There are literally thousands of different headphones, earphones, and earbuds out there to choose from. All have the same idea at heart — to provide you with music without having to play it out loud for everyone to hear. But some achieve this result so much better than others. Sure, you could just hit and buy the cheapest, but that's not always a great idea either. There's also the issue of different headphones and earphones being good for all kinds of different purposes. Are you planning on listening at home? Taking them on your commute? Do you want to avoid lousy battery life?
Besides that, we've checked out numerous other head and earphones, dividing them up according by the situations where they're most effective. Regardless of your budget or requirements, there's a perfect pair of headphones for your needs.
What you need to know: Bose products typically ooze class and that's the case with the Bose QuietComfort 35 II. Primarily, they're fantastic headphones for their noise cancelling properties. Blocking out a ton of ambient noise, thanks to their comfy and sizeable ear pads, they're perfect for traveling and avoiding the noise of other commuters or travelers. Essentially, it's like being cocooned away from the rest of the world. Even with noise cancellation switched off, they're highly effective at eradicating irritating noises.
Sound quality wise, they're not quite as exceptional as some of Bose's competitors, but they still pack a hefty punch. A 20 hour battery life (greatly increased if you switch off noise cancellation) means the music won't stop any time soon either.
Added bonuses: Additionally, Google Assistant is available through the headphones, reading back notifications for you, and even news headlines or reminders. It's not a device seller, but it's a convenient bonus in an already remarkable set of headphones.
What you need to know: Truly wireless earphones are hugely liberating but frequently rather underwhelming when it comes to performance. Bose's SoundSport Free earbuds combine freedom and high sound quality to form a potent package.
Known as one of the most secure fitting set of earbuds out there, they're perfect for if you listen to music while hitting the gym, going for a run, or simply want to feel safe in the knowledge that your pricey acquisition can't be easily lost.
They're a little on the chunky side but Bose's patented StayHear+ wingtips ensure they're snug in your ear at all times. A charging case means you don't have to worry about unsightly cables, even when charging them up.
Added bonuses: The SoundSport Free also offers some water resistant, rated up to IPX4. You won't be swimming with these on, but they're good to go in rain or exceptionally sweaty conditions. There's a 'find my headphones' feature within the Bose app too, which is super useful for those times when you misplace them.
What you need to know: When performance and sound quality is everything to your headphone buying experience, you need to buy AKG's N60NC Wireless Headphones. Their noise cancellation isn't quite as powerful as Bose's offering, but the sound performance is second to none.
Expect to hear well balanced beats, solid bass, and clearly defined midranges. Whatever music you listen to, you'll hear good performance, even when dealing with quieter instrumental pieces that show up frequency buzzing in cheaper noise cancelling headphones. Playback is limited to about 15 hours but that's still pretty good for most users. That increases to 30 hours if you switch off noise cancellation.
Added bonuses: One of the AKG N60NC Wireless Headphones's great strength is its lightweight and small enough to toss into your bag. Other than that, these are a little light on quirky features, focusing on sound quality instead.
What you need to know: On the surface, the Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless Headphones might seem like yet another high quality pair of noise cancelling headphones, but they're so much more than that. They also have a bunch of useful customization features so you get exactly the experience you want.
Regardless of whether you tweak and poke, the Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless Headphones are a great pair of cans. Comfortable and reasonably stylish, your ears won't feel squashed while you're wearing them.
Sound quality is the best yet from a pair of Sennheiser headphones. Meaty yet well balanced, they're particularly great for listening to bassy tunes, delivering a hefty kick to your ears. The only downside is some lightweight mid ranges but only audiophiles will really notice this discrepancy.
Added bonuses: Where the Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless Headphones truly stand out is with their wealth of features. Active Noise Cancellation isn't just a matter of off or on — there are two modes. One uses full power noise cancellation while the other scales according to the amount of ambient noise going on around you. It's ideal if your ears are sometimes sensitive to the pressure effect of noise cancellation, while still protecting you from irrelevant noise.
Alongside that, the Sennheiser app allows for a tremendous amount of tweaks, with presets like Movie mode or Speech giving you a different experience depending on what you're listening to.
What you need to know: Many headphones are comfy but few are so comfortable that you forget you're wearing them. The Plantronics BackBeat Fit 500 are the exception to this rule. Incredibly lightweight, they're perfect if you work out regularly and don't want to feel your headphones at all times. That doesn't mean that these feel cheap either. Despite their affordable price tag, there's still a decent level of quality here, thanks to anodized aluminum rails that support the headband piece. Just don't expect them to look amazing when showing them off to friends.
Able to withstand a downpour, even if water seeps into an ear cup, they really are ideal for outdoors use.
Sound quality is pretty good too, although lacks a certain oomph to the beat. Low end sounds are where this is most evident, but if you're running or working out with weights, you won't notice this anywhere near as much as if sitting at home taking in the sounds.
Added bonuses: The Plantronics BackBeat Fit 500 are really pretty cheap for what they offer, so don't expect any noticeable added bonuses. It's fairly functional yet effective stuff.
What you need to know: Not all headphones look alike. The Bang & Olufsen Play Beoplay H4 look far classier than the chunky black build of so many other headsets. They're an ideal fashion accessory, and they sound pretty great too.
Utilizing leather from lambskin and a memory foam cushion, your ears will feel warmly cocooned as you listen to your music. Don't expect these to deal with sudden downpours well, but if you're listening indoors or in a local cafe, you're going to turn heads.
Controls are simple with a single button dictating track control, pairing, and switching on or off. Sound is a little bass heavy but it's fine for the majority of users, especially if you like to play it loud. Expect quiet tracks to let in a little background noise.
Added bonuses: Looks are the key here. The B&O Play Beoplay H4 headphones won't be practical at the gym or when running, because they just won't withstand sweat well. Nor are they particularly feature rich. However, they are perfect for chilling at home, and the buttons and functionality won't overwhelm the less technically minded.
What you need to know: In-ear earphones are great for many things, but they're often a little awkward for those times when you're bouncing around at speed at the gym. Who wants to be using the jumprope and have their earbuds fall out during a key moment? The JLab Epic Air earbuds won't win prizes for looks, but you can't beat how secure they are in your ears.
That's thanks to the earbuds including hooks that help you slot them into your outer ear, keeping them secure and snug, no matter what you do. Alongside that is IP55 water rating so they're resistant to water, even if it rains or you sweat a ton. You can even rinse them off at the end of a hard session. Just don't submerge them.
Sound quality is respectable with unusually high volumes achievable, although don't expect any noise cancellation to speak of here.
Added bonuses: Battery life is often an issue for truly wireless earphones, with the average pair mustering at most 3.5 hours. The JLab Epic Air earbuds manage up to 7 hours so you'll only need to charge them half as often as your existing wireless earbuds. They come with a nice charging case too that's conveniently small and easy to use. Plus, a double tap of the earbud button summons up Siri or Google voice commands which is a neat bonus.
What you need to know: Wireless earphones don't have to cost a fortune, providing you're willing to compromise. That's the thinking behind Skullcandy Jib Wireless Earbuds. Bluetooth based but with a cable connecting the two earbuds together, they're not truly wireless since there is that wire to contend with, but you still won't have to plug them in anywhere. Better than anything though, they're super affordable.
The earphones offer surprisingly powerful bass for their price, along with well matched highs and moderate mids. There are no options for tweaking frequency response, and certainly no dedicated app, but if you want some earphones that simply just work, these are worth a purchase. Battery life weighs in at about six hours, which should be good for your daily commute and gym session.
Added bonuses: Low in price means that the Skullcandy Jib Wireless earbuds lack the finer details. There's a built-in mic so you can take hands-free calls, and a button for volume and accepting calls, but that's about it. Just appreciate they're super lightweight and easy to put in your pocket.
What you need to know: Triple driver earphones are a relatively new form of technology. They utilize two balanced armatures that deal with mids and high, and a separate dynamic driver that focuses on bass. What that means for you is better sound quality, while still managing to be snug in your ear. The 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphones are a budget offering that take advantage of this technology with aplomb.
Comfortable to wear and stylish with a rose gold coating, they're completely wired which isn't ideal if you're constantly active wearing them, but fine for a commute.
Sound quality is understated but powerfully done. You won't be immediately blown away but you'll soon learn to appreciate the 1More Headphones's ability to tackle the nuances and subtlety of music. They're particularly great at bringing out the warmth in people's voices while singing or speaking.
Added bonuses: The headphones come with a three button in-line remote which is instantly intuitive compared to other competitors' awkward one button approach. While it'd be unwise to buy them solely with noise cancellation in mind, the passive noise cancellation at play is pretty good at drowning out most noises.
What you need to know: Eschewing truly wireless use, Creative's Aurvana Trio are entirely wired. That sounds archaic but it's actually highly effective when it comes to offering good sound quality at a respectable price. Having tried many different head and earphones, these are the most convenient out there. A braided cable is detachable so you can replace it with a superior aftermarket solution if you want, but its braided nature means it's easy enough to hide within your clothes.
The earbuds are comfortable to place in your ears, with Triple Driver technology meaning the bass sounds strong while the mids and highs still sound suitably smooth.
They're your new "go to" earphones for when you're dashing out the house at the last minute and you really don't want to take the time to charge stuff up. Turns out there is still room on the market for premium wired earphones.
Added bonuses: The Creative Aurvana Trio are a little limited on this front, admittedly. An in-line mic also offers some basic playback controls, but that's about as far as it goes. Like too many wired remotes, it feels plasticky too, despite the higher quality finish elsewhere.
The big thing before any purchase is to consider what you're going to use them for. Are you going to be using them to listen to music quietly at home? Then it doesn't really matter if they're wired or not. Comfort and sound quality is key here.
However, if you're heading to the gym or going for a run then you might want to consider a wireless option. That way, you won't have to worry about wires getting tangled up when you're working on beating your personal best.
Long battery life is great if you’re planning on using your headphones for hours on end, but how many of us really need to worry about that? As long as it covers the daily commute, most users will be fine. Long battery life isn’t everything for all people.
Similarly, noise cancellation will depend on your needs. Passive noise cancellation is fine if you're not too worried about zoning out at the gym. If you're keen to avoid all the background noise on the train or subway to work, however, then active noise cancellation is a must. If possible, try out active noise cancellation before you buy. Some people don't get on with the technology as it can create pressure within your ears. Ears are sensitive so it's hard to predict whether you're going to be affected or not.
Do you notice every fine nuance in the music you listen to? Or do you just know what you like? The musically minded will hate budget offerings with weak bass, mids and highs, but plenty of average users will be just fine with these. If you're keen on music sounding perfect, expect to pay more. Again, this is more important if you're solely listening to music rather than also working out.
Don't be afraid to buy a couple of different sets of earphones and headphones. It makes sense that different situations mean different setups. A pair that are perfect for running with, aren't necessarily perfect for chilling at home.