7 best headphones for 2024: What we’ve tested and loved

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There are hundreds of different headphones and earbuds in varying shapes, sizes, styles, colors, and of course, prices. These days, you can grab a random pair off the digital shelf without too much research and find that they do the job just fine.

However, if you’re tired of settling for “just fine” when it comes to the gadgets that you’re using for hours every day, then it’s worth investing in the best headphones.

Luckily, Amazon Prime Day is just around the corner, meaning that on July 16 and 17, you’re likely to find many of our top headphones on sale. If you’ve been waiting for the right time to upgrade to a premium pair of over-ear noise-cancelling headphones, use this guide to narrow down your picks ahead of the sale. For each of the products below, we’ve included our best buying advice for Prime Day. We expect some of these headphones and earbuds to see significant price drops during Prime Day (or sooner), so standby for savings.

SEE ALSO:

Amazon just announced the exact dates of Prime Day 2024

How to choose the best headphones for you

We’ll show our hand early: There’s no definitive “best” product here. Sure, elite headphones brands like Bose, Sony, and Apple put out high-quality products across the board, but even within each of those brands, you’ll find different tiers of products. Some will deliver better value, and some will deliver better hardware and performance.

SEE ALSO:

Sonos Ace headphones review: Hands-on with the first headphones from the audio giant

All this to say, the best pair of earbuds and headphones largely comes down to personal preference and how you plan to use them. Some listeners swear by over-ear headphones while others prefer the minimalism of earbuds — one is not necessarily better than the other. Athletes who like to use headphones at the gym will appreciate waterproof materials and certifications, while frequent fliers will prefer devices with a long battery life, comfort, and portability. Finally, music lovers and audiophiles will want to invest in premium features like a custom equalizer, spatial audio, or best-in-class active noise cancellation.

You can use these factors to guide your purchasing journey, but don’t get overwhelmed. To help you pick, we tested all of the headphones in this guide to bring you the best for noise cancellation, music, budget shoppers, and wired connections. So, read on to find the perfect new pair of headphones or earbuds.


Best noise-cancelling headphones: Bose 700

Read our full review of the Bose 700 headphones.

Who it’s for:

Most headphones with ANC only offer one level of noise cancellation, plus a transparency mode, so you’re not completely unaware of the world around you. The Bose 700s amp that up tenfold, giving you ten different adjustable levels of ANC, plus one level without, for the ultimate customization experience. If you’re picky about the intensity of your ANC, these are the best headphones for your ears.

Why we picked this:

When Mashable tech reporter Alex Perry tested out these headphones, he found they worked effortlessly in multiple loud scenarios: “I’ve tried these out in the lively Mashable office, on the busy streets of New York City, and even in a particularly noisy bar. In every scenario, I couldn’t hear much, except for what I chose to listen to.”

To cycle through the different levels, you can use the app or cycle between three favorite settings directly on the headphones. These headphones do have one major downside: They originally came out in 2019. We think they remain current because no other brand has yet delivered headphones with as much ANC customization, but for anyone who loves top notch sound quality, you’ll no longer find it in the Bose 700s. It’s good, but not industry leading.

As these headphones are being phased out of Bose’s lineup (the Bose QuietComfort Ultras are serving as their replacement, though they only have one level of ANC and transparency mode), they are on sale — you’ll just want to grab them while they’re still around. We’re anticipating that this Prime Day might just be their last, so if you’ve been holding out to get the best possible deal, your wait may be over. Just don’t wait too long. As a previous-gen model, they could sell out for good at any moment.

Battery life: 20 hours | Colors: Black, soapstone, silver luxe


Best sound-first headphones: Sony WH-1000XM5

black Sony WH 1000XM5s on an orange and pink background

Read our full review on the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones.

Who it’s for:

For music lovers, we have to recommend the latest flagship Sony headphones. The Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones deliver top-notch ANC and audiophile-level sound quality, with a hefty 30-hour battery life. Their design offers a less expensive alternative to the AirPods Max, for those who like their headphones to sound and look good.

Why we picked this:

If you’re into Bose headphones but aren’t totally sold on Sony, we’re willing to bet you’ll see something you like in the WH-1000XM5s. A couple weeks ahead of Prime Day, these headphones are marked down $50, but we wouldn’t be surprised if they dipped even lower during the shopping holiday. At the time of writing, their all-time low price is $299.99.

Often, people herald Bose as having the superior ANC but Sony as owning the sound space. Our Deputy Reviews Editor Miller Kern definitely noticed that these headphones excelled in the latter arena when she tested them out: “[The sound] is full and clear, and feels like surround sound. I’m a big fan of power ballads (I’m not allowed to pick the music at parties), and Brandi Carlile’s ‘Right on Time‘ sounded like it was meant to be listened to on these headphones. The vocals and instruments all got to shine, and the headphones made it feel like I was there in the studio. These are probably the best-sounding headphones I’ve ever tried.”

We do wish they folded up so they weren’t so bulky to take on the go, but it’s a relatively small con compared to the pros, especially if you’re planning on wearing these headphones all day long.

Battery life: 30 hours | Colors: Black, blue, silver


Best noise-cancelling earbuds: Apple AirPods Pro

usb-c airpods pro on wooden table

Read our full review of the second-generation USB-C AirPods Pro.

Who it’s for:

If portability, active noise cancellation, and balanced sound are what you’re looking for, your search ends with the AirPods Pro. It’s not uncommon for earbuds to have active noise cancellation, but the AirPods Pro deliver an impressive performance. Plus they’re versatile — whether you like to wear your headphones around the house, on a run, or as you’re falling asleep at night, the AirPods Pro fit the bill. For obvious reasons, they’re also the best headphones for iPhone users.

Why we picked this:

Last year, Apple finally gave their AirPods Pro a much-needed upgrade in the form of a USB-C charger. Other than the charging port, they’re identical to the second-gen Pros released in 2022, which Mashable Senior Editor Stan Schroeder described as “the first pair of earbuds I’d actually consider taking on an airplane (instead of my much larger and clunkier over-ear headphones).” He went on to say “In some aspects, the active noise cancellation was even better than on my daily drivers: B&W’s excellent PX7 over-ear headphones.”

Despite their size and enhanced ANC, the Pro’s battery still lasts for up to six hours on a single charge and 30 hours overall with the case. However, it is worth noting that the battery life will noticeably decline after a few years.

These earbuds are so frequently on sale that we don’t recommend buying them at their full $249 price tag. You can often find them at Amazon (and Walmart) marked down to at least $199, but for Prime Day, we recommend holding out until you see them at $189 — and we’ve seen them get as low as $179.

Battery life: 6 hours per charge (30 hours with case) | Colors: White


Best AirPods alternative: Beats Studio Buds +

ivory beats studio buds+ on green background

Who it’s for:

If you’re into earbuds with good ANC but less into shelling out $249, you’ll find your happy medium in the Beats Studio Buds +. There’s a reason we’ve consistently named them the best AirPods alternative.

Why we picked this:

The AirPods Pro are great, but these popular wireless earbuds aren’t in everyone’s budget. These Beats will run you about $80 less (or more, if you catch them on sale), give you some more leeway with color options, integrate just as well into an Apple ecosystem as AirPods, have the same battery life as AirPods, and still deliver pretty good ANC. If you’re into a more bass-heavy sound, you’ll definitely be happy with them. We’ve seem them drop down to $129.95 in the past, so we’re expecting a similar discount during Prime Day, making these AirPods alternatives an even better value.

While we didn’t find them to be a one-to-one experience during our testing — you should expect the AirPods to block out more noise, and we missed wireless charging — they were still incredibly comfortable. We also found them to fit better than AirPods, so if those Apple earbuds usually slip out of your ears, you’ll want to try these buds instead. And for Android users, Google Fast Pair makes these earbuds a much better option than AirPods.

We do want to mention that if $169.95 is still fairly steep, you can also get ANC through Amazon’s Echo Buds for just $119.99. (Echo Buds were our former budget pick, but we found the Beats have more to offer all-around.) For another solid option in the budget wireless earbuds space, try the Anker Soundcore Life P3i earbuds, which offer ANC and great battery life for under $50. Though, they do lack multipoint pairing and have a less rich sound profile than Beats earbuds.

Battery life: 6 hours with ANC, 9 without (27 hours with charging case) | Colors: Ivory, black, transparent, silver


Best workout headphones: Beats Fit Pro

pink beats on purple background

Read our full review of the Beats Fit Pro.

Who it’s for:

When it comes to workout headphones, you need a pair that’ll actually stay in your ears. Motivating yourself to get through a set of push-ups is hard enough without an earbud popping out. The Beats Fit Pro earbuds are more than up to the task, and they deliver exceptional battery life, sound quality, and a few extras.

Why we picked this:

Earbuds designed for exercise typically have some sort of wingtip to help hold them in place, but those wingtips can often squeeze uncomfortably on your ears, especially with longer-term use. The small wingtip of these Beats hits the sweet spot — they’re large enough to provide hold, and small enough to be undetectable. Mashable tech reporter Alex Perry writes that the wingtips “result [in] a pair of earbuds that never feel like they’re going to fall out and, more importantly, never intrude on your comfort. I’ve worn these bad boys for six straight hours without any problems. It’s hard to ask for more than that.”

Beyond comfort, these earbuds provide an impressive sound profile, including that deep bass that Beats are known for. And of course, as any workout earbuds should be, these earbuds are sweat and water-resistant with an IPX4 rating.

If you’re not to keen on spending a ton of money on workout headphones, the good news is that Prime Day should bring them back down to their all-time low price of $159.95. Though, if you miss out, we do see them get down to this price throughout the year.

Battery life: 6 hours (24 hours with case) | Colors: Black, white, coral, gray, purple, blue, yellow, tan, brown, beige


Best premium noise-cancelling headphones: Bose QuietComfort Ultra

white bose qc ultra headphones on a green book

Read our full review of the Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones.

Who it’s for:

If you’re looking for a headphone experience built around excellent ANC, we think the Bose 700 headphones will more than do the job (and for a lot less). However, if you appreciate premium features such as spatial audio and want the most comfortable pair of headphones we’ve ever tested, then you’ll be happy with the new Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones — and you’ll still dole out less than you would for Apple AirPods Max over-ear headphones. If they get their typical markdown during Prime Day, you should expect to grab these Bose headphones for around $379, but we’ve seen them drop as low as $339.

And if you need more convincing, we recently named these new Bose headphones the best noise-cancelling headphones for flying.

Why we picked this:

We weren’t at all surprised that these QuietComfort headphones delivered all-day wear without issue. Even with glasses on, they never felt too tight or heavy, despite being an over-ear headphone with earcups that sealed out sound. Speaking of sound, it always came out well-rounded and functioned well with the immersive audio (which, by the way, is a new feature for the QuietComfort line).

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They don’t have adjustable ANC like the 700s, but the one ANC level works, though it will shine the most with lower-pitched tones (for higher tones, a bit of music or a podcast will go a long way in assisting the built-in noise cancellation). As for the downsides, these headphones are expensive at $429 (though you can find them on sale), so we expected a lot out of them. The pairing can be a little touch and go at times and completely fine at others, but this inconsistency is characteristic of other Bose headphones we’ve tested.

The most baffling flaw of these headphones is the lack of passive playback, meaning you have to turn on the headphones to use the wired connection. Though these are clearly meant to be wireless headphones first and foremost, this feels like a weird oversight (and a deviation from older models). Still, on balance, we think they justify the investment — they’re really comfortable.

Battery life: 24 hours | Colors: White, black, sandstone


Best wired earbuds: Marshall Mode

marshall headphones on deskmat next to lamp

Who it’s for:

There are a lot of good reasons to consider wired earbuds. Some people simply don’t want the hassle of constantly charging their headphones. Fair enough. Some people want impressive audio quality without shelling out $100 or more, and some simply aren’t buying what Big Bluetooth is selling. For shoppers who fall into any of the above groups, we recommend the affordable Marshall Mode earbuds.

Why we picked this:

Though they’re only $60 (and usually on sale for less than $40), Marshall Mode earbuds deliver better sound than most wireless earbuds that are triple the price. The bass is clear but not overpowering, and the highs bright but never too thin or tinny-sounding.

As for how you sound on the headphone’s built-in mic, friends we spoke to on the phone said we came through with perfect clarity (the same can’t be said for our tester’s two-and-a-half year old first-generation AirPods Pro). Lower down on the wire is a separate remote, so you can pause and play your audio or hang up your calls without fiddling around with the mic. If you’re sensing a theme, these earbuds are well-designed, and that comes through in how they wear and store.

During our testing, we had no trouble with the wire tangling, and it never felt too long during everyday wear. The buds themselves come with three ear tip sizes and wear comfortably all day. If you’re not a fan of the shape of AirPods, then you’re likely to find these a better shape for actually keeping your earbuds situated in your ears. There is one major downside with these wired earbuds, however. Unlike their more expensive wired counterparts, Marshall’s don’t come with a replaceable wire, so you’ll want to take extra care to be as gentle as you can with the wire to extend its lifespan.

Though these headphones have a full price of $59.99, they’re almost always marked down to $36 to $38 on Amazon. If you catch them on sale for even less during Prime Day, they’re definitely worth picking up.

Battery life: N/A | Colors: Black


How we tested the best headphones

Over the years, we’ve tested out a lot of headphones and wireless earbuds at Mashable. To determine the best of the best, and not just pick what’s trendy at the moment, we went back through our reviews from former and current tech reporters, editors, and shopping reporters. From JBL and Sony to Samsung and Anker Soundcore, we did our research to make sure we left no major headphone stone unturned, and the result is this guide — our favorite vetted and tested headphones of 2024 (so far).

All of the headphones in this guide were hands-on tested. In making our selections, we weighed:

  • Sound: Since headphones are first and foremost a way for you to listen to audio, if a pair of headphones didn’t sound good, they didn’t make the list — that goes for our budget pick, too.

  • Noise cancellation: These days, some form of noise cancellation is near-essential for any pair of headphones. We prioritized models that feature solid noise cancellation.

  • Comfort: What’s the point of a great pair of headphones if they’re too uncomfortable to wear?

  • Customization: Whether it be for ANC levels, transparency modes, or touch controls, headphones that allow you to adjust the settings will make them feel like they were made for you.

  • Battery life: Most wireless headphones on the market rely on Bluetooth connectivity, so having a battery you can rely on for at least a few hours of listening time is key.

  • Special features: When testing headphones and earbuds, we also take into consideration any other special features they offer. For headphones in the $200-plus price range, we expect at least a few special features.

You might notice that the Apple AirPods Max are missing from our top picks. It’s not that we don’t like them — in fact, we think they sound and look great. But when we reviewed them, we found that they didn’t have a practical storage option, they never really turn off (thus draining the otherwise long battery life), and are just too expensive to justify a wholehearted recommendation. We understand if you like them regardless, but personally, we think there are better options at lower price points.

Recent testing updates

As of Feb. 2024, two of our former recommendations, the Skullcandy Sesh Evo earbuds and Sennheiser IE 300 have been discontinued. We’re in the process of testing new headphones to take their place, and we chose the Marshall Mode earbuds as our new budget pick for earbuds. We also added in the Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones as an upgrade recommendation in March 2024.

From April to May 2024, we also tested the Marshall Major V headphones and Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 headphones, both of which had excellent sound profiles and easy to navigate custom equalizers on their companion apps. Ultimately, they didn’t make the cut on our final list for a couple of reasons. With the Major V headphones, we love that their claim of 100+ hours of battery life held up under our testing, but we found them to get uncomfortable after a couple of hours. We also would have appreciated ANC at their $149 price point.

For the B&W headphones, we loved their design and premium feel in addition to their truly impressive sound, but we found that their ANC was only so-so. If you’re willing to spend $399, you can find a better balance of sound and ANC in the Sony XM5 headphones.

As of June 2024, we’ve removed the Bose QuietComfort 45 headphones as they’re officially discontinued and unavailable online.



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