There's an endless selection when it comes to headphones and finding the right pair is not only tough but there’s a lot of subjectivity involved depending on what matters most to you -- audio quality, comfort, features and so on. But one thing is for sure, if you’re serious about your music, movies and gaming those plastic earbuds that come with your smartphone just won’t cut it. We've gone through hundreds of tests from professional audio reviewers combined with our own views and experience to bring you our favorites headphones across a few different styles and categories, including over-the-ear, in-ear, noise cancelling, gaming, sports-oriented, budget and wireless. All of these should be at the top of your consideration list.
- Best Over the Ear
- Best In Ear
- Best Noise Cancelling
- Best Gaming Headset
- Best Wireless
- Best Sports
- Best Budget
Best Over the Ear
The original Sennheiser Momentum headphones were already well regarded, bringing a level of style and sound quality that was tough to beat for the money. The follow-up version makes sure not to mess too much with that winning formula, but manages to address some of the weaker points of its predecessor — by adding a couple of hinges the headphones now feature a foldable design that’s easier to store, while the ear cups are now softer than before and more spacious to do better job of enveloping your ears.
Comfort-wise they’re simply excellent. The Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 pads and headband feature a combination of memory foam and leather. Despite their light weight, they provide excellent sound isolation, preventing outside noise from interfering with your listening, or leaking sound to annoy those around you.
The basic sound signature of the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 hasn’t changed all that much. What Hi-Fi notes the headphones have no trouble serving up weighty bass, while TrustedReviews claims it was most impressed with how deep the bass goes without “without the muddying or dominating bass that often comes with that style.” The treble is well defined too with just a touch of bite, while mids are smooth and don’t seem too recessed when going up against the treble and bass.
These aren’t meant as pro-level headphones (Sennheiser has other models for that), but as far as premium portable headphones are concerned, the Momentum 2.0s tick all the boxes. They retain the original looks that oozes refinement, but now boast extra portability and improved sound quality.
They’re available in two colors, black and ivory, in versions designed for Android devices or Apple iOS devices — the only difference is the the inline remote/microphone that ships with the headphones and the price (the iOS version is more expensive). Sennheiser also offers the Momentum 2.0 in a wireless 'on-ear' version (Bluetooth, NFC) that includes active noice cancelling for roughly the same price, but the equivalent 'over-ear' model with wireless capabilities will set you back around $500.
Last year's pick, the Audio Technica ATH-M50x, remain a great alternative praised by audio engineers and pro audio reviewers alike. At $150 they are also cheaper. However, the Sennheiser Momentum 2 edges them out in when it comes to sound, appearance and materials, as well as comfort and fit.
Open back alternative
First, a brief note on what are open back headphones. Most standard headphones are 'closed back' by design, as they are meant to isolate the user from outside noise (and vice versa). The enclosed earcup is also used enhanced low-frequency (bass) reproduction. Open back headphones do the opposite, by not blocking the outside world, sound is allowed to pass through the back of the ear piece (others will be hearing what you are hearing), producing a wider soundstage and creating a more natural sound due to less coloration. Evidently you will require the right (quiet) environment to enjoy the full advantages of open back headphones. These days even gamers are opting for open back, though they've been typically been associated with audiophiles and recording professionals.
The Sennheiser HD 650s are intended for home rather than portable listening -- they're a tad bulky for on-the-go use and rather power hungry for your smartphone to produce much volume. But if you are looking for audiophile-grade headphones that don't block noise, they offer super clean, accurate sound with deep bass and excellent stereo imaging for $315 on Amazon. The HiFiMAN HE400S are in the same price range ($300) and are also very smooth sounding headphones, but they'll work better with smartphones, even if they lack a little power on the bass compared to the HD 650.
Best In Ear
Sennheiser's Momentum range has a reputation for style and comfort and the Momentum In-Ear M2 is no exception. It's slick, lightweight and comfortable, and has a flat rubberized cable with an integrated remote and mic. The earpiece bodies are plastic, with a little plate of metal on the back with the Sennheiser logo, and a stainless steel sound tunnel on the inside.
The Momentum In-Ear provide excellent bass with depth and impact you might not expect to get from an in-ear headphone, coupled with a lively treble for an excellent dynamic range. What HiFi calls the lows rich and weighty, the highs crisp and precise, though Cnet finds there's not much warmth in the midrange.
Unlike most headphones equipped with a three-button remote that are made to work with iPhones, these come in both iOS and Android variants. The controller provides playback, pause, next track, previous track as well as volume up and down functionality, while the integrated microphone works well for calls.
The headphones come in a very well built zippered nylon case for protection and include four different-sized eartips to help promote a good seal for noise isolation an optimal listening experience. Priced at around $85 the Momentum In-Ear have a lot going for them and are a step above rivals such as the Sony MDR-EX650AP.
Best Noise Cancelling
Active noise-cancellation headphones are a Bose staple, with the company releasing some of the very best pairs in this class over the years. While the development from the QC15s to the QC25s focused more on improvements in sound and aesthetics, the QC35 focuses on adding new features by marking the first time Bose is combining its noise-cancelling technology with wireless capabilities.
The updated model features both Bluetooth for wireless listening as well as NFC for one-touch pairing. Bose has also dropped the AAA battery in favor of a built-in rechargeable lithion-ion battery with a generous battery life of 20 hours, and it can still work as a wired headphone if the battery runs dry. The noise cancelling feature is activated using a switch on the right cup and it’s very effective at muting the outside world, more so than any other device in this category. It’s extremely effective at zapping low-frequency hums. Cnet, The Verge, What Hi-Fi all came out impressed after testing it in various environments, from air travel and commuting, to noisy office environments.
The same switch on the right ear cup also doubles as the Bluetooth pairing button – simply slide it right across to initiate pairing, then select them from your phone or laptop's Bluetooth menu. You can connect up to two devices at the same time, or change between multiple devices using the Bose app.
While noise cancellation is the main reason to buy the Bose QuietComfort 35, their sound is quite good, too. What Hi-Fi mentions its deep and controlled bass, while Trusted Reviews comments on their wide and encompassing soundstage and overall accurate sound. There are some superior alternatives in it's price range when it comes to sound quality, but none that balances this alongside the quality of the noise-canceling, the comfort level, and features as well as the QuietComfort 35.
Quite simply they’re the best noise-canceling headphones around, and some of the best-sounding headphones that the company has produced yet.
Best Gaming Headset
The Logitech G933 Artemis Spectrum is one of the most versatile headset out there -- it can connect wirelessly to your PC, game console, smartphone, and even your home theater setup with the included USB dongle and 3.5mm and RCA cables. You can also take calls from your phone while playing a game or watching a movie and the audio will be mixed seamlessly into it. Its flexibility ensures that you won’t need multiple headsets for different things.
The G933 features large, super comfortable plush ear cups that swivel, as well as a padded headband and a a black, patterned design. With their large footprint and RGB lighting they're easily identifiable as a gaming headset, but Logitech is pushing the idea of the Artemis Spectrum being not just for gamers, but a headset for audiophiles. Indeed, it sounds great. Even its “flat” profile (no EQ tweaks) produces really natural sounding audio with well-balanced mids and highs. The low-end is deep and clear, especially at higher volumes.
All controls sit along the back of the left ear, and each has a unique shape for easier memorization. You can control the power via a switch, toggle the EQ setting, turn surround sound on or off, cycle the lighting effect, mute the microphone, and adjust the volume. You can also reprogram three “G” keys (labeled G1, G2, and G3) with preset commands or macros. As with any Logitech product, the bundled Logitech Gaming Software allows you to tinker with all sorts of options to run the headset as you like.
Also on the left ear is the noise cancelling microphone, which retracts and folds directly into the earcup, making it practically invisible, and a micro USB charging port. The built-in battery is good for about 8 to 10 hours of use before needing a recharge.
There’s no active noise cancellation and that’s to be expected at this price point, the closed headphone design still manages to keep out a lot of external noise. On the surround sound feature, Gadget Review, IGN and others agree that the headset does a fantastic job with sound positioning. Even at louder levels the sound quality and differentiation were superb, particularly in more environmental shooters.
Currently selling for $135, it's one of the best price-to-performance ratio you’ll find as far as wireless headsets go. The combination of well-fitted, washable meash fabric and lightweight materials help these headphones rest easy on the head, making them a great companion for extended gaming sessions and consuming other media on a PC.
The RS 165 is the entry level model in Sennheiser's line of RF headphones consisting of two components: the actual headphones and a base station (transmitter) that doubles as a charging stand. Setup is pretty simple, just plug the base into a power source and then use a 3.5mm or optical cable to connect it to anything with an audio output -- most likely your home theather setup as that sort of use is what these headphones are designed for -- and audio will be transmitted interference-free to the headphones up to a 30m (100-foot) range using a proprietary 2.4 GHz wireless link.
The headphones feature a closed-back design, the earpads are thick and the headband has a bit of extra padding to minimize pressure points. The right earcup has built-in volume controls and a bass-boost on/off switch. The RS 165 isn’t particularly attractive, if anything they're a bit bulky, but also quite comfortable to use even during long binge watching sessions.
Headphones & Earphones Reviews says the RS 165 sound a lot better than the typical high-end Bluetooth headphones while Cnet agrees they are more or less on par with similarly priced wired headphone models. The Wirecutter calls its bass smooth and defined, dialogue is clear and easy to understand, and found the headphones to have good left- and right-channel separation. The bass boost option is best left off when watching movies but can add a good deal of kick when listening to music.
At $185 the RS 165 is pricey compared with wireless Bluetooth options but offers a rock-steady connection, no latency issues and extended range. Battery life is rated at 18 hours so as lons as you remember to place them over the transmitter for charging when not in use, they'll always be good to go.
A good sports headphone should stay secure in your ears and be able to withstand the rigors of your most intense workout. The Bose SoundSport Wireless does these things well and also also delivers excellent sound for an in-ear Bluetooth headphone.
They feature a floating-fit, open design and thanks to Bose's StayHear+ eartips, which come in three sizes -- small, medium, large -- the bud sits loosely in your ear yet remains securely in place. Compared to “noise-isolating” in-ear headphones, which you jam into your ear and completely seal off your ear canal, Bose’s design is definitely more comfortable but it also allows some ambient sound to leak in.
As you might expect, the headphone is sweat- and water-resistant and there's an inline mic and remote that lets you skip songs, adjust volume, and take and make calls. The right ear houses the power button and micro USB charging port. Pairing is quick and painless, and thanks to Bluetooth 4.1’s Multi-Point technology you can stay connected to two devices simultaneously, switching between them automatically or via a press of the right earbud’s button. There’s even NFC pairing for supported devices.
Battery life for the SoundSport is rated at 6 hours, which is fairly decent for this type of small headphone and long enough for completing your workout sessions. Bose has an optional an accessory case that has a built-in battery for on-the-go charging that'll cost $50 and provide three full charges, for up to 18 additional hours of battery life.
The Bose Connect companion app, available on Android or iOS, allows you to control certain aspects of the Bose SoundSport Wireless like the length of time it takes the earphones to automatically power down, or disabling the robotic voice prompts you hear when powering up or down. The app is not required to use the headphones.
For those who are motivated by deep bass during their workouts, the SoundSport Wireless delivers, while offering a solid amount of high-mid and high frequency presence too. The sound is better than with most fitness headphones and most importantly they will stay comfortably in your ear while exercising. Despite a relatively high price tag it's one of the best options out there in its class.
The HD 202 II are over-ear headphones of the closed-back variety, meaning the earcups filter out a decent amount of ambient sounds which is appreciated when using on your commute or out and about. Design-wise they don't look particularly special, but are very durable compared with other plastic headphones and they don't feel cheap despite costing just $20.
Sound quality is impressive for a set of earphones in its price range. WhatHiFi says the audio's a little more enclosed compared to an open-backed pair, but for closed-backs these are pleasantly spacious and airy with lovely vocal focus and instrument clarity. Headfonia did some comparisson testing against more expensive units like the Audio Technica M-50 and Superlux HD668B and came away impressed with the HD202 II’s midrange, low level detail and ambiance.
Technicalities aside, if you are looking looking for an affordable step up from your smartphone earbuds for casual listening to music or watching movies at home, the HD 202 II will likely offer a big upgrade in sound quality. They also offer a comfortable fit and replaceable earcups. One (forgivable) gripe reviewers had is that its 10 feet (3 meters) long cable is an inconvenience when on the go.