Here at CNET we have a lot of best headphones and earbuds lists -- not surprising considering just how many headphones and earbuds are out there right now. Some of those lists includeand , , , and many more. But this list takes the best headphones and earbuds from several categories, including wired headphones geared toward audiophiles, and distills it into a top overall headphones list.
While many of the headphones and earbuds on the list are premium models that cost a lot of money, we also like to highlight headphones that are a good value. We don't like to call them cheap headphones because "cheap" can have a negative connotation, but some of the top headphones on this list are relatively inexpensive and deliver excellent quality for what they cost. As new top headphones are released in the weeks and months to come, we'll update this list.
When you have a product that a lot of people love, change can be risky. Such is the case for Sony's WH-1000XM5, the fifth generation of the 1000X series headphones, which were first released in 2016 as the MDR-1000X Wireless and have become increasingly popular as they've improved with each generation. Over the years, Sony has made some tweaks to the design, but nothing as dramatic as what it's done with the WH-1000XM5. Other than the higher $400 price tag ($50 more than the WH-1000XM4), most of those changes are good, and Sony's made some dramatic improvements with voice-calling performance as well as even better noise canceling and more refined sound.
Featuring excellent sound, improved noise canceling and voice-calling performance as well a smaller, more refined design that includes stabilizing fins (so the earbuds stay in your ears more securely), the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 are among the best new true-wireless earbuds for 2022. They're also one of the best true-wireless earbuds overall, giving the Sony WF-1000XM4 a run for the money.
The Earfun Air Pro 2 not only features solid active noise cancellation but their sound is also impressive for their relatively modest price, with overall well-balanced sound, decent clarity and solid bass performance. Some of Earfun's buds have had a bit too much treble push -- sometimes referred to as "presence boost" -- but these mostly manage to avoid that. They do sound better than the original Air Pro.
The earbuds have some extra features, like an ear-detection sensor (your music pauses when you take the buds out of your ears) and a case that has USB-C and wireless charging, that you don't often find at this price. Equipped with Bluetooth 5.2, they're splash-proof with an IPX5 rating and offer up to seven hours of battery life on a single charge at moderate volume levels, though you'll probably get closer to six hours with noise canceling on.
There's also a transparency mode that lets ambient sound in. It actually sounds pretty natural and is closer than I thought it would to the AirPods Pro's excellent transparency mode. Alas, there's no companion app that allows you to tweak the sound or upgrade the firmware.
Earfun talks up the Air Pro 2's voice calling capabilities -- the buds have three microphones in each earbud -- and I thought call performance was good but these didn't reduce background noise as much the new Soundpeats T3, which are also good for the money ($40). However, while the Soundpeats T3 are better for calls, the Earfun Air Pro 2's noise-canceling and transparency modes are superior and the Soundpeats don't have the ear-detection sensor. Active noise cancellation is the name of the game with these earbuds. Also, the Earfun Air Pro 2 buds sound better, with richer, more dynamic sound.
Hot on the heels of the third-generation AirPods, Apple has another new set of earbuds, this time from its subsidiary audio company, Beats. Technically, the new Beats Fit Pro ($200) aren't AirPods, but they're built on the same tech platform as the AirPods Pro. Unlike Beats' earlier and less expensive Studio Buds, the Beats Fit Pro include Apple's H1 chip and have most of the AirPods Pro's features, including active noise canceling, spatial audio, Adaptive EQ and IPX4 water-resistance (splash-proof). I'd venture to call them the sports AirPods you've always wanted. And for some people, they might just be better than the AirPods Pro. Read our Beats Fit Pro review.
Unlike the "open" LinkBuds, the LinkBuds S are traditional noise-isolating earbuds with tips you jam in your ears. They're more compact and lighter than Sony's flagship WF-1000M4 and also feature Sony's V1 processor. While their sound and noise canceling don't quite measure up to the WF-1000XM4's, they're close and cost less. They're the Sony buds for people who can deal with larger buds like WF-1000XM4 but want 80 to 85% of those buds' features and performance for $80 less.
No earbuds are perfect, of course, and not everybody will love the fit of the Sony WF-1000XM4 buds or be able to afford their high price. But if you're looking for great-sounding earbuds with great noise canceling, solid voice-calling capabilities and good battery life, these buds check all the boxes. Read our Sony WF-1000XM4 review.
The Bose QuietComfort 45 essentially looks the same as its popular predecessor, the QuietComfort 35 II, with the biggest design difference being a USB-C port in place of the older Micro-USB. (At 238 grams, the QC45 weighs just 3 grams more than the QC35, which should be imperceptible.) And while the Bose 700 have plenty of fans, a lot of people (including me) think this QuietComfort design is slightly more comfortable and the headphones fold up and fold flat. It's arguably the most comfortable pair of headphones out there.
They also sound very similar to the QC 35 II, with no change to the drivers. Where you'll see an improvement is with the noise cancellation (there's a transparency mode), which very well could be the best out right now. According to Bose, there's a new electronics package that powers the new ANC system, which now better muffles "unwanted sounds in the midrange frequencies" (voices) that you'd "typically find on commuter trains, busy office spaces and cafes."
I found that to be true and give these the slight edge over both the Headphones 700 and Sony WH-1000XM4 for noise canceling. That said, you can't adjust the level of noise canceling like you can with those models, which offer a more robust feature set, particularly the Sony. You also can't tweak the sound in the app; there's no equalizer settings.
The headset performance has also improved, with better noise reduction during calls. And these offer multipoint Bluetooth pairing. That means you can pair the QC45 with two devices simultaneously -- such as a smartphone and PC -- and switch audio as needed. They're equipped with Bluetooth 5.1 and support the widely compatible AAC audio codec but not AptX.
While these have advantages over the Headphones 700 and Sony WH-1000XM4 and do sound quite good, those models sound slightly better: The 700 is slightly more natural sounding and tuned more for audiophiles, while the Sony has more dynamic bass. So that makes choosing between these three models that much more difficult. Read our Bose QuietComfort 45 review.
Sony has released its new WH-1000XM5 but the WH-1000XM4 remains on sale. While I prefer the WH-1000XM5 -- it's a little more comfortable, has improved noise canceling, more refined sound and significantly better voice-calling performance -- the WH-1000XM4 is still a great headphone and some people may prefer its slightly more energetic sound and how it folds up into a smaller case than that of the WH-1000M5. It also costs less and we should see some nice discounts on it going forward.
After a few years of development, Bowers & Wilkins released a couple of sets of true wireless earbuds in 2021: the PI7 ($399) and PI5 ($249). Both are excellent and feature active noise canceling along with a transparency mode. The flagship PI7 has a different driver design and sounds slightly more detailed and refined with a little more bass energy. They both sound excellent, but if you're looking for the absolute best sounding set of earbuds, the PI7 are arguably just that, besting the Sony WF-1000XM4 by a small margin. (They also sound a tad better than the excellent Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 and Master & Dynamic MW08.)
While the PI7's noise canceling is quite decent, the Sony's noise canceling is superior. I also thought the Sony did better with voice calling (it has better noise reduction so people can hear you better in a noisier environments) and it has better battery life.
The PI7's case does transform into a Bluetooth transceiver, so you can plug it into your laptop for aptX streaming or an in-flight entertainment system. That's a nice bonus feature (the PI5 don't have it), but the Sony is the overall better value. However, if sound quality is your priority, the PI7 are worth considering if you can afford them. Hopefully they come down in price over time.
The PI5 buds also sound excellent and are a touch lighter than the PI7. At $250, the PI5 competes directly with the $280 Sony 1000XM4. As with all in-ear headphones, you have to try them to see how they fit your ears. Bowers & Wilkins' buds may fit your ears better than Sony's and vice versa. Read our Bowers & Wilkins PI7 first take.
Edifier makes some nice headphones and earbuds that offer good quality for your dollar. And while its Stax Spirit S3 is pretty pricey at $400, it's essentially a value version of a high-end audiophile headphone. It features planar-magnetic drivers (with Audeze components) that deliver clean, clear, distortion-free sound. Though these aren't noise-canceling headphones, they are wireless and are certified as hi-res. You can also use them as wired headphones, though you may want to pair them with a headphone amp in wired mode.
I found them comfortable to wear, and they're relatively compact and reasonably weighted (329 grams) for planar magnetic headphones. Battery life is excellent at up to 80 hours of listening time at moderate volume levels, and these do have multipoint Bluetooth pairing so you can simultaneously connect them to two devices (such as a smartphone and a computer). They're also decent for making calls and come with an additional set of "cooling-mesh" ear pads for outdoor use in warmer environments.
These are built on Qualcomm's Snapdragon audio platform and support its aptX Adaptive audio codec (along with SBC but alas, not AAC), which is capable of delivering near lossless audio if you stream from an aptX-compatible Android device or dedicated music player and subscribe to a music service such as Qobuz or Tidal that offers high-resolution tracks. Certain smartphones are now certified for Snapdragon Audio, which simply means you're getting the best end-to-end Qualcomm solution for wireless Bluetooth streaming. I tested these headphones with the Motorola Edge Plus 2022 smartphone, which features Snapdragon Audio. How much of a difference it made is debatable, but overall I was impressed with the sound, though sound does vary with the recording quality of certain tracks (the headphones are revealing, sometimes too much so).
Planar magnetic headphones are known for delivering detailed sound with well-defined bass and clear, natural-sounding mids (where voices live). These have a balanced, flatter sound profile and while the bass is punchy and ample, it's not quite as meaty as what you get with some headphones like Apple's AirPods Max or Sony's WH-1000XM5. But they sound really good. And while they're missing some features, like ear-detection sensors that automatically pause your music when you take the headphones off, and a customizable EQ (you only get a few presets along with a low-latency gaming mode), you're ultimately buying these for their audio quality.
Apple AirPods Pro
While they've been out a while and the AirPods Pro 2 should be coming sometime in 2022, the Apple AirPods Pro remain a great pair of true wireless earphones. That's largely due to their winning design and fit, good sound, effective noise canceling and spatial audio, a virtual-sound mode for watching movies and TV shows (only works with iPhones and iPads running iOS 14 or higher and the 2021 Apple TV 4K). They're also excellent for making voice calls and have a top-notch transparency mode. Also worth noting: They are IPX4 splashproof so they're suitable for sporting activities (for a more secure fit you may want to invest in third-party foam ear tips, which are grippier than the tips Apple includes).
Yes, they're expensive at $250 from the Apple Store, but they tend to sell for $200 or less. The updated version adds MagSafe compatibility, so these stick to magnetic wireless chargers.
Over the years, JBL has put out some decent true-wireless earbuds, but nothing that really got me too excited. That's finally changed with the arrival of the Samsung-owned brand's new Live Pro 2 and Live Free 2 buds. Both sets of buds -- the Live Pro 2 have stems while the Live Free 2 have a pill-shaped design -- offer a comfortable fit along with strong noise canceling, very good sound quality and voice-calling performance, plus a robust set of features, including multipoint Bluetooth pairing, an IPX5 splash-proof rating and wireless charging.
The Live Pro 2 and Live Free 2 are equipped with the same 11mm drivers, six microphones, oval tubes and oval silicon tips. Aside from the design, the biggest difference between the two buds is battery life; the stemless Live Free 2 is rated for up to seven hours, while the Live Pro 2 is rated for 10 hours. The Live Pro 2 is available in four color options.
Samsung-owned JBL has a couple of new sets of earbuds, the Live Pro 2 and Live Free 2 that are surprisingly good. Both are equipped with the same 11mm drivers, six microphones, oval tubes and oval silicon tips. And they also combine a comfortable fit along with strong noise canceling, very good sound quality and voice-calling performance, plus a robust feature set, including multipoint Bluetooth pairing, an IPX5 splash-proof rating and wireless charging.
Aside from the design -- The Live Pro 2 has stems while the Live Free 2 is pill-shaped -- the biggest difference between the two buds is battery life. The stemless Live Free 2 are rated for up to seven hours, while the Live Pro 2 are rated for 10 hours.
The Live Free 2 fit securely in my ears and are smaller and superior to Samsung's Galaxy Buds Pro, particularly in terms of comfort level. The buds are available in three color options.
Coming in at 16% smaller than the Elite 75t, the Elite 7 Pro are Jabra's top-of-the-line earbuds in its new range and include the company's new MultiSensor Voice technology with a bone-conduction sensor, four microphones and intelligent algorithms to deliver new "ground-breaking call quality," Jabra says. The voice calling performance doesn't quite live up to the hype, but Jabra has updated the buds' firmware, adding multipoint Bluetooth pairing and slightly improving sound quality, noise canceling and headset performance. It took a while but they're now excellent all-around buds.
These have adjustable active noise cancellation, Jabra's HearThrough transparency mode and Bluetooth 5.2. They offer up to nine hours' play time at moderate volume levels with noise canceling on, and nearly three additional charges in the charging case -- total battery life is rated at 35 hours. The charging case has wireless charging capabilities.
The earbuds' IP57 rating means they are dust-resistant and fully waterproof (they can be submerged in up to 1 meter of water). For those who like to use only a single bud, you can also use either one independently in a mono mode.
We were fans of Beyerdynamic's earlier DT 770 Pro headphones. The new DT 700 X is easier to drive than the 770 Pro, thanks to the company's new STELLAR.45 sound transducer with an impedance of 48 ohms, so it plays better with smartphones, tablets and laptops without requiring a headphone amp.
The headphone is targeted at content creators who want accurate audio reproduction, but it's a bit more dynamic sounding and less bass shy than many studio headphones, which tend to restrain the bass and hew toward a very neutral sound profile. The DT 700 X is a revealing, clean-sounding headphone that offers invitingly open sound (particularly for a closed-back headphone) and makes you realize what you're missing after listening to similarly priced Bluetooth headphones.
Unlike the earlier DT 770 Pro, which is being sold at a nice discount (around $160), the DT 700 X comes with two interchangeable (detachable) straight cables in different lengths, and the DT 700 X arguably has a little cleaner look than its predecessor.
The solidly built headphone -- it weighs 350 grams -- is quite comfortable, featuring upgraded soft, velour-covered memory foam earpads that offer decent passive noise isolation. The earpads and the headphones' other parts are replaceable, Beyerdynamic says.
Beyerdynamic also sells the open-back DT 900 X for the same price. That model should provide slightly more open, airy sound but the big drawback is people around you can hear whatever you're listening to -- and sound also leaks in. This closed-back version is more versatile.
Take one look at the new design of the third-gen AirPods ($179), and the first thing you'll probably think is: "Those look like the AirPods Pro without ear tips." You wouldn't be wrong. While they're more fraternal than identical twins, the AirPods 3 are shaped like the AirPods Pro, with the same shorter stems and same pinch controls as those of the Pro. Aside from the design change, which should fit most ears better than the AirPods 2nd Generation (though not very small ears), the biggest change is to the sound quality: It's much improved. Also, battery life is better, and the AirPods 3 are officially water-resistant.
Yes, they're expensive, but the AirPods Max deliver richer, more detailed sound than lower-priced competitors from Bose and Sony. They also feature arguably the best noise canceling on the market along with premium build quality and Apple's virtual surround spatial audio feature for video watching. While they're heavy, they manage to be surprisingly comfortable, though I did have to adjust the mesh canopy headband to sit a little more forward on my head to get a comfortable secure fit when I was out walking with them. They should fit most heads well, but there will be exceptions.
Anker makes several earbuds that cost less than $100. But its Soundcore Liberty Pro is its "high-end" model that features premium sound, as well as support for Sony's LDAC audio codec with compatible devices (mostly Android phones).
Available in four color options, the third-gen Liberty 3 Pro have updated dual drivers and are about 30% smaller than their predecessor. They fit my ears significantly better than the Liberty 2 Pro buds, which I didn't love as much as some people. This new version is improved and a good value compared to other so-called premium buds.
The Liberty 3 Pro delivers a solid noise-canceling experience (they also have three different transparency modes) and feature Anker's HearID ANC that "analyzes your ears and level of in-ear pressure to create a tailored profile that optimizes noise reduction and reduces external sound to suit your ears."
The earbuds also perform well -- though not exceptionally -- as a headset for making calls. They're IPX4 splash-proof and deliver up to 6 hours of battery life with noise canceling on and up to 8 hours with it off. The case charges wirelessly, and I liked how the tips of the buds are illuminated by a pair of LEDs on the inside of the case when the buds are charging.
Unlike with the Liberty Air 2 Pro, I had no problem getting a tight seal with the included ear tips, and I found the sound to be on par with other premium earbuds that cost more. They have big, open sound with lots of energy in the bass and good detail. While they have a list price of $170, they're sporadically on sale for $20 less. If you're not quite willing to step up to the Sony WF-1000XM4 or other high-end models, the Liberty 3 Pros are worth considering.
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2
Available in four color options, the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 noise-canceling headphones hew more closely to the newer Galaxy Buds Pro and Galaxy Buds Live, both of which have eye-catching glossy curved designs and the same compact charging case as this new model. In fact, it's the Buds 2's design and fit -- they're 15% smaller and 20% lighter than the Buds Plus -- that make them a potentially more likable alternative to the slightly better-sounding Buds Pro.
Like the Buds Pro, the Buds 2 are equipped with active noise-isolating earbuds. That means all the latest Galaxy Buds models now feature some form of active noise canceling, though it's slight with the Buds Live, which have an open design sans ear tips. While the Buds 2 look more like shrunken versions of the Buds Pro, I found them more akin to the Buds Live in that they barely stick out of your ears and are fairly discreet. Because they sit more flush with your ears -- and have that curved design -- they also pick up less wind noise. They're IPX2 sweat-resistant. Read our Galaxy Buds 2 review.
Grado has upgraded its entry-level line of Prestige Series wired headphones for 2021. Hand-built, the line includes the SR60x, SR80x, SR125x, SR225x and SR325x, and they're all very good at their various prices. Arguably, however, the $225 SR225x hits the sweet spot if you're looking for open-back audiophile-grade headphones that won't cost you an arm and a leg.
This updated model features a more durable eight-conductor cable infused with "super annealed" copper for "improved purity of the audio signal," a more comfortable headband design and updated fourth-generation 44mm drivers that further cut down on distortion and are also more energy-efficient, making them easier to drive. I not only used them with an external headphone amplifier attached to my computer but with an iPhone using a Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter. They had plenty of volume when connected directly to the iPhone.
Open-back headphones are supposed to produce more open sound and these do just that with powerful, controlled bass and natural, warm-sounding mids (where vocals live) along with excellent overall clarity. Stepping up to the SRS325x should give you a little bit more bass energy, but you're not looking at a big jump in sound quality. As with any open-back headphones, these do leak some sound, so people around you can hear what you're listening to.
These headphones have semisoft foam earpads that, when you first put them on, you wouldn't think are that comfortable over longer listening sessions. But they end up being more comfortable than you'd expect and the new headband design does help in that department. For entry-level audiophile-grade headphones that cost less than $250, it's hard to do better than the SR225x.
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 have been out a while but are still one of the best over-ear noise canceling headphones, with excellent sound, noise cancellation and top-notch headset performance for voice calls. Bose's newer QuietComfort 45 headphones probably have the slight edge in terms of comfort and offer a tad better noise canceling, but the Headphones 700 arguably sound a little better with slightly more refined sound.
As far as sound, comfort level and build quality, you'd be hard-pressed to do better than Anker's Soundcore Life Q30 for the money. It doesn't quite have the clarity or bass definition as some of the top premium models, but it's less than a third of the price and gets you about 75% of the way there in terms of sound (it's well balanced overall with punchy bass and there's an app that allows you to tweak the sound). Noise canceling is good for the price, though not up to the level of the Sony WH-1000XM4 or Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. Battery life is rated at an impressive 40 hours with USB-C charging.
The only area where the Q30 falls a little short is for voice calls. It picks up your voice fine in quieter environments, but it just doesn't reduce background noise all that well.
Compared to the Q20 (see below), the Q30 does offer improved sound (it's not a huge difference, but it definitely is a notch up) and a more premium design. It's currently listed at $80 on Amazon, but you can bring the price down to $60 with a $20 coupon at checkout.
V-Moda's M-200 are currently only one of three wired headphones on this list. Released in late 2019, these clean and detailed sounding over-ear headphones have excellent bass response, and the cushy ear cushion 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. Other V-Moda headphones tend to push the bass a little, but this set has the more neutral profile that you'd expect from studio monitor headphones. 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 cables for phones without headphone jacks.
Note that in 2021, V-Moda released the M-200 ANC ($500), a wireless version of these headphones that includes active noise canceling. It also sounds great but its noise canceling, call quality and overall feature set don't match those of the AirPods Max.
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