Not everyone is an audiophile. Folks who are, like to endlessly ponder the merits (and lack thereof) of their headphones and other equipment, but most of us just want a good pair of headphones in the right style that fit our budget. We've harnessed the power of a couple of self-admitted audiophiles-in-training and bring you our headphone gift guide.
- Best overall earbuds: Bose QuietComfort 20
- Best sounding earbuds: 1MORE Quad Driver
- Best value earbuds: Panasonic ErgoFit
- Best wireless headphones: Bowers & Wilkins PX
- Best noise cancelation: Sony WH1000XM3
- Value wireless headphones: Jabra Move
- Best wired over-ear headphones: V-MODA Crossfade M-100
- Best sounding over-ears: Sony MDR7506
- Value over-ear headphones: Samson SR850
- Best high-end headphones: Sennheiser HD800 S
- Best sounding high-end headphones: Grado PS1000e
- Value high-end headphones: Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro
Everyone knows about Bose on-ear headphones, but did you know the same active noise canceling system comes in earbud form, too? The QuietComfort 20 earbuds offer the same acoustic cancellation as the bigger model but will fit in your pocket. Complete with in-line audio controls (be sure to choose the right model — Android or iOS) and a wide selection of tips, the QuietComfort 20s from Bose are the best earbuds money can buy. They'll also set you back about $250.
While they don't offer noise cancellation or fit as well as the Bose buds in our top pick, these earbuds from 1MORE win when it comes down to the sound. Grammy award-winning sound engineer Luca Bignardi is responsible for this as his input helped this UK company tune the drivers for the best audio response possible from a small speaker that sits inside your ears. And it worked! The 1MORE Quad Drivers are about $150 and worth every penny if you want the best sound.
You can get awesome earbuds for just $12! The Panasonic ErgoFits might not sound as good or offer as many features as others on this list, but they are hands-down one of the best deals around when it comes to earbuds. They come in eight different colors and have a decent inline mic for taking calls or talking to your phone's assistant, and are one of the best ways to spend $12 we can think of.
At $400 they're not cheap, but if you're looking for wireless headphones that sound amazing and have decent noise cancellation, the Bowers & Wilkins PX is your best bet. They have removable magnetic earcups for easy cleaning, 20+ hours of battery life, and gesture support that stops the music automatically when you remove them from your head. Magic!
Sony's latest noise-canceling headphones are a frequent traveler's best friend. The $348 WH1000XM3s block out the sounds of airplanes, train stations, and crowded coffee shops better than any of the competition, and pump out great sound quality while they're at it. Best of all, they're super lightweight and have Google Assistant built right in!
If you're after sheer value for money, you can't do better than the Jabra Move wireless headphones. For just over $50, they sound great, are incredibly comfortable, and have over eight hours of battery life. They're also very sturdy, made from lightweight aluminum.
The Crossfade M-100 is the only pair of headphones in V-MODA's lineup without wireless capabilities, but in exchange, you get unparalleled sound for the $200 price tag, thanks to the Dual Diaphragm Drivers that separate bass from the mids and highs. They're pretty stylish to boot, and they feature dual headphone jacks so you can mix audio from two sources at once.
Unless you have a phone with a high gain amplifier, the Sony MDR7506 over-ear headphones offer the best sound possible from your average equipment. They're a little bulky and have a cumbersome coiled cord, but they are tuned for a flat response and used in studios every day because they offer a true representation of the audio. And with a 63 Ohm impedance, they're a perfect match for most phones or portable media players. The MDR7506 headphones cost about $80 but sound better with most phones than models costing hundreds more.
These semi-open-back headphones bring real studio-reference audio to the table for about $30. They offer a 10Hz-30kHz frequency response and have a 32 Ohm impedance so any phone or media player can properly drive them, and the semi-open-back design helps fight "ear-fatigue" as well as lets you hear things like car horns when you're walking, which can be pretty important. They're not built quite as well as our other picks and the open-back design means they will leak a bit of noise, but they are a great buy at $30 and we recommend them to anyone looking for that great budget-friendly pick.
A huge 56-millimeter driver and unique (patented, even!) transducer design make the Sennheiser HD 800 S sound great, and the excellent craftsmanship and materials used make them the best overall headphones when you're looking in the high-end. They're 300 Ohm so you'll definitely need the right phone or media player to use them, but the big soundstage and comfortable fit make the HD800 S a great set of headphones and our top pick when it comes to the category. These come with a 6.3mm XLR audio interface, so be sure to buy the adapter to use them with your phone!
If you value the very best sound above all else, the Grado PS1000e model is for you. At only 32 Ohm they're an odd choice for this category but paired with a high-power amp, these tonal wood and steel over-ear headphones bring a sound you simply won't believe directly to your ears at moderate volume levels. While the Sennheisers may be more comfortable while bringing excellent audio quality (and thus our top pick) these offer greater detail and a huge soundstage that will make you feel like you're there in person rather than listening through a cable. The Grado PS1000e headphones use a 6.3-millimeter XLR audio interface, so be sure to order an adapter to use them with your phone!
If you have the power to drive them from your phone, the Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pros in the 250 Ohm configuration are hands-down the best value in high-end headphones. At $170, they're hundreds less than other brands but offer excellent sound quality and are extremely comfortable to wear for extended periods. They aren't built as well as others on this list, and the open-back design means others get to hear along with you at high volume, but this is the best way to spend $170 if you have the phone to drive them. Don't get the 600 Ohm model if your primary use is with a phone or portable player, but for home use on the right equipment, they are awesome, too!
There's something for everyone when it comes to headphones. If you value portability and affordability over all else, you can't go wrong with a good pair of earbuds like the Panasonic ErgoFit, while travelers will want to consider options like the noise-canceling Sony WH1000XM3. If you're a dedicated audiophile, you might even be willing to shell out for more expensive options like the Sennheister HD 800 S.
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