Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (2024)

By Becky Roberts

Contributions from

Tom Wiggins, Harry McKerrell

last updated

Want the very best sound quality? Wired is the way

Jump To:

  • Quick list
  • Best overall
  • Best budget
  • Best for home
  • Best comfort
  • Best audiophile
  • Best premium earbuds
  • Best budget earbuds
  • Also consider
  • How to choose
  • How we test
  • FAQ
  • Recent updates

Best wired headphones: quick menu

Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (1)

1. The list in brief
2. Best overall
3. Best budget
4. Best for home
5. Best for comfort
6. Best for audiophiles
7. Best premium earbuds
8. Best budget earbuds
9. Also consider
10. How to choose
11. How we test
12. FAQ
13. Recent updates

Given today's apparent obsession withwireless headphones, you’d be forgiven for thinking the days ofwired pairs were numbered – but that simply isn't true. The best wired headphones prioritise sound quality, delivering the best sonic experience while forgoing Bluetooth and a few smart features along the way. If you want the best headphone performance for your money, wired is still the way to go.

While wireless headphones are convenient and more typically benefit from handy extra features like active noise cancellation, wired cans have trump cards of their own beyond better performance value: they are more sustainable and don't need charging as they don't require a battery.

So given their ongoing relevance, which wired models are worth your investment? That's where we enter the picture. Below you'll find our definitive list of the best wired headphones across all budgets, spanning IEMs (in-ear monitors) and over-ears. Each has been rigorously tested by our in-house team of expert reviewers, who have over 150 years of experience, so you can rest assured you'll be picking a winner.

  • Want to go wire-free after all? Here are the best wireless headphones

The quick list

Best overall

1. Rode NTH-100

Best wired headphones overall

Whether you're after analysis or fun, the Røde NTH-100 are a terrifically capable and entertaining pair for the money. The best wired headphones for most people.

Read more below

Best budget

2. Austrian Audio Hi-X15

Best budget headphones

These headphones look and feel pricier than they are – and they’ve got the performance to match.

Read more below

Best for home

3. Grado SR325x

Best wired headphones for home

If you don't mind an open-back design that leaks a little sound in and out, you'll be rewarded with the cleanest, most spacious and insightful sound at this price point.

Read more below

Best comfort

4. Beyerdynamic Amiron

Best headphones for comfort

If you’re after a pair of headphones you can wear for hours and hours on end without complaint, look no further than Beyerdynamic's Amiron.

Read more below

Best audiophile

5. Beyerdynamic T1 (3rd Generation)

Best headphones for audiophiles

If you can afford them, the third generation of Beyerdynamic’s T1 are top-class performers.

Read more below

Best premium earbuds

6. Shure Aonic 3

Best premium earbuds

Shure’s in-ears sound so musical they’ll make you forget all about the convenience of wireless buds.

Read more below

Load the next product… ↓

Best budget earbuds

7. SoundMagic E11C

Best budget earbuds

A great pair of budget in-ears that prove you don’t need to spend a fortune for entertaining performance. A real bargain.

Read more below

Written by

Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (9)

Written by

Becky Roberts

I am What Hi-Fi?'s managing editor and have been reviewing and writing about headphones for over a decade. I spend every weekday listening to music at my desk, so a good pair of wired headphones is valuable in my desktop audio set-up. While wireless pairs have their conveniences, wired headphones remain unbeatable when it comes to pure music quality. Build quality and comfort over long listening hours also come into play when choosing the right pair. My recommendations below cover a range of styles and budgets, and nothing is on here that I wouldn't be happy living with myself!

Best headphones overall

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Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (10)
Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (11)
Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (12)
Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (13)

1. Røde NTH-100

What Hi-Fi? Award winner. The whole package – well-made, superb-sounding and affordable.

Specifications

Noise-cancelling: No

Cable length: 2.4m

In-line remote and mic: No

Weight: 350g

Type: Closed-back

Reasons to avoid

-

May sound analytical to some ears

-

Only supplied cable is very long

Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of Røde – the company may be a big deal in the world of pro audio, but the NTH-100 are both its first pair of headphones and its first attempt to engage with the consumer audio market. So unless you are well-versed in recording studio mics or music creation, this Australian brand might be as brand new to you as it was to us.

Needless to say, the NTH-100 are solid debuts from Down Under. Tonally, they’re on the neutral and naturalistic side. What bass there is in this recording is respectably deep, yes, but it’s swift and well-controlled too – attack and decay of individual sounds are really well observed, and as a consequence, the NTH-100 are a rapid and (in the right circ*mstances) punchy listen. Rhythmic expression is decent, too.

At the opposite end of the frequency range, they’re similarly detail-heavy and similarly articulate. The midrange, though, is the star of the show.

At this price, there are certain expectations we all might have when it comes to wired headphones. But it's safe to say the Røde NTH-100 outperform those expectations comfortably, and they are one of the best wired pairs we can recommend overall.

Read our full Røde NTH-100 review

Best budget headphones

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Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (14)
Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (15)
Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (16)
Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (17)

2. Austrian Audio Hi-X15

What Hi-Fi? Award winner. The best closed-back headphones you'll find on a tight budget.

Specifications

Noise-cancelling: No

Cable length: 1.4m

In-line remote and mic: No

Weight: 255g

Type: Closed-back

Reasons to buy

+

Clear, open presentation

+

Dig out plenty of detail

+

Impressive sense of timing

Reasons to avoid

-

Need plenty of running in

-

Require partnering with suitable electronics

Austrian Audio is a Vienna-based company born out of a group of ex-AKGemployees, so the team's decades of experience cannot be refuted. It shines through in the Hi-X15. The company's first-ever range of wired headphones, Hi-X, offers plenty of decent models across on-ear and over-ear designs, wired and wireless, but the wired Hi-X15 will be your first choice if you're on a tight budget.

The Hi-X15 may be affordable, but they don't once feel cheap or flimsy. The design, with proper metal hinges and soft ‘slow retention’ memory foam earpads, would put a lot of plasticky competitors to shame.

More importantly, sound quality is exceptionally good for the money. The Hi-X15 deliver consistently high detail levels yet keep the soul of a song intact – no easy feat at this end of the market.Expression and emotion are usually lost when price tags drop to this level, but the Hi-X15's ability to deal with proper weight and sentiment is remarkable.

True bargains that are well worth consideration. If you'd prefer an open-back pair for that extra spaciousness it brings, the Grado SR80x (siblings to the pricier SR325x below) are definitely worth a look.

Read the full Austrian Audio Hi-X15 review

Best headphones for home

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Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (18)
Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (19)
Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (20)
Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (21)

3. Grado SR325x

What Hi-Fi? Award winner. Wonderfully revealing and stunningly clear open-back headphones.

Specifications

Noise-cancelling: No

Cable length: 1.8m

In-line remote and mic: No

Weight: 340g

Type: Open-back

Reasons to buy

+

Excellent detail and dynamics

+

Hugely entertaining performance

+

Reliable, rugged build

Reasons to avoid

-

Open-back design leaks sound

-

New earpads won’t suit everyone

Grado's Prestige range has produced some of the Brooklyn-based company's finest headphones over the past 30 years. The series has evolved over time, but the latest ‘x’ generation models offer the same balance of quality and value that we've come to expect from such a likeable audio brand.

The range-topping SR325x headphones look much like their predecessors, theWhat Hi-Fi?Award-winningSR325e, albeit with flatter foam earpads, an updated cable and lighter-coloured stitching on the firmly padded headband.

The difference is in the listening: the SR325x sound notably cleaner and clearer than their predecessors, offering a superbly detailed and articulate performance that comes across more precisely and insightfully than ever.

If you're looking for the best wired headphones in the game around this price, and don't mind an open-back design (which inherently leaks a little sound in and out), the SR325x should be top of your list. They're unbeatable value.

For a more traditional closed-back (i.e. non-leaky) alternative, the excellent Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X should be your go-to at this level.

Read the full Grado SR325x review

Top Tip

Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (22)

Open-back or closed-back? If you'll mostly be using wired headphones to listen to music at home, then an open-back model could be the long-term winner. In my experience, open-back models from Grado and Beyerdynamic are much less fatiguing to listen to over longer hours: the lack of a driver enclosure means they to tend be lighter (and therefore put less pressure on your ears and head), the open design allows more air pressure to flow around your ears, and they typically sound less direct and more spacious.

Best for comfort

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Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (23)
Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (24)
Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (25)
Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (26)

4. Beyerdynamic Amiron

High-end home headphones that feel as good as they sound.

Specifications

Noise-cancelling: No

Cable Length: 3m

In-line remote and mic: No

Weight: 340g

Type: Open back

Reasons to buy

+

Nice bass detail

+

Clear and organised

+

Handles treble well too

Reasons to avoid

-

Rather large earcups

Our first impression of Beyerdynamic’s Amiron headphones is one of comfort. The earcups and headband are made of two materials: one is Alcantara microfibers (whose texture is similar to suede), and the other is microvelour – combined, this delivers a wonderfully luxurious and plush pair of headphones that you can wear for many hours without feeling discomfort or irritation.

They are not just comfortable, they sound fabulous too. We particularly like the Amiron's clear midrange vocals, tight sense of rhythmic drive and the way that they handle challenging rhythms and beats without breaking a sweat.

Like the Grado headphones above, they're open-backed and leak sound like a sieve, so the usual disclaimer about not listening on public transport applies. Still, if you have a healthy budget and want a stunning pair of headphones for listening at home, the Amiron will keep you happy no matter what your favourite music genre.

Read the full Beyerdynamic Amiron review

Best for audiophiles

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Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (27)
Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (28)
Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (29)

5. Beyerdynamic T1 (3rd Generation)

The latest T1 keep the model's legacy alive – these are exceptional premium headphones

Specifications

Noise-cancelling: No

Cable length: 3m

In-line remote and mic: No

Weight: 360g

Type: Open back

Reasons to buy

+

Clean, balanced presentation

+

Even-handed, informative nature

+

Comfortable and well made

Reasons to avoid

-

Needs top-class partnering electronics

The original T1 open-back headphones – now over a decade old – are something of a touchstone for us as far as premium headphones go. The current third-general model is the one we're recommending here, and it is designed to be easier to drive when used with laptops and mobile devices, compared with its predecessor.

The result is a sound that is very similar to the originals but cleaner and clearer, slightly less bright and a little smoother when it comes to treble. There's that same delivery of music with a palpable sense of power and authority, and vocals come through with nuance and clarity, too. These aren’t the kind of wired headphones that impress on a short listen but given a few days or even weeks, it’s hard not to fall under their spell.

The updated T1 are comfortable enough for long listening sessions thanks to a nicely shaped, partially Alcantara-covered headband and generous velour-trimmed earpads.

If you'd prefer a retro look, the Grado RS1x are very solid alternatives, and if money is truly no object then the Yamaha YH-5000SE are arguably the best headphones we've ever heard. Want closed-backs at this level instead? Check out the T1's brilliant siblings, the Beyerdynamic T5 (3rd Gen).

Read the full Beyerdynamic T1 (3rd Generation) review

Best premium earbuds

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Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (30)
Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (31)
Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (32)
Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (33)

6. Shure Aonic 3

What Hi-Fi? Award winner. Class-leading earbuds at this relatively modest price point.

Specifications

Noise-cancelling: No

Cable length: 1.27m

In-line remote and mic: Yes

Weight: 20.4g

Type: N/A

Reasons to buy

+

Awesome dynamics and musicality

+

Insightful and balanced sound

+

Lightweight and comfortable

Reasons to avoid

-

Understated sound

Shure makes some of the best wired earbuds around, something that becomes apparent the moment you pick up the Aonic 3. They're beautifully designed, comfy and surprisingly lightweight, lending a feeling of quality and elegance before you've even popped them into your lugs. The headphone cable hooks over the top of your ears and keeps them secure at all times, although there is a slight knack to getting the swivelling buds to sit perfectly in place.

Nine different eartip choices allow for excellent isolation, while an in-line remote and mic can control your tunes and answer calls. We've griped about rival companies giving poor choices of eartips in the past (three is not enough to cover all shapes and sizes), so Shure's range of options is truly welcome.

When it comes to sound quality, the Aonic 3 absolutely nail it. They're dynamic, detailed and their toe-tapping sense of rhythm and timing needs to be heard as a matter of importance.

We can't think of any pair of in-ear wired headphones at this price that comes close t to the Aonic 3's musicality and insight, but if your budget stretches further the even more transparent Aonic 5 are your best bet.

Read the full Shure Aonic 3 review

Best budget earbuds

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Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (34)
Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (35)
Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (36)
Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (37)

7. SoundMagic E11C

What Hi-Fi? Award winner. A fantastic pair of budget wired earbuds for use on the go.

Specifications

Noise-cancelling: No

Cable length: 1.2m

In-line remote and mic: Yes

Weight: 11g

Type: N/A

Reasons to buy

+

Entertaining sound

+

Remote and mic

+

Easy to drive

Reasons to avoid

-

Timing isn't perfect

The SoundMagic E11C wired earbuds are the Award-winning successors to the five-star E10 that were our go-to budget in-ear recommendation for years. We're happy to report that this latest model is still pretty magic thanks to an improved driver and a silver-plated copper cable.

The better driver brings gains in sound quality, but it still remains recognisably SoundMagic in character. Bass is ample, with plenty of warmth and depth to keep you enveloped, while the top-end isn't compromised or lessened. The midrange has decent clarity, displaying great energy and control, pulling everything together into a satisfying, cohesive musical package.

When you consider the affordable price, these wired buds are nothing short of a miracle. If you're on a budget, make no mistake that these are solid buys and significant upgrades for the buds bundled with phones these days.

Read the full SoundMagic E11C review

Also consider

  • Austrian Audio The Composer: If your budget extends beyond the entries in this list, you have many excellent audiophile headphones available to you, including these open-backed newcomers, which sound as balanced and insightful as we’ve come across at this level.
  • Beyerdynamic DT 700 Pro X: If you don't like the rather divisive look of the Grado SR325x, these brilliant Beyerdynamics are another similarly priced, open-back model worth your cash. Their closed-back DT 900 Pro X siblings are fantastic too.
  • Shure Aonic 5: If you're fortunate to have more cash to splash on wired in-ears, these Shures are worth their premium over their Aonic 3 siblings. Better still, check out the higher-end Sennheiser IE900.

How to choose the best wired headphones for you

If you've decided on wired headphones over wireless models, you either prioritise sound quality, don't want the faff of having to charge headphones, or are thinking about sustainability. Or all three.

The first and most obvious consideration when it comes to deciding on a pair to buy is whether you want an in-ear or over-ear design. If it's the latter, your next question is closed-back or open-back? Open-back designs 'leak' sound in and out but do tend to produce a more expansive, natural sound, while closed-backs are more common and seal sound far more effectively, making them the pick for out-and-about use.

In-ears are more straightforward in that they don't tend to vary in style, though you should note that feature sets aren't always similar – do they come with an in-line remote and mic for taking calls, for example? Are the earpieces detachable from the cable for easy replacement? How many ear tip sizes come in the box?

Comfort should be high on your list too. In-ear headphones are great for on-the-go listening due to their compact and portable form factor, though a pair of well-padded over-ears that aren't as sonically or physically intrusive are better suited to all-day home listening.

Active noise cancellation used to be a common feature of wired headphones, but they're becoming a rare breed now, primarily because noise-cancelling is associated with portability and thus going hand-in-hand with Bluetooth connectivity for convenient-first listening.

Nearly all wired headphones come with a 3.5mm cable, though if you're looking for a pair for home use with your desktop or hi-fi system, you might want to look out for wired headphones with bundled accessories such as a longer second cable or 6.3mm adapter. And if you have a DAC or headphone amplifier you wish to use them with (recommended for all but budget pairs), picking a model that is a good sonic match for them is a key consideration

  • Headphones vs Earbuds: which is best for you?

How we test wired headphones

We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London and Reading, where our team of experienced in-house reviewers test the majority of hi-fi and AV kit that pass through our door.

Of course, testing wired headphones doesn't always require advanced facilities – though we do often try the more premiumover-ear pairsin our reference hi-fi system. What is important in our wired headphones reviewing process is that each pair is compared to the best in its price and style class – whether that's one standout pair or a few we favour the highest among the 100+ models we listen to each year for reviews andWhat Hi-Fi?Awards judging.We keep class-leading products in our stockrooms so can always compare new products to ones we know and love.

We are always impartial and do our best to make sure we're hearing every pair of headphones at its very best, so we'll try plenty of different music genres and give them plenty of listening time, while the wired headphones that warrant being used with a DAC (all but the very budget models) are tested with a price-suitable one. It's not just about sound quality, of course. We use wired headphones for weeks during testing to get a firm idea of their fit and how comfortable and durable they are for long periods of listening.

What's more, all review verdicts are agreed upon by the team rather than an individual reviewer to eliminate any personal preference and to ensure we're being as thorough as possible, too. There's no input from PR companies or our sales team when it comes to the verdict, withWhat Hi-Fi?proud of having delivered honest, unbiased reviews for decades.

FAQ

Are wired or wireless headphones better?

If getting the absolute best sound quality you can for your budget is your priority, then wired headphones still have a considerable edge over wireless models when it comes to audio performance. Wired headphones are also more sustainable, as they don't require batteries that need replacing and aren't made obsolete when new Bluetooth or wireless technology emerges.

However, wireless performance is getting better every year and there are certain features (such as active noise cancellation) that are now only found in Bluetooth headphones, while features such as spatial audio (for 3D immersive sound) and smart or touch controls are only seen on wireless types. Their cable-free design can be more portable and more convenient when you're regularly on the go, too.

Ultimately, which type you should buy comes down to your priorities: go wired if sound quality is all you care about; go wireless if you want convenience and next-gen headphone features.

A more detailed comparison can be found in our wired vs wireless headphones guide.

Should you choose headphones or earbuds?

Generally speaking, 'headphones' refer to on-ear and over-ear designs where the earpads are placed on or around your ears, while 'earbuds' refer to in-ear models whose eartips bury into your ear canal. Which type you choose will depend on personal style preferences, where you'll be listening to them (at home or on the move?), and what level of performance you're expecting.

Earbud designs are better for exercise and portable listening as they're discreet and fit more securely than a bulkier on/over-ear design. As they shoot music straight into your ear canal, they tend to sound more direct too. They're smaller, of course, and so easier to carry around with you, and there's a much wider choice at the budget end of the market below around £50/$50/AU$80, where on/over-ear designs are harder to come by.

On the other hand, on/over-ear designs are the ones to go for if you want the best sound you can buy, as earbuds (especially wireless models) don't reach the same performance levels at the highest end of their market. Since there's more space between your inner ear and the headphone driver, they are more comfortable to wear for long periods without your ears getting sore.

For more detail, check out our headphones vs earbuds guide.

Recent updates

  • May 2024: No new entries, though the newly reviewed Austrian Audio The Composer do make our 'Also Consider' section, which has just been added to give readers more choice.
  • February 2024:Added a top tip, added FAQ section to help with buying decisions and most frequency asked questions, and updated our testing process.
  • November 2023: What Hi-Fi?Award winners labelled after the 2023Awards Best Buys and Product of the Year announcements.

MORE:

Best wireless headphones: Bluetooth headphones for every budget

Really, really into sound? These are the best audiophile headphones for you

Check out the best DACs you can buy to get even better performance from wired headphones

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Best wired headphones 2024: every pair tested by our expert reviewers (38)

Becky Roberts

Becky is the managing editor of What Hi-Fi? and, since her recent move to Melbourne, also the editor of Australian Hi-Fi magazine. During her 10+ years in the hi-fi industry, she has reviewed all manner of audio gear, from budget amplifiers to high-end speakers, and particularly specialises in headphones and head-fi devices. In her spare time, Becky can often be found running, watching Liverpool FC and horror movies, and hunting for gluten-free cake.

With contributions from

  • Tom Wiggins
  • Harry McKerrellStaff writer

4 CommentsComment from the forums

  • Navanski

    This may seem a touch pedantic but some of the items listed in your article are not headphones. They are earphones. The list you have concocted is using too broad a brush. I would much prefer a separate list for earphones.
    You may even consider splitting the personal listening devices into those you could class as portable and those which should be left at home.
    I'm also surprised to see some manufacturers represented more than once in the list. Are you seriously stating that AKG, Focal, Sennheiser, Audeze and HiFiMan, to name just some, are not worthy of being listed?

    Reply

  • Valkyr09

    This list is a load of rubbish. You are putting two grados on the recommended when there are better and cheaper alternatives with better build. The grados are flimsy and creaky for the price you pay. And their tuning is rubbish as well. I was using them before and when I wanted to get more details from them I would have to crank the volume. That meant the bass goes up as well and you end up with muddy details and a horrible sound. Definitely keep away or get them on a deal.

    Reply

  • Bloke

    Agreed. I've never understood WHF's longstanding fixation with Grado. Their tonal balance is a loudness button, and the ragged HF makes my ears bleed.

    Reply

  • Navanski

    Bloke said:

    Agreed. I've never understood WHF's longstanding fixation with Grado. Their tonal balance is a loudness button, and the ragged HF makes my ears bleed.

    Personally I like the Grado sound. It is a distinctive sound which some people find too bright, it's a matter of personal taste. I would agree however that in a list of the best headphones, only one set of Grado would suffice. Where are the AKG, Focal, Sennheiser, Audeze and HiFiMan ?

    Reply

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