With so many options and a veritable army of audio brands jockeying for your attention, picking the right set of “cans” can be challenging. Here’s the good news: To pick the right pair for yourself, you don’t have to be an audio expert (though when possible, you should demo headphones or earbuds before you buy—or have the option to return them if you don’t like what you hear after purchase). We’ve done the hard work of narrowing the field to just 15 candidates of the best based on your style and need. Read on to find the best headphones your money can buy.
Best Earbud Headphones Overall
Noise Cancelling, Waterproof and 3D Audio For The Win
All of this wouldn’t matter if the headphones themselves didn’t offer excellent sound quality. They’re not best-in-class, but they have fantastic active noise cancelling as well a sweat-proof design and even 3D spatial audio. The sound is crisp and clean. Battery life is respectable, with a wireless charging case to top them off. And they have a load of convenient features like auto-pause when you remove an earbud, access to Siri and automatic reading of Messages.
Best Over-Ear Headphones Overall
This Is The Sound Of Luxury (For Less Than AirPods Max)
If you have the cash to spare, you’d be hard pressed to do better than Master & Dynamic’s MW65 headphones—at least for under $1,000. These over-ear headphones look stunning (check out that beautiful leather wrap, lambskin earpads and aluminum grille on the side of the cups). They have a respectable amount of clamping pressure to stay firmly on your head without causing a headache. And it delivers excellent sound quality through its Bluetooth wireless connection, along with a competent dose of active noise cancellation. You can even summon Google Assistant from the controls on the right ear.
Sound quality is king here—the MW65 holds its own next to headphones priced significantly higher (including the Apple AirPods Max), with excellent bass and well-controlled midtones. And, as mentioned, they totally look the part. The headphones run for about 24 hours on a charge, but you can also plug them into your source with a traditional audio cable for passive listening if the battery dies.
Best Noise Cancelling Headphones
They Change The Sound Based On Whether You’re Wearing Glasses
Sony took the best active noise-cancelling headphones on the market and made them even better. The WH-1000XM4 improve on the last version’s noise cancellation, and add Sony’s Edge-AI that is designed to rebuild audio that’s been lost during digital compression. The XM4 still uses the QN1 processor (whose sole purpose is noise cancellation), but now uses a new algorithm developed to eliminate noise in real time. It’s great at blocking out engine noise (important for travelers) but also conversation and background noise. The WH-1000XM4 are even smart enough to detect how your personal sonic profile changes when you’re wearing glasses and adjusts accordingly.
But all of the technical details fade into the background as soon as you put them on—you can’t help but notice how insanely quiet they make everything that it’s like stepping off a busy street into a library. And, if you actually do that—step into a library—these headphones are smart enough to adjust the level of cancellation automatically based on the ambient conditions. You can even use the app to set whether the headphones optimize settings for voices (so that you don’t miss a PA announcement). If you have multiple devices, you’ll also appreciate that you can pair the WH-100XM4 with multiple devices, so there’s no more disconnecting and reconnecting between computer and phone.
Best Headphones For Working Out
Sweatproof Earbuds That Let You Hear Around You When You Run
Jabra’s Elite series of true wireless earbuds don’t get the attention they deserve. Almost every model has punched above its weight, and the Jabra Elite 86t is a great example of earbuds that can do an lot of things really well. And they’re especially great for working out; waterproof to IPX4, you can take them out in the rain or sweat on them with no fear of long-term damage.
That’s far from all. You get solid noise cancelling tech with an ambient passthrough mode that can keep you safe if you run outdoors surrounded by traffic. In addition, you get a healthy 5.5 hours of runtime on a single charge (25 hours when replenished from the charging case), so you won’t have to charge them daily, but the wireless case even keeps that easy.
Best Budget Headphones
130 Hours Of Runtime—Take These With You To The Apocalypse
For the price, the Back Bay Duet 50 Pro earbuds challenge every pair of headphones on this list. These diminutive earbuds have 8 hours of battery life per charge. Pop them in the included case between sessions and you’ll get an almost unbelievable 130 hours of life—less if you use the case to charge your phone (a handy extra that not many other manufacturers offer). They fit perfectly and snugly in your ear and include six sizes of tips in case you need options, and they deliver impressively crisp sound for their size.
Back Bay tunes its products to what it calls “American Hi-Fi sound”—essentially, punchy bass and sharp high range tones with a neutral mid. The effort the audio engineers have put in really shows, with sound quality that rivals buds costing twice as much. The Duet 50 Pro sport IPX5 water resistance and on-ear controls for answering calls and stopping and starting playback. They might not have all the tricks of more expensive earbuds but they still accomplish exactly what you need them to. The Back Bay Duet 50 Pro provide excellent sound and insanely long battery life in a cost-effective package.
Best Headphones For Clean Freaks
A Built-In UV-C Light Keeps Things Sanitary
Earbuds for the modern age: These LG Tone Free earbuds are sterilized via UV-C every time you drop them in to charge in the wireless charging case. (The UV-C LEDs are tiny and targeted, so it’s less “the earbuds” and more “the little area inside the earbud around the speaker grill.” If you want to clean the outside of the earbuds as well, you’ll want to throw them in another sanitizer.)
These are nicely capable earbuds with an ambient sound mode, which makes them great for exercising outdoors where you need to keep an ear on traffic. And they’re IPX4 rated, so you don’t have to worry about getting them too sweaty or getting caught in a summer storm. They’re also comfortable in-ear and the tips are made from hypo-allergenic silicone.
The Tone Free have fast charge capabilities as well, with five minutes giving you an hour of playtime. If you pair them with your phone you can use the app to find them if they’re lost and automatically pause playback when you take one earbud out. In all, this is a solid set of earbuds if you want to ensure you keep things clean.
Most Stylish Earbud Headphones
They’re Almost Invisible In Your Ears
JBL Live 300TWS are fantastic companions. These tiny earbuds don’t have any sort of unsightly tail poking out from your ear or vestigial wire holding them together. They fit discreetly in your ear, stabilized so that they don’t pop out.
While their gesture controls can be fiddly at times, once you get the hang of them, they’re perfect when you’re on the run. You only have to poke at them for a second or two to change volume, skip tracks, answer a call (they work with your smart assistant), or activate Ambient Aware so that you can hear what’s around you.
You’ll get 20 hours of playback with the included charging case, they have IPX5 waterproofing for sweat and water so you don’t have to worry about getting caught in the rain, and their sound is crisp and clear. Plus, they come in some eye-catching colors other than black and white, making them a great stylish set to get.
Most Stylish Over-Ear Headphones
They Look Like They Cost Twice As Much
There are a surprising number of headphones out there that bring a touch of class to the audio experience. The Master & Dynamic MW65 are a class act, for example, and Apple’s AirPods Max are a real fashion statement as well. But it’s hard to beat B&O’s Beoplay H4. The large cans are wrapped in leather and accented with an elegant metal cap. Even the wiring is luxurious, braided in a glorious contrasting color.
It’s not all good looks, though. The Beoplay H4 sound excellent—especially considering the relatively affordable price—but B&O might have packed more audio quality in at this price point because there’s no active noise cancellation. Nor do the headphones come with a carrying case, which is something of a weird omission. You do get 19 hours of battery life on a single charge, though, and you can plug in a standard audio cable to continue the party if the battery dies.
Best Headphones For Kids
Protect Little Ears With A Built-In Volume Limit
Puro’s claim to fame is that these headphones are billed as safe for your younger set’s ears—they limit the audio to a maximum of 85dB. That means your kids won’t be able to accidentally damage their hearing by setting the volume too loud. Despite the volume limiter, the headphones deliver a respectable amount of bass, so it’s still fun to listen to music and play games. Mostly. The headphones process the audio to keep the volume limited, and the DSP can be a bit heavy-handed at times in a way that kids might not notice but older listeners might find really off-putting.
That said, you might also notice that the Puro headphones don’t look like typical kid-friendly cans. They are dressed like headphones for grown-ups, which is good or bad, depending on you and your kid’s taste. But they’re definitely cool looking and not embarrassing for adults to wear. And thanks to the 18-hour battery, you can stay connected wirelessly for long periods without the need to recharge constantly.
Best Gaming Headset
Keep It Simple With A Classic Design
Razer’s BlackShark V2 is an incredible low-cost headset designed to help gamers dominate. With beefy 50mm drivers and support for 3D spatial audio, Razer helps you focus in on exactly where every sound in a game is coming from. The headset uses comfortable leatherette foam cushions to act as passive noise cancelling (there’s no active noise cancelling built in) and a padded headband that reduces pinch. The takeaway is that you can wear them all day without having to worry about the world seeping into your game.
The BlackShark V2 is compatible with all consoles and has a removable boom mic so that if you don’t need it, you don’t have to keep it on the headset. It’s also THX-enabled for those games that support it and has numerous in-game features such as mic boost and volume normalization. There are more expensive wireless gaming sets on the market, but purists will appreciate the straightforward wired approach here, especially if audio latency is a concern for wireless headphones in fast-action games.
Best Headphones for iPhone
An Impressive Collection Of Outstanding Features
Here’s yet another Apple product with some variation of “Pro” or “Max” in the name, which can lead to awkward questions like “Which are better for your iPhone Pro Max—the AirPods Pro or AirPods Max?” Naming conventions aside, these headphones have some superb attributes, not the least of which is an excellent noise cancellation mode that’s among the very best in the industry.
AirPods Max have an understated industrial design with earpads that fit comfortably over your ears and a ventilated headband that makes them comfortable for long sessions. They turn on and connect to your iPhone or Mac automatically when you take them out of their case. They support Apple’s Spatial Audio, which maintains the position of your music as you turn your head. And there are all kinds of little integrations into the Apple ecosystem, like battery life widgets on your iPhone and Mac as well as easy switching between Apple devices.
Of course, none of this would matter if they didn’t sound great. The fidelity of sound is excellent and the noise cancellation is only edged out by Sony’s WH-1000XM4. If you’re Apple faithful, it’s easy to make a case for the AirPods Max (assuming they fit within your budget). They look great, sound great and iPhone users get advantages that others don’t.
Best Headphones for Android
Google Has Learned Its Lesson With V2
Google’s Pixel Buds were plagued with issues that you wouldn’t expect in a $179 pair of earphones, connectivity chief among them. So why recommend the Pixel Buds A-Series? Because Google has learned from its initial offering and remedied those mistakes, like providing improved connectivity and making the stabilizer bar softer (a source of discomfort for some wearers).
Most importantly, Pixel Buds A-Series are only $99. You don’t have the wireless charging case but you still have hands-free “Hey Google” access to Assistant, easy connectivity to Android phones, real-time translation and five hours of use (up to 24 hours with the recharge case). The Pixel Buds A-Series also have ear detection (which pauses your music when you remove a bud), are IPX4 water resistant (so perfect for sweaty runs), and have a low-profile housing that sits flush within your ear.
Best Noise Cancelling Earbuds
The Latest Version Of Sony’s Most Impressive Earbuds
Sony has raised the bar on noise-cancelling earbuds yet again with the new WF-1000XM4. Totally redesigned and sporting the brand new Integrated Processor V1 (which improves even more on Sony’s previous ANC processors) these are the wireless ANC earbuds to beat. The audio packs in all kinds of crazy tricks, like on-device upscaling of your compressed music, LDAC-enabled high resolution audio, automatic wind reduction and more.
They’re impressive as a headset for your phone as well, with beamforming microphones and bone conduction sensors to detect vibrations from speech without pulling in ambient sounds. However, if you want to hear those ambient sounds, the WF-1000XM4 will let you do that too, with fully adjustable ambient detection. They’re water resistant (IPX4), come with a wireless charging case, and have hands-free voice assistant capabilities as well. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better set of earbuds… until Sony comes out with the next generation.
Best Earbuds for Running
We Don’t Recommend You Drive Over These Earbuds With You Car—But You Can If You Want To
Jaybird makes some of the best running earbuds on the market, so expectations were high when the brand released a second generation device—the Vista 2. The big news for Vista 2 is the inclusion of noise cancellation. Thankfully, the noise cancellation is impressive and comes with a gesture-controlled toggle to switch between noise cancellation and ambient mode (which Jaybird calls “SurroundSense”). They’re also “Earthproof,” taking the first-gen Vista’s unparalleled durability even further with improved IP68 waterproof capabilities.
The Vista 2 are also drop proof and crushproof, which is great for the inevitable trample that may occur as you beat your preferred path. The case itself (which can give you 16 additional hours of playback and has a neat five-minute quick charge feature to give you one hour of playtime) is IP54 water resistant.
Just like the Vista, the Vista 2 have a supremely secure fit, with three different sizes of eargels. If you do manage to lose one bud, you’ll notice right away since Vista 2 offer ear detection and will automatically pause playback. If you still can’t find it though, you can use the connected Jaybird app to find your case or earbuds. The original Vista were a great choice for running, and Jaybird has improved the formula even more, elevating these to “must have” gear when heading out for a jog.
Best Open Back Headphones
Sennheiser Concentrates On Essentials To Satisfy Audiophiles
If you’re looking for a pair of headphones so that you can, you know, actually listen to music, a good pair of open back headphones is a solid investment. Let’s talk about what they are by highlighting what they’re not: Wireless nor noise-cancelling. The Sennheiser Pro Audio HD 650 focuses solely on the audio experience with hand-picked components and a variety of connectors so that you can plug in directly to your hi-fi equipment.
These lightweight aluminum headphones deliver a rich, full sound in a range that simply can’t be reached by closed back headphones. Music is delivered on a soundstage that’s broader and more natural. It also means you’ll need to be a little more particular about your listening environment, but if you’re serious about your music then you’ve likely taken care of that already.