For the best quality personal listening experience, a good set of headphones is a must. Headphones have come a long way and now feature integration with voice assistants and offer advanced noise cancellation features. However, audio quality remains the primary parameter on which headphones are judged so we are focusing more on that aspect in this comparison.
Audio quality is actually a personal preference. Some prefer their tracks to be bass-heavy while others prefer to focus on the mids. So it is important that your choice of headphone reflects this preference. Other features such as noise cancellation are equally important if you find yourself in noisy environments often. But do remember that depending on the implementation, noise cancellation can actually compromise on the audio quality. Battery life is another important aspect if you want to go fully wireless. The quality of wireless audio depends on many factors and is generally not as accurate as wired audio.
Keeping these factors in mind, we have narrowed down the list of best headphones that offer a good balance of features and audio quality. So, here we present the 11 best headphones to buy in 2019.
1. Sony WH-1000XM3
- Features: Quick pairing over NFC; Touch-based controls; Smart listening mode; Can be both wired and wireless; High-resolution audio; LDAC support
- Connection: Stereo 3.5mm (wired); Bluetooth/NFC (wireless)
- Noise Cancellation: Supported
- Battery Life: Up to 30 hours
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 7.31 x 10.44 x 2.94 in
The Sony WH-1000XM3 is the latest iteration in the popular XM series and features enhanced noise cancellation and premium audio quality thanks to the 40 mm drivers capable of reproducing a full range of frequencies up to 40 kHz. The build quality of the XM3 is excellent and it folds easily into a compact carrying case that is great for carrying on flights or long journeys. The XM3 also features a dedicated voice input microphone that is isolated from the rest of the microphones for clear voice during audio calls. The XM3 is one of the best noise-canceling headphones available and it offers a lot of smart features such as the Sense Engine that can tune the audio based on ambient noise.
The Sony WH-1000XM3 supports the superior LDAC codec that offers better quality than aptX Bluetooth audio. The noise cancelation is also the best in the business and we can say that Sony has overtaken Bose in this regard. There have been a few reports of echoing on the other side during voice calls but those are far and few in between. If you are looking for the best headphones that cover multiple use cases and offer excellent noise cancelation, the Sony WH-1000XM3 is what you need.
- Pros: Excellent audio quality; Best-in-class noise cancelation
- Cons: Occasional echo during voice calls
2. Bose QuietComfort 35 II
- Features: Dual-mic system for noise rejection; World-class noise cancellation; Alexa-enabled; Personalized settings
- Connection: Stereo 3.5mm (wired); Bluetooth (wireless)
- Noise Cancellation: Supported
- Battery Life: Up to 20 hours
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 6.7 x 7.1 x 3.2 in
Bose is known for offering the best noise cancelation headphones in the business and the QuietComfort 35 II is a prime example of that. The QC 35 II offers three levels of noise cancelation and up to 20 hours of battery life. It has Amazon Alexa built-in for voice control or you can summon your smartphone’s assistant via Bluetooth as well. The Bose Connect app offers a one-stop-shop for managing all aspects of your headphone including music sharing and future software updates. World-class noise cancellation is only one aspect of the QC 35 II. It is also more comfortable to wear than the Sony XM series and the sound feels full and well-balanced.
It is a tough call between the Sony WH-1000XM3 and the Bost QC 35 II even for us given the fact that both headphones are equally matched both in terms of performance and price. We’ll let you be the judge in this case so try them out and see which of these two offer a sound profile suited to your listening style.
- Pros: Excellent audio quality and noise cancellation; Bose Connect app
- Cons: None as such
3. Yamaha HPH-MT8
If you are looking at studio-quality audio at a relatively affordable price, the Yamaha HPH-MT8 should be high on your list. The MT8 can be used as a monitoring headphone as it features accurate frequency response and stereo imaging over a range of frequencies from the lows to the mids, and all the way to the highs. Since the studio environment is relatively noise-free, Yamaha adopts a passive noise cancelation approach that isolates background audio. The MT8 features large 45 mm drivers that provide excellent audio output without distortion even at high volumes.
The MT8 is also highly comfortable to wear and offers good cushioning on the ears to prevent fatigue. The bass response might feel a bit heavy for some but that is something that can be easily adjusted. Unlike many other headphones in this series, the MT8 does not offer any smartphone app but keeps it simple and focuses on the audio.
- Pros: Studio-quality audio; Deep bass
- Cons: No active noise cancellation; No wireless option
4. Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature
If money is not a concern and you desire the absolute best in terms of audio quality, there are very few alternatives to the Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature. The P9 Signature puts more emphasis on pure sound quality than on fancy features. You will, therefore, lose out on features such as active noise cancellation, wireless connectivity, and the likes. They weigh quite a bit but are still comfortable to wear for long listening words. Those looking at experiencing a lot of detail in their tracks will find that the P9 Signature truly lives up to its name. Instrumentation gets separated well and you will be able to hear all the nuances in the track that are often not perceivable in other headphones. Like any other studio-grade headphone, the P9 Signature has a very flat response leaving it up to the listener on how the music should be tuned.
Given the high music quality output of the P9 Signature, you would do best to feed it with high-quality music sources. You may not notice many benefits over other headphones if you listen to compressed music such as those found in MP3s and streaming services. However, feed P9 sources such as CD audio or FLAC and you will see that it shines. That is not to say that streaming music listeners won’t find any benefit — just that it won’t be substantial enough to justify the high price. The P9 Signature is geared towards audiophiles who cannot compromise on audio quality. In pursuit of this, the P9 Signature omits all ‘flashy’ features. The only extras you will be getting are the availability of an inline remote and a Lightning connector adapter.
- Pros: Excellent audio quality; Inline remote
- Cons: No active noise cancellation; No wireless connectivity
5. Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro
- Features: Studio quality headphones; Neodymium drivers; Tangle-free cord; Used by audio professionals
- Connection: Stereo 3.5mm (wired)
- Noise Cancellation: Supported
- Battery Life: No batteries present
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 7 x 8.5 x 4 in
Beyerdynamic is one of the best headphone brands in the industry and the DT 1990 Pro offers studio-quality audio for mixing and mastering and also for casual listening. The DT 1990 Pro offers 45 mm Tesla audio drivers for unmatched sound precision. These drivers offer brilliant highs and a deep and precise bass that has to be listened to be believed. The DT 1990 Pro is also designed for long hours of listening and is extremely comfortable to wear with a sound pressure of just 102 dB SPL. The open-back design helps in natural reproduction of sound exactly how the artists mixed it in the first place.
The Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro is clearly meant for those who appreciate critical sound quality so if you are buying one of these, make sure to feed them quality source audio such as FLAC files. Compressed audio such as MP3 is just not the right format for a headphone of this caliber. Also, you need to connect the DT 1990 Pro to a quality DAC and amp in order to drive the 250-ohm impedance of these headphones.
- Pros: Professional-grade audio quality; Comfortable for long hours of use
- Cons: Expensive
6. Microsoft Surface Headphones
- Features: Omnisonic audio; Cortana-enabled; Adjustable noise cancellation; Dial-based navigation
- Connection: Stereo 3.5mm (wired); Bluetooth (wireless).
- Noise Cancellation: Adjustable active noise cancellation
- Battery Life: Up to 15 hours
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 7.68 x 8.03 x 1.89 in
The Microsoft Surface Headphone is the latest product to feature in the Microsoft Surface family and is designed to complement the Surface range of devices. The Surface Headphones offer good, balanced audio that envelops the listener. They are also extremely comfortable to wear for extended periods without any sense of fatigue and also offer Microsoft Cortana to control the functions of the headphone with just your voice. The Surface Headphones also feature active noise cancellation, which can be adjusted according to your preference by just turning the on-ear dial.
When it comes to audio quality, the Surface Headphones can elicit mixed reactions depending on what your expectations are. If you are coming from the like of Sony XM3 or Bose QC 35 II, then you might find the overall audio to be a bit lacking, especially in the mids and highs. However, they make an excellent choice if you are more into online streaming music or gaming. The battery is only required for wireless audio and you can simply plug in the Surface Headphones to a 3.5 mm jack and enjoy music without having to worry about battery life. Battery life at 12 hours is on the lower side due to the always-on voice assistant but hopefully, this will be fixed in a later firmware update.
- Pros: Good audio quality for streaming music and gaming; Adjustable noise cancellation
- Cons: Low battery life; Audio quality can get better at mids and highs
7. V-Moda Crossfade 2 Wireless
- Features: Durable design, Superior sound quality; Steel Flex headband made of vegan leather; Clean and deep bass; military-level durability
- Connection: Stereo 3.5 mm (wired) and Bluetooth (wireless)
- Noise Cancellation: Passive
- Battery Life: Up to 14 hours
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 8.5 x 11 x 3 in
The V-MODA Crossfade 2 is one of the best headphones for both music and gaming thanks to it’s huge 50 mm CCAW coil drivers. The Crossfade 2 is fully loaded for the price. It is Hi-Res Audio certified in wired mode, which makes it great for frequencies over 40 kHz. It features a built-in AMP/DAC so you do not need to invest in an external AMP/DAC solution. The Rose Gold version of the Crossfade 2 supports Qualcomm’s aptX codec for quality audio over Bluetooth, which works over a distance of 33 feet. The design of the Crossfade 2 ensures passive noise cancellation, which helps to avoid loss in audio quality normally seen in ANC.
The V-MODA Crossfade 2 sports a durable construction but we feel it somewhat lacks in battery life. V-MODA advertises 14 hours but we often found it offers just 11 hours of wireless playback. Audio on Bluetooth can be improved but that is more to do with the nature of the codec than the headphones themselves.
- Pros: Extremely durable construction; Good audio quality over wired connections
- Cons: Low battery life
8. Sennheiser Momentum 2.0
The Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 is still a classic headphone for those who prefer to remain wired. Sennheiser offers two variants for Android and iOS devices and both offer a similar set of features. The build quality is excellent and the 18-ohm transducers do a fine job in reproducing the audio accurately. The cable includes an in-line remote and mic for controlling music and taking calls. Call quality is good and the voice is clearly reproduced without any breaks. You can swap out the detachable cable and use the same set of cans with Android devices if needed. There is no ANC here and the closed-back design offers only a minimal degree of passive noise cancellation.
We would recommend the Momentum 2.0 if all you need is a good sounding pair of headphones for casual music or streaming services. It lacks some of the advanced options found in the other models we listed above but then, these are also priced accordingly. Just ensure that you get original headphones as the Momentum series is one of the most heavily counterfeited headphone models. As long as your expectations are tempered, the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 offers great value for the money.
- Pros: Good value for money; Audio quality good at low and high frequencies
- Cons: No ANC; No wireless support
9. Sennheiser HD 660 S
The Sennheiser HD 6xx series is not new to the audiophile world and the latest addition, the HD 660 S continues the tradition of catering to discerning music listeners. The HD 660 S offers multiple connectors in the box including 4.4 and 6.3mm plugs. You also get a converter to 3.5mm so you can still use them with most devices. There are no spare earpads, but the included ones get the job done just fine. The HD 660 S has the excellent build quality and although it adds some weight, it offers a reassuring grip that does not slide on your head. The HD 660 S is an open-back headphone. This means that there is no noise cancellation and what you hear can be, in fact, heard by others around you. So, unless you are sure that you really need an open-back headphone, you will have to think twice before getting an HD 660 S. However, open-back headphones offer a much truer representation of sound than conventional closed-back headphones.
The audio performance of the HD 660 S is excellent and fully justifies the price. The response across all the frequencies is adequate and well-balanced. Voice reproduction has a lot of clarity and the open-back design ensures that you are able to hear the sound in its entirety. The bass is just about right — not too punchy yet not too lacking. This means listening to long hours won’t be tiring and does not affect your hearing in the long run. Not just music, even games sound great on the HD 660 S making it one of the best all-purpose headphones. As with any high-end headphone, you will have to feed it good quality audio else it is difficult to extract the maximum quality that these cans are capable of. If you have a high-end integrated or dedicated soundcard with a quality DAC, expect to have a great aural experience. The 150-ohm impedance is lower than some of the other high-end headphones, but as long as you have a good amp-DAC combo, the Sennheiser HD 660 S is one of the best headphones for music under $500.
- Pros: Excellent sound quality; Balanced audio
- Cons: Lower bass frequencies not adequately reproduced
10. Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2
The Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2 may elicit varied reactions for its looks, but there is no doubt that it is a great performer for the price. Particularly, bass heads will love the Backbeat Pro 2 as it’s bass response is really high — so high that you may have to adjust the EQ to make them sound more balanced. For the price, you get a decent feature set including active noise cancellation, up to 24 hours of music playback; and long-range Class 1 Bluetooth that can allow for wireless streaming up to 100m distance. Playback controls are available on the left ear cup along with a toggle for noise cancellation. The right cup has a slider to start Bluetooth pairing and also a button for taking calls. You can turn off the active noise cancellation to get some more battery life. Apart from this, the headphone also supports auto play and pause when you put on and take off, respectively. Despite their large size, the Backbeat Pro 2 poses no discomfort and can be worn for long hours without issues.
The Backbeat Pro 2 offers excellent performance for the price, especially if you love bass. Interestingly, the bass seems to be more dominating over Bluetooth than over a wired connection. The extra bass also has a positive side-effect of being able to listen to music with dominating highs for longer periods. Active noise cancellation works well. It is not as great as something that a Bose QuietComfort 35 can do but manages to get the job done for the price. Plantronics claims that the Backbeat Pro 2 can last up to 24 hours on a single charge, which is very impressive. The charging does take some time but the trade-off is well worth it. You can simply charge it overnight before heading out to explore the wilderness. If the styling and heavy bass signature appeal to you, the Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2 is the best headphone with noise cancellation under $200.
- Pros: Very good audio quality; Active noise cancellation; Long battery life
- Cons: Bass-heavy sound signature
11. Grado SR125e
Grado is a known name among audio enthusiasts and the SR125e is one of the company’s more affordable headphones that offer great audio output for the price. The SR125e sports a minimalist design without all the bells and whistles found in some of the other models. The SR125e is also open-back, meaning you get to experience a more fuller soundstage compared to conventional headphones. However, this also means that noise cancellation will not be available and those sitting beside you may be able to hear whatever you playback. The design language combined with the open-back design means that the SR125e is more suited for indoor use than outdoors. The SR125e is also very lightweight and you can wear them for considerably longer periods without issues.
Audio quality on the SR125e is similar to other Grados in the market — excellent. The SR125e is designed for a balanced sound profile. It does not amplify bass or make the highs sound too prominent. Essentially, these headphones try to replicate what the artist wants you to listen and not the other way around. That being said, the headphones themselves are capable of a good bass response with the lower frequencies touching 20 Hz. You can always adjust the sound signature in your music player’s EQ as per your preferences. In the box, Grado also offers a 6.5mm adapter if you want to connect the SR125e to high-end audio setups. The headphones have an impedance of 32 ohms — not too high but can get the job done with most music sources. For audiophiles on a budget, the Grado SR125e is one of the best headphones coming from a reputed brand.
- Pros: Balanced sound; Comfortable to wear
- Cons: No active noise cancellation
Dear readers, that sums up our choices for the best headphones available in 2019. As always, listening preferences vary greatly between person to person so we still recommend that you try one out at a local shop before purchasing. Do note that the most expensive headphone doesn’t necessarily mean the best quality. It all depends on what sort of audio you listen to and what preferences you have with respect to wired and wireless options.
We hope that this article has addressed your needs for buying a quality headphone set. If you have any questions or recommendations, feel free to post them in the comments below and we will get back to you at the earliest.