The Best Wired Headphones Still Sound Better Than Wireless Models
Wired models often cost less, too. Here are the top picks from Consumer Reports' tests.
If you’re like many people, it’s been a long time since you owned a phone with a headphone jack. But there are good reasons to stick with wired headphones, even if you need to use an adapter when you’re on the go.
You don’t have to worry about charging wired headphones, and the cheapest wired headphones tend to be less expensive than low-priced wireless models. But the biggest advantage is for people looking for top-notch sound, because the very best audio quality still comes with a wire.
Grado Prestige SR225x
If you won’t settle for anything but the best in audio quality, the Grado Prestige SR225x deserves your attention. The X series is the latest update to Grado’s storied line of over-ear models. Grado kept the SR225x’s signature retro aesthetic but introduced new drivers, a more durable cable, and a redesigned headband. According to our testers, the latest model is a sound-quality champ.
This model uses an open-air design, meaning the back of the ear cups feature a mesh screen instead of a sealed case. That gives the internal components room to breathe, so to speak, instead of forcing the sound to bounce around in a little box. That design can add clarity to the audio, but it isn’t meant to block sound from bleeding in or out, so these headphones might not be suited for noisy environments or places where you might bother a neighbor.
If you want great sound but prefer closed-back headphones that will give you more sound isolation, check out the Audio-Technica model listed below.
1More Triple Driver
The 1More E1001 Triple Driver is among the best-sounding headphones in CR’s tests, and it’s a real bargain, too. The Triple Driver can be found for well under $100.
The integrated microphone, call/connect, playback, and volume controls will play nicely with your iPhone, though as with a lot headphones, some controls might not work on every device. The isolating design also muffles ambient noise and blocks some sound from bleeding out and bothering your neighbors.
For a boost in sound quality, you might consider the next step up for 1More, the Quad Driver. It’s a bit more expensive and gets the same score in our ratings, but our testers note that its bass and treble are more even.
Over the years, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x has earned a loyal fan base among serious music listeners as a dependable option for both at-home listening and professional studio use. These $150 headphones have great audio quality, and their closed-back design will muffle some external noise and limit sound escaping while you listen. They come with three detachable cables, one coiled and two straight in varying lengths.
Grado Prestige SR60x
The Grado Prestige SR60x is a great choice for audio fans who want high-quality sound at a midrange price. Make no mistake, these headphones sound great, but they didn’t score quite as well in our tests as the top models. But at $100, even the most critical listener will probably agree that they’re a bargain.
Like all of Grado’s home/studio-style headphones, the SR60x have a classic throwback design. And as with the SR325x, this model’s open-back ear cups let sound in and out, so they’re best for a quiet listening environment.
The Panasonic RP-TCM125 is an easy choice if you want inexpensive earbuds that don’t sound cheap. There’s a caveat, though: This pair just misses the cutoff for an official Consumer Reports recommendation because of Panasonic’s mediocre rating for predicted reliability, our metric for how likely headphones are to have problems in the first two years of ownership, based on feedback from CR members. But that seems like a minor failing in a product that’s priced around $15, especially given this model’s above-average sound quality. We’ve tested headphones that cost ten times as much and sound far worse.
Monoprice HiFi DJ-Style Pro
The Monoprice HiFi DJ-Style Pro headphones sell for just about $20. They won’t win any awards for sound but the audio quality is decent, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better over-ear pair of headphones for the money.
This home/studio-style model is better suited for the couch than the treadmill. The headphones have an isolating, closed-back design that helps block some ambient noise.
The “DJ-style” moniker signifies that the ear cups rotate, a must-have for budding DJs who want the classic look and the convenience of letting in the outside world for a second without taking off the headphones.
How to Choose Headphones
With so many types of headphones, how do you know which pair is right for you? On the “Consumer 101” TV show, Consumer Reports expert Elias Arias explains everything you need to know.