In this post, I’ve compiled an updated list of the best rated earphones and headphones for 2012. This list has evolved over a couple of years — I’ve tried to include the most vetted headphones and earphones available, as well as a couple of new headphones that are getting great reviews.
I’ve tried to cover all the basic types of headphones available today: earbuds, wireless earphones, sport earphones, noise-cancelling headphones, full-sized headphones and wireless headphones.
LG Tone HBS-700 Bluetooth Earphones
Average Amazon Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (from 264+ reviewers)
Despite selling for under $50, the LG Tone HBS-700 is the highest rated bluetooth headphone currently available. It received an 8 out of 10 rating from CNET, which makes it their Editor’s Choice for a bluetooth earphone. Reviewers at CNET say it is one of the most comfortable earphones they’ve tried, and that the audio reproduction was impressive. PC Magazine liked the long battery life, but said that the bass reproduction was “thin”, but gave it an overall rating of “Good”.
The LG Tone HBS-700 is available from Amazon for about $45.
Klipsch Image S4 Earbuds
Average Amazon Rating: 3.9 out of 5 (from 1211+ reviewers)
The Klipsch Image S4 Earphone is the highest-rated wired earbuds under $100. Reviewers like the audio clarity of the earphones, and its comfortable fit. Reviewers say these earphones provide audio quality equivalent to earphones that cost hundreds of dollars more. The Klipsch Image S4 Earphone received an Editors’ Choice award from PC Magazine, and an “Excellent” rating from CNET.
If you carry your earphones in your pocket a lot, or are generally rough with them, you might want to consider the more durable Shure SE215-K Earphones — these come with detachable cables (see details below).
The Klipsch Image S4 Earphone is available from Amazon for about $76.
Klipsch Image S4i Earbuds
Average Amazon Rating: 3.7 out of 5 (from 500+ reviewers)
If you will be using earphones with a iPhone or iPod, you should consider getting the Klipsch Image S4i, which provides the same comfortable fit and sound quality as the Image S4, but also incorporates an integrated mic and call answer button, as well as volume controls and remote playback for the iPod.
The Klipsch Image S4 sells for about $99 at Amazon.
MEElectronics M6 Earbuds
Average Amazon Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (from 329+ reviewers)
These M6 Earbuds by MEElectronics are more durable and provide better sound than comparable earphones in their price range. CNET rated them 3.5 out of 4 stars saying “A great value for bass addicts”. These earphones incorporate a “memory wire” and an angled ear tip, making them good earphones wear while engaged in sports.
You can get the MEElectronics M6 at Amazon for about $20.
Shure SE215-K Earphones
Average Amazon Rating: 4.0 out of 5 (from 115+ reviewers)
The SE215-K Earphones by Shure produces some of the best audio you’ll hear from earbuds prince under $100. A solid design, which includes detachable cables, makes these earphones quite durable. Six pairs of tips – small, medium and large in foam and silicone – ensure a nice snug fit no matter what your ear canal’s shape or size. Head-Fi.org recommends the SE215s as their budget pick in Lifehacker’s recent headphone buying guide. The Head-Fi community, a discerning bunch of listeners, have rated these earphones five stars in a couple of interviews.
Buy the Shure SE215-K Earphones at Amazon for about $100.
Klipsch Image S5i Rugged Earbuds
Average Amazon Rating: 3.9 out of 5 (from 50+ reviewers)
Klipsch has released a ruggedized headphone, the Image S5i. The earphones are weather resistant and feature extra large buttons which can be operated while wearing gloves. So far, they are getting good reviews on Amazon.
The Klipsch Image S5i Rugged Earbuds are available on Amazon for about $100.
Etymotic HF5 Earphones
Average Amazon Rating: 3.9 out of 5 (from 52+ reviewers)
One of the best sports earphones available. Etymotic succeeds in creating a balanced realistic sound. Bass-enthusiasts may be disappointed with the thin reproduction of low-frequencies. CNET rates them “Very Good” and iLounge gave them a “A-” rating.
The Etymotic hf5 earphones are sold on Amazon — they are available in Red, Blue, and Black. They sell for about $95.
If you are looking for an Etymotic with iPod/iPhone/iPad controls included, consider the Etymotic ER23-HF3.
Monster iSport Immersion Earphones
Average Amazon Rating: 4.3 out of 5 (from 131+ reviewers)
The iSport Immersion Headphone by Monster is designed to be used while engaged in activities like snowboarding, running and working out at the gym. They are durably built and completely sweatproof. In fact, they can even be put in the wash for cleaning.
Available at Amazon for about $150.
Klipsch Image x10i Earbuds
Average Amazon Rating: 4.1 out of 5 (from 168+ reviewers)
The Klipsch Image X10 earbud headphones are tiny, but powerful. They feature contour ear gels that are intended to slip right into the ear canal comfortably. Five different sized ear tips come with these earbud headphones, and a 50-inch vinyl cable is included.
The Klipsch Image X10 are available at Amazon for $137.
Gradio SR80i Headphones
Average Amazon Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (from 330+ reviewers)
The Grado SR60 headphones are made in Brooklyn. Their black-plastic design doesn’t exactly exude high tech, but as soon as doubters hear the SR80, their objections usually melt away. Converts gush about the headset’s rock-solid bass, extraordinary detail, and clarity. The SRS0 has been on the market for more than 10 years, perennially garnering raves in audiophile magazines around the world.
The SRS0′s earpieces have large cushions, but we’re not about to claim that these headphones set a new standard for wearability. After spending a few hours with all that foam clamped over your ears, you’ll need a break.
Buy the Grado SR60 Amazon for around $100.
Grado SR125i Headphones
Average Amazon Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (from 64+ reviewers)
Basically, the Grado SR125 is a slight upgrade to the SR80i — the SR125 is tweaked for slightly better sound. The improved detail can be difficult for some to hear. Grado makes use of the larger sized 1/4 inch plug on this headphone and a very thick cord. Grado doesn’t really intend this headphone for use with a portable MP3 player, but if you want to connect to a portable player or an inexpensive home stereo with the smaller 1/8th inch connection, you’ll need to get an adapter. Whether the sound quality is any better than the SR80i might depend on the quality of the recording and the quality of your music player.
It’s available from Amazon for about $200.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50 Headphones
Average Amazon Rating: 4.7 out of 5 (from 2037+ reviewers)
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50 is the highest rated headphone on Amazon — many enthusiastic reviewers say this the best headphone you can buy for under $150. I haven’t seen any formal reviews of this headphone yet.
The ATH-M50 is available at Amazon for about $137.
AiAiAi TMA-1 Headphones
Average Amazon Rating: 4.7 out of 5 (from 26+ reviewers)
AIAIAI is a new headphone company from Denmark, and they’ve recently released their first set of DJ headphones, dubbed the TMA-1, which stands for “Tycho Magnetic Anomaly 1″ — the name of the monolith in 2001 A Space Odyssey. The monochromatic design was conceived by Danish design studio KiBiSi. The sound reproduction of the phones is apparently very good — the bass, in particular, being quite impressive.
The AIAIAI TMA-1 gets an “Excellent” rating from CNET and an average of 4.7 out of 5 reviewers from 26 reviewers on Amazon.
The headphones are available from Amazon for about $200.
Ultrasone HFI-580 Headphones
Average Amazon Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (from 28+ reviewers)
If you are looking for a pair of portable headphones that won’t disturb your fellow travelers, you might consider the Ultrasone HFI-580. Unlike many closed-style headphones, the HFI-580 performs very well connected to portable players like the iPod. The headphones have Ultrasone’s patented S-Logic technology, which creates a wide soundstage, making for an incredibly open and clear sonic presentation. PC Magazine rated it 4 out 5 stars, as did “What Hi Fi?” Magazine. CNET gave it a rated of “Very Good” or 3.5 out of 5 stars.
The Ultrasone HFI-580 is available at Amazon for about $180.
Bowers And Wilkins P5 Headphones
Average Amazon Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (from 175+ reviewers)
Bowers & Wilkins is a legendary name in British Hi-Fi. Recently, they have been attempting to appeal to a more mainstream audience. Thier P5 Headphone is made for listening with a portable player. These headphones block out a lot of external noise, but they contain no active noise-cancellation circuitry. The P5s feature a detachable cord with an integrated volume control that will work with some iPods and iPhones.
Consumer Reports rated this headphone the highest in their portable category. CNET rated it “Excellent” and Trusted Reviews gave it 9 out of 10 stars (their 2010 “Best Headphone Gear” Runner Up).
Many reviewers note that these headphones are extremely comfortable. They have sheep leather ear pads, which are soft, but they may become sticky in hot weather.
The Bowers & Wilkins P5 Headphone is available at Amazon for about $295.
Sennheiser RS-170 Wireless Headphone
Average Amazon Rating: 4.4 out of 5 (from 172+ reviewers)
This is the highest rated wireless headphone on Amazon. The Sennheiser RS-170 makes use of the high-fidelity Kleer technology, thus give you CD-quality audio over its wireless connection (superior to Bluetooth in this respect).
You can buy the Sennheiser RS-170 Wireless Headphone at Amazon for about $280.
Bose QuietComfort 15 Noise-Cancelling Headphones
Average Amazon Rating: 4.4 out of 5 (from 222+ reviewers)
The Bose QuietComfort 15 received a rating of 74/100 from Consumer Reports (the 2nd highest for noise-canceling headphones, just behind the Sony MDR-NC500D). CNET rates the Bose QuietComfort 15 as their number one noise-canceling headphone, giving it an “Excellent” score.
The Bose QuietComfort 15 is available for $300 from Amazon.
Audio Technica ATH-ANC7B Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones
Average Amazon Rating: 3.9 out of 5 (from 355+ reviewers)
The ATH-ANC7B headphone by Audio Technica is the best rated noise-cancelling headphone under $200. However, CNET only gives them a “Good” rating, saying that they just sound “OK” and that the headphone’s noise-cancellation feature was not impressive. Still, the ATH-ANC7B gets an impressive Amazon rating of 3.9 of 5 stars from 355+ reviewers.
Another positive note — these headphones do work when the noise-canceling function is turned off, or when their battery is dead. In contrast, Bose noise-cancelling headphones do not operate without a charged battery.
The ATH-ANC7B is available from Amazon for about $121.
Jabra Halo 2 Stereo Headset
Average Amazon Rating: 4.2 out of 5 (from 30+ reviewers)
Jabra Halo 2 is a highly rated wireless stereo headset. Reviews like its reliable wireless connectivity, and its minimalist design.
The speakers fold up like sunglasses when you’re not using them, and immediately switch on, without the need of a button, when you open them back up again. But reviewers did some reservations about the overall durability of the joins on the headphone.
You can pair two wireless devices at once with the Jabra Halo 2, including your mobile, with the added functionality of answering calls.
The Jabra Halo 2 Stereo Headset is available from Amazon for about $77.