We round-up the best of the best – from in-ear to on-ear, wireless to noise-cancelling – to bring you the ultimate headphones buying guide.

If you want to know the best headphones to buy, you've come to the right place. Whether you're after the best wireless, Bluetooth or noise-cancelling cans, and whether you prefer in-ear or over-ear, we've got you covered. We've even tested sports headphones and the best bets for the iPhone.

Since the rise of the iPod and the MP3 player, and in turn smartphones and tablets, the popularity of headphones has sky-rocketed - and so too has the number of earphones on the market.

Big brands such as Beats by DreBose and Sennheiser may dominate the High Street in 2015, but there are plenty of other options to consider (and indeed plenty of better options in the case of the infamous Beats headphones).

The What Hi-Fi? headphones Best Buys page picks out one of the best pairs of headphones in each category, normally at the more affordable end of the category, so click through to our respective round-ups via the links at the end of each section - best in-ear or best wireless headphones, for example - if you want more options at a range of price points.

MORE: Awards: Best headphones 2014

Best in-ear headphones
Sony MDR-EX650AP
Our Rating 
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If you want a pair of headphones to use when you're out and about and don't fancy lugging a chunky pair of cans around, or want a pair for running or the gym, then in-ear headphones are probably the way to go.

Don't bother with the cheap earphones you get free with your phone, instead spend a bit of cash to hear your music at its best. And the good news is you don't have to spend much, with impressive headphones available under £100 or even under £50.

The Sony MDR-EX650AP in-ear headphones are a case in point. They deliver a comfortable and secure fit, plus a solid, punchy and open sound. Tonally they're excellently-judged and there's plenty of detail delivered, too.

Fancy something cheaper or indeed more expensive? See our full list of the best in-ear headphones.

MORE: Sony MDR-EX650AP review / compare prices

MORE: Best in-ear headphones to buy in 2015

Also consider...
Best on-ear headphones
Our Rating 
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We've always been fans of a good pair of on-ear headphones: for listening at home and on the move, they're arguably the best combination of sound performance and portability.

Their bold look is perhaps a little out of character for the Austrian company, but it’s a clear step to attract a younger market. But don't worry, it's not style over substance - the sound quality is top draw, too.

There's an in-line remote for hands-free calls, plus leather earpads for a solid but comfortable, noise-isolating fit.  

Sonically, you'll find plenty of bass, huge amounts of detail, impressive dynamics, and an open, spacious soundstage. The AKG Y50 earphones are a great pair of on-ear headphones.

MORE: AKG Y50 review / compare prices

MORE: Best on-ear headphones to buy 2015

Also consider...
Best over-ear headphones
AKG K550
Our Rating 
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If you're after a pair of headphones for the office or home, then a pair of over-ears are likely to deliver the best sound-per-pound performance. 

The K550s are big in every way, with large earpieces featuring 50mm drivers, a broad headband, and a long, chunky cable. Despite looking like a pair of road-digger's ear-defenders, they're relatively light and comfy. 

The overall presentation is expertly balanced. The AKGs are sweetly communicative, handle tempos in a natural, unforced manner and deliver punchy and precise bass.

For a pair of closed-back cans, they deliver a seriously impressive sound.

MORE: AKG K550 review / compare prices

MORE: Best over-ear headphones to buy 2015

Also consider...
Best noise-cancelling headphones
Bose QuietComfort 25
Our Rating 
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If a hefty pair of over-ear headphones just isn't substantial enough for your noise-isolating needs, then you can always put some power behind your efforts.

Active noise-cancelling headphones not only block outside noise thanks to the design and fit, but also by creating sound waves (using a rechargeable battery) that cancel out ambient noise.

Bose has fine pedigree for noise-cancelling headphones, and the QuietComfort 25 headphones are the latest and greatest example.

Superb noise cancellation, clear, balanced sound, and comfortable to wear.

MORE: Bose QuietComfort 25 review / compare prices

MORE: Best noise-cancelling headphones 2015

Best wireless headphones
Philips Fidelio M2BT
Our Rating 
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The world and his dog has gone wireless in recent years, so it's no surprise headphones have joined the wire-free party. Undoubtedly convenient, usable with computers, your TV, games consoles and more, all you need to do is remember to charge them (and take in to account there will usually be a drop in sound quality in return for wireless audio).

Bluetooth and RF wireless headphones are available. aptX Bluetooth headphones tend to offer the best sound quality for wireless transmission, provided your source is also aptX compatible (as more and more smartphones and tablets are).

The Philips Fidelio M2BT cans build on the success of the M1BTs, adding near-field communication (NFC) connectivity for achieving a wireless connection with a mere tap of the headphones on a compatible source.

aptX Bluetooth ensures good wireless sound, the design is attractive, the fit comfortable, and there are built-in controls, too. Most importantly, a rich, balanced and musical sound ensures these can deliver good value for money. See more suggestions in our best wireless headphones round-up.

MORE: Philips Fidelio M2BT review / compare prices 

MORE: Best wireless headphones to buy in 2015

MORE: 5 of the best Bluetooth headphones

Best sports headphones
Soul Electronics Flex
Our Rating 
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Though established in 2009, this US-based headphone manufacturer only hit UK shores last year with its three-strong fitness headphones range. The Flex are the range’s in-ear model (there’s pricier on-ear and over-ear pairs too).

Punchy, musical and beautifully balanced, they have the entertainment factor that could tempt you to extend training sessions. Clearer and more insightful than price-matching Monster and Sennheiser models, they are hard to fault.

There's also an Apple-friendly in-line remote for controlling the volume, pausing music, skipping tracks and – if plugged into your smartphone – answering phone calls. 

Soul Electronics might be up against household headphone brands, but they come out on top. Winning points for practicality and performance, these will make ideal headphones for running and sports.

MORE: Soul Electronics Flex review / compare prices

MORE: Best headphones for running and sports

Best budget headphones
SoundMagic E10S
Our Rating 
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You would have had to have been living under a rock these last few years to have missed the fact that most freebie smartphone earphones really aren't much good. And that's if you even get any. So, you should be looking to buy some new buds - and you needn't spend a fortune. 

SoundMagic has ruled the roost at this end of the market where in-ear headphones are concerned, with the E10S earphones the current Kings under £50. Driver placement and venting have been adjusted to improve sound and there’s a neat inline remote – a tiny metal tube that reflects the design of the buds.

There’s a microphone too, and a single button for calls and controlling music playback. There’s no volume control, however.

The performance is better than ever, which is impressive considering the Awards hat-trick SoundMagic has achieved so far.

Not convinced? We've found 10 of the best budget headphones under £100, whether you're after a cheap pair of in-ear buds or over-ear cans, and five of the best budget earphones under £50.

MORE: Best budget headphones under £50

MORE: Best budget headphones under £100

Best iPhone headphones
Sennheiser Momentum M2 IEi
Our Rating 
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If you want to make the most of the iPhone's audio quality and hear your music at its best, you should invest in a decent pair of earphones. The good news is it needn't cost a fortune.

So if you're after some alternatives to the Apple EarPods or simply want to upgrade your iPhone headphone experience, take your pick from this selection.

Some feature an Apple-friendly in-line mic and three-button remote control, while others deliver fuss-free wireless listening. All of them offer top quality sound...

MORE: Best headphones for iPhones


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