The Best Headphones of 2020

The Best Headphones of 2020

Last updated on November 10, 2020

The world’s first-ever headphones were invented in the 1880s, weighed over 11 pounds, and had no padding. Needless to say – they didn’t make our list. But the ones that did are, by any standards, amazing. And to the question: are 2020’s best headphones really that much better than, say, the best from just 3 to 5 years ago? In almost every case, yes.

Two reasons why: 1) With a headphone market expected to top $15 billion by 2025, the world’s premier headphone makers are wrestling for dominance. Along the way, every incremental improvement, whether by giants like Sony and Bose – or audio purists like Focal and Audeze – is a win/win for consumers. 2) A few years ago, wireless headphones were mostly a novelty with often spotty, subpar results. Today, it’s getting harder and harder to tell the difference in sound quality between wired and wireless and even true wireless, and hearing is believing.

So, with that in mind, we asked our World Wide Stereo audio experts to apply their combined decades of experience with the goal of picking today’s best headphones, by category, no holds barred. And yes, it was hard work (no it wasn’t), but we stuck with it (more like “loved every second”) and now we’re proud to present (after some fairly spirited discussions) the “Best Headphones of 2020.”

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#1. The Best Travel Headphones: Bose QuietComfort 35 II (QC35II)

Why it won

You’re looking at our most popular wireless headphones across the board – by far. The QC35IIs represent Bose’s flagship product, and the company’s attempt to perfect the active noise canceling technology they alone invented in the first place. Meaning: If your #1 goal is shutting off the outside world, stop reading, put a pair in your cart, and call it a day. The QC35IIs are wireless and extremely comfortable. And, like most wireless headphones, they do still come with a wire so you can continue listening even after the battery has been depleted, albeit sans noise cancelling.

Are they the absolute best-sounding headphones on the planet? No. But then again, true audiophile-level headphones cost 4 - 5Xs as much and the sound quality of the QC35IIs are still pretty amazing.

What else?

  • The QC35IIs come with Google Assistant built-in, easily accessible with a dedicated button. Battery life is excellent at up to 20 hours.
  • Bose doesn’t include any way to quickly mute volume (the way others do), so keep your eyes open when they call your number at the deli counter
  • Read more about the QC35II in our new Best Over Ear Noise Canceling Headphones of 2020 guide.

Dimensions: 6.7" x 7.1" x 3.2" (W x H x D) | Weight: 0.52 lbs | Warranty: 1 year | Style: Over-Ear, Closed-Back Wireless (For a list of headphone style variations, see our Headphone Buying Guide.) | Noise Cancelling: Yes  | Battery Life: Up to 20 Hours

Reg. Price: $349.00

#2. Best Truly Wireless Headphones: Sony WF-1000XM3

Why it won

If the only earbuds you ever tried were the earbuds that came with your phone, or a cheap pair of earbuds you found in a clearance bin – you have no idea what you’re missing. We can pretty much guarantee: spend two minutes with a quality pair of earbuds and there’s no going back – especially if those earbuds are Sony’s new XM3s true wireless earbuds. 

For one, the XM3s are truly wireless. (Some earbuds that say “wireless” actually have a wire connecting the two ear modules, but “truly wireless” or "true wireless" means no wires anywhere.) The XM3s come with Sony’s noise-canceling tech, which is outstanding and some say equal to Bose. Inside: Sony’s new Bluetooth chip, a 0.24 driver that’s tiny yet powers surprisingly big sound, an HD noise-canceling processor, a digital sound enhancement engine, 24-bit Audio Signal Processing and an excellent digital-to-analog converter. For you non-techy types, those features = excellent sound.

As for the outside, the XM3s are both ergonomical and comfortable – you may even forget you’re wearing them. They’re great for TV-watching, gaming, jogging, cooking and shutting out the world. And with Sony’s noise cancelling tech turned on, the XM3s are ideal for travel – especially in row 74, Seat H in economy with a long flight ahead. So do yourself a favor – toss those free earbuds in favor of something 1000 times better. (You’re welcome!)

More details – right here.

Dimensions: 4.72" x 5.6" x 2.5" (W x H x D) | Weight: 0.18 lbs | Warranty: 1 year | Style: In-ear, True Wireless | Noise Cancelling: Yes | Battery Life: Up to 6 Hours

Reg. Price: $229.99

#3. Best Earbuds for Working Out: Bose SoundSport

Why it won

If you want a little more bass in your workout, the Bose SoundSport wireless headphones bring it big time without sacrificing mid and/or high range tones in the process. And we’re talking vibrant, natural bass, not the artificially boosted bass prominent in so many sports headphones. The SoundSport’s behind-the-neck cord includes easy-to-reach inline controls, a microphone for incoming calls, and a 6-hour playtime following a 2-hour charge.

What else?

  • The extended nozzle on each SoundSport ear tip does a good job of sealing each ear, and the fins add stability. Bose SoundSport now offers a true wireless version of the same thing. And with no wires between each earpiece, you’ll soon forget they’re even there, even during a heavy workout.

Dimensions: 1" x 1.2" x 1.2" (W x H x D) | Weight: 0.05 lbs | Warranty: 2 years | Style: In-ear, Wireless | Noise Cancelling: No | Battery Life: Up to 6 Hours

Reg. Price: $149.00

#4. The Best Wireless Headphones: Bowers & Wilkins PX7

Why it won

We’ve said it before: Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) is the luxurious, beautifully crafted, music-is-your-life alternative to industry mass producers like Sony and Bose. And though a pair of B&W PX7s is typically a little more expensive than Bose or Sony – and not as good at noise cancelation (though still excellent) – they soar, musically, by comparison. Some B&W fans claim their PX7s are on par with headphones that cost three and four times as much, and they may have a case.

The PX7’s ear-cups are made with memory foam and do a good job of walling-off noise from the outside world. The buttons are easy to find by feel, and they’re tactile as opposed to “touch,” which many customers prefer. Also, according to B&W, PX7s are the first headphones to support Qualcomm's aptxHD Adaptive codec, which is designed to deliver robust, low latency, high resolution wireless technology. Meaning: higher fidelity music overall (compared to Bluetooth) and no stalling when gaming or streaming hi-res, 4K video. (See the complete spec list on our PX7 product page.)

Though it’s hard to describe how music sounds under different headphones, we listened to Cody Fry’s “Want Me Back" on B&W’s PX7s and they were so clear, rich, and spacious – there’s no going back.

Dimensions: 6.89" x 8.66" x 3.15" (W x H x D) | Weight: 0.67 lbs | Warranty: 2 years | Style: Over-Ear, Closed Back, Wireless | Noise Cancelling: Yes | Battery Life: Up to 30 Hours

Reg. Price: $399.99

#5. Best Kids Headphones: JBL JR 300BT

Why it won

What can we say about the JBL JR 300 with Bluetooth? These fun, on-ear, made-for-small-people headphones come in hot pink, screamin’ green, and orange + blue. The volume is preset to never rise above a safe 85dB, the controls are easy, and… wait for it… YOU CAN PUT STICKERS ON THEM. “Someone in the backseat getting grumpy? Here, play with these, and we’ll be there in NO time.”

What else?

Dimensions: 7.17" x 8.54" x 1.61" (W x H x D) | Weight: 0.25 lbs | Warranty: 1 year | Style: On-Ear, Closed Back, Wireless | Noise Cancelling: No | Battery Life: Up to 12 Hours

Reg. Price: $60.00

#6. Best Hi-Res Headphones Under $300: Sony MDR-1AM2

Why it won

For those who want a pair of no-frills headphones that support high-resolution audio files — without dropping the big bucks — look to Sony’s MDR-1AM2. Featuring massive custom 40mm HD drivers, Sony ensured these over-ears deliver a clear and powerful soundstage. From the aluminum-coated LCP diaphragm to the silver-coated copper cables, it’s the finer details that work in tandem to deliver an audio experience that is precise, accurate, and as close to the artist’s original recording as possible.

What else?

  • These cans were built for long listening sessions, thanks to its lightweight frame and pressure-relieving ear pads.
  • The MDR-1AMs feature a "swivel" design that allows them to lay flat and be tucked away in the included pouch.
  • If you look closely, you’ll notice the grills have a Fibonacci-inspired pattern, which Sony says “ensures no frequency is boosted or cut.” Pretty cool.

Dimensions: 9.19" x 10.25" x 4.38" (W x H x D) | Weight: 0.41 lbs | Warranty: 1 year | Style: Over-Ear, Closed-Back, Hi-Res, Wired | Noise Cancelling: No | Battery Life: NA

Reg. Price: $299.99

#7. The Best Closed-Back Headphones: Focal Stellia

Why it won

Where do we even start? Beautifully wrapped in cognac and mocha-colored full-grain leather and bound with an aluminum yoke, Focal’s newest reference-class headphones represent a level of opulence worthy of the Focal pedigree. (Much like Stellia’s older brother, Focal’s now infamous Utopia headphones.)  Stellia’s build is also quintessential Focal: big but comfortable, soft but sturdy… with woven cables and a leather wallet included just to hold the paperwork. As for sound, see Adam’s test drive right here.

Highlights include:

  • Nominal impedance = 35 ohms, with a frequency range from 5 to 40,000 Hertz. To put that in perspective, we typically hear 20 to 20,000 Hertz in high-end headphones. So you not only hear nuances other headphones miss, you hear them at every volume level.
  • Focal’s own “M” shaped, pure Beryllium driver, one in each ear-cup, handles all the heavy-lifting, with a frameless copper voice coil to keep things pristine – whether the ting of a symphonic triangle or a light brush sweep on a snare.
  • Bass lovers will appreciate Stellia’s extra muscle. An impressive low end provides a crisp, articulate bass response you actually feel, even more so than Focal’s open backed Utopia and Clear models.

What else?

  • Very, very comfortable – in spite of the big over-ear, closed-back size. Excellent noise isolation, too.
  • Included: one 3m (9.1ft) high-quality cable ideal for use at home on a high-end amplifier, thanks to its symmetrical 4-pin XLR connector. Plus one 1.2m (3⅜ft) high-quality cable designed to be portable with a stereo 3.5mm jack (⅛").

Dimensions: 10.5" x 13.7" x 12.9" (W x H x D) | Weight: 0.96 lbs | Warranty: 1 year | Style: Over-Ear, Closed Back, Wired | Noise Cancelling: No | Battery Life: NA

Reg. Price: $2,999.00

#8. The Best Headphones for Gaming and Music: Audeze Mobius

Why it won

There’s a night scene in Battlefield I, a solo recon mission in a sleepy French village filled with enemy soldiers. Alone, you crawl head-down through a backyard, hoping to make it to that old red barn before anyone sees… wait. STOP. Is that a dog growling… behind you?  

If you’re a gamer, you know how tense things get – and how life and death can depend on what you do, or don’t, hear. Clearly, the folks at Audeze not only get it, they bring it to life with a phenomenal pair of fully immersive, head-tracking, 3D wireless headphones made for today’s top games. And by “immersive,” we’re talking integrated head tracking that tracks even your tiniest head movements – 1000 times a second. Warning: highly addictive– and worth every nickel.

Pretty cool feature: With Audeze HQ software, you can adjust HRTF (Head-Related-Transfer Function) personalization which combines A) the circumference of your head, B) the circumference from one ear canal to the other, and C) how big the virtual space is. In doing so, your virtual head mimics actual head movements, in real time, adding yet another mind-blowing dimension to the experience.

What else?

  • Detachable microphone.
  • Planar magnetic drivers deliver big, cinematic, audiophile-grade sound, with full 3D emulation and support for popular surround sound modes (7.1, 5.1, 5.0, 2.1, 2.0)
  • Pinpoint sound localization and anatomy calibration tailors the sound to you. And full room emulation puts you in the center of the action.
  • Wired and wireless Bluetooth connections

Dimensions: 13" x 13" x 8" (W x H x D) | Weight: 0.77 lbs | Warranty: 1 year | Style: Over-Ear, Wireless, Closed-Back, Gaming | Noise Cancelling: No | Battery Life: Up to 10 Hours

Reg. Price: $399.00

#9. The Best Noise-Canceling Headphones (A tie):

Why it won

The WH1000XMs (“XM” for short) are over-ear, closed-back and wireless. They’re comfortable, not too tight, mushy in all the right spots, and the touch-sensitive buttons and voice control (Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant) are as good as it gets. This model replaces Sony's best-selling WH1000XM3 and, while they look similar, the WH1000XM4 boast a handful of upgraded features. They're a tad lighter, the earcups are a little cushier and about 10% larger. They've got a host of "smarter" technology built-in that can better tune and optimize for adaptive sound control. They can connect to two devices – such as your laptop and phone – simultaneously. And, they feature Sony's brand new audio processor – the DSEE Extreme.

Both the XM3s and XM4s last around 30 hours with noise-cancelling switched on, or around 38 hours with the tech switched off. Both have USB-C charging too. A 10-minute quick-charge will give you five hours of playtime - that alone makes these headphones worth a look. The new XM4s feature Wearing Detection, which automatically pauses the music when you take them off - extending the battery life even further than the XM3.

The WH1000XM4 come equipped with aptX HD for processing hi-resolution audio up to 24bit/96kHz – Sony’s own best-in-category proprietary format. And this is pretty cool: the WH1000XM’s Ambient Sound feature keeps you aware of outside sounds, while an Optimizer feature scans your head to gauge headphone seal – taking into account things like atmospheric pressure, which varies from sea level to 40K feet in the air. As a result, the XM’s noise cancelation adapts to real-time conditions on the fly. 

But the biggest two reasons they made our “best” list: they sound absolutely incredible – and after years of incremental progress, Sony’s noise-canceling tech now rivals Bose. So yes, it’s a tough choice, but easily solved with a coin toss.

Dimensions: 7.31" x 10.44" x 2.94" (W x H x D) | Weight: 0.56 lbs | Warranty: 1 year | Style: Over-Ear, Wireless | Noise Cancelling: Yes | Battery Life: Up to 30 Hours

Reg. Price: $349.99

Why it won

Bose – the people who invented noise-canceling technology in the first place. And, arguably the first to perfect it, too, via the company’s brand new over-ear, closed-back, wireless headphones: the Bose 700s. (For a list of headphone style variations, see our Headphone Buying Guide.)

The 700s replace the Bose QC 35s that every NFL coach wears during games to block out thousands of screaming fans, and they represent Bose’s newest flagship model. They’re sleeker, lighter, smarter and come with a better mic for better voice clarity during phone calls. The touch controls are new, and more intuitive, and there are now 11 levels of noise-canceling. All that, and the Bose 700s may just be the most comfortable over-ear headphones yet. For the whole story, see our Bose 700 product page.

Dimensions: 6.5" x 8" x 2" (W x H x D) | Weight: 0.56 lbs | Warranty: 1 year | Style: Over-Ear, Wireless | Noise Cancelling: Yes | Battery Life: Up to 20 Hours

Reg. Price: $399.00

#10. Best Wireless Budget Earbuds: Bowers & Wilkins PI3

Why it won

For more on B&W, scroll back to our “Best Wireless” category. What we said there, applies here – B&W is next-level stuff, and not always super expensive. For example, the company’s new PI3 wireless in-ear headphones come with B&W-only extras, that when added together, make for a remarkable listening experience – at a remarkable price. 

Both left and right modules incorporate dual drivers – one for highs and mids, and another for bass alone. This alone is enough to warrant serious consideration but wait – there’s more. Like built-in support for Qualcomm's Bluetooth aptX Adaptive technology, a new codec designed to squeeze more music out of every bit. Or the new PI3 microphone, which is incredibly clear despite its diminutive size. Or the soft coated silicone body that feels like it’s been custom made for your ears and doesn’t bite down like some others do. Or the 8 hours of battery time, or the fact you can charge 2 more hours of time in only 15 minutes.

B&W’s PI3s come in blue, gold and black. And though technically wireless, the left and right modules are connected by a thin, feather-light, wired headband. (If you’d like to see the PI3’s more expensive sibling, the PI4s, check them out here.)

Dimensions: 1.57" x 15.75" x 1.18" (W x H x D) | Weight: 0.07 lbs | Warranty: 2 years | Style: In-Ear, Wireless | Noise Cancelling: No | Battery Life: Up to 8 Hours

Reg. Price: $199.99

#11. Best In-Ear Wireless Headphones: Klipsch T5 Sport

Why it won

Working out while listening to beautiful music under a good pair of earbuds often has an added benefit: you wind up working out longer – because it’s fun. Unless, of course, your earbuds fall out all the time, or they pinch your ears, or they sound like crap. Which is not the case if you go with Klipsch’s T5 Sport Earbuds. 

The T5s come with patented, ultra-comfort ear-tips designed to keep them in place whether you’re doing jumping jacks or back-flips. They’re sweat-resistant, they come with an IPX4 rating, and – compared to lessor earbuds – they’re comfortable, too. The form-fitted design is intended to keep them in place for hours while sealing-off outside noise. Inside, wireless aptX HD technology ensure the T5s maintain a rock-steady connection, without hiccups, to whatever device you’re streaming from. The controls are easy to find by feel alone, and there’s a very nice braided cord that connects the left and right modules.

Dimensions: 2.36" x 3.15" x 1.18" (W x H x D) | Weight: 0.03 lbs | Warranty: 1 year | Style: In-Ear, Wireless | Noise Cancelling: No | Battery Life: Up to 10 Hours

Reg. Price: $99.00

Still not sure? We got this.

If you’re still not sure which headphones are best for you, give us a call or send us an email. Tell us a little about how you will use them, e.g., for listening to music at home, watching TV on a device, drowning out crying babies on airplanes – whatever. Plus what kind of music do you like, what’s your budget, and/or anything else you think we should know. Just think of us as your own personal audio gear shopping concierge, on-call to help you pick the perfect pair of headphones for you.

One more thing:

A last word of advice: buy your new headphones from a trusted dealer. And the more experience and longer the track record, the better. A good dealer will take care of you in the event anything happens.

Speaking of trusted dealers...

World Wide Stereo is home to some 90+ industry-leading audio/video professionals who love what they do and talking about it, too. We opened our doors in 1979, gained a small yet die-hard following, won a slew of national awards for everything from killer car audio installations to customer service, grew the business online… and today we enjoy a faithful following of like-minded TV-watching, music-listening, gear-loving defenders of fun for the whole family. Our only rule: no one leaves unhappy.

Plus, shopping with us means you get our guarantee, which includes perks like free shipping, 60-day returns, award-winning support, and service long after the sale — always. Hence our rule: "no one leaves unhappy."

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