Best headphones 2022: Brilliant audio options to suit every budget

Andy White
12 Dec 2022

Take your audio enjoyment to new heights with our pick of the best headphones to suit all budgets and style preferences

Selecting the best headphones from the countless options available can be a daunting task.

First, you need to select what style of headphones you want. Next, you'll want to set yourself a budget and work out which features you require before reading up on pairs that fit the brief. Or, you could have us do the hard work for you.

We've tested a huge number of headphones across every price bracket and compiled a list of our favourites in a range of popular categories. Below that list, there's a comprehensive buying guide detailing the pros and cons of the different styles of headphones and a breakdown of their key features.

You can jump to that guide using the link below or keep scrolling to discover what we deem the best headphones the industry has to offer. Whether you're after headphones with audiophile-grade sound quality or headphones to help you drift off at night, we've got you covered.

JUMP TO: How to choose the best headphones for you

Best headphones 2022: At a glance

The best headphones to buy in 2022

1. Sony WF-1000XM4: Best true wireless earbuds

Price: £219 | Buy now from Amazon

Like their over-ear counterparts the WH-1000XM4, Sony's latest pair of wireless earbuds deliver in all the important areas. Audio quality is superb - there's now Hi-res audio support if you're using Sony's proprietary LDAC codec - and noise cancellation is highly effective thanks in no small part to ambient sound control, which adjusts ANC automatically based on your location and actions.

Both the buds and their case are more compact than their predecessor the WF-1000XM3 but battery life remains unchanged at up to 24 hours of audio playback. With hands-free support for Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant, useful features like wear detection and Speak-to-Chat and an IPX4 rating for water resistance, the Sony WF-1000XM4 are exceptional all-rounders and our recommendation if you're after wireless earbuds and have a healthy budget.

Read our Sony WF-1000XM4 review for more details

Key specs – Type: True wireless earbuds; Connections: Bluetooth 5.0; Weight: 6g per earbud, 41g charging case; Cable length: N/A

Other options worth considering:

READ NEXT: Best true wireless earbuds

2. Anker Soundcore Life Q30: Best budget noise-cancelling headphones

Price: £80 | Buy now from Amazon

When it comes to value-for-money over-ear headphones, the Anker Soundcore Life Q30 can't be beaten. They offer three levels of effective active noise cancellation that outperform many of their more expensive rivals, have outstanding battery life and are comfortable to wear for long periods of time.

Their default sound signature is overly bassy to the point where the earcups vibrate noticeably on tracks with a beefy low-end, but pop into the Soundcore companion app and you can customise audio to your heart's content. There are no fewer than 22 different EQ presets available covering just about every genre imaginable along with an eight-band graphic equaliser that enables you to create your own sonic profiles.

With a little bit of tinkering around, you'll be able to find a sound that suits your listening preference and comfortably enjoy distraction-free audio for hours on end.

Read our Anker Soundcore Life Q30 review for more details

Key specs – Type: Over-ear, wireless; Connections: Bluetooth; Weight: 265g; Cable length: 1.2m

Other options worth considering:

READ NEXT: Best over-ear headphones

3. Sony WH-1000XM5: Best over-ear headphones

Price: £379 | Buy now from Amazon

The WH-1000XM5 cost slightly more than their predecessors did at launch but are a superior product, with improved noise cancellation, more detailed audio and a new design that's more comfortable and helps reduce the impact of wind on noise-cancelling performance. It's a design that means the headphones can no longer be folded up, but on balance, this is a sacrifice worth making.

The various convenience features that made their predecessors such a success make a return, including Speak-to-Chat, Quick Attention mode and wear detection. These, along with Sony's Adaptive Sound Control, which automatically adjusts settings based on where you are and what you're doing, ensure Sony remains ahead of the chasing pack when it comes to over-ear noise-cancelling headphones.

Read our Sony WH-1000XM5 review for more details

Key specs – Type: Over-ear, wireless; Connections: Bluetooth; Weight: 250g; Cable length: 1.2m

Other options worth considering:

READ NEXT: Best noise-cancelling headphones and best over-ear headphones

4. SoundMagic E11: Best wired earphones

Price: £40 | Buy now from Amazon

The SoundMagic E11 are the successor to SoundMagic's excellent E10 earphones. They're slightly dearer, but are sonically and aesthetically superior. The earphones have a better soundstage, a more energetic treble and a tamer low-end, delivering a balanced sound signature throughout. There are better sounding wired in-ear headphones out there, including the vastly more expensive Creative SXFI Trio linked in the section below but pound-for-pound, the E11 can't be beaten.

Read our SoundMagic E11 review for more details

Key specsType: In-ear, wired; Connections: 3.5mm jack plug; Weight: Unknown; Cable length: 1.2m

Other options worth considering:

  • Creative SXFI Trio: Outstanding holographic audio | Buy now (£85)
  • Sennheiser CX300S: Affordable earphones from an audiophile brand | Buy now (£30)

READ NEXT: Best cheap headphones

5. Sennheiser HD560S: Best headphones for home listening

Price: £170 | Buy now from Amazon

Open-back headphones are the go-to for those that enjoy spacious, expansive soundstages, and the HD560S are perfect for sitting back and indulging in a lengthy listening session at home.

They're supremely comfortable, with large, velour-lined earcups that feel snug but not too tight, and a soft, padded headband that distributes the headphones' weight nicely across your head. Audio quality is excellent, too. We were very impressed by the poise and clarity with which the HD560S deliver music and there's a real sense of scale to the way they communicate sound. Instrument separation is top-notch, making them ideal for either professional use or critical listening.

The lack of a microphone means they won't see use during meetings while working from home but if you're after a pair of headphones that sound fantastic, feel great and will allow you to hear when a courier rings on your doorbell, they're just the trick.

Read our Sennheiser HD560S review for more details

Key specs – Headphone type: Over-ear; Connections: Weight: 240g; Cable length: 3m

Another option worth considering:

6. Beats Solo 3: Best on-ear headphones

Price: £199 | Buy now from Amazon

The Beats Solo 3 have been around a while now but are still a top pick if you're after on-ear headphones. They're light and comfortable, pair seamlessly with Apple devices and battery life of 40 hours means they have more than enough stamina for most use cases.

Physical buttons make controlling the Solo 3 a breeze and the headphones are available in an attractive range of colours, including the red pictured above, white, silver and gold. Sound quality will divide opinion, as, like many Beats headphones, the Solo 3 favour a boosted bass response over a subtle delivery. If you listen to a lot of pop and hip hop, you'll likely love them, but those with classical leanings will be better served elsewhere.

Read our Beats Solo 3 review for more details

Key specs – Headphone type: On-ear; Connections: Bluetooth, 3.5mm jack; Weight: 215g; Cable length: 1.5m

Other options worth considering:

READ NEXT: Best Bluetooth headphones

7. NuraLoop: Best wireless earphones

Price: £149 | Buy now from Amazon

To make it onto this list, a pair of headphones must be something special – and the NuraLoop are just that. These wireless headphones analyse your hearing and create a unique sound profile that takes into account your sensitivity to various frequencies. The result is a personalised EQ that sounds sensational. The NuraLoop aren’t a one-trick pony, though. Active noise-cancellation is extremely effective, there’s a handy Social Mode for allowing in ambient sound, Immersion Mode for boosting bass, intuitive touch controls and sweat resistance.

On top of all this, the NuraLoop offer a secure and comfortable fit and a massive 16 hours of battery life at half volume. Those of a more traditional disposition can rest easy: these earphones can be used wired with the analogue cable that’s included in the box. If you’re an audiophile that’s yet to experience Nura’s patented technology, you owe it to yourself to give the NuraLoop, the Nuraphone or the NuraTrue a try.

Read our NuraLoop review for more details

Key specs – Type: In-ear, wireless/wired; Connections: Bluetooth, 3.5mm analogue cable; Weight: 27g; Cable length: 1.3m

Another option worth considering:

READ NEXT: Our favourite wireless headphones

8. Apple Airpods 3: Best open-fit wireless earbuds

Price: £169 | Buy now from Amazon

best headphones - Apple AirPods 3

The third-generation Apple AirPods are simply sensational open-fit true wireless earbuds. They deliver on pretty much every front, with the best sound quality of any non-Pro AirPods and support for Apple's incredible Spatial Audio technology.

As was the case with their predecessors, the AirPods 3 provide seamless integration with Apple products in addition to their top-notch build quality, making them the go-to choice for iPhone users. If you don't own an iPhone you can still enjoy their great design and solid audio but you'll be missing out on voice-activated Siri, near-instant Bluetooth pairing and battery-level popups.

New for the third-gen model is a contoured design, which makes them more comfortable than ever, a case that supports Apple's MagSafe charging technology and force sensors built into the stem via which you execute controls.

Those meaningful tweaks along with better-than-ever sound elevate the AirPods 3 well above the second-gen model, which may be tempting at just £119 but we strongly recommend forking out the extra cash for a far superior model.

Read our Apple AirPods 3 review for more details

Key specs – Type: True wireless earbuds; Connections: Bluetooth; Weight: 4g per earbud, 40g charging case; Cable length: N/A

Other options worth considering:

READ NEXT: The best wireless earbuds for every budget

9. Oppo Enco Free 2: Best wireless earbuds under £100

Price: £89 | Buy now from Amazon

There are a huge number of wireless earbuds available for under £100, but none balance sound quality and features quite as well as the Oppo Enco Free 2. Their sound signature was co-tuned by Oppo and Danish audio experts, Dynaudio, and the resultant instrument separation and mid-range detail are highly impressive.

Active noise cancellation works effectively, as does the transparency mode, though you'll need to turn your music down a bit if you want to hold a proper conversation while using the latter. The Enco Free 2's touch controls are relatively limited by current standards but are neatly implemented, with the ability to adjust volume by sliding your finger along the back of the buds proving particularly useful.

Read our Oppo Enco Free 2 review for details

Key specs – Type: True wireless earbuds; Connections: Bluetooth 5.2; Weight: 47.6g (earbuds and charging case); Cable length: N/A

Other options worth considering:

READ NEXT: Our favourite wireless earbuds and best cheap wireless earbuds

10. Shokz OpenRun Pro: Best bone-conduction headphones

Price: £160 | Buy now from Amazon

Shokz (formerly AfterShokz) may have been rebranded, but it remains the market-leading manufacturer of bone-conduction headphones.

Bone-conduction headphones are a great choice if you don't get on with in-, on- or over-ear headphones, delivering sound via vibrations on your cheekbones and leaving your ears completely free. This allows you to remain aware of your surroundings while you enjoy audio and, as a result, bone-conduction headphones are the only syle of headphones approved for road races under the UK Athletics Rules of Competition.

The OpenRun Pro are Shokz' flagship option and deliver the best sound quality of any bone-conduction headphones we've tested. They also vibrate less, leak less sound and possess class-leading battery life along with an IP55 rating for water resistance. They're the priciest bone-conduction headphones on the market but in terms of performance, you definitely get what you pay for.

Read our Shokz OpenRun Pro review for details

Key specs – Type: Bone conduction; Connections: Bluetooth 5.1; Weight: 29g; Cable length: N/A

Other options worth considering:

READ NEXT: Best bone-conduction headphones and best gym headphones

11. Kokoon Nightbuds: Best headphones for sleeping

Price: From £170 | Buy now from Kokoon

While we're not totally convinced by their sleep-tracking capabilities or the sleep data they provide, there's no denying how comfortable the Kokoon Nightbuds are to wear in bed. Their tiny earbuds feel practically non-existent in your ears, which makes dropping off with them in pretty easy once you've got used to wearing them.

The selection of sleep aids available in the MyKokoon companion app is pretty decent but the Nightbuds' big advantage over their sleep headphones rivals is that they allow you to stream audio over Bluetooth. This means you can enjoy your favourite podcast as you drift off and have audio fade out when the buds pick up that you've fallen asleep. You'll be paying a premium for the privilege, but if you struggle to sleep, it may just be a price worth paying.

Read our Kokoon Nightbuds review for details

Key specs – Type: Wireless earphones; Connections: Bluetooth; Weight: 23g; Cable length: N/A

Buy now from Kokoon

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How to choose the best headphones for you

The sheer number of headphones on the market can make selecting the right pair a tricky task. Things become a lot easier if you're able to narrow down your options by choosing your preferred style and working out which features are essential to your use case.

Which style of headphones is right for me?

Headphones fall into three main categories: over-ear, on-ear and in-ear, with a fourth - bone conduction - gaining in popularity. Each has its pros and cons, so make a decision based on the style you find most comfortable to wear and that best suits your listening needs.

Over-ear headphones completely envelop your ears, creating a seal around them. This helps reduce the impact of external sound on your listening experience - referred to as sound isolation - but the earcups can be rather bulky as a result. Fortunately, many are foldable to enable easy transportation.

On-ear headphones sit on your ears rather than over them. Because their earcups are smaller, on-ear headphones are usually more compact and lighter than their over-ear counterparts. However, they don't isolate sound nearly as well and some people find the force applied to their ears uncomfortable.

In-ear headphones are inserted into your ears and are either shaped to rest there without falling out or come with eartips to help secure them in place. They take a number of forms and are the best choice if you're after a portable, lightweight audio solution.

Neckband earphones operate wirelessly but the earpieces remain connected to one another via a wire that runs behind your neck. True wireless earbuds - the fastest-growing area of the headphones market - get rid of wiring altogether and rely solely on Bluetooth for connectivity.

Bone conduction headphones rest on your cheekbones and create mini vibrations that move through bones in your skull and into the inner ear. For those with damaged eardrums or those wanting to be more aware of environmental sound, bone conduction headphones are a fantastic choice, though they’re not recommended if you’re after total immersion in your audio.

Are the best headphones wired or wireless?

There's no easy answer to this as both have advantages and disadvantages. Wired headphones connect directly to your audio source via a physical connection, be that a 3.5mm jack, USB-A or USB-C input. This physical connection means the headphones don't ever need charging, which is a big plus, and audio quality is typically superior to that produced over a wireless connection.

Depending on the devices you wish to use your headphones with, you'll want to choose wired headphones that offer a compatible connection. For example, Apple's recent iPhones use a proprietary Lightning port so headphones sporting a 3.5mm connection won't work with them without an adapter.

As Bluetooth connectivity has developed, we've seen more and more of the best headphones making the switch to wireless functionality. Connect your smartphone or laptop to your headphones over Bluetooth and you can enjoy audio without the need for any wiring to connect them. This means the headphones will need to be charged regularly but, in the case of earbuds, you get a portable charging case to help boost battery life. If you’re specifically interested in wireless headphones, check out our list of the best Bluetooth headphones available.

Active noise cancellation (ANC): ANC technology is designed to drown out external noise. It’s an essential feature if you want to zone out from the rest of the world when on a noisy commute. Read our list of the best ANC headphones for more details.

Integrated microphone and voice assistant: You'll be hard-pressed to find a pair of headphones that don't come with some kind of microphone built-in, but it's well worth checking before you buy. A significant number support the use of your voice assistant, so if Google Assistant, Alexa or Siri are essential to your daily routine, make sure the headphones you buy have voice assistant support.

Touch controls: Touch controls allow you to control your audio without needing to access the device playing it. Over-complicated touch controls can be off-putting but you want to make sure the key commands, namely volume up/down and play/pause, are available.

Bluetooth codecs: Codecs determine how data is transmitted from your audio output to your headphones and not all of them are created equally. SBC is pretty much universal and works well enough but if you want an optimal wireless experience you should look out for codecs capable of transmitting high-resolution audio such as Qualcomm's aptX HD. Bear in mind that not every device supports every codec so check for compatibility before buying. It's also worth noting that both your headphones and the audio source must support a codec for you to be able to use it.

Waterproofing: Having some level of sweat/waterproofing is always welcome. Be on the lookout for IP certification - anything higher than IPX4 means your headphones will survive a sudden downpour and are cut out for use in the gym or while running. It's rare to find IP certification on over-ear and on-ear headphones but most of the best headphones designed to fit in your ears will have it.

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