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The best headphones for any situation

The best headphones for any situation

Whether you’re a picky audiophile, gym rat, or just in it for the aesthetics, there’s a pair of headphones for you.

All products featured here are independently selected by our editors and writers.If you buy something through links on our site, Mashable may earn an affiliate commission.

There are literally thousands of different headphones, earphones, and earbuds out there to choose from. All have the same idea at heart — to provide you with audio without having to play it out loud for everyone to hear. But some achieve this result so much better than others. 

Sure, you could just hit up and buy the cheapest pair (especially during Prime Day), but that’s not always a great idea. You’re going to want to get the best pair for you, and that means you’ll have to think about how you plan on using them after you buy them. Are you planning on listening at home? Taking them on your commute? Do you want to avoid lousy battery life? Go completely wireless?

We’ve checked out numerous pairs of headphones and earphones, and have narrowed them down to our favorites to make your life easier. Regardless of your budget or requirements, there’s a perfect pair of headphones for you out there.


Google Assistant available • Amazing noise cancellation • Battery life

Pricey • Bluetooth range could be better

You’re not gonna hear a thing but your music with these (expensive) babies, and dropping that coin is definitely worth it.

Bose QuietComfort 35 II

One of Bose’s best creations yet, the second generation Quiet Comfort 35s offer a classy look and optimal noise cancellation.

  • Battery life:
    20 hours
  • Colors:
    Black, silver
  • Bluetooth range:
    30 feet
Bose products typically ooze class and that’s the case with the . Primarily, they’re fantastic headphones for their noise-canceling properties. Blocking out a ton of ambient noise, thanks to their comfy and sizable ear pads, they’re perfect for traveling and avoiding the noise of other commuters or travelers. Essentially, it’s like being cocooned away from the rest of the world. Even with noise cancellation switched off, they’re highly effective at eradicating irritating noises. 
Sound-quality-wise, they’re not quite as exceptional as some of Bose’s competitors, but they still pack a hefty punch. A 20-hour battery life (greatly increased if you switch off noise cancellation) means the music won’t stop any time soon either. 
Added bonuses: Additionally, Google Assistant is available through the headphones, reading back notifications for you, and even news headlines or reminders. It’s not a device seller, but it’s a convenient bonus in an already remarkable set of headphones. 


Will actually stay in your ears • “Find my headphones” app • Charging case included

Chunky • Super crappy battery life

These glorious little guys from Bose are basically guaranteed to stay in your ear, but if you lose one, there’s an app for that.

Bose SoundSport Free

These glorious little guys from Bose are basically guaranteed to stay in your ear, but if you lose one, there’s an app for that.

  • Battery life:
    5 hours
  • Colors:
    Triple black, midnight blue, orange
  • Bluetooth range:
    30 feet
What you need to know: Truly wireless earphones are hugely liberating but frequently rather underwhelming when it comes to performance. combine freedom and high sound quality to form a potent package. 
Known as one of the most secure fitting set of earbuds out there, they’re perfect for if you listen to music while hitting the gym, going for a run, or simply want to feel safe in the knowledge that your pricey acquisition can’t be easily lost. 
They’re a little on the chunky side, but Bose’s patented StayHear+ wingtips ensure they’re snug in your ear at all times. A charging case means you don’t have to worry about unsightly cables, even when charging them up. 
Added bonuses: The SoundSport Free also offer some water resistance, rated up to IPX4. You won’t be swimming with these on, but they’re good to go in rain or exceptionally sweaty conditions. There’s a ‘find my headphones’ feature within the Bose app too, which is super useful for those times when you misplace them. They also frequently go on sale for $50 off, so keep an eye out (we’ll also let you know, obviously).


Up to 30 hour battery life • Excellent balanced sound quality

Okay noise cancellation • Not wireless

The sound performance on these bad boys gives Bose a run for their money, and they’re significantly cheaper.

AKG N60NC Headphone

The sound performance on these bad boys gives Bose a run for their money, and they’re significantly cheaper.

  • Battery life:
    15-30 hours
  • Colors:
    Black
  • Bluetooth range:
    Wired
What you need to know: When performance and sound quality is everything to your headphone buying experience, you need to buy . Their noise cancellation isn’t quite as powerful as Bose’s offering, but the sound performance is second to none. They’re not wireless, but come with a specially designed carrying case to make traveling as easy (and untangled) as possible.
Expect to hear well balanced beats, solid bass, and clearly defined midranges. Whatever music you listen to, you’ll hear good performance, even when dealing with quieter instrumental pieces that show up frequency buzzing in cheaper noise cancelling headphones. Playback is limited to about 15 hours but that’s still pretty good for most users. That increases to 30 hours if you switch off noise cancellation. 
Added bonuses: One of the AKG N60NC Headphones’s great strength is its lightweight and small enough to toss into your bag. Other than that, these are a little light on quirky features, focusing on sound quality instead. 

Automatically adjusts to surroundings • Above average wireless range • Extreme customization

Lightweight mid ranges • Pricey

Picky audiophiles will adore the different modes while frequent flyers will love the seamless connection, even in the air.

Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless Headphones

Picky audiophiles will adore the customizable modes while frequent flyers will love the seamless connection, even in the air.

  • Battery life:
    20-30 hours
  • Colors:
    Black
  • Bluetooth range:
    50 feet
What you need to know: On the surface, the might seem like yet another high quality pair of noise cancelling headphones, but they’re so much more than that. They also have a bunch of useful customization features so you get exactly the experience you want.
Regardless of whether you tweak and poke, the Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless Headphones are a great pair of cans. Comfortable and reasonably stylish, your ears won’t feel squashed while you’re wearing them. 
Sound quality is the best yet from a pair of Sennheiser headphones. Meaty yet well balanced, they’re particularly great for listening to bassy tunes, delivering a hefty kick to your ears. The only downside is some lightweight mid ranges but only audiophiles will really notice this discrepancy. 
Added bonuses: Where the truly stand out is with their wealth of features. Active Noise Cancellation isn’t just a matter of off or on — there are two modes. One uses full power noise cancellation while the other scales according to the amount of ambient noise going on around you. It’s ideal if your ears are sometimes sensitive to the pressure effect of noise cancellation, while still protecting you from irrelevant noise.
Alongside that, the Sennheiser app allows for a tremendous amount of tweaks, with presets like Movie mode or Speech giving you a different experience depending on what you’re listening to. 

 


Affordable • Great for on-the-go use • Workout headphones

Slightly unattractive design • Audiophiles will notice a lack of oomph

They’re not the slickest choice, but if you’re tired of headphones feeling heavy, these are your guys.

Plantronics BackBeat Fit 500

They’re not the slickest choice, but if you’re tired of headphones feeling heavy, these are your guys.

  • Battery life:
    18 hours
  • Colors:
    Black, teal
  • Bluetooth range:
    33 feet
What you need to know: Many headphones are comfy but few are so comfortable that you forget you’re wearing them. The are the exception to this rule. Incredibly lightweight, they’re perfect if you work out regularly and don’t want to feel your headphones at all times. That doesn’t mean that these feel cheap either. Despite their affordable price tag, there’s still a decent level of quality here, thanks to anodized aluminum rails that support the headband piece. Just don’t expect them to look amazing when showing them off to friends.
Able to withstand a downpour, even if water seeps into an ear cup, they really are ideal for outdoors use. 
Sound quality is pretty good too, although lacks a certain oomph to the beat. Low end sounds are where this is most evident, but if you’re running or working out with weights, you won’t notice this anywhere near as much as if sitting at home taking in the sounds. 
Added bonuses: The are really pretty cheap for what they offer, so don’t expect any noticeable added bonuses. It’s fairly functional yet effective stuff. 

Best water resistance we’ve seen • Impressively high volume • 30-hour charging case included

Next to no noise cancellation • Crappy battery life on their own

Work out often? These are the buds you can count on to stay in your ears no matter how sweaty you get.

JLab Epic Air Earbuds

Gym goers and runners know the pain that is earbuds constantly falling out — these puppies will stay in while delivering exceptional volume.

  • Battery life:
    7 hours
  • Colors:
    Black
  • Bluetooth range:
    30 feet
What you need to know: In-ear earphones are great for many things, but they’re often a little awkward for those times when you’re bouncing around at speed at the gym. Who wants to be using the jumprope and have their earbuds fall out during a key moment? The won’t win prizes for looks, but you can’t beat how secure they are in your ears.
That’s thanks to the earbuds including hooks that help you slot them into your outer ear, keeping them secure and snug, no matter what you do. Alongside that is IP55 water rating so they’re resistant to water, even if it rains or you sweat a ton. You can even rinse them off at the end of a hard session. Just don’t submerge them.
Sound quality is respectable with unusually high volumes achievable, although don’t expect any noise cancellation to speak of here. 
Added bonuses: Battery life is often an issue for truly wireless earphones, with the average pair mustering at most 3.5 hours. The JLab Epic Air earbuds manage up to 7 hours so you’ll only need to charge them half as often as your existing wireless earbuds. (However, their included charging case can give up to an extra 30 hours of juice, so you’re safe if you have that with you.) They come with a nice charging case too that’s conveniently small and easy to use. Plus, a double tap of the earbud button summons up Siri or Google voice commands which is a neat bonus. 

Under $40 • Can fit in your pocket • Good bass for the price

Not truly wireless • Mediocre highs and mids • Short wireless range

They definitely get the job done, but the lack of tweakable features shows that you get what you pay for.

Skullcandy Jib Wireless Earbuds

They definitely get the job done, but the lack of tweakable features shows that you get what you pay for.

  • Battery life:
    6 hours
  • Colors:
    Black, red, blue, purple
  • Bluetooth range:
    6 feet
What you need to know: Wireless earphones don’t have to cost a fortune, providing you’re willing to compromise. That’s the thinking behind . Bluetooth based but with a cable connecting the two earbuds together, they’re not truly wireless since there is that wire to contend with, but you still won’t have to plug them in anywhere. Better than anything though, they’re super affordable. 
The earphones offer surprisingly powerful bass for their price, along with well matched highs and moderate mids. There are no options for tweaking frequency response, and certainly no dedicated app, but if you want some earphones that simply just work, these are worth a purchase. Battery life weighs in at about six hours, which should be good for your daily commute and gym session. 
Added bonuses: Low in price means that the lack the finer details. There’s a built-in mic so you can take hands-free calls, and a button for volume and accepting calls, but that’s about it. Just appreciate they’re super lightweight and easy to put in your pocket. 

What to consider when buying a pair of headphones

The big thing before any purchase is to consider what you’re going to use them for. Are you going to be using them to listen to music quietly at home? Then it doesn’t really matter if they’re wired or not. Comfort and sound quality are key here.

However, if you’re heading to the gym or going for a run, then you might want to consider a wireless option. That way, you won’t have to worry about wires getting tangled up when you’re working on beating your personal best. 

Long battery life is great if you’re planning on using your headphones for hours on end, but how many of us really need to worry about that? As long as it covers the daily commute, most users will be fine.

Similarly, noise-cancelation features will depend on your needs. Passive noise-cancelation is fine if you’re not too worried about zoning out at the gym. If you’re keen to avoid all the background noise on the train or subway to work, however, then active noise-cancelation is a must.

Do you notice every fine nuance in the music you listen to? Or do you just know what you like? The musically minded will hate budget offerings with weak bass, mids, and highs, but plenty of average users will be just fine with these. If you’re keen on music sounding perfect, expect to pay more.

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