Best headphones 2024: the perfect over-ear, on-ear and in-ear headphones

T3's expert guide to the best headphones available 2024, from affordable to luxury, but all excellent options

The best headphones 2024: Summary

Sony WH-1000XM5 review

(Image credit: Sony)

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 noise-cancelling buds: 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 buds: 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.

T3 Top 3 headphones

The best headphones we recommend in 2024

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.

Best overall

Sony WH-1000XM5 sat on grassT3 Awards 2022 Highly Commended logo

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)
The best headphones for most people

Specifications

Battery life: 30hrs with ANC (40hrs without)
Wired option: Yes
aptX: No
AAC: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Sony’s best noise-cancelling
+
Expansive audio
+
Great controls

Reasons to avoid

-
Some may prefer the Bose QC Ultra
-
Don't totally fold like some competitors

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 

Best premium

Bowers & Wilkins PX8 headphonesT3 Awards 2023 Logo

(Image credit: Future / Mike Lowe)
The best budget true wireless headphones

Specifications

Battery life: 30hrs
aptX: Yes (aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive)
AAC & SBC: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Energetic, poised and thoroughly convincing sound
+
Great standard of build and finish
+
Effective noise-cancellation

Reasons to avoid

-
Could be PX7 S2 at a glance
-
No touch controls

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...

Best budget

The Nothing Ear (2) in white finish, on a black backgroundT3 Awards 2023 Logo

(Image credit: Future / Sam Cross)
The best budget noise-cancelling earbuds

Specifications

Weight: 60.9g (case & buds)
ANC listening time per charge: 4hrs
Total ANC listening time with case: 22.5hrs

Reasons to buy

+
Great battery life
+
Clear mic quality

Reasons to avoid

-
Slightly bass heavy
-
No voice assistant support

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

Beats Powerbeats Pro running headphones detail shotT3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Matt Kollat/T3)
The best fitness headphones for working out

Specifications

Battery life: 9hrs in buds + 15hrs in case
aptX: No
AAC: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Snug fit
+
Brilliant sound

Reasons to avoid

-
Might be bassy for some 

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

Apple AirPods Pro 2 reviewT3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Future)
The best headphones for Apple users

Specifications

Battery life: 5.5 hours, 30 hours with case
aptX: No
AAC: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Great ANC
+
Automatic pairing with Apple devices
+
Extra silicone earbuds

Reasons to avoid

-
Battery life is fine

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 in whiteT3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Future / Emily Pursel)
Best noise-cancelling earbuds

Specifications

Weight : 7.7g per earbud
ANC listening time per charge: 6hrs
Total ANC listening time with case: 24hrs

Reasons to buy

+
Top notch sound
+
Incredible comfort
+
Unrivalled noise cancellation

Reasons to avoid

-
Case is larger than some
-
Pricier than most

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

Bose QuietComfort Ultra HeadphonesT3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Future / Mike Lowe)
The best noise-cancelling headphones from Bose

Specifications

Battery life: 24 hours
Type : Over-ear
Weight: 250g

Reasons to buy

+
Active noise-cancelling that's unbeatable
+
Super audio quality and 3D effect

Reasons to avoid

-
Don't fold, so not perfect for travel
-
Some will prefer the Sony XM5 sound

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

Bose QuietComfort 45 reviewT3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Future)
The best travel headphones

Specifications

Battery life: 24 hrs with ANC
Wired option: Yes
aptX: No
AAC: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Impressive noise-cancelling
+
Light and comfortable
+
Manual EQ settings 

Reasons to avoid

-
Can’t fully turn off ANC

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  

Best luxury

Focal Bathys reviewT3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Future)
The best luxury headphones

Specifications

Battery life : 30hrs with ANC
Wired option: Yes, 3.5mm
aptX: Yes (aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive)
AAC & SBC: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Clarity, spaciousness and scale of sound
+
Good looks and great standard of build
+
Can be used as a desktop DAC

Reasons to avoid

-
Physical controls don’t feel special
-
ANC performance doesn’t match sound quality
-
Pricey

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

Sennheiser IE600T3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Sennheiser)
The best audiophile in-ear headphones

Specifications

Connectivity: Wired

Reasons to buy

+
Brilliantly articulate sound
+
Incredible build quality

Reasons to avoid

-
Undeniably expensive 

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.

Mike Lowe
Tech Editor

Mike is the Tech Editor and AV Editor at T3.com. He's been writing about consumer technology for 15 and, as a phones expert, has seen hundreds of handsets over the years – swathes of Android devices, a smattering of iPhones, and a batch of Windows Phone products (remember those?). But that's not all, as a tech aficionado his beat for T3 also covers tablets, laptops, gaming, home cinema, TVs, speakers and more – there's barely a stone unturned that he's not had a hand on. Previously the Reviews Editor at Pocket-lint for a 10 years, he's also provided work for publications such as Wired, The Guardian, Metro, and more. In addition to his tech knowledge, Mike is also a flights and travel expert, having travelled the globe extensively. You'll likely find him setting up a new mobile phone, critiquing the next MacBook, all while planning his next getaway... or cycling somewhere.

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