The best headphones: Jump Menu
00. The list in brief ↴
01. Best overall: Sony WH-1000XM5
02. Best premium: Bowers & Wilkins PX8
03. Best budget: Nothing Ear (2)
04. Best for sports: Beats Powerbeats Pro
05. Best for Apple users: Apple AirPods Pro 2
06. Best ANC earbuds: Bose QC Ultra Earbuds
07. Best Bose over-ears: Bose QC Ultra Headphones
08. Best for travel: Bose QuietComfort 45
09. Best luxury: Focal Bathys
10. Best audiophile earbuds: Sennheiser IE600
11. How we test the best headphones
12. How to choose the best for you
When it comes to the best headphones there are stacks of options. We've got other articles handling the best active noise-cancelling (ANC) headphones, the best in-ear ANC true wireless headphones, the best high-end wired-only headphones, even the best running headphones if you're looking for sports use. There are so many specifics, we ensure that every base is covered.
So what about this best-of list? This is T3's selection of selections, the very best-of-best headphones across a wide range of categories and user needs, handling budgets from small to large, including in-ear to over-ear products. There's something for everyone here.
Not everything in this list is the very latest release products, simply because some generation-old products are still superb but available for a smaller price and therefore well worthy of consideration.
I spend much of my life listening to music, so when it comes to testing the best headphones – for which T3 also utilises freelance experts in the field to conduct reviews – I've got stacks of audio experience under my belt (or over my ears?), having tested over-ear headphones for more than a decade.
T3's Top 3 headphones
Best overall headphones
The best headphones for most people are the Sony WH-1000XM5. Superb sound, superb ANC, superb finish. Just superb and a worthy investment that, while not budget, are worth every penny and a great upgrade over their XM4 predecessors too.
Best budget earphones
The best budget true wireless headphones are the Nothing Ear (2). Looking for in-ear tue wireless that won't break the bank? Start-up Nothing has been going from strength to strength and these are another award-winning pair worthy of consideration.
The best headphones we recommend in 2023
Why you can trust T3 Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.
With every iteration of the WH-series noise-cancelling (ANC) over-ear headphones, Sony has dramatically improved the listening experience. But with the XM5 cans everything’s been taken to a new aural level altogether.
The WH-1000XM5 deliver an expansive soundstage and the very best ANC that the company has ever produced. As we say in our review: “Sony has delivered a pair of headphones that can deal with virtually any external sound short of an HGV moving off from the lights.”
There’s no weird cabin pressure feeling that so often comes with bad ANC and the tech even learns your locations and adapts accordingly. The new design is beautifully minimalist and, as ever, the touch controls on the right earcup are intuitive.
There is now stiff competition, though, with the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones being a long-awaited release from Sony's key competitor in this market. They cost more but promise better noise-cancelling.
Read our Sony WH-1000XM5 review to find out more about why we think these are your perfect headphones
Coming in hot for the 'best headphones' crown in Bowers & Wilkins' top-tier over-ears, the PX8. Yes, they're pricey, but these are the Premier League of headphones. If you want luxe materials and finish and hours of comfortable wear, not to mention all the top-flight codec compatibility, then there's little else that can compare.
As said in our PX8 review: "If you’re prepared to spend big on a new pair of headphones, but want to hear as well as see and feel where all that money has gone, you need to check out these Bowers & Wilkins. [There's] a sufficient sonic upgrade to make the price difference between it and the PX7 S2 seem entirely reasonable."
Check out our full Bowers & Wilkins PX8 review to see if these premier headphones are worth the spend for your audio wants and needs...
The second-generation of Nothing's earbuds, the Ear (2), knocked the T3 team's socks off (well, ears off). Described in our review as "everything you need and nothing you don't", these affordable in-ears "build on the brand's position as a fashionable start-up offering a genuine knockout product. ANC earbuds don't come more complete than this, with excellent sound quality, a top-notch app interface and great battery life."
Indeed it's hard to find fault with these affordable ANC-ers, which is why they're so high up our list. Unless, of course, you don't particularly enjoy the transparent design and motifs. But in a sea of otherwise black and grey/creme finishes, the Ear (2) stand out – and for all the right reasons. They're a big upgrade over their predecessor, too, which were already stellar in-ears as it was.
Want to know more? Read our full Nothing Ear (2) review for the highs and lows of these affordable in-ear aces
Best for sports
If you’re looking for the best true wireless earbuds for the gym and don’t mind the expense, you’ve just found your essential workout kit. Whether you’re spinning, crunching, or boxing, the over-ear loop on the Powerbeats Pro means this excellent audio isn’t going anywhere. With powerful audio for those workout anthems and great passive noise-cancelling due to the snug fit, these gym buds are unrivalled.
This does in turn mean that the case will take up more space in your pocket but at least there’s plenty of battery life inside with a total of 24 hrs between charges. And, the benefits of Beats means that even if you’ve forgotten to charge them pre-gym, 15 minutes of charge will deliver hours of playback.
Read our Beats Powerbeats Pro review for more on your new best friends to take to the gym (who won’t criticise your squat technique)
Best for apple users
They’ve been out a few years now (and just re-released with new USB-C port for charging), but Apple’s noise-cancelling earbuds are still some of the best headphones for fruit-based devices.
Not only do they have handy automatic pairing and switching ideal for those embedded in the Apple ecosystem, but they’ve also got wireless charging functionality, as well as handy IPX4 water resistance so you can head to the gym and not have to worry.
The audio still impresses and a choice of silicone earbuds means you’ll get the kind of snug fit that AirPods have never previously offered with their one-size-fits-all approach. Solid noise-cancelling is an essential addition and while the battery life in each earbud might seem a little short compared to the competition, the form-factor is particularly sleek and light to make up for it.
Read our full Apple AirPods Pro 2 review for an in-depth breakdown of Apple’s ANC buds
Best anc earbuds
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds are, as their name suggests, the 'ultimate' noise-cancelling earbuds. They're pricier than many of their competitors, but if blocking out extraneous noise to the extreme is your goal then these are the in-ear market leaders.
As we say in our Bose QC Ultra Earbuds review: "if you're in the market for one of the best-sounding pairs of earbuds, these sit in scarce company. Complete with a top-notch app you'll even find exceptional noise cancelling properties and a listening experience which doesn't fatigue on long sessions."
Read our full Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds review for an in-depth breakdown about why these in-ears are so sublime
Best bose over-ears
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones are not only ultimate at audio, their active noise-cancelling is unrivalled – it's actually even more powerful than the Sony in the number one position in this guide. There's also a fantastic Immersive Audio (think spatial audio) feature to enhance sound.
The QC Ultra Headphones are versatile because they're exceptional for travel – the great carry case and folding design are testament to that – which makes these Bose over-ears ideal for those on the go, but also those who want to listen at home.
As we said in our Bose QC Ultra Headphones review: "All hail the noise-cancelling king! If you're looking for incredible travel headphones then you can do no better. However, the price is certainly high."
Read our Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones review to find out more about these premium headphones
Best for travel
Been on a flight recently? You’ve probably already seen at least one pair of Bose QC45 cans wandering around on someone's head. Despite Sony’s grasp on the ANC market, these Bose folding cans still have some of the very best noise cancelling available and are exceptionally comfortable for long-haul travel.
Add in ultra-reliable physical controls, great sound, a handy app for tweaking EQ, and an array of mics for excellent call quality and the QC45s are still a rock-solid wireless ANC headphone choice.
However, there are many similarities with the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones, which are a little more premium and a lot more expensive, so it'll come down to your budget and which fit and finish you prefer overall. The lines are more blurred across Bose's range now.
Read our Bose QuietComfort 45 review for our full thoughts on Bose’s headset
Among the pricier headphones on our best-of list, the Focal over-ear cans earn their worth by sounding superb. Compatible with all the high-end codecs you could need, it’s with a mixture of pleasure and relief we’re able to say the Bathys are definitely special.
However, as stated in our review: "the noise-cancelling doesn’t quite match the stellar nature of their audio performance, but unless you’re buying headphones less for their sound quality and more for their ability to shut out the outside world, then the Bathys turn out to justify their asking price... and then some."
Read our full Focal Bathys review to dive deeper into these high-end headphones
Best audiophile earbuds
If you’re an audio connoisseur, we don’t need to sell you on the unrivalled benefits of wired sound. The Sennheiser IE600s add a fresh twist of ingenuity with this unique 3D-printed in-ear design. The earbuds are printed using ZR01 amorphous zirconium for ultra durability that’s three times more resistant to bending than regular steel. That definitely means you’re OK taking these on your morning commute.
The single driver arrangement is pure joy for your ears, too, delivering ultra-detailed audio across a large soundstage. With a choice of three eartips for maximum comfort, if you’re an audiophile then you don’t miss your music through these.
Read our full Sennheiser IE600 review for a detailed breakdown of these audiophile in-ears
How we test
How we test headphones
At T3 how we test our headphones is beautifully simple. We listen to them. A lot. And not just sitting in the office or in a quiet room. Out in the street. On public transport. On planes. Out shopping. The only way to test active noise cancelling is to find as many things to cancel as possible to make sure we can still hear the Encanto soundtrack.
And speaking of soundtracks, we hit every genre of music to make sure we can hear the full breadth of what each pair of headphones can offer. Treble, bass, mid tones and EQ all come under an aural microscope to make sure we get the most accurate impression. This also helpfully means we can get through plenty of battery to test manufacturer promises when it comes to how much juice is lurking in carry cases. And we’ll always check fast charging too.
Finally we also understand that our busy lives mean music is only half of what we expect from our headphones. We spend plenty of time testing call quality, not just in terms of speaker clarity but also making sure that those on the other end can actually hear what we have to say. We test in both calm and windier conditions to make sure that mic quality will always stand up to everyday life.
How to choose
How to pick the best headphones for you
When it comes to picking the best headphones for you, the good news is that you don’t automatically always have to go for the most expensive option. First of all, it’s important to think about where you want to use your headphones. Are they for exercise? Wearing in the office? Or maybe to put the mute into your morning commute? Dreadful puns aside, if you do want the rest of the world to disappear, you definitely want to invest the extra in a pair of active noise-cancelling headphones, and if you’re a gym bunny you’ll really want something sweat proof.
Once you’ve worked out what you need, your next choice is what style of headphone you want. And truthfully it’s all about comfort and subjectivity. Maybe you want the subtlety of a pair of true wireless in ear buds or maybe you want the world to know you are actively listening to music. We’ve given you the best headphone for all budgets, all you need to do is choose what’s right for you.