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How we test headphones

Our audio experts examine everything that matters when buying headphones.

over ear headphones on a vintage microphone

We've tested hundreds of headphones, from brands such as Beats, Sennheiser, Harman Kardon, Bose and Sony, to make sure you're not wasting your money on bad sound.

Our expert testers and listening panel put the latest models through rigorous testing to rate sound quality, comfort and how well they work in real life – so you'll know exactly what to expect. Our unique, comparative lab tests mean you can trust what we recommend and choose with confidence.

Our expert testers

Our testers have years of expertise in testing audio equipment and, unlike most reviewers, we don't rely on one individual's perception to rank products. Instead we use a listening panel of five people with expertise in sound appraisal who have shown that they can consistently rank products for their sound quality.

How we choose what we test

In this test we're looking for as wide a range of products as possible. This test is carried out over some time and will grow as we add more models.

How we test

What's the sound quality like?

To test sound quality we use a listening panel of five experts. They assess each pair of headphones using seven set pieces of music, covering a range of genres from pop and spoken word to classical and jazz.

What's the comfort and fit like?

How the headphones sound isn't our only consideration – we also assess them for comfort and how adjustable they are.

The five people in our listening panel rate these aspects, taking into account placing in or on ear, removing from ear, potential to accidentally fall out of ear and restrictiveness of the wire.

We also consider how suitable the headphones are for left-handed users as well as those with weak grip, limited sight, limited hearing and colour-blindness.

Is there any sound leakage?

Our testers use a calibrated reference 'ear' to accurately test the headphones for acoustic leakage. They also subjectively assess the headphones for sound leakage while in use, listening out for any loud or irritating noises or tones.

The reference ear also gives us a clear indication of the frequency response for each set of headphones.

How durable are they?

Our testers rate the quality of the material used in construction and any areas of obvious concern. They also stress test the cables to replicate getting caught on arms or around the neck and to make sure they're strong enough, and perform a tangle assessment.


For our general headphones test, we give every pair of headphones an overall score so you can see at a glance which are the best and worst, plus how each model compares on features and specifications. The overall score ignores price and is based on the following criteria:

  • Sound quality 55%
  • Comfort and durability 35%
  • Audio enhancements 10% (includes wireless interference, functionality loss in powered headphones, acoustic leakage and passive noise cancelling)

Our noise-cancelling headphones test incorporates additional testing to see how well each set works with the noise cancelling feature on and off, plus how each model compares on features and specifications. The overall score ignores price and is based on the following criteria:

  • Listening quality performance 30%
  • Sound isolation effect with noise cancelling feature turned on 30%
  • Sound isolation effect with noise cancelling feature turned off 15%
  • Comfort 15%
  • Durability 10%
We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.