Headphones

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We’ll find the best headphones for you.

Our most recent test of headphones found some excellent pairs – and some terrible pairs. However, there are lots of differences between the top models, so which ones will suit you best?

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Headphone styles

Headphones come in 3 types: in-ear, on-ear and over-ear.

  • In-ear headphones, also called earbuds, are plugged into your ear.

  • On-ear headphones have flat pads on the earpieces and sit on your ears.

  • Over-ear headphones are very large and the pad on the earpiece sits against your head with your ear in a hollow in the middle; they are also known as “around-ear” headphones.

Which type you choose comes down to your own personal preference and how you intend to use them.

Features to consider

In addition to comfort, style and sound quality, there are some extra headphone features you might want to consider.

  • Volume control: A volume control, preferably on the cable, can come in handy - although if you're listening to music on an MP3 player you can usually alter its volume without too much trouble.
  • Noise cancelling on/off control: If you have noise cancelling headphones and the batteries go flat you can still use the headphones to listen to music without the noise-cancelling function.
  • Detachable cable: If you just want a quiet environment to listen to nothing at all, you don't need the headphones plugged into your music. A detachable cable keeps it out of your way.
  • Carry case: A good hard case protects your headphones, keeps extra attachments in order and is particularly useful when travelling. A soft pouch can be easier to pack but doesn't give as much protection.
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Noise cancelling

Passive noise cancelling is simply using the physical effect of having headphones on your ears to stop sound getting in.

Active noise cancelling is a lot more complex. Sound coming in is picked up by a small microphone and analysed, with the noise-cancelling system then playing you the opposite sound. The overall effect sounds like white noise.

First Look reviews

As well as the headphones we’ve tested, we’ve had a quick trial of these models.

Bose is a Top Brand

The Top Brand award recognises brands that perform consistently well across product testing, reliability and customer satisfaction.

We have awarded the Top Brand award to Bose for sound bars, home theatre systems, wireless speakers and headphones. Bose sound products tested very well and returned exceptional owner satisfaction.

Reliability

Bose headphones had above-average reliability, while their owners were the most satisfied: 92% said they were very satisfied and 91% would buy the brand again.

  • Above-average: Logitech/UE, Panasonic, Bose, Sony
  • Average: Sennheiser, Plantronics, Philips, Audio Technica, Beats By Dr Dre
  • Below-average: Skullcandy, Jabra

Total number surveyed: 1425

Sony headphones also had above-average reliability. However, fewer Sony owners were very satisfied (62%). Fewer were also very likely to purchase the brand again (65%).

For more on headphones reliability, see our survey.

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Headphones for mobiles

Many headphones are designed to work with mobile phones, meaning the controls built into the cable or earpiece can control your phone’s music player. Some can answer calls and, if the cable has a microphone, can also work like a hands-free kit.

Before you buy a pair, we recommend you check to see if they are compatible with your phone. This is because some controls may not work fully with all phones. For example, you may be able to play/pause but not skip tracks.

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