While the data signal containing Bluetooth audio is compressed, headphone and earphone manufacturers have found ways to enhance the signal to compensate for its deficiencies in a way that even audiophiles can appreciate. We've included some wireless options here, but if you're really keen on cutting the cord, check out The Best Wireless Headphones. And if you want to go completely wireless (with no cord at all connecting the two earpieces), check out The Best True Wireless Headphones—just keep in mind these are about as far from over-ear headphones as you can get.
Technology has changed our lives in some pretty big ways – nowadays, it’s hard to imagine leaving the house without at least a few of our most important gadgets. New tech categories are sprouting up out of nowhere; ten years ago, no one had ever heard of a smartwatch, and now you see them everywhere you go. But there’s one tech category that’s remained essential all along: headphones.
AAC has some advantages when it comes to latency, but we recommend avoiding this if you care about audio quality. We found high levels of noise and lower than average frequency cutoffs—both unacceptable to audiophiles and younger listeners. Though the sound isn’t as bad as some may make it out to be, the shortcomings are noticeable to the human ear at normal listening volumes.
The Astro Gaming A50 emerged in 2012 as the wireless follow-up to the excellent A40. Seven years later and four generations on, they remain the gold standard for gaming audio. With an ability to faithfully reproduce 7.1 channel surround sound through just two earcups, gamers will get critical 3D audio for all of their favorite console titles whether it’s from an Xbox One or a PlayStation 4. Wireless audio can lead to an unacceptable amount of lag, which often sends gamers in search of wired models, but here too, the A50 manage to beat expectations.
While Apple’s AirPods get a lot of attention for how well they work with other Apple products, there’s actually a more affordable option that’s just as tightly integrated: the Beats BeatsX Earphones. Apple owns the Beats brand, and it’s built the BeatsX earphones with the same W1 chip that’s in the AirPods. That means that the user experience is virtually identical – iOS makes it super easy to pair them with any iPhone or iPad. Our favorite part is they have a Fast Fuel feature, so when your battery is low, plugging them in for five minutes provides two hours of talk time. We’re also big fans of the COWIN E7 Headphones. They’re wireless, they’ve got on-board noise cancellation, and they can last up to 30 hours on a single charge. The E7’s have an impressive spec sheet for any price point, but the fact that they’re so affordable makes them an even better value. If you’re looking for affordable over-the-ear headphones that don’t make any compromises, this is the pair to get.
The QuietComfort 30s are Bose’s wireless in-ear headphones with active noise cancellation, and they’ve set the bar for the category since they were released in 2016. The QuietComfort 30s utilize the same StayHear+ tips as all Bose’s other in-ear headphones and they use the same app as the company’s other QuietComfort headphones. The one caveat is that the QuietComfort 30s are a neckband-style of wireless headphone, so they’re fairly heavy and probably best served for office settings.
Wired headphones are attached to an audio source by a cable. The most common connectors are 6.35 mm (¼″) and 3.5 mm phone connectors. The larger 6.35 mm connector is more common on fixed location home or professional equipment. The 3.5 mm connector remains the most widely used connector for portable application today. Adapters are available for converting between 6.35 mm and 3.5 mm devices.
The WH-1000xM3’s advanced control systems allow you to let in various levels of ambient sound, with advanced features like voice-only mode, which helps filter through vocal frequencies so you can hear your music and the voices around you while blocking out other sounds. Responsive touch controls let you navigate volume, make calls, and play and pause music with ease, all while helping to maintain a clean aesthetic. Best of all, the WH-1000xM3 offer a staggering 30 hours of battery life, providing even heavy users with days of use from a single charge, and have a quick charge feature that allows you to enjoy five hours of listening after just 15 minutes of charging.
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.
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. Its popularity was reinforced with its use on the Walkman portable tape player in 1979.
Noise cancellation: Noise-cancelling headphones play specific tones, much like white noise, to cancel out all of the sound around you and allow you to enjoy your music uninterrupted. Noise-cancellation is an active process, so headphones with this feature require batteries. If you’re a frequent flyer, or if you’ve got a noisy commute to work each day, you’ll love noise-cancelling headphones: they’re fantastic at keeping the cacophony of the outside world at bay.
Earbuds have small speakers that rest on the ear canal of the wearer. These are usually much less expensive than on-ear and over-ear headphones and reproduce the sound well. However, outside sounds, such as traffic or power tools, can get past the earbuds and interfere with your enjoyment. Earbuds also don't stay in place very well if the wearer is moving much, such as exercising. These also are lower fidelity than on-ear and over-ear headphones.