The 20 Highest Rated Earbuds & Headphones For 2012

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

Klipsch image s4

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

Klipsch Image S4 1

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

MEElectronics M6 Earphones

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

Shure SE215 K

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 RedBlue, 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

Klipsche earbuds x10i

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

Grado sr80

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

Grado headphones 125i

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

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

HFI 580+Foldable+Closed Back+Headphones+ +NEW+2008+MODEL 1

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

Sennheiser RS 170

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

Bose quietcomfort 15

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

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

Jabra HALO2

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.

Cheatsheet: The Top Rated Portable Electronics Of 2011

Here is our list of the top rated portable electronics of 2011. The review sources we consulted were: CNET, PC Magazine, Trusted Reviews, Consumer Reports, Digital Photography Review and Amazon reviewers.

The Top Rated Portable Electronics Of 2011

Earbuds / Earphones

Headphones

MP3 Players and Video Players

Speakers

Digital Cameras and Video Cameras

Chargers and Batteries

Flashlights

E-Readers and Tablet Computers

Portable Computer Gear

Bike Gear

The Top Rated Portable Noise Canceling Headphones of 2011

The noise canceling headphones are different from “noise isolating” or “passive noise reduction” headphones. Noise canceling headphones feature tiny microphones to pick up outside frequencies and then counter those frequencies to cancel them out.

The following list of top rated portable noise canceling headphones was chosen based on reviews from Consumer Reports, CNET, HeadphoneInfo.com, iLounge, PCMag, and Amazon customers.


Bose QuietComfort 15 Noise Canceling Headphones ($300)

Bose QuietComfort 15 Noise Canceling Headphones

Top Review Sources:

  • CNET: 4 out of 5 stars; Excellent; “Currently offer the best sound and silencing capabilities”
  • Consumer Reports: 74 out of 100; “Excellent noise reduction”
  • Amazon: Average 4.3 out of 5 stars, based on 316 customer reviews

Bose was the first to develop noise canceling headphones and the QuietComfort 15 has improved upon previous models. These are for those who are primarily interested in complete noise cancellation- on a plane or train, college students studying in a dorm, a noisy office setting. One reviewer even said it allowed his wife to have a good night’s sleep from his snoring. The sound is well-balanced with defined lows and no overkill on the bass. The over-the-ear design lends to the noise reduction and is comfortable for most users, though can tend to get hot after prolonged use. Comes with a single, detachable cable, dual plug adapter, and durable carrying case.

The Bose QuietComfort 15 noise canceling headphones are available on Amazon.

AKG by Harman K390NC Noise Canceling Earbud Headphones ($159)

AKG by Harman K390 NC Noise Canceling Earbud Headphones

Pros:

  • Excellent active noise reduction
  • Sound quality is good with or without noise cancellation turned on
  • Features a microphone and call connect for use with iPhones and some Blackberry models
  • Well-designed, durable

Cons:

  • Noise cancellation unit is a bit heavy and bulky
  • Earbuds may not be comfortable for all users

Top Review Sources:

  • Consumer Reports: Their highest rated portable noise canceling headphones with a score of 82 out of 100
  • CNET: 3 out of 5 stars; Good; “solid sound quality”

The AKG-390NC noise canceling headphones by Harman incorporate excellent active noise cancellation with strong overall sound, though some of the mid-range and bass response loses definition when the noise cancellation is turned off. They are recommended for airplane use and come with an airplane adapter, but may not be the best for working out due to the bulky module, though a clip is included to keep the earbuds from being pulled on. CNET criticized the high retail price of $250, but they are currently on sale for $100 less.

The AKG by Harman 390NC headphones are on sale at Amazon.

 

JVC HA-NC250 Noise-Canceling Headphones ($104)


JVC HANC250 Noise Canceling Headphones

Pros:

  • Comfortable and versatile for all users
  • 85% noise reduction; good sound quality
  • Lightweight and folds flat for portability
  • Come with carrying case, airplane adapter, and 1/4 inch plug

Cons:

  • 4 foot cable is somewhat short for home stereo use
  • Battery compartment is awkward to change batteries

Top Review Sources:

  • Consumer Reports: 63 out of 100; best for sound quality
  • CNET: 3.5 out of 5 stars; very good; “Great travel companion for those who demand quality sound”
  • Amazon: Average 3.9 out of 5 stars, based on 348 customer reviews

The JVC HA-NC250 noise canceling headphones are for those who need a portable set of headphones, but don’t like using earbuds. The JVCs deliver when it comes to excellent overall sound with the noise reduction on or off and have been compared to the more expensive Bose QuietComfort 3.  The ear cups are more of an oval shape rather than the traditional round shape and are cushioned with memory foam for comfort even with prolonged use, though sometimes the vinyl padding could become hot and sticky depending on the environment.

The JVC HA-NC250 noise canceling headphones are available on Amazon.

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC3 Noise Canceling Earbud Headphones

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC3 Noise Canceling Earbud Headphones ($78)

Pros:

  • Very good sound and noise reduction
  • Headphones work when noise cancellation is off
  • Ultra-portable design
  • Budget price

Cons:

  • Battery compartment, clip and earbuds made of cheap-looking plastic
  • Distortion levels are slightly high- not for audiophiles
  • Not as many features as more expensive headphones

Top Review Sources:

  • Consumer Reports: Recommended; 63 out of 100
  • Headphone Info: “More versatile than the average set of in-ears”
  • iLounge: B+;Recommended

The Audio Technica ATH-ANC3 noise canceling headphones are a basic set of earbud headphones with active noise cancellation. They work with the noise cancellation turned off, but sound is better with it on. The noise isolation isn’t as good as other in-ear headphones, but for activities such as cycling or running, this could be a good thing. They are also comfortable and stay in place well for portability and activities. Sound is good overall, but the bass is the strongest feature.

The Audio Technica ATH-ANC3 earbud headphones are available on Amazon.

Sennheiser PXC 250 II Collapsible Noise Canceling Headphone

Sennheiser PXC 250 II Collapsible Noise Canceling Headphones ($145)

Top Review Sources:

  • Headphone Info: “Excellent audio quality for $150″
  • PCMag: 3 out of 5; Good; “An effective middle-weight noise canceling contender”
  • Amazon: Average 3.3 out of 5 stars, based on 35 customer reviews

The noise canceling feature of the Sennheiser PXC 250 II runs on a AAA battery and allows the headphones to still work when the battery dies. These headphones fit on top of the ear, but won’t envelop the ear. Though they are portable, the design is best suited for use while sitting, not for work-outs. Most reviews noted that at top volume there is distortion especially in the bass, but at a moderate level, the sound is well-balanced. Comes with airplane adapter, carrying case, and 2 year warranty.

The Sennheiser PXC 250 II is for sale on Amazon.

 

The Top Rated Earbuds For Sports

MEElectronics M6 Earbuds

MEElectronics M6 Earphones

Average Amazon Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (from 329+ reviewers)

 

These M6 Earbuds by MEElectronics are more durable and provide better sound that 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.

 

Sleek Audio SA1 High Fidelity Earbuds ($79)

Top Review Sources:

  • Engadget: “At $79.99, it has few contemporaries that offer as much flexibility.”
  • Gear Diary: “Sounds excellent, Looks gorgeous”
  • Amazon: Average 3.9 out of 5 stars based on 16 reviews

Sleek Audio set the standard of a flexible listening experience with their SA6 earphones that offered interchangeable tuners and wires. Now they’ve released the much more affordable SA1 model which delivers the same award-winning sound quality and adaptable features. The SA1 cable is lightweight and won’t pull out during activities and is for those who don’t like the ones that go around the top of the ear.

The Sleek Audio SA1 earphones are available on Amazon.

 

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 RedBlue, and Black. They sell for about $95.

If you 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.

Shure SE425 Sound-Isolating Earbuds ($299)

Pros:

  • Accurate sound quality that lives up to the price, Bass is balanced, not heavy
  • Detachable cord for replacement
  • Lightweight, durable design
  • Ergonomic eartip design sits inside the outer ear; cord goes over top of the ear

Top Review Sources:

  • GadgetMac: 4 out of 5 stars: “For those who truly want to experience the music as it was produced”
  • CNET: 4 out of 5 stars, overall score- 8.0, Excellent: “An excellent choice for eclectic listeners who demand stellar audio and a high-quality design”
  • Amazon: Average 4.1 out of 5 stars based on 18 reviews

In business for over 80 years, Shure has long been the go-to audio electronic company for both professionals and amateur audiophiles. Those who use earphones during strenuous activities may tend to wear out their cords before the speakers go, so the detachable, replacement cable feature is alluring. Included are three sizes of the flex and black foam sleeves as well as 1 pair of triple flange and 1 pair of universal fit foam sleeves. With a tweeter and woofer in each ear, both the sound-isolation and sound quality are excellent providing a true sound for a broad range of music styles.

The Shure SE425 sound-isolating earphones are sold on Amazon.