Headphones are great for playing games, listening to music indoors or outdoors, having something to block outside noises, making calls, and anything in-between. The problem is that finding one pair of headphones that can do all of these perfectly is just impossible.
So, instead, you may want to pick one that’s the best in its field – or maybe one that’s a jack all trades, master of none. But even that isn’t an easy thing to do. Finding the best requires a lot of research and knowledge.
Since we’ve already done the research – plenty of times – and we also happen to have years of experience, we decided to share all that with you. Here are our top 5 headphone picks!
Things to Keep in Mind
As we mentioned above, knowing how to pick the best headphones requires a bit of knowledge. So, if you already know some basic things that are worth keeping in mind, this is going to make the whole process of choosing the best headphones much easier. Here are the most important aspects:
- Type: There are in-ear headphones, over-ear, and on-ear as well. Each option has its own pros and cons in terms of sound, comfort, and portability. So, choose what you value the most
- Open back VS closed back: This is for over-ear headphones. Open backs sound wider and more natural but are also bad at noise isolation. Closed backs are more bassy and narrow sounding but they are also much better in terms of noise isolation
- Sound signature: Some headphones are tuned to produce a specific kind of sound. It could be bassy, neutral, sharp, or anything in-between
- Comfort: There are lots of things that affect comfort. Things like clamping force, weight, padding, and the overall fit as well
- Build quality: You want your headphones to last for as long as possible while withstanding as much abuse as possible. Looking at numerous reviews is one way of calculating how durable a pair of headphones is
- Noise isolation/cancelation: Noise isolation is pretty important for outdoor usage – sometimes even for indoor usage. Closed-back headphones are naturally better at noise isolation. But, don’t forget about noise cancelation as well
- Portability: In-ear headphones are the best in terms of portability. However, some on-ears and over-ears can get pretty portable as well with the help of folding and carrying cases
- Waterproofing: There are several levels of IP ratings for water resistance or waterproofing while many headphones don’t offer any level of water resistance at all
Our 5 Best Headphones
Now that you know some of the basics that are worth keeping in mind, it’s time to look at some headphones. Don’t forget that the perfect pair doesn’t exist. This is all about balancing the pros and cons and choosing what fits you best.
Best Headphones for Gaming
This is actually a headset. In case you’re not familiar with the term, the main difference between headphones and headsets is just the microphone. So, if you’re looking for something that’s decent for gaming without having to pay a premium for it, we’d say that the Cloud Alpha S is quite possibly your best bet!
Features: Removable cable, dedicated sound card with controls, and detachable microphone
The microphone that it comes with is pretty decent and so is the overall sound quality. It’s a bit bassy by default – but you can adjust that a little bit with the physical bass slider or by using a traditional equalizer.
This is also quite possibly the most comfortable gaming headset we’ve ever tried. The clamping force can get a bit much for extended periods of time if you have a small head. But, it’s definitely nowhere near as tight as most of the other headsets that we’ve tried. The overall padding and the earpads are pretty decent as well.
The included sound card with its mic and volume controls along with the removable microphone and cable are welcome additions. But, keep in mind that you can only use the sound card with a PC. Sorry, console gamers.
As far as downsides are concerned, don’t forget that there is no water resistance certification, no foldability, and no noise cancelation either. So, this is definitely not the ideal choice for outdoor and commute use. It’s still usable – mostly thanks to the somewhat decent noise isolation (Not the same with noise cancelation) – but the overall gaming aesthetic will probably still make you think twice about using it outside.
- Great for gaming
- Superb value
- Balanced sound that you can adjust on the hardware level
- Removable cables are always a welcome addition
- Great build quality
- Not the most portable option
- No water resistance certification
Best Budget Open Back Headphones
Open-back headphones offer a very wide soundstage that’s impossible to replicate with the closed-back variants. After all, a big part of that kind of sound relies on the design itself.
One of the biggest downsides is that most open-backs aren’t exactly affordable. Finding an affordable open-back choice that’s also good is tough, to say the least. But if that’s what you’re after, it’s hard to go wrong with the SHP9500s!
Features: Removable 3.5mm cable
This is quite possibly the most neutral-sounding pair of headphones that you can get at this price point. Of course, due to its design, you won’t be able to get a lot of bass out of it. So it’s definitely not a good pick for bass lovers.
Another thing that we loved about this pair is how comfortable it is. In fact, it’s so lightweight with such little clamping force that you can barely feel it in your head. The only downside in this regard is that the earpads use a strange material that can feel a bit scratchy for some people. You can still replace them if you’re willing to mod the headphones, though.
As far as downsides, in general, are concerned, the biggest one is definitely that you can’t use them outside or in commute. The open-back design will let everyone around you listen to whatever you’re listening to and you’ll also be able to hear all the outside noises as if you’re not wearing headphones at all.
These are superb for a neutral-sounding experience at home but horrible for any sort of outdoor usage. Even if you want to listen to the environmental sounds, the weak clamping force is kind to make it very hard to use them for cycling or any sort of activity apart from walking.
- Very wide soundstage by design
- Extremely comfortable
- Neutral sound (Can be a con for bass lovers)
- The standard 3.5mm cable means that you can mod it and use it as a headset as well
- Horrible noise isolation by design
- Generally unusable outdoors (No water resistance, open-back design, and weak clamping force)
Best Studio Headphones
The Audio-Technica M40xs are known by many as the perfect option for those who need neutral/studio sound with a closed-back design and without having to bust the bank.
Features: Removable cable
Neutral sound means that these headphones are trying to accurately reproduce audio which is great for both studio use and audiophiles.
Other than that, we’d say that the build quality is pretty decent and the removable cable (Although not the standard 3.5mm) is a welcome addition.
Speaking of build quality, do keep in mind that the M40x can be partially folded. This is very useful in terms of portability. And while there is no water resistance rating, the overall combination of the closed-back design along with the removable cable and the foldability make this pair a good jack of all trades.
It’s good for both indoor and outdoor usage, gaming, and even for traveling – if you don’t mind a bit of bulk.
The only downside we can think of is the 2.5mm to 3.5mm cable which makes it a bit tougher to mod the headphones. Other than that, the lack of a thumpy base can certainly make this a tough buy for some and the same goes for the lack of water resistance. But, then again, these headphones aren’t made with such things in mind in the first place.
- Relatively accurate audio reproduction
- Sturdy build
- Removable cable
- Usable in many situations (But only ideal for accurate audio)
- 2.5mm jack makes things a bit rougher
- Lack of water resistance
- More narrow-sounding compared to the SHP9500s
Best Wireless Headphones for Traveling
You’d think that in-ear headphones would get the spot for portability – and they do. However, the truth is that as far as headphones for commuting are concerned, nothing that we can think of is better than the QuietComfort 35 II!
Features: Wireless (Bluetooth), ANC (Active Noise Cancelation), removable cable, onboard controls, and foldable
The main reason that we recommend these over in-ears for things like commuting is due to the fact that these will give you quite possibly the best ANC that one can get from consumer headphones. And this is crucial for environments that are naturally noisy such as airplanes and busses.
Sure, many in-ears offer great passive noise isolation. But the truth is that they can still hardly compete with great ANC.
With that out of the way, these headphones are great in almost every single way. They are very comfortable, very lightweight, great sounding, very well built, and they also come with onboard controls!
As far as downsides are concerned, you’d truly be hard-pressed to find anything bad to say about them. We’d say they are a bit pricey but that’s about it.
The lack of water resistance is also a bit disappointing at this price range. Especially if you consider the fact that we’re looking at a pair of headphones that are clearly meant for being used on the road. Bose has previously claimed that they are intended to be used indoors – but we frankly don’t see the point of getting such great noise cancelation if you only want to use the headphones at the comfort of your own house.
- Extremely comfortable
- Good sound
- Wireless (Can also be used with a cable)
- Decent battery life (20 hours according to Bose)
- Solid build
- No water resistance
Best Portable Headphones
As we previously mentioned, Bose’s offering may be getting the crown in terms of traveling. But, as far as raw portability is concerned, nothing can beat a decent pair of in-ear headphones.
Fort this section, we decided to pick the Jaybird Vista True Wireless!
Features: Wireless with IPX7 waterproofing
One of the main reasons that we picked these as the most portable option is the fact that they are true wireless while also offering IPX7 waterproofing. This means that you can take them anywhere you want easily without having to worry about the weather. In fact, according to the official IP certification standards, you should even be able to submerge them up to a certain point – even though we obviously wouldn’t recommend that.
Other than that, the sound is decent, comfort levels are pretty high if you don’t mind the overall design of in-ears, and there’s also a battery case included which solves the short battery life issue. Speaking of which, you can expect to get about 6 hours. That’s definitely not much, but, at the same time, most in-ears don’t offer much more than that.
The only downside is the non-existing soundstage which applies for almost all in-ear headphones (With some very expensive monitors being the only exception to that rule). After all, the sound is literally in your ear. There is no room to create a soundstage and that’s a sacrifice you have to make when buying in-ears.
Also, it goes without saying that you absolutely can not use these for gaming. Unless we’re talking about something very casual. Otherwise, the sound delay that Bluetooth brings to the table makes the Jaybird Vista unusable for such tasks.
- True wireless
- Great sound for your money
- Superb portability
- Pretty comfortable (Unless you can’t stand in-ears in general)
- IPX7 waterproofing is a huge plus for some
- Zero soundstage by design
So, if we have to pick 5 of the best headphones with each option being the best you can get for your money in specific categories, these are the ones. And if that’s too much information to take in at once, here is everything you need to know as quickly as possible:
- HyperX Cloud Alpha S: All-around a great option for gamers. It comes with a decent microphone, removable cables, decent sound, great comfort, and suburb build quality. It’s hard to go wrong with it for gaming
- Philips SHP9500: The best budget option for those who want to get an open-back/audiophile experience without having to spend a ton of money. Just keep in mind that the open-back design makes them useless for any kind of outdoor usage
- Audio-Technica M40x: Great pick if you need neutral sound with a closed-back design. But we wouldn’t recommend these for bass lovers
- Bose QuietComfort 35 II: Your best bet if you like using headphones in noisy environments or traveling. They are a bit expensive but that’s more or less where the downsides end
- Jaybird Vista True Wireless: All-around the most portable pick in this list. Also the only one that comes with waterproofing. But remember that in-ear headphones have zero soundstage and that you may have to worry about battery life from time to time
And that’s all there is to it for now. If you want to make any suggestions or questions, feel free to let us know about them in the comments section!