Your buying guide for the best headphones in 2018
The choice of headphones continues to increase with more technology and styles than ever. Luckily we’re on hand testing as many different pairs as we can to help you find the right pair.
How much should you spend?
Headphones vary in price to quite an extreme extent so on the one hand you can spend under £20 or you could splash out on a pair in excess of £2,000.
It’s debatable whether the difference in price always matches the difference in quality.
We’re looking at the mainstream headphone market so the most expensive cans we test are a few hundred pounds. Most are between £100 and £350.
If you’re looking for something cheaper then head to our budget headphones chart.
Types of headphones
Once you’ve decided how much money you want to spend, you need to select a type of headphones.
In general, there are three to choose from: in-ear, over-ear and on-ear and they all do as you would expect. Here’s a quick breakdown of the advantages of each.
In-ear – Small, lightweight and generally inexpensive.
Over-ear – Comfortable and space to house larger drivers.
On-ear – A good balance of the above.
Although there are three types, you also get sub-categories these days. This is particularly the case with in-ears with the rise of, for starters, the ‘neckbuds’. These are wireless in-ear headphones connected to each other with a wire that sit around your neck.
Then there are ‘wireless earbuds’ which offer an in-ear experience with no wires at all. They’re also known as ‘true wireless’. We have a chart just for the best wireless earbuds.
We’ve already mentioned wireless headphones and although they used to present a significant disadvantage to wired cans, developments in technology mean the gap is a lot smaller. In some cases so small that many won’t tell the difference in a blind test.
A lot of consumers are looking for wireless headphones for convenience but do remember that you are then at the liberty of battery life and they can therefore also be heavier. The odd pair may allow you to use a cable as well, even if the battery is dead.
When looking at wireless headphones, check our reviews for battery performance and also look out for the latest versions of Bluetooth (4.2 and 5.0), as well as codecs like Qualcomm’s aptX HD to ensure better audio quality over the air.
Check out our dedicated chart to the best wireless headphones.
Noise cancelling headphones
Another modern feature you might be after is noise cancelling. This uses microphones on the outside of the headphones to listen to the ambient noise around you and then inverts an audio signal into your ears to effectively cancel it out.
This is not to be confused with noise isolation which is simply blocking out sound by physically wearing headphones, and therefore putting a barrier between your ear and the outside world. Noise cancellation is an actual technology.
Noise cancelling isn’t on every pair of headphones and is better on some headphones than others so check our reviews to see which is best. Some also offer various levels of cancellation and additional handy modes. They go by different names such as ‘social’, ‘aware’ or similar and allow some sound in so you don’t miss announcements or don’t block out dangers such as traffic.
Best headphones 2018
1. Bose QC35 II
The Bose QC35 II are the best all-round headphones you can get at the moment. Offering stylish design, sound quality, usability and features.
Although Google Assistant is the main new addition, there’s many more reasons why they QC35 II are great. They’re oh so comfortable and last a really long time which is a good start. Then there’s the almost unrivalled noise cancelling combined with excellent sound quality.
What more could you want?
Read our Bose QC35 II review.
2. Bowers & Wilkins PX
Bowers & Wilkins has done an amazing job at its first pair of noise cancelling headphones. The design and slightly more complicated user experience means that Bose’s rival will be a better option for most people.
However, the PX are a top choice with better build quality and seriously good sound, incorporating some tech from the P9 Signature. Battery life is also good and we like the smart sensors, too.
As long as they’re not too bulky for you, we doubt you’ll be disappointed.
Read our Bowers & Wilkins PX review.
3. Sony WF-1000X
Sony has almost made the perfect pair of wireless earbuds with the WF-1000X. They’re certainly the best ones we’ve tested so far.
These truly wireless earphones are comfortable because they’re lightweight and small. Add in excellent sound quality and noise cancelling and we can hear you smashing that buy button.
Some drop outs and a slightly odd case design are small downsides and rivals like the Jabra Elite Sport are a better choice if you’re looking for a pair specifically for workouts and fitness.
Read our Sony WF-1000X review.
4. Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature
Bowers & Wilkins has made an outstanding pair of headphones in the P9 Signature.
They’re stunningly gorgeous and comfortable. Craftmanship is top-notch and the sound quality on offer is stunning – even running them from a smartphone.
The downside is the price and they’re not exactly that portable. If you’ve got the cash and don’t want to take them around much, then look no further.
Read our Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature review.
5. Denon AH-MM400
Denon’s AH-MM400 are a great pair of headphones with eye-catching walnut wooden design.
They’re not as portable as some rivals, but do fold up neatly. Sound quality might not be as good as some Denon sets, of course, but it’s still very good and most punters will enjoy the response.
They’re also available at a much lower price than the RRP so they’re a bit of a bargain.
Read our Denon AH-MM400 review.
Some of the claims made by Nura and its technology are a bit suspect (we’ve been left disappointed in the past by similar claims) but the Nuraphones offer astonishing personalised sound. You really need to hear it to believe it.
If you can get past the strange probe-like design, which a lot of people wont, then these headphone sound incredible. Partly due to the innovative dual-driver setup, which means unique sounding bass. Other benefits include aptX, good battery life and a number of options for connectivity.
The G2 software update now means they have noise cancelling and other improvements which makes them more attractive.
Read our Nuraphone review.
7. Bose QuietComfort 20
If you’re looking for in-ear headphones with noise cancelling, then the Bose QC20 are still a great choice.
They’re, beyond custom fit, the most comfortable in-ear headphones we’ve tested thanks to the excellent tips with fins. You can get better sound quality but the noise cancelling is excellent and includes a handy aware mode.
Read our Bose QuietComfort 20 review.
8. Rock Jaw Resonate IEM
If you want affordable in-ear headphones with decent build and sound quality then the Rock Jaw Resonate will suit.
We like the design including detachable cables and the way you can customise the sound with modular filters. There’s very little to dislike here.
Read our Rock Jaw Resonate IEM review.
9. KEF M500
The KEF M500 are excellent headphones with stylish and lightweight design that’s super comfortable thanks to the plush cushions that feel like clouds.
They also sound very good with a punchy, clear and balanced profile that suits a range of music. There’s little to dislike here.
Read our KEF M500 review.
10. Snugs Original S10
Snugs is a great choice for anyone who doesn’t typically get on with in-ear headphones. The company provides custom moulded tips via quick and easy scanning technology without breaking the bank.
Beyond comfort, the Snugs provide excellent noise isolation. The standard S10 drivers sound good but you might want to spend a small amount more to get the SoundMagic’s E10S.
You might also be able to get tips for your existing headphones.
Read our Snugs Original S10 review.
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