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The best headphones you can buy

Start off the new year with the best headphones that make exercising enjoyable and deep work achievable.
Written by Nina Raemont, Associate Editor and  Allison Murray, Staff Writer
Reviewed by Kayla Solino
Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones | Best headphones overall
Closeup of Sony WH-1000XM5 headset
Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones
Best headphones overall
View now View at Amazon
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones | Best noise-canceling headphones
Bose QuietComfort Ultra in White Smoke
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones
Best noise-canceling headphones
View now View at Bose
Sony WH-CH520 headphones | Best budget headphones for casual listening
Sony WH-CH520 Wireless Headphones
Sony WH-CH520 headphones
Best budget headphones for casual listening
View now View at Amazon
HyperX Cloud Alpha Wireless headphones | Best headphones for gaming
HyperX Cloud Alpha Wireless headphones
HyperX Cloud Alpha Wireless headphones
Best headphones for gaming
View now View at Amazon
Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro X headphones | Best wired headphones
Beyerdynamic DT 900 PRO X held in hand
Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro X headphones
Best wired headphones
View now View at Walmart
Apple AirPods Max | Best headphones for Apple users
AirPods Max in blue.
Apple AirPods Max
Best headphones for Apple users
View now View at B&H Photo-Video
Beats Studio Pro | Best luxury headphones for casual listening
Beats Studio Pro headphones in Deep Brown in Jada's hand
Beats Studio Pro
Best luxury headphones for casual listening
View now View at Best Buy
Show more (2 items)

The best pair of headphones gets you excited about accomplishing your 2024 fitness goals and diving into work projects you've been putting off. With a proper pair of headphones, maybe you'll finally start training for that marathon, enjoy that long and begrudging workday of yours, or finish editing that video project that you've been chipping away at for months. Plus, headphones are actually better for long-term hearing than their popular, pocket-sized alternative: the earbud. 

Also: The best wireless headphones

With new technology rollouts, such as active noise cancellation (ANC), spatial audio, and voice integration with Google Assistant, Alexa, and Siri, headphones keep getting better and smarter with ever-more options to choose from. But before you go and spend your hard-earned cash on just any pair, make sure that the over-ear style can suit your lifestyle and needs

Also: The best cheap headphones

To help make that process easier, ZDNET has rounded up what our experts consider to be the best in class for you and your listening preferences. Our favorite pair of headphones overall are the Sony's WH-1000XM5 headphones for their market-leading active noise cancellation, advanced voice chat quality, and quick-charging capabilities. 

The best headphones of 2024

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Market-leading ANC
  • Advanced voice chat quality makes for quality video conferencing
  • A 3-minute quick charge lasts 3 hours
Cons
  • Divisive aesthetics
  • Larger carrying case than previous generations
  • Expensive
More Details

Sony WH-1000XM5 tech specs: Form factor: Over-ear, closed-back | Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2 | Battery life: 30 hours (3 hours on a 3-minute charge) | Frequency response: 4Hz-40,000Hz

Sony's WH-1000XM5 series headphones have been the go-to for active noise cancellation (ANC) technology since their popularity in the 1980s. The WH-1000XM5 headphones have raised Sony's bar even higher, offering the best ANC technology yet, with 30 hours of battery life and a quick charging time of 3 minutes for 3 hours of activity. These headphones provide the perfect sound escape. As ZDNET writer Matthew Miller pointed out in his full review, these headphones have also improved on an often overlooked factor that is becoming increasingly important in a video-conferencing world: "outstanding" microphone quality. "It's great to have a single headset with long battery life taking on all of my headset duties," he writes. 

Review: Sony's WH-1000XM5 headphones are basically perfect

At a price tag of $400, the advanced tech suite doesn't come cheap. However, for someone who frequently forgets to charge their headphones, the quick charger benefits offer an opportunity cost. The comfortable fit, despite controversial aesthetic reviews, makes blocking out surrounding sounds possible and practical. Bottom line, these comfortable headphones are perfect for working professionals who want to spend their headphone time plugging into projects or calls instead of plugging into a charger.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Competitive ANC
  • Comfortable fit
  • Balanced sound
Cons
  • Battery life could be longer
  • Carrying case is restrictive
More Details

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones tech specs: Form factor: Over-ear | Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3 | Battery life: 24 hours | Frequency response: NA | Driver size: 35mm | Noise cancellation: Yes 

When ZDNET's resident headphone reviewer, Jada Jones, got her hands on Bose's newest QuietComfort Ultra headphones, she was blown away by the cans' stellar noise cancellation and comfortable fit. The Quiet Comfort Ultra really lives up to its name. 

On the steeper side at $429, you're getting a premium pair of headphones with Bose's newest Immersive Audio feature. The feature, similar to spatial audio that both Sony and Apple have implemented into headphones of their own, allows music to move with you. It literally feels like your music and sounds are brought to the forefront when you turn this feature on. Along with the new feature, Bose also improves upon its active noise cancellation, which Jones says is the best she's tested yet, and delivers high-quality sound through the headphones. 

Review: Bose's QuietComfort Ultra headphones are some of the most comfortable, best-sounding headphones I've tested 

 "I recommend the Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones to anyone seeking a high-end pair of headphones that they can wear daily. With the QC Ultra, Bose fused together the best features of its premium Bose 700 headphones and iconic QuietComfort line, and the years of maturation paid off," Jones writes in her review. 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Lightweight
  • Long-lasting battery life and quick charging
  • Multipoint connection
  • Sony's top-notch quality for less
Cons
  • Not noise canceling (no ANC)
More Details

Sony WH-CH520 tech specs: Form factor: On-ear | Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2 | Battery life: 50 hours (1.5 hours on a 3-minute charge) | Frequency response: 20Hz-20kHz

Are you tempted by Sony's impressive suite, but can't quite justify the traditionally hefty price tag that follows? Well, you're in luck. Sony announced that the WH-CH520 over-ear headphones offer Sony's star quality in a more compact and affordable size, as reported by ZDNET in February. Instead of paying $400 for Sony's multipoint connectivity, Bluetooth 5.2, and sleek aesthetic, you can pay $60 and opt for the WH-CH520 model. 

You might be asking yourself if the dramatic drop in price comes with a decrease in quality. Sony headphone enthusiasts and customer reviews prove otherwise. These lightweight headphones seem to offer a sound signature that meets Sony's superb standards, custom EQ adjustments, and impressive battery life, all rolled into a breathable design with cushioned ear pads for all-day wear. 

Also: The best headphones for workouts and running

I will note, however, that you will be sacrificing Sony's renowned ANC technology. Sony boasts "noise blocking" with this model, but there are no external mics to combat intrusive noise. Nevertheless, if you are a casual listener who doesn't mind external sounds leaking in and values the surround sound of the headphones themselves, then these are a great option.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Spatial audio sound
  • Made from comfortable memory foam
  • Outstanding battery life
Cons
  • No Bluetooth connectivity option
  • Can't use with mobile devices or Nintendo Switch
  • Long battery life means a long charging time
More Details

HyperX Cloud Alpha Wireless tech specs: Form factor: Over-ear | Connectivity: USB adapter | Battery life: 300 hours | Frequency response: 15Hz-21kHz

The last thing you want to think about during a video game is your headphones' battery life. The HyperX Cloud headphones provide an impressive 300 hours of battery life. If you do the math (which we did), you can game and stream for eight hours a day for over a month before needing to recharge. This is even with the DTS Headphone:X audio drivers enabled. Additionally, the microphone is detachable, so you can remove it depending on the type of gaming you're doing. It's also adjustable, so you don't peak your audio or sound muffled while talking to other gamers.

ZDNET's own Taylor Clemons reviewed the HyperXCloud headphones while streaming, gaming, and making work calls and praised the headset for their robust battery, clean audio, and custom EQ settings.

Review: HyperX Cloud Alpha Wireless: Solid, no-nonsense audio for gaming, music, and more 

This headset has excellent audio quality that provides rich, clean sound even at low volumes. The Ngenuity desktop app enables or disables the spatial audio and DTS Headphone:X settings, allowing you to monitor battery life, adjust volume, and create custom equalizer settings. This ensures that no matter what you're playing, it will sound its absolute best.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Solid but lightweight construction
  • Open back style optimizes analytical listening
  • Impressive gaming performance
  • Two included cable lengths
Cons
  • Very tight, overly intimate soundstage
  • Headband can feel tight after long wear
  • Mini-XLR connector can annoy your shoulder
More Details

Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro X tech specs: Form factor: Over-ear, open-backed | Connectivity: Wired | Battery life: N/A | Frequency response: 5-40,000Hz and nominal impedance of 48 ohms

Even though wireless headphones have dominated the headphone market recently, we can't forget about where headphones started -- wires and all. That's right, wired headphones still exist and are, controversially, still worth it. The Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro X headphones are living proof. This model is a mid-range headphone option for mixing, streaming, or for audiophiles who want to hear every detail in their music. The detachable mini-XLR cable can be changed at will or exchanged with other connection options.

These headphones are open-backed, allowing air and sound to transmit freely through the earcups' grills, resulting in a more natural, speaker-like sound. If you're producing and mixing, you can definitely hear the difference in their natural frequency response and reliable sound. Plus, the included memory foam provides an ergonomic and comfortable fit, making the over-ear fit feel less constrictive.

Review: Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X headphones: Brutally honest sound for under $300

Evident from our 4/5 review rating, these wired headphones are too good to be left out of your consideration, delivering, what our review says, "precisely what it says on the tin: provides you with a relatively affordable, brutally honest audio solution for mixing and audio engineering." 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • All of the benefits of the AirPod line for Apple device owners
  • Different color options with a sturdy design
  • Almost universally-praised sound quality
Cons
  • Proprietary lightning cable charging
  • Bulky and heavy
  • Most expensive option on this list
More Details

Apple AirPods Max tech specs: Form factor: Over-ear, closed-back | Connectivity Bluetooth 5.0 | Battery life: 20 hours (1.5 hours on a 5-minute charge) | Frequency response: 10 Hz-20,000 Hz (estimated)

Despite being newcomers in the over-ear headphone market, Apple's AirPods Max have unsurprisingly established quite the Apple-ecosystem fanbase. These over-ear headphones are the only device that combines exceptional sound with all the same benefits that Apple device owners have enjoyed for years with the smaller AirPods earbuds. These features include instant connectivity, multi-device switching, and the ability to tweak settings and view charge levels on any Apple device.

Even ZDNET's Jason Cipriani sings the AirPods Max's praises for their impressive Transparency Mode and Spatial Audio, claiming the cans majorly elevated his viewing of The Mandalorian

Review: AirPods Max: Stunning sound and performance mean I'm keeping the $550 headphones

The sound quality of the Apple AirPods Max is by far the best of any Apple headphones today, especially with their ANC technology that meets or exceeds what competitors like Sony and Bose currently offer. If you're an avid Apple user and don't mind spending a little more, the Apple AirPods Max are an excellent choice for headphones.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Great for phone calls
  • Sleek design and style
  • Noise canceling and transparency mode
Cons
  • Difficult to adjust EQ settings
  • Expensive
  • Some features are incompatible with iPhone
More Details

Beats Studio Pro tech specs: Form factor: Over-ear | Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery life: 40 hours | Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz

The Beats Studio Pros are sleeker and less flashy than the company's earlier versions of metallic Beats Studio headphones. With four neutral, matte colorways to choose from and updated features like noise canceling and transparency mode, the Studio Pros offer audio and aesthetic improvements for a $350 price tag. When ZDNET's Jada Jones tested out the headphones, she complimented the "fantastic" active noise cancelation and lossless audio that captured the cinematic sound of the Oppenheimer film score -- sans the cinema. 

The new earcups sport UltraPlush, a comfortable memory foam covered by faux leather, which is a significant textural upgrade from the synthetic leather material of the Beats Solo 3 that crumbles off the earcup with continual use. These headphones serve Android and Apple users alike and boast luxury features incomparable to many Apple audio products. The one downside, however, is that some features, like multipoint connection, aren't compatible with iPhones. 

What are the best headphones?

It depends on what you're looking for. We broke down different product categories and features. Whether you're looking for ANC, wired, or Apple-friendly headphones, there is a top option for you. 

HeadphonesPriceWhere to BuyForm FactorConnectivityBattery LifeFrequency Response
Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones$350Sony, Best Buy, AmazonOver-earBluetooth 5.230 hours4 Hz-40,000 Hz
Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones$429Amazon, Best Buy, BoseOver-earBluetooth 5.324 hoursNA
Sony WH-CH520 headphones$58Sony, Best Buy, AmazonOn-earBluetooth 5.250 hours20 Hz-20 kHz
HyperX Cloud Alpha Wireless$200HyperX, Best Buy, AmazonOver-earUSB adapter300 hours15 Hz-21 kHz
Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO X$249Amazon, WalmartOver-earWiredN/A5-40,000 Hz
Apple AirPods Max$549Apple, Best Buy, AmazonOver-earBluetooth 5.020 hours10 Hz-20,000 Hz
Beats Studio Pro$180Amazon, Best BuyOver-earClass 1 Bluetooth40 Hours20Hz to 20kHz

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 kind of battery life they have, and how much you're willing to spend on a pair.

Choose these headphones...If you want...
Sony WH-1000XM5Exceptional noise-canceling headphones. With a comfortable fit and advanced features like ambient sound mode, touch controls, and voice-assistant compatibility, they provide a great listening experience.
Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphonesThe best noise cancellation on the market, plus an all-day comfortable wear and spatial audio. On the more expensive side at $429, these aren't cheap but they are worth the price.
Sony WH-CH520 Wireless HeadphonesSony's best-in-class tech with a lighter build and price tag. These headphones are a more affordable version of Sony's flagship WH-1000XM. They still offer Sony's top-notch audio quality, multipoint connectivity, and long-lasting battery life, but in a more compact and lightweight design.
HyperX Cloud AlphaLong-lasting headphones perfect for gaming. The HyperX Cloud Alpha feature a detachable microphone, 3.5mm audio jack, and comfortable memory foam ear cups. They also have long-lasting battery life and impressive sound quality with DTS Headphone:X audio drivers and spatial audio that provides an immersive audio experience.
Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO XWired, open-back headphones for analytic listening. They offer a natural and detailed sound with a frequency response of 5-40,000 Hz. The headphones also come with two detachable cables, one with a standard 3.5mm jack and the other with a mini-XLR connector.
Apple AirPods MaxSleek, over-the-ear headphones for Apple users. They also come with advanced features such as active noise cancellation, Spatial Audio, and Siri support, providing an excellent listening experience for Apple device owners. The headphones provide an exceptional sound quality, too.
Beats Studio ProStylish, matte headphones with noise canceling and lossless audio capablities. The Studio Pros have a competitve battery life and offer fantastic wireless sound.

How did we choose these headphones?

We selected these headphones after conducting thorough research by either using them to listen to music and podcasts or by evaluating the reviews of other ZDNET writers. To provide you with a comprehensive guide, we also compared sound quality, price, battery life, feel, and functionality. 

  • Sound quality: A good pair of headphones should, unsurprisingly, deliver high quality, clean and crisp sound. We played our favorite songs and listened to our favorite podcasts using these headphones to see which boasted the best sound. While better frequency response does not always result in better sound quality, checking the frequency response range can give you a sense of how robust of sound you will receive with your headphones (20 to 20,000 Hz is widely accepted as a good frequency response range). 
  • Price: Decent sound shouldn't cost you your whole paycheck. While some of the highlighted options go for more than $300, there are a few affordable headphone options on this list that offer competitive sound without the luxury features of a $500 AirPods Max. 
  • Battery life: What good is crisp sound if your headphones die on you all too soon? Competitive battery life is a must for your headphones, and pairs on this list offer anywhere from 20 to 500 hours of undeterred listening time. 
  • Feel: If your headphones are too heavy or uncomfortable on your head, why would you wear them all day? We considered weight and overall feel as we tested these to find a pair that delivers great sound without the head or ear ache. 
  • Functionality: Details like how these headphones connect to your music or whether they seamlessly switch from one Bluetooth device to another were considered as we curated this list. 

Are headphones healthier than earbuds?

Over-the-ear and on-ear headphones are considered a better option than earbuds for your health since you're not physically sticking anything in your ear. However, regular headphones can still cause hearing issues if you turn up the volume too loud or wear them for more than an hour at a time.

Check out ZDNET's tips for preventing hearing loss caused by headphones for how to listen healthily. 

Do headphones get worse over time?

On average, a pair of headphones will last about two to three years before the components start to wear down or malfunction. However, a good quality pair of headphones that's more expensive should last you longer (about four to five years). 

What makes noise-canceling headphones better than regular headphones?

Noise-canceling headphones use advanced technology to actively reduce external noise, providing a more immersive and distraction-free listening experience. They're especially useful in noisy environments, such as public transportation or busy offices.

Are there alternative headphones worth considering?

While the options listed above should get you pretty far, you might still be interested in alternative headphone options. Here are a few other options to look into. 

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