The 10 Best Headphones

Updated December 24, 2017 by Melissa Harr

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We spent 38 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top selections for this wiki. Whether you are determined to hear your music at the best possible quality, are looking for a comfortable set of cans for long gaming sessions, or simply want to escape from outside noise distractions, a pair of headphones from this selection will be perfect for you. We’ve included a wide range, from budget friendly to high-end tech with a price tag to match. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best headphone on Amazon.

10. Koss SportaPro

Looking for something sporty, something you can toss in your backpack and not worry about? Then you might try the Koss SportaPro, which can worn in both over-the-head and behind-the-head configurations. They collapse down compactly for portability, too.
  • good choice for runners
  • great sound quality for the price
  • not terribly fashion forward
Brand Koss
Model 155475
Weight 7 ounces
Rating 3.6 / 5.0

9. Edifier H840

The Edifier H840 are a first rate, but affordable, set of headphones that let you pay less for a brand and more for fidelity and features. They include noise reduction, a balanced amount of bass, and 40 millimeter drivers for sound quality.
  • will not break when bent
  • ergonomic for extended listening
  • thin cable probably will not last
Brand Edifier
Model FBA_EIR_H840_BLE
Weight 2.2 pounds
Rating 3.8 / 5.0

8. Avantree Audition

The Avantree Audition offer a simple and compelling reason for you to choose them: they'll give you a satisfactory wireless headphone experience without a prohibitive cost. And because they are light with soft earpads, you won’t mind wearing them for extended periods.
  • bluetooth connectivity
  • extremely long 40 hour battery life
  • sound clarity is only average
Brand Avantree
Model Audition
Weight 12.8 ounces
Rating 4.2 / 5.0

7. Sony XB950B1

The Sony XB950B1 are a robustly featured offering from this top manufacturer, suitable for DJs or real music aficionados. They offer the same topnotch audio as the company's previous generations, but now with extra bass and modern Bluetooth and NFC connectivity.
  • high-quality mic
  • available in 3 colors
  • not as durable as comparable models
Brand Sony
Model MDR-XB950B1/B
Weight 1.6 pounds
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

6. V-Moda Crossfade 2 Wireless

The V-Moda Crossfade 2 Wireless are a hipster’s dream, complete with an eye-catching style in rose gold, white, or matte black, vegan leather headband, and carabiner clip for portability. And because they use high-durability components, they’ll last you a good long while.
  • steel flex band conforms to head
  • great sound wired or wireless
  • memory foam cushions
Brand V-MODA
Weight 1.7 pounds
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

5. NVX Audio XPT100

Designed for comfort, the huge NVX Audio XPT100 feature a flexible headband, ComfortMax earpads, and reliable neodymium drivers for extra depth. The large size, the cushioned earpads that practically hug you, and the rich sound allow you to escape into your music.
  • parts are easy to replace
  • quarter-inch adapter
  • somewhat difficult to store
Brand NVX
Model XPT100
Weight 2.2 pounds
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

4. Audio-Technica ATH-M50x

The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x have been praised by top audio engineers and pro audio reviewers alike. Their circumaural design contours around your ears, delivering effective sound isolation in loud environments along with strong sound clarity.
  • 90-degree swiveling earcups
  • cables are detachable
  • may feel tight on larger heads
Brand Audio-Technica
Model ATH-M50x
Weight 2.2 pounds
Rating 4.6 / 5.0

3. Sennheiser RS 175

If you want a circumaural pair for at-home use, then try the Sennheiser RS 175, which are built for home entertainment and offer exceptional quality. Their virtual surround sound is just as good, if not better, than the real thing, at a fraction of the cost.
  • 18-hour battery life
  • easy to access and use controls
  • base can pair with multiple units
Brand Sennheiser
Model RS 175
Weight 3.2 pounds
Rating 4.6 / 5.0

2. QuietComfort 35 Series II

The best-selling Bose QC35 have been upgraded with the QuietComfort 35 Series II to take advantage of Google Assistant integration while retaining excellent features from the first generation, including NFC pairing and industry leading noise cancellation.
  • ideal for any audiophile
  • factory optimized equalizing
  • convenient carrying case is included
Brand Bose
Model 789564-0010
Weight 1.2 pounds
Rating 4.7 / 5.0

1. Sony WH1000XM2

If you are prepared to make a real investment, then get a pair of Sony WH1000XM2s, which boast arguably better sound quality and better looks than any other offering. These set a high standard for the category, making them worth the high price.
  • just tap them once to take calls
  • noise-cancelling optimizer
  • ambient sound mode for safety
Brand Sony
Model WH1000XM2/B
Weight 1.9 pounds
Rating 4.6 / 5.0

How Do Headphones Work?

Headphones operate by either connecting to an audio source (e.g., a CD player, an iPod, or a laptop, etc.), or converting sound that has been delivered through the air waves. In every case, some type of signal is received. That signal is, in turn, converted through an ear piece with varying levels of fidelity. Each headphone’s precision is based upon a number of factors, all of which are ultimately connected to what is known as a frequency response.

One of the key aspects that affects a headphone’s performance is known as impedance. Impedance refers to resistance, or how much voltage a pair of headphones requires in order to convert a piece of audio that’s being fed to it from an outside source. If the source requires an extreme amount of voltage, then the converted audio will probably sound extremely poor.

One other key factor is sensitivity, which refers to how loudly an earphone can reproduce an incoming signal. Sensitivity is complicated (it is actually measured by a unit which is known as "decibels of sound pressure level per milliwatt"), but the bottom line is that it determines incoming volume based on the quality and compatibility of a source (e.g., a turntable, or a stereo, etc.). If you've got low impedance, high sensitivity, and a pair of headphones with top-notch frequency response, chances are you're dealing with some excellent sound.

Picking a Pair of Cans Without Using Your Ears

As you can see from our selection, when we talk about headphones, the category breaks down into two classes: over-the-ear, and on-the-ear headphones. Each style has its benefits over the other, which we will discuss momentarily, but keep in mind that the decision between the two classes is almost entirely one of a personal preference. Also, since we can't very well reach through your computer and hand you a pair to try out for yourself, we're going to focus more on the build differences among our rated cans.

The biggest class difference that you would notice before you even plugged a pair into your stereo is the feel on the ear. Over-the-ear headphones, as their name implies, fit completely over your ear, encapsulating it in an isolated world of sound. Depending on the material out of which the internal ear cup is made, this style of headphone can pretty effectively cancel out a lot of sound on a purely physical basis. That does not mean, however, that all over-the-ear headphones can be classified as noise-canceling headphones, as those utilize a set of microphones and speakers working in concert to counter any external vibrating frequencies.

On-the-ear headphones, on the other hand, sit on top of the ear. A lot of consumers find these to be less comfortable than over-the-ear models, as they tend to press the ears toward the head with a little more force. They are, however, significantly more breathable, as your ears won't feel trapped inside a cup. As far as sound quality goes, on-the-ear models can't provide the same levels of natural or augmented noise cancelation as their counterparts, but they can achieve the same level of sound fidelity.

Another important point in the build of a given pair of headphones is their ability to collapse. More and more you've probably noticed an increasing number of people using high-fidelity headphones in public. That's because, despite their size while in use, many of these headphones can fold flat, and will fit nicely into a backpack, messenger bag, or purse. If you plan on taking your new headphones out into the world, look for a pair that can break down nicely.

A Brief History of the Headphone in America

Do you know what a pair of electroacoustic transducers is? I'll give you a hint: these are the reason that you visited this page. Electro-acoustic transduction is an antiquated way of describing the early science behind headphones. What it refers to is the conversion of incoming waves into a corresponding sound. Headphones operate by either connecting to an audio source (e.g., a record player or an amplifier), or transducing radio waves that have been transmitted through the air.

Early headphones were an extension of the ear piece. Headphones were largely preferable because of their ability to isolate sound while canceling outside noise. The first pair of headphones was developed in 1910 by a Mormon named Nathaniel Baldwin. Baldwin designed his earphones in the kitchen. He never patented them, which was unfortunate, given he sold his innovation to the U.S. Navy for a song.

In the 1920s, headphones were used by the U.S. military and AM radio operators. They expanded to the consumer market in the 1940s, when a Jazz musician named John C. Koss invented the first pair that could be plugged into a stereo. From there, the headphone market shifted, surging upward until it reached a point where at least one pair of headphones could be found in almost every American home.

Today's headphones are somewhat similar in appearance to what the originals looked like during the early 1900s. The primary difference being that technology has allowed for stronger acoustic conversion, along with wireless compatibility, and an entire range of innovations that weren't even possible before.

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Last updated on December 24, 2017 by Melissa Harr

Melissa is a writer, editor, and EFL educator from the U.S. She's worked in the field since earning her B.A. in 2012, during which time she's judged fiction contests, taught English in Asia, and authored e-courses about arts and crafts. In her free time, she likes to make stuff out of sticks and string.

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