The best headphones offer an outstanding feature set, effective and flexible active noise cancellation, or the most exquisite styling and comfortable design. Sometimes they can be a bit pricey but no matter what the price, they all offer great value.
When buying a new pair of headphones, it can be helpful to think about where you want to wear them. If you’re going to use them on a run, for example, maybe you don’t want huge over-ear headphones. Commuting to work or travelling a lot? Well, you’ll probably want noise-cancelling headphones to keep the sound out.
Looking for a specific headphone style? Then check out our best over-ear headphones, best wireless earbuds buying guides. Once you make your purchase, be sure to check out our guide to getting the best headphone sound.
Top 3 best headphones
What are the best headphones?
Sony’s XM-series headphones go from strength-to-strength with each generation and continue to offer great value. It was difficult to imagine quite how the XM5 could better the Sony WH-1000XM4, but the consumer electronics giant has pulled it off to become one of our favorite headphones of the year with a sleeker design that brings even better ANC, battery life, and sound. They’re more eco-friendly too, and take our top spot as the most versatile all rounder.
Winning the accolade for best sound overall, the Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 are the winner of the best audiophile headphones for 2022. They’re designed to deliver the best wireless sound this sort of money can buy, plus they feel good and are beautifully constructed. While Sony and Bose have the market cornered on top noise-cancellation performance, Bowers & Wilkins goes for optimal audio quality for around the same price. And it’s pays off big time. No question about it, for audiophiles these are the top headphones of the year.
If the goal is to block out the hubbub of your surroundings while you luxuriate listening to your favorite music is the goal, then the Bose 700 continues to be our top pick for active noise cancellation. They’re equipped with a whopping eight microphones, six of which are employed to deliver Bose’s champion noise cancellation when listening to music or talking on the phone, and they can often be found on sale at significantly less than their MSRP. Don’t forget to bookmark our best headphone deals to bag a bargain.
The best headphones you can buy right now
Sony’s new flagship headphones are the ultimate all-rounders, offering superb noise-cancelling, exceptional sound performance, tons of comfort, intuitive controls and plenty of special features. So, pretty much like the previous XM4s did, then.
These Sonys are a confident, convincing and enjoyable listen in every respect: low frequencies are muscular but agile, highs are well managed and there’s plenty of detail across the range. Noise cancelling — always an XM-series strong point — banishes pretty much all external sound, and the excellent Sony Headphones Connect app allows you to personalize your audio according to taste.
The touch controls and battery life (30 hours with ANC on, 40 with it off) also beat the competition and though the design tends towards the bland, the fact that both the headphones and packaging are made almost entirely from recycled materials is a further mark in its favor.
The XM4s are still around, and cost $50 less, but the XM5s are the new headphones against which to judge all others. If you’re still not convinced then check out our Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. WH-1000XM4 face-off to see how they compare.
Read our full Sony WH-1000XM5 review.
The Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 over-ear headphones are priced the same as the Sony. They feel good, are beautifully constructed and are either good-looking in an understated way or a bit too understated for their own good — it depends on your taste. They have active noise-cancelation and a control app — but ‘extended functionality’ is not their thing.
They’re designed to deliver the best wireless sound this sort of money can buy, and they do. The entire frequency range hangs together well, with nothing overstated and nothing struggling for representation. Tonality is clean, consistent and entirely convincing. If you want every wireless headphone feature under the sun, you have plenty of choice. If, however, you want headphones that make the most of the digital audio information you give them, the Px7 S2 really needs to be in your thinking.
Rear our full Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 review.
The Bose 700 on-ear headphones are still the runner-up in our best headphones list and sport a smart design and cool features. They’re equipped with a whopping eight microphones, six of which are employed to deliver Bose’s champion noise cancellation when listening to music or talking on the phone. It offers up to 11 levels of adjustable ANC that work equally well to neutralize noise across different frequencies. The 700s produce clean, balanced audio for crisp highs and solid bass; lows are felt more when at max ANC level.
Battery life isn’t as strong as some rival these days, but holds up at 20 hours with ANC on. Smart assistant integration, touch controls, and multipoint technology also make these some of the most intuitive noise-cancelers for commuters and music lovers alike.
Read our full Bose 700 review.
Although the revamped design of Sennheiser’s fourth generation Momentum Wireless headphones don’t stand out quite like their classic-looking predecessor, the 60-hour battery life is a real crowd pleaser and make these the one to beat. Add in the easy-going Sennheiser sound and effective noise cancelling, and the Momentum 4 are one the most practical wireless headphones we’ve seen, perfectly built for a life on the road rather than tethered to a power socket needing regular battery top ups.
Sennheiser’s smooth house sound handles a wide range of music content, from pounding beats to more mellow tunes with aplomb. It has Bluetooth 5.2 and aptX Adaptive support, and there’s a supplied 3.5mm cable for audiophile wired connections. ANC performance is effective, and auto Wind Noise Reduction is very impressive when stood on a windy train platform on daily work commutes.
Read our full Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless review.
It’s a shame the AirPods Max are so much more expensive than their noise-cancelling rivals, but once you try them it’s hard to take them off. The plush design and comfortable fit present an immediate feeling of luxury, and this only grows once you start playing music.
The active noise cancelling works brilliantly, general sound quality is crisp and impactful, and the 3D Spatial Audio feature is a game-changer if you’ve never used it. This uses head-tracking tech to create a surround sound effect, which can give movie playback a definite edge compared to other headphones. Battery life is respectable too, with Apple’s 20-hour estimate tracking well with our own testing.
Read our full Apple AirPods Max review.
Apple’s next-gen AirPods Pro 2 have arrived, bringing significant upgrades to the popular original to take performance to the next level. Externally, they look pretty similar to the first generation but battery life has been increased to offer 6 hours on a single charge from the earbuds and a further 30 hours from the wireless charging case. Not only are the earbuds IPX4-rated, but now too is the case itself.
Designed for iPhone owners looking for a more tailored listening experience, these are the pinnacle of Apple technology. On the audio front, Apple has included a new H2 chip with custom amp and driver that delivers better lower and higher frequencies, and you can use the iPhone’s TrueDepth camera to create a personalized spatial audio sound to listen to some of the best Dolby Atmos sound in any pair of earbuds. Noise cancellation is double what the last pair of AirPods Pro offered, and it is among the best we’ve yet to see, period.
Read the full Apple AirPods Pro 2 review.
The market’s best true wireless noise-cancelling technology just got better. Bose’s newest flagship wireless earbuds introduce several upgrades such as adaptive active noise cancellation (ANC), Bluetooth 5.3, and sound calibration technology for improved sound quality. Most importantly, Bose has made the new version one-third smaller than the original QuietComfort Earbuds, while also developing new ear-tips to help achieve optimal wear for more users.
The next-gen buds continue to build on traditional Bose hallmarks, but they also struggle in areas where they’ve underperformed in the past, including battery life, special features, and touch controls. Despite these shortcomings, though, their ANC and sound quality performance carry the QuietComfort Earbuds 2 to the top echelon of our best wireless earbuds list.
Read the full Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 review.
Grado’s GT220 true wireless earbuds are not overburdened by features such as ANC or a control app to tinker with the sound output. Compared to rivals listed here, these are a very straightforward design indeed that simply goes about the business of connecting you to your favorite music and as such, are one of the best-sounding earbud designs we’ve heard.
Offering decent battery life and recharge time, they’re perfectly pitched for music listening on the move and the sound quality delivery will also appeal to those who want to enjoy more serious listening at home from a compact earbud. Aimed at audiophiles looking to hear Grado’s signature sound in a true wireless product with top audio quality as a priority over everything else, the lack of extra facilities really shouldn’t be seen as a deal breaker at the price.
Read our full Grado GT220 review.
Bose has another ANC success on its hands. Noise cancellation on the QuietComfort 45 is just as good as the 700, eliminating a significant amount of ambient noise across the frequency spectrum. Proprietary TriPort acoustic architecture and a volume-optimized Active EQ gives these cans solid audio performance with well-rounded frequency range for a nice mix of lows, mids, and highs. Bose Music app support is beneficial for personalization and connectivity with other Bose devices (check out SimpleSync (opens in new tab)). Most importantly, battery life has been increased from 20 to 24 hours, making the QC45 the brand’s longest-lasting ANC model to date.
It’s hard not to mention certain flaws such as the inability to turn off ANC and the absence of features that are available on other Bose headphones, but the overall performance more than makes up for these drawbacks.
Read our full Bose QuietComfort 45 review.
We thought the Beats Studio Buds were a fantastic value, but their sportier version is an even greater value. Besides the AirPods Pro, the Fit Pro is the only other pair of Apple-related wireless earbuds to come with Spatial Audio, giving listeners 3D immersive sound and dynamic head-tracking technology to hear sounds accurately, no matter where your head turns. Active noise cancellation performs similarly to the AirPods Pro, silencing most ambient noises for peaceful listening sessions. The updated design with integrated eartips is much appreciated for optimal fit. IPX4 water resistance ensures the buds are protected from moisture damage as well.
All the sweet software perks that come tied to the H1 chip are also available, including automatic switching between Apple devices, “Hey Siri” voice activation, and FindMy support to easily locate misplaced buds. Sadly, Android users don’t get to experience these features, but can at least enjoy ANC and Spatial Audio.
Read our full Beats Fit Pro review.
How to choose the best headphones for you
Many factors come into play when shopping for the best headphones, but your decision should always come down to intended use. That being said, you’ll want to take the following categories into account before settling on any pair.
Design usually takes precedence over everything. Are you looking for in-ear, on-ear or over-ear headphones? Wired or wireless? Luxury or sporty? Since these are headphones that will be used for multiple occasions, you want something that suits your lifestyle. Whatever type you choose, make sure the headphones are well built, easy to carry, and comfy to wear for about 1 to 2 hours daily.
Sound is the second box to check off. Different models offer different sound, and since you’re buying a pair to enjoy music individually, it’s important to find headphones that match your sound preference, be it heavy bass or distinctively clear to where you can hear the littlest nuances in recordings. Some models offer personalized sound via companion app, which allows the user to create their own profiles and tweak EQ levels to their hearing.
Most premium wireless headphones are rated at 15 hours and higher. Wireless earbuds can last about 5 to 10 hours and offer extended playtime with their bundled charging cases — always make sure one is included.
Accessories are just as important, especially for wired models (the manufacturer must include the aux cable). Any headphones that come with a carrying case, charging cable, user guide, and extra ear cups or tips are solid purchases.
How we test the best headphones
From the design and comfort to the sound quality and overall value, we evaluate several areas when picking the best headphones. In addition, Tom’s Guide employs a rigorous review process that compares products with similar fit, features, and pricing.
Each pair of headphones and earbuds is worn over the course of a week for 2 hours at a time. During this time, reviewers evaluate comfort and fit, ease of use, and audio. We test sound by listening to tracks across different music genres, including hip-hop, rock, jazz, classical, and pop. Volume, clarity, and fullness of sound are taken into consideration in our ratings. Movies, podcasts, and video games are considered, when necessary.
Find out what we listen for during our testing process and how to get the best headphone sound for you.
When it comes to features, we test the effectiveness of active noise cancelling, Bluetooth range, and battery life for wireless and wired headphones. Additional features are also tested for app-enabled headphones, along with ease of setup. Build quality, controls, and fit are taken into consideration for all headphone types. Fitness-focused headphones go through vigorous workouts, as we analyze fit while exercising and how well they handle ambient sound in loud environments.
Once testing is complete, we rate headphones based on our five-point system (1 = worst, 5 = best). If a product is truly exemplary, it’s awarded an Editor’s Choice.
Next: discover the first earbuds with support for Bluetooth Lossless Audio codec , promising CD-quality sound over wireless.