Will Greenwald has been covering consumer technology for a decade, and has served on the editorial staffs of CNET.com, Sound & Vision, and Maximum PC. His work and analysis has been seen in GamePro, Tested.com, Geek.com, and several other publications. He currently covers consumer electronics in the PC Labs as the in-house home entertainment expert, reviewing TVs, media hubs, speakers, headphones, and gaming accessories. Will is also an ISF Level II-certified TV calibrator, which ensures the thoroughness and accuracy of all PCMag TV reviews.
Dale: The examples listed above are good general rules, but there also are so many exceptions and in-betweens that it also could be better to understand what is needed for your music, so you can narrow the search to the most appropriate headphones. For example, you may have heard that Classical music is a particular genre, but within that ‘genre’ are many very different types of music. Chamber music or pipe organ music may benefit from a headphone that’s highly detailed in the treble (a headphone that some users might say is bright), while harpsichord music and music that has a lot of strong trumpet sounds might be better served with a more rounded or softer treble.
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Headphones connect to a signal source such as an audio amplifier, radio, CD player, portable media player, mobile phone, video game console, or electronic musical instrument, either directly using a cord, or using wireless technology such as Bluetooth, DECT or FM radio. The first headphones were developed in the late 19th century for use by telephone operators, to keep their hands free. Initially the audio quality was mediocre and a step forward was the invention of high fidelity headphones.[3]
Communication headsets are used for two-way communication and typically consist of a headphone and attached microphone. Such headsets are used in a variety of professions as aviation, military, sports, music, and many service-oriented sectors. They come in all shapes and sizes, depending on use, required noise attenuation, and fidelity of communication needed.

Mid-range: Many headphones that cost between $50 and $130 include improved sound and useful smartphone integration (like custom EQ controls). In this price range, you’ll also see a big jump in the quality of materials used, which improves both the sound and the luxury of each pair. If you need a pair of well-made headphones with basic noise cancellation, you’ll need to spend at least this much.
Pairing high sensitivity headphones with power amplifiers can produce dangerously high volumes and damage headphones. The maximum sound pressure level is a matter of preference, with some sources recommending no higher than 110 to 120 dB. In contrast, the American Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends an average SPL of no more than 85 dB(A) to avoid long-term hearing loss, while the European Union standard EN 50332-1:2013 recommends that volumes above 85 dB(A) include a warning, with an absolute maximum volume (defined using 40–4000 Hz noise) of no more than 100 dB to avoid accidental hearing damage.[14] Using this standard, headphones with sensitivities of 90, 100 and 110 dB (SPL)/V should be driven by an amplifier capable of no more than 3.162, 1.0 and 0.3162 RMS volts at maximum volume setting, respectively to reduce the risk of hearing damage.
The WH-1000xM3’s excellent noise-canceling technology ranks second only to the Bose QC35 II, from the brand that has long dominated the market in terms of sheer noise-blocking abilities. That said, the Sony cans sound much better than the new bass-forward Bose option, and offer numerous features that help to create a much better overall experience.
Audiophiles generally agree that if you’re passionate about music, and you have a listening space that is relatively free of outside sounds, nothing beats a really good set of open-back headphones. As far as we’re concerned, you won’t find a set of open-back headphones that manage to combine superb sound quality and a reasonable price than the Sennheiser HD6XX/HD650. To be clear, these are not exactly the same models. The HD6XX is a run of the HD650 with a lower price from Massdrop, and a few physical changes, but when it comes to their audio chops, they’re identical.
Pairing high sensitivity headphones with power amplifiers can produce dangerously high volumes and damage headphones. The maximum sound pressure level is a matter of preference, with some sources recommending no higher than 110 to 120 dB. In contrast, the American Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends an average SPL of no more than 85 dB(A) to avoid long-term hearing loss, while the European Union standard EN 50332-1:2013 recommends that volumes above 85 dB(A) include a warning, with an absolute maximum volume (defined using 40–4000 Hz noise) of no more than 100 dB to avoid accidental hearing damage.[14] Using this standard, headphones with sensitivities of 90, 100 and 110 dB (SPL)/V should be driven by an amplifier capable of no more than 3.162, 1.0 and 0.3162 RMS volts at maximum volume setting, respectively to reduce the risk of hearing damage.
The WH-1000xM3’s excellent noise-canceling technology ranks second only to the Bose QC35 II, from the brand that has long dominated the market in terms of sheer noise-blocking abilities. That said, the Sony cans sound much better than the new bass-forward Bose option, and offer numerous features that help to create a much better overall experience.
I’ve never enjoyed the audio quality of Bluetooth headphones, but that’s just me. The sound is better than it ever has been, and it’ll get you 90% of the way there—but not everybody is willing to make that tradeoff. Since USB-C headphones have largely ceded their market advantages over Bluetooth, we have to examine the consumer audio technology’s performance in a world where the headphone jack is disappearing.
Magnetostriction headphones, sometimes sold under the label Bonephones, work by vibrating against the side of head, transmitting sound via bone conduction. This is particularly helpful in situations where the ears must be unobstructed, or for people who are deaf for reasons that don't affect the nervous apparatus of hearing. Magnetostriction headphones though, are limited in their fidelity compared to conventional headphones that rely on the normal workings of the ear. Additionally, in the early 1990s, a French company called Plasmasonics tried to market a plasma-ionisation headphone. There are no known functioning examples left.

The number one rule to understand when embarking on your headphone-search journey is to understand that there is no one headphone to rule them all. Like automobiles, headphones are made for different purposes. You have the supercars, roadsters, SUVs, 4x4s, sedans, to the compacts, and you chose what’s best for your day to day needs. There is no one car that can tackle snow and win races on the drag strip. The sooner you understand this fact, the more money you will save.
Music keeps me energized all day (and into the night) at work — 70% electronica/dance/DNB, 20% rock, 5% hip hip and 5% other/classical — but I’m tired of low-quality sound and I’m ready to put my money where my ears are.  I want to buy a USB DAC + Headphone amp, buy headphones (or, per your recommendation, to buy 2 pair) to complement the amp and my choice of music, and get great desktop sound for around $350.

If you won’t compromise on sound quality—and you’re willing to pay for it—the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay E6 may be for you. It doesn’t come cheap, but the Beoplay E6 is one of the best portable wireless models we’ve ever tested. In addition to sound quality, it has design perks including magnets that clip the earpieces together (and automatically turn the headphones off) for easy transport, a braided cable for added durability, and water resistance, according to the manufacturer.


Music keeps me energized all day (and into the night) at work — 70% electronica/dance/DNB, 20% rock, 5% hip hip and 5% other/classical — but I’m tired of low-quality sound and I’m ready to put my money where my ears are.  I want to buy a USB DAC + Headphone amp, buy headphones (or, per your recommendation, to buy 2 pair) to complement the amp and my choice of music, and get great desktop sound for around $350.


Total harmonic distortion: True, headphones with lower actual total harmonic distortion (THD) will sound better than those with higher THD. But the quoted THD numbers -- "less than 1 percent" -- aren't helpful in predicting sound quality. Listen to recordings of simply recorded acoustic guitar to assess the distortion of one set of headphones versus another. Some will sound appreciably cleaner than others.
A good headphone should last 25 years. The first thing to replace is earpads usually, since wear affects the sound. Sometimes the cable will get a loose connection and need replaced. The drivers should be good forever, but in some rare cases a hair can work its way in and cause a buzz or rattle. If that happens it’s usually easy to remove an earpad and pull the hair etc. out.
If you just want to block out sound without active noise cancellation, good over-ear headphones will naturally do that to some extent. This is called noise isolation, and it simply works from the earcups forming a good seal over your ears to prevent outside noise from getting in. It's not as effective, but it's less expensive than active noise cancellation and doesn't require power.
Smaller earbud type earpieces, which plugged into the user's ear canal, were first developed for hearing aids. They became widely used with transistor radios, which commercially appeared in 1954 with the introduction of the Regency TR-1. The most popular audio device in history, the transistor radio changed listening habits, allowing people to listen to radio anywhere. The earbud uses either a moving iron driver or a piezoelectric crystal to produce sound. The 3.5 mm radio and phone connector, which is the most commonly used in portable application today, has been used at least since the Sony EFM-117J transistor radio, which was released in 1964.[9][10] Its popularity was reinforced with its use on the Walkman portable tape player in 1979.
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