Headphones have come a long way since those foam-eared efforts that came bundled with the Sony Walkman back in the day. Tinny-sounding and flimsy, they were fine for listening to your cassette collection on the move, but no way could you ever call them great. Thankfully, we've never had it so good when it comes to choosing the best headphones for music.
From noise cancelling headphones and wireless devices, to comfortable earbuds and chunky headphones for kicking back on the sofa with – there's such a huge variety out there from the likes of Sony, Apple, Sennheiser, Cambridge Audio, Bose and more. As you would expect, prices vary dramatically – and while you can find some excellent budget headphones, many cheap headphones simply aren't worth the trouble, so it's worth spending a bit of time to see what's out there.
I've picked out a selection of my favourite headphones and also included buying advice to give you the knowledge you need before making a purchase. What’s more, Louder's smart price widgets have found the best prices for our top picks online right now.
Best headphones for music: The Louder Choice
Given the amount of different styles of headphones available, you might be surprised that both of our strongest recommendations for the best headphones for music are over-ear style and use Bluetooth rather than a cable.
What’s my reasoning? Well, some people find headphones of the in-ear variety a little bit uncomfortable and don't like wires – that's why there's been such a big rise in wireless headphones, particularly as so many phones now do without a headphone socket altogether.
The first of my recommendations is the Sony WH-1000XM5 wireless Bluetooth headphones - the latest in Sony's ever-growing range of over-ears. These offer a top quality audio experience with outstanding noise cancelling tech thrown into the bargain.
Next we have the brilliant Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 - a step up from the popular PX7. Not only do these over-ear headphones look and feel premium, but the noise cancelling an audio delivery are top notch.
Best headphones for music: Product guide
Sony’s latest entry into the over-ear headphones market are the awesome WH-1000XM5 and are my top pick in this guide to the best headphones for music. I reckon the new V1 integrated processor has lifted the quality of noise cancelling above even the Sony WH-1000XM4, which already offered brilliant noise cancelling. And when it comes to audio delivery, the Sony WH-1000XM5 are hard to beat.
Music is crisp and clear and can be tweaked on the fly through Sony’s Headphones Connect app to suit whatever you're listening to – and from here you can also update the firmware. Like previous models, the Sony WH-1000XM5 feature Adaptive Sound Control which adjusts audio levels based on places you visit regularly, which is a nice touch.
When it comes to battery life, a full charge will give you 30-hours of music, while a quick 3-minute charge will pump out an impressive three hours of sounds - which is perfect if you’re running late and forgot to charge the headphones overnight or over breakfast.
The only gripe here is a personal one - and that’s the fact the Sony WH-1000XM5 don’t fold like the Sony WH-1000XM4, so the backpack-style case (while pretty cool looking) is going to take up more space in your bag. It's a minor niggle, but one worth pointing out.
Read our Sony WH-1000XM5 review
For a long time, the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 headphones were, in my opinion, the go-to choice from the British audio specialists. But things never stay the same for long, and with the PX7 S2, I think these headphones are the perfect middle ground between the old model and the shiny, but expensive, PX8 B&W headphones.
Audio, as you’d expect from Bowers & Wilkins is beautifully balanced - not too heavy on bass or treble. Of course, if you want a bit of a push one way or the other, then the neat Bowers & Wilkins Music App will allow you to properly dig into your audio preferences. And with angled 40mm drive units in each ear, you can certainly do just that.
The PX7 S2 have a premium feel and are comfortable to wear for expended periods thanks to their memory foam pads, while the noise cancelling on offer is on point and up there with the best around. Highly recommended.
Read our Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 review
I've been a fan of the wired AKG Y50s since they were first introduced back in 2014, but there was no guarantee that a wireless pair would be as good (losing the wires often reduces audio quality).
Thankfully the Y50BTs sound just as good as the wired Y50s, which means they’re punchy, dynamic, detailed and downright fun to listen to. From grunge to glam, whatever you chuck at them sounds authentic and exciting just as it should.
Add a lightweight and very portable design, good looks and excellent comfort, and you’ve got a killer pair of headphones for the money.
Read our AKG Y50BT review
The first pair of in-ear headphones in my list are the excellent Sony WF-1000XM4. I bought a pair in 2021 not long after they launched and they’ve become my go-to headphones when I’m out and about thanks to their detailed sound and excellent noise cancelling.
They replaced the Sony WF-1000XM3 in Sony’s lineup and while those are still a solid set to pick up, the 1000XM4 just pip them to the post. They offer clear, balanced sound - which can be adjusted using Sony’s app - and have somehow managed to bring details I’ve missed in in past listenings with other headphones.
They offer eight-hours of playback with noise cancelling activated from a full charge (and 12 in ambient mode), while a swift five minute blast will give you an hour of music. The only minor grumble I have is they’re not the most comfortable things to wear for long listening sessions, so for a long haul flight, there are better fits available.
Read the Sony 1000XM4 review
While Apple’s entry into the headphone market was an immediate success thanks to the Apple AirPods and Apple AirPods Pro, many music fans were slightly disappointed that the only choice was an in-ear option rather than something larger.
This was addressed with the launch of the Apple AirPods Max – an on-ear set of wireless headphones which, let’s face it, look the business thanks to Apple’s impeccable design. Thankfully, they also sound fantastic – and so they should with the hefty price tag they carry.
The Apple AirPods Max have Active Noise Cancellation which is superb and really lets the music shine through – especially when paired with Apple Music and its lossless/spacial audio features. And rather than going completely touch-free, Apple have included a digital crown similar to that found on the Apple Watch. This controls volume, playback, pause and skip functions.
Built quality is fantastic although with so much metal on the outer shell, they’re not the lightest headphones in the world. That said, they are comfortable to wear for long stretches thanks to the mesh headband support and soft ear cups – which can be replaced.
It should be noted, however, that while you’re paying a premium for the Apple AirPods Max, you won’t get a wall charger included – although when revved up with a lightning connector, you will get 20-hours of playback.
The Apple AirPods Max also come in a choice of five colours: Space Gray, Silver, Blue, Green and Pink – and we think all the variations look superb, although the Silver and Blue options are our favourites.
Read our Apple Airpods Max review
Ok so they cost serious money, but that buys you some serious smarts and audio firepower. The Momentum 3 Wireless headphones boast three active noise cancelling modes for different environments, including a transparent mode which lets more of the outside world in, plus Sennheiser Smart control for deeper control of your audio and other features via your phone.
If, like me, you can while away hours listening to your favourite albums, you’ll appreciate the added comfort afforded by the leather head strap and lush padded earcups. There’s Alexa, Siri and Google Voice integration too, so the only reason you’ll ever need to remove them is to charge them.
This is all before you get to the sound, which is full-bodied, well-balanced and hits all the right notes, whether you’re listening to Neil Young or Napalm Death. If you have the budget, and you’re looking for a capable pair of headphones for music, these are worth a shout.
Read our Sennheiser Momentum 3 review
German audio experts Beyerdynamic continue to make a name for themselves thanks to their excellent range of wired and wireless headphones and microphones.
I'm focusing on the chunky Beyerdynamic Amiron wired variety, which are a superb set of headphones which are ideally suited for those who like to kick back on the couch and tune into some sweet sounds.
Despite their robust look, the over-ear, open-back Beyerdynamic Amiron headphones are incredibly comfortable to wear even during extended listening sessions thanks to the snug headband and soft ear cups.
And it’s pretty likely that you’ll want to keep them on because the audio is crisp and sharp, with great balance and punchy bass. Nothing is off-kilter even at louder listening levels and is ideally suited to home use.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the Beyerdynamic Amiron if you’re looking for a set of headphones for use on the morning commute as the open-back design leads to sound leaks, but these are a solid set of cans.
Read the full Beyerdynamic Amiron review
The Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus are a fantastic challenger to Apple's celebrated AirPods and offer comfort and quality audio for a ridiculously low price.
While a single battery charge will see you through nine hours of your favourite sounds (that's approximately six prog tracks, right?) that time will fly by thanks to the Melomania 1 Plus' comfort levels.
That's because to ensure a perfect fit, Cambridge Audio have packed in a range of silicone tips in a number of shapes and sizes, to ensure they'll fit anyone with a fine ear for music. It's also worth pointing out that your battery life can be boosted by 36 hours with the also included charging case.
OK, so the Melomania 1 Plus don't have noise cancelling, but it's no biggie if you ask me – especially at their retail price, which is – let's face it – an absolute steal.
Read our Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus review
Not only do the Bose’s Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 offer 11 preset levels of noise cancellation, the headphones also boast a proprietary TriPort structure that delivers active noise reduction which actually has a positive impact on the sound quality. Talking of which, our listening experience was one of stunning clarity and directness.
Other tech triumphs include a fantastic four-microphone system for taking and receiving calls, or talking to Amazon Alexa/Google Assistant, with superb clarity, while the headphones’ angled ear cups are designed for optimum comfort.
If you want the same audio experience but aren’t so fussed about such high levels of noise cancelling, the Bose Quiet Comfort 35 II model sounds just as good for a little less.
Read our Bose noise cancelling headphones 700 review
If you’re looking for something discrete and stylish, the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 earbuds are the way to go.
Audio fans will enjoy the lush mid-range detail, propelled by a pair of 7mm dynamic drivers, which breathe new life into classic albums, while adding extra wallop to new music. Bass can be a little over-zealous at times, but the mids and highs are compelling enough to balance out any minor gripes at the low-end.
For the money you also get active noise cancelling, which is decent but not market-leading, voice control and touch controls on the buds themselves.
Read the full Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review
When budget is tight, it’s easy to assume you won’t be able to get anywhere near the quality and features of the big names like Bose and Sony, but JBL is here to prove that theory wrong.
The JBL Tune 750BTNC headphones deliver impressive active noise cancelling and hands-free functionality for the price, but it’s the audio quality I'm most interested in here. Thankfully, that’s where JBL has invested most of its resources. There’s plenty of bass, but it’s not overwhelming and is balanced out by stunning clarity and openness at the mid to upper ranges.
For a pair of throw-and-go wireless headphones with audio to write home about, you can’t go far wrong.
If a pair of headphones is good enough for Megadeth, it’s got to be good, right? Not that Dave Mustaine’s crew are the only musicians to use Shure headphones – it seems that practically every band in existence uses the company’s in-ear monitors when on stage.
There are two big reasons Shure’s earphones are so prevalent: they’re supremely tough and durable and they sound really neutral and authentic.
The SE425s are the highlight of the range, offering a supreme sound that, while a bit bass-light, is brilliantly detailed and textured through the midrange. There are no frills here - no mic, no controls, certainly no Bluetooth - but that’s because they’re serious, pro monitors, and all the better for it.
Read the full Shure SE425 Wired earbuds review
Best headphones for music: Buying advice
There’s a bundle of decisions to be made when choosing the best headphones for music. The right approach is to think about when and where you’re going to be doing most of your listening and what specific requirements you have. Let’s dig a little deeper.
What makes the best headphones for music?
Comfort and fit matter a huge amount when it comes to musical enjoyment. Our ears are all different, and failing to ensure that your chosen headphones fit correctly can take you out of the moment. You can always try before you buy, but it should also be possible to return a purchased pair if you don’t feel you’re getting the fit or experience that you should.
If you’re looking at wired headphones, make sure the cable is the right length for your intended use. Short lengths are best when out and about as they resist tangling, while long lengths are best when at home so that you can listen from the other side of the room to your hi-fi.
How much should I spend on headphones?
When it comes to audiophile headphones, there’s no limit to how much you can spend on cans. A pair of Focal Stellia headphones will set you back $2,990/£2,800! As a rule of thumb, we would suggest you budget at least $350/£250. This will get you a pair of audiophile grade wired Meze Audio 99 Classics, or Technics wireless Technics EAH-F70N. Build quality and exotic wooden finishes start to come into play at around $600/£450 upwards.
Do I need noise cancelling?
Noise-cancelling headphones have obvious appeal for music fans. They not only block out the hubbub around you, but focus your mind more on your tunes. Looking for some Meshuggah-shaped motivation for your next run? You’ll be sure to find some fitness-specific true wireless earbuds with your name on.
Are different headphones better for certain genres?
Prog, metal, punk, classic rock, alt, jazz – all genres are produced by artists and engineers to be heard the best way possible. So open-backed headphones, or over-ears are going to deliver a more convincing, larger audio experience than in-ear buds.
If you do all of your listening at home and value outright sound quality, classic wired, open-backed on-ears are best. They will give you a sound to rival high quality loudspeakers.
Open-backed headphones create a spatial image that sounds like it’s coming from a distance, rather than the ear cup bolted to your head. The very best of these, often using fancy electrostatic designs, are sometimes described by audiophiles as earspeakers, for that very reason.
Open-backed designs also combat the sense of boxy stereo that you can sometimes experience with closed back headphones. When we listen to music live, or from stereo speakers, you’ll inevitably hear some of the right-placed sound in your left ear, and vice versa. Your brain then deduces where the music is in physical space, and creates a soundstage that sounds entirely natural. Your brain will in all probability also tell you to turn up the volume, wander closer to the Marshall speaker stack, or send an alert if you’re not carrying a beer.
In a closed speaker design, and particularly with earbuds, this doesn’t happen. What’s coming out of the left hand earbud goes into your left ear, and isn’t heard by your right. This can create a centralised sonic image, which doesn’t feel entirely natural.
But then, open-backed headphones are rubbish for commuting.
Does Bluetooth affect high quality music listening?
AptX Bluetooth HD is specifically for audio and indicates that sound quality has been prioritised. Also consider the battery life being offered, and which version of Bluetooth is being used. The later the version (ideally for v5.0 or higher), the more battery-friendly and potentially better sounding it will be.
What type of audio quality will headphones give?
If you’re buying headphones primarily for the best musical experience (and there are lots of other perfectly legitimate reasons to buy, including practicality and functionality) then you’ll want cans able to deliver smooth tonality and excellent detail. Look for Hi-Res Audio compatibility, and ideally best-in-class drivers.
Obviously, it’s difficult to assess how accurate headphones are when it comes to their performance, because you’ll not have been in the studio listening to the final cuts of your favourite tracks, but both these elements will confirm their musicality.
If you’re really serious about Hi-Fi, be prepared to upgrade your music system. To hear headphones at their most musical, you’ll want to couple them with a dedicated headphone amp which has the power to better drive your headphones.
How we test the best headphones for music
You can trust Louder Our experienced team has worked for some of the biggest brands in music. From testing headphones to reviewing albums, our experts aim to create reviews you can trust. Find out more about how we review.
When it comes to sheer musicality, headphones need to exhibit clarity and convey emotion, and we listen out for both when testing. Can we feel the grit in AC/DC vocalist Brian Johnson in For Those About To Rock or clinically dissect Eddie Van Halen’s epic guitar solo on Eruption? The closer the headphones get us to the artist, the more likely we are to raise our thumbs and throw some horns.
We know from experience that getting bass right is also tricky. All too often low frequencies can sound overblown and baggy (some brands even make a virtue of this). Good bass, particularly with metal and prog, should sound tight and clean. The quality and size of drivers is key here. We run through a number of playlists, covering everything from Rush to Rammstein.
We also test for comfort. How tightly do headphones clamp, how much padding is in the headband? The ear cups, be they on- or over-ears, should isolate your tunes from background hubbub without getting overly warm.
Often, audiophile headphones are wired, so battery life and Active Noise Cancelling are not an issue, but performance-led Bluetooth headphones are always judged on their overall battery stamina and codec support.
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