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The Best Headphones and Earbuds for Every Situation

Build your dream garage for personal listening.

Headphones, Gadget, Audio equipment, Technology, Electronic device, Headset, Plant, Wood,

What headphones should I buy?

A constant question with a different answer every few months as headphone makers come up with new marketing and, hopefully, better headphones. I’ve been testing headphones for years as a cubicle-dweller, occasional exerciser, frequent flier, pedestrian, and someone who focuses on just the music.

Here’s my dream garage for each of those use-cases, most of which will work for whatever situation.

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Best Overall: Grado GW100

These GW100s open-back headphones, which means anyone nearby will hear how often you listen to Ariana Grande. But if all you care about is you and the music, open-back headphones will make it sound more like you’re in a room full of instruments. For anyone with an amp, these headphones also come with a 3.5mm cable and a 6.5mm adapter, but Bluetooth 4.2 with aptX means you lose little fidelity when you go wireless.

Best Overall Earbuds: Phaiser BHS-790

While shopping at a retail location of an unnamed trillion-dollar tech company, my EIC asked an employee what headphones he had around his neck. The guy was a musician and swore by the customizable fit and sound quality of these earbuds. They’re also sweat- and light rain-proof, but it’s the sound you get from the visible twin-speaker design that makes them feel like a pair that costs twice as much.

Best Noise-Canceling: Sony WH-1000XM3
$249.99 (29% off)

The only other headphone to match Bose’s noise-cancelation technology, plus crazy comfortable padding for your ears, and an industry-top 30 hours of playback between USB-C recharging. They also top's list for industry-leading sound technology.

Best for Workouts: Plantronics BackBeat

Sealed against rain and sweat, with a band system that hovers on your ears and won’t fall off during plyometrics. The earbuds let in ambient noise, so you can hear traffic if you jog outside. If you can spend more, the Jabra Elite Active 65t ($170) earbuds are even smaller and sound better.

Best for iOS Users: Apple AirPods

Many companies have tried, some have come close, but no one else has achieved the convenience of what Apple released in 2016. You can use either earbud alone, and the pause/play function when you remove them never fails. The sound quality won’t floor you, but for podcasts and a background soundtrack for mundane errands, it’s still a futuristic experience to use them, especially with an Apple Watch.

Best for the Office: RHA MA650

Neckband headphones from a Scottish company that sound way better than anything you can buy for less than $200. The 12-hour battery will last all day, and as long as you take the time to find the correct earbud fit, they’re light enough to forget you’re wearing them.

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