Headphones are your go-to gadget if you want to listen to music or watch a movie without the interruption of any outside noise. It’s one of the most low-key gadgets we have, but it also has an impact on our daily lives. We use it for entertainment or work, and some even need it to drown out the buzz of daily life.
Consumer Reports has over a hundred models in their lineup of wireless headphones that went through rigorous testing and processing. These products were independently acquired so users can trust that their results and recommendations are not tainted by sponsorship. These devices are tested in controlled environments using scientific methods so CR can see or hear every ounce of performance they can offer.
How to Choose The Best Headphones
The first consideration should be the size of the noise-canceling headphones that you are willing to live with on a daily basis. You can go with smaller, in-ear models which are very light and easy to slip into any pocket or go with full headphones for fuller sound. Some users go as far as buying both, reserving the headphones for home or office listening, and using the IEMs for commutes or athletic activities.
It is crucial to match the noise-canceling headphones to your lifestyle or planned type of use. There are pros and cons to each, so getting it right the first time is necessary as these gadgets aren’t necessarily cheap. You should also think about going with wired options for serious listening since these wireless headphones are bound the limitations of Bluetooth or NFC.
The next aspect which is equally important is the sound quality which, to be honest, is the rabbit hole of this category. All audio equipment has different distortions of audio spectrums, so no two pairs will sound alike. Our ears are also individually different from another person’s so some pairs will sound better or worse than what the other person likes.
Sound quality is very subjective, so Consumer Reports recommends that you go out and try these products personally before pulling the trigger. On the other hand, make sure to double-check the returns policy first if you order online. That way, you can still return the headphones if ever you don’t like their sound signature.
Types of Headphones
There are various types of headphones in the market and each one fits personal preference or a type of use. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses, so it’s critical to choose the right one that suits your needs.
Over-Ear Headphones – Over-ear headphones have cups that swallow your whole ear and they come in two types. Closed-back models have sealed ear cups for a solid sound and to keep ambient noise out while open backs are often more airy with a larger sound stage. The downside with the latter is that they let in the noise from your surroundings and people close to you can sometimes hear your audio and be disturbed by it.
On-Ear Headphones – On-ear models are lighter because they have smaller cups that press on your ears instead of covering them. Some feel that they are more comfortable since they don’t trap heat, but others have complained about pain on their lobes after long use. These also have closed and open back versions, but the former isn’t as good as drowning out outside noise since it doesn’t form a seal over your ears.
In-Ear Headphones – IEMs rest close to the ear canal and is held by the bowl of your ears, so they are smaller and lighter than the options above. They are the most useful since they are portable, but that also means many of them will not sound as full as a headphone. They are best used with mobile devices or while you are on the go, but we know a few that also use them instead of headphones in an indoor setting.
Wireless Headphones – Wireless headphones use Bluetooth so they can connect to phones, laptops, and tablets without cumbersome cables. They used to be luxury items, but they are now very popular since they are more convenient to use. Some companies like Apple eliminated audio jacks altogether in favor of this convenient product design.
Noise Canceling Headphones – Noise-canceling headphones are specifically designed to isolate your audio from the outside world. Passive models have built-in isolation and seals and they are usually cheaper and lighter since they don’t need internal batteries. Active noise-canceling headphones use microphones to minor sound frequencies on the outside then produce them in out-of-phase fashion to drown them out.
True Wireless Headphones – True wireless headphones are just like IEMs, but they don’t have any cables connecting the left and right earpieces. They are designed for superb portability, and some even include cases that can charge the pieces when they are not in use. Most can’t outlast other wireless types since their batteries are smaller, but the technology has improved over a short span of time.
Consumer Reports Recommended Headphones
Sony WF-1000XM4 (88)
The Sony WF-1000XM4 is the best true-wireless option you buy due to its excellent active noise reduction and audio quality. This model has an ambient monitor feature with isolation so external noises are filtered out while the sound coming from the earpieces does not escape.
Bose QuietComfort 35 Series II (88)
The Bose QuietComfort 35 Series II is one of the best-selling noise-canceling headsets for its excellent performance in sound quality and noise reduction. The closed-back headphones provide a solid sound signature and a good seal around your ears, but it’s also one of the most comfortable in the market.
Bose Noise-Cancelling Headphones 700 (88)
The Bose Noise-Cancelling Headphones is the next-generation variant of the option above and it comes with upgraded hardware. It sounds and performs better for phone calls plus it has a few additional features like app-based control for better functionality.
Sony WF-1000XM3 (87)
The Sony WF-1000XM3 is a completely wireless in-ear headphone that provides great active noise cancelation and sound quality. It also has ambient monitoring so it’s great for commuting and it works just as well as the new version.
Sennheiser PXC 550-II (87)
The Sennheiser PXC 550-II is a comfortable pair of wireless headphones with superb sound quality and noise cancelation, plus a 30-hour battery life. It has big solid cups that are perfect for isolating your ears along with its electronic canceling, but it also has active monitoring to let you hear the outside world.
Samsung Galaxy Buds2 (83)
The Samsung Galaxy Buds2 offers great value with its lower price that doesn’t compromise performance. It offers great isolation and sound quality, plus it has monitoring since it’s designed for use with phones on commutes.
1MORE E1001 Triple Driver (82)
The E1001 Triple Driver IEMS are crowd favorites due to their excellent price and performance even if they aren’t wireless. This relatively cheap pair works best with a hi-resolution player or a portable headphone amp for superb clarity and bass.
1MORE Quad Driver (82)
The 1MORE quad driver variant is a refined pair with a dynamic driver inside that’s supported by three balanced mini tweeters. IT offers great sound clarity and it has a built-in mic which allows it to be a great set of earphones for your phone.
Apple AirPods Max (81)
The Apple AirPods Max is the best Apple has to offer with its dynamic drivers that offer spatial audio and high-fidelity sound. It carries excellent features like the Apple H1 chip, dynamic head tracking, and a comfort-driven design for a superb user experience.
Shure AONIC 50 (78)
The Shure AONIC 50 offers engineered sound quality and 20-hour long battery life for the best wireless audio experience possible. It’s durable and comfortable, plus it has a built-in amplifier that supports multiple codecs.