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The best headphones of 2020

With many different headphones to choose from, which ones are the best of the best? Here's a look at CNET's top picks -- from full-size models to tiny wireless earbuds.

With so many great options out there, it's hard to narrow things down into a best-of-the best headphones list, especially since it's impossible to review every model on the market. But I'll try anyway. We tend to focus on wireless headphones, and true wireless in particular -- yes, Apple's AirPods have been insanely popular the last few years -- but this list of best headphones also includes over-ear headphones, on-ear models and even some more affordable headphones as "budget" standouts for those of you who don't want to spend an arm and a leg for comfort and great sound.

These are our current favorites (with waterproofing ratings included for in-ear models). Just note that in 2020, we expect to see a deluge of new models, many of which we saw previewed at CES in January.

Juan Garzon/CNET

Sony's WH-1000XM3, the third generation of Sony's excellent wireless noise-canceling headphones, has a more comfortable fit and features even better performance than its predecessor, perfect for listening to music. With a strong battery life, these over-ear headphones are currently our top-rated pick for the best headphones for noise cancelling, slightly edging out the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, which are more expensive. Read our Sony WH-1000XM3 review. Read our Sony WH-1000XM3 review.

Read more: The best true wireless earbuds of 2020  

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating -- splashproof).

Even if they don't sound as magical as you'd hope a $249 model would, the Apple AirPods Pro still manage to be a great pair of truly wireless earphones. That's largely due to their winning design and fit, improved bass performance, effective noise canceling and excellent call quality. Yeah, they're expensive at $250, but the good news is you'll use them so much you'll probably wear the battery down -- it does degrade over time and isn't replaceable -- and have to buy a new pair in 18 to 24 months if you don't lose them first. Read our Apple AirPods Pro review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, the long-awaited successor to its Quiet Comfort 35 II models, may not be a quantum leap forward but they offer slightly better sound, call and noise-canceling quality. Alas, these over-ear headphones cost $400, but they're a strong all-around performer with up to 20 hours of battery life. I slightly prefer the Sony WH-1000XM3's design and fit (and lower price tag), and while you can argue about which headphone sounds better, one thing is certain: This Bose Noise Cancelling model works significantly better as a headset for making calls. For some people that may be worth the extra cost. Read our Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review.

Read more: Best wireless earbuds and headphones for making calls

Water-resistantYes (IP55 rating -- can withstand heavy sprays of water).

At first glance, the Elite 75t, which was originally supposed to cost $200 but now sells for $180 (£170 and AU$299), seems more like an evolutionary upgrade from the highly rated Elite 65t. But the updates turn out to be a little more substantial than I first thought. The Elite 75t's smaller size (the pair of earbuds and case are 20% smaller than the Elite 65t's), its boosted battery life and USB-C charging are significant upgrades. And then there are the smaller changes, like the new charging case design with magnets inside it that make it easier to open and close and to keep the buds inside. While the Elite 75t isn't quite as comfortable to wear as the AirPods Pro and doesn't have active noise canceling, it does sound better, with clearer overall sound and better bass definition, so long as you get a tight seal. Just note that the Jabra Elite Active 75t arrives in February, adding slightly better water resistance for $20 more. Read our Jabra Elite 75t review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX5 rating -- can withstand heavy sprays of water).

If you can't afford the AirPods Pro, the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 is a good alternative and a top model for making calls. Like the AirPods Pro, they do a remarkably good job of muffling ambient noise (callers said they could hear me fine even with a lot of street noise around me). While they don't have active noise canceling, they sound nearly as good, have a comfortable fit and their noise-isolating design passively seals out a lot of ambient noise and white noise. They only cost $100. Read our Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantNo (lacks IPX certification).

Thanks to the WF-1000XM3, Sony has finally become a player in the true wireless (AirPod-style) headphone arena. While this pair of headphones isn't cheap, as far as sound quality, they're the best wireless earbuds at this price, matching and perhaps even exceeding the quality and performance of pricier competitors from SennheiserBeatsMaster & Dynamic and Bang & Olufsen. It also has a feature that those wireless earbuds don't have: active noise-cancellation technology to reduce ambient noise.

It's not stellar for making calls (their noise-reduction capabilities should be better) and the earbuds aren't rated as sweatproof or waterproof. That said, I've used them for light workouts with a bit of a sweat at the gym without a problem. They use Bluetooth 5.0 with support for AAC but not aptX. Read our Sony WF-1000XM3 review.

Now playing: Watch this: The best true wireless earbuds available now
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Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX7 rating -- fully waterproof).

What's most impressive about the EarFun Free is the features: Bluetooth 5.0, both USB-C and wireless charging, and full waterproofing (IPX7), according to their specs. Do they sound fantastic? No, but these Bluetooth headphones sound pretty good. They don't have the clarity of higher-end true wireless earbuds that cost $150 or more, but they do have plump bass and enough detail to avoid sounding dull. They're also pretty solid for making calls. An excellent value at less than $50. Read our EarFun Free review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

V-Moda's M-200 ($350) is a wired-only headphone and currently the only wired headphone on this list. Released in late 2019, these clean and detailed sounding over-ear headphones have excellent bass response, and the cushy ear cups mean they're also comfortable to wear. Featuring 50mm drivers with neodymium magnets, CCAW voice coils and fine-tuning by Roland engineers -- yes, V-Moda is now owned by Roland -- the M‑200 is Hi‑Res Audio certified by the Japan Audio Society (JAS). Other V-Moda headphones tend to push the bass a little, but this has the more neutral profile that you'd expect from a studio monitor headphone. It comes with two cords, one of which has a built-in microphone for making calls. It would be nice if V-Moda offered Lightning or USB-C headphone cables for smartphone users.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I'm not a fan of cheap noise-canceling headphones. I've actually been struggling to put together a list of models for a best noise-canceling headphones roundup because there are so few that I'd recommend buying. But Anker's Soundcore Life Q20 Hybrid Active Noise Cancelling Headphones are an exception. They're quite decent for their regular list price of $60 and they're frequently on sale for $10 less.

No, the Life Q20 doesn't sound as good as premium models such as the Sony WH-1000XM3, but it sounds pretty good, which is all you can ask for at this price. It's fairly well balanced with a reasonable amount of clarity and plump bass that's not bloated or muddy (there's a bass boost or BassUp mode if you want an extra helping of bass). It's also comfortable to wear, the noise-canceling is acceptably effective, it's solid as a headset for making calls and battery life is good at 40 hours. A simple carrying pouch is included.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating -- splashproof).

Anker is known more for its value headphones, but it's trying to step into more premium territory with its Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro earbuds, which carry a list price of $150. From a design standpoint, they share some similarities with Sony's WF-1000XM3, although this model doesn't have active noise cancellation. Anker says they have large 11mm drivers combined with Knowles Balanced Armature, with up to eight hours of battery life on a single charge (32 total hours of playtime with the case) and noise-cancellation microphones to help reduce ambient sound so callers can hear you better. They charge via USB-C and also support wireless charging.

They don't sound quite as good as the Sony WF-1000XM3, but they certainly sound like premium true wireless earphones, with rich sound that includes powerful bass performance and lots of detail. Some people may have some quibbles over the fit -- I had to supply my own XL tips to get a tight seal and found the Anker's Soundcore Liberty Air 2 a little more comfortable -- but the Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro are a good value. Whether you want to use them as travel headphones or workout headphones, they'll do the job. They also work very well for making calls (they do a good job reducing background sound).

They use Bluetooth 5.0 with support for AAC and aptX.

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