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Best Headphones for Every Activity

Consumer Reports logo Consumer Reports 5 days ago Thomas Germain
© Provided by Consumers Union of United States, Inc.

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Headphone style is a personal choice. A bulky over-ear model might have the hyper-accurate sound audiophiles crave, but it probably doesn’t make sense for the podcast fan who just wants light, convenient earbuds for the morning commute. And neither option will likely appeal to someone who needs a pair to wear on a trail run.

No matter how you plan to use your next pair, it should produce great audio. But even if you know what features you’re looking for, there are hundreds of models to choose from. Consumer Reports can help find the right one for you. Below, we've separated headphones into a few broad categories and singled out some of the best-sounding models in our tests. 

Every year we test more than 40 pairs of headphones and earphones. We’re sticklers for audio quality, but we also rate every model for comfort, ease of use, and features like noise-canceling. Consumer Reports buys every product we test at retail, so every model is no different from the ones you might pick up at the store.

The very best headphones are on the pricier side, but if you’re looking for a bargain you can also check out great headphones for shoppers on a budget.

Truly Outstanding True Wireless

The Samsung Galaxy Buds are one of the best-scoring portable Bluetooth headphones Consumer Reports has ever tested. That's all the more impressive given their "true wireless" design, which means the model doesn't have a cord connecting the left earbud to the right.

The Galaxy Buds produce exemplary audio quality packed into a pair of unobtrusive earpieces, complete with easy-to use touch controls for playback, volume, and skipping tracks. According to Samsung, they have a 6-hour battery life and come with a powered carrying case that will recharge the earphones for up to 7 additional hours of playback on the go. The case itself can be charged with a wireless charging mat, and it's particularly small compared with the cases that come with many true wireless models.

Those perks combined with a price tag under $150 make the Samsung Galaxy Buds one of the best true wireless earphones on the market.

High-Performance Bluetooth

These days, Marshall puts out more than iconic British guitar amps. The company makes some impressive headphones as well, and chief among them is the Marshall Monitor Bluetooth. They sound great, but what really sets them apart is the price.

They're among the best-performing wireless home/studio-style headphones in our tests, and you can often find them for well under $200, less than half of what you'd pay for some comparable models. If you want over-ear headphones with the convenience of Bluetooth, this pair is a steal.

The Monitor Bluetooth comes with a detachable audio cable, so you can use the headphones without draining the rechargeable battery, and the ear cups fold in for easy storage and travel.

Uncompromising Audiophile Listening

If you won't settle for anything but the best in audio quality, the Grado Prestige SR325e should hold your attention. It's not only Grado’s flagship model but also a sound-quality champ, according to our testers.

The Grado looks good, too. With the powder-coated aluminum housing and leather headband, these headphones are the perfect choice for the audiophile who appreciates a retro aesthetic.

You probably won’t be showing them off in public, though. The open-back ear cups—an intentional design choice meant to add clarity to the sound—aren't intended to block sound from bleeding in or out, so they may not be suited for noisy environments or when you don't want to bother a neighbor. The SR325e are best for the listener who wants to plunk down in a dimly lit room and bask in the glory of hi-fidelity sound.

Portable Hi-Fidelity

The 1MORE E1001 Triple Driver can often be found for well under $100. You won't find many competitors that deliver such impressive audio in this price range. 

These headphones have a sleek design and come with extras including a removable shirt clip, a carrying case, and nine sets of earpieces of varying shapes and sizes to help you find a good fit. The integrated microphone, call/connect, playback, and volume controls will play nicely with your iPhone, but you may want to check compatibility with other smartphone models.  

The isolating design also muffles ambient noise and blocks some sound from bleeding out and bothering your neighbors.

Premium Noise Canceling

The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are the long-awaited successors to the company's flagship QuietComfort 35 series. Both deliver superb sound quality and noise-canceling. In fact, the 700's performance is nearly identical to its predecessor's, but there are a few elements that may justify the extra money you'll pay for the latest model.  

The Bose 700 has a much slimmer profile when you fold it up for storage or transport, and it has a few updated elements, including more integration with digital assistants and integrated touch controls and sensors for Bose's "augmented reality" apps.

It still has many of the best-loved features from Bose's older models as well, such as adjustable levels of noise cancellation and a monitoring mode to let in sound from your environment. According to Bose, call quality is improved as well, though CR doesn't test call quality in headphones.

With all that in mind, the older QuietComfort 35 Series II are great headphones, and they're still widely available. If you don't mind forgoing the latest features, you can pick them up for significantly less money.

Inside CR's Anechoic Chamber

On the 'Consumer 101' TV show, host Jack Rico and a high school marching band puts Consumer Reports’ anechoic chamber to the test to find out what it sounds like when you remove all echoes from music.

Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2019, Consumer Reports, Inc.

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