Back to School: Picking the Right Headphones

In-ear or over-ear, we've got you covered

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

It's that time of year again. Parents are crying, kids are saying goodbye to their friends at home, and everyone's headed back to school.

The mini fridge, game console(s), and linens are packed—but what about the headphones? If you don't have a good set of cans to get you through your all-night cram sessions, you'll be stuck with the eerie quiet of the library. Nobody wants that.

But don't worry: We've already done the heavy lifting and put a ton of headphones through their paces in our testing labs. Whether you're looking for in-ears or over-ears, these are our top picks.


In-Ear Headphones

Chances are, your first choice will be a good pair of in-ears. Not only do they offer superior sound isolation, but they're incredibly portable—perfect for getting you from the dorm to your classroom. Problem is, it's hard to find out a pair that sounds great and can survive longer than a semester.

In-ears can vary widely in price, and more money doesn't always translate to better sound. Still, we can confirm that you'll notice the boost in quality you get from our most expensive choice—it was our 2014 Best of Year winner. But if your budget doesn't stretch that far, don't fret: We've made sure that every option sounds great—even our $16 bargain pick.

MEElectronics M9P


It can be difficult to find good, inexpensive headphones that don’t sacrifice sound reproduction or build quality. Yet that’s exactly what MEElectronics managed to do with its M9P 2nd Gen in-ears. Featuring a huge emphasis on bass and a stylishly understated design, they’re one of the best values in headphones today. Period. Just check out our full review for the full scoop on what makes them a true diamond in the rough.

Read the full review

AKG K 323XS


The AKG K 323XS won’t exactly be winning any fashion awards, despite coming in every color of the rainbow. But that’s not the point: These ‘phones get nothing but gold medals in just about every other category, particularly when it comes to sound. Despite their small size, they produce huge sound with prominent bass, supportive mids, and healthy highs. That's a lot to love from what seem like some relatively simple in-ears.

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JLab Epic Premium


Despite their anonymous appearance and low price tag, JLab’s Epic Earbuds punch well above their class. Standout features include a tangle-resistant cable and "cush fins"—tiny flaps that help the buds nestle more firmly into the rook of your ear. But more importantly, these buds produce rich, detailed sound whether you’re listening to classic rock, soulful jazz, or orchestral. No matter what you’re into, it’s going to sound great coming from the Epics.

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JBL Synchros Reflect


If you enjoy hitting the pavement or spending your afternoons at the gym, you know standard in-ear headphones don’t always cut it. The JBL Synchros Reflect, however, are ready to spot your eardrums while you deadlift some tasty jams. They're sweat-proof, reflective, magnetic, and fitted with ear-tips to keep them in place. They also sound great, with a balanced sound profile that's a perfect fit for most listeners.

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Decibullz Contour


The best thing you can do to keep ambient noise from messing with your music is to spend upwards of $1,000 for custom ear molds. At least, that used to be the case. But newcomer Decibullz has a much more affordable option in its debut headphones, the Contours. Instead of a visit to a professional, all you need is hot water and 15 minutes of your time. The result? Rich sound that stops unwanted interference in its tracks.

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JBL Synchros S200i


If you plan to spend a lot of time listening to music, you're going to want to pick up some chart-topping buds. The JBL Synchros S200i—or S200a for android devices—offer everything you could want from a pair of quality in-ears. Featuring a distinctive spoke-like design, a tangle-resistant cable, and a rich, balanced sound profile with healthy bass support, the 200i in-ears are in a league all their own.

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On- and Over-Ear Headphones

If you already have a pair of in-ears and want something a little more robust for your downtime, we've got you covered. Over- and on-ear headphones tend to be a little pricier than in-ears, but that cost almost always comes with a step up in sound quality and durability.

Whether you're looking for a gaming headset for your weekend LAN parties or something with a bit more style, we've got plenty of lab-tested options for you to choose from.

Logitech G230


If you're looking to unwind after a long day of schoolwork with some online games, it pays well to get a decent gaming headset. The G230 from Logitech is no doubt the epitome of a basic model, but that isn't a bad thing. It has what you need and enough performance to handle everything from a Skype call back home to a late night RPG binge.

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Grado SR80e


There's simply no competing with a pair of open-backed headphones, that is, if you're willing to exchange high-quality sound for leaking every bit of it into your surroundings. But, if you have a private space to listen, the hand-assembled SR80e are sure to impress. You'll be surprised at how many small details you'll be able to pick out in even your favorite songs. Just make sure your roommates have a similar taste in music, otherwise you might run into some problems.

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Sony MDR-V6


While the MDR-V6s have been around for a long time, they still hold up compared to the best of them thanks to their no nonsense design and a flat sound profile that's perfect for any amateur DJs or musicians looking to mix their own music. If you're looking for quality cans that will last you a long time, look no further. Simply put, they work, day in and day out.

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Harman Kardon Soho


While sound quality is undeniably the most important factor of a pair of headphones, for some it's all about the looks. Luckily, you don't have to choose when it comes to the sheer sound quality and stylish design of the Soho on-ears. Not only do you get stitched leather—in white or black—with stainless-steel joints, but you also get robust music with the bump, bump, bump of bass and bright, airy highs for an unforgettable listening experience.

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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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