(Check out our guide to home audio here.)
Very best: BeoPlay H6 headphones ($460)
The lambskin cups on this headset are so soft, you won’t get sore ears even if you wear them for hours. The built-in mic is on the audio cable, which can be connected to either the left or the right side. And because these are from the venerable Bang and Olufsen, the sound quality is, frankly, superior. And you’ll love the big “R” and “L” that are screened on the interior fabric, so you’ll never have to squint to figure out how to put them on.
Very best, wireless: Turtle Beach iSeries headphones ($400 for i60, $300 for i30, $200 for i10)
Turtle Beach has been making headphones for more than a generation, and the iSeries has given Apple users reason to squeal in delight. Purpose-built to work with Mac systems, these are premium rechargeable headphones that have about a 10-hour battery life. The high-end i60 is equipped with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and can connect to multiple devices simultaneously, so you can take calls using the hidden microphone while you’re playing games on the computer. These sleek and comfortable headphones are not only full-featured, they also provide unparalleled sound. And even those who use Windows and Android devices will find the i60s work wonderfully.
Very best, in-ear: Bose QuietComfort 20 ($330)
Noise-cancelling headphones used to come only in the over-the-ear format. With the QuietComfort 20 series, Bose has been able to get the technology into a small, light, in-ear design. These have an inline microphone on the cable that also operates as a remote, so you can answer calls without having to fish your smartphone out of your pocket. The rechargeable module that performs the noise-canceling is also small and lasts for some 16-hours. And unlike other noise-canceling headphones, the QuietComfort 20s will still work even if that module has run out of power. An included “Aware” mode will allow environmental sound to penetrate your hearing in the event you need to be conscious of your surroundings. There are two models – one for iOS devices and one for Android, BlackBerry and Windows phones.
Enthusiast: Sennheiser Momentum headphones ($229)
There are a couple of good reasons to choose on-ear – as opposed to ear-covering – headphones. One is that they tend to be smaller and lighter, because they aren’t trying to encompass half your head. The other is that you sometimes want to be aware of the sounds in the environment – vehicles or announcements are two good examples – and on-ear phones permit outside sound to leak in better than those that isolate your ears. The minimalist Momentum on-ear headphones are a stylish option. Available in a range of colours, they are constructed of brushed stainless steel and Alcantara, a synthetic suede used for the ear pads that is soft and supple. And they come with a microphone built into the cable so you can take calls without having to whip them off.
Enthusiast, wireless: SuperTooth Freedom headset ($149)
Light and comfortable, the Freedom wireless headset connects to most mobile devices using Bluetooth (Android users need only touch their device to the right ear cup to connect using NFC). Both pads rotate so the headset can be carried flat and the right cup is also a multifunction button, with volume and power buttons located along the edge. It is rechargeable, boasting up to 15 hours of use on a single charge, and features a built-in – and boom-less – microphone on which you can also make phone calls.
Best value: RHA MA750i earphones ($130)
Given the materials used in the construction of these earphones you’d expect to pay a lot more for them. The earbuds for the MA750i design, from Scottish manufacturer RHA, are stainless steel, and the cable is steel-reinforced and rubber coated cable, which makes it strong and resistant to tangling. The earphones are a bit heavier as a result, so they are designed to hook over the ears to avoid pulling out. These buds also come with a clip you can use to hold the cable against your shirt to prevent the mic from rubbing against the fabric, which anyone will tell you creates the least wonderful sound of all.