With a $500 budget, you’ll have more options to choose from when shopping for headphones. But it can get confusing real fast due to the number of products on the market, not to mention there are different kinds of headphones to consider, with multiple types in the wireless category alone.
If you are shopping for the best headphones under $500, we got you covered with this guide. In this product guide, you’ll find the top options in different categories, including truly wireless headphones, neckband headphones, and open-back headphones. All the products listed here normally sell for at least $200, with many of them sitting in the $300-400 range.
In case you change your mind about your budget and want to look into more affordable headphones instead, you can check out our separate product guides for the best headphones under $200 and the best budget headphones under $50.
The Best Headphones Under $500
Best Wireless Headphones: Sony WH-1000XM3
The Sony WH-1000XM3 are all-around headphones that are good for commuting, traveling, and office use. In addition to being the best wireless headphones under $500, they are also some of the best noise-canceling headphones on the market. Their overall design and performance are great and better than the similarly priced and popular Bose QuietComfort 35 II, often regarded as their main competition.
A pair of over-ear headphones, the WH-1000XM3 are well-designed headphones featuring closed ear cups and a padded headband. Their build quality is great, though their folding design includes more moving parts that are vulnerable to wear and tear. With their soft earpads and flexible headband that doesn’t feel too tight, they are comfortable to wear for long hours.
For controls, the WH-1000XM3 have a touch-sensitive surface on the right ear cup that recognizes tap and swipe gestures. Using the touchpad, you can manage your calls and music, adjust the volume, and activate your voice assistant. The left ear cup, meanwhile, includes a power button and a dedicated button for switching between active noise cancellation (ANC) and ambient modes. You can customize the on-cup controls using the companion app.
With their lightweight build and foldable ear cups, the WH-1000XM3 are easy to carry for everyday use. They include a hard case for storage, which adds to their overall portability. An airplane adapter and an audio cable are also included, with the former accessory being especially beneficial for frequent travelers. The audio cable, which allows you to still use the headphones passively when their battery is depleted, terminates in a 3.5 mm analog plug for universal compatibility with most mobile devices.
The WH-1000XM3 are good-sounding headphones for general media consumption, with their deep and powerful bass making them suitable for listening to bass-heavy music genres. They support NFC for seamless pairing with compatible devices. Their integrated mic is decent enough for phone calls while their wireless range is great, but they don’t support low-latency codecs. Using the Sony companion app, you can modify some aspects of the headphones, including the sound and the on-cup controls.
From ambient chatter to the sound of airplane engines and air conditioning units, the WH-1000XM3 are excellent at blocking out background noise. This makes them ideal for listening to music at the office and while commuting or traveling. Their sound leakage is also low at moderate volume, which means you won’t disturb nearby people with your loud music. They can last up to 30 hours per charge in wireless mode with ANC enabled and include a modern USB-C charging cable.
Overall, the WH-1000XM3 are excellent headphones for travel and commute that stand out as the best wireless headphones under $500. Their sound quality, on-cup controls, build quality, and app support are good while their battery life and noise isolation are superb. They are highly versatile headphones that are suitable for everyday use, with their lightweight build, foldable ear cups, and hard case making them more portable than many other over-ear headphones.
Best Truly Wireless Headphones: Sony WF-1000XM3
If you find wireless over-ear headphones too cumbersome to carry for everyday use – even the foldable ones – get the Sony WF-1000XM3 instead. They are truly wireless headphones that are significantly more portable than over-ear and on-ear headphones. Like the WH-1000XM3, which are basically their over-ear counterpart, they are noise-canceling headphones that are suitable for listening to music in the office and while traveling.
The WF-1000XM3 are extremely compact and lightweight headphones with a typical in-ear fit that some might find uncomfortable at first. Their build quality is good and feels premium despite being mostly made of plastic, but they are not as sweat-resistant as sports-oriented truly wireless headphones like the Beats Powerbeats Pro and the Jaybird Vista. While they lack stability fins or hooks, they stay securely in your ears. There are different sizes of silicone and foam ear tips included in the box.
Compared to wired earphones, the WF-1000XM3 are more portable, with their totally cable-free design saving you from having to deal with tangled cables. Their earpieces are compact and will easily fit into most pockets. The included charging case is similarly compact and easy to carry every day and holds additional charges for longer total battery life. A short USB-C cable is also provided for connecting the case to a power source.
Like their over-ear counterpart, the WF-1000XM3 feature touch controls, with the circular panels on the back of their earpieces serving as the touchpads. But considering their smaller touch-sensitive surfaces, their touch controls are more limited. You can use the touch controls to manage your calls and music, activate your voice assistant, and quickly switch between ANC and ambient modes. Unlike with physical buttons, using the touch controls does not cause the ear tips to go further in your ear canals, which can be uncomfortable.
The WF-1000XM3 are some of the best-sounding truly wireless headphones on the market, with their companion app allowing you to modify the sound if their default tuning is not to your liking. They support NFC technology and have a decent integrated mic. They last up to six hours on a single charge, which is decent for truly wireless headphones. Their case holds three additional charges to increase the total battery life to 24 hours.
Regarding sound isolation, the WF-1000XM3 are good. With their ANC and in-ear fit, they are good at blocking out ambient noise, especially if you can get a tight seal with the included ear tips. You can use them for blocking out ambient noise in airports, public transport, and busy offices. Their sound leakage is also low even at high volume, allowing you to listen to loud music without disturbing or annoying the people around you.
All in all, the WF-1000XM3 are the best truly wireless headphones under $500, with their good sound quality and noise isolation and excellent app support separating them from the competition. While they are not the best for sports, they are good for commuting, traveling, and office use. Their build quality, controls, and total battery life are good while their portability even with their charging case factored in is terrific.
Best Closed Headphones: Shure SRH1540
Suitable for listening to music at home and recording tracks in the studio, the Shure SRH1540 are an excellent pair of closed-back headphones. They are wired over-ear headphones that are recommended for both audiophiles and professionals, with their premium build and good sound quality making them stand out. They are the most expensive product in this guide, selling for almost $500, but they are well worth the money, especially if you want durable headphones that can last several years.
The SRH1540 are good-looking headphones featuring a sturdy metal frame and carbon-fiber-reinforced ear cups. Their sturdy headband, which is connected to the ear cups with metal yokes, has a thin layer of padding coated with artificial leather. Their large ear cups include soft cushions covered with perforated fabric that feels nicer on the skin than artificial leather material. The default audio cable, which ends in a 3.5 mm plug, is detachable, with Shure including an extra audio cable in the box.
Although their bulky design might suggest otherwise, the SRH1540 are comfortable to wear for long hours, which is especially beneficial for studio use. They are surprisingly lightweight despite all their metal parts and don’t feel too tight on the head. Their earpads are spacious and breathable, with enough room to accommodate most ear sizes, while their headband is flexible.
Unlike the Sony WH-1000XM3, the SRH1540 don’t fold into a more compact format, hurting their overall portability. But they do come with a hard case for storage, which makes them a bit easier to carry from one place to another. In addition to the case and the aforementioned extra audio cable, they also include extra earpads and a gold-plated 6.3 mm adapter. Unfortunately, Shure opted for identical audio cables instead of including a shorter cable for mobile use or a coiled cable for studio use.
Enjoyable to use for a variety of music genres, the SRH1540 are good-sounding headphones that sound clear and detailed, with good instrument separation and an impressive soundstage for closed-back headphones. Their bass is controlled, deep, and not too emphasized while their treble is clean and never harsh. Their mid-range is pleasant but slightly recessed while their imaging is good.
The SRH1540 are not ideal for sound mixing and mastering, though. They are better used for recording tracks in the studio. Their sealed ear cups are decent at blocking out background noise passively and prevent the sound leakage from being picked up by your mic while recording. Their lightweight build and comfortable over-ear fit make them suitable for long hours in the studio.
While they are not as versatile as the WH-1000XM3, the SRH1540 are better-built and better-sounding closed headphones that are great for listening to music. They are comfortable to wear for long hours and allow for easy connectivity with most devices with no latency issues. They come with a nice set of accessories that include extra earpads and a hard case for storage.
Best Open Headphones: Sennheiser HD 600
The Sennheiser HD 600 are some of the best and most popular open-back headphones on the market, with their excellent sound quality being the biggest reason for that. They are wired headphones with an over-ear fit, featuring large ear cups that will easily fit around most ears. With their neutral sound, they are suitable for sound mixing in the studio and simply listening to music at home. You can get them for around $300-400, offering better value for the money than the similarly popular HD 650.
Featuring a detachable audio cable, the HD 600 are bulky headphones with oval ear cups and a padded headband. Their overall build quality is solid but not as good as that of the Shure SRH1540, with their less durable headband being the weak spot in their construction. Like other open headphones, their ear cups have grilles on the back, showing the dynamic drivers within. The audio cable connects to both ear cups and measures roughly 10 feet long.
Compared to the Shure headphones, the HD 600 are much less comfortable to wear for long listening sessions. While their ear cups are well-padded and breathable, their headband has a very tight clamp, which makes them more fatiguing to use for long hours, especially if you have a large head. Their thick earpads help mitigate the tight clamp, but not by much. The silver lining here is that the tight clamp makes for a more stable fit, with the headphones staying securely in your head, allowing you to move more freely without worrying about them sliding off.
The HD 600 are not the most portable headphones. In addition to their bulky frame, they don’t fold into a more compact format and lack any form of storage, which is disappointing for headphones normally selling for $400. Aside from the stock audio cable – which terminates in a 3.5 mm analog plug – the only item included in the box is a 6.3 mm plug adapter.
What makes the HD 600 shine despite their design flaws is their sound quality. They are some of the best-sounding open headphones under $500. They have a balanced treble, a tight bass, and a flat mid-range. They sound neutral, clean, and detailed, with a wide soundstage and minimal distortion at high volume, but they are not the easiest to drive. You can also use them for sound mixing and mastering in the studio, with their neutral sound allowing you to discern flaws and inconsistencies in the recording.
If you prefer open headphones because of their more natural sound, the HD 600 are the best option under $500. They are great-sounding headphones that are recommended for audiophiles, professionals, and headphone enthusiasts interested in modding. However, their open design means they are best used in a quiet environment, as their noise isolation is non-existent.
Best Semi-open Headphones: Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro
Semi-open headphones sit between closed-back and open-back headphones. They provide a bit of noise isolation and don’t leak as much as open headphones, but they are not as good as closed headphones in both categories. Compared to the other two types of headphones, there are much fewer semi-open headphones on the market. The best one under $500 is the Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro, which are the semi-open counterpart of the popular DT 770 Pro and DT 990 Pro.
The DT 880 Pro are wired headphones with a non-detachable audio cable, a padded headband, and circular ear cups. Their build quality is great and better than some headphones selling for a higher price, with their metal headband, hinges, and ear cup grilles making for a sturdier and more durable build. And with their non-foldable ear cup design, there are fewer moving parts that are vulnerable to wear and tear.
However, their non-detachable coiled cable hurts their overall durability. The audio cable terminates in an analog mini-plug for universal compatibility with most devices, with Beyerdynamic also including a stereo jack adapter. A soft pouch is provided for protecting the headphones against dust, scratches, and minor water spills, but not against hard impact.
With their relatively lightweight build and well-padded ear cups, the DT 880 Pro are comfortable to wear for long hours. Their large ear cups are breathable and feature velour-coated cushions that feel soft and nice on the skin. On the other hand, their headband clamp is rather tight, but not on the same level as the Sennheiser HD 600. Their soft and thick earpads do a good job mitigating the tight fit, making them less fatiguing to use for long listening sessions at home or in the studio.
The DT 880 Pro are great-sounding headphones that sound more neutral than their closed and open counterparts, making them the most suitable for sound mixing and mastering. They sound detailed and clear, with a fantastic mid-range and a wide soundstage, but their bass will not impress fans of bass-heavy music genres. Although they are designed for studio use and listening to music at home, they are also good headphones for gaming, especially if you mainly play single-player games.
Like fully open headphones, the DT 880 Pro are best used in a quiet environment, as they are not much better at reducing background noise. Even in a moderately noisy place, their passive noise isolation is mediocre, making them a poor choice for listening to music in a busy office and while traveling. While not as bad as that of the HD 600, their sound leakage is still quite high, which makes them unsuitable for recording tracks in the studio.
On the whole, the DT 880 Pro are a great pair of headphones that are worth the money, especially if you prefer neutral-sounding headphones. Their sound quality and build quality are great while their comfortable over-ear fit is suitable for long listening sessions at home and in the studio. They normally sell for around $250, but you can get them for less than $200 on some days.
Best Noise-canceling Earphones: Apple AirPods Pro
For commuting, traveling, and office use, the Sony WH-1000XM3 are still the best noise-canceling headphones on the market. But if you prefer headphones in a much more portable format for everyday use, check out the Apple AirPods Pro instead. They are noise-canceling truly wireless headphones with a more consistent noise isolation performance than the Sony WF-1000XM3.
The AirPods Pro are well-designed headphones featuring a comfortable in-ear fit that makes them suitable for long listening sessions, with Apple including three pairs of ear tips. Their build quality is good and feels premium, with their IPX4 rating meaning they are protected against sweat, which is beneficial if you intend to use them for running. They are extremely lightweight and compact and stay securely in your ears despite lacking stability fins and ear hooks. Their earpieces include force sensors on the stems for the controls.
Like the earphones themselves, the included charging case feels premium. It is more compact than most charging cases and will easily fit into small pockets, further adding to the already excellent portability of the AirPods Pro. It supports Qi wireless charging (which is a big plus for some people) and connects using a Lightning cable. In addition to serving as a secure container for the earphones, it also holds additional charges for longer total battery life.
Capable of pairing seamlessly with iOS devices, the AirPods Pro are good-sounding truly wireless headphones that sound detailed and balanced. Their wireless range is good while their latency is not too high even when connected to an Android device. Unfortunately, their app support is disappointing, with limited customization options when connected to an iOS device. In fact, they don’t even have a full-fledged companion app as of this writing, unlike the WF-1000XM3 and other competing products.
On the other hand, their noise isolation is better than most in-ear headphones and earbuds, wireless or otherwise. Compared to the WF-1000XM3, they are just as good at blocking out ambient chatter and high-frequency noises, but they are better at reducing low-frequency noises. Their noise isolation with ANC enabled is more consistent.
Their talk-through mode is also better, with the background noise filtered in by their integrated mics sounding more natural. They can last up to four hours and 30 minutes per charge with ANC enabled and the volume set to 50 percent, with the additional charges in the case increasing the total battery life to more than 24 hours.
Overall, the AirPods Pro are the best truly wireless headphones if noise isolation is the most important aspect for you. They are remarkably versatile headphones that are good for commuting, traveling, office use, and running. Their sound quality, build quality, total battery life, and wireless range are good while their noise isolation performance, sound leakage, and portability are great. While their app support is disappointing, they pair seamlessly with Apple devices.
Best Sports Headphones: Beats Powerbeats Pro
The Beats Powerbeats Pro are the best headphones under $500 for all-around sports use, with their truly wireless format and ear hooks being big reasons for that. They are just as expensive as the Apple AirPods Pro, but they lack ANC, which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on your preferences when running or working out.
Available in four color options, the Powerbeats Pro are compact and lightweight in-ear headphones with a good plastic build. They include ear hooks for a more secure fit and are rated IPX4 for water resistance. They are comfortable to wear due to their breathable design and their ear tips not entering your ear canals too deeply, but you might find them awkward if you wear glasses. There are four pairs of ear tips to choose from; all of them are made of silicone.
While they are bulkier than other truly wireless headphones due to their ear hooks, the Powerbeats Pro are still very portable. They are easy to carry for daily runs and gym sessions, with their charging case serving as a secure container to protect them against physical damage when they are stored in your gym bag. The case also holds an additional charge and connects using a Lightning cable, which is already included in the box.
Unlike the Sony WF-1000XM3 and the AirPods Pro, the control scheme of the Powerbeats Pro is simpler and easier to use for most people. Each earpiece includes a multi-function button and a small volume rocker. You can use either earpiece for managing your calls and music, adjusting the volume, and activating your voice assistant. The earphones also have a smart pause feature, which automatically pauses the audio when you remove them from your ears, conserving power.
The Powerbeats Pro are not going to impress some audiophiles like the Sony and Apple truly wireless headphones, but they are good-sounding sports headphones nonetheless. With their emphasized bass, they are suitable for mainstream genres like hip hop and electronic dance music. They are compatible with both iOS and Android devices and their wireless range is good. Their noise isolation is mediocre, though, which is actually a good thing if you prefer better situational awareness when running and working out, especially outdoors.
Among the three truly wireless headphones in this product guide, the Powerbeats Pro have the best battery performance overall. They can run up to nine hours per charge, which is impressive for truly wireless headphones and puts them in the same league as the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ (11 hours) and the Creative Outlier Air (10 hours) regarding single-charge battery life. With the extra charge in the case, you get a total battery life of around 24 hours.
For all-around sports use, the Powerbeats Pro are the best option under $500, with their ear hooks, comfortable and breathable in-ear fit, cable-free design, and good sweat protection being the chief reasons for that. They are suitable for both light exercises and rigorous training and are recommended for athletes, gym rats, and fitness enthusiasts.
Best Studio Headphones for Sound Mixing: AKG K702
Although the Sennheiser HD 600 and the Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro are both good options, the AKG K702 are the best headphones for sound mixing and mastering in the studio. Their soundstage is better and they are more comfortable to wear for long studio sessions, especially compared to the Sennheiser headphones. You can get them for $350, putting them in the same price range as the HD 600, but you can find them selling for much less on some days.
The K702 are wired studio headphones with an over-ear fit and an open-back design, which means their sound isolation is non-existent. They are bulky headphones that are not the most portable, considering their non-folding design and lack of a case or pouch for storage. Their overall build quality is decent but a bit disappointing for the price. Unlike the DT 880 Pro, their default audio cable is detachable, allowing for easy replacement. The 10-foot straight audio cable terminates in a 3.5 mm analog plug, with AKG also providing a 6.3 mm plug adapter.
For long hours in the studio, the K702 are very comfortable to wear, with their lightweight build being one of the reasons. Their ear cups are spacious, breathable, and well-padded and will easily go around most ears. They have a sturdy dual headband design: the outer headband arc is flexible and effortlessly adjusts to large heads while the inner leather strap does a decent job at cushioning your head. Their headband clamp is also a lot looser compared to both the DT 880 Pro and the HD 600, making them less fatiguing to wear.
With their neutral sound, the K702 are ideal for sound mixing and mastering in the studio. They sound clear and detailed and boast a spacious soundstage. They will allow you to discern inconsistencies and flaws in the recording, but they are not the best for bass reference. You can also use them for listening to music at home and for gaming, with their wide soundstage being an advantage in some games.
As mentioned, the sound isolation of the K702 is non-existent due to their open-back design. They will hardly block any ambient noise and have high sound leakage, with the latter making them unsuitable for recording tracks in the studio and preventing them from being all-around studio headphones. For sound mixing in a studio environment, their poor noise isolation is not a big deal. But for other usages, you may find it undesirable.
If you are shopping for the best headphones for sound mixing and mastering in the studio, the K702 are the best option under $500. They are neutral-sounding open headphones that are comfortable to use for long hours in the studio and include a long cable for more freedom of movement. Their overall build quality is decent, with their large ear cups appearing sturdy and durable.
Best On-ear Headphones: Beats Solo Pro
The Beats Solo Pro are the best on-ear headphones under $500, with their wireless design, portability, and good noise isolation making them suitable for commuting and traveling. They are better-built and more versatile than the cheaper Solo3. They are some of the few on-ear headphones that feature ANC, making them better at reducing ambient noise than regular on-ear headphones. You can get them for around $300, with Beats offering multiple color options to choose from.
Featuring a stylish design that easily stands out, the Solo Pro are closed-back headphones featuring circular ear cups with on-cup controls for call and music management and volume control. Their build quality is great, with a sturdier frame than the Solo3, but they are quite bulky for on-ear headphones and can be mistaken for over-ear headphones. They fold into a more compact form for better portability and include a soft case for storage.
Since their ear cups simply rest on your ears instead of going around them, the Solo Pro are more breathable than over-ear headphones. They are lightweight and comfortable to wear, but their headband clamp is rather tight, similar to the Solo3. On the bright side, their tight clamp allows for a more secure fit, which is especially beneficial when using the headphones while walking.
Suitable for most mainstream music genres, the Solo Pro are good-sounding headphones, with their emphasized and powerful bass standing out. They can clearly reproduce vocals and instruments with good detail, but their treble can be piercing in some tracks. They pair easily with iOS devices and boast an excellent wireless range, but they lack a dedicated app for customization.
The Solo Pro are good at blocking out background noise. They are especially effective at blocking out ambient chatter and high-frequency noises. They also reduce a decent amount of low-frequency noises, making them a solid all-rounder for blocking out background noise in the office and while commuting and traveling. Their sound leakage is low, too.
With their ANC enabled, they can run up to 22 hours per charge, which is good. With both the ANC and the talk-through mode disabled, their battery life jumps to an incredible 40 hours. Sadly, they don’t come with an audio cable for switching to wired mode when the battery is depleted, which is ridiculous for a pair of headphones selling for $300. If you want to use them in wired mode, you’ll need to buy a separate audio cable.
All in all, the Solo Pro are great on-ear headphones that are suitable for casual everyday use, with their good noise isolation allowing you to enjoy your music in peace in noisy places. Their build quality and sound quality are good while their wireless range and battery performance are great. While they are bulkier than most on-ear headphones, they are easy to carry for everyday use due to their lightweight build and foldable design.
You may also like some of these quality headphones for office use from our list. Check them out.
Best Wired Earphones: Etymotic Research ER4XR
Selling for $350, the Etymotic Research ER4XR are the best wired earphones under $500, with their durable build and excellent sound quality being their most notable aspects. They are recommended for audiophiles and offer better value for the money than other wired earphones in the same price range. You can use them for listening to music at home and while traveling, with their passive noise isolation being especially beneficial for the latter.
The ER4XR are closed-back earphones that look a bit different from most in-ear headphones. Their earpieces are slimmer and tube-like and don’t fit on your ear conchae, which makes for a more discreet look that some might prefer. Their build quality is great, with both their mostly metal earpieces and braided audio cable appearing sturdy and durable. The audio cable is detachable and terminates in a 3.5 mm analog plug for universal compatibility with most devices, including smartphones.
Compared to other earphones, the ER4XR are less comfortable to wear for long listening sessions due to their ear tip design. Their ear tips need to enter your ear canals deeply for the best sound quality and noise isolation, which can be uncomfortable even for fans of in-ear headphones. There are two types of ear tips included in the box: triple-flange silicone ear tips and foam ear tips, with the former usually the one seen in marketing materials. In addition to the multiple ear tips and the audio cable, the earphones also come with a 6.3 mm plug adapter, a shirt clip, a hard case, a small pouch, and maintenance tools.
Smooth and detailed, the ER4XR are some of the best-sounding earphones, with few other products in the same price range coming close to their overall sound quality. Their bass is deep, tight, and precise while their mid-range is neutral and clean, with balanced reproduction of vocals and instruments. Their treble is detailed and smooth while their imaging is excellent. They are suitable for a variety of music genres, but you’ll need to get a tight seal with their ear tips for the best sound quality.
With their deep in-ear design, the ER4XR provide outstanding noise isolation and are even better than some noise-canceling headphones. They block a significant amount of ambient noise, from the sound of airplane engines to background chatter at the office and in public transport. This makes them suitable for listening to music in the office and while traveling, especially considering their portable design. In addition, their sound leakage is minimal even at high volume, which means you won’t disturb or annoy the people around you with your loud music.
Although they are not as versatile as some products, the ER4XR are the best wired earphones under $500. They are hard to beat due to their combination of excellent sound quality, great build quality, and good accessorization. Their passive noise isolation is outstanding while their detachable audio cable adds to their overall durability. While they are not the most comfortable in-ear headphones, they stay securely in your ears and are easy to carry for everyday use.
Best Neckband Headphones: Bose QuietControl 30
If you prefer wireless earphones or earbuds in a neckband format instead of truly wireless, the best option is the Bose QuietControl 30. They are versatile headphones that are good for traveling and office use, with their ANC helping them reduce background noise in noisy places. Compared to most truly wireless headphones, their battery life per charge is better and they are not easy to lose or misplace.
The QuietControl 30 are neckband headphones with an earbud fit, which is more comfortable for most people than an in-ear fit. Instead of entering your ear canals, their ear tips simply rest outside them, with their integrated stability fins helping keep them in place. There are three pairs of ear tips included in the box. The earbuds are connected to audio cables extending out from both arms of the flexible neckband, with an in-line remote on the right side for call and music management and volume control.
While they are not as portable as truly wireless headphones due to their neckband, the QuietControl 30 are still very portable. They are much lighter and more compact than over-ear headphones and include a travel case for storage. When not in use, you can simply wear them around your neck with their earbuds hanging, which is especially convenient while traveling.
Capable of connecting with two devices at the same time, the QuietControl 30 are decent-sounding neckband headphones that are suitable for general media consumption. They support NFC technology for faster pairing with compatible devices and have a great wireless range. Their mic performance and app support are disappointing, though, with the latter being typical for Bose headphones.
The QuietControl 30 are some of the best noise-canceling headphones in an earbud or in-ear format, with their ANC and passive seal reducing a good amount of background noise. This makes them a good choice for commuting, traveling, and office use, especially considering their portable design. You can easily adjust the ANC level using the smaller buttons on the side of the in-line remote.
With their 10-hour battery life per charge, the QuietControl 30 are more suitable for very long flights and extended hours at the office than truly wireless headphones. They take less than three hours for a full recharge and include a micro USB charging cable. Unlike some neckband headphones, they can’t be used passively when the battery is depleted since they lack an audio cable.
Portable and versatile, the QuietControl 30 are the best neckband headphones under $500. They are recommended if you want wireless earbuds or earphones but don’t like truly wireless headphones for whatever reason. Their build quality, in-line controls, battery life, and noise isolation performance are good while their sound quality is decent. They are more comfortable to wear for long hours than most earphones and are easy to carry for everyday use.
Best Planar Magnetic Headphones: HiFiMan Sundara
Planar magnetic headphones are usually more expensive than dynamic headphones, not to mention there are fewer options on the market. If you prefer planar magnetic headphones due to their precision and better bass response, the best option under $500 is the HiFiMan Sundara. They are recommended for audiophiles and sell for around $350, offering good value for the money.
The Sundara are wired over-ear headphones with an open design and a detachable audio cable that connects to both ear cups and terminates in a 3.5 mm analog plug. Their build quality is good and looks high-end, especially with their matte black finish. They are mostly made of metal and have sturdy ear cup grilles and hinges. They have a dual headband design composed of a metal headband and a pleather strap below it.
Despite their tight headband clamp and heavier frame, the Sundara are comfortable to wear for long listening sessions. Their generously padded, circular ear cups have soft cushions and will easily wrap around large ears while their headband strap feels nice on the head. But on the other hand, they are not as breathable as open-back dynamic headphones.
Compared to some headphones in the same price range, the Sundara have significantly fewer accessories included in the box. Aside from the audio cable, the only other item included with the headphones is the usual 6.3 mm plug adapter. There is no extra cable or any form of storage provided, which is a bit disappointing considering the price but hardly a deal-breaker. The default audio cable is around five feet long and lacks an in-line remote for music management.
The Sundara are some of the best-sounding headphones under $500, regardless of headphone type or form factor. They sound clean and precise, with a spacious soundstage and minimal distortion at high volume, and are thoroughly enjoyable to use for different music genres. Their bass is tight and punchy while their treble is detailed, balanced, and rarely harsh. Their mid-range is also magnificent, with a balanced reproduction of vocals and instruments. Whether you are an audiophile or a professional, the Sundara will impress you with their sound quality.
You can also use them for gaming at home. Their wide soundstage is especially beneficial for first-person shooters while their overall sound quality will allow you to appreciate games with an excellent soundtrack even more. However, they are best used in a quiet room, as their noise isolation is poor, which can be said for all other open-back headphones. Their sound leakage is also very high, which is undesirable in some situations.
On the whole, the Sundara are terrific planar magnetic headphones that make a strong case for the best-sounding headphones in this guide. Their build quality is good while their sound quality is outstanding when paired with the right equipment. They are relatively easy to drive and are comfortable to wear for long listening sessions despite their tight fit and subpar breathability for open headphones.
Best Gaming Headset: SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless
One of the best gaming headsets on the market, the SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless is a highly versatile headset that can be used for different gaming platforms, including last-gen consoles and even mobile devices. It’s an over-ear headset that includes a separate wireless transmitter and two swappable batteries and features a retractable boom mic. It sells for around $350, making it one of the most expensive gaming headsets, but you can get it at a significantly lower price on some days.
The Arctis Pro Wireless is a closed-back headset with a more discreet aesthetic than typical gaming headsets, with minimal cosmetics on the ear cups and headband. Its build quality is great, with its metal headband and large ear cups both appearing durable. It’s comfortable to wear for long gaming sessions despite its tight fit and less breathable design. It has convenient on-cup controls that allow for quick adjustments on the fly while gaming.
Featuring a small OLED screen, the included wireless transmitter has analog and digital connection options. Using the small knob, you can adjust the audio settings of the headset, with the option to adjust the balance between chat and game volumes. It also serves as a charging dock for the batteries, which you insert on the side like a cartridge. Since there are two batteries included, you can always keep one battery charging in the transmitter while the other is in the headset.
Capable of running up to 10 hours per battery, the Arctis Pro Wireless is a great-sounding headset with a clear mid-range and an emphasized bass. You can use it for different kinds of games, including role-playing games, first-person shooters, and rhythm games. Using the SteelSeries desktop software, you can modify the sound and other aspects of the headset, with the option to enable surround sound on PC.
The retractable boom mic of the Arctis Pro Wireless is excellent, with good noise reduction and recording quality. This is especially beneficial if you regularly play online multiplayer games and actually use a mic for talking to other players, teammates or otherwise. On the other hand, the headset itself has mediocre noise isolation. But since it has low sound leakage, you can increase the volume to reduce background noise without worrying about disturbing other people in the room with your game audio.
Unlike most gaming headsets, the Arctis Pro Wireless offers three connection options. If you want to go wireless, you can connect using either Bluetooth or the included wireless transmitter, with the latter offering significantly lower latency. While the headset doesn’t support actual multi-device pairing, you can connect to two different devices using both wireless connection options. For example, you can use the wireless transmitter to connect to your console while the headset is connected to your smartphone through Bluetooth. With the included audio cable – which terminates in a mini-plug – you can also use the headset in wired mode.
Compatible with different gaming platforms, the Arctis Pro Wireless is the best gaming headset that you can get under $500. It’s a wireless gaming headset packed with features, including dual wireless connection options. Its sound quality, build quality, battery life, mic performance, and latency with the wireless transmitter are great while its on-cup control scheme and customizability are good.
Best TV Headphones: Sennheiser RS 185
If you want dedicated TV headphones, the two best options on the market are the Sennheiser RS 185 and the RS 165. The RS 165 are more affordable and provide better passive noise isolation because of their closed-back design, but the open-back RS 185 are the better headphones overall. In addition to including more features and more input options, they are better-built and better-sounding, but they are much more expensive, selling for almost double the price.
The RS 185 are over-ear headphones that are comfortable to wear for long hours due to their more breathable open design and soft, fabric-covered earpads. They are lightweight despite their bulky frame and don’t feel tight on the head. Their build quality is good and feels more premium than the RS 165, with a sturdy, metal-reinforced headband and durable ear cup grilles.
Like other wireless over-ear headphones, the RS 185 have on-cup controls for convenience, located on the backplate of the right ear cup and composed of physical buttons. The on-cup controls allow you to adjust the general volume, switch between automatic and manual level controls, and balance the left and right volumes. The latter function is especially useful if one of your ears has a hearing problem while the automatic level control, when enabled, protects you from sudden volume jumps.
Offering both analog and digital input options, the included wireless transmitter acts as a charging dock and stand for the RS 185. It has a separate button for switching between automatic and manual level controls and a knob for manual adjustment when manual level control is enabled. Moreover, it has a switch at the back for toggling between inputs.
The RS 185 are good for watching TV and listening to music at home. They are good-sounding open-back headphones that sound clear and balanced, with the right amount of bass. They are more neutral and better-sounding than their cheaper closed-back counterpart, but their noise isolation and sound leakage are mediocre, which can be undesirable in some situations.
With their wireless transmitter, the RS 185 have lower latency than most Bluetooth headphones, which eliminates lip-sync issues when watching TV. Their wireless range is good, allowing you to sit further back if you own a massive TV without worrying about the signal dropping. They last up to 18 hours from a fresh set of AAA batteries, but they can’t be used passively in wired mode when the batteries are depleted, as they lack an audio cable for that.
Since they need the wireless transmitter to work, with no other connection options, the RS 185 are the least portable, not to mention the least versatile, among the headphones in this guide. Unlike the SteelSeries gaming headset, which is still usable without its wireless transmitter, these Sennheiser headphones are only good for home entertainment, especially considering their open design.
For strictly watching TV at home, the RS 185 are the best dedicated TV headphones under $500. They are good-sounding headphones that are comfortable to wear for long hours and have convenient on-cup controls. They include a separate transmitter for a low-latency wireless connection, with the option to use analog and digital inputs. Their build quality, wireless range, and battery life are good, but their sound isolation is mediocre.
And for even more affordable options, check out our guide to the top headphones under $150.