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Choosing the right headphones is a personal decision, whether you're hunting for an over-ear model with hyper-accurate sound or light convenient earbuds for your commute.
Whatever you're looking for, though, your next pair of headphones should sound great. But with more and more shopping happening online, it isn't always easy to compare these products before you make a purchase. That's where we come in.
Every year Consumer Reports tests more than 40 pairs of headphones and earphones. We’re sticklers for audio quality, and we also rate every model for comfort, ease of use, and features like noise-canceling. We buy every product we test at retail, so every model is no different from the ones you might pick up at a store.
We've factored in value for our picks of the best headphones of 2020, but sometimes you have to pay more for top quality. That doesn't mean you can't get great sound for less, though. If you’re looking for a bargain, check out our picks of headphones for shoppers on a budget.
The models featured here are the best headphones based on CR’s latest testing. We will update this article and our ratings throughout 2020.
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 there's no 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.
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.
Noise-Canceling on the Go
Sony continues to make waves with its popular line of noise-canceling headphones, and the WF-1000XM3 is one of the best performing models yet. It has outstanding sound quality and top-of-the-line active noise reduction to match—and does it all with a true wireless design.
These feature-rich earphones have variable noise cancellation, which you can adjust to let in more or less sound, including a “monitor” mode that actively pipes in audio from your surroundings. Those settings can be activated using integrated touch controls, which also operate playback and skipping tracks.
According to Sony, the XM3 has a 6-hour battery life, can be recharged up to three times on the go with the portable charging case, and includes a quick-charge feature. A free app adds functionality. One caveat to keep in mind is that some users may feel the XM3 doesn’t fit securely, particularly those with larger ears.
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 audio—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 room and bask in the glory of hi-fidelity sound.
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.
How to Choose Headphones
With so many types of headphones, how do you know which pair is right for you? On the "Consumer 101" TV show, Consumer Reports expert Elias Arias explains everything you need to know.
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