The Best Headphones 2020
There are a dizzying number of headphones out there. Combined with different types and use cases available, there’s an endless selection to pick from. That’s where this buying guide comes in, which is based on professional reviews, user comments, and our own experiences. We’ve updated our best headphones selection to recognize the latest technology, trending choices and combined overlapping categories (wireless goes mainstream!). Here are the best headphones you can buy right now.
When it comes to wireless headphones that offer noise-canceling, you still can’t find better than Sony’s brilliant WH-1000XM3. These were one of our top product picks from IFA Berlin, and the successor to excellent WH-1000XM2, Sony upgraded the headphones with a new QN1 processor, which offers four times the processing power when it comes to removing external noise.
Even in the loudest of environments, the WH-1000XM3 can eliminate the sounds you don’t want to hear, thanks to its active noise canceling feature. The QN1 chip is able to deal with many different noises, not just the low hum of an airplane, and it can be set up so certain sounds, such as PA announcements, can be heard.
There are a slew of different noise-canceling modes and profiles available for different scenarios, and the app uses a phone’s accelerometer to alter the ANC mode depending on what you’re doing. There’s also a Quick Attention mode that lets you turn down the music and hear external sounds without removing the headphones.
In addition to its excellent noise-canceling, the headphones produce some amazing, balanced audio. They support 32-bit audio processing and Sony’s LDAC, which transmits around three times more data than Bluetooth. You also get 40mm drivers, NFC, USB Type-C charging, Bluetooth 4.2, a 40-hour battery life, a 4-hour charging cycle, and Google Assistant support. They’re also super comfy and light.
Almost as good alternative
The WH-1000XM3 may top this category, but only just, as the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700 are also an excellent option. Bose has long been known as a leader when it comes to producing great noise-canceling headphones, and these cans are no exception. They offer crystal-clear sound, stylish design, intuitive touch controls, and, of course, top noise-canceling features. But the sound quality doesn’t quite match up to Sony’s headphones, which at around $280, are over $100 cheaper.
For the Home
If you’re looking for a set of wireless headphones that won’t break the bank and are ideal for TVs and other home use, check out Sennheiser’s RS165 Wireless Hi-Fi headphones, which come with a base station that doubles as a charging stand.
Those with large homes will be pleased to learn that the RS 165 headphones feature a interference-free 100-foot range, thanks to the propriety 2.4GHz wireless link. They also have an 18-hour battery life, which will be appreciated at those times when you’ve forgot to charge them and are about to start a Lord of the Rings marathon.
The headphones are designed primarily for connecting to your home theatre, which is why they produce clear dialogue that’s easy to hear. Listening to music is also an enjoyable experience, as they feature the usual Sennheiser quality and a Bass Boost mode for vibrant sound, while the closed-back design makes sure you’re not disturbed by outside noise
Best Wireless Earbuds
Like the Galaxy phones versus iPhones argument, you’ll find plenty of differing opinions on which wireless earbuds are better: the Airpods Pro or Galaxy Buds. Ultimately, it all depends on what devices you’re using them with. Apple’s latest AirPods are, without a doubt, an excellent piece of kit—there’s a reason they’ve helped Apple reach 60 million shipments of Airpods this year.
Slight alterations to the design mean they’re a better fit and less likely to fall out of your ears. You also get three different sizes of silicone ear tips, and the vent system helps equalize pressure within the ear canal.
New features include transparency mode, which lets users hear the outside environment while listening to music, and the two microphones allow active noise cancelation (ANC). There are even voice-activated Siri controls, and the AirPods Pro are good for around 5 hours use.
When it comes to audio quality, the earbuds improve significantly on the previous generation models and sound great, if a little light on bass.
For Apple fans tied into the company’s ecosystem of products, this one’s a no brainer, thanks to the AirPods Pro’s seamless integration. But, being from Apple, they’re not cheap at $250.
Better for Android users
Apple might dominate the truly wireless earbuds market with its AirPods Pro, but the general consensus is that Samsung’s Galaxy Buds are the better choice for pure audio quality, despite the reviews not being as good as Apple’s product.
The buds come with different tips and wings and are very comfy. They lack the AirPods’ stems, which many will be happy about, and they’ve got a better battery life than their rivals—six hours, according to Samsung.
While there’s no noise canceling, the Buds sell for almost half the price ($130) of the AirPods, making them excellent value for money, and pairing with an Android device involves simply opening the case next to a phone and hitting the “Connect” prompt. There are also plenty of ways to customize your experience in the companion app.
The highlight feature is, of course the sound. Consumer Reports places the Galaxy Buds as their top pick for wireless audio performance, with crisp clear sound that has full bass and well-defined highs.
Last year saw the wireless Astro Gaming A50 (v3) get an honorable mention in this category. Now, the updated 2019 version (v4) wins the category outright if you want a wireless headset. Astro has changed the design slightly, making the headphones all black, shrinking the size of the previously large base station/charger, and replacing the onboard EQ sliding switch with a button. Everything else remains the same—it’s still very recognizible, and you can remove the ear pads to replace them with synthetic leather ones found in the separate A50 mod kit.
As with the last-generation Astro A50s, you can alter the level between two separate audio channels—one for audio and one for chat. And in addition to showing your battery life, it now also shows whether you’re connected to a PC or PS4, Dolby status, and EQ preset. Getting the headset properly into the dock is less cumbersome and awkward, too.
Another big change is that this latest A50 has moved from the 5GHz wireless band to 2.4GHz, meaning more reliable and clearer sound, along with better range, which was an issue with version 3. They may be wireless, but sound quality is still good. Unlike so many gaming headsets, it doesn’t go ridiculously heavy on the bass, offering a good balance with excellent mid-range that works well when playing your favorite titles and listening to music. There’s also Dolby Virtual Surround support, which is excellent for immersive first-person shooters.
At $250, the Astro A50s aren’t the cheapest, but its combination of features, comfort, great mic, and audio make it a great option for gamers.
Wired alternative (at half the price)
HyperX’s Cloud Revolver series puts a focus on audio, and the “S” version upgrades the standard headset with one-touch 7.1 channel surround sound that immerses you in games, movies, and music. Build quality and design are excellent, with memory foam pads that can fit large ears and a headband that bends to fit a variety of head sizes, making them very comfortable.
The headset comes with a 3.5mm cable that connects to the USB dongle, PS4, Xbox One, or mobile device. And the all-important sound quality offered by its 50mm drivers is crisp and clean even at loud volumes. They only complaint anyone seems to have is that the microphone isn’t quite on par with the rest of the Revolver S.
If you want a bargain, check out Kingston’s newest HyperX Cloud Alpha headset. They’re fantastic for gaming and perform just as well when listening to other media: 50mm drivers, a closed-back design, and superb build quality all combine to produce a stunning product. They’re currently only $80 on Amazon.
Last year saw Jabra’s Elite 65t top this category; this year, it’s the turn of the successors: the Jabra Elite 75t, which improve the audio, are smaller, and last longer. The Elite 65ts were slightly chunky, but Jabra has reduced the size of the 75t buds by 20 percent, making them a lot more comfortable and secure when sitting in your ear.
For those who like to work up a sweat in the gym, the buds remain IP55 rated and come with a two-year warranty against dust and water damage. The four microphones make for impeccable calls, and the connection is still great. One element that has changed is the battery life, which has improved from the 65t’s 5.5 hours to 7.5 hours.
Earbuds designed for sports activities aren’t going to be audiophiles’ first choice, but only the most picky user would have problems with the Jabra 75t. They support AAC and SBC codecs, and there’s a customizable EQ in the app.
Ultimately, the Jabra Elite 75t buds are the complete all-rounders for gym users, even if they do cost $180 and have no noise cancellation feature.
At $150, the JBL Reflect Flow buds are slightly cheaper than Jabra’s offerings, but can still match them in most areas, thanks to their powerful audio, comfort, and durable build. Multiple earfins and eartips ensure a good fit, and they can play for 10 hours on a single charge. Great for fans of bass-heavy music who like to go on long runs.
Want a pair of sports buds for under $100? Then check out the Creative Outlier Air, which can be grabbed for just $80. Despite being close to budget territory, their clear and powerful audio is comparable to wireless leaders like the Airpods Pro and Galaxy Buds. They come with a charging case that offers 20 hours of extra charge, are IPX water resistant, comfy, have a solid connection, and last ten hours.
Best Wired (Closed Back)
Audio purest will always say you can’t beat wired headphones for the best sound quality. Here, we’re splitting the category up into two sections: closed, which offers noise isolation that make them better for using outdoors and often boast beefier bass, and open-back, which tend to have better overall sound quality, are lighter, and don’t heat up your ears as much. It may have been our top pick for three years in a row, but the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 still offer that perfect combination of audio quality, features, and price.
The closed-back elements of noise isolation and the incredibly heavy, powerful bass are standout features in these headphones. They also boast well-defined treble and smooth mids that can add a whole new dimension to your favorite tracks.
Thanks to the hidden hinges, the Momentum 2.0s can be folded down for better portability when out and about. They’re very light and extremely comfortable, mostly due to the larger, leather-covered earpads and memory foam.
You get an inline remote/microphone for controlling music/calls on your iOS or Android devices, with different versions of the headphones available for each operating system. They also have that gorgeous Sennheiser style and are available in black, ivory, or brown. You can grab them from Amazon for $300, but will likely find them cheaper if you look around.
For something cheaper that still offers amazing sound quality, there are the $175 Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO headphones. Sturdily designed and with soft fabric covering the large earpads, these are super comfortable to wear. And even though they are an “entry-level” model, the audio can rival that of much more expensive models, with excellent bass and mid-range reproduction.
Dropping the price even further while offering similar performance to the DT 770 Pro are the Audio Technica ATH-M50x headphones, which remain a great alternative praised by audio engineers and pro audio reviewers alike. At $135 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.
Best Wired (Open Back)
We recommended the excellent Philips Fidelio X2 headphones last year. Now, we’ve chosen the slightly newer version—Philips Fidelio X2HR—which has a few minor improvements, such as more breathable earpads, with the same excellent audio quality as their predecessors. The earphones have also dropped in price, making them even more of an attractive buy than they were before.
Like the closed-back winners, Philips’ headphones excel when it comes to comfort, featuring a leather headband and mesh band, memory foam, and velour-covered earpads. They also boast fantastic build quality and eye-catching design. The Fidelio X2HR come with 50mm neodymium drivers and work with any device featuring a 3.5mm audio jack, though using a dedicated headphone amp will get the best out of them.
At $118, these headphones could even make it into our budget category, but while they’re cheaper than some of the high-end options from the likes of Sennheiser and Oppo, that doesn’t mean you’re making a huge, or even notable, compromise when it comes to audio quality; the X2HRs can hold their own against some of the best, offering crisp highs, clear mids, and smooth sound with great details.
For a set of headphones almost as good as the $600+ models, and at a fraction of the price, you’re unlikely to find better than the Philips Fidelio X2HRs.
If you want audiophile-level sound, expect to pay for it. But those with deep pockets will appreciate the stunning Sennheiser HD800 S, which will set you back $1,600. So, what does that huge amount of money buy? There are the 56mm ring radiator transducers that are the largest drivers ever used in dynamic headphones, according to Sennheiser. You also get handmade, microfiber pads that don’t heat up your ears, two sets of 11-foot-long cables (6.3mm plug & 4-pin XLR plug) and an almost unparalleled listening experience, allowing listeners to pick out every sound and instrument from even the most complex of musical tracks.
The price is obviously going to put some off, and Sennheiser recommends using a powerful amp to get the best from them, but to hear music the way it was meant to be heard, few others come close to matching these headphones.
A cheaper pro option
For a set of high-end headphones that don’t cost over a grand and a half, there’s the Grado SR325e, which are available for around $300. They might not look it, but these cans are sturdy and solid, featuring 360-degree earcups and an adjustable, lightweight headband. When it comes to sound, the SR325e headphones offer some of the best performance in its price band, with balanced, detailed, and dynamic sound that’s sharp and detailed. These won What Hi-Fi’s sub-£400 best headphones category, so you can be assured of their quality.
While some people might consider ‘budget’ headphones to be in the under $50 range, we believe something around the $70 – $100 mark is the sweet spot when it comes to low cost without a drastic reduction in quality.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M40x may be a budget set of cans, but their size, build, and design suggest otherwise. They come with 40mm drivers—just 5mm smaller than the more expensive M50x that were runners up in out ‘best over ear’ category—and the ear cups rotate. Despite being satisfyingly chunky, they’re surprisingly lightweight. Best of all, even though they’re closed-back, most users say they can be used for hours on end without suffering from hot, sweaty ears.
But it’s the all-important sound quality where the ATH-M40x offer amazing price vs. quality performance. They produce full-bodied, crisp and clear sound with good, punchy bass and noise isolation, with a frequency response of 15–22 kHz. Overall, a fantastic option at this price, which is now down to just $80
Most reviewers agree that you’ll struggle to find a better set of sub $100 headphones than the Audio-Technica’s ATH-M40x, but if you have to spend less, check out the company’s $63 ATH-M30x. These come with the same size drivers and frequency range as their more expensive big brothers, and while they aren’t quite as good overall, the saving might be worth it for those who aren’t as particular about their headphones.
They may have been around since 1991, but Sony’s MDR-7506 still offer great sound quality for the low-price, which starts at around $80. They’re lightweight and portable, pack 40mm drivers, and come with a 10-foot long coiled cable. They’re the perfect choice for those producing/editing/recording music and audiophiles on a budget, thanks to its perfectly balanced sound.
We celebrated the Xiaomi 1More Triple Driver earphones last year. Now, their low price has made them our pick in the budget earphones category. You can find them new for as little as $55. The Triple Drivers are made from aluminum and boast excellent build quality. And if you find they’re not a perfect fit, you can try the 6 sets of different sized silicone ear tips and 3 sets of foam ear tips in the box.
As the name suggest, there are three drivers in each ear bud—two balanced armatures and a separate dynamic driver—which provide excellent balance and detail. 1More collaborated with internationally acclaimed producer, mixer, and sound engineer Luca Bignardi to tune these headphones, which gives you an idea of how much work went into their audio quality. While 1More also offers a quad driver version, the negligible difference between the two means they’re not really worth an extra $50.
For those willing to spend only slightly more, check out Sennheiser’s Momentum In-Ear M2. The German company has a deserved reputation when it comes to producing top-quality audio products, and these are no exception. They look and sound great, though the cheaper 1More headphones do have slightly better professional and user reviews.
Masthead image credit: Conducting the Chaos by Spencer Imbrock