Time to invest in a new set of headphones? It’s a hugely crowded market with hundreds of models to choose from, so here’s a handy timesaver: The Sony WH-1000xM3 are the best headphones. In fact, their combination of top-notch audio quality, superb noise cancellation, and dependable wireless performance is such a strong formula, we named the WH-1000xM3 the best wireless headphones and the best noise-canceling headphones, too.
That is an extraordinary set of claims to make, and we don’t make them lightly. Our team has a combined 50 years in the consumer and pro audio industries. We reviewed hundreds of headphones, using them in all kinds of locations, with audio sources that range from surround-sound movies to the most aggressive hard rock and rap.
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We’re totally convinced the Sony WH-1000xM3 will be the best pick for most people, but if you’re looking for some alternatives, we have you covered there, too. We identified seven other models that are more than worthy of your consideration, each with their own specific strengths, whether it’s for use during a workout — or merely to keep you from giving your credit card too much of a workout.
The best headphones at a glance
The best wireless headphones/best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000xM3
Why you should buy them: Beautiful wireless sound, plush comfort, and excellent noise canceling.
Who they’re for: Anyone who wants a top-tier wireless experience, and loves silencing the world around them.
Why we picked the Sony WH-1000xM3:
Sony’s technologically advanced WH-1000xM3 are the third generation of Sony’s flagship wireless headphones (following the excellent WH-1000xM2 and MDR-1000x models) that offer top-tier noise canceling, excellent quality wireless audio, and plush comfort. This enticing combination earned the model a rare five-star rating in our initial review, and — thanks to a few notable improvements — makes the latest version the best headphones you can buy.
At the heart of the WH-1000xM3 is outstanding wireless sound. Sony’s LDAC technology delivers a wireless signal at what the company claims is three times the quality of standard Bluetooth streaming, and the headphones also support the latest aptX HD codec (with supported devices). The 1000xM3 even “upscale” wireless music from high-resolution audio devices using a special chip, helping to make music sound dynamic and beautiful, with authoritative bass and clear treble response held together by a well-rounded midrange.
The WH-1000xM3’s excellent noise-canceling technology ranks second only to the Bose QC35 II, from the brand that has long dominated the market in terms of sheer noise-blocking abilities. That said, the Sony cans sound much better than the new bass-forward Bose option, and offer numerous features that help to create a much better overall experience.
The WH-1000xM3’s advanced control systems allow you to let in various levels of ambient sound, with advanced features like voice-only mode, which helps filter through vocal frequencies so you can hear your music and the voices around you while blocking out other sounds. Responsive touch controls let you navigate volume, make calls, and play and pause music with ease, all while helping to maintain a clean aesthetic. Best of all, the WH-1000xM3 offer a staggering 30 hours of battery life, providing even heavy users with days of use from a single charge, and have a quick charge feature that allows you to enjoy five hours of listening after just 15 minutes of charging.
If you’re looking for a pair of extremely comfortable wireless over-ears with great sound and a massive number of features, these are the best you’ll find.
Read our full Sony WH-1000xM3 review
The best earbuds/best under $100: 1More Triple Driver
Why you should buy them: These earbuds are premium in every way but their price.
Who they’re for: Anyone who wants a really great-sounding set of earbuds but is unwilling to spend hundreds of dollars for the pleasure.
Why we picked the 1More Triple Driver:
The adage that you get what you pay for is generally true for audio products like headphones. What has made us big fans of the 1More brand is its ability to redefine that expectation in surprising ways. The 1More Triple Driver in-ear headphones are a great example of this: They exhibit all of the hallmarks of high-end, expensive earbuds, yet manage to keep the price highly affordable for most people.
Their combination of dual balanced-armature drivers matched with a dynamic driver to pump up the lower end are kind of engineering normally found on products that cost more than double the price of the 1Mores. Even the smaller details are very well ironed out, such as Kevlar-wrapped cables that increase resistance to wear while simultaneously reducing tangles.
Boasting materials like cast aluminum that has been polished and sandblasted for a luxurious feel, even the included carrying case — normally a throwaway pouch that people ignore entirely — has been obviously crafted and built with care.
The headphones sound amazing, with a wide and complex soundstage that warranted an official THX certification. In fact, when we went backstage at a recent Aerosmith concert, it was the 1More Triple Drivers that the band and THX selected for the best possible listening experience.
Our full 1More Triple Driver review
The best wireless earbuds: 1More Stylish
Dan Baker/Digital TrendsWhy you should buy them: Great sound, great battery life, and a price that’s within reach. What more could you want?
Who they’re for: Those who want in on the truly wireless earbud revolution but aren’t willing to pay what the big brands are asking.
Why we picked the 1More Stylish:
We admit it: We love a great deal. Why should you pay more for one brand’s product, if another brand offers all of the same features (or more) for a cheaper price? 1More understands this principle better than any other audio brand we’ve encountered, and its 1More Stylish truly wireless earbuds are all the evidence we need. They sound better, fit better, last longer, and are way less expensive than Apple’s AirPods, the standard against which most truly wireless earbuds are measured these days.
The 1More Stylish’s 6.5-hour battery life may not be the top of the range, but you’d have to spend a lot more money to get a significantly increased play time (check out the very good, but very pricey Beats PowerBeats Pro if battery life is a top consideration). Besides, that’s still more juice than models that cost way more. But battery life isn’t everything. We found the Stylish’s sound quality just as impressive, in some ways delivering a richer, fuller performance than the Jabra Elite Active 65t, which are one of our favorites. Their Bluetooth 5.0 connection remained rock-solid throughout our testing, something that has plagued even more expensive models, and their aptX support genuinely improves the quality of sound.
We only have two minor gripes: We wish these earbuds had a pass-through feature to let sound in from the outside when we want it, and the ability to control volume from the earbuds would be a very convenient feature. But neither are show-stoppers, especially when you consider the 1More Stylish’s affordable price.
Read our full 1More Stylish review
Why you should buy them: Good sound, battery life, and waterproof functionality.
Who they’re for: Listeners who want total wireless autonomy without sacrificing sound quality or sweatproof performance.
Why we picked the Jabra Elite Active 65t:
With small extrusions emerging from otherwise understated wireless in-ears, Jabra’s Elite Active 65t look like miniature versions of the Bluetooth headsets that helped put the brand on the map. But don’t be fooled by the looks — with sweatproofing, excellent sound quality, and a myriad of useful features, these little guys beat out every other pair of headphones on the market as the best workout headphones.
The Elite Active 65t come with three sets of silicone tips and feature an ergonomic design that guarantees a good seal, which is a big reason we prefer them to other true wireless models. With outstanding comfort and excellent passive noise isolation, you get the most out of every note, and you can also lower the volume for less ear strain. Overall sound quality is solid, and sound comes through clear and balanced, with a punchy bass response and a surprisingly dynamic treble range.
Unlike their excellent — and slightly cheaper — predecessor, the Jabra Elite 65t, the Elite Active add an IP56 rating, which means they are protected from high-pressure water jets and limited dust ingress, making them perfect for virtually any excursion, and allowing you to rinse them off after particularly sweaty workouts.
In terms of juice, the Elite 65t offer 5 hours of battery life — matching the AirPods — and the included charging case adds two refills on the go. Jabra also matches many of the best features we’ve seen elsewhere in the fully wireless space, with the company’s Sound+ app that lets you adjust settings like equalization, or whether you want to use your phone’s built-in smart assistant (Siri on iOS, Google Assistant on Android) or Amazon Alexa. Sensors built into the headphones can be set to play and pause music when you remove the buds, and they can even be set to pipe in different levels of ambient sound, which is great for hearing announcements on the plane or your office mate.
But perhaps the main reason to buy the Jabra Elite Active 65t is that they always do what you want them to — and never drop the connection. When combined with the other features, it makes these some of the best true wireless buds you can buy right now.
Our full Jabra Elite Active 65t review
The best headphones for Music: Sennheiser HD6XX/HD650
Bill Roberson/Digital TrendsWhy you should buy them: Audiophile sound quality from a legendary brand, in a comfortable design that is also remarkably affordable.
Who they’re for: Those who take their music listening seriously, and want an uncompromising set of headphones.
Why we picked the Sennheiser HD6XX/HD650:
Audiophiles generally agree that if you’re passionate about music, and you have a listening space that is relatively free of outside sounds, nothing beats a really good set of open-back headphones. As far as we’re concerned, you won’t find a set of open-back headphones that manage to combine superb sound quality and a reasonable price than the Sennheiser HD6XX/HD650. To be clear, these are not exactly the same models. The HD6XX is a run of the HD650 with a lower price from Massdrop, and a few physical changes, but when it comes to their audio chops, they’re identical.
Those who buy either of these headphones are in for a treat. Our reviewer didn’t hold back in their assessment of these cans’ ability to fully realize every detail of a recording, noting their “warm and rigid bass, a midrange that dips close to the ruddy colors of analog tape saturation (without sacrificing an ounce of detail), and a laser tight response up top that helps illuminate vivid clarity and granular instrumental texture across the board.”
If that sounds like the kind of performance you want in a set of headphones, we think you need look no further than the Sennheiser HD6XX/HD650. You can certainly spend more to get this level of quality, but you don’t have to.
Read our quick Sennheiser HD6XX/HD650 review
The best headphones for iPhone: Apple AirPods
Josh Edelson/Getty ImagesWhy you should buy them: Unbeatable ease-of-use, with access to the iPhone’s best features.
Who they’re for: iPhone (or iPad and iPod Touch) users, who want a set of truly wireless earbuds designed specifically for their phones.
Why we picked the Apple AirPods:
Apple’s genius is that it understands a basic human desire: To live a life as free of complication as possible. Its specialty is figuring out how to deliver all the benefits of new technology without increasing complexity. Its AirPods are a master class in that philosophy, offering what is by far the easiest set-up and use of any wireless earbuds. iPhone users can simply bring the AirPods in their charging case close to their phone, open the case lid, and that’s about all it takes — the iPhone instantly recognizes the AirPods and with a tap or two, you’re good to go. iCloud users can even extend that effortless connection to all of their other Apple devices like computers and laptops.
The second generation of Apple’s AirPods maintain a decent five hours of play time, and offer a wireless charging case as a paid upgrade, but the big improvement is courtesy of the new H1 wireless chip. This gives the AirPods the ability to communicate with Siri without any taps. Just say, “Hey, Siri” and she’ll respond. It’s a small thing, but a helpful one, especially given that most people who like to go completely wire-free, also enjoy being hands-free so they can focus on the task at hand. The settings menu within the iPhone lets you customize both the tap controls and whether or not removing an earbud causes playback to pause automatically.
Sound quality has never been a major reason to go with the AirPods or the company’s wired EarPods, but neither is it a major drawback. As long as you’re not expecting audiophile quality, you won’t be disappointed.
Read our full Apple AirPods second-gen review
The best headphones for gaming: Astro Gaming A50
Why you should buy them: Wireless freedom paired with superb sound quality is a match made in gamer heaven.
Who they’re for: Gamers looking for the very best in immersive sound, whether it’s for hearing bullets whizzing overhead, or the soft sobbing of your enemies as they beg for mercy.
Why we picked the Astro Gaming A50:
The Astro Gaming A50 emerged in 2012 as the wireless follow-up to the excellent A40. Seven years later and four generations on, they remain the gold standard for gaming audio. With an ability to faithfully reproduce 7.1 channel surround sound through just two earcups, gamers will get critical 3D audio for all of their favorite console titles whether it’s from an Xbox One or a PlayStation 4. Wireless audio can lead to an unacceptable amount of lag, which often sends gamers in search of wired models, but here too, the A50 manage to beat expectations.
With a battery that’s rated for 15 hours of continuous use, we’re seriously hoping you don’t outlast them. If you do play for super extended periods, however, you’ll be glad that the earcups can comfortably rotate, giving you the option to drop the headband around your neck and still hear all the action. The latest version of the A50 offer significant customization options through software, and if you’re using them with a PC, you can connect directly to your sound card instead of using the optical connection. On the Xbox One version, you’ll even get Dolby Atmos for Headphones compatibility.
The Astro Gaming A50 may not be the cheapest option in the gaming audio universe, but we defy you to find a better option. Challenge issued!
Read our full Astro Gaming A50 review
The best headphones for kids: Puro PuroQuiet
Why you should buy them: The PuroQuiet protect your kids from dangerously loud sound levels while they cancel out external sounds.
Who they’re for: Parents who want to provide their kids with high-quality headphones, without exposing them to loud sounds.
Why we picked the Puro PuroQuiet:
Noise cancelation for kids? Doesn’t that mean they’ll ignore their parents even more often than they already do? Perhaps, but it’s a risk worth taking if it means your kids’ hearing will be protected over the long-term. That’s exactly the premise behind the Puro PuroQuiet headphones. Not only are they wireless and great-sounding, they come equipped with a software limiter that keeps the volume at or below 85dB, which is considered the maximum volume that children should be exposed to for prolonged periods. The noise-canceling feature means they’ll actually be able to listen to lower (therefore safer) volumes.
These headphones pack about 16 hours of battery life, which ought to be enough for a whole day or more, but if not, there’s always the option of using an analog cable instead. An external switch lets you turn the noise cancellation on and off. Make no mistake, these might be aimed at kids, but the quality of construction, selection of materials, and color choices give them an appearance that will still appeal to your young charges long after they’ve outgrown their Disney phase (some of us still haven’t).
While not the cheapest kids’ headphones you can buy, they are very reasonably priced for what they offer. We think your kids’ ears are worth it.
Read our full PuroQuiet impressions
Research and buying tips
Who makes the best headphones?
There are a ton of manufacturers currently making awesome headphones, from major brands to smaller boutique outfits, so there is no clear winner when it comes to the best company in the headphone world.
What’s the best place to buy headphones?
We typically recommend buying from a major retailer like Amazon, Best Buy, or Walmart, or a smaller, more specialized local audio retailer.
Over-ear/On-ear headphones vs. earbuds: Which is better?
That depends on what you’re using them for and how much you’re willing to spend. At the high-end, over-ear and in-ear headphones can both perform fantastically. For those of us not willing to spend thousands on headphones, over-ear headphones typically offer better bass response and a bigger soundstage, but in-ear headphones are significantly more portable and convenient — especially wireless earbuds.
What type of headphones are best for working out?
True wireless models like the Jabra Elite Active 65t, which feature sweatproofing, are far and away the best headphones for working out, because you’ll never have wires in your way.
What headphones should I buy if I don’t want others to hear?
Closed back over-ear headphones or snugly fitting in-ear headphones are the best way to ensure your favorite tunes won’t leak out into the world around you.
How does active noise-canceling work?
Headphones with this feature use exterior microphones to capture the sound around you. They then reproduce matching frequencies with phase inverted to cancel ambient noise.
Do any headphones use a Lightning connector? Or USB-C?
Yes, you can find both Lightning and USB-C headphones on the market, but given that you might want to use your headphones with something other than a cell phone, we typically recommend you buy an adapter or wireless headphones, rather than headphones with such a specific kind of connector.
Do headphones include a microphone?
These days, most headphones include a built-in microphone. That said, some do not, so be sure to check before you buy if you want to make phone calls.
Do headphones have audio lag?
Some lower-quality wireless models do lag when watching movies and YouTube on your cell phone, but in the vast majority of cases they do not have audio lag. Any wired headphones won’t have any audio lag at all, and neither will the vast majority of Bluetooth models.
How we test
We test headphones and earbuds the way normal people live.
We run every pair through a rigorous testing process over the course of several days or weeks. That includes playing them in all sorts of scenarios — be it on a bus, in the listening room, or at the office — and playing back from a wide array of sources. We know most people use their headphones with a smartphone, often with lower-quality MP3 resolution tracks, so we do, too.
However, we also move up to high-resolution audio files, as well as a wide variety of sources, including plugging in directly to a PC or Mac, using USB DACs (digital-to-analog converters), and employing high-quality, dedicated portable players and amplifiers. Finally, we compare the headphones to some of our go-to models, both in their class and price point, as well as a level or two above to find out if they can punch above their weight.