The best headphones are always evolving with new active noise cancellation technology, personalized EQ settings, enhanced mic quality, and new innovations in smart features. That means big name brands like Sony, Bose, Apple and even Razer are at the top of their game right now – perfect if you need that musical quality that even the best gaming headsets can’t provide.
You’ll be spending between $250 and $300 (around £270) for the very best audio money can buy right now, which might sound like a tall order considering sub-$100/£100 headphones can still tout features like ANC and Bluetooth 5.0. However, if you’re shopping for quality you’ll notice the best headphones not only enhance these features with their own streamlined implementation and raw power, but also offer the longevity of use you would expect from a premium purchase. You can, after all, buy three pairs of $100 headphones over three years or spend that time with the best of the best.
And these headphones really do represent the industry’s most advanced audio offerings. From the raw power of the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones to the gorgeous design of the Bose 700, all the way through to the effortlessly streamlined AirPods Pro, you’ll find ear candy suited for every need here.
The Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones are the best headphones you can buy right now. Improvements over the previous champ (the Sony WH-1000XM3) are modest, but worth bearing in mind if the current price work for you.
The noise-cancelling is even better and will adapt to frequently visited locations. The already-impressive audio has improved once again with better upscaling of lower-quality tracks giving you close to lossless FLAC quality without forking out for the more expensive format or paying extra for a service like Tidal. The bass is more powerful too.
Other improvement over the older model include a neat feature where the headphones will automatically pause when you remove them, which is great for quick interruptions at home/office and saving your battery too. You can get this feature on the much-cheaper Razer Opus below though too. You can now connect to two devices at once, so you can be listening on your phone on the way to work, then switch over to your laptop’s audio straight away without having to fiddle with bluetooth settings.
Looks-wise, these are virtually identical to the older model, which is far from a bad thing as the understated design is still a great look. We have seen a few discounts lately for the XM4, but you’ll still find the XM3 headphones to be much cheaper. The XM4 have some great extras to tempt that extra spend although there’s perhaps not enough difference to bother upgrading if you already own the XM3 model.
Razer is brand well-known to us here at GamesRadar thanks to the range of quality gaming headsets it produces – our best Razer headsets (opens in new tab) page is packed top gaming picks. But we were still taken aback when this foray into regular headphones came out of nowhere to take on the likes of Sony and Bose. And with a considerably lower asking price, the Razer Opus is a genuine contender amongst the best headphones out there.
The Opus’ noise-canceling tech is excellent, even without music I found loud noises like extractor fans or washing machines faded into much less distracting levels. Fire up the tunes the Razer Opus’ ANC impresses even more as I didn’t even notice a gas-powered hedge trimmer my neighbor was thrashing around his garden from about 10 feet away. And look at that price compared to the top of the line Sony and Bose models on this page!
The audio quality comes with that THX seal of approval with wonderfully crisp sound across the range too. The bass is ever so slightly lacking and I would have liked the volume to have gone that little bit higher, but the audio output is far from timid and I should probably stop trying to damage my hearing so much in all fairness.
A special mention to the battery too. Listed at 25 hours, I’ve regularly gone past 30 with high-volume and the Active Noise Cancelling tech turned on. The Razer Opus are incredibly comfortable to wear too, no headband pinch on the crown, and the over-ear cups are soft while doing a fine job of keeping outside noise away and somehow not overheating the ears. Want more? How about auto-pausing when you remove the headphones and auto-resume when you pop them back on? Very cool.
The Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones sat atop many lists like this for quite some time and were only recently dethroned by the newer Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones. The XM3 is still well worth considering though as it’s significantly cheaper and goes on sale regularly nowadays and is still one of the best in the audio biz. Industry-leading active noise cancellation, deep bass paired with clarity across the mid and high ranges, and an impressive battery life supporting all the tech inside – there’s little reason not to recommend Sony’s famous headphones.
The Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones still stand a cut above many newer rivals, even offering functionality for 3D soundscapes through Sony’s 360 Reality Audio. If you’re not fussed about intelligent surround sound, however, these headphones are still packed with all the latest features you would expect from a premium pair of headphones. Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa are ready and waiting to provide a hands-free experience, and intuitive touch controls on the side allow quick gestures to play, pause, and skip tracks.
All of that, and you can run these headphones for up to 30 hours before giving them a charge. That’s pretty spectacular and a benefit that gives the WH-1000XM3 headphones even more edge over competitors. The recognizable form factor does somewhat get in the way of portability, though the cups of this latest release are noticeably smaller than the XM2s. Soft-touch pads inside, however, offer a decent cushion that keeps extended listening sessions comfortable.
The Nuraphone headphones are possibly one of the few recent products that deliver on their promise to innovate. We’re used to the marketing spiel by now and rarely do these advertising beats actually enact a particularly meaningful change in how we use a product or how that product functions. Nuraphone makes good on its promise to give you ‘music in full color’ – it’s just frustrating that palette is still so expensive.
In all honesty, you’re getting your money’s worth here. It’s just that $399/£349 price tag can’t be ignored. If you’re after one of the best listening experiences money can buy, though, you can spend a lot more with diminishing returns.
Nuraphone starts off by tuning your personalized sound profile – measuring which ranges your hearing is particularly sensitive to and which tones will need a bit of beefing up to realistically represent high-quality audio. The result, when switching between ‘normal’ mode and your custom profile will have you questioning why you ever bought any other headphones over all these years.
Bold, rich, and powerful audio immediately erupts from the unique pairing of earbuds and over-ear 40mm dynamic drivers. It’s an incredible experience, with a crystal clear bass managing to shake your noggin while saving space to allow those more fragile melodic lines to delicately slide into the soundscape.
If you’re looking for luxury, you’ll find the Bose 700 headphones ship with plenty to spare. The 2019 noise-canceling headphones offer a sleek and sophisticated design that blends smooth curves with a stainless steel headband for a solid fit. It’s not all in the looks, however – this is Bose we’re talking about. The 700 models work to offer the excellent sound quality we’ve all come to expect from the audio giant. With tight, clear tones across all ranges and a detailed low-end that does away with cloudy bass, this listening experience is certainly worth its salt.
Not only that, but the active noise cancellation technology in here is as intelligent as it is powerful. Select just how much of the world you want to shut out with a 1-10 range of ANC intensity for added flexibility. There are also touchpads for gesture controls, and an easy function button to access Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant.
Overall, then, the Bose 700s are the best headphones currently available if you want to listen to some excellent audio and look good while doing it. They don’t quite beat out the Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones in the noise-cancellation department, but they’re certainly a far more aesthetically pleasing option and that slight audio step down shouldn’t make you feel like you’ve been short-changed.
Sony has held top spots in the best headphones category for a while now, but their WF-1000XM4 true wireless earbuds are the first in-ear model to hit the meteoric success of their over-ear options. With excellent audio quality and a brand new processor under the hood, there’s plenty of power pumping a finely balanced set of tunes into your ears.
The XM4s not only shine in their audio quality, but there’s also plenty of extra features baked in. The earbuds use the same ‘Speak to Chat’ functionality that automatically pauses the music in the over-ear Sony WH-1000XM4s when it detects speech, and also packs wireless Qi charging for the first time as well. Not only that, but the circular surface on the outside of each bud is also a touch pad which can be configured to volume, playback and noise cancellation controls.
You’ll be using that charging pad a little less with these buds as well, clocking in at 8 hours of use on a single charge (and with a further 24 hours stored away in the charging case), these are some sturdy headphones. We often see between 4 and 6 hours up for grabs in similar buds, so you’re getting a little more distance here.
Philips has released two pairs of headphones recently and while the Philips SHP9600 isn’t anything to scoff at, the Fidelio X3 is true brilliance. This is Philips’ premium-priced flagship headset right now and while it’s not suitable for anyone on a budget, you absolutely get what you pay for when it comes to comfort, design, and audio quality.
It’s worth noting that the Fidelio X3 isn’t gaming-focused in any way; there’s no microphone attachment, you won’t find any gaming software on your PC that can crank up enemy footsteps, nothing like that. It’s all about the thumping bass, the crystal clear treble, and instrumentals that make you feel alive. On top of that, you’ve got a headband made out of genuine Scottish leather and earcups lined with an almost tweed-like material. It oozes style, there is no doubt about it. It will set you back around £300/$350, but if you’re an audiophile looking for some of the best headphones that will excel in day-to-day use and never feel uncomfortable during prolonged use too, the Fidelio X3 may just be for you.
The AirPods Pro fixed many of the common gripes Apple was facing with its main AirPods line, and the results of this fine-tuning process make these some of the best headphones around if you’re after true wireless earbuds. Silicone earbud tips may not sound like a game-changer, but poor fit is one of the biggest issues with standard AirPods. Not only do the AirPods Pro sit better in your ear, they clean the floor with their second-generation siblings in the sound department as well.
That’s actually a testament to how important those silicone buds are. With the fit corrected and a perfect seal possible for so many more punters, the new active noise cancellation features can shine and the improved sound quality can finally reach the richness many demand at this price point. That is a pretty hefty price point, however, though not uncommon among premium buds these days, especially Apple ones.
There are plenty of extra features to make it a little easier to let go of that cash – especially if you’re an Apple user. Reliability and connection speed is unparalleled thanks to the H1 chip, and you’re also getting intelligent ANC thanks to Transparency Mode that only lets the sounds you need to hear into your listening experience. Plus, Apple recently announced support for spatial 3D audio coming in future updates as well.