The best headphones 2024: The audio your music deserves

The best headphones you can buy in 2024, tried and tested by the audio experts at What's The Best.

The best headphones - Sony, Samsung, Marshall, Huawei

by William Austin-Lobley |
Updated on

You owe it to yourself to choose the best headphones possible. Ask yourself the last time you left the house without headphones, and you might be stumped. The advent of easy streaming on smartphones, incredibly cheap unlimited data packages and the abundance of true wireless headphones have meant that music, podcasts, and movies on the go are readily accessible luxuries that we all take advantage of daily. With such a prevalence of audio in our lives, it's only right that we want to have the best quality experience possible.

Additionally, the prevalence of excellent headphones means we can soundtrack our lives, framing the day and our activities to fit our tastes. Working in a loud office is no longer an issue – simply slip on a set of noise-cancelling earphones, and you’re in your own world. Likewise, exercise – gym-based or out in the wild – is vastly improved by a pumping playlist delivered via your bass-laden wireless earbuds.

The best headphones at a glance:

Best headphones: Sony WH-1000XM5 - Buy now on Amazon UK

Best earphones: Samsung Galaxy Buds2 Pro - Buy now on Amazon UK

Best earbuds for gym: Jabra Elite 7 Active In-Ear Bluetooth Earbuds - Buy now on Amazon UK

With these little audio delights joining you in almost every area of your life, you must purchase the best headphones your budget will allow. Much like a smartphone, wallet or watch, a good set of headphones is an essential item in your daily ensemble. Because of this, you need to ensure that your new headphones deliver on all required fronts – not only in quality audio but battery life and durability. If you make the decision now, you’re saving yourself a lot of headaches (and cash).

What's The Best's review headphone collection
A small selection of What's The Best's headphone collection ©What's The Best / William Lobley

At What’s The Best, we’ve been getting hands-on and reviewing headphones, earphones, and earbuds to see which options make the cut. Our in-house reviewers, including William Lobley, Curtis Moldrich, Ryan Gilmore and Ryan Houghton, have been trialling audio products for many years. From assessing sound quality and noise-cancelling to touch controls and battery life, our experts' headphone recommendations have all been adopted into our lives and thoroughly trailed. If we wouldn't buy it, we don't recommend it. Below, you will find the best headphones available in 2024.

The best headphones in detail:

Best over-ear headphones

Score: 4.5/5

The Sony WH-1000XM5 are the latest in a lineage of best-selling, top-ranking headphones. It could’ve been easy for Sony to rest on its laurels and churn out a minor upgrade to its established winning formula. Instead, it decided to mix things up – and to great effect.

The WH-1000XM5 have new audio drivers, producing a beautiful sound that will delight all listeners. In our review, we tested the headphones with everything from cheesy pop to death metal – the XM5s handled them all without fault. Topping this off, the noise-cancellation is immensely accomplished, keeping the world at bay while you work and play.

Additional features include an array of microphones dedicated to sending your voice through clearly on calls, a responsive touchpad for easy control, speak-to-chat, smart assistant support, and Spotify Quick-Access. The smartphone app is a doddle to install and use, and the 30-hour battery never disappoints – but if it does, the USB-C quick charging will have you back up and running in no time.

As of 2024, these are the best Sony headphones available. Period.

Our review: "The physical style of the headphones and the additional features that Sony packed into these headphones is excellent. But given that headphones deliver audio, these are only part of the equation. If the sound isn’t good, the headphones aren’t worth jack. Gladly, this isn’t the case. The sound quality the XM5 produces is excellent – no doubt thanks to the high-resolution audio decoding found onboard - and without wires, handily (note that you'll need a service that provides hi-res streaming to get the most from this tech)." Tried and tested by William Lobley, Digital Editor

Read our full Sony WH-1000XM5 review.

Pros

  • Brilliant audio performance
  • Comfortable all day long
  • Excellent noise cancellation

Cons

  • Price challenged by the XM4s

Best earbuds

Score: 5/5

The Samsung Galaxy Buds2 Pro are, without question, the best in-ear headphones we have tested. The bold but unobtrusive design sits comfortably and firmly in the ear, allowing you to go about your daily tasks without worry – whether you’re working at a desk or working up a sweat in the gym. The outer shell of the earbud has reliable touch controls, allowing you to pause music or change noise-cancelling modes with ease.

The Bluetooth signal is as strong as you’ll find anywhere on the market. This connection can zip a good amount of data through to the Buds2 24-bit decoder, which is good news for anyone using lossless streaming services like Tidal or Apple Music.

Whether lossless or not, the audio quality produced by Samsung’s earbuds is staggering. The internal drivers, including a tweeter and a woofer, have all audio frequencies covered. Whatever you’re doing, wherever you are, the Buds2 Pro will put a bounce in your step.

Our review: "The physical style of the headphones and the additional features that Sony packed into these headphones is excellent. But given that headphones deliver audio, these are only part of the equation. If the sound isn’t good, the headphones aren’t worth jack. Gladly, this isn’t the case. The sound quality the XM5 produces is excellent – no doubt thanks to the high-resolution audio decoding found onboard - and without wires, handily (note that you'll need a service that provides hi-res streaming to get the most from this tech)." Tried and tested by William Lobley, Digital Editor

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Buds2 Pro review.

Pros

  • Clear and energetic audio
  • Accomplished noise cancelling
  • Perfect for exercise

Cons

  • Not a clear enough warning before the battery runs out

Best earbuds runner-up

Score: 5/5

The name behind the Walkman is still delivering the goods, even all these years later. With the WF-1000XM4 earphones, Sony provides pleasing audio in a refined, stylish shell. When one of our audio experts reviewed the earphones, they found them to produce a bouncy and confident bass with well-poised high notes. Basically, if you’ve got music to listen to, it’s going to sound primo.

The noise cancelling is adept, and the touch controls can be programmed via the app. Like on the Sony over-ear headphones, speak-to-chat is also present, and eight hours of battery life is carried onboard. An additional 24 hours come via the wireless case. When Sony launches the WF-1000XM5s, we’re going to be interested to see how they can up the game because, until Samsung came along with its Galaxy Buds2 Pro, we considered these the ones to beat.

Our review: "The Sonys use tiny 6mm drivers and a new DAC (Digital to Audio Converter) and the results are extremely impressive – even when we leave noise-cancelling to one side. Sony says it tunes products for popular music at the time, and that means the XM4s are bass specialists. Bass-heavy tracks bounce along, while lower-sub-bass frequencies are also rendered confidently. And rather than being clunky and bottom-heavy, the Sonys can pull off great low-end while still maintaining poise in the higher frequencies." Tried and tested by Curits Moldrich, What's The Best contributor

Read our full WF-1000XM4 review.

Pros

  • Quality audio
  • Good noise cancelling
  • Good battery life

Cons

  • WF-1000XM5s are likely just around the corner

Best earbuds under £150

Marshall Motif A.N.C

Rrp: $199.99

Price: $146.64
Alternative retailers
Walmart$183.62View offer

Score: 5/5

Marshall has an audio pedigree that can’t be faked. From Jimi Hendrix to Oasis, Motorhead to Fall Out Boy, the Milton Keynes-based company has shared the stage with some of the world’s best-known rock outfits. This means there are no prizes for guessing which genre the Marshall Motif earphones perform well on – but these offer more than just crisp, crunchy, and heavy tones.

The quality of the speaker drivers by the Motif means that any music genre will be well served. Likewise, the additional features carried by the earphones are what you would expect, with decent noise cancellation, smart assistant support and touch controls.

Where it drops a few points is in battery life – 4.5 hours with ANC on, extending to six with ANC off – and the support app, which frankly sucks. Nevertheless, we gave Motif top marks in our review, despite these flaws – that’s how good they sound.

Our review: "Listening through a mix of genres you soon realise that the Motifs never miss a beat. The music of J Dilla and MF DOOM is given just as much respect as Herbie Hancock and John Coltrane - it’s all down to the organic balance of the Motif’s drivers. The performance on distorted guitar-led music is undoubtedly the highlight, though. It’s a real treat to encounter, as many mainstream earphones struggle with the dynamics of rock music." Tried and tested by William Lobley, Digital Editor

Read our full Marshall Motif review.

Pros

  • Excellent audio, especially for guitar-led genres
  • Killer aesthetics
  • Good touch controls

Cons

  • Rubbish app
  • So-so battery life

Best earbuds for gym

Score: 4.5/5

Basically a gripper version of the Jabra Elite 7 Pro but missing the bone-conducting voice call technology, so if you spend more time in the gym than the office these are the earbuds for you.

ShakeGrip technology is a silicon rubber coating that ensures wobble-free fitment whether you're lifting weights or running on a treadmill, and the IP57 dust and water rating means you don't need to worry about sweat.

Best of all they sound absolutely brilliant and last eight hours between charges, with active noise cancellation that can block out all but the loudest sounds.

Our review: "The active noise cancellation is really powerful and rivals some over-ear headphones I’ve tried. The Jabra app allows you to tailor the level that is best for you, and there’s also a HearThrough mode so you can retain situational awareness. Useful when running or riding near traffic. The sound is absolutely brilliant – so rich and deep despite originating from a small 6mm source. These earbuds have the sound quality to rival a pair of over-ears, and that is very impressive." Tried and tested by Adam Binnie, What's The Best contributor

Read our full Jabra Elite 7 Active review.

Pros

  • Sounds great
  • Doesn't fall out
  • Battery lasts ages

Cons

  • Find my Jabra app could be better
  • As could noise cancellation on calls

The best audiophile headphones

Score: 5/5

Focal has a reputation – it builds some of the best audio equipment available and it comes at a price. Its Bathys, though a budget headphone within the French brand's range, is a testament to this.

The look, while not to all tastes, is bold. The battery life is huge – 42 hours without ANC, though you’ll want to keep it on because it is fantastic. The Bluetooth audio is excellent, full of life, space and precision. Even the app is good.

Despite its five-star feature set, the biggest reason you will need £700 to grab the Bathys is they carry a high-quality DAC (Digital-to-Analogue Converter). When connected via USB-C, the Bathys’ DAC can take over from your device when decoding digital music because, frankly, it’s better at doing it than your laptop, tablet, or smartphone. The result is a vastly improved audio experience that allows your music to sound clearer, of a higher quality and louder. We’d recommend reading our hands-on review if you want to know more but suffice it to say the improvement isn’t slight – it’s a complete revolution.

While the Focal Bathys have the best audio we’ve trialled – and it’s not even close – we can’t in good conscience give them the top spot in this list. While the DAC does give incredible sound, this will only truly appeal to audiophiles who will be happy shelling out. Anyone looking for a solid set of everyday Bluetooth headphones will find better value for money with the Sony WH-1000XM5.

Our review: "Focal is known for its design sensibilities and audio prowess, and with the Bathys, it manages to combine these reputations into something rather special. With travellers in mind, the Bathys are comfortable over long periods, carrying up to 42 hours of battery and boasting a powerful Silent ANC mode, the headphones more than meet the mark. Long-haul flights and packed commuter trains are now peaceful havens. The audio quality via Bluetooth is excellent and expansive, full of energy and power. But it’s when the DAC is activated that you hear the reason the Bathys are such a high-end product." Tried and tested by William Lobley, Digital Editor

Read our full Bathys review.

Pros

  • Hi-fi quality audio on the go
  • Excellent ANC
  • Comfortable

Cons

  • The wired connection required for DAC is only good when set up in one location
  • Bold look is not for everyone
  • For most people, a headphone set half this price will suffice

Best headphones runner-up

Sony WH-1000XM4

Rrp: $349.99

Price: $272.80
Alternative retailers
Macy's$248.00View offer
Adorama$248.00View offer
Bloomingdale's$248.00View offer
Urban Outfitters$248.00View offer

Score: 4/5

A former world champion, the Sony WH-1000XM4 were king of the hill until its younger relative, the WH-1000XM5, usurped the position. But this doesn’t mean that the XM4 are old news – they still have more to offer than much of the contemporary field and offer a substantial saving over the XM5.

The audio performance is superb. In our test, we found the upscaling processor in the XM4 to be a wonderful touch, adding definition to all tracks and delivering great bass and clear highs. Comfortable to wear, the XM4s create a solid seal around the ear to help keep the world at bay, while the noise cancelling works to tone down any noise that might slip through significantly.   

The Bluetooth connection is still very adept today, connecting to multiple devices, allowing you to listen to music from one device and take calls from another. Touch controls are present and correct, USB-C charging onboard, and speak-to-chat and smart assistance are supported.

Our review: "Sony’s WH-1000XM3s were class-leading, and it’s no surprise to see the XM4s better them slightly in every area. They offer a good mixture of performance and price compared to the competition, so if you’re in the market for a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, these need to be towards the top of your list. However, Sony’s similarly impressive WF-1000XM4 earbuds offer a similar experience for less money and more versatility." Tried and tested by Curtis Moldrich, What's The Best contributor

Read our full Sony WH-1000XM4 review.

Pros

  • Great audio
  • Great features
  • Cheaper than the Sony WH-1000XM5

Cons

  • They aren’t the Sony WH-1000XM5
  • A tad heavy

Best headphones under £150

Huawei FreeBuds Studio
Price: $399.99

Score: 4/5

The Huawei FreeBuds Studio is a headphone option that is almost overflowing with features. First and foremost, it has 40mm drivers with an impressive 4Hz to 48kHz frequency response range – in short, your music is well catered for and will come through with clarity and precision. 

The FreeBuds Studio also play host to touch controls, six noise-cancelling microphones, Bluetooth 5.2, wear detection sensors, hi-fi codec and a 24-hour battery (with ANC switched off). Sturdy but light in weight, the Huawei FreeBuds are nice and portable while also boasting a sleek and sharp design. The plush padding of the earcups makes them comfortable, too.

During our test, setting up the Bluetooth was a minor fiddle, and the companion smartphone app was a nightmare to operate – luckily, the headphones perform well from the box, so this isn’t too stressful.

Our review: "The marketplace is saturated with ANC-laden Bluetooth headphones, and because of this, it can be difficult for a new offering to attract some excitement. Against the odds, Huawei has managed to capture my attention with the FreeBuds Studio. With a combination of well-executed controls, precision audio and effective ANC modes, the Huawei FreeBuds Studio makes a very neat package. While I still hold some disappointment with the Bluetooth’s inability to instantly reconnect with devices and the lack of app support, the time I’ve spent with the FreeBuds Studio has been one of absolute enjoyment." Tried and tested by William Lobley, Digital Editor

Read our full Huawei FreeBuds Studio review.

Pros

  • Precise audio
  • Effective ANC
  • Nice design

Cons

  • The odd connection issues
  • Terrible app

Best headphones for outdoor fitness

Shokz OpenMove Bone Conduction Headphones
Price: $79.95

Score: 4/5

Shokz – formerly known as Aftershokz – is a pioneer of bone conduction technology. The open-ear design hooks the headphones over the ears, with the speaker units resting just in front of the tragus – the ear picks up the resulting vibrations as fully-fledged audio. 

Yes, it feels like magic. The upswing of this means that with the Shokz OpenMove, you can listen to music with total awareness of your surroundings – ideal for outdoor runners and cyclists. It never fails to impress, and the experience stands heads and shoulders above the hear-through features of in-ear and over-ear headphones.

The only caveat with bone conduction technology is that the sound is thinner than that of traditional headphones – bass lacks, but voices are clear as day. In our view, this is a small price to pay for total situational awareness.

There are basic touch controls for mid-workout convenience, and the battery life keeps them kicking for six hours. At 29g, they are uber-lightweight and boast an IP55 rating, so they have a defence against sweat, rain and dust.

Our review: "As the Aftershokz OpenMove demonstrates, bone conduction technology is the best way to access audio without sacrificing contact with the outside world. While they are not the headphones to pick up when you’re settling in to listen to the latest album from your favourite artist, the OpenMove is an excellent companion for exercise and work. Affordable, comfortable and convenient." Tried and tested by William Lobley, Digital Editor

Read our full OpenMove review.

Pros

  • Only 29g
  • Peerless situational awareness
  • Good battery

Cons

  • Open-ear design reduces audio quality

Best lightweight headphones

Sony LinkBuds 2
Price: $149.97
Alternative retailers
Walmart$179.99View offer

Score: 4.5/5

Typically, bigger and heavier headphones are considered the place to head for excellent audio quality. While this rings true in many situations, it makes finding something counter to this all the more exciting. Here, with the LinkBuds S, Sony has managed to provide awesome audio quality in a shell that weighs a mere 4.4g.

This lightweight design and smart ergonomics make the LinkBuds S super comfortable. Days in the office and hours in the gym aren't hindered by discomfort. And the battery does a fair job of helping them keep up too.

In our LinkBuds review, we concluded that though Sony does provide better audio on other items - which are typically more expensive - the LinkBuds S balances weight, sound and cost to deliver a package that is hard to beat.

Our review: "If you value comfort above overall quality, and you’re looking for something to take to the gym or wear all day, then the LinkBuds S are worth a look. Sure, they won’t deliver the overall quality of Sony’s flagship in-ears, but they get pretty close and come with their own, unique set of strengths to boot." Tried and tested by Curtis Moldrich, What's The Best contributor

Read our full Sony LinkBuds review.

Pros

  • Comfortable for long periods
  • Affordable
  • Good sound

Cons

  • The WF-1000XM4 sound better

Best lightweight earbud runner-up

1MORE ComfoBuds

Rrp: $99.99

Price: $79.99

Score: 4/5

These are tiny earphones – they weigh in at just 3.7g. Somehow 1MORE has managed to cram a significant amount of audio quality into the little shells, ensuring that you can get rich audio and some quality noise-cancelling.

In addition to lightness, 1MORE has focussed on making these earbuds as comfortable as can be. The weight and size allow them to sit and ‘float’ in your ear rather than press down and in as some larger choices can. We also enjoyed the five-hour battery life and 24-hour charge carried by the case.

In our 1MORE ComfoBuds review, the only flaw we encountered was with the touch controls, which were fiddly. They were so temperamental that we gave up trying to use them and resorted to smartphone control – not the end of the world by any stretch. Despite this fault, we’re still using them today.

Our review: "The active noise cancelling (ANC) was surprisingly good too. You'd be forgiven for thinking that the small size would quickly become overwhelmed by the sound of traffic, but it provided near-silence wherever I tried it. All in all, it's a very impressively packaged pair of headphones, tiny in size and weight but infinitely capable. Comfort was also exemplary. Thanks primarily to the tiny weight and diminutive size (I've seen larger M&Ms), it's the comfiest pair of headphones I've ever tried. Where other in-ear headphones have a noticeable weight and can press against your inner ear, the Comfobuds Mini appear to float in your ear, the only sensation of their presence being music produced by them." Tried and tested by Ryan Gilmore, What's The Best contributor

Read our full 1MORE ComfoBuds review.

Pros

  • Comfortable for long periods
  • Good battery life
  • Good sound quality

Cons

  • Unrefined touch controls

Best gaming headphones

Logitech Pro X LIGHTSPEED Gaming Headset
Price: $323.67
Alternative retailers
Walmart$174.95View offer
B&H Photo Video$229.99View offer
Macy's$235.00View offer

Score: 4.5/5

Three years since release and the Logitech Pro X LIGHTSPEED headset is still our favourite for gaming. For PC gaming, the Logitech software carries features that help you dial in the right sound for your preferred game type. The surround sounds vast and accurate, with the frequencies covering delicate detail and bombastic explosions with equal quality. Additionally, the BLUE VO!CE microphone is on hand to carry your voice.

The LIGHTSPEED wireless connection is, as the name suggests, rapid. Thanks to the implementation of its data pipeline, the 2.5GHz connection is advertised to achieve speeds faster than a wired device. In the case of audio applications, this translates to a lossless and latency-free experience.

We are still recommending this headset so long after its release because we are still using them all these years on from our original test. If a headset surviving years of day-in, day-out gaming and office work doesn’t impress you, we don’t know what will.

Our review: "With the Pro X LIGHTSPEED, Logitech has created a streamlined wireless gaming experience with flawless connectivity, impressive battery life and immersive audio, all thanks to these superb headphones. There has been a slight dip in performance over the alternative standard addition. Still, for those looking to go wireless, and simplify their setup with wireless gaming peripherals, the Pro X LIGHTSPEED is a hugely compelling choice." Tried and tested by William Lobley, Digital Editor

Read our full Logitech Pro X LIGHTSPEED review.

Pros

  • Reliable sound
  • Excellent durability
  • Mature design

Cons

  • Noise cancelling on the mic isn’t the strongest

What to look for when buying headphones

While we’ve ranked the best headphones above, this doesn’t mean that every single pair is going to be right for you. It all depends on what you want to use your new headphones for. Here are a few pointers for common uses that we like to consider when looking at headphones:

Exercise

Probably the most demanding task to put your headphones through. They’ve got to be comfortable and firmly fitted, sweat-resistant and carry some touch controls for easy pause/play. Not only that, but the sound quality must pump you up, and some noise cancelling will help silence other gym-goers and help you lock into the session.

If you’re an outdoor runner or cyclist, you’ll need to consider a few more things – most notably situational awareness to help keep yourself and others safe. Hear-through features or open-ear designs are best here, along with increased water resistance in case you get caught in a downpour.

Office and commuting

For office work and commuting, you’ll need headphones with good battery life and competent noise cancelling. In case the battery does run low, quick recharging is a welcome feature too – usually supplied by USB-C.

Think about additional features that might be of use too. Lift-to-speak, which pauses music when you lift an earcup, or tap-to-pause, which instantly pauses music, will help you have quick conversations with those around you, or listen to platform announcements.

Entertainment

Whether you’re on the train, in the office or resting in your front room, if you want to use your headphones for entertainment, there are some things to look out for. A low-latency, high-quality Bluetooth connection will make sure that audio is in sync with what’s happening on screen, while a good surround-sound simulation will provide you with a 360-degree audio experience, immersing you in the action. This is all true whether you are gaming or streaming a TV show to your smartphone.

Earbuds, earphones and headphones: What’s the difference?

Though the term ‘headphones’ is widely used as a catch-all for all head-based audio gadgets, there are technical differences between headphones, earbuds and earphones.

Headphones are the largest of the three – they are the ones that sit over your ears, connected by the over-head band – the Sony WH-1000XM5 is an example of headphones. Earphones sit in the ear and have a protruding stalk, like the Apple AirPods. Earbuds are the smallest of the three, sitting in the ear and using the ear’s anatomy to hold itself in place – the Samsung Galaxy Buds2 Pro are earbuds.

Audio jargon buster

True Wireless

Ture wireless refers to earphones that are not connected with wires, in addition to offering a wireless connection to the audio device. Most wireless earphones and earbuds are true wireless.

Latency

Latency is the delay that occurs between an audio event happening on a device and the time it takes to transmit to your headphones and be played so you can hear it. The smaller the latency, the better – especially when you are watching entertainment where audio and image need to be synchronised. Latency is measured in milliseconds – MS.

Bluetooth

Bluetooth is a wireless connection method that allows devices within a given proximity to communicate. There are different generations of Bluetooth connection available, with each new iteration offering quicker and more reliable connections. Currently, we consider Bluetooth 5.0 and above to be a great choice.

Noise cancelling and ANC

As the name suggests, noise-cancelling is a feature built into some headphones and earphones to reduce ambient surround from the surrounding area, like people chatting in cafes or traffic on the walk to work.

A microphone in the headset listens to the surroundings and creates a soundwave which is the exact opposite and sends it through with audio content, cancelling the noise out without the listener even noticing. Noise-cancelling can often be toggled on and off for personal preference and safety reasons.

ANC is an abbreviation of Active Noise Cancelling, another phrase used to describe the above process.

Drivers

A driver is a device inside an audio speaker, be it a headphone or external speaker, that converts an electrical signal into sound. Larger drivers tend to be able to deliver a more powerful sound with greater accuracy. Drivers are talked about in terms of their diameter, which is measured in millimetres.

Earphones and earbuds tend to have drivers between 8mm and 15mm, while headphones have drivers between the size of 20mm and 50mm. It used to be the case that this difference in size resulted in superior audio from headphones, but increasingly earbuds and earphones are overtaking their larger cousins.

Frequency response

Frequency response measures the audible frequencies a driver can produce. 20Hz - 20KHz is ideal, as it matches the average human audio spectrum. Anything over and above this range is a good indicator of a quality driver, though the lowest and highest frequencies will likely go unheard.

William Lobley is a Digital Editor and reviewer for What's The Best, specialising in technology, gaming, and outdoors. He also writes for Empire Online.

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