The purpose of buying the best headphones is pretty simple (shoot audio into our ears), but choosing the right pair for you isn’t necessarily an easy task, especially when you consider just how many options are out there. To help you out, we did all the research out there, considering the various types, styles, and features available. We asked the important questions like: Do we want portability? Are we going to work out with it? Is wireless important? After this initial research, we purchased the top 25 headphones you can buy today and got our ears ready for the biggest listening party ever.
As we subjected our ears to hours and hours of awesome music, we focused on sound quality, comfort, battery life and noise cancellation performance. With these features in mind, we easily came to the conclusion that the Bose QuietComfort 35 II headphones are the best of the best. With their extra-comfortable design and superior sound quality, these headphone offer a best-in-class experience. Keep reading to learn more about the Bose headphones and our other top 4 picks of best headphones so your ears can enjoy the same experience ours did.
- 1 Top 5 Best Headphones Compared
- 2 Key Factors look for in the Best Headphones
- 3 Mistakes to Avoid
- 4 Most Important Features
- 5 Which Headphones are Right For You?
Top 5 Best Headphones Compared
#1 Bose QuietComfort 35 II – Top Pick/Best Over EarWHY WE LIKE IT: Bose has long been considered one of the top players in the audio game, and that sentiment is apparent in the QuietComfort 35 II headphones. With powerful sound and best-of-class noise cancellation, these headphones were an easy top pick for Gadget Review.
Bose’s superior audio quality shines brightly in the QuietComfort 35 II headphones. These over-ear headphones offers a balanced sound, with well rounded bass and sculpted highs for an amazing audio experience. Of course, you can expect to pay for such high sound quality and that is true with these Bose headphones. They’re one of the two most expensive options on our list, but trust us when we say it’s worth it. They’re extra comfortable and even allow you to customize your sound experience through a smartphone app.
The other area where the QC35 II headphones excel is in their active noise canceling (ANC) capabilities. You have the option of choosing one of three different noise cancellation modes (High, Low, Off/On) to give you greater control over different scenarios. We were pleasantly surprised that all of these modes worked exactly as they were supposed to, but were especially impressed by the effectiveness of the High mode, which was able to cancel most of the noise in a crowded and loud room. If you’re looking for premium over-the-ear headphones, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II headphones are the best on the market today.
#2 Sony WH-1000XM3 – Honorable Mention/Best Noise CancellingWHY WE LIKE IT: Consider the Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones as Bose’s top competition today. These amazing noise-canceling headphones offer the best active noise cancellation we’ve experienced so far without sacrificing on sound quality.
Most high-end headphones today offer some kind of noise cancellation, but none of them come even close to achieving the level of quality that Sony’s WH-1000XM3 headphones provide. In fact, the headphones feature a chip dedicated solely to noise cancellation and that little chip does its job almost too well. If good noise canceling is the top feature you’re looking for, then please do yourself a favor and buy these headphones.
Of course, that’s not to say these Sony headphones aren’t excellent in other areas, because they most certainly are. Sound quality is as excellent as these headphones’ price suggests, although some may consider the bass to be too deep. You also get exceptional comfort with these over-ear headphones. The cups feature pillow-soft padding, but you might fight your ears warming up a little too quick for comfort during long periods of use. All in all, you can’t go wrong with purchasing a pair of the WH-1000XM3s, especially if you’re looking for noise cancellation.
#3 MPOW H10 – Best MicWHY WE LIKE IT: MPOW might not be a household name when it comes to headphones, but their H10 over-ear headphones were good enough to make our top 5. With an excellent noise-canceling mic and a comfortable design, these headphones are perfect for the office or school.
The MPOW H10 headphones are some of the most affordable noise-canceling headphones on our list – and on the market today – but that doesn’t mean they sacrifice on sound or build quality too much. We were pleasantly surprised at how good the headphones sounded, but only with your noise-canceling turned on. Bass sounded pretty good, but the headphones struggled on higher frequencies at louder volumes. We also noticed a lot of sound leakage at high volumes, so if you’re around people, keep that in mind.
The H10s take a hybrid approach to noise cancellation. Where most ANC headphones feature microphones on the inside or the outside to identify and cancel noise, hybrid ANC headphones have microphones on both the inside and outside to cancel out a wider range of sound. Unfortunately, you do hear a faint hissing sound while noise cancellation is turned on but that goes away once you’re listening to music. Perhaps the best feature on the MPOW H10s is the noise-canceling microphone that you can use for calls. When you’re talking to someone using these headphones, they won’t hear all the ambient noise on your end, making this the perfect choice for people who take lots of calls in many different places.
#4 Cowin E7 – Best Budget/Best for ComfortWHY WE LIKE IT: Extra affordable and super comfortable, the Cowin E7 headphones are an excellent choice for anyone looking for comfort on a budget. With good noise cancellation and sound quality, these headphones are sure to treat your ears (and wallet) nicely.
It’s safe to say that the Cowin E7 headphones are an excellent addition to anyone’s audio equipment collection. And at a sub-$50 price point, these are hard to pass up. Of course, reviews and price are only two pieces of the puzzle. Fortunately, the E7s sound pretty good overall. They will never be able to reach Bose levels of sound quality, but they hold their own well enough to make it onto our list. You get powerful and crisp audio with these headphones.
You also get some good noise cancellation on the E7s. When you have noise cancelling turned on, you can cancel out most everything going on around you. We were also pleased with how comfortable these over the ear headphones were, even during long periods of use. The earcups molded perfectly around our ears and stayed in place. Unfortunately, the overall build quality on the E7s felt a little flimsy, but that’s almost to be expected with headphones at this price.
#5 Cowin E7 Pro – Best Value/Best for TravelWHY WE LIKE IT: The Cowin E7 Pro headphones are the successor to the ever-popular Cowin E7, and the updated version is quickly catching up in the number of reviews on Amazon. With more comfortable earcups and updated noise cancellation functionality at a more affordable price, these headphones offer the best value on our list.
While the E7 Pros don’t have nearly as many reviews on Amazon as their predecessors, they are still excellent headphones that are worthy of placement on our list. They feature an excellent, 30-hour battery life and pretty decent sound quality with minimal sound leakage. Cowin improved the build quality on the Pro version of their headphones, which we appreciated.
When it comes to noise cancellation, the E7 Pros really excel. The ANC here is powerful and can effectively take care of even the loudest of sounds while you’re out and about. Unfortunately, this same quality doesn’t extend to the headphones’ microphone, so don’t expect the best quality when talking to your friends while wearing these headphones. Overall, if you’re looking for super affordable headphones that still offer premium ANC and sound quality, you would do well to check out the Cowin E7 Pro headphones.
Key Factors look for in the Best Headphones
Comfort/Fit: Headphones are an accessory that we wear, so how well they fit/feel is just as important as how they sound. You’ll see many different approaches to ergonomics and materials. Over/On-ears utilize ear pads differently. With over-ears, the pads go around the ear, so the ear cup opening should be suitable. With on-ears, there shouldn’t be too much clamping force and the material should be soft, or it won’t take long until your ears start to hurt. And with in-ears, the fit in the ear canal is crucial. If the ear tips don’t stay in place, then sound will leak.
Lightweight: Manufacturers must be cognoscente about the headphone’s weight when they’re packing all those features. The experience will be ruined if after a while you get a pain-point on the top of your head, or gravity pulls your earpieces out. This is more crucial if you plan to work out with them. Always check that the weight sounds reasonable on the headphone’s spec sheet.
Isolation: It’s not easy keeping external noise from ruining your listening session. Manufacturers approach the problem in different ways. With over-ears and on-ears, thicker cushions wrapped in leather work well, because they’re also comfortable. In-ears can be trickier because the ear tip must fit well within the ear canal (we all have different ear shapes). If a good seal isn’t made, sound with leak in and out and ruin the quality. Most manufacturers use silicone tips because they’re flexible and last, but if isolation is of utmost importance, then foam tips are the ticket (they expand and fill the space).
Wireless: Bluetooth/Wireless headphones is the new wave today. It does take some consideration, though, and wireless headphones are not all created equally. For instance, battery life may be annoyingly short, or ergonomics/comfort/fit may be compromised to make way for the wireless components. A manufacturer has a lot more engineering to do to make it all come together well. And then there’s sound quality. Bluetooth streaming involves compression, so if you value high-end acoustics, the cord-free convenience may not be worth it.
Mistakes to Avoid
Don’t go too cheap: We all like to save a buck, but sometimes that expression “You get what you pay for” comes back to bite us. Headphones that are too cheap likely have to compromise on something important (ergonomics, comfort, sound quality, etc.). However, there are some hidden treasures out there. If you’re on a strict budget, look out for alternatives that have a consensus of being the best budget headphones and a great bang for the buck.
Impedance: Impedance is the electric resistance of the headphones, which affects how much power it takes to drive them. Or in other words, how much volume you need to hear them. Most of the time, this isn’t a problem. Most headphones have impedance lower than 100 ohms and are easily driven by mobile devices. But if you start to get into high-end over-ears (impedances at 300 ohms or higher), you may find that your source is too weak. You’ll then need to spend even more on a dedicated amplifier. Check the spec sheet and make sure that the impedance is reasonable for the source you plan to use.
Remote Compatibility: An easy mistake to make is buying a headphone with the wrong in-line remote. Many headphones these days come with a 3-button remote on the stock cable. However, because the two most popular mobile operating systems function differently, manufacturers have to create two versions of the remote. Make sure you buy the appropriate iOS or Android headphone model.
Most Important Features
- The competence of the headphone’s audio reproduction is a huge factor, but isolation can be just as important. We often use our headphones on-the-go, which means that external noise can seep in.
- Over-ears handle isolation better than on-ears, because the ear pads enclose more of the ear. Manufacturers try to make more substantial or thicker ear pads to try to counter sound leak.
- With in-ears, foam tips isolate much better than silicone tips, because they can expand to fill the space in the ear canal. Most manufacturers use silicone tips, but fortunately, there are third-party options out there, like Comply foam tips.
- You’ll have to think about what features are most important to you. For instance, wireless headphones are convenient, but there’s a trade-off with regard to sound quality (compared to wired headphones of the same cost).
- If portability is at the top of your list, then you want an over/on-ear with a foldable design or go with an in-ear headphone.
- Some headphones allow you to remove the cable, which can be nifty for changing it out for a longer one or replacing it if it fails.
- Select headphones have noise-cancellation technology. If external noise is often a problem, then that narrows your search.
Which Headphones are Right For You?
The headphone market is a very exciting space today. There’s so much going on in terms of design and features, and so many choices that are fighting for our money. When it comes down to choosing, think about how you’ll use the headphone and what features matter most. And of course, budget plays a big role. Headphones can range from a few dollars to thousands. But you don’t necessarily have to spend an arm and a leg to get a great all-arounder. Unfortunately, most headphones out there aren’t available for us to try before buying, so lean on user feedback and reviews.