We all need to drown the world out every so often. But since you probably don't have a sensory deprivation tank at home, headphones will have to do.
It's easy to find a basic pair of headphones for $20 or so at your local drug store. But because they are usually made of the cheapest material possible, you can expect those headphones to break in about a month — and the sound to be subpar while they actually do work. Therefore, it's worth it to spend a little more money for a pair of headphones that sound great and will last for a while.
Before buying new headphones or earbuds, it's important to know what your main reason for using them will be. Are you the sort of audiophile who wants a high-end pair so you can appreciate every single note of Steely Dan's Aja? That's great, but you might not want to take an expensive pair with you when you jog if those bulky headphones are best suited for lounging on the couch. Maybe you need headphones to make your telecommuting job easier, or you're a musician yourself and you need a pair to help you mix your latest mixtape.
Whatever your audio needs are, there's a set of headphones or earbuds just for you. To help you figure out what you should be listening with, we ask experts what headphones they recommend as part of our ongoing product recommendation series.
Best Headphones for Working From Home
A lot of us are working from home for the foreseeable future. And if you've been having problems hearing your colleagues over Zoom, then Yaniv Masjedi, a tech expert and the CEO of the Scottsdale-based telecommunications company Nextiva, recommends Microsoft LifeChat LX-6000 — especially if you're on a budget.
He says the pair "offers the best value for money for a noise-cancelling headphone to improve call quality. This comfortable headphone boasts a 270-degree flexible microphone that users can adjust to match their preferred ergonomic set-up."
"LifeChat also has accessible inline controls that make it easy to adjust volume, mute your mic, and it can even tell callers your call availability so that you won’t get disturbed if you’re busy," he says. "Although its call quality is not comparable with high-end products at the $150 range, its value for money is the best among other options I’ve encountered."
Sennheiser Momentum 3: $290
The thing about working from home is that sometimes those virtual meetings go on for hours. If that's the case for you, you'll want a pair that is both comfortable and won't cause ear fatigue. (Which is usually the result of design issues or headphones with too much energy in the higher frequencies.)
Antti Alatalo is the CEO & Founder of Smart Watches 4 U, a company that reviews and compares the latest smartwatches. "My staff works remotely, and I'm based out of Lapland, Finland," he notes. "More people are working from home due to COVID. This makes Zoom meetings a daily affair for most remote workers. For Zoom virtual conferences, I recommend the Sennheiser Momentum 3. This noise-canceling headphone works well as a Bluetooth headset when taking calls."
He adds that "what I really like about it are the padded ear cups, which are stitched from sheep leather. They're amazingly comfortable, and I can keep the headphone on for hours without having to constantly readjust it or feel like the headset is squishing my head."
Best Ear Buds Overall
Apple AirPods Pro: $249
Maybe you've had your eye on Apple AirPods for a while. If you're worried they won't stay in place during a run or won't give you the sensation a traditional headphone would, then Kells McPhillips, a staff writer for the wellness and self-care resource Well+Good, says not to worry.
"Every time I slip my AirPod Pros in my ears before a run, I can close my eyes and almost imagine that I’m about to go screaming down a country road at 100 miles per hour in a Maserati blasting Avril Lavigne or Lizzo or Florence and the Machine," she says. "The sound quality and noise cancellation features allow the music to take over your eardrums in a way that can only be described as euphoric. And since so much of my love of running revolves around my more pronounced love of listening to music while running, it’s a feeling that can’t be beat. It never gets old."
Best Wireless Headphones for Running and Working out
If you're an avid jogger, you'll need a pair of headphones that will give you an energizing beat, and that can withstand the bumps and jostling that comes with running. Lisa Arlington is the Westminster, Colorado-based founder of Giftsnerd and "a Fitness Enthusiast who runs 2-3 km every day with headphones on."
She says, "The Beats can never be beaten by any earbuds or headphones when it comes to running and gyming. They are truly wireless headphones with anchoring hooks. These are the powerhouse that crushes their predecessors when it comes to the quality of sound and security of fit." She adds that "it has a great battery timing of 9 hours per a few minutes charge. The security grip is so good that it is impossible to dislodge from ears accidentally."
If you take your fitness soundtrack seriously (or you just really want to make sure you can drown out all the grunting weightlifters at your gym), then it might be worth it to spend more on a top-flight pair, like the Sony over-ear WH-1000XM4.
These headphones have many of the same features as the older XM3 — with a foldable design, 30-hour battery life and only a 10-minute charge to get 5 hours worth of playback — with a few improvements. The upgrades to the XM4s include multi-device connection, wearing detection, and superior noise-canceling capability.
"The Sony WH-1000XM3 is an incredible product with superb sound effects and is comfortable while wearing. The headphones have been awarded two times for the best noise-cancelling headphones in T3 Awards," says Andrea Paul, a Sarasota-based medical doctor as the founder & CEO of Health Media Experts. "They are light in weight with soft ear-cups that makes them comfortable in use. It has a brilliant sound quality that makes it easy to listen to others while you are in a crowd."
Best Cheap Headphone for Music Fans
Anker Soundcore Life Q20: $59.99
Patrick Hosken is a music journalist and an editor at MTV News. As such, he takes his headphones very seriously. "Sometime in 2019, I picked up a pair of Anker Soundcore Life Q20 over-ear headphones, and they really changed the game for me. It’s embarrassing how long I, a music journalist, went without some really nice noise-canceling (and comfortable) headphones," he says.
"When I got these, it felt like a missing piece. From the reviews I’ve read, the sound quality is 'good,' compared to the 'great' caliber of your Sony and Bose offerings, but I wouldn’t know the difference. They’re Bluetooth and wireless, which made them ideal for the subway, when I used to ride it, and for tuning out office chatter. The heartbreaker is that, naturally, I left them at my desk in March."
Best Headphones for Traveling
You most likely haven't been on a flight in a while. (And if you have, please go get tested for COVID-19 right away.) But life will someday go back to normal, and if your job or lifestyle entails a lot of plane time, then Max Harland, the Bangkok-based CEO of the online oral hygiene resource Dentaly, has a recommendation for you.
"Headphones meant for traveling need to have two features: noise-cancellation abilities and lightweight mass. The JBL TUNE 600BTN hits the checklist for both categories without needing to spend above $100. It can help promote sleep and relaxation despite the physical toll of traveling. Its active noise-canceling features are comparable with high-end products," he says. "The best part is it is Bluetooth-capable with a 16-hour battery life, which means that you can travel without restricted movements because of hanging wires."
Best Headphone for Audio Engineers and Meditators
You've got to appreciate a device that can win the trust of two notoriously tough crowds: audio engineers and people who devoutly practice meditation. But that's just one of the selling points of the Audio Technica ATH-M50x, according to Jason VanDevere, Akron-based CEO of Goal Crazy Planners, an e-commerce company that sells goal planners and journals.
"I believe meditation can be an invaluable part of setting goals and changing your thought patterns," he says. He likes the Audio Technica because it is "the headphone used by audio mixers and studio technicians for reproducing sound as it is, with zero coloring. The bass is also nicely balanced and not too overpowering. This makes it wonderful for meditation sessions if you're listening to binaural beats or other brainwave entrainment audios."
VanDevere adds, "The headphones are also very lightweight and can be worn comfortably for long periods of time. This makes it ideal for longer meditation sessions or even sleep if you wish to listen to a subliminal audio as you drift off."