the planet. The wide open soundstage on offer here and detailed, accurate sound treatment means they make any genre of music sound brilliant. If you listen to songs you think you know inside out, the precise separation of the frequencies here means that you will probably hear details you’ve never noticed before.
If you like to keep things minimal in the headphones department, you probably won’t like the showy, opulent design of the Focal Stellias, and they definitely do feel a little chunky for wearing on the commute into work. But if you like a bit of luxury, the full-grain leather cups, woven cables, brushed copper accents, and matching carrying case are likely to appeal.
That luxury feel is translated right down to the presentation of the user manuals in a neat little leather-style wallet. But then you'd expect to find this level of detail when you're parting with $3,000 / £2,799 (about AU$4,200). Ouch.
Read our full Focal Stellia headphones review
Best headphones: FAQ
How to choose the best headphones for you
Why you can trust TechRadar Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.
There's a lot to consider when you're buying a new pair of headphones. But the most important is the design. This doesn't just dictate how they look, but the features on offer, how they feel when you wear them and how you'll use them day-to-day.
In-ear headphones, also called earbuds or earphones, are usually the cheapest and easiest way to pump audio into your ears. They rest in or just outside the ear canal, creating a tight seal to keep air out and sound in. These are the most discreet designs you'll find, making them excellent for portability and the prime choice for athletes.
Over-ear headphones generally provide fantastic richness and depth of sound, which allows listeners to pick apart the instruments and sounds much easier. Additionally, over-ear, or circumaural headphones, go around the ear and offer a generous amount of padding.
Instead of enveloping your ears, on-ear headphones create a light, breathable seal around your ear. The noise isolation is less effective than in-ear or over-ear options. But they're usually more portable than their over-ear brethren, appeal to travellers and make good fitness headphones.
Some headphones don't go anywhere near your ears at all. Bone-conducting headphones send vibrations through your cheekbones and jaw up towards your inner ear, leaving your ears free. These headphones make great running headphones and swimming headphones.
Wireless headphones fit into three different categories.
Wireless in-ear earphones connected via a neckband are ideal for runners who want the freedom of a wireless connection with the security of a wire keeping their earbuds firmly around their neck.
With wireless on-ear headphones and over-ear headphones, you simply lose the wire connecting them to your device – otherwise, they look pretty much the same as your regular pair of wired cans, and give you the noise-isolating prowess of over-ears without the need for cumbersome wires to connect to your device.
True wireless earbuds have no cord whatsoever. For some, this means true freedom; for others, untethered true wireless means constant danger of losing their expensive audio kit down the drain – or terrible connections. The latter, at least, has changed now – thanks to advances in Bluetooth technology like aptX HD, the best true wireless earbuds have never sounded better.
Are wired headphones better than wireless?
Generally speaking, wired headphones do deliver better sound quality than wireless headphones. But there have been so many advances in audio tech in recent years, that with many of the best wireless headphones you're unlikely to notice a difference.
That's why we often recommend audiophiles continue to opt for wired headphones. But for everyone else, it's mostly be down to personal preference. If wireless headphones suit you and are more convenient, they're a better choice for you. Get a good quality pair and you won't be missing out when it comes to sound quality.
What are the best headphones I can buy right now?
That depends on your preferences, style and budget.
One of the most important considerations is design. Do you want a pair of in-ear headphones for running that are discrete and will stay snug all-day? Do you want a pair of true wireless headphones to give you ultimate flexibility? Or how about a big pair of over-ear headphones, the ultimate in noise cancellation and comfort?
We've included a number of different headphone types below, like in-ear, on-ear, over-ear, wireless and true wireless.
However, our top pick has to be the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones. They're fantastic all-rounders, offering a long battery life, noise cancellation, and excellent audio quality for the price.
What is the number 1 headphone brand?
There's no one perfect headphone brand out there. It all depends on your budget, audio needs, the features you want, and even the comfort or design involved with the headphones.
That's why we've included numerous headphones covering different price ranges and feature sets. While major brands like Sony and Bose may stand out most, that doesn't mean you shouldn't rule out the others, with something for everyone out there.
How we test the best headphones
When it comes to the best headphones, we focus on sound quality above everything else. We look at both wired and wireless cans and earbuds that would appeal to audiophiles, as well as those working in professional roles.
However, we also appreciate that budget is important too, so we compare like for like, picking out budget headphones that perform admirably for the price.
We also look at other features such as ANC, battery life, fit, and of course the usability and extra perks offered by any companion apps. Of course, design and whether they look (and feel) good all adds to the model's desirability – and this is noted as we listen to music across a wide range of genres over several days.
We have tested all of the headphones in this guide extensively, spending plenty of time analyzing the sound, fit, design, specs, and value for money so that you will be able to choose a product you'll be over the moon with.