The best headphones offer an outstanding feature set, effective and flexible active noise cancellation, great styling, and comfort. Sometimes they can be a bit more costly but no matter what the price, they all offer great value.
When buying a new pair of headphones, it can be helpful to think about where you want to wear them. If you're going to use them on a run, for example, maybe you don't want huge over-ear headphones. Commuting to work or travelling a lot? Well, you'll probably want noise-cancelling headphones to keep the sound out.
Headphones are one of the biggest audio markets right now and we're continuously testing new models as they arrive. Read on for our pick of the best value performers to undergo our rigorous review routine.
Top 3 best headphones
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Best value headphones overall: Sony WH-1000XM5
At the top of our list is the Sony WH-1000XM5, which improve upon their predecessors the XM4 with upgraded active noise cancellation, better call quality, intuitive controls and enhanced connectivity. The category-leading sound and hefty 30-hour battery life are also as far ahead of the competition as ever.
Best headphones for audiophiles: Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2
The Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 over-ears feel good, are beautifully constructed, have active noise-cancelation, and a control app. Extended functionality is not their thing as they're designed to deliver the best wireless sound this sort of money can buy. And they do — with one of the most enjoyable performances we've heard.
Best headphones with ANC: Bose 700
It truly is a close run thing between the Bose 700 and the Sony WH-1000XM5 (above) for the best headphones crown. The Bose 700 have 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 best headphones you can buy right now
Sony’s new flagship headphones are the ultimate all-rounders, offering superb noise-cancelling, exceptional sound performance, tons of comfort, intuitive controls and plenty of special features. So, pretty much like the previous XM4s did, then.
These Sonys are a confident, convincing and enjoyable listen in every respect: low frequencies are muscular but agile, highs are well managed and there's plenty of detail across the range. Noise cancelling — always an XM-series strong point — banishes pretty much all external sound, and the excellent Sony Headphones Connect app allows you to personalize your audio according to taste.
The touch controls and battery life (30 hours with ANC on, 40 with it off) also beat the competition and though the design tends towards the bland, the fact that both the headphones and packaging are made almost entirely from recycled materials is a further mark in its favor.
The XM4s are still around, and cost $50 less, but the XM5s are the new headphones against which to judge all others. If you're still not convinced then check out our Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. WH-1000XM4 face-off to see how they compare.
Read our full Sony WH-1000XM5 review.
The Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 over-ear headphones are priced the same as the Sony. They feel good, are beautifully constructed and are either good-looking in an understated way or a bit too understated for their own good — it depends on your taste. They have active noise-cancelation and a control app — but ‘extended functionality’ is not their thing.
They’re designed to deliver the best wireless sound this sort of money can buy, and they do. The entire frequency range hangs together well, with nothing overstated and nothing struggling for representation. Tonality is clean, consistent and entirely convincing. If you want every wireless headphone feature under the sun, you have plenty of choice. If, however, you want headphones that make the most of the digital audio information you give them, the Px7 S2 really needs to be in your thinking.
Rear our full Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 review.
The Bose 700 on-ear headphones are still the runner-up in our best headphones list and sport a smart design and cool features. They’re equipped with a whopping eight microphones, six of which are employed to deliver Bose’s champion noise cancellation 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. The 700s produce clean, balanced audio for crisp highs and solid bass; lows are felt more when at max ANC level.
Battery life isn't as strong as some rival these days, but holds up at 20 hours with ANC on. Smart assistant integration, touch controls, and multipoint technology also make these some of the most intuitive noise-cancelers for commuters and music lovers alike.
Read our full Bose 700 review.
The Px8 are Bowers & Wilkins' most advanced noise-canceling headphones to date, and are a confident addition to the luxury headphone market. Wireless audio is via Bluetooth 5.2 with SBC, AAC, aptX HD and aptX Adaptive codec support when connected to compatible playback devices, and cables are suppled for wired headphone jack connections too.
The bespoke 40mm Carbon Cone drive units present even more sound details across all parts of the frequency range than the the company high-ranking Px7 S2, and sumptuous materials to further aid comfort. Bass performance is more agile on the Px8, thanks to the new driver material, but it's the mid frequencies where these flagship headphones excel, delivering an abundance of natural detail and midrange clarity to make every voice syllable sound convincingly realistic. Despite the sound quality gains though, the higher price compared to its fellow Px7 S2 and near rivals, means they rank slight lower in terms of overall value.
Read our full Bowers & Wilkins Px8 review.
Although the revamped design of Sennheiser's fourth generation Momentum Wireless headphones don't stand out quite like their classic-looking predecessor, the 60-hour battery life is a real crowd pleaser and make these the one to beat. Add in the easy-going Sennheiser sound and effective noise cancelling, and the Momentum 4 are one the most practical wireless headphones we've seen, perfectly built for a life on the road rather than tethered to a power socket needing regular battery top ups.
Sennheiser's smooth house sound handles a wide range of music content, from pounding beats to more mellow tunes with aplomb. It has Bluetooth 5.2 and aptX Adaptive support, and there's a supplied 3.5mm cable for audiophile wired connections. ANC performance is effective, and auto Wind Noise Reduction is very impressive when stood on a windy train platform on daily work commutes.
Read our full Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless review.
The Focal Bathys offer ingenious versatility: they're a superb, high-performance headphone that's perfectly suited to critical audiophile listening at home, while also practical and conveniently wireless to enable owners to enjoy them on the go. The price may initially seem high, but when you weigh up flagship features like Focal’s dynamic drivers, integrated DAC with full hi-res audio support, and top-tier audio performance, $799 feels like something of a bargain.
The combination of Focal’s M-dome speaker drivers and support for Hi-Res Audio ensures the Bathys sound spectacular. Recordings were deeply layered during our listening sessions, giving instruments plenty of room to breathe, and the onboard DAC is awesome for uncompressed 24-bit sound when connected to lossless sources such as Apple Music and Tidal. Fidelity is increased and there’s a greater degree of tightness in the delivery.
Read the full Focal Bathys review.
It's a shame the AirPods Max are so much more expensive than their noise-cancelling rivals, but once you try them it's hard to take them off. The plush design and comfortable fit present an immediate feeling of luxury, and this only grows once you start playing music.
The active noise cancelling works brilliantly, general sound quality is crisp and impactful, and the 3D Spatial Audio feature is a game-changer if you’ve never used it. This uses head-tracking tech to create a surround sound effect, which can give movie playback a definite edge compared to other headphones. Battery life is respectable too, with Apple’s 20-hour estimate tracking well with our own testing.
Read our full Apple AirPods Max review.
Apple's next-gen AirPods Pro 2 have arrived, bringing significant upgrades to the popular original to take performance to the next level. Externally, they look pretty similar to the first generation but battery life has been increased to offer 6 hours on a single charge from the earbuds and a further 30 hours from the wireless charging case. Not only are the earbuds IPX4-rated, but now too is the case itself.
Designed for iPhone owners looking for a more tailored listening experience, these are the pinnacle of Apple technology. On the audio front, Apple has included a new H2 chip with custom amp and driver that delivers better lower and higher frequencies, and you can use the iPhone's TrueDepth camera to create a personalized spatial audio sound to listen to some of the best Dolby Atmos sound in any pair of earbuds. Noise cancellation is double what the last pair of AirPods Pro offered, and it is among the best we’ve yet to see, period.
Read the full Apple AirPods Pro 2 review.
The market’s best true wireless noise-cancelling technology just got better. Bose’s newest flagship wireless earbuds introduce several upgrades such as adaptive active noise cancellation (ANC), Bluetooth 5.3, and sound calibration technology for improved sound quality. Most importantly, Bose has made the new version one-third smaller than the original QuietComfort Earbuds, while also developing new ear-tips to help achieve optimal wear for more users.
The next-gen buds continue to build on traditional Bose hallmarks, but they also struggle in areas where they've underperformed in the past, including battery life, special features, and touch controls. Despite these shortcomings, though, their ANC and sound quality performance carry the QuietComfort Earbuds 2 to the top echelon of our best wireless earbuds list.
Read the full Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 review.
Grado’s GT220 true wireless earbuds are not overburdened by features such as ANC or a control app to tinker with the sound output. Compared to rivals listed here, these are a very straightforward design indeed that simply goes about the business of connecting you to your favorite music and as such, are one of the best-sounding earbud designs we’ve heard.
Offering decent battery life and recharge time, they're perfectly pitched for music listening on the move and the sound quality delivery will also appeal to those who want to enjoy more serious listening at home from a compact earbud. Aimed at audiophiles looking to hear Grado’s signature sound in a true wireless product with top audio quality as a priority over everything else, the lack of extra facilities really shouldn’t be seen as a deal breaker at the price.
Read our full Grado GT220 review.
Bose has another ANC success on its hands. Noise cancellation on the QuietComfort 45 is just as good as the 700, eliminating a significant amount of ambient noise across the frequency spectrum. Proprietary TriPort acoustic architecture and a volume-optimized Active EQ gives these cans solid audio performance with well-rounded frequency range for a nice mix of lows, mids, and highs. Bose Music app support is beneficial for personalization and connectivity with other Bose devices (check out SimpleSync (opens in new tab)). Most importantly, battery life has been increased from 20 to 24 hours, making the QC45 the brand’s longest-lasting ANC model to date.
It’s hard not to mention certain flaws such as the inability to turn off ANC and the absence of features that are available on other Bose headphones, but the overall performance more than makes up for these drawbacks.
Read our full Bose QuietComfort 45 review.
We thought the Beats Studio Buds were a fantastic value, but their sportier version is an even greater value. Besides the AirPods Pro, the Fit Pro is the only other pair of Apple-related wireless earbuds to come with Spatial Audio, giving listeners 3D immersive sound and dynamic head-tracking technology to hear sounds accurately, no matter where your head turns. Active noise cancellation performs similarly to the AirPods Pro, silencing most ambient noises for peaceful listening sessions. The updated design with integrated eartips is much appreciated for optimal fit. IPX4 water resistance ensures the buds are protected from moisture damage as well.
All the sweet software perks that come tied to the H1 chip are also available, including automatic switching between Apple devices, “Hey Siri” voice activation, and FindMy support to easily locate misplaced buds. Sadly, Android users don’t get to experience these features, but can at least enjoy ANC and Spatial Audio.
Read our full Beats Fit Pro review.
How to choose the best headphones for you
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: 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 quality: 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: Sennheiser's 60-hour battery life is a real crowd pleaser, but most wireless over-ear headphones typically manage around half that. 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: It's disappointing spending money on a new pair of headphones only to find that you need to buy the accessories separately. For wired models, the manufacturer must include the aux cable, and any headphones that come with a carrying case, charging cable, user guide, and extra ear cups or tips are solid purchases.
Pricing considerations: Obviously, price is a big consideration when looking for the best headphones. Although there are always exceptions, big-name brands will typically command a bit extra, but generally speaking, the less you spend on a pair of headphones the greater the chance that sound and features will be compromised. Going for a budget option isn't always the best choice, as any money you save on your purchase won't do you much good if you're constantly needing to recharge your audio gear, or the sound quality is poor.
As the saying goes: timing is everything; and right now it's worth waiting for the holiday season sales when many of our favorite models will be discounted at online retailers, meaning you can bag a bargain for even less. Bookmark our Black Friday deals pages to keep track of the best deals.
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, reviewers evaluate comfort and fit, ease of use, and audio. We test sound by listening to tracks across different music genres, including hip-hop, rock, jazz, classical, and pop. Volume, clarity, and fullness of sound are taken into consideration in our ratings. Movies, podcasts, and video games are considered, when necessary.
Find out what we listen for during our testing process and how to get the best headphone sound for you.
When it comes to 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 consideration for all headphone types. 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 Editor's Choice.
Contributions from: Alex Bracetti, Simon Lucas
More: Find out how we test for more information on our reviewing procedures.
Looking for a specific headphone style? Then check out our best over-ear headphones, best wireless earbuds buying guides. Once you make your purchase, be sure to check out our guide to getting the best headphone sound.
Next: Discover the first earbuds with support for Bluetooth Lossless Audio codec, promising CD-quality sound over wireless.