Best headphones 2024 – every type tried and tested

Hunting for a new pair of headphones isn't easy. Not only do you have to contend with key questions around whether you want a set of over-ears or the convenience of wireless earbuds, but you also have to factor in cost and what source you’re planning to play them from. That's before you've even considered further complications such as feature sets, design preferences and the eternal problem of fit (for in-ears only, of course).

If you’re just streaming from a phone and subscribe to the lowest quality Spotify tier, there’s no point investing in a top-of-the-line wired set. Equally, if you care deeply about audio quality then you'll want to spend a little more cash and focus on key factors like codec support (if you go wireless), as well as if you want to go closed or open back (which we love, by the way).

Even if you manage to navigate such tricky waters there’s then the big issue that, based on our 50-plus years reviewing them, not every set of headphones is worth your hard-earned dollar. Even in the market's top end, many sets fail to deliver when we get them into our listening rooms and put them through their paces.

Here to assist you in getting the right pair of headphones for your specific needs, tastes and budget, we’ve created this handy buying guide. Every set on this list has been tested by our team of expert reviewers in our dedicated listening rooms and the real world to make sure they truly are the crème de la crème.

Make sure to check out our best headphone deals guide, which details the top savings we’ve spotted. Also, see the winners of the What Hi-Fi? Awards 2023 headphone categories if you haven’t quite found what you’re looking for here.

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

The best headphones in 2024

Why you can trust What Hi-Fi? Our expert team reviews products in dedicated test rooms, to help you make the best choice for your budget. Find out more about how we test.

What follows are our expert picks of the best headphones currently available, spanning a range of styles and budgets. Every pair has been rigorously tested by our team of product experts to ensure it delivers great performance and value, so you can trust our buying advice.

Best overall

What Hi-Fi? Awards 2023 winner. The best-value premium noise-cancelling wireless headphones out there, period

Specifications

Bluetooth: SBC, AAC, LDAC
Noise-cancelling: Yes
Battery life: 30hr
Charging: USB-C
Cable length: N/A
Built-in mic and controls: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Sensational sonic clarity
+
Nice to use
+
Punchy and precise, agile bass

Reasons to avoid

-
Build seems a little less premium than before
-
Don’t fold away completely

It can be tricky for a manufacturer to push the sound performance of a product consistently from generation to generation, but that is what Sony has managed to do with the WH-1000XM5 wireless headphones, our new Bluetooth noise-cancelling over-ear favourites.

When we saw the official pictures of the Sony WH-1000XM5 when they arrived last year, we were more than a bit surprised. We wondered whether it was a wise move to give one of Sony’s biggest success stories in recent memory – the WH-1000XM4 that came before them – a major redesign. But it's paid off.

The Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones might feel a little less premium than the outgoing XM4, but the jump in sound quality from the previous generation is a big one, and rivals once again have their work cut out to beat them. None have yet, despite very decent efforts by the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless and Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2, which are decent alternatives if you value long battery life (Sennheiser) or more attentive listening (B&W).

Ultimately, if you are looking for a new pair of wireless noise-cancelling headphones and your budget can't stretch to the pricier, superior-sounding Apple AirPods Max, Focal Bathys or Mark Levinson No.5909, your auditioning should certainly start here. The previous WH-1000XM4 were already the best around – and are still very appealing, by the way, at their now-reduced price – but the XM5 are undoubtedly better for those who can afford them. Easy What Hi-Fi? Award winners.

Read the full Sony WH-1000XM5 review

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Sony WH-1000XM5 scores in depth
AttributesNotesRating
SoundMusical and hugely entertaining, the best we've heard at this level★★★★★
FeaturesNumerous control options, impressive app, but no aptX support or waterproofing★★★★☆
Noise-cancellingBrilliant, arguably best-in-class★★★★★

Best budget earbuds

2. Sony WF-C500

What Hi-Fi? Awards 2023 winner. Real competitors in the budget wireless earbuds arena

Specifications

Bluetooth: SBC, AAC
Noise-cancelling: No
Battery life: 10hrs (20hrs with charging case)
Charging: USB-C
Cable length: N/A
Built-in mic and controls: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Compact and comfortable design
+
Spirited, well-balanced sound
+
Fine control app

Reasons to avoid

-
Ordinary battery life
-
Slightly small-scale sound

Building affordable true wireless in-ear headphones is a different discipline from building expensive ones, but it’s no less tricky. In the WF-C500, Sony has managed to bring a lot of what makes its established premium true wireless in-ears (such as the WF-1000XM4 further down this list) such a success without cutting too many obvious corners.

Yes, the WF-C500 can be bettered (and by quite a margin) for battery life, but you’ll be hard-pushed to find a more comfortable pair. And yes, you can buy greater outright scale of sound – but you won’t encounter a more complete control app. Some alternatives are a punchier and more ‘exciting’ listen, but very few strike a more convincing sonic balance. The C500 are very likeable indeed, and easily the best package you'll find at its very modest price tag.

They don't have active noise cancellation, which isn't surprising at this price, so if that feature is a must we would point you to the slightly pricier, next-model-up Sony WF-C700N or, if a long battery life is high on your list of priorities, the JBL Live Pro 2 TWS. Both are five-star earbuds (the C700N now have an Award of their own), but if you don't need ANC or are willing to sacrifice it for a bargain buy, then the Sony WF-C500 are your best bet. Hence their current What Hi-Fi? Award.

Read the full Sony WF-C500 review

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Sony WF-C500 scores in depth
AttributesNotesRating
SoundVery few rivals strike a more convincing sonic balance★★★★★
FeaturesNo ANC, but good control app, 20-hour battery life and waterproofing★★★★☆
Buildthe Sonys are simple to get into position and will stay comfortable for hours once they’re there★★★★★

Best budget headphones

What Hi-Fi? Awards 2023 winner. A great pair of inexpensive over-ears that don't sacrifice noise cancelling

Specifications

Bluetooth: SBC, AAC
Noise-cancelling: Yes
Battery life: Up to 50 hours
Charging: USB-C
Cable length: N/A
Built-in mic and controls: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Forceful, robust sound presentation
+
Decent ANC for the price
+
Solid build quality

Reasons to avoid

-
A little over-enthusiastic in the bass
-
No case or foldability

For a very reasonable price, the Sony WH-CH720N are a dependably made, enthusiastic-sounding pair of headphones that, while occasionally straying into the realm of excessive bass, deliver good noise-cancelling (a rare thing at this price) and a strong feature set to the mid-to-low price bracket of the wireless headphone market. 

These are designed as a pair of cans for those who aren’t keen on forking out a few hundred quid for a more premium pair of over-ears like the Sony WH-1000XM5 or Apple AirPods Max but equally don’t want to skimp on active noise cancellation or suffer a significant drop in audio fidelity by opting for the cheapest over-ears we can recommend, the entry-level WH-CH520. And they nail their brief.

The WH-CH720N are hardly a lavish affair and certainly don’t make the heart flutter with excitement every time you set eyes upon them, but they’re solid, substantially made and reasonably comfortable for their price. Throw in effective ANC that dampens noise pretty well and a sound that is lively, energetic and detailed (we can’t think of any rival headphones at this price that could keep up with such a spirited delivery), and you have a job well done.

Read the full Sony WH-CH720N review

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Sony WH-CH720N scores in depth
AttributesNotesRating
SoundEnergetic, lively and detailed for the money★★★★★
FeaturesUp to 50 hours of battery, ANC and in-app EQ★★★★★
BuildSolid, substantially made and reasonably comfortable – they don't fold though★★★★★

Best premium earbuds

What Hi-Fi? Awards 2023 winner. Sony's most accomplished and analytical wireless earbuds to date, and our pick of the premium lot

Specifications

Bluetooth: SBC, AAC, LDAC
Noise-cancelling: Yes
Battery life: 8hr (24hrs with charging case)
Charging: USB-C
Cable length: N/A
Built-in mic and controls: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Class-leading levels of detail and clarity
+
Top-notch musicality and timing
+
Comfortable, discreet design

Reasons to avoid

-
Some rivals produce more bass
-
Could feel more secure

With the WF-1000XM5, Sony's managed to build on the huge success of previous WF models (namely the XM3 and XM4) and produce another sensational pair of true wireless earbuds.

There's a new design that is a big positive: the XM5 are comfortable, nice to use and noise-cancelling and call quality are up there with the competition. And if you’re looking for the clearest and most detailed sonic performance on the market right now, then the WF-1000XM5 produce it – and by quite some distance. They might not sound quite as fun as their predecessors – not quite as rich or full in the bass as we've come to expect from flagship earbuds from Sony – but they certainly move the game on in many aspects of performance, making them another winner.

Add to that a 24-hour battery life, Multipoint Bluetooth (so you can connect to two devices simultaneously), excellent noise cancellation (they seem to remove an extra layer of midrange noise compared to the XM4) and IPX4-rated sweat resistance, and this is a solid offering across the board.

The premium wireless earbuds space is a popular one, with many pairs from brands just as big as Sony vying for your attention. The ones we believe are worth considering aside from our number one pick are 1) the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II, which are more expensive but justify that extra outlay with a touch better sound quality and supreme ANC; and 2) the AirPods Pro 2 (below), which could win over iPhone fans with their iOS-friendly features and almost-as-good sound quality; and 3) the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3, for if you prioritise battery life and have an aptX HD/Adaptive Bluetooth phone that you wish to make the most of.

Still, as the best all-rounders for most people, we're sticking with the WF-1000XM5.

Read the full review: Sony WF-1000XM5

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Sony WF-1000XM5 scores in depth
AttributesNotesRating
SoundStunning all-round sound quality only beaten by pricier Boses★★★★★
FeaturesGreat ANC and usability features, but aptX isn't on the menu★★★★★
BuildComfortable and more liveable than the XM4 for longer periods of time★★★★★

Best AirPods

Apple's best-sounding AirPods yet are up there with the best

Specifications

Bluetooth: AAC
Noise-cancelling: Yes
Battery life: 6hrs (30hrs with charging case)
Charging: Lightning
Cable length: N/A
Built-in mic and controls: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Clear, detailed and powerful sound
+
Excellent noise-cancelling
+
Longer battery life
+
Smooth, intuitive use with iOS devices

Reasons to avoid

-
Many features restricted to iOS devices only
-
Customisable ANC modes would be useful

Not long ago, this accolade would've gone to the excellent-sounding AirPods Max over-ears – and maybe it will if the rumoured Max 2 raise the ceiling again. But the arrival of the second-gen Pro earbuds last year was even more pleasing, as it marked the first time an AirPods earbud received a What Hi-Fi? five-star review.

You see, the AirPods and AirPods Pro were always been one step behind the competition, particularly when it came to sound quality. They’ve been good-but-not-great wireless earbuds; lovely to use for iOS users, but never quite reaching the sonic heights established by the top noise-cancelling earbuds in this crowded and popular category. 

That all changes with the latest Pro. The second generation of Apple’s flagship wireless ANC earbuds promises a more powerful processor, with advancements in active noise-cancelling, longer battery life, new features and, more importantly, better audio performance.

We certainly didn’t expect them to trouble the best-in-class competitors such as the Sony WF-1000XM4 higher up this list, but with the AirPods Pro 2, Apple has more than caught up. The Pro 2 are highly recommendable and arguably the number-one choice for iOS users.

What if your budget doesn't stretch or you don't need noise cancellation? The more affordable, non-ANC