A quality set of headphones are essential for enjoying music and games, listening to podcasts or audiobooks on the go, and keeping your focus up while working out. But there's a dizzying number of models out there. Thanks to the combinations of different types and use cases available, there's a near-endless selection to pick from.

We've gone through hundreds of professional reviews and user comments, browsed through dozens of online stores, and pooled our own experiences to bring you this up-to-date buying guide. Whether you're after premium closed-back headphones or a pair of earbuds to hit the gym, you're sure to find something that suits your needs and budget.

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Best Headphones

Sony WH-1000XM5

Great | Differentiating Features
Superb ANC, Bluetooth multipoint, great battery life

Good | Most Have It
Comfortable to wear, rich and balanced sound

Average | Competitors May Be Better
High price, not much better than predecessor

Since their debut in 2018, Sony's 1000X series of wireless headphones have been very well-received by reviewers and consumers alike. This latest revision, the WH-1000MX5, shows all the hallmarks of being another top seller with sound quality that is nothing short of superb.

Every review of this product tells the same story: exceptional clarity, tight and punch bass, and a well-balanced frequency response. The MX4s were no slouch, and if you already have them the upgrade is not necessary, but the overall audio package is a little better on the latest model.

Bluetooth multipoint connectivity has been added, at long last, so now you can connect two devices at the same time. This means you can listen to music from one device, while still receiving notification signals from another, for example.

Active noise cancellation has also been improved, using two onboard processors and eight microphones to automatically control the amount of noise suppression, based on the headphone usage and surrounding environment. Half of those microphones are used for voice control and taking calls, and the latter is another area where the WH-1000MX5 receives consistent praise from reviewers. Paired with Sony's excellent app, all of the features mentioned are fully customizable, allowing you to enjoy the very best sound and protect your hearing.

It's not a perfect headset, though. The increased use of cheap-feeling plastics, lack of any water resistance, and the inability to fold the headphones into themselves made some reviewers question whether the increase in price over the MX4s was worth it. With an MSRP of $400, the Sony WH-1000MX5 are expensive, but the feature set, sound quality, and long battery life make up for it if a premium set of headphones is what you want.

An Alternative: Bose Headphones 700

If you're after even better voice call quality, and don't care about apps or price, then the Bose Headphones 700 are a great alternative. Or if you want the same capabilities as the Sony or Bose offerings, but want 60 hours of battery life, then Sennheiser's Momentum 4 Wireless are great.

Best Wired Studio Headphones

Audio Technica ATH-M50x

Great | Differentiating Features
Ideal studio monitors, superb audio clarity. Killer value

Good | Most Have It
Different lengths of cables in the box

Average | Competitors May Be Better
Sound isn't as warm as other headphones, no ANC

The ATH-M50x are the most critically acclaimed model in Audio Technica's M-Series line, praised by audio engineers and pro audio reviewers alike. As these are marketed as "studio monitor" headphones, they are designed to reproduce accurate tones and vocals with a minimum of tonal changes.

In terms of performance, some reviewers remark that vocals and instruments have a good deal of texture and are nicely separated on a well-organized sound stage, while others said that the bass reproduction was better than most headphones in its price range.

The headphones are well-built and have a sturdy design that looks and feels like it will hold up well over time. The M50x headphones are large but they're comfortable enough to wear for extended periods.

They provide a good amount of over-the-ear isolation, doing a good job of passively sealing out the sound from the outside world, though they don't have any active noise cancellation, unlike the Bose QuietComfort series or Beats Studio.

Every pair of M50x headphones comes with three cables in the box, of varying lengths and styles. All of them are detachable so you can, for example, use the long cable at your desk and the short one on your commute. Unfortunately, Audio-Technica doesn't include a cable with a controller and microphone.

There are better and more expensive headphones than the ATH-M50x, but for the sound quality and price, these are very hard to beat.

Good Alternatives: Beyerdynamic and Sennheiser

For anyone wanting a similar level of quality and comfort, but prefer their headphones to provide a warmer sound, then Beyerdynamic's DT 770 Pro closed-back headphones are a great wired alternative, and they're even a little cheaper than the M50x.

But if you want the absolute best, no matter the cost, then Sennheiser's HD 800S open-backed wired set are probably some of the finest headphones money can buy. You'll need a silent room, a powerful amplifier, and $1600 to truly enjoy them, though.

Best Earbuds

Sony WF-1000XM4 | Apple AirPods Pro 2

Great | Differentiating Features
Stellar ANC performance, long battery life

Good | Most Have It
Easy to use, compact wireless charging case

Average | Competitors May Be Better
Too large for small ears, no BT multipoint

Sony took a look at the list of grievances users and reviewers had about the WF-1000MX3 earbuds and improved or fixed almost every one of those. The first was the aesthetics, or rather the size of them. The older MX3 were quite large and noticeably protruded when worn. The MX4s are far more compact, although they're still quite big – people with small ears may struggle to get them fit properly.

Sporting Sony's V1 audio processor (which is actually two chips on top of each other), active noise cancellation has been improved, and reviewers noted that the system is among the best around. Coupled with Sony's Headphones Connect app, the earbuds are easy to configure, and the simple touch controls are very effective. However, there's no volume control on the buds themselves, which may put some people off, as may the lack of Bluetooth multipoint support (a firmware update may address this).

Topping off the improvements, the WF-1000MX4 are now IPX4 rated, so they'll handle a bit of splashing and sweat, and the reconfigured microphone design ensures perfect voice calls every time.

In this price bracket, the competition is fierce, but Sony's offering ticks off a large number of boxes, making them an almost perfect set of earbuds – if they're right for your ear size.

However, if you're an Apple user, then it makes far more sense to spend a few more dollars and go with their AirPods Pro 2 set. These easily compete with Sony's best for sound quality, ANC performance, and battery life. Naturally, they seamlessly integrate with any Apple device, though they lack support for high-resolution audio codecs and there's not much in the way of any EQ adjustment.

But to counter this, there's Dolby Atmos spatial sound, for any media that offers it and coupled with the head tracking feature, there's an extra layer of immersion on tap in movies and music.

Other Choices for Less

Both the MX4 and AirPods Pro 2 are pretty expensive, but there are two great choices for tighter budgets:

Sony's LinkBuds WF-L900 and Google's Pixel Buds A-Series. To keep costs down, both eschew features such as wireless case charging, Bluetooth multipoint, or ANC, but they also offer excellent sound, comfort, and ease of use.

Best Sports Earbuds

Beats Fit Pro | Jabra Elite 7 Active

Great | Differentiating Features
Great audio, secure fit for sports

Good | Most Have It
Useful ANC, decent battery life

Average | Competitors May Be Better
Bulky charging case, IPX4 rating

While most earbuds are pretty secure, once snugly fitted into your ears, certain activities can work them loose – running, swimming, and other strenuous activities can easily result in saying goodbye to your cherished tech. Sports earbuds are now a discretely separate segment that add features dedicated to this market.

Beats Fit Pro buds share a lot of technology with Apple AirPods Pros, but there are some notable differences, with the most obvious being the fit. The audio quality is excellent, with Adaptive EQ providing lots of tight bass and clear highs. Active noise cancellation and Transparency Mode (which lets you hear your full surroundings without removing the buds) both have solid performance.

For all its sporting pretensions, the Beats Fit Pro fall short in a few areas. The most important one is that they only have an IPX4 rating, which means they're only mildly splash resistant. The same problem carries on to the charging case, which has no water resistance. Compared to the AirPods Pro's case, this one feels somewhat bulky and a little cheaper feeling – there's no wireless charging, for example. But if water resistance isn't a key feature for you, then the rest of the feature set and perfect fit make the Beats Fit Pro a popular choice among people with active lifestyles.

A great alternative, especially at the moment, are Jabra's Elite 7 Active.

Usually they're priced similarly to the Beats earbuds, but they can be found for about $100 right now. They boast adjustable ANC and Bluetooth 5.2 (fast connection, low battery drain), and they're rated to IP57 – ideal for surface swimming.

Best Gaming Headset

SteelSeries Arctis 7+ | Astro A50 Wireless V4

Great | Differentiating Features
Long battery life, comfortable to wear

Good | Most Have It
Clear sound and strong bass, wired & wireless connection

Average | Competitors May Be Better
Microphone isn't the clearest, no Bluetooth

When it comes to choosing a headset for gaming, there are key aspects to consider: if it's wireless, it must offer long battery life; comfortable for hours of use; robust and well built; clear and responsive sound, to pick out every nuance in the game. The SteelSeries Arctis 7+ headphones hit all of these and through in a few more for good measure.

With support for a wired or wireless connection, with the supplied cable and multi-platform USB Type-C dongle, this headset can be hooked up to PCs, Apple Macs, Sony PS4/5, Nintendo Switch, and a variety of Android phones and tablets. There's no Bluetooth connectivity, unfortunately, but you can buy additional dongles for $30, so you don't have to keep swapping everything about.

Reviewers were pleased with the overall sound quality, with the bass being particularly good, without being overpowering. But for PC and Mac users, the excellent Sonar application expands the audio performance, with a range of game profiles and decent virtual 7.1 surround sound. SteelSeries' claim of a 30-hour battery lifespan was also confirmed by testers, as was the level of comfort over a long period of use. As with many headsets, the Arctis 7+ may not fit everyone's head perfectly but the headband has a suitable amount of adjustment.

The multiple connection options, easy to use controls, and good sound make these headphones appropriate for more than just gaming. However, the retractable microphone is only average, and while fine for in-game chatting, its lack of high frequency clarity means they're not ideal for doing podcasts or other audio recordings.

But for the price, the SteelSeries Arctis 7+ stand out against the competition and are worthy of being in anyone's selection of gaming headsets.

If money is of no matter, though, and you want the absolute best in terms of audio detail, microphone response, and surround sound features, then Astro's A50 Wireless V4 headphones remain peerless. At $300, they're as expensive as a new console, but the build quality and charging station go a long way to justifying the price tag.

Best Wireless Value

Sennheiser HD 450BT

Great | Differentiating Features
Excellent value for money, long battery life

Good | Most Have It
Decent ANC in wireless mode, aptX codec support

Average | Competitors May Be Better
Plastic build, bass emphasis in sound mix

For less than $100, the Sennheiser HD 450BT are almost a steal for what you're getting. Lightweight and comfortable, 30 hours of battery life, decent active noise cancellation, and good overall audio quality -- what's not to like?

To keep the cost down, there are no touch, gesture, or voice controls, just lots of buttons and a wheel. They're not labeled or differentiated any way by feel, but there's a useful Smart Control app for Android and iOS phones that lets you adjust EQ and personalize the sound delivery.

And speaking of audio, reviewers agree on the HD 450BT's overall quality but find the bass is a little too forward in the mix, though not a significant cost to mid- or high-range frequencies.

Other positives weighing in Sennheiser's favor are the performance of the ANC and support for Bluetooth AptX Low Latency audio codec, ensuring lag-free music and movies. The former is only available when the headphones are used wireless (an included cable, with a 3.5mm jack, permits wired usage), and while it's not up there with the very best, reviewers were generally very positive about it.

There are better models for sound quality or ANC performance, and much cheaper brands, too, but considering that Sennheiser originally charged $200 for these, the fact that you can now get these for just under $100 makes them the perfect choice for wireless value.

Best Wired Value

Razer BlackShark V2

Great | Differentiating Features
Great value for money, comfortable for long periods

Good | Most Have It
Good sound isolation

Average | Competitors May Be Better
Headband isn't adjustable, noise cancellation is passive

The Razer Blackshark V2 headset lineup comprises four models: two of the cheaper X series (one with a 3.5mm jack cable, the other with USB Type-A), the top-end wireless Pro model, and this "standard" one. For the price, sound, and features, it's arguably the best of them all.

While clearly targeted at gaming, especially esports, the Blackshark V2s have all the aspects you would want from a wired set of headphones, such as breathable memory foam cushions, lightweight construction (just 262 grams, 9 ounces), good cable length, and fantastic sound.

The latter is helped by the 50mm drivers, broad frequency response (18 Hz to 28 kHz), and support for THX audio. Reviewers remarked that the adjustable sound profiles made them great for more than just gaming, with music and films being clear and expansive.

Voice communication is good, thanks to the removable cardioid microphone, and the included USB sound card means you'll always get full support for all its audio features, even if your PC doesn't have them.

Naturally, in the budget segment, any headset is going to have some drawbacks. The Blackshark V2 has no ANC, though the passive noise cancellation is pretty decent, but the biggest issue for some people is that the headband isn't adjustable – only the earcups can be moved up and down, which means that some people will struggle to find a comfortable fitting.

Masthead credit: Alphacolor