Update: The best headphones are always in flux. Check out the current line-up below to find our picks for the best of the best in 2016.
To get the most out of your smartphone or music player, you have to buy a respectable set of headphones. There’s no getting around it. The dinky throwaways that are included with today’s most popular devices just can’t convey the intricacies that artists put into every song.
But when it comes to making a selection, it’s all too easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of options to choose from.
Over-ear headphones generally provide tons of comfort and a much bigger sound than you’ll hear with earbuds, but at the expense of portability. Wireless headphones mean you can walk around without being tethered to your device but, in order to have that level of freedom, depend on a battery that can run out after a few hours of use.
So, how do you choose the right set of headphones? First, think about what you’re going to need from them.
Do you work in a noisy office space? Noise-cancelling headphones might be in your best interest if you want to drown out your chatty cubicle buddy. For headphones that move at the speed of life, in-ear headphones could be just what you’re looking for.
Even if you’re still unsure which set fits your lifestyle, there is a perfect set of headphones out there for you. With this guide, we want to help you find them.
What does techradar recommend?
Below, you’ll find the top contenders in each category of headphones. We’re always reviewing the latest and greatest headphones available, so you can ensure that this guide is up-to-date.
Best in-ear headphones: Klipsch Reference X6i
Audiophile sound on the go
Acoustic design: N/A | Weight: 18 grams | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: 10-19,000Hz | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: 110dB | Impedance: 50 ohms | Battery life: N/A | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: N/A
Balanced, spacious sound
Lots of cable noise
Awkward carrying case
The Klipsch Reference X6i are a wonderful-sounding package. Their comfort, build quality, sound quality and features make it great value for the money, too.
If you’re looking for balanced sounding in-ear headphones for $179 / £165 / AU$399, though, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Klipsch Reference X6i. Stated simply, they’re supremely comfortable audiophile-level in-ear headphones for an affordable price.
Best on-ear headphones: Bang and Olufsen H2
Posh headphones with grand sound and comfort
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: .34 pounds | Cable length: 3+ feet | Frequency response: N/A| Drivers: Two 1.5″ drivers | Driver type: N/A| Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A
Cable isn’t universal
When you wear the B&O H2, people will look at you with intrigue, desperately trying to figure out who makes it so they can buy their own later online. I should know: it’s how I found out about them.
Thankfully, the H2 sounds as good as it look. The sound performance should please even picky listeners with its warm, evenly-balanced sound. We’re trained to assume that good looks are a guise, but the H2’s slick design complements the sound performance quite nicely.
Read the full review: Bang and Olufsen H2
- Alternative pick: The Skullcandy Grind are a fantastic alternative for listeners on a budget
Best over-ear headphones: Oppo PM-3
Closed back planar magnetic headphones from the gods
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 0.71 pounds | Cable length: 9.8 ft or 3.9 ft | Frequency response: 10-50,000Hz | Drivers: 55mm | Driver type: Planar Magnetic | Sensitivity: 102dB | Impedance: 26 ohms | Battery life: N/A | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: N/A
Stunning sound quality
Faux leather earpads
Less precision than open-back cans
The Oppo PM-3’s are a truly stunning pair of headphones. Make no mistake, we’ve reviewed a lot of headphones in the last 10 years but none have we become more fond of than the PM-3.
They’re equally comfortable being plugged into a headphone amp at home as they are commuting through the hustle and bustle of a big city, and they stand head and shoulders above rival products from bigger brands. We really can’t recommend them highly enough, they’re just amazing.
Read the full review: Oppo PM-3
- Alternative pick: The Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro Plus are our previous favorite over-ear headphones, featuring great sound and impressive customization for a great price.
Best wireless headphones: Skullcandy Grind Wireless
Stellar sound without shredding your wallet
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 0.68 pounds | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: 40mm | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 12 hours | Wireless range: 33 feet | NFC: No
Comfortable ear pads
Deep, rich sound
Short battery life
Too few accessories
In the battle of the brands, it can be hard to trust an outsider. You probably know and trust companies like Sennheiser, Sony, Bose and Beats. And nothing against the tried and true headphone manufacturers, but a lot of what you’re paying for is the name.
The Skullcandy Grind Wireless is a black sheep, it breaks convention left and right and yet delivers in all the major areas. It’s far from perfect (see: battery life and accessories), but, for its $89 (£69, about AU$116) price tag, you’re getting a great-sounding, well-constructed pair of cans that know how to rumble with bass notes and rock with mids and highs.
Read the full review: Skullcandy Grind Wireless
Best noise-cancelling headphones: Sony H.ear On MDR-100ABN
Sony’s H.ear headphones look great and, more importantly, sound great too
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 1.9 pounds | Cable length: 3.94 feet | Frequency response: 5-40,000 Hz | Drivers: 1.57 inch | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: 103 dB/mW | Impedance: 32 ohms | Battery life: 20+ hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: Yes
Brilliant Hi-Res Audio functionality
Lack of low-battery warning
No touch controls
Lovely to wear, great to look at and fantastic for sound, the Sony H.ear On MDR-100ABNs would be a fine buy for anyone looking for noise-cancelling wireless headphones with the added bonus of Hi-Res Audio.
At £220/$350 (around $AU480) they’ll certainly be at the higher end of most budgets – but I wouldn’t hesitate to hand over that sort of money for headphones that have enough tech in them to last years.
Read the full review: Sony H.ear On MDR-100ABN
- Alternative pick: If you’re looking for a super premium pair of noise-canceling cans, check out the Philips Fidelio NC1.