Here they are: The best headphones you can buy in 2022

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Superb headphones from Anker, Sennheiser, Sony, Wyze and Zvox.Superb headphones from Anker, Sennheiser, Sony, Wyze and Zvox.

Superb headphones from Anker, Sennheiser, Sony, Wyze and Zvox.

Looking for new headphones? You might be tempted to try AirPods or a similar set of wireless earbuds, which are all the rage these days. They have their advantages, sure, but there are disadvantages to consider as well.

For one thing, not everybody likes the feel, especially of those that nestle into your ear canals to create a noise-isolating seal. That can get a little uncomfortable after a while. And even if the fit is perfect, it’s easy to accidentally graze an earbud and send it flying.

Then there’s audio quality. While AirPods and their ilk can sound pretty amazing, the fact is that they’re pushing music through tiny little speakers (known as drivers). If you want “big” sound that seems to come from all around you rather than from inside your head, opt for traditional over-the-ear headphones, like the ones highlighted below.

Read more: I tried five AirPods Pro alternatives under $100. Which ones were best?

And don’t forget battery life: Wireless earbuds typically last for anywhere from 4 to 6 hours. Wireless headphones, on the other hand, can net you anywhere from 20 to 40 hours before needing to be returned to the charger.

Once you’ve made the decision to go for ‘phones, how do you decide which ones? After all, prices can range from around $50 to over $500. (I’m looking at you, Apple AirPods Max.) Fear not: Below I’ve rounded up what I consider the best over-the-ear headphones in just about every category. Whether you’re looking for industry-leading noise cancellation, super balanced sound, a great budget pick or something else, you’ll find it here.

What headphones qualify as “best,” and why?

With dozens of different models to choose from, how did I decide which headphones made the cut? Audio is a highly subjective thing; what sounds great to one set of ears might sound less so to another. For example, if you’re not a fan of heavy bass, you might dislike headphones designed to boost that thump. And if you’re older, maybe you care more about dialogue enhancement than anything else.

There’s also the question of fit: Not every set of headphones sits comfortably atop every head. A tight headband or mushy earcups can make for an uncomfortable experience. 

Finally, when evaluating audio, there’s always the source to consider: If you use a music streaming service like Amazon Music Unlimited or Spotify, data compression can result in a slight loss of fidelity. Will the average listener care about that, or even notice it? Probably not, but it’s still one more piece of the puzzle.

Read more: The best free music streaming services

All this is to say that different people have different ears, heads, needs and preferences. Budgets too. Therefore, my picks for this roundup are based on a combination of personal experience, product reputation, professionals reviews, user ratings and, finally, price. You won’t find only $300-$400 headphones here, nor will you find cheap, off-brand junk. Every product I’ve selected deserves it’s “best” designation for one reason or another.

A word about active noise-canceling (ANC)

The hot headphone feature of the 21st century is active noise cancelling, otherwise known as ANC. Flip a switch (or press a button), and the earpieces magically reduce a certain range of ambient sounds. Jet engines, for example, and backyard lawn mowers. The result is that you’re able to fly, work or exercise in relative peace.

Some headphones perform this trick better than others, but the good news is it’s now a staple feature: Even the most affordable ‘phones have it. Take note, however, that activating the feature will cost you a bit of battery life and possibly some audio fidelity as well. But it’s optional, so you can always turn it off if it’s not necessary or if you decide you don’t like it.

The Wyze Noise-Canceling Headphones are a steal, offering great sound and ANC for well under $100. (Photo: Wyze)The Wyze Noise-Canceling Headphones are a steal, offering great sound and ANC for well under $100. (Photo: Wyze)

The Wyze Noise-Canceling Headphones are a steal, offering great sound and ANC for well under $100. (Photo: Wyze)

If you’re wondering whether a $90 product can possibly rival those costing three or four times as much, get ready for a surprise: It can. I’ve tested the Wyze Noise-Cancelling Headphones; they sound great and deliver robust ANC. On those merits alone, I’d have no qualms about recommending them. But to quote the old commercial: Wait, there’s more.

Available in black or white, the ‘phones can play for up to 20 hours on a charge, and USB-C quick-charging nets you up to four hours after just 10 minutes. (That’s for wireless play, by the way; Wyze also supplies a stereo cord for wired listening, which requires no battery at all if you disable ANC.)

Like much higher-end headphones, these will automatically pause the music when you take them off your head and resume again when you put them back on. Want to have a quick chat with someone? Cup your hand over the right earcup and the headphones will immediately pause playback and enable Transparency Mode (which disables ANC so you can converse more comfortably). That’s probably my single favorite feature.

Double-tap that right earcup and you’ve got onboard Alexa (by way of your phone), meaning you can ask questions, issue commands…all the usual stuff.

All this for around $80 (though the price often drops to $70, or even as low as $60, so wait for a sale if you can). Oh, and don’t just take my word: These ‘phones earned a 4.6-star average rating from over 2,400 Amazon customers.

$90 $100 at Amazon

The Zvox AV50 headphones in black. They're also available in red.The Zvox AV50 headphones in black. They're also available in red.

It may look like an ordinary noise-cancelling headphone, but the Zvox AV50 has an extra trick up its sleeve: dialogue enhancement. (Photo: Zvox)

If you like to binge movies and TV shows while logging your miles on the treadmill (or, you know, while sitting on the couch), you may have discovered that headphones aren’t always great for that. All too often, the dialogue gets lost in the mix — an especially common problem for users with older ears. (I know; I’m one of them.)

That’s why Zvox’s AV50s are the no-brainer pick for TV watchers. Equipped with AccuVoice technology, these headphones were designed specifically to give voices a boost. But there’s ANC here as well, the better to reduce the noise made by your workout machine.

Available in red or black, these folding ‘phones come in a zippered carrying case and include an audio cord if you want to switch to wired listening (like on an airplane). Although they originally sold for a hefty $150, the AV50s typically go for $60 now — and at the time of this writing, Amazon had them for just $50. Either way, they’re more affordable than even the Wyze headphones — but I still give the nod to the latter as the best overall budget pick.

$50 $150 at Amazon

Photos don't do the Soundcore Life Q35 (shown here in black and obsidian blue) justice: They're more attractive than most. (Photo: Anker)Photos don't do the Soundcore Life Q35 (shown here in black and obsidian blue) justice: They're more attractive than most. (Photo: Anker)

Photos don’t do the Soundcore Life Q35 (shown here in Black and Obsidian Blue) justice: They’re more attractive than most. (Photo: Anker)

Although Sony’s WH-1000XM4 (see below) is pretty much the gold standard when it comes to audio quality, Anker’s Soundcore Life Q35 headphones come very close — for nearly one third the price. That’s because they’re Hi-Res Audio– and Hi-Res Audio Wireless–certified and incorporate LDAC technology, which allows for “lossless” audio transfer over Bluetooth. Translation: much less compression, and therefore much higher audio fidelity.

Where the Q35s fail to rival the Sony product, however, is in their noise cancelling. It’s good, but not great. Even so, there’s a lot here to like, starting with design: Anker offers three colors, each adorned with some glossy accents that really make them look like a luxury product.

Battery life is a standout here as well: Up to 40 hours, according to Anker. I especially like Anker’s companion app, which affords control over equalizer settings and even includes a batch of white-noise sounds to help you sleep. Speaking of the equalizer, you may want to tweak it a bit to reduce the bass-heavy default.

A word about price: Although Anker’s Soundcore lineup frequently goes on sale, the Q35s haven’t been discounted very often. Normally I’d say wait for a deal, but unfortunately they’re pretty few and far between. The good news is that a pair of Q35s is well worth the $130 price of admission.

$130 at Amazon

Here you can see the stylish metallic arms that hold the Sennheiser Momentum 3's earcups.Here you can see the stylish metallic arms that hold the Sennheiser Momentum 3's earcups.

Hello, gorgeous! Sennheiiser’s headphones have a unique, industrial design that’s a refreshing change from most. (Photo: Sennheiser)

Also a candidate for coolest-looking headphones, the Momentum 3 sport an industrial design that’s unmatched in this roundup. Where most ‘phones have a decidedly plastic look, Sennheiser employs nifty metallic arms beneath the headband. They’re functional, too, allowing you to position the earcups exactly to your liking.

There’s something special under the hood as well: built-in Tile tracking. In case you can’t remember where you left the headphones, the Tile app can help you locate them. I don’t know of another over-the-ear headphone that offers this handy feature.

As you might expect, the Momentum 3s offer just about every other feature as well: ANC, transparency mode, auto-pause and a companion app for tweaking sound and settings. I haven’t tried these headphones myself, but most reviews are extremely positive.

The two key complaints: price and battery life. The latter is rated at 17 hours, well below average. As for price, a set of Momentum 3s lists for $400 — ouch. But they go on sale fairly often; at this writing, Amazon has the headphones for $241, a significant savings.

$241 $400 at Amazon

If you have ears, you're likely to love Sony's WH-1000XM4 noise-canceling cans. The sanity you save may be your own.If you have ears, you're likely to love Sony's WH-1000XM4 noise-canceling cans. The sanity you save may be your own.

If you have ears, you’re likely to love Sony’s WH-1000XM4 noise-canceling cans. The sanity you save may be your own.

Sony’s XM4s (please don’t ask me to type out “WH-1000XM4” over and over, because yeesh!) are widely regarded as one of the best ANC headphones on the planet. To find out why, look no further than Engadget’s roundup of the best wireless headphones, where the XM4 occupies the top spot.

I’ll add my own $.02 to that: They’re comfortable, they sound amazing (thanks in part to onboard LDAC, as described above) and they offer virtually unrivaled noise cancelling. You can get them in black, blue or silver.

Sony baked some pretty advanced features into them as well, starting with speak-to-chat: If you start talking to someone, the music cuts out while the microphones cut in — the better to allow clear conversation. Touch controls make it simple to adjust volume, skip tracks, access your voice assistant and so on. And Sony promises up to 30 hours of listening on a charge.

Any downsides? Just sticker shock: The XM4 has a list price of $348. Fortunately, stores like Amazon and Best Buy often run sales; around the holidays I saw the headphones for as low as $248. Even that’s a splurge, but if you want to treat your ears to the best audio experience possible, break open the piggy bank.

$348 at Amazon

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