The Grado SR325e, one of Consumer Reports best rated wired headphones
Photo: Grado

These days, wireless headphones get a lot of attention. You can’t beat Bluetooth for convenience, and a number of cell-phone manufacturers are encouraging consumers to adopt wireless headsets by removing the headphone jack from their devices. But there are a few reasons you might want to stick with classic wired headphones.

For one, wired headphones still deliver the best audio.

“If you’re looking for the ultimate in sound quality, you’ll find it in a wired headphone,” says Maria Rerecich, director of electronics testing at Consumer Reports. “Although wireless headphones can be very good, they don’t match the best wired headphones.”

Go to Consumer Reports’ 2018 Holiday Central for updates on deals, expert product reviews, insider tips on shopping, and much more.

More on headphones

If you don’t mind being tethered to a headphone jack, wired headphones have other advantages as well. Sticking to a pair of wired headphones lets you turn off Bluetooth on your phone, and that will bolster your device’s battery life. Of course, you won’t need to buy or recharge batteries for the headphones, either, unless they’re a noise-canceling model. And the cheapest wired headphones are typically less expensive than low-priced wireless headphones.

Consumer Reports experts test more than 40 headphones every year on a range of criteria, including comfort, audio quality, and features such as noise cancellation. As with all of our testing, we don’t accept samples from manufacturers. Consumer Reports is a nonprofit organization that buys every pair at retail, just like you might.

Here are five of the best wired headphones you can buy: 

Grado Prestige SR325e

If you won’t settle for anything but the best in audio quality, the Grado Prestige SR325e will get your attention. The SR325e is Grado’s flagship model, and it’s one of the best headphones in CR’s testing, with top-notch audio quality.

The Grado looks good, too. With its powder-coated aluminum housing and leather headband, this is the perfect choice for the audiophile with a retro aesthetic. You probably won’t be showing the SR325e off in public, though. It’s best-suited for the listener who wants to plunk down in a dark room and bask in the glory of high-fidelity sound.

Like all open-backed headphones, they let sound bleed in and out, so they aren’t suited for noisy environments or for listening in the company of other people who will be bothered by the sound leaking out of your listening session.

Performance comes at a price. The Grado Prestige SR325e retails for around $300. If you’re looking for comparable audio quality in a model that won’t make quite as much of a dent in your budget, take a look at the HiFiMan HE-400i, which performed almost as well in our tests but costs about $45 less.

Scosche SportFlex 3

The Scosche SportFlex 3’s are a steal at $15. These earbuds produce admirable sound, and they’re a good choice for listeners who want decent sound on a budget and on the go.

The SportFlex 3 is marketed as a sports model. The manufacturer claims they’re water-resistant (CR doesn’t test for that in headphones), and ergonomic; adjustable ear clips will hold them in place during a workout. While they don’t have noise-canceling features, the in-ear isolating design will block out some ambient noise.

These headphones come equipped with a built-in microphone, a call connect/disconnect button, and audio-playback controls. Just note that these functions are designed with iPhones in mind and may not work with all devices.

The one caveat is that our testers warned that the Scosche SportFlex 3 might require careful placement for some users to get the best sound quality, and they may be uncomfortable for others. If you’re looking for other options about the same price that still deliver on sound, the Panasonic RP-TCM125 is a good alternative.

1More E1001 Triple Driver

The 1More E1001 Triple Driver is among the best-sounding portable headphones in CR’s tests. You won’t find many competitors that deliver such high-quality sound in this price range. The E1001 Triple Driver can often be found for well under $100.

These headphones have a sleek design and come with extras like a removable shirt clip, a carrying case, and nine sets of earpieces of varying shapes and sizes, which will let you find a good fit. The integrated microphone, call/connect, playback, and volume controls will play nicely with your iPhone, though like a lot headphones, these features may not work on every device. The isolating design also muffles ambient noise and blocks some sound from bleeding out and bothering your neighbors.

Bose QuietComfort 25

There’s a lot to like about the Bose QuietComfort 25. They provide top-notch audio and noise cancellation for around $200, more than a $100 savings compared with similar wireless noise-canceling headphones.

These headphones are also versatile. The audio cable is detachable, which frees you up if you just want to use the noise-canceling function.  

Home/studio-style headphones generally aren’t very portable, and this Bose isn’t going to slip into a jacket pocket. But the ear cups swivel back for storage, and the QuietComfort 25 comes with a carrying case and an attenuating mini-plug-to-airplane-jack adapter, so it may be a great choice for settling in for a movie on a long flight.

Grado Prestige SR80e

The Grado Prestige SR80e is a perennial favorite among audio fans who want top-notch sound at a midrange price. Make no mistake, these headphones sound great, but they didn’t score quite as well in our tests as some high-end 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 SR80’s have a classic throwback design. Like the SR325e, this model’s open-back ear cups let sound in and out, so they’re best for a quiet listening environment.