How to choose the right pair of headphones in 2022

Fiil Iicon Headphones
Fiil Iicon Headphones (Image credit: Android Central)

Almost everyone has a smartphone. We don't all use them the same way, though. You might like to play games, or maybe you're a news or social media junkie, or you just want a way to stay in touch with the people you know. It's pretty great when you think about it; these little gadgets can be anything for anyone.

One thing all of our phones have in common is that they have, for all intents and purposes, replaced the portable media player. The way we listen to our music has evolved and streaming services have replaced the USB cable for almost everyone. And no matter how you get the music on your phone, you need a pair of headphones to listen to it best. Don't be that one guy on the bus who wants us all to hear those sweet Def Leppard tunes.

We have a bunch of headphone-buying guides that you should definitely check out, but it's also important, before you buy, to know the kind of headphone you should be wearing in a particular situation.

Over-ear and On-ear

Bigger and usually better suited to listen to music, over and on-ear headphones have fallen out of vogue as of late. That doesn't mean the manufacturers aren't still making some great over and on-ear headphones, thankfully.

Because they're a little larger than something like a set of earbuds, they have some advantages: awesome noise cancellation, long battery life, and a more "premium" sound with plenty of bass. They make for an excellent companion while traveling or listening to your favorite music or other media at home in your easy chair. Over-ear and on-ear headphones might be a little bulkier, but they can be worth it!

Earbuds

Earbuds are awesome. They usually don't offer the best sound quality so they may not be the right choice for all kinds of listening, but they more than make up for any shortcomings with their small size and great prices. Everyone needs a good set of earbuds. Or two.

Earbuds also come in wired or wireless (as well as "true" wireless models) and you'll find that most sets won't let you add a cord on the fly like many over and on-ear headphones will. Wired models come in versions for a 3.5 mm audio jack as well as the more modern (and less convenient) USB-C, while wireless models can have a wire between the buds or truly wireless, with each individual bud connecting over Bluetooth.

No matter which style you choose, earbuds offer one huge advantage over other types of headphones: extreme portability. Carrying around a pair of even the biggest headphones isn't really a chore, but having a pair of earbuds that sound good and can fit in your pocket or a small pouch in your bag is just more convenient.

Wireless buds

If you're looking for earbuds without the tangle of wires, you still have plenty of options. You can have great sound and even some pretty good active noise cancellation if you don't mind paying a little extra, or you can save a few bucks and still be happy with your music or other media.

USB-C headphones

USB-C can carry the same amount of audio information as a 3.5mm analog jack as well as support digital audio and some awesome accessory modes. The best thing is that you can get a great pair of USB C earbuds without spending a lot of money!

If you're still rocking a phone with a traditional headphone jack you'll find more options than you can shake a stick at. With so many to choose from it can be hard to sort out the good from the bad, but some stand out — like these true audiophile-grade buds from HiFiMan. Don't let the silly name throw you off!

No wires at all

Gettin true stereo sound without a wire between two earbuds can be a little tricky, but there are some headphones that are able to pull it off. You'll pay a littel extra for true wireless earbuds, but the convience and extras like charging cases make up for it. We really like what Samsung is selling here and think you will, too.

Headphones are personal

There's always plenty of debate when you want to talk about the best headphones. That's becasue everyone has different tastes and needs and opinions. Some people only want a cheap pair of buds to use on the train and aren't concerned about how they sound or fit, and others will spend plenty of money to chase that perfect sound. And both people are right.

I like to find headphones that are flat and don't introduce any type of distortion or obvious sound bias into the audio I'm playing. That's because I mostly use my headphones to listen to hi-res music and have my own EQ settings. But I also have a pair or two of "throwaway" earbuds banging around in the bottom of my laptop bag or the glove box of my Jeep.

We've listed the best overall picks based on actually using these products and thinking about what is best for most people based on value, quality, and sound. We think you'll love any pair we've listed!

One final bit of advice here: I can't tell you what sounds the best to you. Neither can anyone else on the internet or in real life. Buy your headphones from a vendor that will let you return them if you hate them! I either buy from Guitar Center because I can walk in and try them or from Amazon (opens in new tab) because I can send them right back. I have an unhealthy obsession with headphones, so let my mistakes and eventual epiphany help you out here.

Rock on!

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

13 Comments
  • I'll put in a good word for the Status Audio CB-1 wired headphones. They're an amazing value for the money (they're down to $63 at Amazon right now, which is near an all-time low), and they stack up well against anything in the $100-150 range. They're incredibly comfortable and isolate enough outside noise that I don't find myself pining for noise cancellation when I'm on the bus or train. It comes with two very well-made 3.5mm cables, but I swapped out for one that includes an inline mic for phone calls. They're bulky, so you look a lot like Princess Leia when you wear them, but if that's not a dealbreaker for you, the sound quality is absolutely worth it. My only complaint is that for now I'm stuck with the #donglelife on my Pixel 2, since there are no good USB-C to 3.5mm cables available. (There's one on Amazon that I tried, but it had terrible background hiss, presumably from a cheap DAC on board.) Once someone makes a great USB-C to 3.5mm TRSS cable that includes an inline mic, I'll be a very happy camper.
  • I might have to check them out. I remember when Vlad from the Verge recommended them.
  • Headphone article on a smartphone website: Hmmm...
    Headphone article by Jerry: Ok, it's legit!
    I'll have to give the Ghostek's SoDrop 2 a look. How is the imaging? I like my Sennheiser's and the spacious imaging, but being open back limits their use.
    High impedance headphones have more tightly wound coils with thinner wire, and some use flat wire to give even greater density. Thinner and longer wire means less resistance, and requires higher voltages to drive properly. The Sony MDR-7506 impedance varies with frequency, being as high as 113 Ohms at 63 Hz and about 67 Ohms at 1 kHz. I would not call them flat, as they have significant response bumps at 3.5 kHz and 10 kHz, but you can still drive them with a smartphone though because they are pretty sensitive..
    Interestingly, we don't use headphones in professional recording studio control rooms, except to make sure the mix still sounds good when downgraded. And trust me: all headphones are a downgrade compared to calibrated studio main speaker systems, many of which are powerful enough to damage internal organs. The only headphones in my experience to even come close to an actual recording studio have been HTC's USonic, and I know that first hand. Jerry, I agree that ALL smartphones should support accessory mode for passive audio over USB C if they have the hardware. Regardless of what other tricks the company may have up it's sleeve, that support should be standard.
    When it comes to adapters, it's not messy at all for me. I bought a couple extra and just leave them hanging on my headphones, with an extra tucked in my bag which I have not used in months.
  • None of this matters with the Bowers and Wilkins PX - Bluetooth, USB-C and 3.5mm audio in one headphone with ANC.
  • For Bluetooth/noise cancelling I'm really liking the Sony 1000XM2's with my new Pixel2. The Pixel automatically recognizes them and defaults to LDAC. For more serious listening I go with my Grado SR225e, a Dragonfly Red and USB Audio Player Pro.
  • Dragonfly Red... Sweet!
  • I have Cambridge Audio se1's , best earbuds I've ever used. Not ridiculously expensive either. Also Sennheisher sd25's, Beyer Dynamic DT770's and Sennheisher momentums which are hugely overpriced, and not that great.
  • The Status Audio CB-1 are a great deal but the Koss KSC75 are an even better deal with a lifetime guarantee. For closed backs the CB-1's sounded better than my ATH-M50s or Fostex T50RP MKIII planars but the ATH-M40X as closed backs beat them all For IEMs I have an older set or MEElectronics A151P balanced armatures that I prefer than the legendary 1More Triple Plus but I also prefer the the sound of the FiiO F5's over the Triples For Bluetooths the cheapo Avantree Audition's surprised me as did the weird Pendulumic S1+'s both have APTx but the Pedulumics don't seal out as much and both leak sound like the Koss KSC75s So far I have not been impressed with the Beyerdynamic 250ohm 770Pros on my V30 as I was with my Monoprice Monolith closed planars. but the Beyerdynamics were way more comfortable with those monster cups. But the best sounding so far though has been my Massdrop Sennheiser 6XX and V30 with a little assistance from my electric avenue double AA powered amp or my littlebear portable tube amp since they are open back. I used to be a Sony MDR-7506 fan since I had family in broadcasting and got them as hand me downs but ever since I bought my first HD414 with the yellow foam pads that eventually disintegrated, the sennheiser soundstage has never failed to show me things off my vinyl I never knew existed before them. They just needed enough power that's all. As far as Cambridge Audio I believe that a project of Henry Kloss and I've had some 2+1 PC speakers from them that were impressive for the price
  • check out the VE Monk Plus and Zen 2 earbuds
    they will surprise
    better than the Koss KSC75s
    $11 and no bulky mickey mouse ears
  • I use bluetooth - hate wires!
    These are the sets I have and use: Skullcandy Full Metal Jacket - (my only non-bluetooth) Awesome design. Awesome sound. But I hate wires. Jaybird Bluebuds X - my first bluetooth earbuds. Great sound and a lovely voice telling me when it's connected, etc Moto Hint - Very intuitive. Great for small or home office use. And a lovely voice telling if it's connected, etc. Jabra Move - my first bluetooth headphone. Great design, and great sound. Also the buttons feel intuitive, and a lovely voice will the you when it's connected, etc. But I also make phonecalls alot, and they were too noisy, and almost everyone I made calls too complained about noise. Jabra Evolve 75 - awesome for big office use! Marshall Monitor - Awesome design! Awesome Sound! Very intuitive button control. A bit noisy for me as a user when making phonecalls. And I miss the voice telling me when it's connected, etc What to buy next? Any recommendations? I make lots of phone calls, like rock/metal music, and podcasts, and are on the move alot
  • HTC 10, NAD Viso HP50, and a memory card full of Flac files. Enjoying audio again without disturbing the rest of the family :)
  • Jerry, been curious since I believe you have experience with both phones. How much better is the V30 or V20 versus the HTC 10 with regards to audio? Haven't had the chance to listen to an LG yet but with HTC dropping the 3.5 jack and not fully supporting Verizon I've been leaning toward the LG's for my next phone.
  • Jerry, it's been a while, but I went ahead and bought the Ghostek soDrop 2 headphones you recommended. Very pleased so far. The ear cups are too small for my tastes, but I'm getting used to them. There is definitely a difference in audio quality on these headphones between using aptX Bluetooth and the supplied 3.5 cable. It's not that there is any quality loss due to the Bluetooth, it's the difference in quality of the DAC in the headphones versus the DAC in the adapter. Using Bluetooth, there is a graininess in the mid to upper midrange. Using the 3.5 cable, the graininess was gone and the overall sound with a bit cleaner, but I doubt most people would notice. The bass response is very nice, with good extension and fullness without being muddy. Vocals were good as well... not quite as smooth as my Sennies, but not as forward either. Highs were clear and balanced. The imaging was not as open as the Sennheiser HD 558 (which I own specifically for their imaging), but the Ghostek's bass does not leave you underwhelmed like on the 558. I'll be using these a lot, probably via BT since it's not a huge difference, though I will keep the cable handy for critical listening ;) Thanks again for the recommendation!