Skip to main content

The best headphones in 2020

Best headphones
(Image credit: Future)

It’s no easy task to narrow down the best headphones when the audio space is home to thousands of options. Ideally, you want something that is going to give you your money’s worth in terms of sound, portability, and utilization. Modern features and compatibility with all major audio devices – smartphones, tablets, laptops and smart HDTVs – are sweet bonuses as well. The good news is this roundup includes our top headphones picks in multiple categories, so you’re sure to find something here that appeals to you.

UPCOMING HEADPHONES RELEASES

(Image credit: Marshall)

The holiday season is sure to offer up some great gift ideas, from the all-new Marshall Major IV with 80 hours of battery life, to the heavily rumored Apple Studio over-headphones. On the wireless earbuds front, one of the most anticipated noise-cancelling models, the Jabra Elite 85t, is on the horizon.

You’ll find some heavyweight hitters here from Bose, Sony, Sennheiser, and even Apple, brands who have all released praiseworthy products, which are leaders in their respective categories. There are also some newcomers like Jabra and Samsung that have come out of nowhere and left lasting impressions with their recent launches. We’ve reviewed hundreds of models and also put many of them head to head to narrow down our list of the best headphones.

Black Friday 2020 deals on headphones
Looking for new headphones ? Black Friday deals are expected to kick off earlier than ever this year. We expect sales to start as soon as November 1 — if not earlier. 

What are the best headphones right now?

Sitting in the No. 1 spot on our best headphones list is the Sony WH-1000xM4, the latest model in the Sony Mark series. These headphones blend champion sound and elite noise cancellation into a luxe, comfy design. Sony’s companion app opens the door for plenty of customization (e.g. ambient listening, controls, sound) and the headphones are compatible with hi-res streaming services to enjoy the highest level of sound quality possible.

Coming in a close second is the Bose 700, which has unrivaled ANC performance and intuitive tech features. Sound is crystal clear when listening to music and taking calls. We also love the svelte, contemporary design with comforting ear pads and touch controls.

The Jabra Elite 75t Active currently stand as our favorite wireless earbuds. This updated version has sportier aesthetics (e.g. durable casing, waterproof) and double the battery life of its predecessor, along with energetic sound to kickstart your workouts. Apple’s AirPods Pro is our top choice for best AirPods model and iPhone companion, specifically for its impressive noise cancelation and seamless iOS integration.

The best headphones you can buy today

Best headphones: Sony WH-1000xM4

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

1. Sony WH-1000xM4

The best headphones overall

Size and weight: 9.94 x 3.03 x 7.27 inches, 8.95 ounces | Battery life (rated): 30 hours (ANC on), 38 hours (ANC off) | Bluetooth range: 40 feet (12 meters) | Special features: Active noise cancellation, customizable EQ, multipoint technology

Excellent sound and noise cancellation
Plenty of features via Sony Connect Headphones app
Stellar touch controls
Multiple ways to connect the headphones
Call quality could be improved

Sony made subtle changes to its latest flagship headphones, and that was enough to crown the Sony WH-1000xM4 the market’s best headphones. You’re still getting the same warm, detailed sound and responsive touch controls that were present in the WH-1000xM3, along with slightly advanced ANC that challenges what Bose has to offer. What you’ll appreciate most about these headphones are the plethora of features, from the sound customization via Sony Headphones Connect app to the versatile wireless performance, which includes Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, and multipoint technology to connect to two devices simultaneously.

Not much has changed in terms of design, except for the slimmer headband and soft rubberized finish that gives the WH-1000xM4 a more premium feel; it’s a step up from the plastic chassis featured on its predecessor. Sony did enhance its microphone system, which makes the digital assistant and voice memos easy to execute, though it doesn’t work as well for phone calls.

Read our full Sony WH-1000xM4 review.

Best headphones: Bose 700

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

2. Bose 700

Best active noise-cancelling headphones

Size and weight: 8 x 6.5 x 2 inches, 8.8 ounces | Battery life (rated): 20 hours (NC on) | Bluetooth range: 30 feet (10 meters) | Special features: Adjustable active noise cancellation, customizable EQ, charging case (optional)

Adjustable ANC levels
Slick, attractive design
Excellent noise cancelling on calls and music
Smart, intuitive buttons and touch controls
Expensive

The Bose 700 are the runner-up for best headphones and have a sexy new design and cool features that come with its high price tag. They’re equipped with a whopping eight microphones, six of which are employed to deliver Bose’s champion noise cancelation when listening to music or talking on the phone. It offers up to 11 levels of adjustable ANC that work equally well to neutralize noise across different frequencies. Bose even made improvements to sound quality, as the 700s produce clean, balanced audio for crisp highs and solid bass; lows are felt more when at max ANC level.

Despite sharing the same battery life as its predecessor, the QC35 II, it still holds up strong at 20 hours with ANC on. Bose also sells a charging case separately for $50 extra that grants the headphones 40 additional hours of listening time. Smart assistant integration, touch controls, and improved multipoint technology also make these some of the most intuitive noise-cancellers for commuters and music lovers alike. If that’s not enough, Bose just released a firmware update that introduces an adjustable EQ, improved connectivity, and voice prompt fixes. 

Anyone who needs an excellent calling headset designed for video conferencing should look into the newly released 700 UC, which is compatible with video-conferencing services like Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams.

See our full Bose 700 review.

Best headphones: Jabra Elite 75t Active

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

3. Jabra Elite Active 75t

Best wireless earbuds

Size and weight: 0.8 x 0.7 x 0.6 inches, 0.19 ounces | Battery life (rated): 7.5 hours; 28 hours (with charging case) | Bluetooth range: 30 feet (10 meters) | Special features: Customizable EQ, fully waterproof, passive noise cancellation

Loud, full sound
Sleek, waterproof design
In-app audio customization
Strong battery life with fast charging
Can get extremely loud at max volume

Jabra found a way to improve our favorite wireless earbuds, packing a hell of a lot of performance into a tinier waterproof design. The Elite Active 75t boasts better battery life and sound than the AirPods Pro, plus its charging case holds more portable power and feels sturdier. Fitness fanatics will love the reliable comfort and fit they provide; sweat absorption is one of many unsung features on here.

Any areas where the Elite 75t fell short like call quality and digital assistant support have been improved as well. Best of all, the buds produce consistently clean detail and warm, lively instrumentals and vocals that can also be tweaked through special features (e.g. built-in EQ, music presets) in the companion app for personalized sound. If you need any extra incentive, Jabra plans on releasing an over-the-air ANC update for free in October, which will let you enjoy some form of noise cancellation.

See our full Jabra Elite Active 75t review.

Best headphones: AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

4. Apple AirPods Pro

The new king of AirPods

Size and weight: 2.4 x 1.7 x 0.9 inches, 8.8 ounces | Battery life (rated): 4.5 hours (NC on), 24 hours (with charging case) | Bluetooth range: 800 feet | Special features: Active noise cancellation, “Hey Siri” support, spatial audio

Modern, functional design
Great active noise cancelling
Comfortable semi-custom fit
Adaptive sound
Battery life could be longer

It sounds a bit trite to say Apple has made the AirPods even better, but in the case of the AirPods Pro, it’s an understatement. These third-gen buds are a much bigger deal than any of us could have predicted. Through some clever engineering, Apple managed to squeeze three microphones and six sensors into the tiny, redesigned casing, and still had room for its lauded H1 chip. The inclusion of ear tips makes a world of difference, providing a comfy and customized fit, which can also be optimized for better audio output through the all-new Ear Tip Fit Test.

Hands-free Siri just keeps getting better and better, while cool features like Announce Messages and Audio Sharing showcase the AirPods Pro’s multifunctional talents. Sound was already great, but the addition of spatial audio via iOS 14 update is pretty huge since it helps create a theater-like soundscape for you to enjoy music and movies. Auto switching has been added as well to automatically connect the buds to the current device you’re using.

See our full Apple AirPods Pro review.

best headphones: Jabra Elite 45h

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

5. Jabra Elite 45h

Best headphones under $100

Size and weight: 7.3 x 6.1 x 1.9 inches, 2.3 ounces | Battery life (rated): 50 hours | Bluetooth range: 33 feet (10 meters) | Special features: Customizable EQ, multipoint technology, Soundscapes mode

Personalized sound via Jabra Sound+ app
Excellent comfort and connectivity
Small and sophisticated on-ear design
Best-in-class battery life
No noise isolation

Several models make a strong case for best headphones under $100, but after weeks of testing, we find the Jabra Elite 45h to be the clear-cut winner based on performance and specs. The 40-millimeter audio drivers deliver entertaining sound that can also be customized by manually adjusting the EQ or selecting from a handful of music presets. It’s the only available feature at the moment, but with the headphones supporting firmware updates, we’re expecting more to come in the following months. Bluetooth 5.0 operates superbly to offer stable connectivity across all devices, while 50 hours of playtime ensures you have enough juice to enjoy music and movies for nearly two weeks before recharging.

We can look past the plastic construction, especially when factoring in how light and comfortable these headphones feel. Our biggest complaint is the lack of noise isolation, which, due to the on-ear design, leaks a lot of sound. However, it’s no big deal if you’re listening at mid-level volume.

See our Best Cheap Wireless Headphones Under $100 page.

best headphones: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

(Image credit: Brian Coule/Tom's Guide)

6. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

The best noise-cancelling wireless earbuds

Size and weight: 1.54 x 1.02 x 1.06 inches, 0.3 ounces (per bud) | Battery life (rated): 6 hours, 18 hours (with charging case | Bluetooth range: 30 feet (10 meters) | Special features: Adjustable ANC, Bluetooth 5.1, Self Voice mode for enhancing calling

Category-leading ANC
Well-balanced sound
Excellent call quality
Bluetooth 5.1
Battery life could be better

If you’re waiting on wireless earbuds that can match the ANC prowess found in premium headphones, then the QuietComfort Earbuds are the closest you’re going to get. Bose engineered its in-ears monitors with nearly the same functionality and technology as the Bose 700, giving you 10 levels of adjustable ANC and even a transparency mode that blends with noise cancellation for even better, more accurate ambient listening. You can expect peaceful silence when indulging in Spotify playlists around noisy crowds. Call quality is just as impressive, producing loud and clear-sounding results on both ends, especially indoors. It’s cool that you get Bluetooth 5.1 as well, a feature only a few models carry right now.

All of that power comes at a cost, and it’s not just the expensive MSRP we’re talking about here, but battery life as well. You’ll get about 5 hours of use when factoring in both listening modes and high volume, and the charging case only holds three extra charges, despite its massive build.

Read our full Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review.

Best headphones: Sony WH-1000xM3

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

7. Sony WH-1000XM3

Unbeatable sound with remarkable ANC

Size and weight: 10.4 x 7.3 x 2.9 inches, 9 ounces | Battery life (rated): 30 hours (NC on), 38 hours (NC off) | Bluetooth range: 30 feet (10 meters) | Special features: Active noise cancellation, customizable EQ, NFC

Best-in-class sound
Bose-challenging noise cancellation
Companion app with sound customization options
Strong battery
Mediocre call quality

Powered by Sony's all-new HD Noise Cancelling Processor, the QN1, and offering an advanced soundstage, tons of sound-customization options and a thinner design, the feature-rich WH-1000XM3 headphones are engineered to compete with and, in certain categories, outperform the best. The improvements in audio fidelity alone place these headphones above the Bose 700 and QC35 II. They deliver a powerful low-end punch suited for their target demographic of bass lovers, and grant listeners a suite of sound-optimizing options accessible through the Connect app.

Sony’s ANC technology has improved with every model in the series, but it’s most effective on the WH-1000xM3. Enabling the feature will easily silence loud rumblings, from crying babies to plane engines. Battery life is first-rate as well, giving you a steady 30 hours of continuous playtime with ANC on and 38 hours in passive mode, which is among the highest in the category.

See our full Sony WH-1000xM3 review.



best headphones: House of Marley Jamaica Wireless 2

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

8. House of Marley Jamaica Wireless 2

Best cheap wireless earbuds value

Size and weight: TBD, 0.46 ounces | Battery life (rated): 9 hours | Bluetooth range: 30 feet (10 meters) | Special features: Digital assistant support, quick charging, water resistance

Sturdy, eco-friendly construction
In-line remote offers plenty of USB-C with quick charging
Rich sound
Bulky control module
Shorter wireless range than advertised

House of Marley’s latest budget wireless earbuds do a fantastic job of blending pleasant sound into an eco-friendly design. Each pair of the Jamaica Wireless 2 is composed of ultra-sustainable materials, highlighted by FSC-certified wood housing for the drivers and a durable cable made from 99% post-consumer recycled polyester. The 9.2mm drivers underneath the hood balance frequencies surprisingly well, allowing highs, mids, and lows to thrive without masking one or the other. Battery life is also dependable at 9 hours on a single charge; a 15-minute charge earns you 2 hours of playtime.

The control module is bigger than it looks in photos and can be cumbersome around the neck. When in range, the buds maintain a stable connection to enjoy music streaming and calls, though you will notice dropout when teetering around the 25-foot mark, so you’ll want to keep your smartphone close.

See our Best Cheap Wireless Headphones page.

Best headphones: Bose QuietComfort 35 II

(Image credit: Future)

9. Bose QuietComfort 35 II

Great noise cancelling and audio

Size and weight: 7.1 x 6.7 x 3.2 inches, 8.2 ounces | Battery life (rated): 20 hours (NC on), 40 hours (NC off) | Bluetooth range: 30 feet (10 meters) | Special features: Active noise cancellation, dedicated digital assistant button, Music Share

Champion noise cancellation
Clean and crisp sound
Comfortable design
Same design as the previous version
Google Assistant needs work

Once a category leader and still an elite model, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II is an industry staple that set the standard for modern active noise cancellation and performs well across the board. Bose’s ANC technology is superb at drowning out distractions and uses three levels of noise-cancelling to filter out noises. It also improves the sound profile to feed your ears balanced, detailed audio. 

The QC35 II keeps the sleek design of the original, which can either be a positive or a negative, depending on your style. It’s also smarter and has a dedicated button to activate Google Assistant. The cozy, lightweight feel of these cans is comforting on the skull, though the build quality isn’t as durable as other models. Even so, these remain some of the best noise-cancellers you can score for $50 less than the 700s.

See our full Bose QuietComfort 35 II review.

Best headphones: Beats Powerbeats Pro

(Image credit: Future)

10. Beats Powerbeats Pro

Best running and sports earbuds

Size and weight: 4.7 x 1.6 x 5.5 inches, 0.8 ounces | Battery life (rated): 9 hours, 24 hours (with charging case) | Bluetooth range: 50 feet (15.2 meters) | Special features:: Automatic switching, Fast Fuel charging, sweat resistance

Lengthy battery
Versatile sound
Secure, water-resistant design
Bulky charging case
No companion app

Apple isn’t making a fitness version of its popular AirPods, or so we think (let’s see how the rumored AirPods 3 turn out). Until then, the closest you’ll get is the PowerBeats Pro, a pair of true wireless workout earbuds that packs great performance in a durable, water-resistant shell. The company’s even gone as far as to include the new H1 chip, making seamless integration with all iProducts even faster. Automatic switching has been added as well via iOS 14 update.

Audio is crucial for any pair of sports headphones, and fortunately, Apple has toned down the Beats' bass-heavy sound signature. The Powerbeats Pro have a more balanced presentation that blends emphatic lows together with tighter mids and highs. Those who constantly complain about the AirPods poor battery life can breathe easy knowing these buds hold nearly double the amount on playtime a full charge: 9 hours. The charging case, while not the most portable-friendly, gets you about two extra charges on the go as well.

See our full Beats PowerBeats Pro review.

How to choose the best headphones for you

PICKING THE BEST HEADPHONES AND EARBUDS STYLES

Take a look at Tom’s Guide’s comprehensive guides for the best headphones and earbuds you can buy, per category and price point.

·      Best Wireless Earbuds

·      Best Noise Cancelling Headphones

·      Best Cheap Wireless Earbuds

·      Best Fake AirPods

·      Best Running Headphones

·      Best Wireless Headphones

·      Best Cheap Running Headphones

·      Best Cheap Wireless Headphones 

·      Best Cheap Noise-Cancelling Headphones

·      Best Cheap Headphones

·      Best Cheap Earbuds

Many factors come into play when shopping for the best headphones, but your decision should always come down to intended use. That being said, you’ll want to take the following categories into account before settling on any pair.

Design usually takes precedence over everything. Are you looking for in-ear, on-ear or over-ear headphones? Wired or wireless? Luxury or sporty? Since these are headphones that will be used for multiple occasions, you want something that suits your lifestyle. Whatever type you choose, make sure the headphones are well built, easy to carry, and comfy to wear for about 1 to 2 hours daily.

Sound is the second box to check off. Different models offer different sound, and since you’re buying a pair to enjoy music individually, it’s important to find headphones that match your sound preference, be it heavy bass or distinctively clear to where you can hear the littlest nuances in recordings. Some models offer personalized sound via companion app, which allows the user to create their own profiles and tweak EQ levels to their hearing.

Battery life comes next. Most premium wireless headphones are rated at 15 hours and higher. Wireless earbuds can last about 5 to 10 hours and offer extended playtime with their bundled charging cases – always make sure one is included.

Accessories are just as important, especially for wired models (the manufacturer must include the aux cable). Any headphones that come with a carrying case, charging cable, user guide, and extra ear cups or tips are solid purchases.

How we test the best headphones

From the design and comfort to the sound quality and overall value, we evaluate several areas when picking the best headphones. In addition, Tom’s Guide employs a rigorous review process that compares products with similar fit, features, and pricing.

Each pair of headphones and earbuds is worn over the course of a week for 2 hours at a time. During this time, the staff evaluates comfort and fit, ease of use, and audio. We test sound by listening to predetermined sample tracks across different music genres, including hip-hop, rock, jazz, classical, and pop. Volume, clarity, and fullness is evaluated too. Movies, podcasts, and video games are considered, when necessary.

Regarding features, we test the effectiveness of active noise cancelling, Bluetooth range, and battery life for wireless and wired headphones. Additional features are also tested for app-enabled headphones, along with ease of setup. Build quality, controls, and fit are taken into serious consideration for wired headphones. Fitness-focused headphones go through vigorous workouts, as we analyze fit while exercising and how well they handle ambient sound in loud environments.

Once testing is complete, we rate headphones based on our five-point system (1 = worst, 5 = best). If a product is truly exemplary, it's awarded an Editors' Choice.

  • Eric_31
    So essentially this article can be summed up with "all the headphones listed have great noise cancelling and great sound." I would have appreciated at least a bit of effort in comparison. The only point of comparison is the price and the seemingly arbitrary and unexplained rating. This article was absolutely no help at all.
    Reply
  • LizzyHarris
    Great, thanks! :)
    Reply
  • Azhrei21
    @Peter_133 This list is for earbuds you would workout or run or hike or mow (etc etc etc) with... not actual headphones you wouldn't take out of the house genius...
    Reply