Best headphones 2018: Your definitive guide to the latest and greatest audio
Best Headphones 2018: Welcome to TechRadar’s comprehensive round-up of the best headphones in every style and at every price point in 2018.
It’s hard to imagine a world without headphones – a world where music can only be enjoyed in concert halls or on speaker systems exclusively. Headphones have their limitations of course, but there’s a reason they’ve survived as long as they have.
Yes, they’ve changed over the years – added fancy new features in the form of noise-cancellation of Hi-Res Audio playback over Bluetooth – but largely the pair of cans you bought 20 years ago could stand up to the ones made today.
…well, as long as you bought a quality pair of them they could.
The reasoning behind buying one of the best headphones on the market today is to get the features of today, and a build quality that will last tomorrow. Sure, you could buy discount-bin headphones at the checkout line, but they’re unlikely to make it through the year, let alone for the next decade or two.
That said, it’s our mission to hook you up with a pair of great-sounding headphones – the best headphones money can buy, even when you’re on a budget.
We’ve listened to hundreds of headphones over the years of every make, model and variety to create list-after-list of the best noise-cancelling headphones, the best wireless headphones, the best earbuds, etc…
We encourage you to take a look at all the headphone lists here on TechRadar – but, if you’re in a hurry and just want to see the best headphones, period, this is the place for you. What you’ll find below is our selection of the best headphones for each form-factor, and we’ve even picked out a less-costly option for each so that a lack of finances won’t stop you from finding a pair of headphones you’ll truly love.
[Update: We’ve found a new pair of true wireless headphones to hold the top spot in our list: the RHA TrueConnect. Despite being a bit more than some of the other ‘buds on our list, they offer stellar sound, reliable connection, and rock-solid build quality, all without a cable in sight.]
- Best headphones 2018: Sony WH-1000XM3
- Best in-ear headphones: 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphone
- Best budget in-ear headphones: RHA S500u
- Best on-ear headphones: Grado SR60e
- Best budget on-ear headphones: Urbanears Plattan II
- Best over-ear headphones: B&W P9 Signature
- Best budget over-ear headphones: Audio-Technica ATH-SR5BT
- Best noise-canceling headphones: Bose QuietComfort 35 II
- Best wireless headphones: Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless
- Best budget wireless headphones: Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2
- Best Bluetooth earbuds: RHA MA390 Wireless
- Best true wireless earbuds: RHA TrueConnect
If there’s anything surprising about the new Sony WH-1000XM3 it’s that they’re so consistent with what Sony has released in the last two years in the form of the Sony WH-1000XM2 and Sony MDR-1000X. To wit, they’re a dominant noise-cancelling pair of headphones that can beat out anything Bose has with both arms behind its back.
That’s because, while Bose has done a tremendous job working out its noise-cancellation algorithm over the years, Sony has spent that time perfecting audio playback while simultaneously creating an adaptability algorithm that doesn’t just create a single sterile sound barrier, but multiple kinds that can adapt to whatever situation you’re in.
Beyond being exceptional at keeping external noises at bay, Sony’s headphones are Hi-Res Audio-ready, sporting aptX, aptX HD and LDAC codecs, plus offer will offer Google Assistant support right on-board. If you need a headphone that can live up to any challenge and excel in any environment, these are them.
Read the full review: Sony WH-1000XM3
After spending a few weeks with both the 1MORE Triple Driver in-ear headphones and the 1MORE Quad Driver in-ear headphones we were blown away at just how much value each one gave in their prospective price ranges.
For $100 (£100, about AU$168), it’s hard to think of a better sounding and built headphone than the 1MORE Triple Driver. (That said, if you want just that little extra refinement and luxury materials, the 1MORE Quad Drivers are still a bargain at twice the price.)
There’s very little we can fault the Triple Drivers for. Its rubber cable is annoying and its remote control feels cheap but these are just nitpicks. But, for its price, it’s impossible to do better than 1MORE’s Triple Driver in-ear headphones.
Read the full review: 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphone
- Want more options? Check out our full guide to the best in-ear headphones.
If you have a tendency to lose or break headphones but still value sound quality, it’s hard to think of a better value than the RHA S500u. These headphones have no business sounding so good for the price: Sound quality is balanced with a slight mid-bass bump. Bass is slightly emphasized but not egregiously and features good impact while maintaining good control. And highs, while sibilant at times, makes music sound more exciting.
Read the full review: RHA S500u
- Want more options? Check out our guide to the best headphone deals.
For your money, you can’t do any better than Grado’s SR60e. The third-generation of the Brooklyn, NY-based company’s Prestige Series is its best and most refined yet. The SR60e in particular is a smart choice if you’re looking for an entry-level set of headphones that sounds like it should cost you way more than it does. Its open-backed ear cup design makes them a more breathable experience than what most on-ear headphones can deliver. In a few words, it’s our gold-standard when it comes to on-ears.
(Our review is for the SR60i, but the newer SR60e headphones are largely similar in design and performance.)
Read the full review: Grado SR60e
- Want more options? Check out our guide to the best on-ear headphones.
While the original Plattan headphones were just fine for a pair of on-ear headphones, Urbanears wasn’t satisfied with being mediocre. The company took customer feedback to heart and addressed many complaints about comfort, sound quality and isolation. For the most part, Urbanears succeeded, making the Plattan II a worthy sequel to the company’s most popular headphone.
In short, these are basic headphones without a ton of features. But, because they’re feature-light, you get a good-sounding pair of wired headphones for significantly less than you would otherwise.
Read the full review: Urbanears Plattan II
The Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signatures are simply some of the best-sounding headphones we’ve ever used. They have a tight, refined sound that offers an almost unmatched level of detail.
That said, the fact remains that they’re a comparatively feature-light pair of cans. If you want to spend less then you can get a much more portable pair that’ll be better suited to the morning commute or a plane ride thanks to additional features like noise-cancellation and Bluetooth connectivity.
But, if you’re looking to invest in a seriously high-quality pair of headphones to listen to a high-quality music collection, then there are few that can match the P9s at this price point.
Read the full review: B&W P9 Signature
- Want more options? Check out our guide to the best over-ear headphones.
Audiophiles typically shun wireless headphones because of poor sound quality. However, Bluetooth audio has improved tremendously over the years. There are now plenty of wireless headphones that can please the music enthusiast, with Hi-Res Audio support being more and more prevalent.
That said, the Audio-Technica ATH-SR5BT feature some of the best wired and wireless sound quality for a headphone under $200 (£150). They play well with all music genres and offer a near-flat response curve. They’re extremely comfortable for long listening sessions and are well built. Battery life is equally impressive with nearly 40 hours of playback from a charge. And while they lack some features of more expensive wireless headphones like active noise cancelling and multi-device pairing, these are tradeoffs worth making for phenomenal sound.
Read the full review: Audio-Technica ATH-SR5BT
- Want more options? Check out our guide to the best over-ear headphones.
Despite being nearly identical to the already-excellent Bose QuietComfort 35 teh Bose QuietComfort 35 II is updated for 2018 with Google Assistant. This means you still get the class-leading noise cancellation Bose is known for, good sound quality and incredible comfort, plus a convenient assistant to answer any inquiries you might have while traveling.
Taken as a whole, the Bose QC35 II NC is an excellent headphone for travelers and commuters. Bose has found a good balance of features that will satisfy most mainstream listeners. While we don’t love them as much as the better-sounding Sony WH-1000XM3, they’re still top of the class for noise cancellation.
Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort 35 II
- Want more options? Check out our guide to the best noise-cancelling headphones.
The Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless are the best-sounding wireless headphones you can buy, period. Sound is spacious, detailed, and makes you want to rediscover your music library. Their bulky design and average noise isolation make them terrible for travel but if you’re looking for the best sound from a wireless headphone, this is it.
Read the full review: Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless
If you’re a frequent traveler you’re probably all too familiar with headphones that can’t hold a charge and can’t block out sound, let alone sound very good. Let us introduce you to the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2, one of the few headphones on the market that can do all of the above and cost less than half as much as one of the bigger names like Beats, Bose and Sony.
They also include a neat little feature that allows them to automatically turn off when you’re not wearing them, meaning you’re able to easily maximise their battery life without much effort.
If we had to boil it down to its core, the BackBeat Pro 2 offers an excellent travel headphone with incredible battery life, supreme comfort, the ability to pair two device as once and, most importantly, good sound quality for the cost.
Read the full review: Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2
- Want more options? Check out our guide to the best wireless headphones.
After spending several weeks with the RHA MA390 Wireless, we came away extremely impressed with the package RHA has come up with. The headphones are built extremely well, have a fun sound signature, and can take a beating. And all at an affordable price.
It’s main rival, the OnePlus Bullets Wireless, are also excellent, however we give the nod to the RHA MA390 for its more dynamic sound and better build quality.
Read the full review: RHA MA390 Wireless
- Want more options? Check out our guide to the best wireless earphones.
Although the TrueConnect is RHA’s first true wireless headphone, the company showed they did their research and development by making it one of the best true wireless headphones on the market today. The combination of sound quality, battery life, and wireless reliability means these are a pair of headphones you can rely on everyday.
The Jabra Elite 65t (our previous title holder) set the standard for what true wireless headphones should be and, regardless of what RHA has done here with the TrueConnect, they’re still great headphones … it’s just that we prefer reliability and balanced sound quality of the RHA TrueConnect.
All said, if you’re shopping for a pair of true wireless headphones, the $170 (£150, about AU$265) RHA TrueConnect should be at the very top of your list.
Read the full review: RHA TrueConnect
- Want more options? Check out our guide to the best true wireless earbuds.
Press on to page two to see how to pick out a good pair of headphones along more of our recommendations.
Check out our videos below for a roundup of the best headphones available.
There’s usually more to a set of headphone than meets the eye. As such, we’ve provided a breakdown of what you can expect to find in each kind of headphone.
Not only will learning more about headphones help you make a more informed purchase, but you’ll know when you’re really getting your money’s worth.
What headphones should you buy? Check out our video below for everything you need to know.
This type of headphone, more commonly referred to as an earbud or earphone, is usually the cheapest and easiest way to pump audio into your ears. If you’ve purchased an MP3 player, or more recently, a smartphone, it’s likely that a set was included with the purchase.
Earphones rest in or just outside the ear canal, creating a tight seal to keep air out and sound in. Compared to other types of headphones, these are the most discreet ones you’ll find. Their small form-factor also makes them the king/queen of portability and the prime choice for athletes.
You’re not likely to find strong performers at the low-end of the price spectrum. Their sound delivery is generally muddled, lacking bass and overcompensating for that with harsh mids and highs. That said, it won’t cost you much money at all to find a value-packed option complete with inline controls and a microphone.
While similar to over-ear headphones in appearance, they fit to your head a little differently. Instead of enveloping your ears with a soft cushion, on-ear headphones create a light, breathable seal around your ear. Thus, the noise isolation is much less effective than in-ear or over-ear options. This might be a dealbreaker for some, but there are big benefits to consider here.
On-ear headphones are usually more portable than their over-ear brethren, and as such they appeal to travellers and the fitness crowd. Taking a walk or a jog around town is also safer, as you can hear traffic go by and be aware of potential hazards.
This ear-muff style of headphone generally provides greater richness and depth of sound, which allows listeners to pick apart the instruments and sounds much easier. Additionally, over-ear, or circum-aural headphones, go around the ear and offer a generous amount of padding.
The price range for a set of on-ear headphones begins around $100 and from there, the sky’s the limit. For example, the Oppo PM-1, while excellent, are priced exorbitantly at $1,099. It’s definitely not necessary to spend that much. That said, you tend to get what you pay for.
If your headphone budget is in the $2-300, you’ll start getting into options that have excellent build quality, premium materials and amazing sound and features like ANC (active noise cancellation.)
This style of headphone doesn’t limit you to a specific form factor like the others. In fact, you can find in-ear, on-ear and over-ear headphone styles sans wire.
Opting to go wireless will cost you a premium of anywhere between $50-100 over the price of wired cans. Going futuristic isn’t cheap. One important thing to consider is that your music player must support the Bluetooth wireless protocol, as it’s required to use this type of headphone.
Speaking of Bluetooth, it has become exponentially more reliable over time, but it’s always susceptible to disturbances in the force. In short, any little thing, from the understandable (conflicting Wi-Fi signals, microwaves, cordless telephones), to the absurd (sticking a hand in the space between the device and the headphones) can sometimes interrupt a wireless listening experience.
This category, like wireless headphones, isn’t limited to a form factor. You can find this clever mix of technologies integrated into the ear pieces of in-ear and over-ear headphones alike.
Many companies falsely claim to offer true noise cancellation with just the padding included around the ear cups. Don’t believe it. This is PNC (passive noise cancellation), and it doesn’t amount to much. You can even replicate this effect by cupping your hands around your ears, so why shell out the big bucks for it?
On the other hand, ANC (active noise cancellation) is the real deal. This technique employs a set of external microphones, which detect the decibel level outside. Once it has an idea of the incoming noise level, the headphone speakers inside transmit a noise generated to dampen the racket. The end result is an effect that hushes the outside noise, allowing you to focus.
Source:: TechRadar Gaming Feed