The best headphones for you can be highly personal. Things like fit, style, portability, and even color are important factors because if you're going to spend your hard-earned money, they'd better suit your lifestyle. But what can make shopping for new cans is that headphones offer a wide variety of useful and advanced features, such as active noise canceling (ANC), transparency mode, varying levels of music quality playback, and companion apps that unlock a near-infinite level of customization. Oh, and, of course, they need to fit your budget.
A great pair of headphones — and by headphones, we typically mean the over-ear variety — should do what you need them to do for however you plan to use them. If you're looking for earbuds, we have a roundup of the best of those, too
We've tested hundreds of pairs of headphones, and as far as we're concerned, the Sony WH-1000XM5 are still the best headphones for most people. With a comfortable design and slick appearance, plus continued improvements in noise-canceling, call quality, sound quality, and charging speed, Sony leaves almost no box unchecked in its pursuit of headphone perfection.
If you're looking for some alternatives, though, we have you covered there, too. We've picked out a number of other excellent headphone models, each with its own specific strengths, that balance price with features specific to your needs. We also have roundups of the best noise-canceling headphones, the best noise-canceling earbuds, and the best earbuds for making phone calls.
The best headphones, period
- Excellent sound
- Very good comfort
- Ultra-clear call quality
- Best-in-class noise canceling
- Very good battery life
- Hi-res compatible (wired/wireless)
- Hands-free voice assistant access
- Classy, modern design
- Fold-flat, but don’t fold up
Sony's technologically advanced WH-1000XM5 are the fifth generation of Sony's flagship wireless headphones. Like Sony's previous models, they offer top-tier noise canceling, excellent quality wireless audio, and plush comfort. This enticing combination earned the model a rare five-star rating in our review and — thanks to a series of continued improvements — maintains the WH-1000 series' status as the best headphones you can buy.
At the heart of the WH-1000XM5 is outstanding wireless sound. Though they use smaller drivers than their predecessors, they manage to produce a more refined and more detailed performance that trades big, in-your-face bass, with subtlety and nuance.
But the real stars of the show are the XM5's active noise cancellation (ANC) and call quality, both of which are class-leading. In an era where folks are spending almost as much time on Zoom calls as listening to music, these features matter, and Sony knows it. Comfort matters too. The XM5 are both lighter and better balanced than the already-cushy XM4, and you'll have no problem wearing them for hours at a time without fatigue.
The XM3 and XM4 models compared well to Bose's Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, but now that we have the XM5, it's no contest. Sony's top-of-the-line cans outclass the Bose in every meaningful way.
Sennheiser Momentum 4
Best for audio purists
- Amazing battery life
- Outstanding sound
- Effective wind noise reduction
- Effective ANC
- No auto-off function
Sennheiser has always been a reliable brand for a high-quality audio experience, but its outdone its past work with the Momentum 4, a pair of wireless headphones that don’t skimp an inch when it comes to incredible sound supported by the aptX Adaptive codec. Our review even found that the audio was preferable to our top Sony headphones pick, the XM5s.
That may already be enough to convince the audiophiles out there, but let’s go on: The upgraded Momentum 4 includes an incredible 60-hour battery, and a lightweight yet highly effective design with great passive noise cancellation. Don’t worry, the headphones come with Active Noise Cancellation as well for canceling out background noises (at the expense of some battery life). Four beamforming mics also ensure you can take clear calls on these headphones if necessary.
If you really care about sound, you may also want to tweak audio settings to match your favorite genre or instruments. The Momentum 4 offers customization options, including basic presets as well as an integrated equalizer you can play with to create a sound profile that’s just right. They may not have every feature in the book – touch controls and auto-off modes are lacking, and the three-band equalizer is a little simple – but those focused on pure audio will find that these headphones are made for them.
Bowers & Wilkins Px8
Best money-is-no-object pick
- Beautifully designed and built
- Incredibly comfortable
- Great sound quality
- Decent noise cancellation
- Not ideal for calls in noisy places
At the high end, headphone prices can stretch to hundreds of dollars or more, but there’s typically a limit where audio just doesn’t get much better no matter how much you are paying (in which case, it’s time to add a DAC and start using better audio files). But if you want the absolute best sound you can get without heeding the price, the Px8 truly delivers. Not only is the sound experience phenomenal, but the design is perfectly luxurious, sporting supple leather, polished aluminum, and an expertly comfortable design.
The design and audio are backed up by the ANC, and while it isn’t as effective as the cancellation offered by something like the AirPods Max, it’s still enough to enhance the audio in noisy places, and the transparency mode works just fine. They are also compatible with the Bluetooth AptX standard for listening to higher-quality wireless music, although this feature is sadly not compatible with iPhones. Battery life is serviceable at around 30 hours, too.
These are the best current headphones for an excellent combination of audio and comfortable, with the right compatibility features for serious listeners. But if you want to compare other high-end options, we suggest taking a look at the Master & Dynamic MW75, which offers many similar advantages (at a similarly sky-high price).
Apple AirPods Max
The best for iPhone
- Best-in-class ANC
- Amazing transparency mode
- Excellent build quality
- Excellent sound quality
- Top-notch call quality
- Charges via Lightning cable
- Heavy on head
At $550, the AirPods Max are expensive. But the design, materials, and build quality alone are almost worth the price of admission. The aluminum earcups and stainless steel headband sliders feel fantastic in your hands, and all of the parts move together with invisible, clockwork-like precision. The mesh fabric on the unusually-shaped headband all but eliminates pressure points and the ear cushions provide ample comfort.
The digital crown, which Apple repurposed from the Apple Watch, is surprisingly effective as a combo control that lets you adjust volume with much better precision than a set of buttons. The dedicated ANC/transparency mode button is equally intuitive and easy to use.
Speaking of ANC and transparency, Apple has knocked these features out of the park. Our reviewer found that the transparency was so good, it felt like he wasn't wearing the headphones at all. That's also an apt description for the head-tracking spatial audio that you can do with these cans when they're paired to an iPhone or an Apple TV 4K — it's like sitting in full surround sound home theater, but without any actual speakers.
Sound quality can't quite match what you'll get with the Sony WH-1000XM5, but there's no denying the AirPods Max are a delight to listen to.
The included carry case is one of the few weaknesses. It doesn't fully protect the headphones and it doesn't help you pack them in a backpack or suitcase. You may want to consider one from our best AirPods Max accessories post. There are even ones that push the AirPods Max into its ultra-low-power mode.
Speaking of power, at 20 hours, the AirPods Max won't win any endurance prizes, but that's still enough juice for all but the longest of flights.
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones
Best noise canceling headphones
- Premium materials and design
- Excellent comfort
- Best-in-class noise canceling
- Natural-sounding transparency
- Impressive spatial audio
- Hi-res compatibility
- Tricky volume control
- ANC can't be turned off
Bose has returned to form with its new, redesigned flagship ANC headphones, the QuietComfort Ultra, and they've not only landed on our best headphones list here, but they've also managed to send the long-standing Sony WH-1000XM5s to take the top position in our best noise canceling headphones roundup.
Successors to the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700, the QC Ultra have an improved design that harks back to the much-loved double fold-up style that allows the headphones to lay flat in their zip-up case, but also fold again for further space savings to make more room for the USC-C and 2.5-to-3.5 mm headphone cables.
The star of the show, though, is Bose's signature ANC, which gets a big improvement in the QC Ultra, bringing a new level of quiet that our reviewer says tops the best in the business, Apple AirPods Max and the previously mentioned Sony WH-1000XM5. The addition of ANC "Modes" means that you can create your own favorite presets that are fine-tuned for your needs and you can toggle between them with ease. Modes can also include the QC Ultra's transparency modes — meaning you can choose to toggle between your perfect mix of ANC and transparency and then quickly switch to your favorite pure ANC mode for your noisy commute. The QC Ultra's transparency mode also features a new "Active Sense" mode that listens for overtly loud noises and then adds the appropriate ANC to protect your ears.
Bose's well-known sound quality hasn't gone anywhere either. They offer a well-balanced and dynamically rich sound that can be fully tweaked in the Bose Music app's EQ settings in case you're not 100% on board with their sound signature out of the box. There's now even support for hi-res audio formats with the addition of aptX Adaptive Bluetooth technology, which means audiophiles with Tidal, Apple Music, Qobuz, or other hi-res streaming services can take advantage (you need an Android phone for this, though; sorry, Apple fans). Spatial audio with head tracking is also included on the Ultra, with support for not only Dolby Atmos Music tracks, but the headphones will also create their own simulated 3D sound out of normal stereo tracks with a feature called "Immersive Audio," which our reviewer Simon Cohen says is "the best virtual spatial audio I’ve heard so far."
While there are headphones on our list with more impressive battery life than the QC Ultra, you'll still get 24 hours from them on a charge (18 hours with immersive audio enabled), with 2.5 hours gained from just a 15-minute quick charge.
Sennheiser HD 660S2
Best open-back headphones
- Detailed and dynamic sound
- Excellent bass response
- Balanced and unbalanced cables
- Comfy enough for long sessions
- No case for protection
- Clamping force may feel too strong
Open-back headphones are a kind of headphone that you don't see pop onto our list very often, but our reviewer Simon Cohen was so impressed with the Sennheiser HD 660S2s that he felt they should be mentioned. What are open-back headphones, you ask? Loved by audiophiles for their ability to allow sound to flow towards your ears and away from them through a perforated outer earcup, the design is supposed to help deliver a more natural sound. The free-flowing air also relieves any pressure buildup inside the earcup for a more comfortable feel. Cohen confirms in his review, that all this is true.
The HD 660S2s is a pair of wired headphones, but that's a good thing as this means that they can deliver a much higher sound quality than Bluetooth allows, like hi-res audio from services like Tidal, Apple Music, or Amazon Unlimited, or from files on your computer. "The sound is effortless," our review boasts. "It just springs forth and gently bathes you in its detail, instead of pummeling you, which I now recognize as a possible side effect of closed-back headphones." Deep resonant bass, and an open airy quality is also what you get, which is why many audiophiles prefer them.
That said, there is a bit of a caveat with these high-performing cans: they're best listened to using a digital-to-analog- converter (DAC). These are audiophile-level headphones, and they have a higher 300-ohm impedance, which means while they will work when plugged in to your computer, they may be quieter, as they need more amplification. To add that extra amplification, we recommend using a combo DAC/amp or a standalone headphone amplifier, which can be had for between $100 and $300 or so. If you want to get even nerdier, the HD 660S2s also feature a separate left and right cable system. They come with an unbalanced 6.3mm cable and 3.5mm adapter, as well as a balanced 4.4mm cable, which means that the signals sent along balanced cables are less affected by interference, resulting in a quieter sound. In short, these things have all kinds of different ways to sound amazing.
Lastly, these 260-gram headphones are really comfy, with plush-covered ear cups and soft memory foam on the headband for long listening sessions. They look pretty sweet too.
Best budget headphones
- Great sound quality
- Very comfortable for long periods
- Ridiculous battery life
- Solid ANC performance
- Great app support
- Affordable price
- No wear sensors
- Wired mode disables extra features
Scanning the most popular headphones can feel depressing on a budget. Top picks like the AirPods Max or the Sony WH1000XM5 (both of which won spots on our list) cost hundreds of dollars to get all their fancy features and audio upgrades. But if you’re looking for a model that’s $100 or less, you’ll be surprised just how little you have to give up with this affordable powerhouse from 1More.
The wireless SonoFlow have all the features that you want, including ANC, support for high-res formats like LDAC, an EQ with plentiful presets, and generally impressive audio with their 40mm DLC dynamic drivers. We also like the comfortable, lightweight design, which makes wearing these headphones for hours at a time a painless experience.
The battery is also incredible, with up to 70 hours of playback time (without ANC) on one charge, and 50 hours with ANC on. We’re seriously impressed with just how much is packed into the SonoFlow headphones at such a reasonable price, making them the top option for buyers on a budget.
The best for kids
- Effective noise cancellation
- Volume-limiting (85db)
- Great size for kids' heads
- Ggood battery life
- A bit pricey for kids' headphones
The PuroQuiet Plus is the latest generation of Puro Sound Labs' solid volume-limiting ANC headphones for kids. Taking a "if it's not broken, don't fix it" approach, the new Plus version hasn't upped the ante too much, adding USB-C connectivity and two new color options (purple and teal) to their already rainbow-like choices.
Like their predecessors, the PuroQuiet Plus feature excellent volume limiting to keep kids' ears protected. The headphones are equipped with a software limiter that keeps the volume at or below 85dB, which is considered the maximum volume that anyone (but especially children) should be exposed to for prolonged periods.
And while it may seem like overkill for kids to have a pair of headphones with ANC in them, it can actually be helpful for blocking outside sounds to encourage focus and to keep kids calm in stressful situations. Happily, the ANC on the PuroQuiet Plus is very good.
Battery life remains unchanged from the last gen of the PuroQuiet, and that's a good thins as these headphones pack an impressive 35 hours of non-ANC playtime (23 hours with ANC) which is very good even by adult ANC headphone standards, but there’s also the option of using an analog cable instead.
While not the cheapest kids' headphones you can buy, the PuroQuiet Plus are very reasonably priced for what they offer. We think your kids’ ears are worth it.
Bose QuietComfort 45
The best for frequent flyers
- Super comfortable
- Very good noise canceling
- Very good sound quality
- Can connect to multiple devices
- No wear detection
- No EQ adjustments
Travelers often have to deal with long flights and train or bus rides — along with the waits at airports or stations. If you’re familiar with the experience and prefer to zone out as much as possible while waiting, these Bose headphones are for you. They offer the ideal combination of high-quality ANC and a very comfortable fit for long trips.
There’s also the transparent aware mode to let in environmental sounds, which can be excellent if you’re waiting for your flight or stop to be called. No matter which mode you are in, the sound doesn’t disappoint, with clear audio and an effective adjustable EQ via the Bose app.
Battery life is rated at around 24 hours, better than many Bose headphones, and able to easily handle a day of traveling without needing to recharge until you’re ready to collapse in a hotel room. They’re a bit expensive, but frequent travelers will find them a valuable companion for finding a little tranquility.
SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro
The best for gaming
- Top-tier audio quality
- Expansive Sonar software
- High-quality ANC
- Comfortable fit with multiple adjustment points
- Fully retractable microphone
- Dual USB inputs
- GameDAC doesn't fully integrate with Sonar
- Microphone is prone to pick up noise
- Spatial audio can have nasty interactions with EQ
SteelSeries makes some of the best headphones and headsets for gaming around, with its Arctis brand having a prestigious lineage that has included the wired Arctis Pro, and the Arctis 7 before it. And as the gaming experts here at Digital Trends have opined, the latest in the lineup, the redesigned Arctis Nova Pro Wireless, has set a new standard.
As you might expect from a pair of headphones with gaming in mind (and at this price), the Nova Pro Wireless are packed with features for gamers. Our reviewer, Jacob Roach, praised their natural sound as "dynamic and lively across the frequency spectrum," with solid ANC and immersive 360-degree surround sound and configurable EQing that he said also makes movies sound excellent, too.
But you're here for the gaming stuff, aren't you? A key component of the Arctis Nova Pro Wireless is its GameDAC unit which has dual USB ports so you can connect to and seamlessly switch between two systems, such as a PC and a console or two consoles, at the touch of a button. Additional connectivity with a 3.5mm line-in and line-out, combine with the headphones' wireless connectivity, means that you can also have a set of powered speakers connected allowing you to also switch between listening on the headphones or your speakers without touching a cable. And multi-system connect means you can be connected to the GameDAC and a smartphone or device through Bluetooth so you can also take calls, listen to Spotify, or access Discord as well. As we said, tons of features.
The Nova Pro Wireless' Sonar Audio software is also pretty crazy, allowing you to mix and fine-tune your gaming sound with a 10-band EQ, and several presets for popular games that let you adjust specific elements like footsteps, gunshots, and other critical sounds. You can also adjust chat volume levels and even the sound of the Nova Pro's own fully-retractable microphone.
There are a ton of manufacturers currently making awesome headphones, from major brands to smaller boutique outfits, so there is no clear winner when it comes to the best company in the headphone world. Some of our current favorite brands include Sony, Bose, Sennheiser, SteelSeries, Bowers & Wilkins and Apple.
We typically recommend buying from a major retailer like Amazon, Best Buy, or Walmart. But smaller, more specialized local audio retailers might have a set of headphones that you can actually try, which is the ideal way to buy these personal audio gadgets.
That depends on what you’re using them for and how much you’re willing to spend. At the high-end, over-ear and in-ear headphones can both perform fantastically. For those of us not willing to spend thousands on headphones, over-ear headphones typically offer better bass response and a bigger soundstage, but in-ear headphones are more portable and convenient — especially wireless earbuds. And, because they're placed right up against (or even inside) your ear canals, they offer the most intimate sound quality you can get, though not everyone likes that inside-your-head sound.
Either wireless headphones, like the Adidas RPT-01, or true wireless earbud models, both of which feature sweat proofing, are far and away the best headphones for working out because you’ll never have wires to deal with. These workout-specific models also put an emphasis on low-end bass, which lets you feel the rhythm of your chosen tracks. You may also be interested in bone-conduction headphones, which keep your ears clear and are great headphones for swimming.
Closed-back over-ear headphones or snug-fitting in-ear headphones are the best way to ensure your favorite tunes won’t leak out into the world around you.
Headphones with this feature use exterior microphones to capture the sound around you. They then reproduce matching frequencies with their phase inverted to cancel ambient noise. How well the system works depends on a wide variety of factors from software to hardware to how well the headphones fit. We have an explainer on how noise cancellation works.
Yes, you can find both Lightning and USB-C headphones on the market, but given that you might want to use your headphones with something other than a cell phone, we typically recommend you buy an adapter or wireless headphones, rather than headphones with such a specific kind of connector.
These days, virtually all wireless headphones and earbuds include a built-in microphone. That said, some wired models rely on a cable with an inline microphone, while others possess no calling features at all, so be sure to check before you buy if you want to make phone calls. We also have a roundup of the best headphones for phone calls, too.
Some lower-quality wireless models do lag when watching movies and YouTube on your cell phone, but in the vast majority of cases, they do not have audio lag. If you experience lag and your headphones have a companion app that lets you adjust EQ, try disabling those adjustments. Wired headphones won’t have any audio lag at all, and most Bluetooth models have such a small lag it's mostly imperceptible.
We test headphones, and everything else Digital Trends reviews, the way normal people live.
We run every pair through a rigorous testing process over several days or weeks. That includes playing them in all sorts of scenarios — be it on a bus, in the listening room, or at the office — and playing back from a wide array of sources. We know most people use their headphones with a smartphone, often with lower-quality MP3 resolution tracks, so we do, too.
However, we also move up to high-resolution audio files, as well as a wide variety of sources, including plugging in directly to a PC or Mac, using USB DACs (digital-to-analog converters), and employing high-quality, dedicated portable players and amplifiers. Finally, we compare the headphones to some of our go-to models, both in their class and price point, as well as a level or two above to find out if they can punch above their weight.
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