We’re not audio snobs here. We’re not going to claim that you’re not a ‘real’ music fan if you’re still using the cheap earbuds that came with your phone to listen to music.
But what we will say is that just spending a little bit of extra money on a decent pair of headphones will get you a long way in terms of music quality, and will allow you to discern subtle details in your favorite songs that you might have otherwise missed.
Bass notes that otherwise sounded overwhelming and booming will instead sound tight and refined, trebles will be crisper, and mids will shine through the mix rather than being buried.
Before you start looking at the best sounding pair of headphones you need to settle on what form factor suits your listening needs. Over-ears are the most bulky but generally the most comfortable, while on-ears and in-ears are more portable at the expense of comfort.
Not to mention the fact that wireless headphones (both on-ear and in-ear) are increasingly popular as battery life and connectivity technologies improve.
If you’re still confused as to what form factor will suit your needs the best, then check out our short video guide below. We’ve also got a more in-depth guide available on the second page.
Even if you’re still unsure which set fits your lifestyle, there is a perfect set of headphones out there for you. With this guide, we want to help you find them.
What does techradar recommend?
Below, you’ll find the top contenders in each category of headphones. We’re always reviewing the latest and greatest headphones available, so you can ensure that this guide is up-to-date.
Best in-ear headphones: Optoma NuForce HEM6
Premium in-ears with a price point to match
Acoustic design: N/A | Weight: 0.01 pounds | Cable length: 4.52 feet | Frequency response: 18Hz – 40kHz | Drivers: 3 per ear | Driver type: Knowels balanced armature | Sensitivity: 113dB+/-3dB | Impedance: 37 Ohms | Battery life: N/A | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: N/A
Great frequency response
Comfortable to wear
A little warm-sounding
If you can get on board with the price point, the HEM6s are a great pair of headphones that really sing when paired with the right music genres.
It also helps that these headphones are very comfortable and have a decent number of accessories to help you get the most out of them.
Read the full review: Optoma NuForce HEM6
- Alternative pick: Looking for bass-heavy in-ear headphones? Check out the Razer Hammerhead Pro V2
Best on-ear headphones: Samsung Level On Pro Wireless
Samsung crashes the wireless noise-cancelling party
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: .7 pounds | Cable length: 3.6 feet | Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz | Drivers: 40mm Dual-Layered Diaphragm | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 8 hours | Wireless range: 30 meters (98ft) | NFC: Yes
Comfy faux-leather earpads
Extra features for Samsung owners
Plastic, fragile bridge
The Samsung Level On Pro Wireless are one of the few headphones I’ve tested that feel like they’re meant as a package deal for another device. Yes they’ll work with every Bluetooth and 3.5mm jack-equipped handset on the market, but you’re better off sticking to a Samsung device in order to squeeze every ounce of aural goodness from the UHQ audio codec.
It’s one of the comfiest pair of cans on the market, and one of the best noise-cancelling, too. If it had a better sound quality for the vast majority of cell phone users it would be an easy recommendation but, as it stands, really makes the most sense at checkout when purchased alongside Samsung’s Next Big Thing.
Read the full review: Samsung Level On Pro Wireless Headphones
Best over-ear headphones: Focal Listen
Some of the best high-end headphones that don’t destroy the bank
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 0.60 pounds | Cable length: 4.6 ft | Frequency response: 15Hz – 22kHz | Drivers: 40mm | Driver type: Mylar/Titanium | Sensitivity: 122dB | Impedance: 32 ohms | Battery life: N/A | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: N/A
Rich, balanced sound
Great noise isolation
Overall, the Focal Listen offer a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience. We love their balance, build quality and understated design – they may not be as high resolution as the Pioneer SE-MHR5 and other headphones capable of High-Res Audio playback, but their sound-to-dollar ratio is impressive.
At $ 250 (£150, AU$ 329) they’re a bit on the pricey side, but they’re much cheaper than our previous over-ear recommendation winner – the Oppo PM 3. Should Focal continue to pump out cans that provide balanced sound and top-notch build quality at an affordable price, audiophiles might look more and more in the French company’s direction.
Read the full review: Focal Listen
- Alternative pick: If you have a deep enough wallet, stop reading this and buy the Oppo PM-3.
Best wireless headphones: Skullcandy Grind Wireless
Stellar sound without shredding your wallet
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 0.68 pounds | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: 40mm | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 12 hours | Wireless range: 33 feet | NFC: No
Comfortable ear pads
Deep, rich sound
Short battery life
Too few accessories
In the battle of the brands, it can be hard to trust an outsider. You probably know and trust companies like Sennheiser, Sony, Bose and Beats. And nothing against the tried and true headphone manufacturers, but a lot of what you’re paying for is the name.
The Skullcandy Grind Wireless is a black sheep, it breaks convention left and right and yet delivers in all the major areas. It’s far from perfect (see: battery life and accessories), but, for its $ 89 (£69, about AU$ 116) price tag, you’re getting a great-sounding, well-constructed pair of cans that know how to rumble with bass notes and rock with mids and highs.
Read the full review: Skullcandy Grind Wireless
- Alternative pick: The Jabra Move Wireless is a cheap choice that looks slick.
Best noise-cancelling headphones: Bose QuietComfort 35
Bose has cut the wires off its flagship noise-cancellers with great success
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 0.68 pounds | Cable length: 3.94 feet | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 20+ hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: Yes
Broad and clear soundstage
Amazing noise cancellation
Active EQ an acquired taste
Bose has finally brought its fantastic noise-cancelling technology to a pair of wireless headphones and it’s done so without any of the traditional drawbacks of wireless headphones. They sound great, and their battery life is long enough for all but the longest of flights.
At $ 349.95 (£289.95 / AU pricing tbc) the QC35s sit firmly at the premium end of the spectrum, but if you want the best noise-cancelling headphones available right now then you can’t get any better.
Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort 35
- Alternative pick: If you’re looking for a super premium pair of noise-canceling cans, check out the Philips Fidelio NC1.