Ahh headphones, where would we be without them? Probably attempting to read an entire book on the treadmill or having conversations with complete strangers on the bus (shudder.)
Whether on the commute, in front of a laptop at work, or at the gym, headphones and earbuds complete the tech triangle of needs, along with having a phone and charger within a five-metre radius. And because we use them so much, it makes sound economical sense to invest time and effort in deciding which style is right for our needs.
If you want to find the best headphones, don’t base your choice solely on what looks good (though, let’s face it, that matters), but also on what you’ll be using them for. Alcantara earcups might be softer than Drake on a bag of marshmallows, but the suede-like material isn’t the smartest option for a sweaty kettlebell workout. And then there are other features to consider, like wireless connectivity, battery life and whether you want everyone else to be able to hear you blasting out One Direction.
From high-end cans to the best budget buds, these are the headphones you should be listening out for this season.
Best Wireless Headphones
Wireless headphones and earbuds have finally come into their own after a few shaky early years. Aside from the fact that some mobile phones don’t even come with headphone jacks anymore, cutting the cord is the best option for people who don’t want to bother with dangling wires, or those with low spatial awareness. After all, there’s nothing worse than a flailing arm sending your phone flying off the treadmill mid-sprint.
Providing you can trust yourself not to lose them or the case they are stowed in, the sound quality of wireless headphones is almost on-par with over-ear options. They’re also much more likely to be water resistant and, due to the seal they provide to keep themselves lodged in your ear, have some noise cancelling benefits. Celine Dion’s greatest hits on repeat? Go on then.
Best Workout Headphones
There’s countless research that shows listening to music can improve performance inside the iron paradise, which makes owning a good pair of workout headphones essential. If that’s what you’re after, arguably the most important thing to look out for is a sweatproof design and a secure fit. However, don’t overlook added features like being able to pair with dedicated apps that provide in-ear coaching (read: scream “you can do it” during that last squat) and motion sensors that let you track your progress.
In addition to going full wireless, there’s the option to have the earbuds connected by a small neckband. These tethered models are usually cheaper, more secure and boast superior battery life, which is ideal for getting through that longer gym session. Leg workout, we’re looking at you.
Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones
We all have guilty pleasures, be it popping zits or peeing in the kitchen sink (just us?) If yours is pretending to be in a music video while looking out the plane window, you don’t need a screaming baby ruining the moment. That’s where noise-cancelling headphones come in, which work to suppress external sounds while preserving your hearing.
Generally, big over-ear headphones will block out more noise than your average earbud, but today you can also get in-ear models that offer the same “nope, can’t hear you” treatment. That said, if you’re a serious audiophile, you’ll prefer headphones without noise-cancellation, which some say negatively affects sound quality. But it’s either that or listening to chatty colleagues all day.
Best Budget Headphones
While we are firm believers in ‘you get what you pay for’, unlike say, a leather jacket, you don’t always need to spend a fortune to get a decent pair of headphones. The trick is in knowing what to look for in order to get the best bud for your buck.
Cheap headphones usually fall down by simply not staying in your ears (come on, guys, that’s headphone 101). So if you want to improve on the so-so audio you get with standard-issue earbuds, and you want to do it without breaking the bank, prioritise ergonomically designed models or those that come with additional silicone ear tips for the perfect fit.