The best headphones 2016: which headphones should you buy?

Whether you’re someone that listens to music on the go, or at a desk at the office, a good pair of headphones can transform the quality of the music you listen to.

Whether you’re someone that listens to music on the go, or at a desk at the office, a good pair of headphones can transform the quality of the music you listen to.

Better still, if you’re the kind of person that likes to listen to music in the comfort of your own home, then a decent pair of headphones can offer you a much better sound at a fraction of the price of a pair of speakers.

The only problem is that there’s never been as much choice when it comes to headphones, and if you’re not careful you can end up spending hundreds, if not thousands, on a pair that sound just as good as something half their price.

With that in mind, welcome to TechRadar’s guide to the best headphones available today. Between us we’ve listened to every pair of cans worth listening to, and what follows is our pick of the best of the best, at any price point.

So where should you start when you’re looking to find your ideal pair? We think you should focus on two things, your budget, and the form factor of headphones that you require.

When it comes to budget, if you’re not careful you can end up spending hundreds, if not thousands, on a pair of headphones. But don’t fret, if you’ve run out of kidneys to sell you can rest assured that it’s perfectly possible to find a great sounding pair of headphones at a very reasonable price.

The second decision you’ll have to make is around form-factor. You want a pair of headphones that are going to provide the right mix of portability and sound quality, and in order to do that you’re going to need to decide between in-ear, on-ear and over-ear headphones.

While it’s perfectly possible to get a great sounding pair of more portable headphones, in our experience a comparatively priced pair of bulkier cans will offer a better sound overall.

We’ve organised our guide to the best headphones available today into sections based on form-factor and price. We’ve picked our favourite pair of headphones in each form factor, and then we’ve selected an additional budget option for the price-savvy consumers.

Don’t forget we’ve also got our form-factor specific guides to the best in-ear headphones, the best on-ear headphones and the best over-ear headphones in addition to our guides to the best noise-cancelling headphones and the best wireless headphones if you can’t find what you’re looking for on this list.

We’ve prepared a short video guide below to help you make the choice, and when you’re done watching that you can dive into our full guide to the best headphones available.

What headphones does TechRadar recommend?

We think the two most important things to consider when buying a pair of headphones are form-factor and price, and so that’s exactly how we’ve organised our guide.

Below you’ll find our top picks for the best in-ear headphones, the best on-ear headphones, the best over-ear headphones, the best noise-cancelling headphones and finally the best wireless headphones.

As well as a top pick for each form-factor we’ve also included a budget pick which manages to offer great sound at a much more competitive price point.

It’s hard not to love the NuForce HEM6s from Optoma. They come with everything you could possibly need from a high-end pair of headphones from multiple detachable cables (one with a remote and one without for better sound quality) to a range of earbuds that allow you to choose your level of noise-isolation.

It might take you a couple of tries to wear them properly due to the way the cable loops around the top of your ears, but once you do you’ll find that they rarely, if ever, come loose.

But the most important reason why the NuForce HEM6 are our best pair of in-ear headphones is the sound quality. Their warm and rich sound is a pleasure to listen to, and they sound far more refined than their small size would suggest.

Read the full review: Optoma NuForce HEM6

Want more options? Check out our full guide to the best in-ear headphones.

With the appealing candy apple detailing, Sennheiser gets you in the door. But once you’re in, you’ll stay for the killer sound quality that comes from the Momentum In-Ear earphones.

These are the among the best deals in the headphones market as it stands today. The company has a version available for each flavor of mobile OS, so everyone can get in on the goodness.

Read the full review: Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear

Want more options? Check out our guide to the best in-ear headphones.

When you wear the B&O H2, people will look at you with intrigue, desperately trying to figure out who makes it so they can buy their own later online. We should know: it’s how we found out about them.

The H2 sounds as good as it look. The sound performance should please even picky listeners with its warm, evenly-balanced sound. We’re trained to assume that good looks are a guise, but the H2’s slick design complements the sound performance quite nicely.

Read the full review: Bang and Olufsen H2

Want more options? Check out our guide to the best on-ear headphones.

You, like everyone else, probably wants a set of headphones that nails the tricky blend of design, useful features and incredible sound. You might think that you need to flush your savings to enjoy such a pair of cans. Protip: you don’t.

At $60 (£40, about AU$77), the Skullcandy Grind is priced well below its competitors, but the low price tag isn’t a trick to get you in the door. It’s an invitation to find everything you want in a set of headphones (and then some) for an unbeatable price.

Read the full review: Skullcandy Grind

Want more options? Check out our guide to the best on-ear headphones.

The Oppo PM-3’s are a truly stunning pair of headphones. Make no mistake, we’ve reviewed a lot of headphones in the last 10 years but none have we become more fond of than the PM-3.

They’re equally comfortable being plugged into a headphone amp at home as they are commuting through the hustle and bustle of a big city, and they stand head and shoulders above rival products from bigger brands. We really can’t recommend them highly enough, they’re just amazing.

Read the full review: Oppo PM-3

Want more options? Check out our guide to the best over-ear headphones.

AKG has the right idea when it comes to budget headphones. Instead of spending lots of money on an expensive, heavy construction, the company has instead clearly spend the bulk of its money on the K92’s drivers, which sound appropriately excellent.

So yes, the K92’s might feel a little plastic-y, but they have a good amount of power where it matters the most.

Read the full review: AKG K92

Want more options? Check out our guide to the best over-ear headphones.

Bose has finally brought its fantastic noise-cancelling technology to a pair of wireless headphones and it’s done so without any of the traditional drawbacks of wireless headphones. They sound great, and their battery life is long enough for all but the longest of flights.

At $349.95 (£289.95 / AU pricing tbc) the QC35s sit firmly at the premium end of the spectrum, but if you want the best noise-cancelling headphones available right now then you can’t get any better.

Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort 35

Want more options? Check out our guide to the best noise-cancelling headphones.

If the design of the Bose QuietComfort 25 is a little too tame for you, check out the Creative Sound Blaster EVO ZxR. The name of these headphones is a bit of a tongue-twister, but you’ll get equally tripped-up running down the exhaustive list of features found in them too.

Active noise cancellation helps keep your immersion at an all-time high with support for listening over Bluetooth. You can even tap an NFC-enabled device for a super-quick wireless connection. But if you feel like keeping things wired, connecting a 3.5mm cable opens up support for PS4, Mac and PC. As mentioned earlier, the design is bold, but it matches the feature-set packed into the offering.

Read the full review: Creative Sound Blaster EVO ZxR

Want more options? Check out our guide to the best noise-cancelling headphones.

These no-holds-barred wireless headphones are oozing with positive qualities, but for many, they’re almost prohibitively expensive. However, if you’re an audio lover that can spare the expense, do not hesitate on this comfortable, hard-working set of headphones that will likely last for years.

Read the full review: Sennheiser Momentum Wireless

Want more options? Check out our guide to the best wireless headphones.

While not the fanciest option available, those only looking for the must-have features will find that there’s a lot to like here. The build quality and materials are top-notch for the price. The sound quality won’t blow your mind, but it’s totally serviceable for listeners looking for a full sound. Its most treasured feature is the battery life, which lasts for 17 hours. Personally, I was able to squeeze 20 hours out of them.

Read the full review: Sony MDR-ZX770BT

Want more options? Check out our guide to the best wireless headphones.

There’s usually more to a set of headphone than meets the eye. As such, we’ve provided a breakdown of what you can expect to find in each kind of headphone.

Not only will learning more about headphones help you make a more informed purchase, but you’ll know when you’re really getting your money’s worth.

In-ear headphones

This type of headphone, more commonly referred to as an earbud or earphone, is usually the cheapest and easiest way to pump audio into your ears. If you’ve purchased an MP3 player, or more recently, a smartphone, it’s likely that a set was included with the purchase.

Earphones rest in or just outside the ear canal, creating a tight seal to keep air out and sound in. Compared to other types of headphones, these are the most discreet ones you’ll find. Their small form-factor also makes them the king/queen of portability and the prime choice for athletes.

You’re not likely to find strong performers at the low-end of the price spectrum. Their sound delivery is generally muddled, lacking bass and overcompensating for that with harsh mids and highs. That said, it won’t cost you much money at all to find a value-packed option complete with inline controls and a microphone.

Check out some of our other favorite models out hereOn-ear headphones

While similar to over-ear headphones in appearance, they fit to your head a little differently. Instead of enveloping your ears with a soft cushion, on-ear headphones create a light, breathable seal around your ear. Thus, the noise isolation is much less effective than in-ear or over-ear options. This might be a dealbreaker for some, but there are big benefits to consider here.

On-ear headphones are usually more portable than their over-ear brethren, and as such they appeal to travellers and the fitness crowd. Taking a walk or a jog around town is also safer, as you can hear traffic go by and be aware of potential hazards.

Want to see more of our favorite picks?Over-ear headphones

This ear-muff style of headphone generally provides greater richness and depth of sound, which allows listeners to pick apart the instruments and sounds much easier. Additionally, over-ear, or circum-aural headphones, go around the ear and offer a generous amount of padding.

The price range for a set of on-ear headphones begins around $100 and from there, the sky’s the limit. For example, the Oppo PM-1, while excellent, are priced exorbitantly at $1,099. It’s definitely not necessary to spend that much. That said, you tend to get what you pay for.

If your headphone budget is in the $2-300, you’ll start getting into options that have excellent build quality, premium materials and amazing sound and features like ANC (active noise cancellation.)

Here are a few more of our top picksWireless headphones

This style of headphone doesn’t limit you to a specific form factor like the others. In fact, you can find in-ear, on-ear and over-ear headphone styles sans wire.

Opting to go wireless will cost you a premium of anywhere between $50-100 over the price of wired cans. Going futuristic isn’t cheap. One important thing to consider is that your music player must support the Bluetooth wireless protocol, as it’s required to use this type of headphone.

Speaking of Bluetooth, it has become exponentially more reliable over time, but it’s always susceptible to disturbances in the force. In short, any little thing, from the understandable (conflicting Wi-Fi signals, microwaves, cordless telephones), to the absurd (sticking a hand in the space between the device and the headphones) can sometimes interrupt a wireless listening experience.

Looking for more wireless options?Noise-cancelling headphones

This category, like wireless headphones, isn’t limited to a form factor. You can find this clever mix of technologies integrated into the ear pieces of in-ear and over-ear headphones alike.

Many companies falsely claim to offer true noise cancellation with just the padding included around the ear cups. Don’t believe it. This is PNC (passive noise cancellation), and it doesn’t amount to much. You can even replicate this effect by cupping your hands around your ears, so why shell out the big bucks for it?

On the other hand, ANC (active noise cancellation) is the real deal. This technique employs a set of external microphones, which detect the decibel level outside. Once it has an idea of the incoming noise level, the headphone speakers inside transmit a noise generated to dampen the racket. The end result is an effect that hushes the outside noise, allowing you to focus.

More options to help keep the noise out

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