Your buying guide to the best headphones
If your bank balance allows it, you could spend thousands on a single pair of headphones. We know that the average consumer doesn’t have anything like so we’re looking at more affordable sets here.
We’ve got a wide range of prices here so you could spend under £50/US$50 or over £500/US$500 depending on what you’re looking for. You might want a pair for commuting every day so it could be worth investing more, or you might just want a cheap pair for occasional use.
Bear in mind that in general, spending more on audio really does mean getting better quality as well as features. If you really are on a limited budget then we have a dedicated
budget headphones chart with more options.
One of the main things you need to do, apart from deciding how much to spend, is choose the type of headphones right for you.
In the grand scheme, there are three types but there are also sub-categories within those, often with a bit of crossover. Here’s what you need to know:
- In-ear – Small, lightweight and generally inexpensive
- Over-ear – Comfortable and space to house larger drivers
- On-ear – A good balance of the above
Now take a look at the below options for more types:
- Earbuds – Another way of saying in-ear headphones
- Neckbuds – Wireless headphones connected together with a section designed to sit around the neck
True wireless earbuds – Earbuds that are not connected to each other with a wire
how we test audio.
Features to look out for
A lot of people buying headphones will want them to be wireless. It’s not just more convenient but many smartphones don’t come with a physical headphone jack so plug a cable in anymore.
For many, wireless will never reach the quality of a trusty wire, although some pairs may offer both options. Read our reviews to see how good they sound over the air and look out for the latest versions of Bluetooth as well as codecs like aptX for better audio.
We have a chart just for the
best wireless earbuds.
The other modern feature to look out for is noise cancelling. Beware that many sets will try to promote this despite it being ‘passive’, which simply means the headphones are physically blocking sound like earplugs.
What you really want is ‘active noise cancelling’ (ANC) which means the headphones are listening to the outside world with microphones, then getting rid of that sound. This is done by cleverly playing you an inverted version of the signal.
Not all noise cancelling is equal though, so read our reviews to see how good it is. Some also have various levels of the feature as well as additional modes that let some outside sound in to keep you safe or so you hear important announcements. They go by various names like ‘aware’ or ‘social’.
We have a dedicated round-up for the
best noise cancelling headphones.