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Home / Features / Best headphones 2024: earbud and over-ear headphones reviewed

Best headphones 2024: earbud and over-ear headphones reviewed

We've reviewed the best headphones you can buy right now, from Sony, Bose, Samsung and more

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Lead image for best headphones round-up

If you’re searching for sonic satisfaction, our list of the best headphones will be a treat for your ears. From top-spec over-ear headphones to excellent earbuds for exercise, we’ve listened to hundreds of cans over the years and know what makes the perfect pair of headphones.

Whether you’re shopping for in-ear or on-ear, wired or wireless, we’ve highlighted a wide selection of winning wireless headphones in this guide. So, if you’re unsure exactly what you’re after, then continue to read our guide to the best headphones below.

If you’re looking specifically for noise-cancelling cans to hush the outside world, it’s worth checking out our separate round-up of the best noise-cancelling headphones.


What are the best headphones?

We think the best headphones overall are the Sony WH-1000XM5 (buy now). With a comfortable fit, superb sound and top-class noise cancelling, these are the best over-ear wireless headphones you can buy.


Other headphone recommendations

Best in-ear headphones

The Sony WF-1000XM5 (buy now) are endlessly engaging and ergonomically excellent, Sony takes the true wireless crown with these outstanding earbuds.

Best headphones for fitness

The Beats Fit Pro (buy now) have competitive battery life, punchy sound and a lock-tight fit putting them at the front of the fitness pack.

Best headphones for music

The Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 (buy now) are built well with premium materials, their 40mm driver units deliver a consistent, well-balanced sound, with the option to tweak the EQ through the app.

Best cheap headphones

The Sony WF-C500 (buy now) ape the ergonomic design of Sony’s premium earbuds, the WF-C500 are lightweight wireless earphones for easy everyday audio.


The best headphones you can buy today:

1. Sony WH-1000XM5

Stuff Verdict

With superb sound and top-drawer noise cancelling, these are the best over-ear headphones you can buy

Pros

  • Superb sound quality
  • Top-drawer noise cancelling

Cons

  • Ever-so slightly less premium
  • Don’t fold
Sony WH-1000XM5 specs
Drivers30mm
Connectivity3.5mm, USB-C
Battery life30hrs with ANC on
Weight250g

Sony’s WH-1000XM4 were already our favourite pair of noise-cancelling wireless headphones. The WH-1000XM5 improve the recipe in all the right ways. In testing, we enjoyed enhanced clarity and beautifully precise sound reproduction, courtesy of new 30mm carbon fibre composite drivers.

Sony has also refined the noise-cancelling performance. Adaptive Sound Control automatically detects your environment and adapts ANC settings accordingly, hushing background noise with ease. It’s particularly effective at higher frequencies.

The XM5 don’t have folding arms like their predecessors, so the wedge-shaped charging case is a little bulkier. Still, while some rivals look more premium, few are quite as comfortable to wear for extended periods, and we experienced no fatigue during testing. They might cost more than before, but the WH-1000XM5 are worth every penny.


Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 headphones in hand

2. Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2

Stuff Verdict

A premium treat in tidy packaging, these second-gen B&W headphones please the ears with great sound quality and impressive ANC

Pros

  • Lovely premium feel
  • ANC is simply brilliant

Cons

  • No 3.5mm port
  • Button setup on right cup is terrible
Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 specs
Drivers40mm
ConnectivityUSB-C, Bluetooth 5.0
Battery life30hrs (7hrs from 15min quick charge)
Weight307g

Successors to the superb PX7, the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 are another pair of accomplished wireless headphones. Familiar by design, the physical setup hasn’t significantly changed. They’re still built well with premium materials, and they still feature a slightly tricky row of physical controls on the right ear cup. What’s disappeared is the 3.5mm headphone port.

At 57g heavier than the WH-1000XM5, ear fatigue can be an issue after long listens, but the PX7 S2 are otherwise very comfortable. And we think that’s good new, because you’ll want to keep listening to their 40mm driver units: they deliver consistent, well-balanced sound, with the option to tweak the EQ through the app. ANC isn’t the absolute strongest, but it works well and, crucially, doesn’t impact the sound signature.


Sennheiser Momentum 4 headphones front and rear cups

3. Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless

Stuff Verdict

Generic styling aside, these Sennheisers have the build, the sound and the battery to mix it up with the best

Pros

  • Bold, detailed and enjoyable sound
  • Epic battery life

Cons

  • Could be sharper with bass
  • Touch-controls are very eager
Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless specs
Drivers42mm
ConnectivityBluetooth 5.2
Battery life60 hours
Weight293 g

Their styling might be slightly anonymous, but there’s nothing forgettable about how these Sennheiser headphones sound. 42mm full-range dynamic drivers deliver a listen that’s bold, detailed and enjoyable, while eight mics are deployed for noise cancelling duties. We found you don’t get a blanket of silence, but ramp up the ANC and background noise is significantly reduced.

Battery life is simply epic at 60 hours, and it’s not the only element that can go the distance: thanks to a robust construction and high standard of finish, the Momentum 4 feel built to last. During testing, we found the cushioned headband is comfy, while the folding ear cups prove handy for packing. Add a comprehensive partner app into the equation, plus a competitive price tag, and their low profile isn’t so significant.


Sony WF-1000XM5 lead

4. Sony WF-1000XM5

Stuff Verdict

Top-notch across the board, these Sony ‘buds set a new bar for in-ear listening

Pros

  • Exceptional ANC abilities
  • Wonderfully comfortable fit

Cons

  • Companion app could be easier to get around
  • Some materials don’t feel as luxurious as others
Sony WF-1000XM5 specs
Drivers8.4mm dynamic
ConnectivityBluetooth 5.3
Battery life8 hours/16 hours (ANC on, buds/case)
Weight5g (buds) 36g (case)

Not content with making the best on-ear wireless headphones, Sony also makes our favourite pair of true wireless earbuds. Follow-up to the brilliant WF-1000XM3 and WF-1000XM4 – both of which still represent excellent value – the upgraded WF-1000XM5 deliver a listening experience that’s equal parts punchy and detailed. With a balanced sound signature, we found them both accurate and enjoyable in testing.

Besides their sonic talents, these Sony ‘phones offer some of the best noise cancellation we’ve experienced in a set of wireless earbuds. Touch-sensitive controls are easy to use and can be usefully customised in the partner app, along with ANC and EQ settings. Some competitors do offer a bigger battery backup in the charging case, but the benefit is an updated design that’s now much more pocket-friendly than before.


Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 earphones in case

5. Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3

Stuff Verdict

More compact than before, Sennheiser’s third-gen wireless earbuds have poise, fidelity and features to spare

Pros

  • Poise, detail and fidelity to spare
  • Good touch-controls and great control app

Cons

  • No multi-point connectivity
  • Bass attack could be considered slightly tentative
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 specs
Drivers7mm
ConnectivityBluetooth 5.2
Battery life7 hours / 28 hours (ANC on, buds/case)
Weight5.8g (buds) 66.4g (case)

With some sensible tweaks, Sennheiser’s third-gen Momentum True Wireless earbuds secure their place among the best wireless headphones. Build quality is every bit as robust as before, while a meaningful reduction in dimensions means they look and feel less chunky.

Put the 7mm drivers to work and we found you can enjoy a poised recital. Rather than overwhelming with bass, the MTW3 prefer balance and fidelity, demonstrating remarkable sonic control. Detail is also engrossing across the entirety of the spacious, tonal soundstage.

Each earbud’s touch interface can be customised in the feature-filled app. Enable ANC and you’ll find the sonic attitude shifts a little, but they still retain that likeable balance while cancelling external sounds almost entirely. Battery life is above average at seven hours, too.


Bose Noise Cancelling 700 wireless headphones

6. Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

Stuff Verdict

Others are sonically superior, but exceptional noise cancelling makes the Bose all-rounders hard to beat

Pros

  • Great new design
  • Let you pair two devices simultaneously

Cons

  • Not quite as comfortable as the QC35 IIs
  • Sony’s WH-1000XM3 are cheaper and sound better
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 specs
DriversUnknown
ConnectivityBluetooth 5.0, USB-C, 3.5mm jack
Battery life20 hours
Weight250 g

Not the newest cans in this list, Bose’s Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 remain the benchmark if call quality and ANC are high on your list. As you’d expect from the pioneer of noise-cancelling cans, their muting abilities are remarkable when dialled up to 11. Six mics assist with ANC, while two more enhance vocal pick-up for amazing call clarity.

Forged from a single piece of stainless steel, there are no visible hinges on the headband. Helpfully, the earcups can rotate to flat for carrying. Foam in all the right places keeps things comfy, even if they squeeze more than the QC35 II.

While they won’t knock Sony off its perch, they’re no sonic slouches. There’s range, subtlety and balance here, with just enough punch to the playback. 20-hour battery life is below average in 2023, but there’s plenty of value here at their current price.


Apple AirPods 2 review

7. Apple AirPods Pro (2nd gen)

Stuff Verdict

Even more feature-packed than previously, a meaningful update reaffirms the position of Apple’s top-spec AirPods among the best wireless earbuds

Pros

  • Even better than the excellent originals
  • Improved feature set

Cons

  • We don’t like the swipe volume control
  • Very Apple centric
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd gen) specs
DriversUnknown
ConnectivityBluetooth 5.3, Apple H1
Battery life6 hours / 30 hours (buds/case, ANC on)
Weight5.3g (buds), 51g (case)

A compelling upgrade to Apple’s excellent wireless earphones, the second-gen AirPods Pro deliver a leap in sound quality and features. Already the smartest earbuds for Apple users, the second edition harnesses an H2 chip to enhance ANC performance. This is so effective at blocking background noise that we found ourselves using the improved Transparency mode more often.

Overall audio is beefier than before, while a software update means Spatial Audio can be personalised through analysis of your ears. Swipe volume controls on the stem aren’t the most accurate way to make adjustments, but the addition of a speaker to the charging case means you get sonic assistance when searching for it with FindMy. Battery life has also been boosted, although the increase isn’t immediately noticeable.


Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II with case

8. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II

Stuff Verdict

With exemplary ANC, engaging sound and easier dimensions, Bose’s second-gen earbuds are a compelling package

Pros

  • Exemplary noise-cancellation
  • Big, detailed and engaging sound

Cons

  • Bog-standard battery life
  • Short of outright dynamism
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II specs
Drivers9.3mm
ConnectivityBluetooth 5.3
Battery life6 hours (buds, ANC ON) 18 hours (case)
Weight6.2g (buds) 59.8g (case)

Already five-star wireless earphones, the second-gen QuietComfort Earbuds make the best bits even better. Smaller and lighter, the QCE II are easier on the ear and the eye, with swappable tips and stability bands which we found ensure a nice, snug fit. Each compact stem features a touch surface that’s responsive and customisable.

In the ear, 9.3mm full-range drivers produce a soundstage that’s expansive yet packed with detail, paired with bass that’s bold but controlled. Others do more with dynamic variations, but the Bose ’buds don’t want for nuance. They also excel when it comes to ANC. Eight mics help them deal convincingly with ambient noise, and we experience no sense of in-ear pressure. You’ll find better battery life elsewhere, but these are easily Bose’s best earphones to date.


Beats Fit Pro earbuds on desk with charging case

9. Beats Fit Pro

Stuff Verdict

Putting AirPods tech in active packaging, the Beats Fit Pro score highly for their fit, features and outright sound quality

Pros

  • Good battery life & fast rapid charge
  • Excellent stay-put fit

Cons

  • Bulky case
  • Lacks customisation
Beats Fit Pro specs
DriversUnknown
ConnectivityBluetooth, Apple H1
Battery life7 hours (buds), 23 hours (case)
Weight5.5g (buds), 54g (case)

Pairing the intelligence of AirPods with a sporty shell, the Beats Fit Pro are the best fitness earphones you can buy. During our review, we found the flexible wingtip setup creates a secure and comfortable fit, which stays put throughout a workout. There’s no off button, but wear-detect sensors stop PB playlists getting away from you. Battery life won’t set any records, but it’s good enough at six hours.

With Apple’s H1 chip sending signals to 9.5mm drivers, sound quality is fantastic. You get the same ANC and Transparency modes as the first-gen AirPods Pro, as well as an adaptive EQ which adjusts the sound profile to your environment. Competitors can go louder, but the Fit Pro benefit from punchy bass and crisp detail. There’s support for spatial audio, too.


UE Fits review earphone stems

10. Ultimate Ears / Logitech Fits

Stuff Verdict

Made-to-measure earbuds at an off-the-peg price? Yes please.

Pros

  • Precise, perfect fit
  • Punchy, detailed and energetic sound

Cons

  • Could sound more dynamic
  • No multipoint pairing
Ultimate Ears / Logitech Fits specs
DriversUnknown
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.0
Battery life8 hours (buds), 20 hours (case)
WeightUnknown

Struggle to find earphones that fit your lugholes perfectly? Custom moulded ear tips is one option, but can be mighty pricey. Ultimate Ears’ Fits true wireless buds are a more affordable alternative that shape themselves for the best possible comfort and passive noise isolation. They use proprietary tech to heat up silicone-filled ear tips, fitting the contours of your ear canals better than any rival that uses off-the-shelf tips.

They lack active noise cancellation, but the near-perfect fit (which we found only takes a minute to set up and only leaves your ears moderately warm during the process) goes a long way to making up for it. Expect an enthusiastic, though well-controlled listen, comprehensive EQ presets and respectable battery life, too.


Focal Bathys headphones with case

11. Focal Bathys

Stuff Verdict

Superb sounding over-ears that are guaranteed to turn heads, although they don’t have the very best ANC around.

Pros

  • Simply delightful audio
  • Quality construction justifies the asking price

Cons

  • ANC merely OK at this price
  • Mega money
Focal Bathys specs
Drivers40mm
ConnectivityBluetooth 5.1, USB-C, 3.5mm
Battery life30 hours (ANC on), 35 hours (3.5mm), 42 hours (USB DAC mo
Weight350 g

Focal’s first pair of noise-cancelling wireless headphones will set you back more than any other model on this list. They’re a luxury purchase, to be sure, but have the slick styling and phenomenal sound quality to back it up. The French firm’s M-Dome dynamic drivers are used to full effect, delivering superb audio whether listening via aptX Adaptive Bluetooth, or over a USB-C wired connection for 24bit/192kHz tracks.

The ANC abilities aren’t quite up to the same standards as either Bose or Sony, and the mostly-metal construction makes them rather heavy, but the well-padded ear cups and headband still mean we found them comfortable to wear for long periods. Battery life is easily on par with the more mainstream competition, too. They’re statement headphones that are sure to impress audiophiles.


Apple AirPods Max headphones side view

12. Apple AirPods Max

Stuff Verdict

Heavyweight headphones with a matching price tag, rich audio and superb ANC means the AirPods Max impress in high-end style

Pros

  • Rich and detailed sound
  • Spatial audio enhances TV and movies

Cons

  • Uncomfortable if worn for long periods
  • So-so battery life
Apple AirPods Max specs
DriversApple-designed dynamic driver
ConnectivityBluetooth 5.0, Apple H1
Battery lifeUp to 20 hours
Weight384.8 g

With anodised aluminium earcups, a stainless steel headband and a knit mesh canopy, the AirPods Max bear all the hallmarks of Apple design. The trade-off is that they’re noticeably heavier than plastic rivals, which can cause them to pinch the temples after lengthy sessions. Still, their performance credentials match the premium build.

Combined with 40mm drivers, Apple’s H1 chip powers an adaptive EQ which automatically adjusts audio based on the fit. The result is a rich, spacious and enveloping soundstage. There’s detail to spare, plus they offer low-end oomph without sacrificing clarity. They also cancel noise as well as anything out there. There’s better value to be found higher in this list, but for Apple fans who can handle the heft, the Max don’t disappoint.


Over-Ear, on-ear or in-ear headphones

If you want to start listening to music on the go, but aren’t sure exactly what you want, then the first thing you’ll have to decide is whether you want over-ear, on-ear, or in-ear headphones.

The choice between these three types of headphones depends on your specific needs, preferences, and usage scenarios.

Over-ear headphones generally provide better sound quality, as there’s more room to house larger drivers, they have more space for acoustic engineering, and they provide better passive noise insulation.

The large padded ear cups also tend to be more comfortable – distributing pressure more evenly on your ears.

Over-ear headphones do, however, tend to be bulkier and less portable compared to other options.

On-Ear headphones are more compact, which makes them easier to carry in a bag or backpack, however, the smaller cups may not be as immersive as over-ear models.

Comfort can also be a bit hit-and-miss, as the pressure is applied directly to your ears. Look for models with well-padded ear cups and an adjustable headband for a better fit.

Finally, in-ear earbuds are the most convenient for use on-the-go (especially the best wireless earbuds) – they are compact, lightweight, and easy to carry in your pocket.

Of course, this convenience comes at the cost of sound quality and noise isolation. That’s not to say there aren’t decent-sounding in-ear headphones, but they can’t match over and on-ear headphones for oomph.

Ultimately, the choice depends completely on your needs and how you plan to use your headphones. We’ve recommended all types of design below.

How to choose the best headphones for you

Okay, so you’ve decided between over-ear, on-ear and in-ear, now here are some more things to consider when buying the best headphones.

Arguably the most important factor when buying headphones is sound quality. We’ve recommended headphones that deliver a detailed, balanced and accurate sound – you won’t be disappointed by the performance of any models on this list.

Coming in a close second to sound quality is comfort. A comfortable pair of cans is vital if you plan on wearing the headphones for extended periods. You’ll want well-padded ear cups, an adjustable headband, and a lightweight design.

If you’re trying to block out a loud co-worker or commute, then you’ll want a pair of headphones with active noise cancelling (ANC) tech. These use microphones to counteract ambient noise, providing a more isolating experience. We’ve got some ANC options in this buying guide.

You’ll also need to decide whether you prefer wired or wireless headphones, with wired options generally offering better sound quality but limited portability, whereas wireless headphones offer greater convenience and freedom of movement. For more wired recommendations check out Stuff’s guide to the best wired headphones.

If you opt for wireless then battery life becomes an important consideration. Look for a balance between the battery duration and the size/weight of the headphones.

Finally, some headphones offer extra features such as touch controls, voice assistants (Siri or Google Assistant), customizable sound profiles, and companion apps.

While these features are nice to have, we’ve found they’re rarely a necessity, so don’t let these shiny features sway your decision too much.

How we test the best headphones

To assess the best headphones, our keen-eared team puts every pair through a playlist of tests. Reggae or rave, home or high street: we check the sonic chops of every set in a range of real-world listening scenarios. So if they’re featured in our list below, you know they’ve earned their spot.

Just like our list of best Bluetooth speakers, we review these headphones in a real-world environment and use them just as someone who has bought them would. This allows us to get a great understanding of how they perform sonically and how comfortable they are.

It also lets us test things like build quality, whether they can withstand being thrown into a carry-on suitcase, and how easy the controls are to use out-and-about.

For more information on Stuff’s rating and review process, read our page on how we test products.

Profile image of Chris Rowlands Chris Rowlands Freelance contributor

About

Formerly News Editor at this fine institution, Chris now writes about tech from his tropical office. Sidetracked by sustainable stuff, he’s also keen on coffee kit, classic cars and any gear that gets better with age.

Areas of expertise

Cameras, gear and travel tech

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