Story by Ryan Waniata via our partner site, Digital Trends /
Headphones. As you may have noticed, there are a lot of them out there. Now, more than any time in history, headphones are everywhere, invading our ears like a conquering horde. And like most hordes, headphones come in virtually every style, color, and flavor you can imagine. As reviewers, it can be daunting. As shoppers, it can be downright intimidating.
As such, we’ve compiled our master list of the best headphones you can buy, covering several price points and a wide variety of styles and sound signatures. These are the ringers. The value picks. The top guns. So stop tearing your hair out and peruse our curated collection of the absolute best headphones for you, your ears, and your wallet.
Our Top Pick
Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear
Why you should buy them: Brilliant sound, loads of style, and a great price.
Who’s it for: Anyone who wants to squeeze the best sound out of each and every dollar.
How much will they cost? $100-$150
Why we picked the Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear
Sennheiser may have moved on from the original Momentum On-Ear, offering both an update and a wireless version, but we never have. From the moment we first heard these headphones, we were hooked. The Momentum are the Honda Accord of the Sennheiser lineup, offering that sterling mix of performance, style, and affordability that strikes at your deal hunting instincts like a dinner bell.
Let’s start with the on-ear design which really plays more like an over-ear, giving you better sound isolation than you’d expect, and a full and deep soundstage that allows your music to flow freely and ring purely. The design is also stylish and essentially customizable — the radio operator-style ear cups and band come in a wide variety of colors to mix and match. Cast from metal rather than plastic for durability, the band is layered in just enough padding for comfort and easily adjusts to fit. The look is unique, without calling attention — style and subtlety poured out in equal measure. The only design detraction is that the earpieces don’t fold in (something reserved for the update), but the cans come with a black suede case that’s still pretty packable.
The most important thing is that signature Sennheiser sound, of which the Momentum (both the on-ear and over-ear versions) serve as lead ambassadors. We’re talking about thrilling detail and loads of space to play around in, allowing you to explore the depth of each instrument, voice, or effect in three dimensions. The bass is punchy and warm, and that warmth spills into the midrange, which manages to be full and weighty, yet surprisingly accurate. Up top, details are revealed with clarity and precision, without ever getting sharp or sibilant.
While these headphones will eventually be retired, for now the original Momentum On-ear stand as an unmatched bargain in the headphone landscape — instant classics that won’t steer you wrong. (Incidentally, stepping up to the Momentum On-ear 2, or the wireless version will do you right as well, but for a bit more green.)
The Best Over-Ear Headphones
V-Moda Crossfade M-100
Why you should buy these: You want an equal balance of power, clarity, and durability.
Who’s it for: Fashion-forward folk with a penchant for clumsiness and a love for great sound.
How much will they cost: $210-$250
Why we picked the V-Moda Crossfade M-100
Durability, iconic style, groovy bass, and details for days. Sounds like a pretty great combination, right? Those are the hallmarks that make the V-Moda Crossfade M-100 a killer choice. These headphones put V-Moda on the map. They helped the brand become so popular that musical titan Roland eventually decided to buy it.
One of the M-100’s biggest selling points is the robust headband, which can be twisted, wrenched, and generally abused with little to no ill effect. The hexagonal earpieces are made from rock-hard plastic, and they’re also customizable thanks to removable plates, which V-Moda will make to order in just about any style you can think of.
Under the hood, the M-100 boast 50mm custom drivers that deliver high-quality sound highlighted by striking clarity up top, smooth and precise mids, and powerful bass. The latter renders instruments like bass guitar and string bass with chocolaty goodness and adds booming force to dance grooves, all without upsetting the balance required for a quality sonic experience. Throw in a nimble case crafted from Batmanesque putty armor, in which the cans fold down to perfect packing size, and you’ve got a winning blend that begs you to take these cans home.
Alternative: Looking for something more refined? We’re throwing in a two-fer here with the Oppo PM-3. These cans won’t take the beating the V-Moda will, but at just $100 more, their planar magnetic drivers offer crazy-accurate sound performance to stand with some of the best in the business.
The Best On-Ear Headphones
Audeze Sine On-Ear
Why you should buy them: Supreme clarity, plush comfort, durable design, Lightning connection.
Who’s it for: Anyone who wants the best on-ears money can buy — especially Apple heads.
How much will they cost: $450, $500 with Lightning cable (we know, we know)
Why we picked the Audeze Sine On-Ear
Sometimes in life you have to go for the brass ring, and for on-ear headphones, there’s nothing brass ringier (?) than the Sine. They don’t come cheap, but as pricey as they are, you’re still getting a bargain. That’s because Audeze has done something incredible with the Sine, leveraging technology from its pricier (and bulkier) EL-8 headphones aimed at travelling audiophiles, to fold down a pair of planar magnetic drivers into a size and efficiency level that was unimaginable just a few short years ago.
We know what you’re thinking: What’s all the hubbub with planar magnetics? Unlike traditional dynamic drivers, which create sound by pushing air like a piston for a more hatchet than scalpel approach, planar drivers use a micro-thin membrane excited by a magnet to create subtle vibrations that more accurately reproduce the music you love. What’s that mean to you? Crystalline clarity, ruddy warmth down low, and a veritable wilderness of textures and sonic colors extracted from your favorite instruments.
Audeze has helped push planar tech by leaps and bounds in recent years, allowing you to take a highly sophisticated mechanism out of the audio lab, and into the real world, and the Sine are the company’s tour de force on this front. Pushing that technology further (potential iPhone 7 buyers should take note here), the Sine can also be equipped with a $50 Lightning cable that receives digital audio directly from your iDevice and transfers it into pristine analog sound. That’s accomplished by a DAC (digital-to-analog converter) that doubles as a three-button iOS mic piece. The design also allows for a digital EQ, with other options expected to follow.
Even if you don’t roll with Apple, the Sine’s low impedance, cushy yet robust design, and stylish looks make it the obvious choice for audio nuts who must take fantastic sound along for the ride. Looking for a more affordable on-ear? See our top pick.
The Best In-Ear Headphones (Best Earbuds)
1More Triple Drivers
Why you should buy them: A sweet mix of style, performance, and shocking affordability.
Who’s it for: The discerning listener who craves quality, but hasn’t yet landed that corner office.
How much will they cost: $100
Why we picked the 1More Triple Drivers
Honestly, we could have gone multiple ways for this pick, but 1More’s unassuming Triple Drivers just wouldn’t stop popping up into the picture. Unlike our on-ear pick, the 1More aren’t at the top of the class in performance. But what they do have going for them is unrivaled quality and value at their (very reachable) price point.
Sure, we could recommend Ultimate Ears Pro’s custom molded RM’s, or even Shure’s mind-blowing electrostatic KSE 1500, but at $1,000 and $3,000 respectively, we may as well recommend a summer home at Cape Cod for stress relief — most people just can’t pay those premiums. More to the point, China-based upstart 1More blew our minds when we discovered how little the company wanted for the Triple Drivers. For this kind of build quality and performance, we’d expect to pay at least double.
So what specifically do the Triple Drivers offer? A gorgeous aesthetic, solid construction, and you guessed it, triple drivers inside for excellent sound. That includes one balanced armature driver each for the bass, midrange, and treble. The result is sparkling clarity, smooth and powerful bass, and balanced sound that outdoes everything we’ve heard at the $100 line. Need we say more?
The Best Wireless Headphones
Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 2.0
Why you should buy them: A searing blend of high performance, good looks, comfort, and features galore.
Who’s it for: Those who want to cut the cord without compromises.
How much will they cost: $370-$500
Why we picked the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 2.0
Yes, we fully realize we’re being predictable here. But there’s a reason the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless sit atop so many wireless headphone best-of lists; they really are that good. In fact, the only real detraction for these cans is their somewhat shocking $500 MSRP. However, if you’re savvy, you can steal them for a good $100 less than that, and that’s where the value really starts to roll in.
Here’s the thing about wireless headphones: most of them sound pretty awful. With the Momentum Wireless, you get everything we love about a quality headphone experience — quality, comfort, durability, reliability — all without the worry of wires. You’re also really getting two great sets of cans in one, as plugging these cans in converts them into a top-tier over-ear that competes with the best of them.
Whether you’re listening via Bluetooth or the traditional jack, these headphones boast the same brand of brilliant sound performance we raved about for our top pick, the Momentum on-ear, only with a bigger soundstage and more powerful, authoritative bass. Oh yeah, and you also get decent (though not fantastic) noise cancellation, easy and intuitive playback controls, automated voice prompts, excellent call quality, style … yeah, these are great cans.
One interesting feature of note is that if the headphones are on, so is noise cancellation — there is no off button. However, while you might think that would get annoying, the isolation really just serves to provide better sound performance and has yet to present any issue in real world use for us; if you’re jamming out with over-ear cans, you probably won’t be very responsive to the world around you, noise canceling or not.
The Best Fully Wireless Earbuds
Bragi The Headphone
Why you should buy them: You’re looking for the best-sounding, most-comfortable, and most value-packed true wireless earbuds on the market.
Who’s it for: Listeners who want total wireless autonomy without sacrificing quality.
How much will they cost: $150
Why we picked the Bragi The Headphone
While Bragi’s first attempt at true wireless earbuds, The Dash, got a little too caught up in their own web of features to focus on basics like reliability, the company changed its tune with impressive results for its latest model, known simply (and a bit audaciously) as The Headphone.
The Headphone cut a lot of the features of their predecessor like waterproofing and workout functions, and even drop what has become a staple in the true wireless earbuds movement, a portable wireless charging case. However, these no-nonsense earbuds make up for their somewhat limited feature set by delivering a on all the most important features for those looking to join the true wireless revolution. The zingers here include six hours of battery life to lead the industry and doubling many competitors, a smooth-and-easy fit, and impressive audio performance, all at a fantastic price.
But our favorite thing about The Headphone is that these babies just work. No drop outs, no stereo sync issues — no problems. That’s something that many of their pricier peers asking for double the money can’t get right. Those looking for a reliable pair of true wireless buds that fit great, sound great, and outlast the crowd for hours of wireless playback will find solace in simplicity with The Headphone.
The Best Noise Canceling Headphones
Why you should buy them: Beautiful sound, plush comfort, and top-tier noise canceling tech make the Sony MDR-1000x the top dog.
Who’s it for: Those who are looking for total silence, but don’t want to give up high fidelity sound to get it.
How much will they cost: $400
Why we picked the Sony MDR-1000x
Sony’s most technologically advanced headphones ever, the MDR-1000x take direct aim at Bose’s QC35 line, offering advanced touch controls, tons of comfort, and the clearest sound we’ve heard in noise canceling headphones to date.
Elegantly designed with the business class in mind, the 1000x are a thoroughbred pair of headphones. They offer 20 hours of battery life and sport extremely soft padding to make them an absolute dream to wear, even on those long trips.
Like most high-end noise canceling headphones these days, two microphones on each earcup (one inside and one outside) analyze the sound around you to provide a whisper-quiet interior.
Music is dynamic and beautiful, with authoritative bass and a clear and clean treble, held together by a well-rounded midrange. Sony’s special LDAC technology delivers audio at what Sony claims is three times the quality of standard Bluetooth streaming. The 1000x even “up-scale” wireless music from high resolution audio devices using a special chip.
The advanced control systems employed on the headphones allow for various levels of ambient noise to come in, should you desire to hear outside sounds like announcements in an airport or train station. They even let you choose a voice-only mode, designed to filter through vocal frequencies so you can hear your music and the voices around you, while keeping much of the outside world at bay. If you’ve got the cash, these are the wireless noise-cancelers for you.
The Best Workout Earbuds
Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless Special Edition
Why you should buy them: Heart-rate tracking, solid audio performance, and snug and secure fit.
Who’s it for: Those who spend more time on the treadmill than the couch.
How much will they cost: $160
Why we picked the Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless Special Edition
If you’re looking for the perfect set of headphones to bring with you to the gym without the worry of knocking the ‘buds out of your ears, you’re going to love Jabra’s Sport Pulse Wireless Special Edition. These feature-packed headphones have all you need to keep your workout goals moving forward, including a built-in heart rate monitor, an intuitive smartphone app, and maybe best of all, serious sweat-proofing. The app tracks your progress, and even calls out pertinent metrics after you finish your sweat session.
In terms of overall sound, the Special Edition headphones see a significant audio upgrade from the first Sport Pulse Wireless, with comply foam tips providing an improved seal helps to create a notable bass boost.
With good sound, wireless connection, and a slew of sport-focused features, the Sport Pulse Wireless Special Edition are the best headphones for the workout grind we’ve tried so far.
The Best Dirt Cheap Headphones
Why you should buy them: You need a set of budget cans and you’re (thankfully) not at the airport.
Who’s it for: Those looking for the best price-to-performance ratio.
How much will they cost: $39-$49
Why we picked the Shure SH145
We picked the Shure SH145 for their price and performance, pure and simple. As we said in our review, most headphones at this level are simply terrible. These aren’t, and that’s notable enough to grant them top status for our budget pick.
First, let’s get the detractions out of the way. The build quality, as you might guess, feels a bit chintzy when compared to upper-tier cans. We’re also not all that fond of the silver paint on the band, which gives a slightly toyish aesthetic.
That said, these cans are superbly comfortable, even for long listening sessions, and they offer impressive performance for the money. That includes clear and smooth bass, a very accessible midrange, and treble that’s shaved free of the finer details, but still offers up enough sparkle to get the job done. The cans don’t come standard with a mic piece, but you can add the option for $10, giving you some choice about just how low you really want to go. Like a great compact car, these babies will get you where you need to go on a thin dime.
How We Test
We test headphones and earbuds the way normal people live.
We run every pair of headphones through a rigorous process over the course of several days. 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.