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The best wired and wireless pairs available


Every pair of headphones we test is put through a series of real-world tests to determine how good they are, leaving you with a selection of the best headphones available right now.

We’ve tried to make sure there are a range of headphones to choose from including the best wireless headphones, the best noise cancellers, audiophile headphones, on-ears, over-ears and more. Whatever type of headphone you’re looking for, there is a pair of headphones to match your needs here. 

Our in-depth testing covers the design and how comfortable they are to wear. If they come bundled with features, we’ll go through and test each one, testing the ANC in busy areas, making sure the wireless connection holds up, and carrying out calls to see if these headphones are good enough to handle calls both indoors and outdoors. If a headphone comes with a battery test, we’ll perform a battery drain to make sure it lives up to the manufacturer’s claims.

If despite our best efforts, you haven’t found what you’re looking for on this list, don’t fret. We’ve got many more audio best lists to have a look at that include the best noise cancelling headphones, best running headphones, best wireless headphones and best wireless earbuds.

Best headphones at a glance

How we test

Learn more about how we test headphones

Not just anybody can review a pair of headphones. You don’t need superhuman hearing to tell what’s good, but you do need to know what to listen out for.

Our headphone tests are done by some of the best and most prolific reviewers in the industry, with years of experience listening to everything from the plasticky freebie earbuds that come with your smartphone, to five-figure beasts of glass and marble. We love music and we want your tunes to sound good, too.

So we listen every pair of headphones we can get on or in our ears. We use a variety of sources, from basic MP3s playing on a laptop to high-quality tracks on dedicated hi-res audio players.

Our test tracks are wide-ranging to give headphones a thorough challenge. They’re also familiar, so we know every track backwards, and we know which bits might trouble the lesser performers.

We listen again and again, and we do that for weeks in case the sound changes – because it usually does. Then we’ll listen to similarly priced rivals and come up with a verdict that reflects the performance and features for the money.

Sony WH-1000XM5

Best wireless over-ears

Pros

  • Excellent comfort
  • Musical, rich audio performance
  • Impressively clean and natural noise cancellation
  • Superb Ambient Mode
  • Great call quality

Cons

  • Non-foldable design
  • Connection gets choppy in busy areas

Winner of best headphone and best noise cancelling at our 2022 awards, the Sony WH-1000XM5 feature a tweaked design and subtle changes to the audio but they add up to one of the most impressive headphones at their price.

They have a more modern look than the WH-1000XM4 although the redesigned earcups can’t be folded in, following in the footsteps of Bose’s NC 700 HP and Apple’s AirPods Max. This change has been done to offer better noise cancelling performance, and in testing we found it did reduced wind noise for a quieter ANC experience.

We also sensed the WH-1000XM5’s noise cancelling tackled higher frequency sounds with more confidence than the XM4, although we did feel the XM4 model suppressed voices better. The new mode coped with other noises well, with everything from big crowds to commuting on transport reduced to a hush. With eight microphones to assist call quality and noise cancellation, the Ambient Mode offered a noticeable improvement over the older model with a clearer, natural sound.

There have also been incremental improvements to the already great audio performance. The mid-range sounds slightly richer and more detailed, with increased definition and clarity to instruments and voices. Music also takes place within a wider soundstage and bass has more texture and clarity then on older models. Taken together and it makes the WH-1000XM5 a great listen with any genre.

For features the Quick Attention mode filters through outside sound at a moment’s notice, and Speak To Chat (which pauses music when you’re speaking) are back. Battery life remains unchanged at 30 hours of runtime, and we managed to get around a week’s use from these headphones. If you’re after more longevity then both the Technics EAH-A800 and Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless offer 50 and 60 hours respectively.

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Sony WH-1000XM5

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II

 Best ANC earbuds

Pros

  • Top-tier noise cancelling and ambient modes
  • Improved sound over the original
  • Slimline design
  • AptX support on the way
  • Improved battery capacity

Cons

  • More expensive than before
  • Average call quality
  • Still susceptible to wind noise

Bose and Sony are locked in a never-ending battle of one-upmanship when it comes to their noise-cancelling headphones, and we feel that in terms of ANC performance Bose has beaten Sony with its QuietComfort Earbuds II.

The sequel has been revamped from the original QuietComfort Earbuds, not as chunky (but still fairly big) and ditching the Stay Hear tips for a shape that fits into the ear better and helps remove some ambient noise before the ANC kicks in. They’re comfortable to wear over long periods of use, though it’s a slight disappointment that we can hear some minor wind noise with ANC activated, an issue we had hoped the new model had eradicated.

Despite that, this is the finest noise-cancellation we’ve tested in a true wireless so far, removing more sounds than its nearest challenger in the Sony WF-1000XM5. While not every sound was removed, the Bose weren’t far off from achieving that goal. When we stopped using them we were always surprised by how loud our surroundings were. Improvements include suppressing people’s voices, which it does even better than the original did.

The Aware mode is excellent too, producing a clear, detailed, and natural performance. Bose’s ActiveSense technology works similarly to the AirPods Pro 2‘s transparency mode in automatically reducing loud background noises. When we used it on the London Underground, we found it worked very well during a conversation with another person.

The audio performance is noticeably better on this model than it is on the original, with the top end of the frequency range brighter and bass is bigger and punchier. Vocals carry more weight too, and there’s a better sense of depth and width than we can recall with the original. The sequel is a better listen overall.

There aren’t many features but there is a three-band EQ to customise the sound profile of the buds within the app, and we found the wireless performance to be excellent, with barely a hint of a dropout noted. One disappointment is the call quality performance. Vocal clarity is good, but in noisy areas the earphones let in too much noise.

All in all this is an impressive performance that improves upon the original. It has been superseded by the QuiteComfort Ultra Earbuds which add Snapdragon Sound support and Bose’s Immersive Audio feature, though we don’t find the noise-cancelling to be as good on that model.

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II

Sony WF-1000XM5

Best wireless earbuds

Pros

  • Smaller, lighter design
  • Powerful noise-cancellation
  • More detailed, balanced audio performance
  • Plenty of smart, convenient features

Cons

  • Bose a smidge better for ANC
  • Slightly odd call performance

While the WF-1000XM5 has stiff competition from the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II, in terms of the overall performance, we’d give the Sony the edge.

The design is smaller and lighter, making for a more favourable and comfortable fit. With the introduction of an extra small ear-tip size, there’s more room to fit a wider range of ears.

Featuring the Dynamic Driver X, the bass performance isn’t as powerful or as fun as it was on the WF-1000XM4 but the bass carries more detail and clarity. The midrange has a better sense of fine detail, especially with voices, and the high frequencies are sharper, clearer and more detailed.

The noise-cancelling performance is another area where the XM5 improve on the WF-1000XM4, able to suppress voices and general noise better for a much quieter performance. We found the transparency mode is clear and detailed, although we find the WF-1000XM4 is slightly clearer. However, for the best noise-cancelling performance, the QuietComfort Earbuds II are the better choice.

Wireless performance is good in both AAC and LDAC playback modes, and theses earbuds are bundled with an array features from EQ customisation, voice assistant support, gesture controls, and more. These are as comprehensive a pair of true wireless as you’re likely to find on the feature front. They do pretty much everything you could think of.

Battery life matches the WF-1000XM4, with 8 hours per earbuds and 24 in total with the charging case. The one area we felt that could be improved was call quality. It’s decent but it allows background noise to peek through whenever we spoke but was silent when we weren’t speaking. We found that a strange quirk of these wireless earphones.

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Sony WF-1000XM5

Meze Audio Empyrean II

Best audiophile headphones

Pros

  • Poised, informative and endlessly listenable
  • Specified, constructed and finished without apparent compromise
  • Comfortable through even the longest listening sessions

Cons

  • Not cheap to buy
  • Not discreet to wear
  • Not as outright punchy as you might prefer

The Empyrean II picks up where the original left off and for those that consider themselves audiophiles, they deliver a remarkable audio performance.

Let’s start with the design, which is on the large side and our reviewer felt they could make you feel a little daft when wearing them but these wired headphones aren’t ones that you’d wear outside. But these are distinctive in looks and comfortable to wear even after several hours thanks to the way they are designed. Earpads are included in the accessories, and switching between the earpads was a task we found easy enough thanks to Rinaro’s isomagnetic coupling technology.

Meze Audio offers five different cable types at different lengths, so overall you get a choice of ten different cables to suit your set-up when you’re ordering the headphones.

The claimed frequency response is 8Hz – 100kHz, which to be frank is unheard of (most of which the human ear won’t be able to hear anyway), but the sound the Empyrean II produces is stellar. They feature a neutral sound and boast remarkable levels of detail retreival and resolution, our reviewer finding that their tonal balance from the bottom to the top end of the frequency range to be impeccable. The low end is relayed in substantial and deep terms, the midrange is loaded with information, and showcase plenty of dynamic headroom.

Of course you’d need a decent amplifier and high quality sources to make these headphone sing, especially with its price of £2749 / $2999, but these are wired headphones that you’ll want to keep continue listening to over and over again.

Reviewer: Simon Lucas
Full Review: Meze Empyrean II

Rode NTH-100

Best professional headphones

Pros

  • Articulate, convincing sound in all scenarios
  • Built to last
  • Good-looking (in a purposeful sort of way)

Cons

  • Sonic even-handedness won’t suit everybody
  • Hard-wired configuration won’t be for all
  • Earpads heat up over time

The Røde NTH-100 are a fantastic choice if you’re in need of a pair of headphones for professional use. This is reflected in their detailed and balanced audio that makes them ideal as a pair of reference headphones for mixing, especially when dealing with lossless audio.

Our reviewer found the bass carried plenty of depth without the typical superficial excitement present with cheaper headphones. The mid-range unpacks every last detail of a track, alongside a smooth top-end that makes listening to these headphones a pleasure.

The NTH-100 lack the features of wireless headphones like the Sony WH-1000XM5 and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds on this list. What you do get is a very long 2.4m cable (an optional 1.2m is available for extra cost) and a clever fitting system known as FitLock that allows you to lock in the headband position of the NTH-100 so it remains in the correct position for your head at all times.

In terms of their design, the NTH-100 adhere totally to the expectation of what over ear headphones look like in general. They build quality is very fine, the all-black finish and Alcantara-covered memory foam for earpads contact helps them to be especially comfortable. If performance-per-pound is what you’re in the market for, then the Røde are great whether it’s for casual or critical listening.

Reviewer: Simon Lucas
Full Review: Røde NTH-100

Focal Bathys

Best premium wireless headphones

Pros

  • Clear, insightful sound
  • Strong wireless performance
  • Long battery life
  • Excellent call quality
  • Standout looks

Cons

  • Beaten for ANC
  • Premium price
  • Use of real leather may not appeal to some

When it comes to premium wireless headphones, there’s a growing body of headphones from the likes of Apple, Master & Dynamic, Mark Levinson, and Bowers & Wilkins, and at the top of that list we feel is the Focal Bathys.

Priced at £699 / $799, the Bathys come in either a black/silver finish or the dune colourway that we reviewed. They are a distinctive looking pair of headphones, sporting and elegant and tasteful look that lives up to the premium price, the flame logo in the middle of the earcups can light up for added style. The area we’re perhaps less convinced about the design are the buttons, which a little rudimentary and don’t offer the kind of feedback we’d like.

The audio performance is the main reason to purchase these headphones. The Bathys present a crisp, clean, and defined soundstage without sounding too sharp or too hard, producing a more natural sound than the Bowers & Wilkins Px8 delivers with its more musical and flowing sound. There’s excellent balance achieved in terms of tone, enough dynamic headroom to allow voices and instruments to flourish. Listen to it through a wired connection and it sounds even better.

The ANC isn’t as strong as the Px8, offering a lighter touch but still good enough to keep most external sounds at bay. Walking through the streets of London and we felt our listening experience wasn’t disrupted much, but on public transport and planes, there are better headphones that can deal with louder noises. The transparency mode is very good: clear, natural, and without producing much noise either.

Battery life is claimed to be around 30 hours, but in our tests we found that the headphones could longer, at least if you have an Android smartphone and an aptX Adaptive connection. The wireless performance is excellent with only the briefest stutter experience in a busy area, while call quality is among the best we’ve heard with excellent voice pick-up and background noises being kept to a minimum.

If you want high fidelity premium sound, then look no further than the Focal Bathys

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Focal Bathys

Grado SR325x

Best wired on-ears

Pros

  • Insightful, detailed and spacious presentation
  • Striking design
  • Low impedance drivers

Cons

  • Comfort may be an issue for some
  • Design isn’t especially portable

Anyone familiar with the Grado brand will be able to identify the SR325x as one of their headphones in a heartbeat. A pair of on-ears with an open-backed design, it’s an approach that’s been at the heart of Grado’s offering for decades, the open-backed design grants these headphones a bigger, more spacious soundstage.

It does make them a leaky-sounding pair of headphones, so if you’re using these on public transport, be prepared to to have people looking at you. The Grado SR325x offer terrific consistency in their balanced approach to music, emphasising a natural tone and fantastic clarity with instruments and vocals. We found the stereo image to be full of depth, the sharpness and definition, giving music a great sense of fidelity.

You will need high quality audio files to get the best from them but with their 38 ohm impedance, you’ll be able to connect these wired headphones to a range of devices without the need for further amplification to drive them.

We found the design to be of premium quality, the metal housing for each earcup offers a durable finish, and the brand’s ‘F’ type earcups are ones we felt were especially comfortable during use. As seems to be the case with on-ears, you may experience a degree of pinching depending on the size of your ear, in which case an over-ear such as the Monolith M1070 or Austrian Audio Hi-X65 may be preferable.

Nevertheless, these are an insightful, precise and detailed pair of on-ear headphones, an audiophile pair of cans without the price tag to go with it.

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Grado SR325x

SoundMagic P23BT

Best affordable on-ears

Pros

  • Refined and detailed sound
  • Compact and lightweight design
  • Long battery life
  • Cheap

Cons

  • Can pinch on the ears
  • Not what you’d call stylish

On-ear headphones have their pros and cons, but they still remain a popular choice among commuters, and the SoundMagic P23BT are one of the best we’ve reviewed in recent years.

The P23BT are an affordable (£49.99), support aptX-HD Bluetooth for higher quality sound and can last for around 50-60 hours.

The design has the same issues that plague any on-ear, in that they can pinch around the earlobes (especially if you have bigger ears) and it can leak sound in from the outside world. Get past that and the SoundMagic have a lightweight and foldable design that made it easier for us to stow away when not in use. Touch controls are cleverly integrated into the earcups. In use, they’re surprisingly responsive.

Features are few for a pair of headphones such as these, with aptX-HD Bluetooth the most notable in offering wearers the chance to stream music at a higher quality bit-rate. Our reviewer found the headphones capable of much more subtlety than expected, with a midrange full of detail, treble that’s bright and sharp and detailed bass. The Marshall Major IV are a great deal more bassy in their performance, but we find the P23BT more balanced overall.

Given the price these headphones are bargain, and for those not big on features and just need a simple pair of on-ears to listen to, we highly recommend the SoundMagic.

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: SoundMagic P23BT

Sony WH-CH720N

Best affordable ANC over-ears

Pros

  • Lightweight, comfortable design
  • Affordable price
  • Solid noise-cancelling
  • Fun, punchy audio
  • Long battery life

Cons

  • Sound profile is a bit bassy
  • Could benefit from extra lashings of detail and clarity
  • Average call quality

The WH-CH720N are Sony’s most affordable noise-cancelling headphones, putting in a strong performance for its sub-£100 / $100 price.

The CH720N are mostly constructed from recycled plastic, and the build quality is good with no noticeable creaks or groans. Using plastic keeps the headphones weight down to 192g, and the padding on the headband and earcups ensures they’re comfortable to wear. The lack the stylistic flourishes and premium feel of more expensive headphones, but they do a job for the asking price.

Features for a headphone of this price are extensive with active noise-cancellation and transparency mode included, along with Bluetooth multipoint to connect to two devices at once, app support (for more customisation) and voice assistance in both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. Battery life is long, as we estimated these headphones could last as much as 40 hours with noise-cancelling on.

Noise-cancellation is solid at this price. It focuses on reducing low frequency sounds and clearing away ambient noise, making the daily commutes and journeys more tolerable. Compared to the Soundcore Space One we feel they clear out more noise.

The sound quality puts an emphasis on smoothness and bass, with a punchy low-end, clear and detailed midrange and a treble performance that’s bright and clear enough to enjoy. They’re an improvement on the CH710N, and for those after a pair of affordable ANC headphones, the CH720N is our recommendation for the best choice.

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Sony WH-CH720N

Tribit TR-KH01

Best affordable kids’ headphones

Pros

  • Cute and comfortable design
  • Volume-limited to protect ears
  • Great sound quality for their price

Cons

  • No volume up/down button on the cable
  • Call quality suffers with volume-limiting on
  • Kids can turn off volume-limiting easily

The Tribit Starlet01 Kids are cute, comfortable and volume-limited, making them a great buy for any parent looking to protect their kids’ ears while they do homework, watch movies and play games. 

The headphones have a bright, single-colour design, making them look vibrant and age-appropriate without running the risk of appearing too childish in the same vein as the animal ear-toting Planet Buddies Volume Limited Headphones. 

The fit is comfortable too, with the headband being lightweight and adjustable, and the ear cups soft and padded. 

The headline feature here is the volume-limiting technology. This feature ensures the volume is kept to the WHO-recommended level of 85dB, with the option to switch over to 94dB in busier environments. This is a popular feature for kids’ headphones as it helps to prevent issues like noise-induced hearing loss. You can also find volume-limiting on certain adult headphones, such as the PuroPro Hybrid ANC headphones. 

The Starlet01 Kids are wired headphones, meaning there’s no Bluetooth support for wireless listening. One benefit to this is that you don’t need to worry about charging up the battery before a trip, though you may find you need to pick up an adapter to use the headphones with any device that doesn’t carry a 3.5mm jack (the iPhone 14, for example). 

For those in need of volume-limited wireless headphones, look toward the Planet Buddies Wireless Headphones or Tribit’s own Starlet02 kids headphones. 

Despite this, the Starlet01 outperform the Planet Buddies when it comes to audio quality, offering fantastic tonal balance and detail for such an affordable pair of kids’ headphones. 

There are some drawbacks to the Tribit Starlet01. Playback controls are limited and the volume limit switch is easily accessible to kids. However, the volume cannot go higher than 94dB and both the sound quality and fit are fantastic, making the Starlet01 our favourite pair of budget kids’ headphones. 

Reviewer: Hannah Davies
Full Review: Tribit Starlet01 Kids

We also considered…

FAQs

What are the best Bluetooth headphones?

The Sony WH-1000XM5 would get vote for the best overall headphones. The feature set is comprehensive, the wireless connection reliable, and of course, they sound excellent for the money, too.

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