Best wired headphones 2024: earbuds and over-ears, budget to premium

Given almost everyone’s apparent obsession with wireless headphones, you’d be forgiven for thinking the days of wired models were numbered, but that simply isn't true. The best wired headphones are all about sound, delivering the best sonic experience while forgoing Bluetooth and a few smart features along the way. If you really care about sound quality, wired is the way to go. 

While wireless headphones are convenient and more typically benefit from those handy extra features like noise cancelling, wired cans have trump cards of their own: they don't need charging for a start, and they're more sustainable as they don't require a battery.

Given the ongoing popularity of the wired market for those who prioritise sound quality and/or sustainability, it's not always easy to figure out which are worth your time and which are not.

That's where we enter the picture. Below you'll find our definitive list of the best wired headphones that our expert team of reviewers have rigorously tested and can therefore recommend – including in-ear earbuds, enveloping over-ears and compact on-ears, spanning all kinds of budgets. 

Written by
Becky Roberts
Written by
Becky Roberts

Becky Roberts has been writing about headphones and hi-fi – not to mention other corners of the wide and wonderful consumer technology market – for 10 years. She is one of What Hi-Fi?'s go-to reviewers for both wired and wireless headphones, and an expert at picking the best-performing and best-value options for every type of buyer.

The quick list

Best headphones overall

Røde NTH-100 on a plush red background

The Røde NTH-100 are deeply capable, well made and good-looking headphones. (Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)
What Hi-Fi? Awards 2023 winner. The whole package – well-made, superb-sounding and affordable.

Specifications

Noise-cancelling: No
Cable length: 2.4m
In-line remote and mic: No
Weight: 350g
Type: Closed-back

Reasons to buy

+
Eloquent, revealing sound
+
Well-made and almost good-looking
+
Comfortable for hours at a time

Reasons to avoid

-
May sound analytical to some ears
-
Only supplied cable is very long

Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of Røde – the company may be a big deal in the world of pro audio, but the NTH-100 are both its first pair of headphones and its first attempt to engage with the consumer audio market. So unless you have an interest in the world of recording studio mics and what-have-you, this Australian brand will be new to you.

Needless to say, the NTH-100 are solid debuts from Down Under. Tonally, they’re on the neutral and naturalistic side. What bass there is in this recording is respectably deep, yes, but it’s swift and well-controlled too – attack and decay of individual sounds are really well observed, and as a consequence, the NTH-100 are a rapid and (in the right circumstances) punchy listen. It also means they muster very decent rhythmic expression, too.

At the opposite end of the frequency range, they’re similarly detail-heavy and similarly articulate. The midrange, though, is the star of the show. 

There are expectations when it comes to headphones costing this sort of money, doubly so when the headphones in question are wired. But it’s safe to say the Røde NTH-100 outperform those expectations comfortably 

Read our full Røde NTH-100 review

Best budget headphones

Austrian Audio Hi-X15 cans on a white background

An exceptional pair of wired over-ears that deliver premium sound quality in an affordable package. (Image credit: Austrian Audio)
What Hi-Fi? Awards 2023 winner. The best closed-back headphones you'll find on a tight budget.

Specifications

Noise-cancelling: No
Cable length: 1.4m
In-line remote and mic: No
Weight: 255g
Type: Closed-back

Reasons to buy

+
Clear, open presentation
+
Dig out plenty of detail
+
Impressive sense of timing

Reasons to avoid

-
Need plenty of running in
-
Require partnering with suitable electronics

Austrian Audio is a Vienna-based company born out of a group of ex-AKG employees, so the team's decades of experience cannot be refuted. It shines through in the Hi-X15. The company's first-ever range of wired headphones, Hi-X, offers plenty of decent models across on-ear and over-ear designs, wired and wireless, but the wired Hi-X15 will be your first choice if you're on a tight budget. 

The Hi-X15 may be affordable, but they don't once feel cheap or flimsy. The design, with proper metal hinges and soft ‘slow retention’ memory foam earpads, would put a lot of plasticky competitors to shame. 

More importantly, sound quality is exceptionally good for the money. The Hi-X15 deliver consistently high detail levels yet keep the soul of a song intact – no easy feat at this end of the market. Expression and emotion are usually lost when price tags drop to this level, but the Hi-X15's ability to deal with proper weight and sentiment is remarkable.

True bargains that are well worth consideration. If you'd prefer an open-back pair for that extra spaciousness it brings, the Grado SR80x (siblings to the SR325x above) are definitely worth a look.

Read the full Austrian Audio Hi-X15 review

Best headphones for home

Grado SR325x headphones hung over an open book

The SR325x's open-back design means that they're wonderfully dynamic and expressive (Image credit: Grado)
What Hi-Fi? Awards 2023 winner. Wonderfully revealing and stunningly clear open-back headphones.

Specifications

Noise-cancelling: No
Cable length: 1.8m
In-line remote and mic: No
Weight: 340g
Type: Open-back

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent detail and dynamics
+
Hugely entertaining performance
+
Reliable, rugged build

Reasons to avoid

-
Open-back design leaks sound
-
New earpads won’t suit everyone

Grado's Prestige range has produced some of the Brooklyn-based company's finest headphones over the past 30 years. The series has evolved over time, but the latest ‘x’ generation models offer the same balance of quality and value that we've come to expect from such a likeable audio brand. 

The range-topping SR325x headphones look much like their predecessors, the What Hi-Fi? Award-winning SR325e, albeit with flatter foam earpads, an updated cable and lighter-coloured stitching on the firmly padded headband.

The difference is in the listening: the SR325x sound notably cleaner and clearer than their predecessors, offering a superbly detailed and articulate performance that comes across more precisely and insightfully than ever. 

If you're looking for the best wired headphones in the game around this price, and don't mind an open-back design (which inherently leaks a little sound in and out), the SR325x should be top of your list. They're unbeatable value.

For a more traditional closed-back (i.e. non-leaky) alternative, the excellent Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X should be your go-to at this level.

Read the full Grado SR325x review

Best for comfort

Beyerdynamic Amiron on a reflective surface

The Beyerdynamic Amiron provide an impressive sound that takes the whole frequency range in its stride. (Image credit: Beyerdynamic)
High-end home headphones that feel as good as they sound.

Specifications

Noise-cancelling: No
Cable Length: 3m
In-line remote and mic: No
Weight: 340g
Type: Open back

Reasons to buy

+
Nice bass detail
+
Clear and organised
+
Handles treble well

Reasons to avoid

-
Cheaper cans are available on this list
-
Rather large earcups 

When it comes to Beyerdynamic’s Amiron headphones, one word springs to mind: comfort. The earcups and headband are made of Alcantara microfibres (which have a texture similar to suede) and microvelour, a material as luxurious as it sounds. The result is a pair of headphones you can wear for hours and hours on end without discomfort or irritation.

They are not just comfortable, they sound fabulous too. We particularly like the Amiron's clear midrange vocals, tight sense of rhythmic drive and the way that they handle challengingly rhythms and beats without breaking a sweat.

Like the Grado headphones in the number one spot, they're open-backed and leak sound like a sieve, so the usual disclaimer about not listening on public transport applies. Still, if you have a healthy budget and want a stunning pair of headphones for listening at home, the Amiron will keep you happy no matter what your favourite music genre.

Read the full Beyerdynamic Amiron review

Best for audiophiles

Beyerdynamic T1 high-end over-ear headphones

The latest Beyerdynamic T1 over-ears are a step up in performance and compatibility from their predecessor. (Image credit: Beyerdynamic)
The latest T1 keep the model's legacy alive – these are exceptional premium headphones

Specifications

Noise-cancelling: No
Cable length: 3m
In-line remote and mic: No
Weight: 360g
Type: Open back

Reasons to buy

+
Clean, balanced presentation
+
Even-handed, informative nature
+
Comfortable and well made

Reasons to avoid

-
Needs top-class partnering electronics

The original T1 open-back headphones – now over a decade old – are something of a touchstone for us as far as premium headphones go. The main change between this third-generation model and its predecessor is that the new pair is easier to drive for laptops and mobile devices.

The result is a sound that is very similar to the originals but cleaner and clearer, slightly less bright and a little smoother when it comes to treble. There's that same delivery of music with a palpable sense of power and authority, and vocals come through with nuance and clarity, too. These aren’t the kind of wired headphones that impress on a short listen but given a few days or even weeks, it’s hard not to fall under their spell.

The updated T1 are comfortable enough for long listening sessions thanks to a nicely shaped, partially Alcantara-covered headband and generous velour-trimmed earpads.

If you'd prefer a retro look, the Grado RS1x are very solid alternatives, and if money is truly no object then the Yamaha YH-5000SE are arguably the best headphones we've ever heard. Want closed-backs at this level instead? Check out the T1's brilliant siblings, the Beyerdynamic T5 (3rd Gen)

Read the full Beyerdynamic T1 (3rd Generation) review

Best premium earbuds

Shure Aonic 3 wired in-ear headphones

Breathtakingly musical and comfy to wear, the Shure Aonic 3s set a new benchmark for wired in-ears at this price. (Image credit: Shure)
What Hi-Fi? Awards 2023 winner. Class-leading earbuds at this relatively modest price point.

Specifications

Noise-cancelling: No
Cable length: 1.27m
In-line remote and mic: Yes
Weight: 20.4g
Type: N/A

Reasons to buy

+
Awesome dynamics and musicality
+
Insightful and balanced sound
+
Lightweight and comfortable

Reasons to avoid

-
Understated sound

Shure makes some of the best wired earbuds around, something that becomes apparent the moment you pick up the Aonic 3. They're beautifully designed, comfy and surprisingly lightweight, lending a feeling of quality and elegance before you've even popped them into your lugs. The headphone cable hooks over the top of your ears and keeps them secure at all times, although there is a slight knack to getting the swivelling buds to sit perfectly in place.

Nine different eartip choices allow for excellent isolation, while an in-line remote and mic can control your tunes and answer calls. We've griped about rival companies giving poor choices of eartips in the past (three is not enough to cover all shapes and sizes), so Shure's range of options is truly welcome.  

When it comes to sound quality, the Aonic 3 absolutely nail it. They're dynamic, detailed and their toe-tapping sense of rhythm and timing needs to be heard as a matter of importance. 

We can't think of any pair of in-ear wired headphones at this price that comes close t to the Aonic 3's musicality and insight, but if your budget stretches further the even more transparent Aonic 5 are your best bet.

Read the full Shure Aonic 3 review

Best budget earbuds

SoundMagic E11C on a ridged background

The SoundMagic E11C are a great pair of budget earphones that deliver an immensely enjoyable listen (Image credit: SoundMagic)
What Hi-Fi? Awards 2023 winner. A fantastic pair of budget wired earbuds for use on the go.

Specifications

Noise-cancelling: No
Cable length: 1.2m
In-line remote and mic: Yes
Weight: 11g
Type: N/A

Reasons to buy

+
Entertaining sound
+
Remote and mic
+
Easy to drive

Reasons to avoid

-
Timing isn't perfect 

The SoundMagic E11C wired earbuds are the Award-winning successors to the five-star E10 that were our go-to budget in-ear recommendation for years. We're happy to report that this latest model is still pretty magic thanks to an improved driver and a silver-plated copper cable.

The better driver brings gains in sound quality, but it still remains recognisably SoundMagic in character. Bass is ample, with plenty of warmth and depth to keep you enveloped, while the top-end isn't compromised or lessened. The midrange has decent clarity, displaying great energy and control, pulling everything together into a satisfying, cohesive musical package.

When you consider the affordable price, these wired buds are nothing short of a miracle. If you're on a budget, make no mistake that these are solid buys and significant upgrades for the buds bundled with phones these days.

Read the full SoundMagic E11C review

How to choose the best wired headphones for you

If you've decided on wired headphones over wireless models, you either prioritise sound quality, like having a cable connection or are thinking about sustainability. Or all three.

The first and most obvious consideration when it comes to deciding on a pair to buy is whether you want an in-ear or on/over-ear design. If it's the latter, your next question is closed-back or open-back? Open-back designs 'leak' sound in and out but do tend to produce a more expansive, natural sound, while closed-backs are more common and seal sound far more effectively, making them the pick for out-and-about use.

In-ears are more straightforward in that they don't tend to vary in style, though you should note that feature sets aren't always similar – do they come with an in-line remote and mic for taking calls, for example? Are the earpieces detachable from the cable for easy replacement?

Comfort should be high on your list too. In-ear headphones are great for on-the-go listening due to their compact and portable form factor, though a pair of well-padded over-ears that aren't as sonically or physically intrusive are better suited to all-day home listening.

Active noise cancellation used to be a common feature of wired headphones, but they're becoming a rare breed now, primarily because noise-cancelling is associated with portability and thus going hand-in-hand with Bluetooth connectivity for convenient-first listening.

Nearly all wired headphones come with a 3.5mm cable, though if you're looking for a pair for home use with your desktop or hi-fi system, you might want to look out for wired headphones with bundled accessories such as a longer second cable or 6.3mm adapter. And if you have a DAC or headphone amplifier you wish to use them with (recommended for all but budget pairs), picking a model that is a good sonic match for them is key.

How we test wired headphones

We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London and Reading, where our team of experienced, in-house reviewers sample the majority of hi-fi and AV kit that passes through our door.

Of course, testing headphones doesn't always require advanced facilities (though we do often try the more premium audiophile headphones in our reference hi-fi system). What is important in our wired headphones reviewing process is that each pair is compared to the best in its price and style class – whether that's one standout pair or a few we favour the highest among the 100+ models we listen to each year for reviews and What Hi-Fi? Awards judging. What Hi-Fi? is all about comparative testing, and we keep class-leading products in our stockrooms so we can always compare new products to ones we know and love.

We are always impartial and do our best to make sure we're hearing every product at its very best, so we'll try plenty of different types of music and give them plenty of listening time (and space to run in), while the wired headphones that warrant being used with a DAC (the majority of them) are tested with a price-suitable one. It's not just about sound quality, of course. We use wired headphones for weeks during testing and so get a firm idea of how comfortable and rugged they are for daily use.

What's more, all review verdicts are agreed upon by the team rather than an individual reviewer to eliminate any personal preference and to ensure we're being as thorough as possible, too. There's no input from PR companies or our sales team when it comes to the verdict, with What Hi-Fi? proud of having delivered honest, unbiased reviews for decades.

MORE: 

Best wireless headphones: Bluetooth headphones for every budget

Really, really into sound? These are the best audiophile headphones for you 

Planning on a pool party? These are the best outdoor speakers

Becky Roberts

Becky is the managing editor of What Hi-Fi? and, since her recent move to Melbourne, also the editor of Australian Hi-Fi magazine. During her 10 years in the hi-fi industry, she has been fortunate enough to travel the world to report on the biggest and most exciting brands in hi-fi and consumer tech (and has had the jetlag and hangovers to remember them by). In her spare time, Becky can often be found running, watching Liverpool FC and horror movies, and hunting for gluten-free cake.

With contributions from
  • Navanski
    This may seem a touch pedantic but some of the items listed in your article are not headphones. They are earphones. The list you have concocted is using too broad a brush. I would much prefer a separate list for earphones.
    You may even consider splitting the personal listening devices into those you could class as portable and those which should be left at home.
    I'm also surprised to see some manufacturers represented more than once in the list. Are you seriously stating that AKG, Focal, Sennheiser, Audeze and HiFiMan, to name just some, are not worthy of being listed?
    Reply
  • Valkyr09
    This list is a load of rubbish. You are putting two grados on the recommended when there are better and cheaper alternatives with better build. The grados are flimsy and creaky for the price you pay. And their tuning is rubbish as well. I was using them before and when I wanted to get more details from them I would have to crank the volume. That meant the bass goes up as well and you end up with muddy details and a horrible sound. Definitely keep away or get them on a deal.
    Reply
  • Bloke
    Agreed. I've never understood WHF's longstanding fixation with Grado. Their tonal balance is a loudness button, and the ragged HF makes my ears bleed.
    Reply
  • Navanski
    Bloke said:
    Agreed. I've never understood WHF's longstanding fixation with Grado. Their tonal balance is a loudness button, and the ragged HF makes my ears bleed.
    Personally I like the Grado sound. It is a distinctive sound which some people find too bright, it's a matter of personal taste. I would agree however that in a list of the best headphones, only one set of Grado would suffice. Where are the AKG, Focal, Sennheiser, Audeze and HiFiMan ?
    Reply