The best wired headphones produce a superior sound level to any wireless ones you can name – because no matter how cutting-edge the wireless tech involved, you're listening to compressed audio if you're not plugged in, losing some of the musical detail along the way.
True audiophiles are in no hurry to cut the cable between their headphones and their hi-fi system, which is where this list of the best wired headphones comes in. Put them on with a Hi-Res studio master or heavyweight vinyl on one of the best record players or use them with one of the best streaming DACs and the difference in sound is obvious.
From open backed headphones that deliver an incredible soundstage to closed back headphones that reduce leakage, visiting wired in-ear headphones along the way, we've covered a wide variety of models below. These are the best wired headphones you can buy in 2023.
Which is the best pair of wired headphones in 2023? The top 3
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.
The best wired headphones for most people are the Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X. The sound from these cans is simply superb, and we voted them our favourite pair of wired headphones in last year's T3 awards.
The best premium wired headphones are the Mark Levinson No. 5909. Sure, you're going to have to pay a premium fee to get hold of them, but you're definitely not going to be disappointed with the end results.
The best budget wired headphones are the Austrian Audio Hi-X15. You get a fantastic level of sound quality here, and a lot of bang for your buck, while spending less than you might expect on your purchase.
We've got some studio headphones right up at the top of the pile: the Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X headphones deliver fantastically precise sound for either listening to music or making, mixing or mastering, and that's one of the reasons why these cans managed to bag the T3 Awards 2022 gong for Best Wired Headphones.
Just be aware that these headphones will not be great with poorly recorded music, as their job is to be accurate, not flattering. They're not as harsh on bad recordings as some rivals (the high-end has been rolled off a little so they're not as sibilant and fizzy as a number of rivals), but they're designed for well-made music, which makes them absolutely sing. If that sounds like your music library, you'll love how it sounds on these headphones.
As we said in our full Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X review, these are superb-sounding headphones but they're not packed with whizzy features or clever connectivity: they're old school analogue 'phones designed to do one job and do it very well. They're very well made, delivering a very clear and convincing musical performance, and providing a wide and airy soundstage that makes them a great choice for indulgent home listening.
The big question around the Mark Levinson No. 5909 is whether or not they're worth the considerable price of entry – and we think that for a certain group of people, they will be. If you have the budget to be able to consider them, we don't think you'll be disappointed with what you get.
With a pair of 40mm beryllium-coated full-range dynamic drivers, you get a hugely impressive audio experience for your ears, and you can definitely tell the difference between these cans and competitors that cost half the price. You get a big, three-dimensional and utterly compelling soundstage, with a considerable amount of dynamic headroom, though the noise cancellation could use some work.
As far as the design and usability are concerned, these are difficult to fault, with everything slotted together with a great deal of care and precision. They're comfortable to wear for long periods of time, and they look brilliant too – though of course you're not going to notice that when they're on your head.
Fit the Austrian Audio Hi-X15 wired headphones on your head and you're getting detailed, unfussy and thoroughly engaging audio for your ears, and everything needs to be considered in terms of the price: these are very inexpensive headphones, which means you're getting a lot of bang for your buck.
While the design is a little bit more colourful than we would ideally like, the build quality is top notch, and they sit nice and comfortably on the head. We're fans of the way that the headphones fold in on themselves, making them easier to carry around with you, and at 255 grams they're lighter than a lot of their competitors which helps for long listening sessions.
From the convincing tonality to the extensive dynamic headroom, we're very pleased with how the Austrian Audio Hi-X15 sound. While a little more low-frequency punch, the consistency from the top of the frequency range to the bottom is well done, and the headphones can cope with all kinds of sounds with aplomb.
Open-backed headphones are glorious in the right situation, but not so much when there's lots of noise around you or sensitive ears not wishing to listen to your leakage. That's where a set of solid in-ear wired headphones will serve you well, a category which Meze's Rai Solo sits in very happily.
They're priced well, they're not too fancy, and their single-driver design sounds great. They're well tuned for dynamic range and a very balanced soundstage, managing some beefy bass, airy treble, and a mid-range which isn't squashed by either extreme.
In the Rai Solo you get a comfortable set of buds, with plenty of fittings to help them nestle neatly in any ear canal, and the over-the-ear cable design means they're not easily yanked out if you're using them on the move. It's not perfect, and glasses-wearers or those with unusual lugs may wish to opt for a different design, but if it works for you you'll be pleased.
For the price, we love these – they're a great match for a portable player, or for a mini portable DAC.
Though these are more expensive than a lot of people would consider spending on headphones, their price is a drop in ocean when it comes to real audiophile quality. And when you factor just how good they sound, suddenly they become a major bargain.
They're open-backed headphones, and they're among the leakiest we've tried, so they're very much no good with other people around, or for travelling. But in a quiet room, they sound as good as headphones that cost five times more. Their sound is natural but not flat, expansive but still focused, powerful but never overwhelming… the amount of detail they enable tracks to deliver is eye-opening.
The design is almost hilariously simple – the basic leather head band and milled aluminium earcups actually look pretty nice (and feel high quality) in their sparseness, and the basic-seeming foam earpads are apparently chosen for their low impact on the sound quality.
It doesn't matter that the design is Spartan when you're wearing them, though – you'll be totally engrossed in tracks from the first notes. These can be driven by phone or hi-fi (and the thick, high-quality cable comes with 3.5mm and 6.35mm connectors), so it's also easy to fire something up whether you're lying in bed or sitting by your amp. Due to the basic comforts and open-back design, these may not be for everyone, but we've never heard this level of audio opulence at this kind of brilliant price.
With the Audeze Euclid we have a fantastic pair of closed-back in-ear monitors, and assuming you've got a good audio source connected up to them, they're likely to blow you away in terms of their sound performance. They are on the expensive side, but we'd say they're absolutely worth it for audiophiles.
With some appropriately high-resolution audio content coming through, there's an awful lot to admire about these headphones: deep and substantial bass, quite remarkable amounts of detail, and midrange reproduction that's arguably the star of the whole show. From rhythmic expression to dynamic potency, we can't fault what the Audeze Euclid are capable of.
It's clear that these headphones have been designed to fit comfortably into as many differently sized ears as possible, and with a weight of 7.5 grams each they aren't going to weigh you down at all. There are three sizes of three different types of eartip included in the box, so you're well covered.
In our Rode NTH-100 review we concluded that they "tell a story in which a very reasonable sum buys you a pair of headphones that are a) deeply impressive in every sonic respect, and b) the opposite of modern. If you want to hear every nuance of your audio work without colour, they're pretty much faultless – perfect for pro work."
Not only that, the NTH-100 really don't cost that much. Not for headphones of this calibre anyway. Many others delivering this kind of sonic signature would set you back five or 10 times the asking price. That's testament to not only how good these over-ears are, but why they're probably the best affordable wired headphones you can buy.
With the Focal Bathys headphones we've got a pair of cans that look and sound fantastic – with the only caveat being that the active noise cancellation isn't quite as good as it could be. This is the first pair of headphones of this type that Focal has made, and it's off to a great start.
Okay, you're going to have to pay a considerable amount of money for them, but if you care about audio quality then you'll see it as a worthwhile investment. As usual, you're going to need to connect them up to a top-tier audio source to get the most out of them, but the Focal Bathys will deliver a big and spacious listen that brings with it considerable clarity and heft.
Even with complex recordings that feature numerous participants, the headphones handle everything superbly. Add in the appealing aesthetics that you've got here and we'd say they're absolutely some of the best around, even if they are a little heavier than some of their competitors.
The first thing that you notice about the Audio-Technica ATH-WP900 headphones are the wooden finish on the exterior, which at least makes them stand out from a lot of their competitors. However, there are plenty of other reasons to pick these headphones over any of the others on the market.
First and foremost, they create a fantastic level of audio quality, offering a consistent and impressive listen no matter what the type of audio source they're plugged into. The soundstage these headphones create is open, organised and properly defined, and details are high throughout. You never miss anything with these headphones, even the most transitory and fleeting sounds.
It's particularly in the midrange (where vocalists do their thing) that the Audio-Technica ATH-WP900 really shine: the more communicative your favourite singer, the better they'll sound through these cans. There are some weaknesses, but they're a fantastic pair of headphones overall.
Focal knows sound and it knows luxury. Thus these premium wired headphones have cemented themselves at the very pinnacle of the wired headphone world: they're absolutely spectacular in so many ways. They're sumptuously comfortable, featuring microfibre earpads and a soft, inviting headband. They pack a warm, rich sound which just envelops you. And while these aren't, by some measure, the most expensive headphone offerings from the Focal canon, there's no question that they have the hardware to match their price.
Focal's M-shaped magnesium drivers are very special indeed, the outer finish of the headphones is wonderful, and there's a pair of cables in the box - one for 3.5mm and 6.5mm jacks, and one for four-pin XLR. And the open-back sound? It's forensically detailed.
Of course, the sound is the key thing here, and they're just fantastic in that regard. In our full Focal Clear MG review, we said that: "From the inhalation of the singer to every vibration of a bass string, you're unquestionably getting the full picture of the music. When asked, the Clear MG has a deep and guttural well of bass power to draw on, but it's precisely controlled, and never overblown… unless the song asks it to be."
How to buy the best wired headphones
First up, it's worth bearing in mind that, other than for fashion reasons, there is no reason to buy the very latest, hot-off-the-presses wired headphones. Unlike Bluetooth and noise-cancelling headphones, where the tech is still improving all the time, older wired headphones are generally just fine. This is a very 'mature' market in every sense, and if a pair of great headphones was released five years ago, they're still great today. The bets wired headphones and earbuds tend to stick around.
The most important thing to consider with over-ear wired headphones is whether they're open backed or closed backed. Open backed headphones can sound better, but they also leak sound (both in and out) like nobody's business. As such, they probably aren't suitable for taking outside or using to listen to music while other members of your household watch TV in the same room.
Open headphones typically have a wider soundstage, giving the music room to breathe, which makes them exceptional for live recordings and classical concerts, where the scale of the performance can be appreciated.
Closed models generally have a more direct and intimate soundstage, and much less sound leakage. They're more suitable for use when travelling, and are better suited for listening while next to someone trying to sleep, for example, since they won't let sound wander out to the rest of world.
Depending on how you want to use your headphones, you should also keep an eye on the impedance, measure in ohms (Ω), which is a useful signifier of quality, especially if you're planning to use headphones with a dedicated amp. Below 32Ω you'll have no issues using a smartphone, but quality will suffer through electrical vibrations. Higher quality models – especially for home use with a headphone amp – have much higher impedance, but demand more power to drive them fully, which smartphones struggle to provide.
Buying in-ears is simpler than over-ears because you don't need to worry about impedance or closed-vs-open, but they have the fresh complication that you often can't try before you buy in shops. You know, people get a bit funny about you shoving their stock into your ears.
However, thanks to the magic of distance selling, you can send in-ears back to online retailers (within two weeks) if they turn out to sound bad, or not fit in your ear holes or even if you just decide you don't like them.
Most in-ears come with a plethora of different sized and shaped ear tips, to suit lugholes of all sizes and type. For excellent noise isolation and improved audio, without sacrificing comfort, I strongly recommend the earplug-like Comply eartips, which can be bought separately, if your earphones of choice don't come with them.
Comply tips are a little like ear plugs – you squash them down to fit in your ear, then they gently return to their original form. Available in a variety of sizes, from £15-£20 Complys aren't cheap, but they're worth the money especially for those of us with oddly-shaped aural apertures.
For both in-ear and over-ear headphones, you really do need to try them for comfort, especially if you're spending a lot, so definitely consider ordering more than one option to audition at home, so you can return the ones you decide don't work so well for you.
It's also worth bearing in mind that practically all of the best noise-cancelling headphones (opens in new tab) come with a headphone cable, for when the batteries run out, and so in effect are also wired headphones. These won't give you pure hi-fi audio in the same way (and none is open-backed, since the whole point is to cut out exterior sounds), but they're very versatile.