Headphones — the original wearable tech — have grown up. They've also become specialized; there's a pair for every use, from sweat-resistant fitness headphones to commuter-friendly active noise-cancelling cans. And each of those types comes with different fit options: on-ear, over-ear or in-ear. Heck, there are even bone-conduction headphones, that sit behind your ear instead of over or in them.
Just to shake things up even further, Apple has ushered in a new era of headphone jack-less smartphones thanks to its latest smartphones that are causing wireless and Lightning-based headphones — including the company's own AirPods — to thrive.
And while some headphones might be on the pricier end of the spectrum like our top-rated Bose QuietComfort 35 IIs, you can find get surprisingly good audio out of a pair of earbuds that cost less than $20 as we discovered with our top value pick, the HC-RET InEar Earbuds. So, with so many options, which is right for you? The following page lists our best picks and few helpful tips for choosing the right headphones/earbuds for you.
What Headphones Cost
Depending on the features, fit and design, a solid pair of headphones can sell for as little as $5. Mid-tier cans can range between $150-$250 while high-end models can cost upwards of $1,000.
What to Look For
- When it comes to headphones, you have several different types of fit including on-ear, over-ear, in-ear. Make sure to choose something that you'll feel comfortable wearing for long periods of time.
- Check the headphones features. If you're looking for sports headphones, make sure they're sweat-resistant. Or if you have a loud commute, try to get something with good active or passive noise cancelling technology.
- Shopping for Bluetooth headphones? Make sure you get something with at least 12 hours of battery life so you're not charging your cans every few days.
- Expensive doesn't always mean good. There are plenty of inexpensive headphones and earbuds that can give you solid audio quality with a fair number of features.
News and Updates (December 2017)
- We've reviewed the Pixel Buds, which feature near-instantaneous pairing with a Pixel phone and instant access to Google Assistant. The Pixel Buds can also do real-time translations in up to 40 languages. However, the sound quality isn't great, and the design and charging case are both awkward.
- Bragi is the latest headphone maker to jump on the A.I. bandwagon. The company claims the its new Dash Pro earphones can translate over 40 languages in real time. The buds will also track your heart rate and steps, store up 1,000 songs and last five hours of battery life.
- We're currently reviewing the Bowers & Wilkens PX headphones, which offer stylish good looks and active noise cancelling technology to rival Bose.
How We Test Headphones
To help you separate the wheat from the chaff when shopping for headphones, Tom's Guide evaluates the following criteria: design, comfort, features, performance and value. We employ a rigorous review process, comparing products with similar fit, features and pricing.
Each pair is worn over the course of a week for 2 hours at a time. During this testing period, the staff is evaluating comfort, ease of use and, of course, audio quality. We listen to several predetermined sample tracks that span a number of genres, including hip-hop, rock, jazz, classical and R&B, and we evaluate the volume, clarity and fullness.
In terms of features, we test the effectiveness of active noise cancelling, Bluetooth range and battery life. For the fitness-focused models, we test to see how they stand up to vigorous workouts, evaluating both how securely they fit while we exercise and how well they handle ambient noise from things like falling weights and gym machines.
Once we complete our testing, we rate headphones based on our ten-point system (1 = worst, 10 = best). If a product is truly exemplary, it's awarded an Editors' Choice.
And now that more streaming music services are offering high-resolution resolution audio, be sure to read our audio codec FAQ for everything you need to know about FLAC files, MP3s and everything in between.
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