Each year, our reviewers go up against an overcrowded ocean of headphones, just like you—when you go shopping for a new pair. Too often, buyers don't take enough time to find the right pair of headphones prior to purchase—but a little money and research can pay off big. When you hear great-sounding headphones for the first time, you'll never want to turn back.
This year, we've tested some winners, we've tested some real big losers, and now we're ready to share our 2013 findings to help you navigate the choices. With different price points and styles in mind, and only after carefully testing each and every pair in our audio lab, we've selected the Best of Year award winners.
Best Headphones of the Year
Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro
The Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro is a great value that caters to beginners and more-advanced listeners alike. Little dials on the sides of each ear cup offer four different listening modes to suit a variety of settings: Position 1 minimizes bass, position 2 produces more of a flat response, position 3 increases bass just a bit, and position 4 puts the bass pedal to the metal. Evaluating audio is a complex task, and listeners continually prove that personal taste matters a great deal—and the Custom One Pro caters to the latter point directly.
On top of that, these heaphones deliver distortion-free beats in a very comfortable over-ear package—and the parts are durable, too. All of these performance aspects make for one award-winning combination. (Current list price approx. $197)
Runner-up - Beyerdynamic DT 880
Beyerdynamic cleaned house this year: The company's open-backed DT 880 earned second place for this big-time category. Meant for at-home or office use, the DT 880 is too bulky for travel. The plush over-ear design makes these perfect for hours and hours of comfortable listening, and the flat response aims to please purists.
If you want a set of headphones that you can equalize at home, something with a luxurious fit that won't cost you an arm and a leg, the DT 880 is a brilliant, distortion-free option. (Current list price approx. $210)
Best Over-ear Headphones
Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro
Beyerdynamic is on a real roll: Our Best Headphones of the Year are also the Best Over-ear Headphones of 2013. The Custom One Pro's customizable sound quality aced our headphone tests again and again—from distortion, to frequency response, to balanced volume. Users are sure to love the comfy over-ear fit and the stellar soundscape of these award-winning headphones. (Current list price approx. $197)￼
Runner-up - Beyerdynamic DT 880
Beyerdynamic's DT 880 over-ears easily scored the number two spot for this category, too.
At-home listeners will love the open-backed design and flat response—not to mention the luxurious velour-covered ear cups. For the price, these make a perfect choice for aspiring purists that can't spend too big. (Current list price approx. $210)
Best In-ear Headphones - Beats urBeats
The Beats urBeats took the lab by storm earlier this year, putting up the best scores we saw in 2013 for a set of in-ears.
These hot little Beats deliver the big bass that so many listeners love—along with detailed mids and highs. People are sure to love the distortion-free soundscape and the stylish package. With a variety of different-sized sleeves to help buyers find the perfect fit, these urBeats make for a solid, comfortable choice. (Current list price approx. $99)
Runner-up - Monster iSport Victory
Athletes of the world should get ready to rumble with the Monster iSport Victory in-ears.
By locking into the outer ear with a gummy, rubbery tip, and with the provision of a three-button remote, the iSport Victory provides a firm, comfortable fit for active people on the go. The iSport's sound profile is big and balanced, and distortion-free. (Current list price approx. $150)
Best Value Over-ears - Sony MDR-7506
It's finally time to talk value, a real favorite for Best of Year shoppers. If dropping upwards of $100 on a set of over-ears just isn't your cup of tea, you don't need to settle for a poor product—because you can buy the Sony MDR-7506.
Meant for at-home or at the office, the MDR-7506 offers great sound and a plush fit for around just $77. These cans aren't fit for commuting, due to the long, remote-less cable, but sound quality and comfort like this are absolutely fantastic for a price this low. These are a classic go-to for budget buyers. (Current list price approx. $77)
Runner-up - Superlux HD668B
Is that a typo? No, you read right: For online sale prices of just $45, you can be the proud new owner of comfy over-ears with a removable cable, a sound profile you'd usually only find on a more-expensive product, and very low measures of distortion. Holy smokes! (Current list price approx. $45)
Read the Full Review of the Superlux HD668B here
Best Value In-ears - JBL J22i
Many people prefer in-ear headphones because of the portable form factors, but spending more than $100, again, just isn't preferable for many. This year, the JBL J22i is our best performing set for the value range.
If you can find about $49 extra dollars in your portly piggy banks, that's all you'll need to afford these JBLs. The J22i offers a great 3-button remote, a tangle-resistant cable, multiple silicone sleeves to fit a variety of ears, and a sound profile you'd normally find on more-expensive products. (Current list price approx. $49)
Runner-up - Sol Republic Jax
The Sol Republic JAX in-ears are 30-dollar superstars, and the number two pick for this award. The volume in the left and right speakers isn't flawlessly balanced, but distortion is undetectable and the overall sound quality is terrific for this price range.
Big on bass but well-balanced across the board, a soundscape like this is tough to beat for 30 bucks. Add to that the great isolation and the handy remote—you've got yourself a hell of a bargain. (Current list price approx. $28)
Best Active Noise Cancellation - Bose QC20i
Don't let the price tag spook you. Armed with a lithium-ion battery, the Bose QC20i has a host of high-end benefits to offer: These in-ears can practically silence a train; the unique compact shape makes them perfect for your carryon bag; a four-button remote allows you to speedily pause a song, take a call, or tune back into your surroundings; several sets of included silicone speaker covers offer a customizable fit.
By far, these are the most comfortable, most-effective active noise canceling headphones we've tested in 2013. Oh, and the sound quality is stupendous, too. (Current list price approx. $299)
Runner-up - Audio Technica ATH-ANC7b
Our runner up this year for Best Active Noise Canceling Headphones are a set of cans from Audio-Technica, the ATH-ANC7b over-ears.
With a AAA batteries in place, users will enjoy some peace and quiet at an attainable price. We've definitely tested better sound than what you get with the ANC7b, but these do a stand-up job in terms of noise blocking. (Current list price approx. $135)
Best Passive Noise Isolation
Klipsch Image X10
Since some listeners can't stand the pressure in the ears that active noise canceling headphones cause, we decided to award excellent passive isolation performance, as well.
By far, the Klipsch Image X10 offer the most powerful passive noise cancellation we've seen in 2013. The tiny tips fit into the listener's ear canal, which naturally prevents outside sound from breaking in. If you need quiet time without the help of batteries, scoop these up fast: The X10 is discontinued now, but you can still find them online today. (Current list price approx. $140)
Runner-up - Beats Heartbeats
The Heartbeats in-ears by Beats take our number two spot in this category. By way of the same in-ear form factor, the Heartbeats help hush the outside world without the need for battery power and a giant price tag.
And you won't hear us complaining about the awesome design—extra speaker covers, a tangle-resistant cable, and a remote for on the go? Yes please. Well done, Beats. (Current list price approx. $60)
Best Value Gaming Headset - Logitech G230
Gamers can get pretty serious about their gaming paraphernalia, but not everyone has the spare change to drop on pricey gaming headsets.
Everyone does love a great bargain, though—which is exactly what you get with the $35 Logitech G230 over-ears. Durable, comfortable, and great for both games and music, the Logitech G230s are a sure-fire, bargain-friendly success. (Current list price approx. $35)
Runner-up - Corsair Vengeance 1300
The Vengeance 1300 is another great gaming value. If you can't spend big but you need a reliable headset, give these a look.
With great noise isolation and the sound quality necessary for RPGs, these comfortable over-ear headphones offer good performance for shoppers on a tight budget. (Current list price approx. $65)
Best High-End Design - Harman Kardon NC
If market trends have taught us anything about headphone shoppers, it's that they want style and audio quality.
The Harman Kardan NC over-ears have those buyers in the crosshairs. With a great combination of brushed metal, black leather, and unorthodox rectangular ear cups, the NCs feel nothing short of cool. Good work, designers. (Current list price approx. $350)
Read the Full Review of the Harman Kardon NC here
Runner-up - Denon AH-D5000
Hot on the stylish heels of the Harman Kardon NC are the Denon AH-D5000 over-ears. Get a load of those wooden speaker backs!
The beautiful overall scheme of matte-finish metal, black leather, and stunning wood flourishes relays a high-end, vintage-audio feel. It also earns the Denon a runner-up spot for Best High-end Design. These lookers are a little tough to come by these days, but if you search hard enough, you'll find them online—accompanied by some steep asking prices. (Current list price approx. $1,900)
Read the Full Review of the Denon AH-D5000 here
Best Mid-Range Design - Bowers & Wilkins P3
Not everyone is ready to drop upwards of $250 on stylish headphones, so we're doing mid-range shout outs, as well.
Bowers & Wilkins really nailed the design of the P3 on-ears. The band's no-sheen rubber finish sets an understated overall tone; the grey and black fabric speaker covers are just plain handsome; cool, silver arms connect the cups to the band. Oh, and rare-earth neodymium magnets hold each ear pad in place: Just pop them off to clean or unplug the cable. The P3s are just plain cool—be sure to check out the stylish white version, too. (Current list price approx. $200)
Runner-up - Marshall Monitor
If you're a bit more outspoken in your fashion statements, you might love the Marshall Monitor over-ear headphones—our number two pick for Best Mid-range Design.
Marshall drew from its deep well of long-time rock history for inspiration, and out came the Monitors. The ear cups are wrapped in the same textured rubber you find on the company's venerable amps, and old-school coiled cables conjure the feel of electric guitars. Rock and roll. (Current list price approx. $162)
Best Value Design - Frends Ella b
When it comes to style, few can make things as beautifully and singularly as Frends, a California-based headphones company responsible for our Best Value Design award winner: the Ella b in-ears.
After consulting with jewelry makers, the sartorial company produced these earring-inspired beauties. The best part? Frends didn't just leave us with a pretty face—the Ella b boasts great sound quality. The fancy cherry on top is the shiny gold package: These headphones can keep up with your glitziest jewelry, with gorgeous gold flourishes and a tasteful, white fabric cable. (Current list price approx. $99)
Runner-up - Beats Heartbeats
Catering to an edgier crowd, Beats' Lady Gaga-inspired Heartbeats are dressed to impress.
Tough metal studs dot the arms of each ear piece, and prominent spikes protrude from the tops. Fashionistas love good hardware, and Beats delivers just that with these head-turning in-ears. (Current list price approx. $60)