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Best headphones 2024: Brilliant audio options to suit every budget

Take your audio enjoyment to new heights with our pick of the best headphones to suit all budgets and style preferences

Selecting the best headphones from the countless options available can be a daunting task.

First, you need to select what style of headphones you want. Next, you’ll want to set yourself a budget and work out which features you require before reading up on pairs that fit the brief. Or, you could have us do the hard work for you.

We’ve tested a huge number of headphones across every price bracket and compiled a list of our favourites in a range of popular categories. Below that list, there’s a comprehensive buying guide detailing the pros and cons of the different styles of headphones and a breakdown of their key features.

You can jump to that guide using the link below or keep scrolling to discover what we deem the best headphones the industry has to offer. Whether you’re after headphones with audiophile-grade sound quality or headphones to help you drift off at night, we’ve got you covered.

Best headphones: At a glance

Best cheap wired earphonesSoundMagic E11 (~£42)Check price at Amazon
Best true wireless earbudsSony WF-1000XM5 (~£223)Check price at Amazon
Best on-ear headphonesBeats Solo 3 (~£179)Check price at John Lewis
Best over-ear headphonesSony WH-1000XM5 (~£290)Check price at Amazon

How to choose the best headphones for you

The sheer number of headphones on the market can make selecting the right pair a tricky task. Things become a lot easier if you’re able to narrow down your options by choosing your preferred style and working out which features are essential to your use case.

Which style of headphones is right for me?

Headphones fall into three main categories: over-ear, on-ear and in-ear, with a fourth – bone conduction – gaining in popularity. Each has its pros and cons, so make a decision based on the style you find most comfortable to wear and that best suits your listening needs.

Over-ear headphones completely envelop your ears, creating a seal around them. This helps reduce the impact of external sound on your listening experience – referred to as sound isolation – but the earcups can be rather bulky as a result. Fortunately, many are foldable to enable easy transportation.

On-ear headphones sit on your ears rather than over them. Because their earcups are smaller, on-ear headphones are usually more compact and lighter than their over-ear counterparts. However, they don’t isolate sound nearly as well and some people find the force applied to their ears uncomfortable.

In-ear headphones are inserted into your ears and are either shaped to rest there without falling out or come with eartips to help secure them in place. They take a number of forms and are the best choice if you’re after a portable, lightweight audio solution.

Neckband earphones operate wirelessly but the earpieces remain connected to one another via a wire that runs behind your neck. True wireless earbuds – the fastest-growing area of the headphones market – get rid of wiring altogether and rely solely on Bluetooth for connectivity.

Bone conduction headphones rest on your cheekbones and create mini vibrations that move through bones in your skull and into the inner ear. For those with damaged eardrums or those wanting to be more aware of environmental sound, bone conduction headphones are a fantastic choice, though they’re not recommended if you’re after total immersion in your audio.

Are the best headphones wired or wireless?

There’s no easy answer to this as both have advantages and disadvantages. Wired headphones connect directly to your audio source via a physical connection, be that a 3.5mm jack, USB-A or USB-C input. This physical connection means the headphones don’t ever need charging, which is a big plus, and audio quality is typically superior to that produced over a wireless connection.

Depending on the devices you wish to use your headphones with, you’ll want to choose wired headphones that offer a compatible connection. For example, Apple’s recent iPhones use a proprietary Lightning port so headphones sporting a 3.5mm connection won’t work with them without an adapter.

As Bluetooth connectivity has developed, we’ve seen more and more of the best headphones making the switch to wireless functionality. Connect your smartphone or laptop to your headphones over Bluetooth and you can enjoy audio without the need for any wiring to connect them. This means the headphones will need to be charged regularly but, in the case of earbuds, you get a portable charging case to help boost battery life. If you’re specifically interested in wireless headphones, check out our list of the best Bluetooth headphones available.

Active noise cancellation (ANC): ANC technology is designed to drown out external noise. It’s an essential feature if you want to zone out from the rest of the world when on a noisy commute. Read our list of the best ANC headphones for more details.

Integrated microphone and voice assistant: You’ll be hard-pressed to find a pair of headphones that don’t come with some kind of microphone built-in, but it’s well worth checking before you buy. A significant number support the use of your voice assistant, so if Google Assistant, Alexa or Siri are essential to your daily routine, make sure the headphones you buy have voice assistant support.

Touch controls: Touch controls allow you to control your audio without needing to access the device playing it. Over-complicated touch controls can be off-putting but you want to make sure the key commands, namely volume up/down and play/pause, are available.

Bluetooth codecs: Codecs determine how data is transmitted from your audio output to your headphones and not all of them are created equally. SBC is pretty much universal and works well enough but if you want an optimal wireless experience you should look out for codecs capable of transmitting high-resolution audio such as Qualcomm’s aptX HD. Bear in mind that not every device supports every codec so check for compatibility before buying. It’s also worth noting that both your headphones and the audio source must support a codec for you to be able to use it.

Waterproofing: Having some level of sweat/waterproofing is always welcome. Be on the lookout for IP certification – anything higher than IPX4 means your headphones will survive a sudden downpour and are cut out for use in the gym or while running. It’s rare to find IP certification on over-ear and on-ear headphones but most of the best headphones designed to fit in your ears will have it.

READ NEXT: Best cheap headphones

How we test the best headphones

Our testing process is kept as consistent as possible across various types of headphones, though different styles do occasionally require slightly different testing conditions.

We start formulating judgements about how well-made a product is as soon as it’s removed from its packaging and build quality and durability are assessed throughout. Wearing the headphones for extended periods is the only way to properly evaluate how comfortable they are, so we’ll spend a great deal of time with them in, on or over our ears.

Sound quality is the most important aspect of headphones performance and we spend a significant proportion of our testing time listening to audio content of various types. We stream music from services like Spotify, Tidal and Apple Music, play locally stored high-resolution audio files, and watch videos on YouTube and films on platforms like Apple TV Plus and Netflix. If the headphones support a specific audio format, such as Dolby Atmos or Spatial Audio, we’ll put them through their paces while listening to and watching plenty of compatible content.

We also test every other feature a pair of headphones has available, covering everything from voice controls and touch gestures to noise cancellation and customisable graphic equalisers found in companion apps. Noise cancellation is tested in home environments using household appliances such as kettles and washing machines, as well as in more hectic scenarios like busy commutes into London. Where possible, we’ll compare similarly priced headphones of the same style to see how they measure up against each other.

Phone calls, virtual meetings and voice recordings are used to analyse microphone quality, and we test IP resistances by exposing headphones to situations which challenge their ability to withstand sweat and water such as trips to the gym or rainy runs in the park. In the case of some bone-conduction headphones, we’ll even go swimming with them. Throughout testing, we keep close tabs on how long we’ve been using the headphones for, so are able to give an estimate of battery life compared with the figures stated by the manufacturer.

The best headphones you can buy in 2024

1. Sony WF-1000XM5: Best true wireless earbuds

Price when reviewed: £223 | Check price at Amazon

Best headphones - Sony WF-1000XM5

Sony’s latest flagship earbuds deliver in all the important areas. Audio quality is great – there’s Hi-res audio support if you’re using Sony’s proprietary LDAC codec – and noise cancellation is highly effective thanks in no small part to ambient sound control, which adjusts ANC automatically based on your location and actions.

With hands-free support for Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant, useful features like wear detection and Speak-to-Chat and an IPX4 rating for water resistance, the Sony WF-1000XM4 are exceptional all-rounders and our recommendation if you’re after wireless earbuds and have a healthy budget.

Read our Sony WF-1000XM5 review

Key specs – Type: True wireless earbuds; Connections: Bluetooth 5.0; Weight: 6g per earbud, 41g charging case; Cable length: N/A

2. Anker Soundcore Life Q30: Best budget noise-cancelling headphones

Price when reviewed: £50 | Check price at Amazon

When it comes to value-for-money over-ear headphones, the Anker Soundcore Life Q30 can’t be beaten. They offer three levels of effective active noise cancellation that outperform many of their more expensive rivals, have outstanding battery life and are comfortable to wear for long periods.

Their default sound signature is overly bassy to the point where the earcups vibrate noticeably on tracks with a beefy low-end, but pop into the Soundcore companion app and you can customise audio to your heart’s content. There are no fewer than 22 different EQ presets available covering just about every genre imaginable along with an eight-band graphic equaliser that enables you to create your own sonic profiles. With a little bit of tinkering around, you’ll be able to find a sound that suits your listening preference and comfortably enjoy distraction-free audio for hours on end.

Read our Anker Soundcore Life Q30 review

Key specs – Type: Over-ear, wireless; Connections: Bluetooth; Weight: 265g; Cable length: 1.2m

3. Sennheiser Accentum Plus: Best over-ear headphones under £200

Price when reviewed: £200 | Check price at Amazon

The Sennheiser Accentum Plus are brilliant mid-range over-ear headphones that blew us away with their refined sound quality, effective noise cancellation and intuitive touch controls during testing.

They’re an upgrade to the highly acclaimed Accentum and make improvements in a couple of key areas: noise cancellation is now of the adaptive variety and codec compatibility has been expanded to include aptX Adaptive. There’s also support for auto-pausing when you remove the headphones, smart functionality in the form of location-based adjustment of EQ and ANC settings and battery life clocks in at a bumper 50 hours with noise cancelling engaged.

Some may find the analytical default sound profile lacking excitement and the EQ controls a little fiddly, while there’s room for improvement where the quality of the in-built microphones is concerned. Nevertheless, you won’t find better wireless over-ear headphones for the money.

Read our Sennheiser Accentum Plus review

Key specs – Headphone type: Over-ear; Connections: Bluetooth, 2.5mm to 3.5mm jack; Weight: 227g; Cable length: 1.5m

  • ALTERNATIVE: If you prefer some extra-bass the LDAC-compatible Edifier WH950NB (£180) are another excellent option.

4. Sony WH-1000XM5: Best over-ear headphones

Price when reviewed: £290 | Check price at Amazon

The WH-1000XM5 cost slightly more than their predecessors did at launch but are a superior product, with improved noise cancellation, more detailed audio and a new design that’s more comfortable and helps reduce the impact of wind on noise-cancelling performance. It’s a design that means the headphones can no longer be folded up, but on balance, this is a sacrifice worth making.

The various convenience features that made their predecessors such a success make a return, including Speak-to-Chat, Quick Attention mode and wear detection. These, along with Sony’s Adaptive Sound Control, which automatically adjusts settings based on where you are and what you’re doing, ensure Sony remains ahead of the chasing pack when it comes to over-ear noise-cancelling headphones.

Read our Sony WH-1000XM5 review

Key specs – Type: Over-ear, wireless; Connections: Bluetooth; Weight: 250g; Cable length: 1.2m

5. SoundMagic E11: Best cheap wired earphones

Price when reviewed: £42 | Check price at Amazon

The SoundMagic E11 are the successor to SoundMagic’s excellent E10 earphones. They’re slightly dearer but are sonically and aesthetically superior. The earphones have a better soundstage, a more energetic treble and a tamer low-end, delivering a balanced sound signature throughout. There are better-sounding wired in-ear headphones out there, including the vastly more expensive Sennheiser IE200 below in terms of value for money, the E11 can’t be beaten.

Read our SoundMagic E11 review

Key specsType: In-ear, wired; Connections: 3.5mm jack plug; Weight: Unknown; Cable length: 1.2m

6. Sennheiser HD560S: Best headphones for home listening

Price when reviewed: £139 | Check price at Amazon

Open-back headphones are the go-to for those that enjoy spacious, expansive soundstages, and the HD560S are perfect for sitting back and indulging in a lengthy listening session at home.

They’re supremely comfortable, with large, velour-lined earcups that feel snug but not too tight, and a soft, padded headband that distributes the headphones’ weight nicely across your head. Audio quality is excellent, too. We were very impressed by the poise and clarity with which the HD560S deliver music and there’s a real sense of scale to the way they communicate sound. Instrument separation is top-notch, making them ideal for either professional use or critical listening.

The lack of a microphone means they won’t see use during meetings while working from home but if you’re after a pair of headphones that sound fantastic, feel great and will allow you to hear when a courier rings on your doorbell, they’re just the trick.

Read our Sennheiser HD560S review

Key specs – Headphone type: Over-ear; Connections: 3.5mm and 6.5mm; Weight: 240g; Cable length: 3m

7. Beats Solo 3: Best on-ear headphones

Price when reviewed: £179 | Check price at John Lewis

The Beats Solo 3 have been around a while now but are still a top pick if you’re after on-ear headphones. They’re light and comfortable, pair seamlessly with Apple devices and battery life of 40 hours means they have more than enough stamina for most use cases. Physical buttons make controlling the Solo 3 a breeze and the headphones are available in an attractive range of colours, including the red pictured above, white, silver and gold. Sound quality will divide opinion, as, like many Beats headphones, the Solo 3 favour a boosted bass response over a subtle delivery. If you listen to a lot of pop and hip hop, you’ll likely love them, but those with classical leanings will be better served elsewhere.

Read our Beats Solo 3 review

Key specs – Headphone type: On-ear; Connections: Bluetooth, 3.5mm jack; Weight: 215g; Cable length: 1.5m

8. Beats Flex: Best wireless earphones

Price when reviewed: £50 | Check price at Amazon

Wireless earphones may have fallen behind wireless earbuds in terms of popularity but remain a great option for those who prefer in-line controls to touch controls or are after long-lasting in-ear battery life.

The Beats Flex are a shining example of their product type, delivering wonderful audio quality, up to 12 hours of playtime and seamless pairing with Apple devices, all for a very reasonable price. They also have successfully implemented auto-pause functionality that triggers whenever you remove a bud from your ear.

Sadly, the Flex lack an official rating for water resistance, which is a shame as they would otherwise be ideal for the gym and other exercise-related activities. That oversight aside, these earphones tick every box and do so without doing too much damage to your bank account.

Read our Beats Flex review

Key specs – Headphone type: In-ear; Connections: Bluetooth 5.0; Weight: 18.6g; Cable length: N/A

9. Apple AirPods 3: Best open-fit wireless earbuds

Price when reviewed: £159 | Check price at Amazon

best headphones - Apple AirPods 3

The third-generation Apple AirPods are simply sensational open-fit true wireless earbuds. They deliver on pretty much every front, with the best sound quality of any non-Pro AirPods and support for Apple’s incredible Spatial Audio technology. As was the case with their predecessors, the AirPods 3 provide seamless integration with Apple products in addition to their top-notch build quality, making them the go-to choice for iPhone users.

If you don’t own an iPhone you can still enjoy their great design and solid audio but you’ll be missing out on voice-activated Siri, near-instant Bluetooth pairing and battery-level popups. New for the third-gen model is a contoured design, which makes them more comfortable than ever, a case that supports Apple’s MagSafe charging technology and force sensors built into the stem via which you execute controls.

Read our Apple AirPods 3 review

Key specs – Type: True wireless earbuds; Connections: Bluetooth; Weight: 4g per earbud, 40g charging case; Cable length: N/A

10. Sennheiser HD 25: Best wired on-ear headphones

Price when reviewed: £129 | Check price at Amazon

The Sennheiser HD 25 are a timeless classic in the DJ world and continue to reign supreme as a wired option today. Their clamping force is noticeable from first use and ensures a secure fit offering some of the best passive isolation we’ve seen from on-ear headphones.

While the HD 25’s design is both lightweight and durable, their modular components are easy to replace or repair should anything get broken. Precisely detailed and well-balanced audio complete a well-rounded package – assuming you have a device that supports a wired input, the Sennheiser HD 25 are versatile daily drivers capable of doing justice to whatever you’re listening to.

Read our Sennheiser HD 25 review 

Key specs – Headphone type: On-ear; Connections: 3.5mm/6.3mm jack; Weight: 140g; Cable length: 1.5m

11. Oppo Enco Free 2: Best budget wireless earbuds

Price when reviewed: £38 | Check price at Amazon

There are a huge number of wireless earbuds available for under £100, but none balance sound quality and features quite as well as the Oppo Enco Free 2. Their sound signature was co-tuned by Oppo and Danish audio experts, Dynaudio, and the resultant instrument separation and mid-range detail are highly impressive.

Active noise cancellation works effectively, as does the transparency mode, though you’ll need to turn your music down a bit if you want to hold a proper conversation while using the latter. The Enco Free 2’s touch controls are relatively limited by current standards but are neatly implemented, with the ability to adjust volume by sliding your finger along the back of the buds proving particularly useful.

Read our Oppo Enco Free 2 review

Key specs – Type: True wireless earbuds; Connections: Bluetooth 5.2; Weight: 47.6g (earbuds and charging case); Cable length: N/A

12. Sennheiser IE200: Best wired earphones under £150

Price when reviewed: £130 | Check price at Amazon

Premium in-ear headphones can cost thousands of pounds; the Sennheiser IE200 offer a taste of that audiophile-grade sound quality at a fraction of the price. Their sound is accurate and analytical but not for everyone – if you’re a dance music fan, you’ll probably find the bass reproduction is a little lacklustre. But for those seeking detail and clarity, the IE200 deliver in spades. They’re also comfortable to wear and the top sections of the cabling can be wrapped over your ears to ensure the earbuds stay in place, which is very convenient. The absence of an in-line remote and built-in microphone does limit the IE200’s appeal a little, but for those seeking crisp, well-articulated sound and to be free of any battery life constraints, Sennheiser’s entry-level in-ear monitors are just the ticket.

Read our Sennheiser IE200 review

Key specs – Headphone type: In-ear; Connections: 3.5mm; Weight: 18.6g; Cable length: 1.2m (removable)

13. Shokz OpenRun Pro: Best bone-conduction headphones

Price when reviewed: £160 | Check price at Amazon

Shokz (formerly AfterShokz) may have been rebranded, but it remains the market-leading manufacturer of bone-conduction headphones.

Bone-conduction headphones are a great choice if you don’t get on with in-, on- or over-ear headphones, delivering sound via vibrations on your cheekbones and leaving your ears completely free. This allows you to remain aware of your surroundings while you enjoy audio and, as a result, bone-conduction headphones are the only syle of headphones approved for road races under the UK Athletics Rules of Competition.

The OpenRun Pro are Shokz’ flagship option and deliver the best sound quality of any bone-conduction headphones we’ve tested. They also vibrate less, leak less sound and possess class-leading battery life along with an IP55 rating for water resistance. They’re the priciest bone-conduction headphones on the market but in terms of performance, you definitely get what you pay for.

Read our Shokz OpenRun Pro review

Key specs – Type: Bone conduction; Connections: Bluetooth 5.1; Weight: 29g; Cable length: N/A

14. Philips Sleep Headphones with Kokoon: Best headphones for sleeping

Price when reviewed: £249 | Check price at Kokoon

Best headphones - Philips Sleep Headphones with Kokoon

They may be pricey, but these headphones are the most effective we’ve tested when it comes to helping you get a better night’s sleep and tracking the quality of your kip.  Their tiny earbuds feel practically non-existent in your ears, which makes dropping off while wearing them very easy once you’ve got used to wearing them.

The selection of sleep aids available in the companion app is great too, but the Philips Sleep Headphones’ big advantage over their rivals is that they allow you to stream audio over Bluetooth. This means you can enjoy your favourite podcast as you drift off and have the audio fade out when the buds pick up that you’ve fallen asleep. You’ll be paying a premium for the privilege, but if you struggle to sleep, it may just be a price worth paying.

Read our Philips Sleep Headphones with Kokoon review

Key specs – Type: Wireless earphones; Connections: Bluetooth; Weight: 23g; Cable length: N/A

Check price at Kokoon

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