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The best Sony headphones and earbuds: Expert tested

We tested the best Sony headphones and earbuds for working, exercising, gaming, and casual listening, and handpicked our favorites for your preferences and budget.
Written by Jada Jones, Associate Editor
Sony WH-1000XM5 | Best Sony headphones overall
Sony WH-1000XM5 Headphones
Sony WH-1000XM5
Best Sony headphones overall
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Sony WF-1000XM5 | Best Sony earbuds overall
Sony WF-1000XM5 in black against a brick wall
Sony WF-1000XM5
Best Sony earbuds overall
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Sony WH-CH720N | Best budget Sony headphones
Sony WH-CH720N headphones laying on a MacBook
Sony WH-CH720N
Best budget Sony headphones
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Sony INZONE H9 | Best Sony headphones for PlayStation
sony-inzone-h9-top
Sony INZONE H9
Best Sony headphones for PlayStation
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Sony LinkBuds | Best Sony headphones for running
sony-linkbuds-18.jpg
Sony LinkBuds
Best Sony headphones for running
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Sony makes far more headphones than its acclaimed WH-1000X series over-ear headphones. The company has a diverse catalog of headphones and earbuds, giving you plenty of options to find the right pair based on your audio needs. You can find Sony's logo on headphones with competitive noise-canceling properties, headphones that complement your PS5, and headphones for exercising.

Also: The best headphones: Expert tested and reviewed

No matter your headphone or earbud use case, Sony is likely to have a pair of headphones that are right for you. Sony's headphones and earbuds typically reproduce a warm, bass-forward sound and include plenty of software features that can accommodate any listening device or operating system. 

I spend a lot of time testing headphones, and the ZDNET team of experienced headphone and earbud reviewers put the headphones we recommend through a detailed testing process before we advise you to buy them. All of the options on this list have earned our high rating, and our opinion that Sony is one of the best consumer audio manufacturers out there.

What are the best Sony headphones and earbuds right now?

Based on extensive testing, my top pick for the best Sony headphones are the WH-1000XM5 over-ear headphones. These headphones sport large, comfortable ear cups, have solid noise-canceling properties, and have enough battery life to get you through the week. My choice for the best Sony earbuds are the WF-1000XM5 earbuds for their comfort, crystal clear mic quality, and effective noise-canceling technology. Read on for the rest of our tested top picks.

The best Sony headphones and earbuds of 2024

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Large ear cups
  • Impressive noise canceling
  • Great sound
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Don't fold
More Details

The WH-1000XM5 are Sony's flagship premium headphones, equipped with Sony's most advanced audio and noise-canceling technology. These trendy headphones are praised for their comfort, noise-canceling capabilities, sleek design, and warm, enjoyable sound. Although Sony released these cans in 2022, they've held their value well over the last two years and are still worthy competitors to newer releases like the Bose QuietComfort Ultra and the Sonos Ace.

The XM5 headphones sport large, oval ear cups with enough padding to wear all day without discomfort. They are big enough to accommodate a larger head but may be too big for a smaller head and ears.

Review: Sony WH-1000XM5

They're equipped with Bluetooth v5.2, which offers stable connections and enhances energy efficiency. The XM5's 40-hour battery life means you can wear them all week without charging before the weekend. The 30mm dynamic drivers deliver Sony's signature bass-forward sound, and a 3.5mm jack is on the right ear cup in case you want to listen over a wired connection.

However, if you prefer wireless listening, the XM5 offer three Bluetooth codecs: SBC, AAC, and Sony's proprietary LDAC codec. 

When we tested the XM5 headphones, we found their noise-canceling properties among the best on the market. Sony's XM5 headphones are ideal for commuters, students, desk workers, or anyone who wants a capable pair of premium headphones for everyday use.

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: Yes | Wired option(s): 3.5mm headphone jack

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Effective noise-canceling
  • Comfortable and secure fit
Cons
  • Foam ear tips are hard to clean
  • No location tracking
More Details

Sony's WF-1000XM5 are the earbud equivalent to the over-ear headphones of the same name. Hence, the XM5 earbuds are Sony's premium and most sophisticated version. They feature advanced AI technology for clear voice calling, an upgraded processor for stable Bluetooth connections, and an ergonomic design for optimal comfort. 

The XM5 earbuds sport a round bud design that sits inside the ear canal. When I tested these earbuds, I found that the round design was more comfortable and secure than the traditional bud-and-stem design you see in other earbuds, like the Apple AirPods Pro. The only drawback of Sony's earbud design is that the company opted for foam ear tips instead of silicone. I found the foam tips to be more absorbent than silicone, and they easily trap sweat and ear wax and can be challenging to clean.

Review: Sony WF-1000XM5

However, silicone ear tips are slippery and tend to fall out of your ear when you sweat. So, if you want earbuds that are very secure in your ear and don't mind the debris that the foam tips accumulate, the XM5 buds will do you well.

The XM5 buds come with a charging case that delivers an extra six hours of juice, so these earbuds can go a few days before needing a charge. AI technology ensures clear calling by isolating your voice and quieting background noises.

The noise-canceling tech in these earbuds is impressive, and they easily compete with Apple's AirPods Pro 2 and Bose's QuietComfort Ultra earbuds. They're equipped with Bluetooth 5.3 and the LC3 Bluetooth codec, offering more stable Bluetooth connections, a wider connection range, lower latency, and better sound quality. However, only a few newer Samsung and Google phones are compatible with LC3, so if you have an iPhone, you're stuck with Apple's AAC codec.

Sony WF-1000XM5 tech specs: Form factor: In-ear | Bluetooth: Yes (5.3) | Battery life: 12 hours (ANC off) | Driver size: 8.4mm dynamic | Noise cancellation: Yes | IP rating: IPX4

Sony Ult Wear

Best Sony headphones for bass lovers

Sony ULT Wear headphones on a brick mantle
Jada Jones/ZDNET
Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Premium feel
  • Comfortable
  • Future-proof software
Cons
  • LDAC not compatible with most US-based smartphones
  • Spatial audio unavailable for most
More Details

The Sony Ult Wear headphones are the company's newest over-ear headphones that feature a strong bass. They have some of the same features as the flagship XM5 headphones, including one of the same V1 processors responsible for improved noise-canceling, but come in at a lower price.

These headphones deliver deep, rumbly bass. With a push of the holographic "Ult" button, you can experience bass so intense that you can feel it. The bass feature is similar to the Skullcandy Crusher ANC 2 but much easier to tame. These Ult Wear headphones have a similar design to the XM5, offering comfortably deep, oval ear cups and responsive tap-and-swipe controls on the right earcup. 

Review: Sony Ult Wear

The Ult Wear headphones also have impressive noise-canceling tech and perform well above their price point in this category. When I tested them, I concluded that their noise-canceling performance was on par with headphones like the Bose QuietComfort 45.

Sony implemented high-quality audio components in the Ult Wear, delivering a warm, bass-forward sound similar to the XM5. If the XM5 headphones are too expensive, and the WH-CH720N don't have the premium look and feel you want, the Ult Wear are the perfect midrange Sony headphones.

Sony Ult Wear tech specs: Form factor: Over-ear | Bluetooth: Yes (5.2) | Battery life: 40 hours (ANC off) | Driver size: 40mm dynamic | Noise cancellation: Yes | Wired option(s): 3.5mm headphone jack

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Great sound
  • Comfortable
  • Lightweight
Cons
  • Cheap build
  • Uninspiring design
More Details

The WH-CH720N are an excellent option if you want a pair of Sony's over-ear headphones for less than $200. Like the Ult Wear and XM5 headphones, the WH-CH720N headphones are equipped with Sony's V1 processor, which contributes to noise cancellation. However, the WH-CH720N have weaker noise-canceling properties than the Ult Wear and XM5.

The WH-CH720N are a pair of budget headphones, as Sony included all the high-quality features inside the earcups and kept the design and materials simple and low-cost. These headphones are entirely made of plastic, which gives them a cheaper feel but is responsible for their incredibly comfortable and lightweight design. 

Review: Sony WH-CH720N

I tested the WH-CH720N headphones, and found that their warm, bass-forward sound aligns with their more expensive Sony counterparts. These headphones sound great for $100, but they show their low price in the noise-canceling department.

These headphones aren't equipped with Sony's proprietary high-quality LDAC Bluetooth codec, but they have Sony's DSEE audio technology, which enhances the quality of compressed audio files. Additionally, the WH-CH720N have many of Sony's future-proof software features, along with Ambient Sound mode so that you can hear your surroundings. If you're looking for a less-expensive pair of Sony headphones that are solid for everyday use, these are a great choice.

Sony WH-CH720N tech specs: Form factor: Over-ear | Bluetooth: Yes (5.2) | Battery life: 40 hours (ANC off) | Driver size: 30mm dynamic | Noise cancellation: Yes | Wired option(s): 3.5mm headphone jack

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Impressive spatial audio
  • Comfortable
  • Effective noise-canceling
Cons
  • Cheap build
  • Middling mic quality
More Details

Sony's premium gaming headphones are an excellent option for dedicated PlayStation users who prefer wireless gaming headphones. The H9 offer Sony's signature full, bass-forward sound and feature Sony's Spatial Sound for an immersive gaming experience. ZDNET's Kerry Wan reviewed the INZONE H9 and said the Spatial Sound feature has reliable, realistic, and accurate head-tracking tech.

According to Sony, these headphones perform best in first-person shooter games, but Wan noted that third-person shooter titles perform just as well.

Review: Sony INZONE H9

The H9 headphones are equipped with Sony's Digital Noise Canceling technology and compare its performance to the acclaimed XM5 headphones. According to Wan, the noise-canceling tech effectively blocks household noises like a running refrigerator or air conditioner, adding another level of immersion to your gaming session.

These wireless gaming headphones are compatible with 2.4GHz and Bluetooth connections, and Sony recommends using both to experience the lowest gameplay and voice chat latency. The H9 are equipped with the INZONE Hub, which allows users to tailor their EQ and device settings.

Sony INZONE H9 tech specs: Form factor: Over-ear | Bluetooth: Yes (5.0) | Battery life: 32 hours (ANC off) | Driver size: 40mm dynamic | Noise cancellation: Yes | Wired option(s): N/A

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Comfortable and secure fit
  • Intuitive software
Cons
  • Short battery life
  • No wireless charging support
More Details

Open-ear headphones can be a runner's best friend, especially when they want to hear the world around them without compromising style, sound quality, or comfort. The LinkBuds are a great option if you want Sony earbuds with an open design. 

These earbuds' design differs from open-ear earbuds that hook onto your ear. Instead, they feature a hole in the middle of the earbuds for ambient noises to pass through. 

Review: Sony LinkBuds

ZDNET's Matthew Miller tested the Sony LinkBuds and wore them while working in his home office, commuting on the train, and running outside. Compared to bone conduction earbuds, Miller says the LinkBuds don't allow the wearer to hear as many external noises but are more transparent than traditional in-ear buds.

Sony LinkBuds tech specs: Form factor: Open-ear | Bluetooth: Yes (5.2) | Battery life: 5.5 hours (up to 12 hours with charging case) | Driver size: 12mm ring driver | IP rating: IPX4

What are the best Sony headphones?

Sony offers a variety of headphones, so the best ones are the ones that best suit your lifestyle. If you prefer over-ear headphones and want a versatile pair with plenty of premium features, the WH-1000XM5 are your best option. However, if the XM5 headphones are too expensive, consider the Ult Wear. 

HeadphonesPriceBattery lifeHeadphone type
Sony WH-1000XM5$40040 hours (ANC off)Over-ear, Bluetooth
Sony WF-1000XM5$30012 hours (ANC off)In-ear, Bluetooth
Sony Ult Wear$20040 hours (ANC off)Over-ear, Bluetooth
Sony WH-CH720N$15040 hours (ANC off)Over-ear, Bluetooth
Sony INZONE H9$30032 hours (ANC off)Over-ear, wireless, Bluetooth
Sony LinkBuds$13012 hoursOpen-ear, Bluetooth table

***Prices reflect the manufacturer's suggested price. You can regularly find all of these headphones for a discounted price during seasonal sales.

Which Sony headphones are right for you?

Although I love many of Sony's headphones and earbuds, my choices on this list are not a one-size-fits-all affair. Your audio needs should dictate your choice. The right Sony headphones for you will depend on your budget and how you plan to use them.

Choose the ...If you want ...
Sony WH-1000XM5Sony's most premium over-ear headphones. These headphones offer solid noise-canceling, all-day comfort, and a longer battery life than most competitors.
Sony WF-1000XM5Sony's most premium true wireless earbuds. If you want earbuds you can take on your daily commute, in the office, and then straight to the gym, you want these.
Sony Ult WearSony's most bass-boosted headphones. The Ult Wear deliver big, boomy bass while offering high levels of comfort and functionality.
Sony WH-CH720NSony's most budget-friendly over-ear headphones. These headphones contain some of the same audio components as the XM5 headphones for a quarter of the price.
Sony INZONE H9Sony's most premium gaming headphones. The wireless H9 headphones are equipped with every feature a dedicated PlayStation gamer could need, such as spatial audio and active noise cancellation.
Sony LinkBudsOpen-ear earbuds with Sony's signature sound profile. The LinkBuds are perfect for people who want to hear their surroundings without compromising sound quality.

Factors to consider when choosing a pair of Sony headphones

If you've decided you want a pair of Sony headphones, there are a few things you should consider before you make a decision. 

  • Sound: Sony is known for its warm, bass-forward sound. This means that Sony's headphones emphasize lower-pitched sounds, and these deeper sounds are rich and pleasant—if you prefer bass-heavy sound. However, Sony's bass isn't boomy, meaning it isn't too overpowering, but higher-pitched sounds are softer and less intense. Sony's headphones and earbuds sound "warm" because the lower-pitched sounds are enjoyable and can give the listener a sense of warmth or coziness.
  • Battery life: Sony's headphones and earbuds have spectacular battery life, offering a few more hours than the company's competitors. For example, the WH-1000XM5 over-ear headphones can deliver up to 30 hours of continuous listening with noise-canceling on. In comparison, Apple's AirPods Max and Bose's QuietComfort Ultra offer 24 hours of nonstop listening with noise-canceling on. So, if you want headphones that can give you a few extra hours of listening time, Sony is the way to go.
  • Use cases: Like all headphones and earbuds, you should consider how and where you intend to use them the most before buying a pair. If you want versatile Sony headphones that you can take on the train, wear to the office, and bring to the gym, consider buying the XM5 earbuds instead of the XM5 over-ear headphones.

How we test headphones

The ZDNET team spends weeks with a pair of headphones to give you an informed opinion before you make a purchase. Here are the benchmarks we use to test headphones

  • Comfort and design: We wear headphones for hours at a time to determine how long we can wear them before they become uncomfortable. We also test headphones across all budgets, meaning we test headphones made from inexpensive and more expensive materials to test durability.
  • Noise cancellation: We wear noise-canceling headphones in various environments to test how well the technology performs in quieter and louder settings.
  • Sound quality: Sound quality and sound profiles are highly subjective, as some people prefer heavier bass, while others prefer more pronounced treble. To give you the best idea about a pair of headphones' sound profile, we listen to them with different audio modes enabled. We also listen to headphones on various devices, like iPhones, Macs, Windows computers, tablets, and TVs, to listen for sound distinctions.
  • Battery life: In rare cases, battery life deviates from a manufacturer's claim, and battery life varies depending on how you use a pair of headphones. To ensure a pair of headphones offers as much battery as advertised, we integrate the review unit into our daily lives by listening to music, taking calls, and enabling features like spatial audio.
  • Use cases: No pair of headphones is a one-size-fits-all affair. Usually, headphones have a specific use case, whether for critical listening, watching TV, exercising, or canceling environmental noises. To determine which group of consumers will benefit the most from a pair of headphones, we test headphones in various use cases to specify their purpose.

Is there a big difference between the Sony WH-1000XM4 and WH-1000XM5?

There aren't many significant differences between Sony's flagship over-ear headphones, the WH-1000XM4 (2020) and the WH-1000XM5 (2022). The XM4 and XM5 headphones have the same software features, touch control options, and battery life. Both headphones are excellent choices for over-ear noise-canceling headphones, but there are some minor variations you should know about.

  • Design: The XM4 headphones have a very functional, practical design. The headband hinges are notched where the headband extends. However, this design element allows the XM4 to rotate 180 degrees and fold up at the hinges. Conversely, the XM5 headphones have a cleaner, minimalistic design, replacing the notches for hidden yokes. Although the XM5's headband design may be more aesthetically pleasing, the hidden yokes mean you can only rotate the ear cups -- they don't fold up.
  • Noise-canceling: Both generations of Sony's WH-1000X series headphones offer stellar noise-canceling capabilities, but one pair has a slight advantage: the XM5 headphones. The XM5 headphones' noise-canceling tech builds on the XM4's technology, offering listeners added noise-canceling properties. Additionally, Sony redesigned the XM5's ear pads and ear cups, which enhances the headphones' passive noise isolation and creates a better seal between you and the outside world.

Should I buy headphones or earbuds?

The term "headphones" encompasses many types of listening devices, and earbuds are a type of 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 highly-rated recommendations to consider. 

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