Headphones have come a long way. We’ve come from bulky, uncomfortable, and boring cans to ones that seem to float on your ears, connect in almost every possible way and are usually optimized for travel.
However, just because they’re modem doesn’t mean they’re good. For that reason, we decided to find the best headphones for 2020. We ordered out list from the least expensive to the most expensive, so settling in the middle is where you should find the best value.
We considered a few areas when evaluating the headphones outside of pure performance. For low-end options, we looked for a great value. For more expensive options, we look for the absolute pinnacle of performance. However, throughout all of them, the headphones had to look great, feel great, connect easily (Bluetooth is a plus), and, of course, sound great.
Before we dive in, it should be noted that you may need to make some more considerations before settling on a pair of cans. Maybe you want to get a pair that matches your style or may opt for Bluetooth because you hate cords. While we can’t cover every base, there’s a solid list below. Bear those extra details in mind before making a purchase.
With that being said, on with the list!
|AKG Y50BT||20Hz – 20kHz||On-Ear||3.5mm, Bluetooth||$149.95|
|Audio Technica ATH-M50x||15Hz – 28kHz||Over-Ear||3.5mm||$149.99|
|Beyerdynamic DT 990 Premium||5Hz – 35kHz||Over-Ear||3.5mm||$219.99|
|V-Moda Crossfade 2||5Hz – 40kHz||Over-Ear||3.5mm, Bluetooth||$329.99|
|Bose QuietComfort 35||10Hz – 20kHz||Over-Ear||3.5mm, Bluetooth||$349.99|
|OPPO PM-3||10Hz – 50kHz||Over-Ear||3.5mm||$399.99|
|Sony MDR-HW700||5Hz – 25kHz||Over-Ear||3.5mm, wireless receiver||$499.99|
|Bowers & Wilkins P9||2Hz – 30kHz||Over-Ear||3.5mm||$899.99|
|Sennheiser HD 800||14Hz – 44.1kHZ||Over-Ear||3.5mm||$1,399.95|
Let’s dive deeper into what makes each one of these headphones so great.
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Starting off our list is the most inexpensive option of the bunch. Most inexpensive of our list, yes, but definitely not cheap. If you’re looking for headphones that are stylish, convenient, and sound great, then the AKG Y50BTs may be for you.
Bass comes through clear with the 40mm drivers, and highs are clear and detailed. Thankfully, the bass doesn’t cloud the midrange, courtesy of the conservative driver size. The soundstage is wide enough to paint a portrait of where each instrument is supposed to live, with the definition in frequency ranges making this sonic image clear.
For the money, I’m actually really surprised at how good they sound.
Bluetooth and NFC make connecting to your mobile device a breeze. There are also audio and calling controls under one of the earcups. This is rounded out by a rated 20 hours of battery life, so you should have little issues getting through the day with them.
The only flaw I found is in the placement of the on/off switch. It sits in between the two earcups, meaning that it can easily be flick when the headphones are folded down. Dead headphones are no fun.
However, the on-ear and foldable design make them perfect for travel, sacrificing a bit in comfort for convenience. It should be noted that, while these headphones are on-ear, they do block out a lot of sounds. The earcups are thick and apply just enough pressure to isolate your listening experience.
The Audio Technica ATH-M50Xs come in at the same price as the Y50BTs, but for a different reason. Bluetooth connectivity and flashy design are ditched in favor of audio quality that shoots far above the price point.
These are considered monitoring headphones, meaning their goal is to sound as flat as possible for mixing or reference purposes. Because of that, nothing is too overbearing in the frequency spectrum. Large 45mm drivers give plenty of room for the bass to punch through, mids are details and not bloated, and highs are clear and detailed.
However, what you plug them into matters just as much in the quality. While the same is true for all headphones, the ATH-M50xs show this truth to be especially paramount. They expose the truth in the device you plug them into. This is a double-sided point, though. While they reveal the bad points in your audio path, they glorify the good points.
While Bluetooth isn’t present, these headphones still come with plenty of ways to connect. Included is a detachable 3.9′ – 9.8′ coiled cable, detachable 9.8′ straight cable, and detachable 3.9′ straight cable.
An over-ear design may lead you to believe that they isolate noise better than the Y50BTs, but that’s not the case. The padding isn’t super thick and noise bleeds through. It isn’t a problem, but don’t expect to be in auditory bliss if you ride the subway every day. Read our full review here.
Beyerdynamic DT 990 Premium
Continuing the point of reference headphones are the DT 990 Premiums. There is a “pro” version of the headphones, but these sound far better for only $50 more. The headphones are nearly reference, but still mainstream enough to satisfy casual listeners.
The response is about as flat as it gets without going completely to reference. Mids are subtly scooped, with highs and lows poking through a bit more. They don’t sound immature, though. The midrange just sounds refined, with the areas that matter sticking out, and the areas that don’t being cut.
Like with most Beyerdynamic headphones, the power of the DT 990s really shines with solid amplification. Yes, a 32-ohm version is offered, but the 250-ohm version with a good amp is a far better experience overall. Of course, these cans feature the classic Beyerdynamic plush earcups.
They rest perfectly around the ear and make the headphones seem to float on your head.
However, while they wrap around your ears, they don’t really isolate much sound. The open design means a lot of noise bleed is here. If you’re in relatively low noise environments, then everything is gravy. But, if you need to cut out a lot of background noise, this may not be for you.
Additionally, the headphones aren’t the most convenient to carry around. They don’t fold down and the cord is attached at all times. For that reason, these cans really shine at home, not on the go.
Other Beyerdynamic headphones to consider:
Getting away from the reference cans are the V-Moda Crossfade 2s. Even the first glance sets these headphones apart, but that’s not all. The military-like build quality, excellent quality over Bluetooth, and plethora of customization options make these headphones sit in a class of their own.
First off, the headphones officially support hi-res audio (frequencies above 40kHz as certified by the JAS). Even though you may not actually hear that, you will hear the kickback. Highs are crispy, without an ounce of harshness. Lows are full and punchy with generous 50mm drivers and don’t overcrowd highly detailed midrange.
Memory foam earcups rest over your ear, applying just the right amount of pressure. For my head, at least. Additionally, the completely foldable design and carrying case make them great for traveling.
Speaking of which, their sound is little issues taking these headphones just about everywhere with you. The durability meets military-level MIL-STD-810G test standards and the detachable cable is rated for 1 million+ bend without breaking. In short, you’ll have to try really hard to break them.
While Bluetooth is present, V-Moda has some other wired options. Included in that super-built cable that has a microphone and single button operation. However, V-Moda also offers a cable with a pseudo-lav microphone and one with aqn in-line microphone and three buttons for volume and pause/play. Read our full review here.
Other V-Moda headphones to consider:
Bose QuietComfort 35
We can’t make a list without including the famous (or infamous depending on your feelings) Bose QuietComfort 35. While they’re a bit overpriced, these headphones still prove to be some of the best on the market for their niche. They sound great, isolate noise like no one’s business, and float on your ears like they were never there in the first place.
The soundstage sits in the perfect spot on these headphones. It’s not too wide but still gives enough spread to pick out individual instruments. Even with dense music, the QC35s still give depth to the track overall. They aren’t the pinnacle, but most people are going to be blown out of their seats with how good they sound.
But, what’s really important is the active noise cancellation. Bose owns the noise-canceling game, and there’s little argument about that. What’s so special is the lack of “pressure” that’s felt with other noise-canceling headphones. Most feel like they’re pushing your head from both sides. That’s not the case here, just pure blockage of sound that feels completely natural.
Bose sits kind of in the middle in terms of comfort and portability. The memory foam earcups are great, but the mostly plastic design makes them a little worrisome for travel. I don’t think they’ll break under normal circumstances, but they definitely can’t take the beating that the V-Modas can.
See how the Bose QuietComfort 35 compares to other models:
Now is where we step into more premium options. If you’re looking for value, look elsewhere. This is the point of diminishing returns, but what results are headphones that are the top of the game. The OPPO PM-3s are the choice of an audio purist who doesn’t want to refinance their house for a pair of headphones.
The PM-3s give the experience that audiophiles are looking for. You hear the nuance in the music that you would otherwise not notice. With that, you can really appreciate tracks that have been crafted with precision. In actual response, the cans sound flat.
These aren’t “hyped” headphones in any area. Bass still thumps, highs are still crispy, and mids still give some punch, but not frequency range takes over. The quality is really dependant on the track you put through the headphones. Additionally, since they are so neutral sounding, the cans take EQ very well.
Outside of the actual sound, these headphones are absolutely gorgeous. With a mix between plastic and metal in the construction combines to make a pair of cans that is rigid while still being beautiful. The clean silver lines that grasp each ear cup are complemented by an understated black, white, or blue earcup. Seriously, I could look at these headphones for hours.
You don’t have Bluetooth, no. But you go have a 1.2-meter detachable cable for iPhone with a microphone and one-touch controls, so not all is lost.
Okay, so I lied a little. Yes, we’re at the point of diminishing returns, but not all headphones up here are “artisan” pieces. Nope, the MDR-HW700s are the only pair of surround sound headphones on this list. They just so happen to sound great at the same time.
These cans actually support true 5.1 surround sound. However, through Sony’s Virtualphones technology, these can produce a simulated 9.1 signal. The 5.1 signal is translated into simulated sources, with two in the front and two in the back. It’s not true 9.1 surrounds, but it’s close. If you want your audio to surround you, whether for movies or games, then this is about as close as you can get without going all out.
The surround experience is further enhanced by the onboard DSP. This helps reproduce the nuances of sound sources and provides support for up 192kHz/24-bit uncompressed audio. If you can find it, that is.
The wireless connectivity is achieved through the included amp. Connecting is about as simple as it gets. After pairing, the headphones and amp turn on when you put on the headphones and they turn off when you take them off. The amp does stay on though, so you’ll have to manually turn it off.
However, they don’t stay on long. The DSP eats battery life, and the cans are only rated for 12 hours of use. Make sure you have a USB port handy to give them some juice after you’re done using it.
Other Sony headphones to consider:
Bowers & Wilkins P9
If you’re looking for true luxury headphones, then these next two are a good place to look. Well above anything decently priced, these next two options are reserved for those who demand the best in quality. Or, just have a ton of money burning a hole in their pocket.
This starts with the Bowers & Wilkins P9s. These headphones present a very balanced sound, lacking the peaks and valleys experienced in more inexpensive headphones. Bass is generous but doesn’t overpower, and highs are present without piercing your ears. This is true even when the headphones are cranked up. No matter what level you listen to, these cans produce a balanced sound that never sounds unpleasant.
However, they have to look great too at this price. Thankfully, they do. The P9s are crafted with aluminum and Italian Saffiano leather, making them durable, comfortable, and beautiful. Multi-layered and vented memory foam inside of the ear cups gives plenty of relief on your heads and rarely causes an issue.
It should be noted that these headphones clamp down pretty hard on your head. But, this does create a perfect seal, and the dream-like earcups mean that they won’t hurt your ears for long listening sessions.
The only downside here is the cable. It is attached at all times and feels a little cheap. It isn’t braided and I’m a little concerned with how it will hold up over time.
Other Bowers & Wilkins headphones to consider:
Sennheiser HD 800
Here we are. The cream of the crop. The Sennheiser HD 800s have a legacy and it’s no surprise that they should make their way onto our list.
And that they’re the most expensive. No, they don’t provide a great price to performance ratio. These headphones are for those demanding the best and are willing to pay for them.
Of course, the sound is balanced unlike any other pair on this list. However, the real standout point is the clarity and depth that these cans bring. Instruments are not only separated but easily picked out of a mix. You can hear tiny elements that you may never have heard before, even in other “high-end” headphones.
Again, these are considered reference headphones. They live up to that name, faithfully reproducing the sound you put through them. On the downside, that means that these cans will not glorify poor audio.
It should come as no surprise to those who are familiar with high-end headphones, but for those of you who may not know; these headphones need an amp. They need a good amp too. 300-ohm resistance means you probably won’t hear much plugged directly into anything.
The earcups are large and completely encapsulate your ear. A seal is perfected with microfiber ear cushions that never annoy.
If you’re looking for the very best, then the HD 800s are probably for you.
Other Sennheiser headphones to consider:
- Sennheiser Game Zero
- Sennheiser RS 170 Headphones
- Sennheiser ie80
- Sennheiser HD 598
- Sennheiser Game One vs Zero
- Sennheiser PXC 550 vs Bose QC35
Other brands to consider
- Turtle Beach Elite 800X
- Turtle Beach Elite 800
- Turtle Beach Ear Force X12 Headphones
- Turtle Beach PX4
- Beats Solo HD
- Beats Executive
- urBeats vs. Beats Tour Headphones
- Beats Mixr vs Beats Solo 2
- Beats Mixr vs Studio Headphones
- Monster DNA vs. Beats by Dre Solo 2
- Monster DNA vs Beats Solo 2 In-Depth
Those are our picks! There’s a ton of options out there and each of these headphones has something different to bring to the table. As always, it’s dependant on your needs.
In our research, we found a few other pairs that met our criteria but fell just short of the other options on our list. Beats Solo 3s and Audeze SINEs are both excellent choices as well, so make sure you check those out too before making a decision.
Thanks, as always, for reading through, and make sure to let us know your favorite headphones in the comments below.
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