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Jeff's headphone buying guide

Find the best pair of headphones, with our expert's advice

There's no shortage of headphones out there. We offer more than 350 different models, spanning all types of styles, colors, and features.

So how do you find the best headphones for you? I've written about and tried lots of headphones, so I can help you narrow down your choices. 

Jeff at Capital Audiofest.

I spend many hours a week writing about and listening to headphones. Read on for my advice on choosing the perfect pair.

The right headphones for the situation

Here’s the most important thing to think about: how and where you plan to use headphones. Different headphones work better in different situations. In the sections below, I’ll take you through the main categories and uses, and point out some features to look for.  

My colleagues and I have also compiled "best of" lists for many of these situations, uses, and headphone types. See our entire collection at

Fit options

There are some basics you should know about fit. Here are the three styles: 

Three options

Over-ear headphones surround the ears completely. On-ear headphones rest on them. In-ear headphones/earbuds fit securely inside the ear opening or canal.

You'll find that earcup sizes can vary greatly. That's why we take photos of most of our on-ear and over-ear headphones on a mannequin to show scale. Look for them in the photo carousel at the top of product pages.

Open-back vs closed-back

This choice often boils down to "where do you usually listen to headphones?" At home, in a room where you won't disturb others? Or in a crowded place like an office or bus?

Open-back headphones allow air to flow through the earcups. This typically ensures sound that is more spacious and natural. Closed-back headphones help keep sound from leaking in or out. 

Open back and closed back

Wired vs wireless headphones

Most of our top-selling headphones right now are Bluetooth headphones, and I expect their popularity to keep growing. They let you listen to music without connecting a wire to your phone — where most of us keep our music and podcasts. That makes them super convenient.

Plus, Bluetooth's sound quality and reliability have greatly improved over the past 4 or 5 years. And now that that the iPhone and other popular phones no longer feature a headphone jack, even more of us are turning to wireless.  

Bluetooth article image

Crutchfield Advisor Enrique prefers Bluetooth headphones for the extra freedom and convenience.

Even so, audio purists prefer wired headphones to deliver the best possible sound. And the highest-end headphones rely on a wired connection. When I'm not checking out a new pair of headphones at my desk, my go-to listening rig includes a pair of wired over-ears. 

(See my picks for best wired headphones of the year)


Smartphone controls/mic for making calls and working from home

Most headphones these days have a built-in microphone for making or taking calls. They are also good for hopping on a Zoom, Skype, or Microsoft Teams meeting. If you're working from home, using headphones is a good way to keep virtual office meetings — or FaceTime conversations — more private. 

Bluetooth headphones often have on-ear controls and many wired headphones have a built-in remote/mic. They give you control over some of your phone’s key functions. 

Noise-canceling headphones

Noise-canceling headphones take sound isolation a big step further than closed-back headphones. They use internal circuitry to neutralize the sound around you. I strongly recommend them for air travel — they can block out the plane’s engine drone so you can watch movies or listen to music at safer volumes.

Many customers associate noise-cancelling headphones with Bose, who pioneered and popularized the category. I actually had a chance to interview legendary Bose engineer Dan Gauger, who was there from the beginning. He told me the whole fascinating history of noise-canceling headphones, from Dr. Amar Bose's original concept in the late 70s, to their latest Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II — which cancel noise better than any other in-ear headphone I’ve ever tried.  

But Bose is no longer the only game in town. In fact, Sony's juggernaut Sony WH-1000XM5s are our top-selling over-ear headphones. Check out all my picks for the best noise-canceling headphones of 2022, heading into the holidays. 

Features to look for:

  • "Adaptive" or "Adjustable" noise cancellation. Some noise-canceling headphones can be adjusted according to your environment. While some offer manual adjustments, others do it automatically based on the level of external noise.     

Running and working out

Sports headphones are durable, sweat-proof in-ear. I think comfort and fit are most important for running and exercising. You need your earbuds to stay put while you move around.

And long workouts are tough enough — you don’t want headphones causing more pain.

Earbud in ear

We have many avid runners here at Crutchfield. They're big fans of the Jaybird Vista earbuds' fit, sound, and stability.

Feature to look for:

  • "Awareness" or "Transparency" mode. Safety is paramount when you’re running in public. Earbuds with these type of features help you stay aware of your surroundings. 

Comfort Matters

How your headphones feel plays a big part in how much you'll enjoy them. If I’ve had a test-run with a pair of headphones, I like to tell you whether they fit relaxed, snug, or somewhere in-between. Scan the product bullets or read "my take" for fit details on the headphones you're considering.

Sometimes the more you wear headphones, the better they feel — our 60-day return period gives you time to try them out. 


Our employees (like Britney from Marketing) also tested over 50 headphones specifically for comfort and fit. Check out our top 5 most comfortable headphones.

True wireless earbuds

When Apple dropped the headphone jack, they introduced the Apple Air Pods. These high-tech headphones include Apple’s special W1 chip to improve the wireless connection and performance.

Since then, we've seen a wave of True Wireless earbuds. Theyl play music wirelessly from your phone via Bluetooth. And each earbud rests in your ear without a cord connecting the two, making them 100% wire-free.

Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 earbuds

I dig the convenience of true wireless earbuds, but value good sound. The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 are the best-sounding wire-free headphones I've heard.

Feature to look for:

  • Charging case. Most of these headphones recharge wirelessly inside their included charging case — check our product details to see how many hours of power the case can bank. 

(See my picks for the best true wireless earbuds of 2022)

Gaming headphones

Some video games are considered works of art — or at least an innovative, interactive way to tell a story. With all the time and effort spent to make these games sound as good as possible, there should be headphones that can do them justice.

Most gaming headphones feature surround sound processing to give you an immersive gaming experience. Some also give you a competitive advantage: you can hear spatial cues or opponents trying to sneak up from behind. 

Features to look for:

  • "Boom" mic.  Gaming headsets usually include a microphone so you can communicate with teammates — or trash talk opponents — more clearly. In some cases, the mic is detachable.      

(Check out our picks for best gaming headsets)

Wireless TV headphones

We always get questions about headphones for watching TV. I think Sennheiser's line of transmitter-based headphones are the most reliable TV headphones. The transmitter connects to your TV or stereo and beams sound wirelessly to your headphones. Perfect for late-night viewing.

TV headphone image

Watch TV at the volume you want to, without disturbing others.

Feature to look for:

  • Effects modes and/or dialogue boost. What matters most to you? Clear, intelligible speech? Rollicking, immersive surround effects? Rich, balanced music sound? There are transmitter-based headphones that excel in each area.

(Read our article "Wireless headphones for TV listening")

Audiophile headphones

I prefer listening to a great pair of headphones over a nice pair of speakers. It’s not the most popular stance to take here at Crutchfield. But I just love the absolutely unfiltered connection you can get to an artist, song, or performance when you have the right headphone setup. You can really sink your teeth into the clear, dynamic sound that top-flight headphones can deliver.

The most-respected headphone manufacturers all bring something a little different to the table. Some brands to look for include Sennheiser, Audio-Technica, FocalShure, Grado, and Audeze.

Archer Listening to pro audio.

Crutchfield Advisor Archer says he prefers the personal connection you get with headphones — his vast collection includes a top-shelf Audeze model.

(See my picks for the best audiophile headphones of 2022)

Headphone amps and DACs

High-performance headphones often require more power to perform their best. A Headphone amplifier can make a world of difference. For the best sound, you also don't want to rely on your computer or phone's digital-to-analog converter (DAC). An outboard DAC can squeeze out every musical detail – soft or powerful —from a recording.

AudioQuest DragonFly Black

The compact AudioQuest Dragonfly® Black v1.5 headphone amp/DAC is an excellent entry into the world of high-end personal audio.

(See our best picks of they year for Headphone amps and DACs)

Need more help?

Just ask our Advisors. They get to try out our gear, too. They can help you sift through all the headphone choices and make a decision. 

Contact us today.   

Jeff listening to headphones.

  • George from Eldersburg, MD

    Posted on 12/21/2021

    Jeff- I like your "fit options " figure but aren't there two types of "in the ear" models? There is the type that literally gets pushed into the ear canal and others that just block the ear opening. All the in-ear versions you show are the former type. I *think* the apple ones are the latter type. I don't like sticking the bud into ear. Can you highlight the options for the other in-ear model? Thanks. George

    Commenter image

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 12/22/2021

    Hi George, Good point.

    We have a few models that kind of "rest" inside the ear versus fitting deep into the canal. Along with the AirPods, this style is most associated with Bose earbuds. They have super soft ear tips that still create a nice seal, but don't go deep into your ear. They are secured into place with special wings. But there are other options, so I'll have one of our Advisors follow up with you directly.
  • John from Covington

    Posted on 5/24/2021

    Should I buy bose or other wireless earbuds? Budget 300 max.

  • al

    Posted on 2/18/2021

    need help. after much research, even more confused. sound quality number one concern. comfort and cost also important. looks like over ear, open back best choice. since use will be in living room, no one around to annoy. wired fine, wireless ok if sound reproduction doesn't suffer. noise cancelling and talk features probably not needed. using older component system, but plan on upgrading soon. guess im looking for basic high quality headphones that can grow with system. old school classic rocker.

    Commenter image

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 2/23/2021

    One of my favorite newer releases is the Sennheiser HD 560S wired open-back headphones. They're under $200 and deliver an accurate, well-balance sound. They're a little power-hungry, but I'm confident your component system would have enough power to drive them. They have some of the best imaging I've heard, regardless of price.
  • David C from Westover MD

    Posted on 2/5/2021

    Hello Jeff, Thanks for all the great info and research you've done. What headphone (open back with cord) & Amp (with DAC) combo would you recommend for mostly classical and jazz streamed through a service like Spotify (using the higher audio bit rates)? This will be in a dedicated listening area so the amp doesn't need to be mobile. And here's the bottom line...somewhere in the $600 range. Thanks

    Commenter image

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 2/5/2021

    Hi David,

    One combination I really like in that price range is the Audeze LCD-1 planar magnetic headphones connected to the iFi ZEN DAC. I'd put it up there with rigs that cost twice as much. (Keeping it in the family, the more portable iFi hip-dac drives the LCD-1 really well, too.)

    Planar drivers handle the dynamics in classical music really well -- the loud and quiet moments. Plus you get a sizable soundstage and spot-on imaging, where you can really pick out the instruments and how deeply layered they are in the performance. And the bass boost on the iFi amp/DACs gives you that nice low-end punch.
  • Enrique Fajardo from Miami

    Posted on 1/16/2021

    Hello Jeff, I want to buy headphones to be able to listen to the movies from the TV. Which one can you recommend me please

    Commenter image

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 1/19/2021

    Hi Enrique! That's a topic I cover in-depth in my article, "Best wireless headphones for watching TV." But our recommendation could depend on your setup. Please give one of our Advisors a call at 1-800-555-7088
  • David Bergonia from Kenilworth Ill

    Posted on 12/18/2020

    Jeff I am looking at buying the Sennheiser HD 800s and am confused about whether i need to also buy a headphone amp or a combo headphone amp/DAC. i most want to use them to listen in my den using my fixed stereo equipment. I have a Bryston B 60 integrated amp and an Arcam CD 72 CD player. Both are about 20 years old but were high end at the time. Do i need a headphone amp to power the Sennheisers or will the Bryston do it? I guess the other question if your answer is the Bryston will power them is whether without an amp i would lose a lot of the sound capability from the Sennheisers i am are paying for? thanks dave Chicago

    Commenter image

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 1/4/2021

    David...I haven't heard the two together, but based on the great reputation of that Bryston amp, I think it should do just fine with the HD 800 S.
  • peter e gross from baltimore

    Posted on 9/13/2020

    i want those headphone u have on your head

  • Ralph Jack from Felton

    Posted on 5/31/2020

    Hi Iam a paranormal investigator and looking for a good pair of headphones not sure if I need A covered ear or an inner ear headphone ?? I need something that can pick up sounds you normally can't here. Sensitive to any sound. It's amazing how on some headphones I hear more sounds than others tired of wasting money on headphones I can't use any suggestions please!! Thanks

    Commenter image

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 6/1/2020

    Hi Ralph... We have a bunch of high-end in-ear headphones that can create a tight seal that helps isolate noise. They also have top-notch drivers that can deliver full-range sounds. I'll admit -- I've never used either set for that application, but I really like the SE 535-UNI earbuds and the Audio Rai Solo earbuds.
  • Lee from Seattle

    Posted on 4/30/2020

    Have you studied aviation headsets? Bose, Lightspeed, etc.

    Commenter image

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 4/30/2020

    Lee, I have done some research (particularly on the history -- a lot of modern headphone features started in that space, and some of the early stories are pretty fascinating). But I'll admit that's a little out of my wheelhouse. Our HQ is right next to an airport, and a few folks working here have a pilot's license...If you have any specific questions, I could bounce it off them.
  • Steve from Platte City

    Posted on 4/17/2020

    I need a pair of wireless headphones so I can either use them to watch television or listen to music on CDs. What do you recommend?

    Commenter image

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 4/20/2020

    I probably need to know more before I can make a specific recommendation for you, but probably here's my safest Bluetooth headphones bet: The Sony WH-1000XM3 noise-canceling headphones are one of our best-selling headphone models of all time. And they also made several of our best-of lists, including the best Bluetooth headphones, the best wireless headphones for TV, and were named one of our top 5 most comfortable headphones.
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