X
Tech
Why you can trust ZDNET : ZDNET independently tests and researches products to bring you our best recommendations and advice. When you buy through our links, we may earn a commission. Our process

'ZDNET Recommends': What exactly does it mean?

ZDNET's recommendations are based on many hours of testing, research, and comparison shopping. We gather data from the best available sources, including vendor and retailer listings as well as other relevant and independent reviews sites. And we pore over customer reviews to find out what matters to real people who already own and use the products and services we’re assessing.

When you click through from our site to a retailer and buy a product or service, we may earn affiliate commissions. This helps support our work, but does not affect what we cover or how, and it does not affect the price you pay. Neither ZDNET nor the author are compensated for these independent reviews. Indeed, we follow strict guidelines that ensure our editorial content is never influenced by advertisers.

ZDNET's editorial team writes on behalf of you, our reader. Our goal is to deliver the most accurate information and the most knowledgeable advice possible in order to help you make smarter buying decisions on tech gear and a wide array of products and services. Our editors thoroughly review and fact-check every article to ensure that our content meets the highest standards. If we have made an error or published misleading information, we will correct or clarify the article. If you see inaccuracies in our content, please report the mistake via this form.

Close

The best headphones for 2024: Expert tested

A reliable pair of headphones is a must-have, but finding the right ones for you can be tough. I tested the top headphones available to help you find your best match.
Written by Jada Jones, Associate Editor
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones | Best headphones overall
Bose QuietComfort Ultra in White Smoke on a black headphones stand
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones
Best headphones overall
View now View at Bose
Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones | Best headphones for software fanatics
Closeup of Sony WH-1000XM5 headset
Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones
Best headphones for software fanatics
View now View at Amazon
JBL Live 770NC | Best headphones for everyday use
JBL Live 770NC in a woman's hand
JBL Live 770NC
Best headphones for everyday use
View now View at Amazon
Monoprice BT-600ANC | Best budget noise-canceling headphones
The Monoprice BT-600ANC headphones lying on a wood desk
Monoprice BT-600ANC
Best budget noise-canceling headphones
View now View at Amazon
Samson SR850 | Best budget open-back headphones
samsonsr850.jpg
Samson SR850
Best budget open-back headphones
View now View at Amazon
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 | Best studio headphones
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 headphones in black
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2
Best studio headphones
View now View at Amazon
Sennheiser Accentum Plus | Best mid-range headphones for casual listening
Sennheiser Accentum Plus headphones in a woman's hand
Sennheiser Accentum Plus
Best mid-range headphones for casual listening
View now View at Amazon
Show more (2 items)

A good pair of headphones can become a daily companion. Buying the right headphones is a personal experience, as everyone wants and needs different things. Maybe you want headphones with noise canceling strong enough to mute a crying baby on a plane. Perhaps you want headphones that will help you appreciate your favorite songs in new ways. Or, maybe those things don't matter to you, and you just want headphones that work and won't break the bank.

Also: The best over-ear headphones: Expert tested and reviewed

No matter what your headphone needs are, there's a pair for everybody, and you shouldn't be toting a pair of headphones that don't best serve you. Once you find your perfect match, you'll want to hold onto them for many years. There are many things to consider before buying headphones, and I've tested dozens of pairs to recommend the best ones. As a bonus, some of my favorite headphones, like the ones included in this list, are on sale for Memorial Day. Be sure to check out our curated list of the best deals before they go away.

What are the best headphones right now?

After extensively testing all of the top headphones available today, my pick for the best headphones overall right now are the Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones for their best-in-class noise cancellation, stylish and premium design, and all-day comfort. These headphones are great for people willing to splurge on a pair of reliable, everyday cans. If you're looking for headphones for more specific use cases, keep reading and check out my top suggestions.

The best headphones of 2024

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Best-in-class ANC
  • Comfortable fit
  • Customizable EQ
Cons
  • Battery life could be longer
  • Carrying case is restrictive
More Details

Bose's latest release easily tops competitors in the noise-canceling and comfort department, as the name QuietComfort suggests. I wear these headphones during intensive writing sessions at my desk, while traveling, and while lounging. Bose improved the QC Ultra's soundstage with this model, offering a more profound, fuller bass response than any other Bose headphones I've tested.

The vegan leather ear pads have perforations to allow for better breathability, decreasing the likelihood of these headphones making your ears feel hot. Even after hours of wear, it's easy to forget you're wearing the QC Ultra on your head -- they're that comfortable.

Review: Bose QuietComfort Ultra 

The QC Ultra's noise-canceling is the best I've tried in any headphones, as the ANC offers you protection from low, middle, and high-pitched droning noises like a lawnmower, car engine, or running refrigerator. Unlike other ANC headphones, the QC Ultra do a great job at diminishing light conversational noises, making them a great companion for people working in public spaces, like a library or coffee shop.

However, the QC Ultra are on the expensive side, retailing at $429 and remaining over $350 even with seasonal discounts. Additionally, their battery life is 24 hours, so if you wear your headphones a lot, you'll need to plug in a few times a week.

If you're ready to splurge on a pair of everyday headphones, I can't recommend these more. They're equipped with every feature you need and deliver an enjoyable listening experience while offering an enormous amount of comfort.

Bose QuietComfort Ultra tech specs: Form factor: Over-ear | Bluetooth: Yes (5.3) | Battery life: 24 hours (ANC off) | Driver size: 35mm dynamic | Noise cancellation (in dB): -28 dB Wired option(s): 3.5mm headphone jack

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Superb ANC
  • Great for voice calls
  • Comfortable
Cons
  • Does not fold
  • Expensive
More Details

The Sony XM5 over-ear headphones are some of the most popular ones on the market, and that's for good reason. These headphones have exceptional noise-canceling properties, great sound, a solid battery life, all-day comfort, and a sleek and premium design.

When Sony released these headphones in 2022, they were packed with software features competing headphones lacked, like Speak-to-Chat. This feature pauses your music when the headphones detect that you're speaking to someone and enables transparency mode so you can better hear them.

The XM5's 40-hour battery life means you can wear these headphones throughout the week with minimal charging, making them great for commuters, travelers, and desk workers. Not to mention, the impressive noise-canceling is some of the best out there. 

Review: Sony WH-1000XM5

When ZDNET's Matthew Miller reviewed the XM5 headphones, he said the noise-canceling tech allows for "an environment of isolation and focus," so these headphones are great to wear when you need to block out the world around you. 

The XM5 and Bose's QC Ultra headphones are neck-and-neck for the best headphones. However, I think the QC Ultra have slightly better noise-canceling and are significantly more comfortable. Still, Sony's XM5 allow access to Sony's LDAC Bluetooth codec, have a longer battery life, and don't need to be turned on to listen over a wired connection, unlike the QC Ultra.

Essentially, both headphones are more than capable of quieting noisy environments, boiling your decision down to sound preferences and brand loyalty.

Sony WH-1000XM5 tech specs: Form factor: Over-ear | Bluetooth: Yes (5.2) | Battery life: 40 hours (ANC off) | Driver size: 30mm dynamic | Noise cancellation (in dB): -27 dB | Wired option(s): 3.5mm headphone jack

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Marathon battery
  • Lightweight and comfortable
  • Lots of software features
Cons
  • Middling ANC
  • Spatial audio is a miss
More Details

A pair of reliable headphones that can live inside your work or school bag is a must-have, and the JBL Live 770NC are a great option. These headphones are the latest upper-mid-range headphones from JBL, as the company announced them in January at CES. The Live 770NC include a laundry list of premium software features like wear detection, spatial audio, adaptive noise-canceling, and more. 

The Live 770NC's design and build materials are more premium than competitors at this price point, as JBL fitted the 770NC with big, plushy ear cups and a headband covered in soft fabric. When I tested the 770NC, I wore them for about five hours before I experienced any head or ear fatigue. 

Review: JBL Live 770NC

Sound-wise, the 770NC don't reproduce the most elevated sound I've heard, even within this $200 to $250 price range. Still, these headphones are more than suitable for casual listeners and people who want headphones solely to shield them from external noises.

The 770NC have adaptive noise-canceling, which means the noise-canceling adjusts based on how loud your environment is. The adaptive aspect of this technology is very intuitive and effective, but the actual noise-canceling isn't anything to write home about.

Overall, if you want headphones that are new, sound great, have a long battery life, are comfortable, and can get the job done all for less than $250, these are the way to go.

JBL Live 770NC tech specs: Form factor: Over-ear | Bluetooth: Yes (5.3) | Battery life: 60+ hours (ANC off) | Driver size: 40mm dynamic | Noise cancellation (in dB): -23dB | Wired option(s): 3.5mm headphone jack

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Effective ANC
  • Affordable
  • Durable build
Cons
  • No EQ settings or companion app
  • No up-to-date software features
More Details

The Monoprice BT-600ANC headphones are best for people who want strong noise cancelation without paying too much for it. At $100 (and sometimes as low as $60 on sale), the BT-600ANC are the best budget ANC headphone. 

The BT-600ANC's ANC is stronger than some higher-end ANC headphones, but it's not as intuitive. Although these headphones deploy hefty amounts of noise-canceling, they do struggle to block higher-pitched frequencies. When I tested the BT-600ANC, I didn't sense any adaptive noise-canceling tech, so if you experience what feels like airplane ear (noise-canceling headphones don't actually cause airplane ear) while wearing noise-canceling headphones, you're sure to experience it while wearing these.

Review: Monoprice BT-600ANC

The BT-600ANC have a sturdy build that resembles Sony's WH-1000XM4 headphones and sports thick, plushy polyurethane ear cups. The thick ear cups help create a seal that aids in the effectiveness of the noise-canceling. When I tested the BT-600ANC, I was surprised by how much you get for one Benjamin. Usually, headphones in this price range skimp on accessories or build quality to keep the internal components of higher quality.

However, Monoprice gives you a solid carrying case and a functional build for ultimate portability. Despite that, the BT-600ANC headphones don't have a companion app, which means they have no native EQ settings. You're stuck with the out-of-the-box sound, which is very bass-forward and a little muddy.

Overall, if noise-canceling for a lower cost is your main priority, the BT-600ANC are a great choice.

Monoprice BT-600ANC tech specs: Form factor: Over-ear | Bluetooth: Yes (5.0) | Battery life: 40 hours (ANC off) | Driver size: 40mm dynamic | Noise cancellation (in dB): -35 dB Wired option(s): 3.5mm headphone jack

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Open soundstage
  • Natural fit
  • Very affordable
Cons
  • Some genres sound better than others
  • Can be uncomfortable after a few hours
  • Cheap build
More Details

There are headphones that are better for commuting, working, and traveling, and there are headphones that are better for critically examining music, whether that be listening for enjoyment, mixing audio, or editing audio. The Samson SR850 fall in the latter group. The SR850 are reference headphones, so they're optimized to expose tiny details (good or bad) in the audio you're listening to.

These headphones are incredibly affordable and a great entry point for budding audiophiles and students or hobbyists learning to mix and master audio. The SR850's semi-open ear cups allow for air passage, opening the soundstage and lending an open and airy sound. Their open-ear cups make them less ideal for recording audio -- you'll want closed-back studio headphones for that. Additionally, their open-back design means they're not ideal for commuting or listening in public areas.

The Samson SR850 sport a self-adjusting headband and velour ear pads. They aren't the most comfortable, but that's expected for their $50 price tag. You get a 3.5mm to 3.5mm headphone jack and a screw-top 6.3mm adapter. With a 32ohm impedance, these headphones are incredibly easy to drive, making them a great option for beginners.

When I tested the SR850, I used them for casual listening in my living room. I found the sound profile was exaggerated in the treble, which took some time to get used to. Still, I heard smaller, more minute details in my favorite songs that I'd never heard before.

Overall, if you can't or don't want to spend hundreds, if not thousands, on higher-quality open-back headphones, the Samson SR850 are for you.

Samson SR850 tech specs: Form factor: Semi-open, over-ear | Bluetooth: N/A | Battery life: N/A | Driver size: 50mm dynamic | Noise cancellation (in dB): N/A | Wired option(s): 3.5mm headphone jack, 3.5mm to 6.5mm adapter

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Marathon battery
  • Retro meets modern design
  • Long cable included
Cons
  • Tight clamping force
  • Clunky
  • Bluetooth can be finicky
More Details

Studio headphones aren't headphones you'll want to take on your daily commute or with you to the office. But if you record audio professionally, you'll want to get your hands on these. The ATH-M50xBT2's closed-back design is great for recording, as you can listen intensively and avoid sound from the headphones bleeding into the mic.

Their sound is very neutral, in typical studio headphone fashion. If you want headphones with punchy, boomy bass, these can't give it to you. However, if you do enjoy neutral-sounding headphones, the BT2 aren't only reserved for recording audio -- they are great for listening, too.

Review: Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2

For their $200 price, these headphones are a great value and have a sturdy build. The ear cups are covered with vinyl ear pads and their retro look is true to Audio-Technica's M-series design.

When I tested these headphones, I thought their neutral and balanced sound helped me appreciate my favorite songs in new ways. Plus, in a world of overly complicated software features, the BT2 are a breath of fresh air with their lack of digital tinkering. If you manage to run down the battery, you can wire these headphones and access up to 24-bit/44.1 kHz sampling rate.

If you're a budding podcaster or are studying music recording and production, these are a great pair of studio headphones. If you enjoy the sound of studio headphones but don't want to pay for high-end ones, you get a lot of value for the BT2's $200 tag.

Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 tech specs: Form factor: Over-ear | Bluetooth: Yes (5.0) | Battery life: 60+ hours | Driver size: 45mm dynamic | Noise cancellation (in dB): N/A | Wired option(s): 3.5mm headphone jack

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Lightweight
  • Great sound for the price
  • Marathon battery
Cons
  • Tight fit
  • Middling ANC
More Details

Sennheiser is known for its pro-grade audio products, but the higher-end products aren't suitable for everyone. If your friends in the audio space recommend you try a pair of Sennheiser cans, but you don't want to pay upwards of $600 to experience the company's iconic sound, try the Accentum Plus.

The Accentum Plus are the company's latest mid-range headphones that debuted at CES 2024. The Accentum Plus have an incredibly clear and immersive sound for their price tag, offering detailed highs and punchy, deep bass. 

The Accentum Plus boast adaptive noise canceling, which I found wasn't the strongest, but helps keep your music center stage while keeping louder external noises at bay. These headphones are great for commuters, travelers, and desk workers, as they have a marathon battery life that can last more than 50 hours.

Review: Sennheiser Accentum Plus

However, you must have the right head size to get the most out of these headphones. Maybe my head was too big, but when I tested the Accentum Plus, I couldn't wear them for more than an hour without my ears hurting. 

Despite that, if you prefer wireless headphones but prioritize sound quality and want great sound for less than $250, the Accentum Plus will do you good.

Sennheiser Accentum Plus tech specs: Form factor: Over-ear | Bluetooth: Yes (5.2) | Battery life: 60+ hours (ANC off) | Driver size: 40mm dynamic | Noise cancellation (in dB): -25dB | Wired option(s): 3.5mm headphone jack

What are the best headphones?

The best headphones for you are the ones that best serve their intended purpose. If you're looking for headphones to take on your daily commute, consider the Bose QuietComfort Ultra. If you frequently record audio, try the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2. If mixing audio is your top use case, the Samson SR850 are best for you.

HeadphonesPriceBattery lifeHeadphone type
Bose QuietComfort Ultra$42924 hours (ANC off)Closed-back, wireless, noise-canceling
Sony WH-1000XM5$40040 hours (ANC off)Closed-back, wireless, noise-canceling
Monoprice BT-600ANC$10040 hours (ANC off)Closed-back, wireless, noise-canceling
Samson SR850$50N/ASemi-open, wired-only
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2$20060+ hoursClosed-back studio headphones
JBL Live 770NC$20060+ hours (ANC off)Closed-back, wireless, noise-canceling
Sennheiser Accentum Plus$23060+ hours (ANC off)Closed-back, wireless, noise-canceling

Which headphones are right for you?

While all of these headphones are excellent picks, it ultimately depends on what type of connectivity you prefer, if noise cancellation is important to you, what your use cases are, and how much you're willing to spend.

Choose these headphones...If you want...
Bose QuietComfort UltraThe best headphones Bose has to offer. Exceptional noise-canceling technology, all-day comfort, and a stylish design make these headphones the perfect everyday headphones.
Sony WH-1000XM5Impressive noise-canceling technology, a solid build, and access to Sony's high-quality Bluetooth codec.
Monoprice BT-600ANCReliable and effective noise-canceling technology for less than one-third of the price of headphones with similar capabilities. If noise-canceling for a low price is your priority, these are your best choice.
Samson SR850Reference headphones for mixing and mastering music without paying hundreds of dollars. If you're stepping into the audio world, start with these.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2A capable and versatile pair of studio headphones for a reasonable price. If you frequently record audio or enjoy the neutral sound of studio headphones, these will last you a lifetime and more.
JBL Live 770NCHeadphones that you can wear every day of the week without needing to remember to charge them. 
Sennheiser Accentum PlusWireless headphones with impressive sound quality for less than $250. If you don't like listening with wires but still want great sound, these headphones are for you.

Factors to consider when choosing a pair of headphones

I've spent many hours testing headphones, from big names like Sony and Bose to lesser-known brands, to show you that you have a sea of options. The headphones your best friend loves and recommends you try might be the worst headphones you've ever worn, which is why it's essential to consider these factors before you buy:

  • Battery life: Nothing is worse than throwing on your headphones and seeing they're on 5% battery. If you often forget to charge your headphones, you'll want a pair with an extensive battery life. So, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra might not be your best option, but the JBL Live 770NC could work better for you.
  • Use cases: There are many types of headphones, so you must ensure you're buying the right kind that matches your specific use cases. Perhaps your friend recommended the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 headphones for their great sound, but you didn't realize they didn't have noise-canceling -- a feature you desired. If you want headphones for commuting, make sure the headphones you're eyeing are suitable for that. If you need headphones to record your podcast, ensure you aren't purchasing headphones like the Sony XM5 over-ears.
  • Lifestyle headphones vs. audio-focused headphones: I like to categorize headphones into these two categories. Lifestyle headphones are the headphones you see from brands like Bose, Apple, and Sony. However, brands like Sony and Sennheiser manufacture both lifestyle and audio-focused headphones. Lifestyle headphones can accompany you on your daily commute, to the office, and to the gym -- all on the same day. On the other hand, audio-focused headphones may lack the comfort, noise-canceling tech, and portability that lifestyle headphones possess since their primary use case is to examine audio critically.

How we test headphones

The ZDNET team spends weeks with a pair of headphones, using them in many environments like libraries, coffee shops, grocery stores, trains, and the office. We do so to test how well a pair of headphones perform in various environments, as each environment offers a different symphony of sounds.

Although you can test headphones objectively on a noise isolation graph or sound profile chart, you should conduct your own testing in your frequented environments to see how they hold up. At the end of the day, the only way to know if a pair of headphones works for you is to try them yourself.

How do I choose the right headphones?

Before you buy a pair of headphones, there are a few things aside from price you should think about. A pair of headphones' form-factor, connectivity, and features are equally as important. If you're consulting this list, I'm assuming you've decided that you're not looking for earbuds. To help you out, think about if you want:

  • Wired or wireless (Bluetooth)?: I recommend wired headphones for people who want to occasionally listen to music critically. Over a wired connection, you can access high-resolution music playback. If that doesn't matter to you and you'd rather have headphones that are portable and wire-free, you want wireless headphones. Fortunately, many consumer headphones can be wired or wireless, and many wireless headphones in this list can achieve high-resolution audio playback via a wired connection.
  • Closed-back or open-back?: Closed-back headphones comprise most of the options on this list, and they're best for commuting and listening in public spaces. Because the back of the ear cups are closed, others around you hear less of your music and you hear less of others around you. If you want noise-canceling, then you want closed-back headphones. If you mix or master music, enjoy listening to music critically, or want to invest in higher-quality audio gear, consider open-back headphones.

Should I buy on-ear or over-ear headphones?

I prefer over-ear headphones over on-ear headphones. As a result, I only recommended over-ear headphones in this list. On-ear headphones sit on your ears, while over-ear headphones cover your entire ear. Over-ear headphones create a better seal between your ears and the outside world, allowing for increased noise isolation.

Over-ear headphones provide a more immersive listening experience, and the tighter seal on your ears allows for increased noise-canceling performance.

However, you may like on-ear headphones if you want headphones with a more compact shape. If you don't like noise-canceling or prefer to better hear your surroundings, you should consider on-ear headphones.

Should I buy earbuds or headphones?

The term "headphones" encompasses many types of listening devices, and earbuds are a type od headphone. However, for the sake of simplicity, let's conclude that earbuds are listening devices that go inside your ears and headphones are listening devices that go over your ears.

You should buy earbuds if:

  • You don't want large, bulky headphones.
  • You vigorously exercise frequently.

You should buy headphones if:

  • You want longer battery life.
  • You want better sound quality.
  • You don't like objects inside your ears.

Are there alternative headphones worth considering?

While the options listed above should get you pretty far, you might still be interested in alternative options. Here are a few of our other high-rated recommendations to consider. 

View at AmazonView at AmazonView at Best Buy
Editorial standards