These Brands Make the Most Reliable Headphones

CR's exclusive member survey reveals which headphones are built to last

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A person in a kitchen wearing a pair of wired headphones while holding a smartphone Photo: Getty Images

At Consumer Reports, we rate dozens of headphones every year. Our trained audio technicians put each model through a battery of tests for sound quality, assess noise-cancellation on models that come with it, and examine other qualities such as fit and features.

But your next headphones shouldn’t just perform great; they should be built to last, too.

In Consumer Reports’ first-ever headphones survey, more than 18,600 of our members told us about their experiences with more than 22,200 headphones purchased over the past five years. That gives us a detailed look at which brands of headphones are the most reliable, and which ones headphone owners are most satisfied with.

More on Headphones

Based on the responses to our member surveys, we’ve assigned each headphone brand a rating for predicted reliability and owner satisfaction. CR members can find a full breakdown in our ratings.

"To calculate predicted reliability we asked members about problems they’ve had with their headphones. We use that data to estimate how a given brand’s new models will hold up over the first two years of ownership," says Simon Slater, CR’s associate director of survey research.

Owner satisfaction ratings are based on the percentage of members who are extremely likely to recommend their headphones to friends and family. Here’s what we found.

The Most Reliable Headphones

Our predicted reliability rating is an estimate of how likely headphones are to experience problems during the first two years of ownership. The good news for consumers is that no headphones scored so badly for predicted reliability that we can’t recommend them, and our survey turned up more than a handful of brands that did particularly well.

Keep in mind that the data we collected only lets us break down reliability and owner satisfaction at the brand level, in two basic categories: noise-canceling headphones and regular stereo headphones. That means we don’t have scores for individual models.

However, experience shows that the brand rating can be a meaningful factor to weigh before making your next purchase. Brands that make both regular and noise-canceling headphones get separate scores for each category.

Nine of the 38 brands in our stereo headphone ratings earn favorable reliability ratings, and five receive an Excellent rating.

Among them, a few are true standouts. Audio-Technica, Grado, and Sennheiser all rate Excellent for both predicted reliability and owner satisfaction. Aftershokz does, as well, but CR doesn’t currently recommend any Aftershokz headphones because the pairs we’ve tested don’t have great audio quality.

Moving to noise-canceling headphones, nine out of our 29 lab-tested brands do well for reliability, and six of them get Excellent ratings, including Bose, Sennheiser, and Sony. (Those three brands also earned Excellent ratings for owner satisfaction, which is discussed below.)

Our members cited a variety of problems with both noise-canceling and stereo headphone brands that fared poorly in the ratings, including premature wear, physical breakage, sound drop-offs, and battery problems on powered models. The top complaint was inconsistent Bluetooth connectivity—which only applies to wireless models, of course.

We also gathered enough reports from CR members to generate ratings for a few brands we haven’t tested in our labs, including some popular options you may come across when you’re shopping.

Three stereo headphone brands that we haven’t tested earned Excellent reliability scores: AKG, Letscom, and Mpow. Stereo headphones from Logitech, Taotronics, and Koss all get Good reliability ratings.

Among noise-canceling headphones, AKG and Mpow get an Excellent reliability rating, while Cowin, Skullcandy, and Taotronics earn Good ratings. (Remember that brands that make both stereo and noise-canceling models get a separate rating for each of the two categories.)

Brands That Deliver Owner Satisfaction

Owner satisfaction was more of a mixed bag than reliability in our survey, with some brands of headphones earning only a Poor or Fair rating. However, we also identified a number of brands with very happy owners.  

Seven stereo headphone brands in our ratings get Excellent ratings for owner satisfaction. As noted above, the stars that also earn Excellent scores for reliability are Aftershokz, Audio-Technica, Grado, and Sennheiser. Apple and Bose stereo headphones both earn Excellent ratings for owner satisfaction and just slightly lower Very Good ratings for reliability.

Chinese manufacturer 1MORE earns an Excellent for owner satisfaction, though just a Good rating for reliability.

Among noise-canceling brands, five of the 15 brands in our ratings earn Excellent scores, with Bose, Sennheiser, and Sony leading the pack with top marks for reliability, as well. Noise-canceling headphones from Apple and Monoprice bested their Very Good reliability ratings with Excellents for owner satisfaction.

Some brands did far worse. In our stereo headphones ratings, Jaybird and JLab Audio rate just Fair for owner satisfaction, while Skullcandy rates Poor.

Most noise-canceling brands do well. Panasonic is an outlier in our ratings though, with a Poor owner satisfaction rating. However, even models from a brand with a Poor owner satisfaction rating could be worth considering. For instance, the Panasonic RZ-S500W has a CR recommendation for its sound quality and noise-canceling performance, despite the brand’s Poor owner satisfaction rating. The model’s price makes it an appealing option as well. 

Based on our survey results, the top factor that predicted owner satisfaction was how happy our members were with the comfort and fit of their headphones. Reliability, sound quality, and ease of use/ergonomics all made a big difference to overall satisfaction as well, as did noise-canceling capability on models that have that feature.  

Again, we were able to generate owner satisfaction ratings for a few brands that our audio experts haven’t tested, and some are noteworthy.

AKG and Mpow stereo headphones get just Good ratings, Taotronics rates fair, and Insignia lands at the bottom of CR’s scale with a Poor rating. AKG does better with its noise-canceling models, with a Very Good score for owner satisfaction. Noise-cancelers from Cowin, Mpow, Skullcandy, and Taotronics earn Good owner satisfaction ratings, while JVC disappoints with a Poor rating. 


Headshot image of Electronics editor Thomas Germain

Thomas Germain

I want to live in a world where consumers take advantage of technology, not the other way around. Access to reliable information is the way to make that happen, and that's why I spend my time chasing it down. When I'm off the clock, you can find me working my way through an ever-growing list of podcasts. Got a tip? Drop me an email ( thomas.germain@consumer.org) or follow me on Twitter ( @ThomasGermain) for my contact info on Signal.