best headphones of 2020

The 2020 market has been absolutely swarmed with incredible audio accessories. From high quality noise cancelling headphones to earbuds to help you work. There really has been something released into the market for everyone this year so now it’s time to reveal the best headphones and earbuds of 2020. These will be ranked by quality and, where possible, include a best possible and value option.

Headphone Buying Guide

When it comes to buying a pair of headphones or earphones, there are a few things to consider. I’ve already touched on one there.

Headphones or Earphones?

Do you want headphones or earphones? Believe it or not, there is a difference. Headphones are the big ones that fit over your head. Earphones are the buds you pop into your ears.

Sound Quality

Sound quality is naturally quite important but it will also vary in importance versus some of the other features you need to weigh up. For example, if you’re chasing the ultimate in sound quality you might be ruling out most earbuds. But if you want earbuds first and foremost, you’ll need to, generally, let sound quality drop down your list of priorities.

Active Noise Cancelling (ANC)

Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) headphones use small microphones to detect sounds from the world around you. They then do their best to intercept and neutralise this noise. The most constant the noise, the better ANC headphones will work. For example, ANC headphones are great at blocking out the monotonous drone of a jet engine while you fly but not so good at blocking out a crying child.

Needing ANC headphones is far from a foregone conclusion. You may want awareness of your surroundings for running or even opt for noise cancelling ear buds instead.

Listener or Talker?

In recent years one thing that’s shocked me is how important call quality is for

Wired or Wireless: Does Your Phone Have A 3.5mm Jack?

Seems like so long ago that having a place to plug in headphones on a phone was just assumed. Not any more I’m afraid. Now, to be honest, it was time we killed the headphone jack and iPhone might even release a portless phone next year.

I digress. Most headphones in this guide are bluetooth with an option of a 3.5mm cable. Some people will really want 3.5mm connections and others will just rather keeping it wireless.

Battery Life

There are some great earbuds on the market. However, many of them don’t have great battery life. Buying some audio equipment for long-haul business trips? A 3-hour ear bud is no use to you.

Apple Or Not To Apple?

When it comes to headphones there are no Apple-made options. There are, however, some products built with Apple in mind. Of course, there are Apple ear buds but that doesn’t always mean your have to buy them versus other manufacturers.

Best Active Noise Cancelling Headphones

Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) headphones used to be a popular choice for people who regularly take to the skies, flying from A to B for business or pleasure. 2020 wasn’t a great year for travel but interest in ANC headphones soared. There are a few factors driving increased interest in ANC headphones:

  • people are seeking focus while working from home
  • work places are offering people budget to buy headphones for home working
  • some people have disposable income and are looking to buy headphones previously too pricey

Indeed, ANC headphones are usually amongst some of the most pricey headphones on the market but if you know you need them they are money well spent.

The Best Active Noise Cancelling Headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4

Year after year, Sony rolls out their flagship ANC headphones and year after year they are jaw-droppingly good. This year’s model is no different in either quality or their silly name. The Sony WH-1000XM4 provide the best ANC experience and arguably one of the best audio experiences in general. However, it comes with a pretty hefty price-tag of nearly €400 which usually leaves me recommending you go back a year. The Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones are last year’s model but, even more so than usual, Sony added very little to the WH-1000XM4 headphones to justify spending the extra cash over going for the older model.

The Best Value Active Noise Cancelling Headphones: Soundcore Life Q20 Hybrid ANC Headphones

Looking for value in the ANC space is a very risky game to play. This recommendation comes with a ginormous caveat. If you’re gifting to someone who asked for ANC headphones don’t go with these. They’re brilliant but people who say they want ANC headphones will be fuming if they don’t get something like Bose or Sony.

The Soundcore Life Q20 Hybrid ANC headphones are great but they do make sacrifices versus headphones which cost four to five times more. The obvious benefit is that these will set you back just €60 and still deliver quality far beyond that price-tag suggests.

If you are gifting, the best thing to do is go back and get an older model from a really well-known brand. The difference here is that value takes on a new meaning along with a heavier price tag. While the WH-1000XM3 are still a bit spicey to be called value, the Bose QC35 II at about €250 are a great price. I bought these myself a few years back and they’re still my headphone of choice, although the Huawei Freebuds Studio do come close.

Best Headphones For Commuting

Plenty of people still commute for their jobs these days. If that’s not you, there’ll come a time when you commute again. Having a great pair of headphones can make all the difference during a commute, turning that extra hour of your day from stressful to a place of zen.

The Best Headphones For Commuting: Huawei Freebuds Studio

Huawei has frantically been scrambling to fill the smartphone-sized gap in their tech offering following the lack of Google support for the P40 Pro Series. Audio has been one area the Chinese tech giant has focused on and some of the products have been incredible. The Huawei Freebuds Studio are the top-rated product I’ve ever reviewed on, bringing together a range of key features to make a great pair of headphones.

FreeBuds studio design

From surprisingly good ANC to great battery life and featherlight weight, these are a near no-brainer choice for people seeking zen on their morning or evening commute whether that be death metal or podcasts.

The Best Value Headphones For Commuting: Huawei Freebuds 3 or Apple AirPods

This comes down to which phone you have really. If you’ve got Android, the Huawei Freebuds 3 are a little older now but for in or around €99 it’s impossible to go wrong. I still use these regularly though mainly for calls given their crystal clear mic quality. However, a slim design and being the world’s first shell ANC earbuds makes these a great value choice for commuting.

If you’re an iPhone user, those Huawei Freebuds 3 will still work perfectly fine but they won’t have all the functionality that you get to enjoy with a pair of buds designed for your device. You’ll pay a little bit more but the second generation AirPods are the Apple alternative.

Best Headphones For Gaming

Another big space this year is gaming. Even before the confirmation of new next-gen consoles from Microsoft and Sony, gaming was on the up because so many people were sat at home with nothing to do. Headphones make a massive difference when your gaming too and this is largely down to things like the sound stage. The sound stage determines how clearly you hear the world around you and is essential when it comes to figuring out where a sniper is firing from.

The Best Headphones For Gaming

I’m currently working on the full review for the JBL Quantum One gaming headphones but they are a damn impressive pair of gaming headphones. There are some bells and whistles which are overkill but the critical features from sound stage to chat mic are nothing short of perfect. You pay for the privilege unfortunately, but that’s why I’ll give you a value option too.

The Best Value Headphones For Gaming

I remember the EKSA E900 Pro gaming headset landing on my desk and thinking they look pretty neat. I plugged them in, wasn’t madly impressed by them or anything but enjoyed using them. I like their look and feel and along with delivering fairly good audio I was fairly impressed by them. When left me shook was the price. At under €50 you will not do better than the E900 Pro for gaming.

Best Wireless Earbuds

This is one of the biggest minefields out there because there’s just so much personal preference involved. For that reason I’m going to break it up a bit.

Best Noise Cancelling Earbuds

This is one of the few categories that’s no challenge whatsoever. The Huawei Freebuds Pro offer incredible ANC in general, not just for a pair of earbuds. This follows the Freebuds 3 saying they have ANC but really only offering some kind of ANC-lite. They also offer great call quality too.

huawei freebuds pro review

Right now, if you buy these from Carphone Warehouse you can get a free fitness band too.

Best Value Earbuds

This is another win for Huawei and the older Huawei Freebuds 3. Already talked about them but their price now versus what they give you is just amazing. Some clever design means they are amazing for calls too. If they are just a little too hot in terms of price, check out their little sister the Huawei Freebuds 3i.

Best Earbud Battery Life

Here is another easy selection. I couldn’t believe how much the Creative Outlier earbuds. These earbuds have a whopping ten hours battery per charge and a case that lets you enjoy thirty hours of charge in total. They are some of the few earbuds on the market that you could use for an entire long-haul flight or even a marathon.

Best Headphones For Sound Quality

Why didn’t I just start here you might ask? Well, truth be told it’s because I still don’t consider myself to be an audiophile and prefer to judge my headphones and earbuds on everything else before the actual sound itself. For sound quality, there is only one pair of headphones I’ve tested which truly stood out for sound quality. The Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT don’t have ANC but they are designed to give artists true monitor-quality feedback and sound. This means no false bass like what Beats give you. Just crisp audio sans frequency bleed. These come in two models, the newer of which offers Bluetooth so pick the one you want and be sure to buy the one you need.

Best Headphones For Battery

The JBL Club One were a surprise package of 2020. They offer great build quality, awesome sound and immersive ANC. However, they’ve been unlucky not to really top any of the categories thus far. And that makes sense. Given their pricetag, they needed to be really special somewhere and they never really did that. One slightly non-sexy feature they do excel at is the battery life.

JBL club one review

The JBL Club One headphones give you 23 hours of ANC battery life and that’s not just advertised. In my review, I outlined that it’s tough to test this spec but it does feel like that number is on the money. While it’s tough for me to say these are the best headphones in any other category, the Club One headphones dominate when it comes to battery.

And so concludes our best of 2020 headphone buying guide. Feel like we’ve not answered your questions? Disagree with something? Let us know on Twitter and we’ll research or discuss!

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Founding Editor of Goosed, Martin is a massive tech fan, into movies and will talk about anything to anyone. - Find me on Mastodon