The 9 Best Headphones for Music Lovers in 2022

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Having a pair of the best headphones for music lovers with which to immerse yourself in your favorite tunes is more important than ever. Privacy these days is at a premium and a solid pair of headphones give you just that—the opportunity to drown out the world around you and focus on the task at hand, or just forget about everything else for a hot minute. Our favorite headphones are comfortable, feature impressive sound quality and even pack in some cool features like active noise-cancellation and wireless connectivity.

With the way the market has absolutely exploded in the last few years, finding the best headphones can now be a tricky proposition. It's largely a matter of prioritizing what's most important for you, whether that's pure audio quality, comfort, wired/wireless, and what features you value most. If you're mostly wearing cans on your noisy commute, noise-canceling is essential. Watch a ton of movies with headphones? You'll probably want some kind of virtual surround sound capability.

The good news about the rising level of competition in the headphone space is that you probably won't need to pay a massive premium to get the perfect 'phones. We sifted through a staggering amount of options and plucked out the very best headphones for music lovers.

Best Overall: Sony WH1000XM3 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Sony WH1000XM3 Noise Cancelling Headphones


What We Like
  • Fantastic audio quality

  • Best-in-class noise canceling

  • AptX HD and LDAC support

What We Don't Like
  • Slightly subpar call quality

If you want the convenience of a wireless connection, but still want to make sure you’re getting the best music experience possible, then it’s important to pay attention to Bluetooth codecs. For great sound, you should make sure your music files are in a high-quality format, and that both your headphones and playback device support the AptX HD or LDAC Bluetooth codecs.

This is where the Sony WH1000XM3 headphones come in. The industry-leading headphones support a wide range of Bluetooth Codecs, including both AptX HD and LDAC for supreme sound quality—and that’s just the beginning of what makes these a dazzling pair of wireless headphones.

The Sony WH1000XM3's also feature best-in-class active noise canceling with a dedicated processor to go on top of the snug fit, which helps keep out noise. You also get the option of a wired connection which expands the frequency response range (4Hz-40kHz wired vs. 20Hz-40kHz LDAC wireless). The WH1000XM3 headphones also have a number of quality-of-life features, like a quick-charging battery (10 minutes gets you five hours of playtime, while a full charge gets you 30), touch sensor controls, and a built-in mic for use with voice assistants and hands-free calling. In his review, Jason praised the amazing sound quality and best-in-class noise cancelation the WH1000XM3 boasts.

Type: Over-ear | Connection Type: Bluetooth | ANC: Yes | Water/Sweat Resistant: No

"Magnificent headphones with noise canceling and a bevy of other features." — Jason Schneider, Product Tester

Sony WH-1000XM3


Best for High-End Sound Quality: Sennheiser HD 650

Sennheiser HD 650


What We Like
  • Great sound

  • Sturdy build quality

  • Elegant design

What We Don't Like
  • Tight fit

Sennheiser offers a more affordable high-end audio option with their HD 650 headphones. Just bear in mind that these have an impedance of 300 ohms, so you won’t be using them with any old smartphone or laptop headphone jack. You’ll need an amp to get much sound out of these, but once you're hooked up, you’ll get incredible audio.

The Sennheiser HD 650 headphones have an over-ear, open-back design. You’ll feel immersed in your music, and all of it will come through crisp thanks to a 10Hz-39,500Hz frequency response range and reference-class design. You’ll want to make sure you have a quiet listening area though, as the open-back will let external noise in and let your audio out.

At just over half a pound, the HD 650 headphones are light on the head and have a soft headband and cushy, breathable ear pads. Customer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive for the headphones. However, because of their dependence on a quality amp for audio playback, your experience will depend on what you pair these with. In his review, Jason said the Sennheisers were "great for audiophiles and professional producers because of their amazing frequency response and high-quality build."

Type: Over-ear, open back | Connection Type: 3.5mm wired | ANC: No | Water/Sweat Resistant: No

"If you’re a professional or an audiophile, you can‘t do much better than the Sennheiser HD 650." — Jason Schneider, Product Tester  

Sennheiser HD 650


Best Value: Anker Soundcore Life Q30

Anker Soundcore Life Q30


What We Like
  • Great EQ options

  • Excellent build quality

  • Next-level battery life

  • Great price point

What We Don't Like
  • Can feel heavy after extended use

  • Bass-heavy sound profile

  • No extra features or fancy controls

Anker Soundcore is the audio brand owned by Anker, and as such, the price point on the Anker Soundcore Life Q30 headphones provides a really nice value for the feature set. Because Anker’s expertise is at the helm here, it isn’t surprising to see truly impressive battery life. Anker Soundcore promises upwards of 40 hours with active noise cancellation activated and an insane 60 hours of continuous playback if ANC is off. These numbers aren’t even present on premium Bluetooth headphones like Sony’s WH line and Bose’s QC line, so to see this amount of battery life on $70 is truly amazing.

The sound quality and noise cancellation here is totally serviceable but nothing to write home about. The spec sheet puts the frequency response well beyond the official hearing range of the human ear, so you’ll have plenty of frequency coverage. The sound quality feels a little bass-heavy out of the box, but you can use the Anker Soundcore app to customize the EQ settings to get yourself a more detailed and balanced sound. You can adjust the noise cancellation to fit your surroundings, with settings optimized for travel, office work, and more. There’s a transparency mode, too, to make sure you're aware in public environments.

The whole package here also feels really premium. The design isn’t as subtle as some more premium offerings but definitely has enough attention to detail to look good. The soft ear cups feel comfortable, but the heavy weight of the headphones could lead to fatigue for heavy users. Overall the fit and finish here feels nice, right down to the hard shell travel case, and when you factor that in alongside the price, the Q30s really do provide one of the best values in the headphone game.

Anker Soundcore Life Q30

Lifewire / Jason Schneider

Type: Over-ear | Connection Type: Bluetooth | ANC: Yes | Water/Sweat Resistant: No

"The high quality of this junction point makes the headphones feel really premium, and it will probably take a beating pretty well over time."Jason Schneider, Product Tester

Best for Fitness: Jaybird X4

Jaybird X4


What We Like
  • Substantial build quality

  • Sporty design

  • Full, bassy sound

What We Don't Like
  • Eight hour battery life

Subway commuter? Marathon runner? Fast-walking multi-tasker? Wherever you listen to music, the Jaybird X4 are the headphones that customize your music to your lifestyle, from the sound to the fit. Use the Jaybird app to adjust the bass or treble and save your settings for future listening sessions. With interchangeable ear fins, adjustable Speed Cinch, and silicone Comply Ultra Foam tips, the earbuds adjust to fit your ear shape, ensuring both comfort and security throughout your day—the entire day, if necessary. The earbuds offer an eight-hour battery life and can receive an hour of charge in just ten minutes.

Need to pause your listening to call home or check in with your boss? Along with controlling volume and skipping tracks, the headphones also let you answer and end calls with just the touch of a button. Our reviewer, Jason, found them a great option for vigorous workouts.

Type: In-ear | Connection Type: Bluetooth | ANC: No | Water/Sweat Resistant: Both (IPX7)

"If you want only a reliable set of running headphones that won’t break down on you, then look no further." — Jason Schneider, Product Tester

Jaybird X4

Best Design: Microsoft Surface Headphones

Microsoft Surface Headphones


What We Like
  • Unique control scheme

  • Interesting new design

  • Customizable noise canceling

What We Don't Like
  • Underwhelming battery life

Microsoft's Surface line has always been geared towards designers. And the sleek, gray look of the new Surface headphones is about as modern and minimal as you can get. These are noise-canceling headphones, made from soft-touch lightweight plastic and a memory-foam-style pad. They weigh in at just over half a pound so they're suitable for long listening sessions.

Microsoft has also including some unique design features here. You may remember the Surface Dial from 2016, a puck-shaped accessory that operated as an unconventional rotating tool beside the Surface Studio. This unique accessory seems to have informed the design of the headphones—you can actually turn the outer part of the ear cup like a dial to adjust the level of noise canceling. This feature is probably the most unique part of the Surface headphones and makes them especially versatile. If you're working in a noisy office, you can block out surrounding conversations and just listen to your music. If you're walking down the street and need a little more situational awareness, let in some ambient sound. The 40mm Free Edge driver puts out decent sound quality (though most reviews point to it being "passable" rather than exceptional), delivering sound pressure levels up to 115 dB and covering a frequency spectrum of 20–20,000 Hz. They might not impress hardcore audiophiles, but they're perfectly suitable as a pair of stylish everyday headphones for more casual listening.

The Microsoft Surface headphones connect via Bluetooth or aux cable. They come with a sturdy carrying case and work seamlessly with Siri, Google Assistant, and of course Microsoft’s Cortana. Jason praised the unique dial controls and customizable noise-canceling features in his review.

Type: Over-ear | Connection Type: Bluetooth | ANC: Yes | Water/Sweat Resistant: No

"If you love Surface Products, and you want a stable, solidly built set of headphones to fit into your Windows lifestyle, look no further." — Jason Schneider, Product Tester

Microsoft Surface Headphones



Best Bluetooth for iPhone: Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H8i

Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H8i


What We Like
  • Spectacular audio quality

  • Premium materials

  • Durable

  • Extremely comfortable

  • Great battery life

What We Don't Like
  • Frustrating setup

  • Annoying power on and noise-canceling indicator sounds

  • Auto pause/play was occasionally unreliable

When it comes down to it, music lovers’ main concern is really sound quality and these Bang & Olufsen headphones don’t disappoint. They house 40mm electro-dynamic drivers that produce a deeply rich and balanced sound with high clarity and crisp mids, and we’re happy to report that the sound quality holds up even when used wirelessly over Bluetooth. There's also advanced, hybrid active noise cancellation technology integrated into the H8i, which uses two microphones (one inside the ear cup and one on the exterior of the headset) to detect and eliminate distracting noise pollution. The battery life impresses too, promising an incredible 45 hours of playtime per charge (or up to 30 with both Bluetooth and ANC continuously activated).

Aside from sound quality, anyone who knows Bang & Olufsen knows the company is renowned for its design details. Sleek yet sturdy, the Beoplay H4 is made of metal with rich lambskin leather on the headband and features memory foam earpads. Our reviewer, Andy, praised the H8i for the high-quality sound and luxury experience of wearing such a thoughtfully designed headset.

Type: Over-ear | Connection Type: Bluetooth | ANC: Yes | Water/Sweat Resistant: No

"The Bang & Olufsen H8i is an ideal listening device for audiophiles on the go." — Andy Zahn, Product Tester

Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H8i

Lifewire / Andy Zahn

Best Noise-Canceling: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700


What We Like
  • Tight, crisp sound

  • Six mics for noise canceling

  • Great call quality

What We Don't Like
  • Unimpressive battery life

Bring the concert to your home, office, or on vacation with the Bose 700, a stylish and modern addition to the wireless noise-canceling headphone market. Though expensive, they're well worth the investment. Expect tight, crisp, and energetic sound that amply delivers deep, powerful bass without overwhelming your eardrums with piercing high-frequencies. While there is currently no equalizer control, Bose has announced it will soon be available through the app.

It would be remiss not to mention the 700’s main feature: It contains six microphones for noise cancellation, which is fully adjustable and can block out sounds completely or let in sounds around you so clearly that you might forget you’re wearing headphones at all. It boasts strong call quality and is compatible with your voice assistant of choice. You control the headphones through physical buttons as well as a touch-sensitive panel on the front half of the right earcup, governing track, volume, voice assistants, and phone calls. One of its only stumbles is its battery life. While 20 hours of power is impressive, it does fall short of that of competitors. In testing, our reviewer Andy called the Bose 700s "nearly perfect," with flawless audio, excellent noise-canceling, and a great fit.

Type: Over-ear | Connection Type: Bluetooth | ANC: Yes | Water/Sweat Resistant: Yes (IPX4)

"Between the awesome sound quality, the powerful noise-cancelling technology, and the blissful comfort, the Bose 700 manages to stand out even against so many great alternatives." — Andy Zahn, Product Tester

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

Lifewire / Andy Zahn

Best Bass: Sony WH-XB900N

Sony WH-XB900N


What We Like
  • Excellent bass

  • Clear mids and highs

  • Solid noise-canceling

What We Don't Like
  • Slightly uncomfortable for long sessions

Headphones that advertise bass response as their top feature, tend to do so at the expense of clarity and evenness over the rest of the frequency spectrum. With the WH-XB900Ns, Sony is trying a new approach by building some bass functionality into the construction of the headphones themselves. Designed into the ear cups is a “bass duct” which, according to Sony’s marketing materials, is much like a bass port in a larger speaker. This means you’ll get some bass boost without the need to blow out the bottom end of the spectrum on the digital side.

Add this together with a pretty tight seal around your ears, 1.57-inch drivers, and solid noise-canceling, and you’ll have a full, rich, immersive experience. With coverage across the full spectrum of 3Hz to 20kHz, you won’t be left wanting on that front with these headphones. The battery life is impressive, too, allowing for 30 hours of listening on a single charge, and you even have the option to quick-charge for a speedy top-off. There’s Bluetooth 5.0 for the most modern connectivity, NFC for tap-and-go pairing with compatible devices, touch controls, and smart assistant functionality. It all sits in a sleekly designed package that, for our money, looks pretty close to Sony’s flagship WH-1000X line.

Type: Over-ear | Connection Type: Bluetooth | ANC: Yes | Water/Sweat Resistant: No

"For large heads we found the WH-XB900N to be exceptionally comfortable. The earcups are spacious and thickly lined with high quality padding." — Andy Zahn, Product Tester

Sony WH-XB900N

Lifewire / Andy Zahn

Best Studio Monitor Headphones: Audio-Technica Professional Studio Monitor Headphones

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x


What We Like
  • Very affordable

  • Impressive audio quality

  • Foldable, compact design

What We Don't Like
  • Quality suffers slightly in wireless mode

With thousands of users singing the praises of Audio-Technica's ATH-M50x Pro headphones, it's really hard to mount an argument against them. While there are definitely more sonically impressive headphones out there, these hit a sweet spot—one where incredible studio monitor sound collides with a price tag that comes in way, way below the brand's competitors'.

The ATH-M50x headset’s design is simple, with wide ear cups for an over-ear fit, and faux leather on the headband and ear pads. The cable is interchangeable, with three different cables included in the package and a simple twist lock to hold them in place. The headphones are also foldable, making them easy to pack up for on-the-go use.

The ATH-M50x headphones have a low impedance at 38 Ohms, so you can use them with mobile devices. As far as specs go, they also have a frequency response range from 15Hz to 28kHz, which means their 45mm drivers deliver rich. Reviews for the ATH-M50x headset are so overwhelmingly positive, they can't be ignored as an excellent blend of budget and quality. Pick up a pair in black, blue, red, white, or gunmetal.

Type: Over-ear | Connection Type: Bluetooth | ANC: No | Water/Sweat Resistant: No

"There was plenty of detail for podcast listening, but if you’re someone who wants to do a lot of production of speaking voices, you might be better off elsewhere." — Jason Schneider, Product Tester

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x

Lifewire / Jason Schneider 

Final Verdict

If you're looking for the best all-around headphones, with a bevy of features and the best noise-canceling technology available anywhere, the Sony WH1000XM3s should be at the very top of your list (as they are on ours). On the other hand, if absolutely perfect sound quality is king, the Sennheiser HD 650 provides some of the best we've ever heard.

How We Tested

Our expert reviewers and editors evaluate headphones based on design, audio quality, comfort, and features. We test their real-life performance in actual use cases, listening to music or podcasts while we commute, watching films, playing games, and working both at home and in an office environment. We also consider each unit as a value proposition—whether or not a product justifies its price tag, and how it compares to competitive products. All of the models we reviewed were purchased by Lifewire; none of the review units were furnished by the manufacturer or retailer.

About Our Trusted Experts

Patrick Hyde has over four years of experience writing about technology, and his work has appeared in outlets as varied as The Los Angeles Review of Books and Rawkus. His expertise in headphones and audio gear/equipment made him the perfect choice to lead our best headphones roundup.

Jason Schneider is an experienced tech journalist who's been covering the industry for nearly a decade now. He's also an expert in headphones and audio equipment, and reviewed four of the headsets we selected for our list.

Andy Zahn is a writer specializing in tech. He's reviewed cameras, weather stations, noise-cancelling headphones, and more for Lifewire.

  • What's the best way to clean headphones?

    Headphones can get pretty grimy with repeated use and, in extreme cases, the buildup can even start to impact sound quality and functionality. Luckily, cleaning them is pretty simple: grab a soft cloth and remove all the surface grime you can, and then just attack all the nooks and crannies with a paper towel and Q-tip that's been dabbed in some rubbing alcohol. If you can, remove the earcups to remove any hidden buildup, and extend the band to its maximum setting.

  • How does noise canceling work in headphones?

    Passive noise canceling is a very analog solution that relies on stuff like additional padding to muffle outside noise, but it's significantly less effective and active noise-canceling tech. ANC deploys microphones to detect low-frequency noise and then the headset actually plays a phase-inverted tone to nullify the noise before it reaches your ears.

  • What determines audio quality in headphones?

    Audio quality is the result of a number of different factors, some of which are specific to headphones and some which apply more broadly regardless of the output device. When evaluating sound quality we test everything from frequency response at the low, mid, and high end of the spectrum, the audio soundstage, harmonic distortion, sound accuracy, and more.

The Ultimate Guide to Buying Headphones for Music Lovers 

If you’re a music fan, a pair of headphones is honestly one of the most important purchases for you. While a solid pair of speakers is up there, with our on-the-go lifestyles and the amount of time we spend streaming audio from our phones, headphones will largely get the most mileage. And with the modern need for headphones, there comes a verifiably massive spread of options that range from premium Bluetooth headphones with impressive noise-canceling to high-end studio headphones, and all the way down to budget wired options.

The most important factor in this decision is what your main use is going to be for the headphones. That might sound obvious, but considering how many features you can pack into a pair of headphones, it is an important barometer for making your choice. Do you plan on wearing the headphones mostly on your commute? Are you going to be bringing them to the gym for your workouts? Or are you an at-home listener, either creating music in your home studio or listening to records with a high-end amplifier? Each of these choices will send you down a vastly different road for this decision.

Once you’ve answered these questions, you can start to put a list of priorities together. This guide aims to break down all of those priorities in clear terms. We’ll get into some nerdy numbers and specs, to be sure, but this guide will mostly focus on your end-use, as a listener. As a result, expect us to use layman's terms whenever possible.

Sony WH-1000XM3
 Lifewire / Jason Schneider 

Form Factor: The first decision you should make Design: Important, but not crucial

Because there are so many headphone options out there, you have your pick of a wide variety of styles. This isn’t the most important decision, but if you’re planning to use these headphones for your commute, they’ll become as much of an accessory as a hat or a jacket. Designs fall into three camps: earbuds, consumer-focused over-ear headphones, and professional studio monitors. Earbuds tend to lean in a sporty direction, opting for low-profile form factors and a gym-friendly appearance. 

Premium over-ear headphones for consumers, on the other hand, tend to be more of a luxury product with a clear visual aesthetic. Sony and Bose headphones have become staples in this regard, and you can hardly walk down a city street without seeing a pair of these. Studio headphones tend to be a lot more utilitarian in design. Sure, they’ll have a look to them, but you won’t see the attention to visual detail and the color options that you’ll see on consumer headphones.

Comfort: Depends on use case 

Obviously, if you listen to music a lot, having a pair of headphones that aren’t comfortable is sort of counterintuitive. But comfort has a lot more to consider than just “do these feel good?” Most earbuds are designed for on-the-go use and portability in your bag, and many earbuds rely on a really tight seal in your ear to provide good sound quality. As a result, you’ll likely make some concessions in the comfort department—as long as they stay in your ears, you can deal with an hour workout. 

Over-ear consumer headphones, on the other hand, have a much bigger focus on luxury materials. The soft-touch leather and memory foam used by the top brands means that these headphones can feel truly plush, making for a very comfortable experience. Professional headphones also feature plush materials (Beyerdynamic is known for their velvet earcups), but also tend to offer a construction that gives solid airflow around your ears. This is all to ensure that long listening or recording sessions don’t lead to stuffy ears. 

One last point to consider is the ability to customize. Most earbud-style headphones come with a set of silicone ear tips that fit different sized ear canals. Over-ear headphones won’t offer the earcup customization, but will allow the headband to extend and contract to fit your head. However, if you are going for this category of headphones, be sure that the earcups aren’t too small, as those with larger ears might feel a little stifled inside the cups.

Sennheiser HD 650
 Lifewire / Jason Schneider 

Build Quality and Durability: Where are you listening? 

Durability means something different for every category of headphones. Earbuds, wireless or otherwise, tend to offer a lot more in the way of waterproofing and dust resistance. This makes sense because they’ll likely be toted around in your bag and used during workouts. In fact, most wireless earbuds even come with their own carrying case. 

Over-ear headphones have much more of a focus on fit and finish rather than durability. It’s difficult to get an IP rating on over-ear headphones because they tend to sound best when the speaker cones are not water sealed. However, manufacturers will use leather-esque coverings, rubberized builds, and otherwise premium materials to give you a satisfying unboxing and to help protect the headphones against wear and tear. Most high-end headphones also tend to come with a matching carrying case, though those cases tend to be bulky in your bag.

Studio headphones
, because they don’t tend to leave the studio as often as consumer-focused headphones, deal much more with sound quality and comfort than durability. Think about it like fine china—these headphones are high quality, but are not meant to be used out in the world and among the elements. Therefore, the most important consideration with studio headphones is that the drivers themselves last a long time, that the earcups don’t break down, and that the cables and wires are built to withstand being plugged and unplugged a lot. Most high-end manufacturers put nice, gold-plated jacks and thick wiring onto their headphones.

Audio Quality: The crux of your experience  

Wired vs. Wireless vs. Studio Headphones: The most important questions

The reason that form factor is so important is because you need to determine if your use case even requires high-end headphones. If portability is your number one priority, many of the “audio quality” specs sort of go out the window. That isn’t to say that wireless earbuds can’t sound good—one look at Sony and Apple’s pro options does away with that concern. But, you’ll sacrifice some power, bass response, and fullness in favor of a portable form factor and better durability. If you want the best sound quality, you’ll definitely need to go with over-ear headphones.

But the conversation doesn’t stop there. If you want the absolute best sound quality, you’ll need to go for wired headphones. Why is that? Well, a vast majority of wireless headphones use the Bluetooth protocol to transmit sound. This technology, by definition, requires your audio to be compressed and wirelessly transmitted. That means that no matter how high quality the original audio file is (and no matter how much digital processing your headphones do when the file arrives), you aren’t hearing the full, raw resolution. To get headphones that take advantage of the best possible scenario, you really can’t cut the cord. 

Jaybird X4 Wireless Sport Headphones
 Lifewire / Jason Schneider 

Frequency range: How much is enough? 

The frequency range debate is always an interesting one. From a scientific standpoint, human beings can only theoretically hear sound within the 20Hz–20kHz range—though that range is actually narrower due to the natural aging of your hearing. Therefore, that range is the maximum that your headphones will need to cover. 

While earbuds tend to offer less on the low end, many over-ear headphones offer ranges wider than this. Does that mean you can hear sounds lower than 20Hz? No. But most audio products don’t work their best at their extremes, so providing a wider range allows for the headphones to more fully reproduce the entire spectrum. If the spec sheet doesn’t feature this bit of information—something that is common with brands like Bose—then don’t worry. The average human has a hard time hearing a lot of detail on the extremes of the frequency range, and sound quality ultimately has a lot more to do with the details below.

Drivers and Impedance: Interesting numbers, but not always helpful 

The drivers on a pair of headphones are the speaker cones that sit inside each piece. Think about them like tiny versions of the speaker cones you see on larger bookshelf speakers. The size of the driver is most important here, as smaller drivers tend to do worse with bassy sounds. So, in general, over-ear headphones will produce a thicker, more powerful sound than most earbuds. 

The material the manufacturer uses for the drivers can play a part, too (you’ll see everything from neodymium to futuristic titanium), but manufacturers tend to tune their own speakers in a way that works for their product specifically. So, if you trust an audio brand, chances are you’ll like how their speakers sound, regardless of what they’re made of.

Impedance is a spec that you’ll have to pay most attention to in-studio headphones. This number, measured ohms, is the technical resistance that a speaker has. In general, a higher impedance means that the headphones require more power (say, from an amplifier) but will give you much more accurate sound when that power is provided. Most consumer headphones sport a lower impedance, especially if they are Bluetooth headphones. High-end studio headphones can feature a wide range, but most of them sit in the 50–80 ohm range. This is likely fine for most people, even if you’re just plugging into a headphone jack on a computer or phone, but as you approach a higher ohm rating, if you don’t have a separate amplifier, you won’t be getting the most out of the headphones.

Microsoft Surface Headphones
 Lifewire / Jason Schneider 

Audio Codecs: File compression has effects

Audio codecs refer specifically to the manner in which your Bluetooth headphones are receiving transferred audio—so this section does not apply to wired headphones. The most common codecs are SBC and AAC, and these codecs are what you’ll see on 95 percent of Bluetooth headphones. They also happen to cause the most loss in your audio file via compression. If you must transfer high-resolution audio files (like WAV or FLAC), then we recommend finding a pair of Bluetooth headphones that feature higher-resolution compression formats, like Qualcomm aptX. This way, more of your source file’s integrity will make it to your headphones. 

Noise Cancellation: For listeners, not producers 

If you’ve been in the market for a pair of high-end headphones, you’ve likely heard about noise cancellation as a premium feature. It is definitely the current mainstay for luxury headphones, but it’s important you understand what is actually happening

If a pair of headphones advertise “passive noise isolation”, then all they’re saying is that the headphones form a tight seal on your ear and physically block out some outside noise. Active noise cancellation, on the other hand, uses battery power and external microphones to read background noise and then use that information to produce white noise that cancels out the background noise inside your headphones. This technology has gotten very advanced, and can be seen at its most effective in options from Sony and Bose. 

However, if you want truly lossless audio performance (as an audiophile or a professional), noise cancellation should most likely be used. That’s because what you’re hearing is your audio with the addition of some noise cancellation wizardry. On high-quality headphones, this won’t be a huge deal, but you still aren’t hearing your true reference file. It’s for this reason that no professional studio headphones feature noise cancellation. But, if you’re looking for headphones that let you isolate yourself in noisy environments like a plane or the subway, noise cancellation can be a great solution.

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
 Lifewire / Andy Zahn

Connectivity and Software: The last piece of the puzzle 

Bluetooth Range and Stability: Important for some

Obviously wired headphones don’t apply to this category, but Bluetooth headphones require some thought on this front. Almost all modern headphones use either Bluetooth 4 or 5—the former provides about 33 feet of range indoors, whereas the latter more than doubles that. Again, the absolute range isn’t as important because you likely won’t ever be more than 10 feet from your source device. 

But, a higher range, in this case, means that you aren’t pushing that range to its limits, and you’ll get better stability in your connection. Bluetooth 5 also offers you the option to connect your headphones to two source devices, allowing for simpler switching back and forth. So, if you are going to use your headphones in high-interference areas, or are concerned about range and stability, make sure your headphones have Bluetooth 5.

One other note is regarding setup and pairing. Most Bluetooth headphones will boot up in pairing mode, or have a simple pairing button, that allows them to pop up in your device’s Bluetooth menu. However, some manufacturers have opted for clever software solutions to this somewhat clunky pairing process. Apple, for instance, has developed the S1 chip (available in all AirPods products) that allows for the AirPods to trigger a popup on iPhones—completely skipping the clunky Bluetooth list. Other headphone manufacturers like Sony and Bose have developed truly robust mobile apps that give you insane control of the sound profile and features of your headphones.

Cables and Connectors: The anti-Bluetooth 

Most over-ear Bluetooth headphones come with an auxiliary output and an aux cord that allow you to plug the headphones right into a standard headphone jack. This is not a feature you’ll see on wireless earbuds because there simply isn’t room in the device for it. This aux option is nice to have just in case your Bluetooth headphone batteries die, and sometimes this connector even allows you to pass audio through via Bluetooth to a second set of wired headphones.

Where this conversation comes most in focus is, obviously, when you’re talking about wired headphones. The way that a pair of high-end wired headphones connect, professional or otherwise, is a lot more important than you might think. That’s why most pro headphones feature gold-plated headphone jacks and really high-gauge wires. Some headphones have a cable that splits and goes to each ear cup for the most stable connection. 

Others feature a single cable that can plug and unplug from the earcup. This is an important design feature because if the cable breaks or frays, then you can just replace the wire rather than the whole set of headphones. Most studio headphones also come with a quarter-inch adapter as that is the most common input for audio interfaces, digital-audio-converters, and amplifiers. These are all important considerations for wired headphones, so pay attention to how the manufacturer designs this feature, because a wire is the most common breaking point for a pair of headphones.

Sony WH-1000XM3
 Lifewire / Jason Schneider 

Battery Life: How long are you going to be unplugged? 

For Bluetooth headphone users, battery life is actually a really important consideration because the whole point of having a pair of Bluetooth headphones is so you can listen to music on the go. Over-ear headphones are bigger devices and therefore tend to have a lot more room for bigger batteries. As a result, you’ll see most high-end units sporting around 30 hours of listening time (though that number decreases if you’re using active noise cancellation). 

Wireless earbuds, on the other hand, will have shorter battery life, but if they are true wireless units, they’ll often feature robust battery cases that can extend the life much closer to that of over-ear headphones. There’s a wide range of battery life totals out there, and oddly, price doesn’t seem to be a direct correlation. So if staying charged up on the go is important to you, make sure you read the hour estimates carefully—there’s nothing worse than stepping out your door only to find a dead pair of Bluetooth headphones.

Price: The sky's the limit 

The three main categories of headphones all imply different price ranges, naturally. True wireless earbuds can be as cheap as $20 and as pricey as $400 sometimes. Over-ear Bluetooth headphones, on the other hand, tend to bottom out at higher prices, and can run you up to $400 as well. It’s when you get into high-end wired headphones and professional monitors that you’ll see the price creep up to the $600–1,000 range. This may seem like a lot, but when you consider how specialized these devices are, you tend to treat them more like a pro instrument than a commute accessory. 

Popular Brands: A handful of standouts


Sony really has something for everyone in this category. The audio giant produces excellent true wireless headphones, truly beautiful over-ear options with insane noise canceling, and they even have closed-back studio monitors that have become industry standards.


Many consider Bose the reigning champ in the Bluetooth/noise-canceling space, and one look at the latest QuietComfort headphones might have you believing it. The SoundSport family of Bluetooth earbuds also present excellent workout options.


Since AirPods have grown to virtually rule the true wireless space, it’s nearly impossible to not mention Apple in this category. And the brand even offers noise cancellation in the pro model. There isn’t an over-ear option, though—at least not yet.


While AT offers some Bluetooth options, this brand is most known for studio monitors and wired options. These headphones are also particularly prevalent in the DJ and EDM space.


Sennheiser is another brand that straddles the line between consumer headphones (the Momentum wireless line is truly great) and studio monitors. The latter is definitely a category in which Sennheiser shines the most.


These are the cream of the crop for studio headphones. Featuring cozy velvet earcups, a model with an ohm rating to match any circumstance, and truly full sound response, these studio headphones are virtually unmatched.

Microsoft Surface Headphones
 Lifewire / Jason Schneider 

Accessories: Some important additions

Because headphones, as a category are kind of accessories unto themselves, you might be surprised to find that there are a few key accessories to consider when buying them. Most high-end Bluetooth headphones (true wireless, over-ear, and otherwise) will feature a carrying case, and sometimes that case will charge the headphones in transit. If your package doesn’t include this, you might consider getting a neoprene pouch to keep your purchase safe when you’re out and about.

High-end, wired headphones require a whole extra batch of considerations that deal with sound quality. As we mentioned, you need to make sure you have the right adapter for the device you’re plugging into. In some cases, the wire isn’t long enough for your studio, so you might even need to invest in an extender. High-end studio headphones also often feature ear cup replacements, many of which offer different feels and textures. 

The last big accessory you might have to purchase is a headphone amp or a digital audio converter. This is most important if you’re listening to a device that doesn’t have an output amp or if you want to drive high-impedance headphones. These amps can often run you more than the headphones and are worthy of their own separate guide, but suffice it to say that an amp could be a purchase you’d want to make if high fidelity is your goal.

Conclusion: How to Pick the Best Headphones as a Music Lover 

As you can see there are a ton of considerations for this purchase, because there are a ton of different categories of headphones. That’s why choosing your most common use first will help narrow it down. Once you know the form factor your lifestyle requires (wired or wireless? Earbuds or over-ear?), then it’s just a matter of weighing sound quality with durability and battery life. Many users might even prefer to have multiple headphones—one pair for music production, another pair for quiet office work, and yet another pair for the gym. It all depends on who you are as a listener, but no matter what you choose, keeping the music listening experience at the forefront is crucial.

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