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Best headphones 2022: Brilliant audio options to suit every budget

Andy White
24 Jan 2022

Experience your music as it was intended to be heard with our pick of the best headphones available

Selecting the best headphones from the countless options available can be a daunting task.

First, you need to select what style of headphones you want. Next, you'll want to set yourself a budget and work out which features you require before reading up on pairs that fit the brief. Or, you could have us do the hard work for you.

We've tested a huge number of headphones across every price bracket imaginable and compiled a list of our favourites in a range of popular categories. Whether you're after the best headphones for audiophile-grade sound quality or the best headphones for helping you nod off at night, we've got you covered.

Before our list of the best headphones on the market today, you'll find a comprehensive buying guide detailing the pros and cons of the different styles of headphones and a breakdown of the key features the best headphones incorporate.

Best headphones 2021: At a glance

How to choose the best headphones

The sheer number of headphones on the market can make selecting the right pair a tricky task. Things become a lot easier if you're able to narrow down your options by choosing your preferred style and working out which features are essential to your use case. The video and buying guide below detail everything you need to know before making a purchase and should enable you to find headphones that match your user habits.

Which style of headphones is right for me?

Headphones fall into three main categories: over-ear, on-ear and in-ear, with a fourth - bone conduction - gaining in popularity. Each has its pros and cons, so make a decision based on the style you find most comfortable to wear and that best suits your listening needs.

Over-ear headphones completely envelop your ears, creating a seal around them. This helps reduce the impact of external sound on your listening experience - referred to as sound isolation - but the earcups can be rather bulky as a result. Fortunately, many are foldable to enable easy transportation.

On-ear headphones sit on your ears rather than over them. Because their earcups are smaller, on-ear headphones are usually more compact and lighter than their over-ear counterparts. However, they don't isolate sound nearly as well and some people find the force applied to their ears uncomfortable.

In-ear headphones are inserted into your ears and are either shaped to rest there without falling out or come with eartips to help secure them in place. They take a number of forms and are the best choice if you're after a portable, lightweight audio solution.

Neckband earphones operate wirelessly but the earpieces remain connected to one another via a wire that runs behind your neck. True wireless earbuds - the fastest-growing area of the headphones market - get rid of wiring altogether and rely solely on Bluetooth for connectivity.

Bone conduction headphones rest on your cheekbones and create mini vibrations that move through bones in your skull and into the inner ear. For those with damaged eardrums or those wanting to be more aware of environmental sound, bone conduction headphones are a fantastic choice, though they’re not recommended if you’re after total immersion in your audio.

Are the best headphones wired or wireless?

There's no easy answer to this as both have advantages and disadvantages. Wired headphones connect directly to your audio source via a physical connection, be that a 3.5mm jack, USB-A or USB-C input. This physical connection means the headphones don't ever need charging, which is a big plus, and audio quality is typically superior to that produced over a wireless connection.

Depending on the devices you wish to use your headphones with, you'll want to choose wired headphones that offer a compatible connection. For example, Apple's recent iPhones use a proprietary Lightning port so headphones sporting a 3.5mm connection won't work with them without an adapter.

As Bluetooth connectivity has developed, we've seen more and more of the best headphones making the switch to wireless functionality. Connect your smartphone or laptop to your headphones over Bluetooth and you can enjoy audio without the need for any wiring connecting them. This means the headphones will need to be charged regularly but, in the case of earbuds, you get a portable charging case to help boost battery life. If you’re specifically interested in wireless headphones, check out our list of the best Bluetooth headphones available.

What other features do the best headphones incorporate?

Active noise cancellation (ANC): ANC technology is designed to drown out external noise. It’s an essential feature if you want to zone out from the rest of the world when on a noisy commute. Read our list of the best ANC headphones for more details.

Integrated microphone and voice assistant: You'll be hard-pressed to find a pair of headphones that don't come with some kind of microphone built-in, but it's well worth checking before you buy. A significant number support the use of your voice assistant, so if Google Assistant, Alexa or Siri are essential to your daily routine, make sure the headphones you buy have voice assistant support.

Touch controls: Touch controls allow you to control your audio without needing to access the device playing it. Over-complicated touch controls can be off-putting but you want to make sure the key commands, namely volume up/down and play/pause, are available.

Bluetooth codecs: Codecs determine how data is transmitted from your audio output to your headphones and not all of them are created equally. SBC is pretty much universal and works well enough but if you want an optimal wireless experience you should look out for codecs capable of transmitting high-resolution audio such as Qualcomm's aptX HD. Bear in mind that not every device supports every codec so check for compatibility before buying. It's also worth noting that both your headphones and the audio source must support a codec for you to be able to use it.

Waterproofing: Having some level of sweat/waterproofing is always welcome. Be on the lookout for IP certification - anything higher than IPX4 means your headphones will survive a sudden downpour and are cut out for use in the gym or while running. It's rare to find IP certification on over-ear and on-ear headphones but most of the best headphones designed to fit in your ears will have it.

The best headphones to buy in 2022

1. SoundMagic E11: Best wired earphones

Price: £40 | Buy now from Amazon

The SoundMagic E11 are the successor to SoundMagic's excellent E10 earphones. They're slightly dearer, but are sonically and aesthetically superior. The earphones have a better soundstage, a more energetic treble and a tamer low-end, delivering a balanced sound signature throughout. There are better sounding wired in-ear headphones out there, including the vastly more expensive Creative SXFI Trio linked in the section below but pound-for-pound, the E11 can't be beaten.

Read our SoundMagic E11 review for more details

Key specsType: In-ear, wired; Connections: 3.5mm jack plug; Weight: Unknown; Cable length: 1.2m

Other options worth considering:

  • Creative SXFI Trio: Outstanding holographic audio | Buy now (£85)
  • Sennheiser CX300S: Affordable earphones from an audiophile brand | Buy now (£30)

READ NEXT: Best cheap headphones

2. Sony WF-1000XM4: Best true wireless earbuds

Price: £250 | Buy now from Amazon

Like their over-ear counterparts the WH-1000XM4, Sony's latest pair of wireless earbuds deliver in all the important areas. Audio quality is superb - there's now Hi-res audio support if you're using Sony's proprietary LDAC codec - and noise cancellation is highly effective thanks in no small part to ambient sound control, which adjusts ANC automatically based on your location and actions.

Both the buds and their case are more compact than their predecessor the WF-1000XM3 but battery life remains unchanged at up to 24 hours of audio playback. With hands-free support for Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant, useful features like wear detection and Speak-to-Chat and an IPX4 rating for water resistance, the Sony WF-1000XM4 are exceptional all-rounders and our recommendation if you're after wireless earbuds and have a healthy budget.

Read our Sony WF-1000XM4 review for more details

Key specs – Type: True wireless earbuds; Connections: Bluetooth 5.0; Weight: 6g per earbud, 41g charging case; Cable length: N/A

Other options worth considering:

READ NEXT: Best true wireless earbuds

3. Sennheiser HD560S: Best open-back headphones

Price: £170 | Buy now from Amazon

Bluetooth headphones are the obvious choice for those wanting to enjoy audio while on the move but open-back headphones remain the go-to for audiophiles eager to experience spacious, expansive soundstages. Sennheiser produces some fantastic, extremely expensive open-back models but for most people, the HD560S are the sweet spot in terms of a price/performance balance.

They're supremely comfortable, with large, velour-lined earcups that feel snug but not too tight, and a soft, padded headband that distributes the headphones' weight nicely across your head. Audio quality is excellent, too, if you're after refined, natural sound. We were very impressed by the poise and clarity with which the HD560S deliver music and there's a real sense of scale to the way they communicate sound. Instrument separation is top-notch, making them ideal for either professional use or critical listening.

Open-back reference headphones may not be for everyone but if they're your cup of tea, you won't find any better than the HD560S without having to spend significantly more money.

Read our Sennheiser HD560S review for more details

Key specs – Headphone type: Over-ear; Connections: Weight: 240g; Cable length: 3m

Another option worth considering:

4. Sony WH-1000XM4: Best headphones for noise cancellation

Price: £350 | Buy now from Amazon

Sony’s WH-1000XM4 are the undisputed kings of over-ear noise-cancelling headphones. Sophisticated noise-cancelling technology adapts to your surroundings and actions, while also learning about the places you visit to provide noise cancellation best suited to your environment. It’s extremely effective and when fully engaged, blocks out a truly impressive amount of external sound.

But the WH-1000XM4 have more than one string to their bow. Sound quality is excellent no matter what genres you like to listen to; the headphones are comfortable when worn for long periods and they provide a range of handy features to create a seamless user experience. There’s multipoint pairing, which allows you to connect to two devices via Bluetooth simultaneously; wear detection for automatically pausing your music when you take the headphones off and Speak-to-Chat, which halts your music when you’re speaking to someone.

It was always going to take something special to surpass the excellent WH-1000XM3. Sony’s WH-1000XM4 are just that and are simply the best noise-cancelling headphones on the market.

Read our Sony WH-1000XM4 review for more details

Key specs – Type: Over-ear, wireless; Connections: Bluetooth, 3.5mm jack plug; Weight: 254g; Cable length: 1.2m

Other options worth considering:

READ NEXT: Best noise-cancelling headphones and best over-ear headphones

5. Beats Solo Pro: Best on-ear headphones

Price: £200 | Buy now from OnBuy

With excellent battery life, impressive active noise-cancellation and great sound quality, the Beats Solo Pro are the best on-ear wireless headphones around. You can't control the ANC but the Solo Pro automatically adjust the level of cancelling based on your surroundings and other factors including whether you're wearing glasses or have long hair interfering with the passive noise cancellation provided by the earcups.

Not only do the Beats Solo Pro sound superb, but they're among the most stylish headphones out there and come in six colours - black, grey, ivory, dark blue, light blue and red - so if you're looking to make a fashion statement with your ear wear, they're a mighty fine choice.

Read our Beats Solo Pro review for more details

Key specs – Headphone type: On-ear; Connections: Bluetooth, USB-C to 3.5mm jack; Weight: 267g; Cable length: 1.5m

Buy now from OnBuy

Other options worth considering:

READ NEXT: Best Bluetooth headphones

6. NuraLoop: Best wireless earphones

Price: £199 | Buy now from Argos

To make it onto this list, a pair of headphones must be something special – and the NuraLoop are just that. These wireless headphones analyse your hearing and create a unique sound profile that takes into account your sensitivity to various frequencies. The result is a personalised EQ that sounds sensational. The NuraLoop aren’t a one-trick pony, though. Active noise-cancellation is extremely effective, there’s a handy Social Mode for allowing in ambient sound, Immersion Mode for boosting bass, intuitive touch controls and sweat-resistance.

On top of all this, the NuraLoop offer a secure and comfortable fit and a massive 16 hours of battery life at half volume. Those of a more traditional disposition can rest easy: these earphones can be used wired with the analogue cable that’s included in the box. If you’re an audiophile that’s yet to experience Nura’s patented technology, you owe it to yourself to give the NuraLoop, the Nuraphone or the NuraTrue a try.

Read our NuraLoop review for more details

Key specs – Type: In-ear, wireless/wired; Connections: Bluetooth, 3.5mm analogue cable; Weight: 27g; Cable length: 1.3m

Buy now from Argos

Other options worth considering:

READ NEXT: Our favourite wireless headphones

7. Anker Soundcore Life Q30: Best budget over-ear headphones

Price: £80 | Buy now from Amazon

When it comes to value for money over-ear headphones, the Anker Soundcore Life Q30 can't be beaten. They offer three levels of effective active noise cancellation that outperform many of their more expensive rivals, have outstanding battery life and are comfortable to wear for long periods of time.

Their default sound signature is overly bassy to the point where the earcups vibrate noticeably on tracks with a beefy low-end, but pop into the Soundcore companion app and you can customise audio to your heart's content. There are no fewer than 22 different EQ presets available covering just about every genre imaginable along with an eight-band graphic equaliser that enables you to create your own sonic profiles.

With a little bit of tinkering around, you'll be able to find a sound that suits your listening preference and comfortably enjoy distraction-free audio for hours on end.

Read our Anker Soundcore Life Q30 review for more details

Key specs – Type: Over-ear, wireless; Connections: Bluetooth; Weight: 265g; Cable length: 1.2m

Other options worth considering:

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8. Apple Airpods 3: Best open-fit wireless earbuds

Price: £169 | Buy now from Amazon

best headphones - Apple AirPods 3

The third-generation Apple AirPods are simply sensational open-fit true wireless earbuds. They deliver on pretty much every front, with the best sound quality of any non-Pro AirPods and support for Apple's incredible Spatial Audio technology.

As was the case with their predecessors, the AirPods 3 provide seamless integration with Apple products in addition to their top-notch build quality, making them the go-to choice for iPhone users. If you don't own an iPhone you can still enjoy their great design and solid audio but you'll be missing out on voice-activated Siri, near-instant Bluetooth pairing and battery level popups.

New for the third-gen model is a contoured design, which makes them more comfortable than ever, a case that supports Apple's MagSafe charging technology and force sensors built into the stem via which you execute controls.

Those meaningful tweaks along with better-than-ever sound elevate the AirPods 3 well above the second-gen model, which may be tempting at just £109 but we strongly recommend forking out the extra cash for a far superior model.

Read our Apple AirPods 3 review for more details

Key specs – Type: True wireless earbuds; Connections: Bluetooth; Weight: 4g per earbud, 40g charging case; Cable length: N/A

Other options worth considering:

READ NEXT: The best wireless earbuds for every budget

9. Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus: Best wireless earbuds under £100

Price: £90 | Buy from Amazon

True wireless earbuds around the £100 mark are ten a penny but none sound quite as good as the Melomania 1 Plus from UK manufacturer Cambridge Audio. In their "High Performance" mode, the earbuds deliver a wide soundstage characterised by a thumping bass response and wonderful detail. What's more, audio can be tweaked via the Melomania companion app, which features six EQ presets and the ability to create your own five-band graphic EQs.

Controls are another area of strength, with the Melomania ditching touch controls in favour of physical button presses. It's a decision that pays off as the controls are simple, easy to execute and facilitate volume changes, something often omitted by similarly priced earbuds.

Our only real complaint about the Melomania 1 Plus is that we didn't find their bullet-shaped design as comfortable as some of their competitors. But with a wide range of foam and silicone eartips included in the box, your mileage with them is likely to vary.

Key specs – Type: True wireless earbuds; Connections: Bluetooth; Weight: 5g per earbud, 50g charging case; Cable length: N/A

Other options worth considering:

READ NEXT: Our favourite wireless earbuds and best cheap wireless earbuds

10. Bose SleepBuds II: Best headphones for sleeping

Price: £230 | Buy now from Amazon

Leading the admittedly small pack of headphones designed to aid sleeping are the Bose SleepBuds II. We found their range of noise-masking and relaxing sounds improved our ability to fall asleep and remain slumbering through the night, while the Bose Sleep app is about as easy to use as companion apps get.

The battery and connection issues that plagued the original SleepBuds have been largely addressed, although the case does discharge when not in use, and the SleepBuds II are the most comfortable, least obtrusive earbuds we've ever tested. It's just a shame that you can only use them to play the sounds within the Bose Sleep app; they can't stream content over Bluetooth so steer clear of them if you're after headphones to listen to music or podcasts on before bed.

Read our Bose SleepBuds II review for more details

Key specs – Type: True wireless earbuds; Connections: Bluetooth; Weight: 2g per earbud, 98g charging case; Cable length: N/A

Another option worth considering:

11. AfterShokz Aeropex: Best bone conduction headphones

Price: £130 | Buy now from Amazon

If in-, on- or over-ear headphones aren’t for you, it’s worth checking out AfterShokz’ range of bone conduction headphones. These deliver sound vibrations through your cheekbones so are great for those with ear issues or simply those wanting to leave their ears free while still enjoying music.

The Aeropex are lightweight, Bluetooth enabled and IP67-rated, meaning they’re waterproof, so are an excellent choice for runners, particularly as you’re still able to hear everything going on around you. Despite the bone conduction design, they don’t leak too much sound and are sonically very impressive.

Key specs – Type: Bone conduction; Connections: Bluetooth; Weight: 26g; Cable length: N/A

Other options worth considering:

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