Choosing a pair of headphones nowadays is a tricky task for even the savviest of buyers.
There is your budget to think about, of course – that's the easiest part. Then you’ve got to think about the form factor: do you prefer the comfy isolation of over-ears, the snug fit of in-ear, or the middle ground of on-ear? Do you want the reliable interruption-free boon of a wired connection or the blissful freedom of wireless? Is active noise-cancellation (ANC) important to you or can you happily live without it?
But even after answering those questions, buying blindly without doing proper research to determine how different pairs perform in the real world still puts you at risk of investing in a poor product. We’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve received a sample pair of headphones for review that on paper looks amazing but actually fails to deliver the goods when we put them through their paces.
This is why we’ve created a handy guide detailing the best headphones we’ve tested that you can buy, covering all types and budgets. Our expert team of reviewers have thoroughly tested every pair to ensure its audio quality and value for money are up to scratch, so you can trust our buying advice. Of over 100 pairs of headphones we review and judge for the What Hi-Fi? Awards every year, this eclectic nine are our absolute favourites...
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 Sony WH-1000XM5 are the best-value wireless noise-cancelling headphones out there, with a winning combination of comfortable design, useful feature set and entertaining performance that will satisfy most people.
Best budget earbuds
Best budget earbuds
Truly brilliant value buds that manage to bring a lot of what makes Sony's premium wireless earbuds such a success without cutting too many corners too obviously. Compact design and great sound for modest money.
Best budget headphones
Best budget headphones
If you prefer an on-ear fit to an in-ear one, the Sony WH-CH720N are rare examples of how wireless headphones can be done on a budget. Good sound, durable design and effective noise cancellation.
Best premium earbuds
Best premium earbuds
Sony’s most accomplished and analytical wireless earbuds yet, the XM5 represent the best all-round buds with ANC, with Sony packaging everything we like about its over-ears into a practical, portable in-ear form.
The latest, second-gen AirPods Pro are the best-sounding AirPods earbuds, with improved noise-cancelling over the originals and a wonderfully rich, engaging sound that’s now up there with the class leaders.
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Best wired headphones
Best wired headphones
The latest model in a long and successful line of wired over-ear headphones, the SR325x are the ones to beat at this price point – and perfect for home use due to their open-backed (i.e. leaky) design.
Best for home
Best for home
Open-back wired headphones that sound as good as they feel (and trust us, they feel wonderful). With sound of the highest quality, the Amiron will keep you happy no matter what they’re playing.
The best headphones in 2023
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.
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
|Sound||Musical and hugely entertaining, the best we've heard at this level||★★★★★|
|Features||Numerous control options, impressive app, but no aptX support or waterproofing||★★★★☆|
|Noise-cancelling||Brilliant, arguably best-in-class||★★★★★|
Best budget earbuds
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 corners too obviously.
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 (and therefore highly recommendable) earbuds, 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
|Sound||Very few rivals strike a more convincing sonic balance||★★★★★|
|Features||No ANC, but good control app, 20-hour battery life and waterproofing||★★★★☆|
|Build||the Sonys are simple to get into position and will stay comfortable for hours once they’re there||★★★★★|
Best budget headphones
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 feature rare 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
|Sound||Energetic, lively and detailed for the money||★★★★★|
|Features||Up to 50 hours of battery, ANC and in-app EQ||★★★★★|
|Build||Solid, substantially made and reasonably comfortable – they don't fold though||★★★★★|
Best premium earbuds
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
|Sound||Stunning all-round sound quality only beaten by pricier Boses||★★★★★|
|Features||Great ANC and usability features, but aptX isn't on the menu||★★★★★|
|Build||Comfortable and more liveable than the XM4 for longer periods of time||★★★★★|
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 AirPods 3 are worth considering for Apple users for their iOS friendliness and spatial audio support, though they don't sound quite as good as we'd like them to, and that tip-less fit isn't for everyone.
Read the full AirPods Pro 2 review
|Sound||Balanced, clear and detailed sound, and spatial audio is a bonus||★★★★★|
|Features||Innovative iOS features – but not for Android users||★★★★☆|
|Build||Comfortable, with interchangeable silicone ear tips for a more secure fit and seal||★★★★★|
Best wired earbuds
Shure has plenty of experience with wired in-ear headphones, and it shines through in the Aonic 3. They're comfy and lightweight for starters. The headphone cable hooks over the top of your ears and keeps them secure at all times – there is a slight knack required to get the swivelling buds in place, but it'll become habit in no time.
Nine different eartip choices allow for excellent isolation, while an in-line remote and mic can control your tunes and answer calls.
And the Shures absolutely nail sound quality. They're dynamic and detailed and their sense of rhythm and timing needs to be heard. We can't think of any pair of in-ear headphones at this price that even comes close, and that's why they're What Hi-Fi? Award winners.
That said, while the Aonic 3 are truly fantastic earbuds and ideal for anyone looking to upgrade their bundled buds to a more serious proposition, they aren't exactly cheap and therefore may be out of reach for some buyers. If that's the case, the multi-award-winning SoundMagic E11 should be a first consideration. They offer the best-value performance below the Shure's asking price, despite being significantly more affordable, and have the bonus of an in-line remote.
At the other end of the scale, if your in-ear ambitions and budget surpass that of the Aonic 3, may we point you to the next-model-up Aonic 5 – the best in Shure's catalogue and indeed musical masters at their high-end level.
Read the full Shure Aonic 3 review
|Sound||Breathtakingly musical earbuds||★★★★★|
|Features||A case, adapter and in-line remote are onboard||★★★★★|
|Build||A knack is required to get the swivelling eartips in place, but then comfort is of the highest order||★★★★★|
Best wired headphones
The Prestige range of headphones has been at the core of Grado’s output since it was first introduced three decades ago. While the series has developed over the years, Grado has always done so in small evolutionary steps. The story remains the same for this new ‘x’ generation.
These headphones have always been detailed and articulate performers, and that hasn’t changed, but the ‘x’ generation sound that bit more precise and insightful than the previous SR325e – cleaner and clearer too.
It's important to note that these are open-back headphones, meaning they leak sound in and out and are therefore best for listening in quiet environments, undisturbed. Many of the best wired headphones sport this design, which allows soundstages to feel more open and spacious, though if preference or practicalities would see you hunting for a closed-back design (which doesn't leak sound), we would heartily recommend the closed-back Beyerdynamic DT 700 X Pro – also talented five-star performers that deliver a wonderfully rounded performance that’s as musical as it is informative. The open-back versions of these Beyerdynamics, the DT 900X Pro, would also be great buys if you really can't get over the Grado's dated design!
And if your budget doesn't quite stretch to the Grados (or Beyerdynamics), your best bet is the award-winning, one-model-down Grado SR80x (open-backs) or five-star Austrian Audio Hi-X15 (closed-backs). Better yet, the Rode NTH-100 are fantastic if you can spend a little more than the Grados' and Austrian Audios' asking prices.
If you are looking for a quality pair of wired headphones around the Grado SR325x's price level, though, and are happy with an open-back design, put them at the top of your shopping list. Once you have a listen you’ll be glad you did.
These Grados once again prove that evolution is arguably a more reliable way of making things better than a headline-grabbing design revolution.
Read the full Grado SR325x review
|Sound||Hugely entertaining performance with excellent resolution||★★★★★|
|Comfort||Not everyone will like the thinner foam earpads – they they do sound better||★★★★☆|
|Build||Solid build, though not very modern-looking||★★★★☆|
Best for home
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're not just comfortable, but 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. That's why they are current What Hi-Fi? Award winners at the business end of the wired headphones category.
Like the Beyerdynamic headphones above, they are open-backed and leak sound like a sieve, so the usual disclaimer about not listening on public transport applies. And at this level, you should definitely use the Amirons with a suitable DAC / headphone amp (whether that be an external one or one integrated into an existing system component) in order to get the most out of them.
If you have a healthy budget and want a stunning pair of headphones, the Amiron will keep you happy no matter the genre.
If your budget is even healthier and you're keen to get the most performance you can afford, the next pair of headphones on this list will be for you...
Read the full Beyerdynamic Amiron review
|Sound||An impressive sound that takes the whole frequency range in its stride||★★★★★|
|Comfort||you could easily wear these headphones for hours on end||★★★★★|
|Build||Solid, well made and luxurious to wear||★★★★★|
Best for audiophiles
If you have a greater budget that can extend past Beyerdynamic's Amiron to its flagship T1, you won't regret taking the plunge. The 10-year-old, original T1 open-back headphones 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 old model had a 600ohm impedance, while this new one takes that down to 32ohms.
The results are sound that's very similar to the originals but cleaner and clearer if anything, slightly less bright and a little more rounded in the treble too, making them a bit more forgiving of aggressive electronics and recordings. There's that same delivery of music with a palpable sense of power and authority, and vocals come through with nuance and clarity, too.
They’re comfortable enough for long listening sessions thanks to a nicely shaped, partially Alcantara-covered headband and generous velour-trimmed earpads. These aren’t the kind of headphones that impress on a short listen. However, given a few days or even weeks, it’s hard not to fall under their spell. We certainly have.
Once again, these are open-back headphones that leak sound in and out (and are all the better sounding for it), but very decent closed-back alternatives would be the brilliant Beyerdynamic T5 (3rd Gen). And if your budget is bigger still, we recommend you head on over to our best audiophile headphones buying guide, which feature the likes of the Sennheiser HD 820, Focal Utopia (2022) and Yamaha YH-5000SE at the top of the A-list pile.
Read the full Beyerdynamic T1 (3rd Generation) review