Finding the best headphones for music can be quite a challenge. Depending on your music preference, some headphones will perform better than others. If you're into a lot of bass-heavy genres, getting headphones with a deep, yet well-balanced low end will sound more exciting and emphasize the rumbling and thumping sensations of these genres. If you're more of a classical, jazz, folk, and ambient type of listener, open and neutral sounding headphones may be a better option since they typically reproduce instruments, vocals, and soundstage more accurately.
We've tested over 400 headphones and below are our recommendations for the best headphones for music based on sound profile, features, and price range. See also our recommendations for the best wireless headphones, the best noise cancelling headphones, and the best gaming headphones.
The best headphones for bass-heavy music genres are the Sony WH-1000XM3. These over-ear Bluetooth headphones are comfortable and don't cause any fatigue even when you wear them for long periods. They're well-built with a clean design and come in two colors: black or white.
Sony brings a lot to the table when it comes to features. Besides already having outstanding passive isolation, these headphones have one the best active noise cancellation technologies on the market, which is very effective at dampening environmental noises, such as subway trains, buses, and low chatter in a coffee shop. Of course, this feature does take a toll on battery life, but surprisingly, these headphones are still able to manage a 27-hour playtime with ANC on.
Their default sound is bass-heavy, with deep punchy bass more suited for R&B, house, funk, or dubstep. If that isn't to your liking or you have a more eclectic taste, Sony has a great companion app that lets you adjust the sound profile easily, either through a different preset or manual tuning through the equalizer. One other feature worth mentioning is DSEE HX, a feature specific to Sony products, which is an upscaling effect to make compressed music sound closer to hi-resolution.
All in all, these headphones are pricey, but their versatility makes them easy to recommend, even if you're not a bass head.
If you like the sound quality of the Sony WH-1000XM3 Wireless but prefer a basic wired pair of headphones, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50X may be for you. They're about as basic as it comes: no Bluetooth connection, no active noise cancellation, no touch controls, and no microphone for phone calls. What they lack in features they make up for in sheer sonic quality. It's been a few years since these were released, and they're still highly regarded as an exceptional pair of headphones with a balanced sound. As with other models in this lineup, Audio-Technica kept the same function over form aesthetic. The ear cups are large and comfortable, but there's some squeaking noise when moving or adjusting the headphones.
Overall, if you need Bluetooth connection or active noise cancellation, go with the Sony, but for a versatile pair of headphones that can handle any genre, the Audio-Technica are a fantastic choice.
The best headphones for vocals and instruments that we’ve tested so far are the Sennheiser HD 58X Jubilee. Having an open-back design, these aren't made for traveling or to listen to in crowded environments, as they don't isolate you from environmental noises and also leak sound, which can be bothersome to others nearby. Although these headphones have large ear cups and soft padding, there is significant clamping force, which makes them harder to wear for an extended period. Thankfully, the open-back design allows for decent airflow and doesn't get too hot.
As for sound, these headphones have great bass and the mid-range is exceptional, which is crucial to reproducing vocals that are accurate and balanced. Overall build quality is good, but the joints holding the frame can feel a bit fragile.
All things considered, the Sennheiser provide outstanding value for their price thanks to their great sound quality and they're very easy to recommend.
If you like the Sennheiser HD 58X Jubilee but portability is what you're looking for, the Bose SoundSport Free Truly Wireless headphones are a decent choice. They're the best sounding wireless earbuds that we’ve tested so far. They have a well-balanced sound with a bass that can thump. Although they don't have a mobile EQ in their companion app, their default sound is sure to please most people. Unfortunately, they do distort a bit when playing near max volume. These earbuds don’t isolate you from environmental noise either, but that's by design, as it helps with awareness, particularly for runners.
If critical listening is your main goal and you're able to do so in a quiet room, the Sennheiser is a better choice, but for portability, the Bose are the way to go.
If you're simply looking for the best sounding headphones and you can afford them, the Sennheiser HD 800 S are the best sounding headphones that we've tested so far. The build quality is excellent and feels durable, being mostly made out of metal. Although they're comfortable to wear for long listening sessions thanks to their big ear cups and suede-like padding, portability isn't their strong suit, as they're heavy, open-back headphones, made for listening in a quiet environment. They're also high impedance headphones, which means that they require a powerful amplifier to sound at their best.
These headphones lean towards a bright sound but are still able to maintain a good, punchy bass with an even mid-range and treble. The open-back design delivers an incredible soundstage that's spacious and natural, along with outstanding instrument separation.
These headphones truly cater to the most demanding audiophiles. These headphones may be out of reach for most people, but for those who are looking for the best experience possible, they're exceptional.
If you like the Sennheiser HD 800 S but are looking for closed-back headphones, consider the Audeze Mobius. Even though closed-back headphones aren't ideal for a wide soundstage, there are some that can still deliver an immersive and engaging listening experience. Technically a gaming headset, these headphones can produce a well-balanced sound with their planar magnetic drivers. They don't sound as good as the Sennheisers, but they do come with features that can simulate a wider soundstage, through a type of "virtual surround sound". Combined with their head-tracking feature, it does effectively deliver a perceived spaciousness. Although our current measurements couldn't capture the full extent of their sound localization, head-tracking, and room emulations, the effect is still quite impressive.
If you only care about sound quality, the Sennheiser are better, but if the open-back design doesn't suit you, the Audeze are worth considering.
If you're shopping for good sounding headphones with a limited budget, check out the Superlux HD 681. They're semi-open headphones that deliver an incredible sound at an affordable price. Although their build quality feels a bit cheap, they're actually very comfortable to wear due to their light weight and large, well-padded ear cups. They have an overall sound signature that's well-balanced, with great bass extension; however, the treble can sound overly bright for some, especially on tracks that are already bright or poorly recorded.
Like most open or semi-open back headphones, they're not made for portable use, as they let in a lot of ambient noise and leak as well, so it's best to use them in a quiet environment. That said, the semi-open design allows these headphones to produce an incredible soundstage that feels large and spacious, which is a quality often associated with headphones that are much more expensive.
Overall, if you're willing to compromise a bit on build quality, these headphones are definitely worth considering.
If you prefer the portability of in-ears, take a look at the TIN Audio T2. You won't get the incredible soundstage that the Superlux HD 681 can reproduce, but these in-ears still perform remarkably well for their price. They have a decent overall sound, but the bass can be a tad muddy and the treble can sound sharp. Being closed-back in-ears, they're much more suitable for portable use, with decent noise isolation and outstanding leakage performance, so you can turn up the volume without bothering those around you. Best of all, the build quality of these headphones is not compromised, as the earbuds have a metal enclosure, and the cables are removable and easily replaceable due to the use of standard MMCX connectors.
If you don't mind over-ear headphones, the Superlux sound better, but if you need a portable pair that you can use on-the-go, get the TIN Audio.
If you don't like wired headphones like the Superlux HD 681, then check out the Anker SoundBuds Curve Upgraded 2019. They're wireless earbuds with an ear hook design that provide a stable and comfortable fit. The cable connecting both earbuds lets you hang the headphones around your neck when you're not using them, and also houses the in-line remote and microphone. They have an amazing 18.4 hours of continuous playback on a single charge, and take only 1.3 hours for a full charge. The sound profile is a bass-heavy one, with a slight dip in the mids, which causes vocals and leads to sound farther away. Unfortunately, there's no mobile app to customize the sound.
Overall, the Superlux are better headphones, but if you prefer a wireless pair, go with the Anker.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best headphones for music to buy for most people. We factor in the price (cheaper headphones win over pricier ones if the difference isn't worth it), feedback from our visitors, and availability (no headphones that are difficult to find or almost out of stock everywhere).
If you would like to choose for yourself, here is the list of all our reviews. Be careful not to get caught up in the details. There are no perfect headphones. Personal taste, preference, and where you use the headphones will matter more in your selection.
01/14/2020: Removed Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 Wireless 2016, removed Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO. Replaced Anker SoundBuds Curve Wireless with Anker SoundBuds Curve Upgraded 2019. Minor text and structure changes.
11/20/2019: Minor text and structure changes, no change in recommendations.