Another year has passed, and even more headphones have run the gantlet of our tests. This year, we've seen outstanding performances and fantastic flops. By using our scientifically collected data and heavy input from our editors, the HeadphoneInfo.com staff have selected their picks for the best headphones on the market. Only a select few can rise to the top to earn not only our awards, but your special consideration as well. Without further ado, here are the best headphones released in 2012.
Headphones of the Year
Easily the best of the headphones released in 2012 in terms of all-around performance (that don't require a separate amp), including incredible durability and customizability, the V-ModaCrossfadeLP-2s take our top award from the Bowers & Wilkins C5s by having a higher comfort score. If you're looking for a set of cans that go anywhere and never let you down, grab the CrossfadeLP-2s.
Narrowly missing our award, the Bowers & Wilkins C5s offer a very good performance along with a solid design for all you smartphone users out there. Some may not like the comfort implications of an in-ear design, and that was what kept these from winning the best headphones of the year. On the plus side, they offer better noise attenuation than the headphones that took the top.
Best Over-ear Headphones
Sporting a performance near-identical to their more expensive brothers, the seductive mahogany-backed DenonAH-D5000s offer a fantastic performance for at-home listening in a package that fits in with the decor. While they're a more spendy option, they certainly have the pedigree and performance to take our top over-ear headphones of the year. Be forewarned, though: you will need an amp to use these. But then again, if you're shelling out $700 for headphones, you probably already knew that.
Not the last of their awards, the Sennheiser HD 558 headphones have a great performance for the price, and rank just under the DenonAH-D5000s in terms of raw score in audio performance. If you're not willing to shell out for a super-premium pair of cans, the HD 558s offer the luxury performance without the opulent price.
Best Open-back Headphones
Little brother to the Sennheiser HD 598s, the HD 558s were tested in 2012 to show a high level of audio quality similar to their HD-branded brethren. At a relatively low price, the HD 558s offer a flat frequency response, low distortion measure, and a set of cans that can survive the occasional accident or three. The removable cable allows users the freedom of replacing a cable if it breaks, and by having good durability and audio quality, the HD 558s also take our top honor for open-backed headphones this year.
Best In-ear Headphones
If money's no object to you, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more stylish high-end option for your smartphone. Pretty on the outside and by the audio performance measurables, the C5s are the best in-ear headphones reviewed in 2012. While they do have a rather unique design to stay in your ear well, the concha-loop is fully adjustable for anyone, and shouldn't cause discomfort.
Best Budget Headphones
If you're looking to grab a pair of good in-ear headphones for the lowest price, it's nigh impossible to do better than the Klipsch S4i. Designed to work with modern smartphones with a microphone and remote, these little buds pump out an impressive quality sound from any mobile source.
Packaged with the new iPhone 5, Apple upgraded their little earbuds into something decent for the entry level. With a super-low distortion measure and a passable frequency response, Apple's EarPods offer a fair performance and a good bargain.
Looking to make the world around you disappear? The Creative Aurvana In-Ear3 in-ear headphones will block out an extremely high amount of sound from the outside world from ever reaching the inside of your ear canal. Great for plane trips and commutes, these go a long way to help prevent noise-induced hearing loss as well.
They may not be the best on the market, but they're damn close; the Sony XBA-1s block out a very large amount of sound from entering your ear canal, and in doing so, earn the runner-up spot for best isolation. They also do a great job at holding in all their sound as well, so you won't reveal the world your secret love for certain types of music.
Best Active Noise Cancellation
It can be tough to tell what's good and what's bad when it comes to noise cancelling headphones, but if you're looking for a pair of cans to destroy the sound of the outside world around you, the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9s had the best active noise cancelling unit tested this year. Running off of a single AAA battery, the ATH-ANC9s offer frequent flyers a fair deal of freedom from the effects of noise fatigue often caused by airplane engines. Not the best of all time, they do manage to take the award for best released in 2012.
By virtue of the fact that they block out quite a bit on noise on their own, it's no surprise that the CXC 700s prevent a large total amount of noise from ever reaching your eardrum. Not quite as good as the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9s, they are good enough to snag the runner-up spot in our awards.
Best Gaming Headset
Looking to conquer the realm of online multiplayer gaming? Go all-out with the best gaming headset on the market today, the Astro A40. Not only can it be used with almost anything with a headphone and microphone jack, but it also offers a substantially good performance. Though it may be hard to swallow the ~$200 pricetag, many will find having one headset that can be used on just about any gaming platform absolutely worth it. Though the award winner for this year is a 2012 model, there is currently a 2013 model on the market.