Best headphones: Our best choices for personal listening


The headphones are the ultimate tool for intimate listening experiences. Whether you're listening to your phone, a digital audio player, a disc player, or even a PC or game console, when you're ready to shut the doors of the world and do one with your music, nothing better than a good set of cans.

And you probably have many, because most smart devices and digital audio players come with a pair; but it's a safe bet that you're really happy with none of them. High quality, comfortable headphones can transform your audio experiences from listening to music and podcasts to TV shows and movies.

Whether you prefer in-ear headphone isolation, the comfort of a model over the ear, the convenience of wireless, or you're not sure which The type is best for you, we will help you find the right ones at the right budget. We have listed our best choices in advance. If you need more information to make your choice, we will provide them below, as well as links to many of our journals.

Updated February 1, 2019 add our review of Bose frames. These headphones are not headphones – they are sunglasses with built-in Bluetooth speakers – but they are designed to replace headphones. Needless to say, it's an interesting concept and we did it well. You can read our full review here.

Best headphones on the ear

These headphones are shameless, and we love them for that. You will not find any electronic noise canceling components in Beyerdynamics Amiron. There are also no USB ports or built-in amplifiers; Hell, they do not even support Bluetooth.

But if you do not mind being tied to your source, these headphones will give you great performance for less than a generous budget. They are highly recommended.


Elegia Focal

Focal's first high-end and closed headphones are a champion of sound.

If you can afford it, Focal's Elegia closed earphones are a marvel of sound, producing a sound as beautiful as they are beautiful. Focal is perhaps better known for its high-end speakers than for headphones, but savvy buyers should not neglect this brand.

Best headphones on the ear

AKG N60NC wireless

The AKG N60NC Wireless Noise Canceling Wireless Headphones deliver clear sound and good noise cancellation in a compact package, ideal for travel.

If you find that over-the-ear headphones are too difficult to handle, but you do not like to glue objects to the ear, we strongly recommend that you give AKG's N60NC noise reduction system. sureaudio earphones an audition.

These headphones are both wireless and noise canceling. They have reduced the noise so you can enjoy the music. The N60NC's balanced, clear sound and good noise suppression in a small footprint make these exceptional travel earphones that will satisfy both the audiophile and the road warrior.

Best in-ear headphones

Be periodic audio

These seductive headphones based on the Berllyium driver are worth every penny of their asking price.

Periodic Audio's Be (Beryllium) are our favorite in-ear headphones currently. They deliver pure sonic happiness. Combine them with the best sources and the high-resolution digital audio player that you can fully appreciate the capabilities of this headset. Their lightweight design, sturdy fit and comfort during long listening sessions are perfect for listening to reference music on the go.

They do not offer the convenience of wireless connectivity, a built-in remote control or a microphone to pair with a smartphone, but they excel when they need to: play music.


Shure SE535LTD + BT1 In-ear Earphones

These in-ear headphones sound good, but their flexibility (they can be upgraded to Bluetooth 5) and the presence of three drivers in each earpiece makes them very expensive.

Shure's SE535 in-ear headphones are expensive, with an MSRP of $ 449 to $ 599 if you add the premium Bluetooth 5.0 module, but they feature replaceable MMCX cables and deliver quality sound.

Best noise canceling headphones

Some purists reject active noise suppression because they believe that the algorithms they use can not help suppressing certain desirable frequencies, as well as unwanted background noise. This is enough. We never recommend using the Sony WH-1000XM3 in a recording studio. But these cans rock everywhere else. And since they are wireless and they have a built-in microphone, you can also use them with your smartphone. And did we mention that they sounded positively divine with all forms of music?

Best helmet without money

Focal Clear

These are some of the best headphones you can buy, and their price is proportional.

If you believe true audio fidelity requires a wired connection to your source and you have the budget to enjoy the finer things in life, Focal Clear in-ear headphones are the right choice. The name fits perfectly: The Clear Clear Back lets you hear your music clearly without any barriers. It's a remarkable feat, but they have a price to pay.

But be warned: Audition the Clear, it's like choosing the red pill among The matrix. Once you've heard their dynamics, transparency, and timeliness, you will not be able to use less powerful headsets.

Over-the-ear headphones explained

In-ear (or circumaural) headphones are the reference for audiophiles in high-fidelity critical listening. And for good reason: this type of helmet completely covers your ear, creating a stable sound arena.

They come in two models: closed and open back. Closed models can isolate ambient noise and prevent sound from spreading into the environment (and nearby microphones if you're in a recording studio). As a general rule, because of their design, closed-back headphones tend to have a more visceral bass response than open-back designs. Some closed headphones from Bose, Sony, JBL and others are also equipped with ANC (Active Noise Cancellation) technology that significantly reduces ambient noise when flying or driving noisily (not if you're the driver, of course). ).

Over-the-ear headphones tend to be big and bulky. Some manufacturers offer foldable models Theo Nicolakis

Over-the-ear headphones tend to be big and bulky. Some manufacturers offer foldable models that make them a little easier to travel.

Open-back models usually have a perforated screen that allows air to pass between the ear cups and the outside world. With an open-back design, you can hear your surroundings and everyone nearby can easily hear the music you play. The best place for open-back headphones is in a quiet place at home, as opposed to a noisy environment or in a library where you will disturb others.

Choose an open design for a deeper sound stage and a feeling of space with musical recordings. These types of headphones release your music in a way that looks like listening to standalone speakers.

The main disadvantage of over-the-ear headphones is their size and bulk. The models that can be folded, such as the Bowers & Wilkins P7 and P9 Signature, the V-Moda Crossfade 2 and the Focal Listen Wireless are always larger than the models with ear. Some models do not bend at all.

It should also be noted that in-ear headphones typically use three different technologies: dynamic conductor, planar magnetic and electrostatic. We explain these technologies below.

Headphones explained

The smaller cups used by the in-ear headphones (or supra-aural) are designed to sit on the outer ears. This allows them to approach the sound quality of over-the-ear headphones, but in a more compact format. Many models, including the AKG N60NC wireless shown below, fold up to travel.

Many ear models fold inward, like those AKG N60 NCs, or fold flat for more portability. Theo Nicolakis

Many ear models fold inward, like those AKG N60 NCs, or fold flat for more portability.

You will do well to test the fit of the ear models. Some models are too tight and others too loose. Although fitted models can help reduce external noise, they can become tiring and painful to wear for long periods of time.

In-ear headset explained

In-ear headphones (or in-ear monitors or IEMs) fit snugly into your ear canal and create a seal with a silicone tip or memory foam. Because they transmit sound almost directly to your eardrums, EMIs usually offer a smaller sound stage than in-ear or in-ear headphones.

Because of their compact size, IEMs are perfect for travel and exercise. Models equipped with microphones (wireless or built-in wired models) can be used with your smartphone. Some active lifestyle models even have an IPX showing their resistance to water (and sweat).

Getting a good fit and a good seal with the IEMs is essential to get the best audio performance. The bass response of an in-ear headset depends on the quality of the seal. If the seal is too loose, the bass will sound anemic.

Because of their superior sealing ability, memory foam tips that fit the unique shape of your ear canal will not only be better, they will also block ambient noise – in some cases, 25 dB or more – and they will increase . the perceived response in the bass of the intra-auricular instructors (producing too much good things in some cases).

Comply's range of spare memory foam tips can provide various levels of sound insulation for Theo Nicolakis

Comply's range of spare memory foam tips can offer a variety of sound insulation levels for a wide range of in-ear headphone models.

Memory foam tips create a superior seal. Some third-party companies, including Comply, sell high-quality memory foam tips for different brands of in-ear monitors.

In-ear headphones use friction (Periodic Audio Be, left), wrap around your ear (A & K Billie Jean, middle Theo Nicolakis

To stay in your ear canals, the earphones rely on either friction (Periodic Audio Be, left), wrap their cables around your outer ears (Astell & Kern Billie Jean, center), or on a loop or wing (B & W C5, right). ).

Premium in-ear and over-the-ear headphones come with removable cables. You can replace them if they are damaged or simply worn out. This is not always the case with in-ear headphones; However, some recent EMIs now come with MMCX (miniature coaxial connector) detachable cables, which allows you to use any MMCX-compatible cable with them. Replacing a cable is a much better alternative than throwing a helmet otherwise perfectly usable.

Headphones explained

Headphones are similar to earphones, but they are designed differently. Headphones are placed outside your ear (concha, in particular) instead of being inserted into your ear canal.

Headphones do not block ambient noise and you may need to increase the volume of your source device to reduce background noise in your environment. This could cause people around your hearing to listen to what you are listening to.

Apple is one of the few companies that still manufactures headphones. Their in-ear design has evolved over time Theo Nicolakis

Apple is one of the few companies that still manufactures headphones. The design of their headphones has evolved over time, making them less prone to falling.

A major advantage of ear buds is that a single size fits all. You do not need to find the right silicone tip or memory foam that fits the unique shape of your ear. The most common complaint about the atria is that they fall too easily out of your ear, especially when you run or exercise.

Wireless headset explained

The wireless headsets are very practical and the best ones offer incomparable audio performance with wired phones. They are especially useful when you exercise. If it's the type of headset you're looking for, these are the most important features you'll want to consider:

Battery life

Wireless headsets use Bluetooth to connect to a source device (smartphone, digital audio player, laptop or even a soundbar). They are usually based on a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that can last from four to more than 20 hours. If the battery is empty on the in-ear and in-ear headphones, you will not be able to use them because they have been recharged. Most in-ear and over-the-ear models come with a 3.5mm audio cable. You can connect them to your source device and use them in wired mode.

Wireless audio support

The audio quality of a wireless headset depends largely on the audio codecs it supports. Codec means compression / decompression: the digital sound is compressed at the source. This way information can be transmitted to the wireless headset and uncompressed at the destination, so you can hear them. Some codecs offer higher fidelity than others, but the codec must be supported at both ends: by the source device and by the headset. These codecs are among the most common in wireless headsets:

  • SBC: All Bluetooth devices support the SBC codec, which offers a maximum bandwidth of 328 Kbps. Although functional, the SBC codec does not support high-resolution audio and tends to have high latency. This could lead to desynchronization of the soundtracks with the video.
  • aptX: Qualcomm, a high-quality, low-latency audio codec that promises to deliver near-CD quality sound via Bluetooth. Qualcomm has recently developed a newer version of this codec, called aptX HD, which allows audio encoded with up to 24-bit resolution with a sampling rate of up to 48 kHz to be broadcast over a Bluetooth connection.
  • AAC: If you use Apple products and services, such as iTunes, you will need assistance with this codec. You also find it in game consoles, high-resolution digital audio players, and automotive entertainment systems. The AAC offers superior audio quality to the more common MP3 codec at the same speed.
  • LDAC: Developed by Sony, LDAC offers bandwidth of up to 990 Kbps, enabling wireless transmission of encoded audio with up to 24-bit resolution at sampling rates up to 96 kHz.
  • Wireless remote control

    Many wireless headsets offer wireless controls. In-ear headphones usually come with some kind of remote control online, like their wired counterparts, while in-ear and over-the-ear headphones typically have remote control functions on the headset.

    Make sure the navigation controls match your style: Some manufacturers equip their headphones with physical buttons located on the right or left earbuds, in places that seem natural to you. Some go farther and provide tactile landmarks, so you can be sure to press the right button.

    Other manufacturers offer what is called a gesture pad, a tactile surface on a headset that responds to tapping and directional scanning. Sliding your finger from the back to the front can allow you to move to the next track in your playlist, for example, when you slide your finger up or down to adjust the volume. As you can imagine, some gesture tiles work better than others.

    On the next page, we'll explain headphone technology in more detail and provide links to reviews of some of our favorite headphones. (Click here to go to page 2.)