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Article updated on June 4, 2024 at 7:30 AM PDT

Best Headphones for 2024

Here are the best headphones you can get right now, based on CNET's extensive hands-on testing.

Our Experts

Written by 
David Carnoy
Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement
David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Kobo e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Headphones, Bluetooth speakers, mobile accessories, Apple, Sony, Bose, e-readers, Amazon, glasses, ski gear, iPhone cases, gaming accessories, sports tech, portable audio, interviews, audiophile gear, PC speakers Credentials
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What to consider

Budget

Comfort

Durability

Features

Return policy

Our Picks

$379 at Bose
Image of Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones
Best Bose noise-canceling headphones
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones
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$330 at Best Buy
A pair of white Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones against a blue background
Best noise-canceling headphones from Sony
Sony WH-1000XM5
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$190 at Best Buy
Image of Apple AirPods Pro 2 (USB-C)
Best Apple noise-canceling wireless earbuds
Apple AirPods Pro 2 (USB-C)
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$222 at Walmart
Image of Sony WF-1000XM5
Best Sony earbuds
Sony WF-1000XM5
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$299 at Bose
Image of Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds
Best for noise-canceling
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds
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$56 at Amazon
Image of Earfun Air Pro 3
Top budget noise-canceling wireless earbuds
Earfun Air Pro 3
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$98 at Amazon
The Sony CH-720N has improved sound and noise canceling performance
Top value Sony midrange noise-canceling headphones
Sony CH-720N
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$80 at Amazon
Image of Edifier W820NB Plus
Good sound for under $70
Edifier W820NB Plus
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$180 at Walmart
Image of Beats Studio Pro
Best Beats over-ear headphones
Beats Studio Pro
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$285 at Walmart
Image of Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless
Best Sennheiser noise-canceling headphones
Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless
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$349 at Bose
Image of Bose QuietComfort Headphones
Slightly upgraded Bose noise-canceling headphones
Bose QuietComfort Headphones
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$549 at Apple
apple airpods max
Best Apple noise-canceling headphones
Apple AirPods Max
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$297 at Amazon
Image of Technics EAH-AZ80
Best Technics wireless earbuds
Technics EAH-AZ80
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$160 at Walmart
Beats Fit Pro
Best wireless earbuds for sports
Beats Fit Pro
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$170 at Amazon
Image of Beats Studio Buds Plus
Top wireless earbuds from Beats
Beats Studio Buds Plus
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$170 at Samsung
Image of Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro
Best Samsung wireless earbuds
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro
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$198 at Walmart
Image of Sony LinkBuds S
Best Sony compact mid-range wireless
Sony LinkBuds S
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$599 at Master & Dynamic
Image of Master & Dynamic MW75
Best-sounding premium noise-canceling headphones
Master & Dynamic MW75
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$349 at Master & Dynamic
Image of Master & Dynamic MW09
Great-sounding wireless earbuds
Master & Dynamic MW09
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$386 at Amazon
Image of Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2e
Evolved Bowers & Wilkins noise-canceling headphones
Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2e
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$250 at Walmart
Image of Jabra Elite 10
Best semi-open earbuds
Jabra Elite 10
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$699 at Amazon
Image of Bowers & Wilkins PX8
Best design with fantastic sound
Bowers & Wilkins PX8
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$179 at Walmart
Image of Google Pixel Buds Pro
Best wireless earbuds for Android users
Google Pixel Buds Pro
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$700 at Crutchfield
Image of Focal Bathys
Best-sounding wireless noise-canceling headphones
Focal Bathys
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$159 at Walmart
Beyerdynamic DT 700 Pro X
Best wired studio headphones
Beyerdynamic DT 700 Pro X
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$147 at Amazon
AirPods 3rd Generation
Best open earbuds
Apple AirPods 3
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$999 at Amazon
Image of Beyerdynamic Xelento Wireless (2nd Generation)
Best-sounding wireless earbuds
Beyerdynamic Xelento Wireless (2nd Generation)
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$349 at Crutchfield
Image of Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2
Best Shure noise-canceling headphones
Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2
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What are the best headphones right now?

From in-ear buds to over-ear headphones, there are so many options for headphones that offer great sound quality and other benefits. With all the choices out there it's hard to choose just one set of headphones to call the best overall pair of headphones. The Sony WH-1000XM5Sony WF-1000XM5Apple AirPods Pro 2, Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds and Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones definitely have standout features worth looking into.

Over the last 20 years, I've reviewed hundreds of headphones and earbuds. I've fully reviewed or had hands-on listening time with all headphones and earbuds on this list. Although we have options at several different price points, we tend to highlight more affordable headphones or at least models that cost $500 or less. If you're looking for the best sound and have the budget for it, you can go for options like the Focal Bathys, Bowers & Wilkins PX8 and Beyerdynamic Xelento Wireless (2nd generation), which deliver outstanding sound quality.

Best headphones for 2024 

$379 at Bose

Best Bose noise-canceling headphones

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones

While Bose's new flagship QuietComfort Ultra Headphones may not be a huge upgrade over the company's Noise Cancelling 700 headphones, they feature a more premium design along with Bose's new Immersive Audio feature, which delivers some sound-quality enhancements. Along with excellent sound and great noise canceling, the QC Ultra Headphones are also superb for making calls, with top-notch background noise reduction. All that adds up to a worthy adversary to Sony's highly rated WH-1000XM5 and Apple's AirPods Max.

$330 at Best Buy

Best noise-canceling headphones from Sony

Sony WH-1000XM5

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 $330 price tag ($80 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.

$190 at Best Buy

Best Apple noise-canceling wireless earbuds

Apple AirPods Pro 2 (USB-C)

Apple not only swapped in USB-C for Lightning connectivity in its new iPhone 15 models, but it made the switch with the AirPods Pro (2nd generation). The new AirPods Pro 2 with MagSafe (USB-C) are nearly identical to their Lightning predecessor, delivering the same excellent sound, noise canceling and voice-calling performance. That said, they offer some other small upgrades, including additional dust resistance and a new acoustic architecture that allows for Lossless Audio with the Vision Pro, Apple's upcoming wearable headset that is coming in February 2024 and costs $3,499. Is it possible that new acoustic architecture makes the buds sound subtly different from current devices like the iPhone? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, the AirPods Pro 2 (USB-C) are easy to recommend to Apple users despite their high price. Pro tip: Don't pay more than $190 for these, which is the online sale price at which they're now frequently available.

$222 at Walmart

Best Sony earbuds

Sony WF-1000XM5

When Sony's WF-1000XM4 earbuds came out in 2021, we awarded them a CNET Editors' Choice. And while they're excellent, we had some quibbles -- they're on the large side and aren't a good match for certain ears. Clearly, Sony took those gripes to heart when it set out to design its next-generation WF-1000XM5 flagship noise-canceling earbuds. Not only are the XM5s smaller, but they also offer improved performance pretty much across the board, with better noise-canceling, sound and voice calling. Are the XM5s perfect? Not quite. At $278 -- $20 more than their predecessor -- they're costly, too. Overall, they're really impressive; they are easily among the very top earbuds on the market.

$348 at Bose

Best for noise-canceling

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds

While the QC Ultra Earbuds aren't a major upgrade over Bose's excellent QC Earbuds 2 that were released in 2022, they're definitely a little better. They should fit most ears very well, and they feature superb noise canceling, arguably the best out there. A natural-sounding transparency mode with a new ActiveSense feature kicks in some ANC should the sound get too loud around you (it's sort of similar to the AirPods Pro's Adaptive Audio feature). They also sound slightly better overall, with a touch more clarity, and their new Immersive Audio feature opens up the sound a bit.

$56 at Amazon

Top budget noise-canceling wireless earbuds

Earfun Air Pro 3

Earfun has put out a series of wireless earbuds over the last couple of years with one important commonality: They're very good values, made more so by frequent discounts. The company's new Earfun Air Pro 3 earbuds feature the latest Qualcomm QCC3071 system-on-a-chip with AptX Adaptive for Android and other devices that support the new LE Audio standard and LC3 audio codec, which is superior to the SBC codec (they also support AAC for Apple devices).

Lightweight and comfortable to wear -- I got a good seal with the largest ear tip size -- these aren't a huge upgrade over the Earfun Air S, but they are better. They have slightly larger wool-composite drivers (11mm versus 10mm), slightly improved noise canceling and better battery life (up to seven hours with noise canceling on, according to Earfun).

In short, the Earfun Air 3 delivers strong performance for its modest price, with robust bass, good clarity and a relatively wide soundstage. They also pack in a lot of features, including a wireless charging case and "multidevice" connectivity. (I could pair them to two devices simultaneously, but had to pause the music on one device and hit play on the other for the audio to switch.) They're IPX5 splash-proof and also work well (although not exceptionally well) as a headset for making calls. 

$98 at Amazon

Top value Sony midrange noise-canceling headphones

Sony CH-720N

Sony's improved entry-level noise-canceling headphones, the CH-720Ns, have a bit of a plasticky budget vibe, but they're lightweight and very comfortable. Part of me was expecting them to sound pretty mediocre, but I was pleasantly surprised. No, they don't sound as good as the WH-1000XM5s. They sound more premium than they look (and feel), and their overall performance is a step up from their predecessor, the CH-710Ns. Are they worth $150? Perhaps for some people, yes. The good news is that, like the CH-710N and WH-XB910 before them, these should see significant discounts in the not-so-distant future, which is what you may want to wait for.

$80 at Amazon

Good sound for under $70

Edifier W820NB Plus

Edifier makes some good-sounding PC speakers and true-wireless earbuds and it's done a nice job with its W820NB noise-canceling headphones, now on their second-gen version, the Edifier W820NB Plus.

The first thing you'll notice about them when you put them on is that they're comfortable. Edifier has upgraded the ear pads with higher-grade memory foam, and the headphones fit snugly on your head. They also sound pretty good for their price, offering slightly improved audio quality from the originals, thanks to what appear to be upgraded drivers (also, they now support the LDAC audio codec for Android devices). You get a bit more clarity and a slightly better bass definition. Their sound didn't necessarily blow me away -- they lack a bit of openness -- but it's very good for what the headphones cost. Like their predecessor, they're pleasant-sounding headphones (even a bit more so now). 

Other features include an ambient mode that lets outside sound in and a low-latency gaming mode. The noise canceling has been upgraded slightly, and they're decent for voice calling. Battery life is pretty impressive, with up to 49 hours of battery life on a single charge at moderate volume levels (and noise canceling off). 

A couple of things are still missing: There's no carrying case or headphone jack, although it can connect them to your computer with the included USB-C to USB-A cable. The 820NB Plus headphones are still a good value.

$180 at Walmart

Best Beats over-ear headphones

Beats Studio Pro

Love 'em or hate 'em, Beats Studio headphones are among the most popular headphones of all time, launching as wired headphones back in 2008. This is the fourth generation of them -- they carry the same list price as their predecessor and look very similar on the outside but have some big changes on the inside that make them significantly better headphones. I'm tempted to describe them as more affordable plastic versions of the AirPods Max. That's not quite accurate, due to a choice in chipsets and one notable missing feature. Read our full review to find out what makes these very good headphones, albeit with some caveats.

$285 at Walmart

Best Sennheiser noise-canceling headphones

Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless

Sennheiser's previous-generation Momentum Wireless headphones have always had a pretty distinct look that was part retro, part modern, and stood out for the exposed metal on their headband. For better or worse, that's all gone now, and the new Momentum 4 Wireless, Sennheiser's flagship noise-canceling headphones, look a bit more subdued and also a bit more like some of their competitors.

The Momentum 4 Wireless offers superior performance over the Momentum 3 Wireless in every regard, though the biggest gains are with noise canceling and voice-calling performance as well as battery life, which is outstanding -- up to 60 hours at moderate volume levels. There's also a transparency mode that allows ambient sound in, as well as the ability to create a custom sound profile in the Smart Control app for iOS and Android using the built-in EQ, sound modes and a new Sound Personalization feature that "assesses the user's listening preferences and adjusts the listening experience according to their taste." 

Equipped with 42mm drivers, Sennheiser says the Momentum 4 Wireless offers "best-in-class" sound, which is debatable. I'd say the Momentum 4's sound quality is right there with other models in this price range -- they sound excellent, with the requisite well-defined, punchy bass, relatively wide soundstage (they sound pretty open) and smooth treble that brings out some of the finer details in well-recorded tracks. They're a pleasure to listen to.

$398 at Bose

Slightly upgraded Bose noise-canceling headphones

Bose QuietComfort Headphones

When Bose released its new flagship QuietComfort Ultra Headphones, it also replaced the QuietComfort 45s with a new, slightly updated model simply called the QuietComfort Headphones. Like the QC 45s, this model carries on the very comfortable tried-and-true legacy QuietComfort design that's been around for a few generations and that a lot of people continue to love. The QC Ultra Headphones add Bose's new Immersive Audio feature and have a more refined design with some metal parts (they also have Bluetooth 5.3 instead of Bluetooth 5.1). The QuietComfort Headphones still feature very good sound (the Ultras offer a small step up in sound quality), excellent noise canceling, and strong voice-calling performance.

As for differences between these and the QC45s, Bose says it adjusted some of the electronics to improve battery life (now 24 hours vs. 22 hours) and adjusted the logos to make the products "visually distinguishable and more in line with its latest design language." It also added an inline microphone to the auxiliary cable to "help with some users who may prefer a plug-and-play solution rather than Bluetooth pairing." There's also a Wind Block feature and some additional small performance improvements due to software upgrades. Finally, the headphones come in new color options, including green and a light blue version that's only available at bose.com.

While the QuietComfort Headphones carry a $350 list price that's $50 higher than that of the QC 45s, we expect them to be regularly discounted to $250 and possibly less than over the course of the year -- so look to buy them when they're on sale. You can read our review of the QuietComfort 45 to get a good take on the QuietComfort Headphones.

$549 at Apple

Best Apple noise-canceling headphones

Apple AirPods Max

Yes, they're expensive, but the AirPods Max delivers 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, although 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.

$297 at Amazon

Best Technics wireless earbuds

Technics EAH-AZ80

You should expect a lot from earbuds that cost $298. That's still a lot to pay for headphones, even if plenty of people seem to be willing to pay upward of $450 for the likes of Apple's AirPods Max headphones. Overall, Panasonic has done a nice job of creating an all-around top-performing set of buds that offer an improved fit with terrific sound, very good noise canceling and a robust feature set.

Voice-calling capabilities are decent but don't quite live up to their billing (yet). Hopefully, we'll see some firmware upgrades that improve the voice-calling experience in noisier environments. Despite that caveat, as long as they fit your ears well, the Technics EAH-AZ80 is right up there with the best wireless earbuds on the market right now.

$160 at Walmart

Best wireless earbuds for sports

Beats Fit Pro

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 2021 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 includes Apple's H1 chip and has 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.

$170 at Amazon

Top wireless earbuds from Beats

Beats Studio Buds Plus

Alas, for those of you who bought the original Beats Studio Buds, which remain on the market for now, I'm sorry to report that these new Plus buds are significantly improved, with better sound, noise canceling and battery life. Additionally, they now deliver top-notch voice-calling performance.

The transparent version is getting a lot of attention (who doesn't like transparent electronics?), but the big changes are on the inside. Beats says 95% of the components are new and improved, and the buds' "acoustic architecture" has been revised. The speaker drivers remain the same, but the Studio Buds Plus are powered by a new, more powerful custom chipset and have three new microphones in each bud, which are three times larger and more sensitive than the ones found in the Beats Studio Buds.

$170 at Samsung

Best Samsung wireless earbuds

Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro

The Galaxy Buds 2 Pro offers improved noise canceling along with very good sound and voice-calling performance, plus support for high-resolution wireless audio streaming if you're a Galaxy device owner with the right setup. Their biggest upgrade may be their new design and smaller size, which make them a better fit for more ears. They're also fully waterproof. Aside from their somewhat high price tag, their only drawback is that some of their key features only work with Samsung Galaxy devices.

$198 at Walmart

Best Sony compact mid-range wireless

Sony LinkBuds S

Unlike the "open" LinkBuds, the LinkBuds S are traditional noise-isolating earbuds with tips that jam in your ears. They're more compact and lighter than Sony's former flagship WF-1000XM4 and also feature Sony's V1 processor (Sony has since released the more compact WF-1000XM5). While their sound and noise canceling don't quite measure up to either XM4's or XM5's, they're still quite good. They're the Sony buds for people who can't afford Sony's flagship earbuds but want 80% of those buds' features and performance for significantly less.

$599 at Master & Dynamic

Best-sounding premium noise-canceling headphones

Master & Dynamic MW75

The MW75 is Master & Dynamic's best full-size headphones yet. Needless to say, they're pricey at $599; most people will be quite satisfied with the $400 Sony WH-1000XM5, which is lighter and more comfortable and delivers best-in-class voice calling and noise canceling. The MW75's build quality is hard to beat and they offer top-notch sound for a wireless model (I thought they sounded better than Apple's AirPods Max headphones), plus strong voice-calling and noise-canceling performance. With their support for aptX Adaptive, they have additional appeal for Android users, who can get a touch better sound quality with the right setup. I was also quite happy streaming music with my iPhone 13 Pro using the AAC codec.

$349 at Master & Dynamic

Great-sounding wireless earbuds

Master & Dynamic MW09

Master & Dynamic headphones and earbuds have always featured unique, eye-catching designs that include premium materials like aluminum, sapphire glass and Kevlar. Its latest MW09 flagship earbuds look pretty similar to its earlier MW08 buds but have some upgrades on the inside that deliver better performance, particularly when it comes to noise canceling (it's now very close to what Bose and Sony offer although not quite at their level for ANC) and battery life. They're IP54 dust-proof and splash-proof and despite being on the larger side, I found them comfortable to wear and they stayed in my ears fairly securely.

If you can get a tight seal (seven ear tips are included), the MW09s sound great. They sound natural with nice detail and deep bass that is well-defined and not overpowering. A touch on the warmer side -- there's no treble push -- with an open, refined quality, they're earbuds you can listen to for long stretches without any listening fatigue. They're right up there with the best-sounding buds.

Other highlights include the aforementioned very strong battery life (up to 16 hours), Bluetooth 5.4 (up to 30m range and LE Audio ready) and multipoint Bluetooth pairing. While their voice-calling performance is good, it's not up to the level of the AirPods Pro 2 in terms of noise reduction and voice clarity during calls. Maybe Master & Dynamic can improve in that area with a firmware upgrade but either way, they're worth checking out if you're looking for high-end earbuds. They're available in multiple color options

$386 at Amazon

Evolved Bowers & Wilkins noise-canceling headphones

Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2e

Bowers & Wilkins released the PX7 S2 headphones in 2022 with some significant improvements over the first-generation version. And now it's put out a slightly upgraded version, the PX7 S2e with the "e" standing for evolved. The audio quality has been slightly upgraded thanks to improved digital processing (the headphones have been returned), which we assume involves an upgraded chip.

These headphones are more comfortable than the original PX7s -- they tip the scales at 307 grams -- and not only sound better but have better noise-canceling and voice-calling performance with improved noise reduction. I don't necessarily think they're a better option than the lighter and even more comfortable Sony WH-1000XM5 or Bose's QuietComfort Ultra Headphones. The PX7 S2e certainly looks and feels luxurious, with its sturdy design, and delivers excellent sound. Bowers & Wilkins also sell a step-up model, the PX8, that features even better sound but costs significantly more.

$250 at Walmart

Best semi-open earbuds

Jabra Elite 10

Yes, the Elite 10s do have some potential drawbacks (their noise canceling is lighter compared with competitors), and they're pretty pricey at $197 and will probably have to come down a bit to better compete with the AirPods Pro 2 -- at least for Apple users. Still, they're really good earbuds that are not only comfortable to wear for long periods but also sound excellent. If their voice-calling performance is leveled up a bit with a firmware update, the Elite 10 buds may just be in Editors' Choice territory.

$699 at Amazon

Best design with fantastic sound

Bowers & Wilkins PX8

When they were originally announced, Bowers & Wilkins' swanky PX8 noise-canceling headphones were supposed to cost $549 or essentially the same price as Apple's AirPod Max headphones. When they finally hit stores, the PX8's price jumped to $699 or a full $300 more than the company's step-down PX7 S2 headphones, which are also excellent (see below).

The biggest difference between the PX8, which weigh in at 320 grams, and the PX7 S2 are the PX8's all-new 40mm Carbon Cone drive units that are "inspired" by the Carbon Dome drive units used in the company's 700 Series loudspeaker line. Bowers & Wilkins says these units help deliver superior resolution, detail and timing with even more accurate sound than the PX7 S2.

Based on my tests, that's true. While I liked the PX7 S2, the PX8 headphones do sound more special, with a touch more openness and overall clarity. They're right near the top for sound-in Bluetooth headphones and are also comfortable to wear for long listening sessions (there's no listening fatigue with these guys). For the best sound, you can listen to lossless files on a computer in wired mode with a USB-C to USB-C cable. 

As for the noise-canceling function, it's good but not quite on par with what you get from Sony's WH-1000XM5. While the voice-calling capabilities are solid, these don't reduce background noise quite as well as some headphones like the Sony when you're on calls (the transparency mode is top-notch). 

While I can't say they're worth $300 more than the PX7 S2, they're a great set of cans if you can afford them. I do prefer the sound and overall performance of the more expensive Focal Bathys, although the Bathys don't have such strong noise canceling, but the PX8 headphones are a close second.  

$179 at Walmart

Best wireless earbuds for Android users

Google Pixel Buds Pro

The Pixel Buds Pro are Google's first earbuds to feature active noise canceling. While it's nice that they finally have a feature that a lot of true-wireless earbuds have had for a while, what ultimately sets the Pixel Buds Pro apart and makes them worth considering -- particularly for Android users -- is their distinct design and winning fit. That helps enhance their performance on both the sound quality and noise-canceling fronts. While not quite elite for voice-calling, they did perform well as a headset for making calls. A couple of features were missing at launch -- spatial audio and a five-band equalizer -- but the equalizer has now been added with a firmware update. We're now just waiting for spatial audio.

The Pixel Buds Pro are also IPX4 splash-proof.

$700 at Crutchfield

Best-sounding wireless noise-canceling headphones

Focal Bathys

French audio company Focal is known for its high-end speakers and headphones. You might call it the Bowers & Wilkins of France. Now it's finally done what a lot of high-end audio companies have had to do in this age of on-the-go wireless music listening: make active noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones. 

Over three years in development, the Bathys cost $699 and feature not only wireless connectivity but a built-in DAC (digital-to-analog converter) for USB-wired listening with any computer, smartphone or tablet with USB-C. They are easily one of the best-sounding wireless headphones.

$159 at Walmart

Best wired studio headphones

Beyerdynamic DT 700 Pro X

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 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.

$147 at Amazon

Best open earbuds

Apple AirPods 3

Take one look at the new design of the third-gen AirPods, 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 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 water-resistant.

$999 at Amazon

Best-sounding wireless earbuds

Beyerdynamic Xelento Wireless (2nd Generation)

If you're willing to spend a lot of money, Beyerdynamic's 2nd-generation Xelento Wireless earbuds deliver fantastic sound quality. Note that these can be used wired or wireless, with the buds detaching from the Bluetooth 5.2 neckband so you can use them with the included traditional 3.5mm jack cable (included). 

Equipped with Berydynamic's 11mm Tesla.11 drivers, the Xelento Wireless earbuds are special because of how clean and clear they sound, with no distortion and tight, well-defined bass that has excellent extension. They're very accurate sounding. What's also nice is that the earbuds come with 10 ear tips of varying sizes, as well as a mix of silicone and foam tips (I was able to get a tight seal with the 3XL size ear tips). 

The neckband has a built-in DAC (digital-to-analog converter) and amplifier courtesy of AKM, and there's support for Qualcomm's AptX Adaptive audio codec for Android and other devices that support it (the LHDC codec is also supported). Like some other high-end earbuds, these feature an ear-monitor design similar to what musicians use, with the cable wrapping around the top of your ear. 

$349 at Crutchfield

Best Shure noise-canceling headphones

Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2

A lot of us liked Shure's original Aonic 50 headphones, but they had pretty middling noise cancellation. Well, the second-gen version addresses that issue -- the noise canceling is much improved -- and Shure has more than doubled the the battery life to around 45 hours and added a quick-charge feature. It also shrunk the headphone's carry case a bit, though it's still not that compact. Those upgrades make the Aonic 50 Gen 2 one of the best new noise-canceling headphones. 

While the Aonic 50 Gen 2s are pretty heavy at 334 grams, they're built sturdily and are also comfortable to wear, with nicely padded ear cups. They have excellent sound quality with very good clarity and well-defined bass. Shure calls them "studio headphones" so the sound profile is fairly neutral, but you can add more bass in the EQ settings in Shure's companion app for iOS and Android (engaging the Spatializer setting in the app expands the soundstage slightly but doesn't make a big difference).

Equipped with three microphones in each ear cup, I found the call quality to be good with decent noise reduction, and there's an adjustable sidetone feature that allows you to hear your voice. I wouldn't say they're exceptionally good for calls in noisier environments.

The headphones do have some extra features worth noting. They offer both LDAC and aptX support for Android and other devices that support those audio codecs. You can connect the headphones to a computer or smartphone with a USB-C cable for hi-res audio transmission or use the included analog cable if your device has a 3.5mm headphone port. I found they played a little louder using a wireless Bluetooth connection (with LDAC) than when I connected them to a Samsung Galaxy Flip 5 via USB-C.

Factors to consider when choosing headphones

Budget

Before anything else, you'll want to figure out how much you're willing to spend on new headphones. The quality of value-priced headphones continues to improve, so you can find good affordable headphones for less than $100. The premium models, which offer better build quality and performance, tend to cost $200 or more -- sometimes much more. 

Fit (comfort)

It's key that the headphones you buy fit your head well. They should offer a comfortable fit that's snug yet not too snug. Ideally, you want headphones you can wear throughout the day with minimal breaks.

Durability

You want headphones that hold up well over time, so look for models that we note have sturdy build quality.

Maximize performance and features for your budget

You want the best-sounding headphones with the best noise-canceling, call quality and features for whatever you're able to spend.

Return policy

It's critical to buy your headphones at a retailer that has a good return policy, in case you have buyer's remorse. Some people who are having trouble deciding between two models sometimes buy both, try them out for a few days and then return one.

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How we test headphones and earbuds

We test headphones and earbuds based on six key criteria. These criteria include designsound qualitynoise-canceling performancevoice-calling performance, features and value

  • Design: Evaluating design, we assess not only how comfortable the headphones and earbuds fit (their ergonomics) but their build quality and how well the controls are implemented. When it comes to earbuds, we also look at water- and dust-resistance ratings. 
  • Sound quality: We evaluate sound quality by listening to a set playlist of music tracks and comparing the earbuds to top competing products in their price range. Sonic traits such as bass definition, clarity, dynamic range and how natural the headphones sound are key factors in our assessment.
  • Noise-canceling performance: If the headphones we're testing feature active noise canceling (ANC), we evaluate ANC performance by wearing the headphones in the same spot indoors near a noisy HVAC unit to see how well they do at muffling lower frequencies. Then we head out to the streets of New York to test the headphones in a real-world environment where we see how they muffle not only street noise but people's voices. 
  • Extra features: Some great-sounding noise-canceling headphones and earbuds aren't loaded with features, but we do take into account what extra features are on board. These include everything from quick-access awareness to transparency modes (your music pauses and the headphones open up to the outside world so you can have a conversation) to special sound modes to ear-detection sensors that automatically pause your music when you take the headphones off your ears. We also take a look at the companion app for the headphones if there is one and how user-friendly it is. 
  • Voice-calling: When we test voice-calling performance, we make calls in the noisy streets of New York and evaluate how well the headphones or earbuds reduce background noise and how clearly callers can hear our voices.
  • Value: We determine value after evaluating the strength of the headphones and earbuds against all these criteria and what they're able to deliver compared to other models in their price class. 
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Other headphones we tested

Mark Levinson No. 5909: The No. 5909 are premium audio brand Mark Levinson's first headphones and, yes, they're really expensive at $999. They're also really good. They have a sturdy design without managing to feel hefty on your head (read: they're substantial but not too heavy), and they're comfortable to wear over long periods thanks to their nicely padded (and replaceable) leather-covered earcups and headbands. Read our Mark Levinson No. 5909 hands-on.

Technics EAH-A800: There's a bit of an old-school vibe to the Technics EAH-A800 -- and it's not just the Technics brand, which Panasonic resurrected in the last few years. Their design is something of a throwback but the headphones are comfortable and both fold up and fold flat. They feature a big, energetic sound with powerful bass and good detail (they take a day or two to break in). 

Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3: 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 true-wireless earbuds, giving the Sony WF-1000XM4 a run for the money. Read our Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 review.

Sennheiser 450BT: Sennheiser updated its well-regarded 4.50BTNC noise-canceling headphones in 2020. The new headphone model is called the 450BT, and it has some notable upgrades, including better battery life (up to 30 hours with noise canceling on), USB-C charging, Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX support for devices like the Samsung Galaxy smartphones that support it and more comfortable earpads. The 450BT noise-canceling headphones list for $200, but usually cost around $125 although they have dipped to as low as $100 in flash sales (they're a good value at that price).

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Headphones FAQ

Which headphones are better: Sony or Bose?

Both companies make very good headphones, which offer excellent active noise canceling. Some people may argue that Sony has a very slight lead right now, but others may slightly prefer Bose. The Sony WH-1000XM5 is one of our top-rated headphones, but Bose's QuietComfort Earbuds 2 arguably have the best noise canceling at the moment.

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Are over-ear or in-ear headphones better?

Neither is better or worse, they're just different styles of headphones. If you're looking for more discreet headphones, with a charging case that can easily fit in a pocket, true-wireless earbuds (in-ear headphones) are the way to go. Many people don't like having ear tips jammed in their ears, so they prefer full-size headphones. 

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Do wireless headphones sound as good as wired headphones?

They're getting close. Premium wireless headphones can easily sound better than middle-of-the-road wired headphones that cost less than $100. Going wired still is the best option for optimal sound quality, but wireless headphones often come with a cord that allows you to plug in.

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Does noise canceling matter?

If you're looking to muffle ambient sound from the outside world, active noise canceling, or ANC is a feature you'll want in your headphones. Note that noise-canceling performance varies from headphone to headphone, with Bose, Sony and Apple arguably offering the best.  

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