How to pick the best headphones for you

Allen Foster

With so many options on the market, it's not always easy to pick the right pair of headphones for your specific needs.

The right set of headphones is not universal. This depends heavily on the context they'll be used in and your personal listening preferences.

If you're playing video games and you want to be totally immersed in a 360-degree soundscape while hunting down zombies, that would require a different set of headphones than the person who is jogging through the city and needs to be aware of the sounds of their environment to stay safe.

There are headphones for everything: for gaming, for exercise, travel, the office, commuting, et cetera, et cetera.

Following is a guide to choosing the perfect set of headphones for any needs in any budget.


Best for the fitness fanatic

Top pick: Apple AirPods Pro ($249.99) 

Besides being sweat-resistant -- a much-needed feature for grueling workouts -- these high-quality, wireless earbuds have three sizes of tapered silicone tips to allow for a customizable fit. More importantly, the transparency mode allows you to be fully aware of the world around you, which can help keep you safe while running outdoors.

Affordable pick: Anker Soundcore Life P2 True Wireless Earbuds ($59.99)

These more affordable sports earbuds offer high-quality sound and 40 hours of playtime when used with the charging case, along with four integrated microphones (two on each earbud) for crystal-clear call quality. The best part is that these earbuds automatically connect with the last paired device as soon as you take them out of the case.

These also work for: Frequent flyers who don't watch in-flight entertainment, commuters, stay-at-home wearers, gamers


Best for the frequent flyer

Top pick: Sony Noise Cancelling Over-Ear Headphones ($348)

These high-end Sony headphones can be used as either wireless or wired, making them perfect for watching those in-flight movies. The over-ear design plus the digital noise-canceling technology is highly effective at blocking out all extraneous noise to create an isolated listening environment. The headphones also feature quick touch controls to allow adjustments such as muting and track change with just a tap. 

Affordable pick: Audio-Technica ATH-M20x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones ($49)

These wired headphones from Audio-Technica are designed for studio use with enhanced audio and sound isolation, which makes them great for overcoming the noise of planes, too. They're designed specifically for long sessions of wear, so they're comfortable no matter the duration of your travels.

These also work for: Commuters, gamers, stay-at-home-wearers


Best for the bus commuter

Top pick: Bose SoundSport Wireless Earbuds ($199)

Everything that makes these wireless earbuds great for working out also makes them the ideal choice for bus commuters. These small, nearly unnoticeable devices do not take up much space, they can be worn beneath a hat, and they allow for freedom of movement. They are weather-resistant and deliver up to five hours of battery life per charge -- up to 10 hours longer if you use the included charging case.

Affordable pick: Skullcandy Sesh True Wireless In-Ear Earbud ($58.99)

If you'd like a pair of affordable and unobtrusive earbuds that are designed specifically with the commuter in mind, Skullcandy's Bluetooth in-ear earbuds would be your best option. They offer a comfortable secure fit, impressive 10-hour battery life, an included charging case, and they're sweat-, water-, and dust-resistant.

These also work for: Fitness fanatics, frequent flyers who don't watch in-flight entertainment, stay-at-home wearers


Best for the person who wants to wear them to work

Top pick: Bose QuietControl 30 Wireless Headphones ($299) 

These comfortable Bose wireless headphones feature a 10-meter wireless range and a 10-hour battery so you can use them for the entire workday without the need to recharge. The noise rejecting dual microphone system lets you deliver clearer calls when you need to sound professional. Additionally, the noise canceling feature allows you to listen without distractions if you work in a noisy office environment.

Affordable pick: Sony Wi-Xb400 Wireless In-Ear Extra Bass Headphones ($38)

Sony markets this affordable model markets for its impressive bass, but we've found that they're also great at work because of their 15-hour battery life that lasts well through a day of work plus the morning and evening commute. Hands-free calling is easy, and they'll hang securely and comfortably around your neck if you need to confer with a deskmate or head into a meeting.

These also work for: Frequent flyers who don't watch in-flight entertainment, commuters, stay-at-home wearers who telecommute to work


Best for the gamers

Top pick: Sennheiser GAME ONE Gaming Headset ($129.99) 

The plush velvet ear pads on this wired gaming headset offer hours of comfort. The noise-canceling technology allows you to engage in crisp communication with other players while the microphone can be easily muted with just a quick flipping motion. This headset is compatible with your PC, Mac, Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and smartphone.

Cheap pick: Logitech G Gaming Headset with Mic ($47.88) 

Available at about a third of the price of comparable gaming headsets, Logitech's over-ear surround sound technology allows you to experience audio in a fully immersive 360-degree world, which means you can hear things that aren't currently in your visual field. The attached noise-canceling boom mic offers crisp communication and the lightweight design helps increase comfort so you can enjoy extended hours of play.

These also work for: Stay-at-home-wearers


Best for the stay-at-home wearers

Top pick: Sony Noise Canceling Wireless Earbuds with Alexa Voice Control ($228) 

If you're wearing your earbuds around the home, one of the features you'll want is access to Alexa (or another digital virtual assistant). Sony offers that, plus high-quality audio with noise-canceling technology and a battery that can last up to 24 hours (with the included carrying case).

Cheap pick: Amazon Echo Buds with Alexa ($129.99) 

Although Amazon Echo Buds aren't "cheap," they are about $100 cheaper than our higher-end pick. These comfortable Echo Buds feature Bose Active Noise Reduction Technology along with an innovative design that limits background noise. While wearing these earbuds, you can have access to Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant to allow hands-free communication with other similarly enabled devices in your home network.

These also work for: Fitness fanatics, people who listen to music at work, commuters

Allen Foster is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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