The company is well known for bringing noise-canceling headphones to the general public — the QuietComfort Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones were released in 2000 — and since then, it’s only continued to churn out industry-leading noise-canceling headphones. Its most recent iteration, the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, might just be the best noise-canceling headphones, ever.
Sony’s technologically advanced WH-1000xM3 are the third generation of Sony’s flagship wireless headphones (following the excellent WH-1000xM2 and MDR-1000x models) that offer top-tier noise canceling, excellent quality wireless audio, and plush comfort. This enticing combination earned the model a rare five-star rating in our initial review, and — thanks to a few notable improvements — makes the latest version the best headphones you can buy.
We use a commercially-available Bluetooth high-def interface with an S/PDIF output to test the Bluetooth output of four flagship phones. This way, we’re able to record test signal output and compare the datasets with our in-house analysis software. We kicked the tires on a 96kHz/24-bit test file to see how Bluetooth handled high-bitrate music, as well as normal 44.1kHz/16-bit files to see how each codec treated CD-quality streaming audio. We then measured the recorded sample against the original file. We used both lograrithmic sine sweeps, and complex signals like square waves in order to provide a more realistic set of tests for how people actually use Bluetooth headphones.
Although modern headphones have been particularly widely sold and used for listening to stereo recordings since the release of the Walkman, there is subjective debate regarding the nature of their reproduction of stereo sound. Stereo recordings represent the position of horizontal depth cues (stereo separation) via volume and phase differences of the sound in question between the two channels. When the sounds from two speakers mix, they create the phase difference the brain uses to locate direction. Through most headphones, because the right and left channels do not combine in this manner, the illusion of the phantom center can be perceived as lost. Hard panned sounds are also heard only in one ear rather than from one side.
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.
One thing I suggest to prospective customers for a specific headphone, if I have that headphone on hand, is for them to suggest 2 or 3 music tracks by a particular artist and composer that I can sample on that headphone, not so much for me to suggest how it sounds, but mostly to check if that headphone has any real sonic issues with that music. For example, a headphone that’s ideal for classical and acoustic music might sound too harsh with metal and industrial goth.
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.
Until now, the best true-wireless earbud features like noise cancellation or hands-free access to voice assistants were something you could only have if you spent well over $200. So when Amazon introduced its Echo Buds for just $130 with onboard Bose active noise reduction, IPX4 water-resistance, hands-free Alexa access, and a customizable fit, our only question was: Do they sound good?
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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.
PCMag, PCMag.com and PC Magazine are among the federally registered trademarks of Ziff Davis, LLC and may not be used by third parties without explicit permission. The display of third-party trademarks and trade names on this site does not necessarily indicate any affiliation or the endorsement of PCMag. If you click an affiliate link and buy a product or service, we may be paid a fee by that merchant.
Active noise-cancelling headphones use a microphone, amplifier, and speaker to pick up, amplify, and play ambient noise in phase-reversed form; this to some extent cancels out unwanted noise from the environment without affecting the desired sound source, which is not picked up and reversed by the microphone. They require a power source, usually a battery, to drive their circuitry. Active noise cancelling headphones can attenuate ambient noise by 20 dB or more, but the active circuitry is mainly effective on constant sounds and at lower frequencies, rather than sharp sounds and voices. Some noise cancelling headphones are designed mainly to reduce low-frequency engine and travel noise in aircraft, trains, and automobiles, and are less effective in environments with other types of noise.
Digital assistant compatibility: These days, it’s kind of a rite of passage for any tech gear to be compatible with voice-controlled digital assistants, and headphones are no exception. Certain high-end headphones include a microphone that you can use with voice commands to conjure up your favorite digital assistant, but you’ll need to make sure your smartphone is compatible. For example, if you own a Samsung Galaxy S8 phone (or newer version), you can use certain headphones to execute specific voice commands on your phone, such as “Check weather.”
Sensitivity is a measure of how effectively an earpiece converts an incoming electrical signal into an audible sound. It thus indicates how loud the headphones are for a given electrical drive level. It can be measured in decibels of sound pressure level per milliwatt (dB (SPL)/mW) or decibels of sound pressure level per volt (dB (SPL) / V).[12] Unfortunately, both definitions are widely used, often interchangeably. As the output voltage (but not power) of a headphone amplifier is essentially constant for most common headphones, dB/mW is often more useful if converted into dB/V using Ohm's law:
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, meaning the model doesn’t have a cord connecting the left earbud to the right. That’s the same design scheme popularized by Apple’s AirPods, but our testers say the Galaxy Buds sound dramatically better.
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.
The Bose QuietComfort 25 were released in 2015 and you can still buy them today. They are kind of like a wired version of the Bose QuietComfort 35. They have a slightly dated look, and boast almost as good levels of active noise-cancellation and sound quality as Bose’s QuietComfort 35. The important thing to remember is that even though these are wired headphones, they still need to be charged so you can turn on the active noise cancellation. Otherwise, they just work as normal over-ear headphones.
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.
Until now, the best true-wireless earbud features like noise cancellation or hands-free access to voice assistants were something you could only have if you spent well over $200. So when Amazon introduced its Echo Buds for just $130 with onboard Bose active noise reduction, IPX4 water-resistance, hands-free Alexa access, and a customizable fit, our only question was: Do they sound good?
Earphones are very small headphones that are fitted directly in the outer ear, facing but not inserted in the ear canal. Earphones are portable and convenient, but many people consider them uncomfortable.[16] They provide hardly any acoustic isolation and leave room for ambient noise to seep in; users may turn up the volume dangerously high to compensate, at the risk of causing hearing loss.[16][17] On the other hand, they let the user be better aware of their surroundings. Since the early days of the transistor radio, earphones have commonly been bundled with personal music devices. They are sold at times with foam pads for comfort. (The use of the term earbuds, which has been around since at least 1984, did not hit its peak until after 2001, with the success of Apple's MP3 player.[18])

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.
The iPhone will drive the headphone fine and make a very nice sound, but the amp will make a big improvement in harmonic extension and soundstage. Use the amp whenever possible. Both Headfonia and I concur that the E07k is a great amp, and probably the best thing you can get for up to twice the price. I’m familiar only with the E07k, the E17, and the E12. I think the E07k beats the E17 (and both are also USB DACs), while the E12 is just an amp, and has a darker sound but with more power for inefficient headphones. The Philips is not inefficient.
The problem is made even worse by the fact that Android phones can’t handle AAC in a method that approaches Apple’s performance with the codec. Consequently, we will no longer be recommending AAC-only headsets here at SoundGuys, as the experience is that broken from source to source. The results are crappier and noisier than the other codecs by a longshot.

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.
Gaming headsets are headphones that have a microphone attached and allow users to speak to other people and hear them with the same device. In fact, gaming headsets have other practical applications as well. You can use them in business or personal situations when you want to speak to people on a computer using a video phone program or social media chat room. Although these work for music applications, they're more suited for conversational clarity.
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