The headphone market has exploded in the past week with the release of the $899 AirPods Max from Apple. It’s very hard to argue with the stunning design of these over-ear headphones. And from what I’ve been told, the sound quality is beyond next level.

The headphones/earphones market has evolved in recent years to such an extent that there is literally a very good set for every price point. I’m going to point you in the right direction at a few of these levels after testing a number of over, on and in-ear variants this year.

Under $100

I gushed about the realme Buds Q when they arrived and for $79 I still think they are great value for money. With customisable touch-controls and the robust cobble stone charging case, the Buds Q are perfect for everyday use. Bluetooth 5.0 means you get an instant connection with most smartphones and the 10mm sound driver in each bud delivers excellent sound.

Each bud weighs 3.6g (less than a blank sheet of A4 paper) and contains a 40mAh battery. Together with the 400mAh battery in the charging case, you have up to 20 hours of wireless sound. The other class-leading feature of the realme Buds Q is the 119ms super-low latency which makes on-the-go gaming much more enjoyable. Sadly at this price point, Active Noice Cancelling is not an option however, that’s something you can look forward to as you move up the wireless earphone food chain.

Alternatives


$100 – $250

This is an incredibly competitive price-range with dozens of options from the likes of Apple, Bose, Jabra, Sony, and Huawei.

For me, the stand-out in this at this level is the Sennheiser CX 400BT True Wireless earbuds. A very comfortable in-ear audio experience awaits, especially if you’re looking for a full and stylish wireless connection to the audio in your life. The twist-and-insert feature provides an acceptable level of passive noise cancelling. Voice-prompts let you know when the earbuds are powered up, connected and when they need to spend some time in the charging case that provides up to 20 hours of battery life. A handy LED light and button on the charging case allow a quick check on your wireless audio capacity.

The CX 400BT True Wireless earbuds are accompanied by a very well built and user-friendly app for iOS and Android that provides complete customisation for every tap of either earbud as well as sound preferences. Each earbud weighs 6g and combined with the charging case, the total package is 49g.

Alternatives…


Over $250

With the prices getting into the hundreds of dollars, there still remains a plethora of options for the audiophile on-the-go.

Again, the likes of Apple and Bose dominate this price-point from a retail perspective. Bang & Olufsen, Technics, and Beats also have some standout products if you want to pay up to $500!

I could not go past the Jabra Elite 75t which retail at a very respectable $299 $249. These in-ear wireless earbuds with Active Noise Cancelling and Pass-Through features are exceptional. Easily the most comfortable earbuds I have used.

Jabra make an impressive range of wireless earbuds that span $179 for the Elite 65t up to the Evolve 65t at $605.

The Elite 75t sit (somehow) in the middle of the Jabra range and provide an incredible balance of sound performance, comfort, and battery life. The Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) out-performs some over-ear headphones that I’ve used in the past which shows just how far ANC in earbuds has come.

The accompanying app for iOS and Android is very well built and like the equivalent from Sennheiser, provides a host of customisation. The feature that I particularly like is the ability to customise the sound experience when your commuting, at your desk, or working out.

The music, calls, and voice assistant functions of the Jabra Elite 75t are managed via tappable buttons on each earbud. Unlike the Sennheiser earbuds, this click-feel of each button means you know when you have actioned a function and accidental taps are avoided.

Each bud tips the scales at 5.5g and the complete package with charging case weighs only 46g. The charging case houses plenty of battery power and gives you up to 28 hours of battery life (if you avoid ANC). Charging for 15 mins will give you up to 1 hour of audio time. The Jabra Elite 75t are also IP55 rated so a run in the rain won’t hurt them.

Alternatives…


On-Ear / Over-Ear

Buying any other Over-Ear headphones than the Bose QuietComfort 35 (Series II) is like having all the money in the world and not buying a Range Rover Vogue. As I said above, the Apple AirPods Max have blown a few people away with their design, sound quality, and price. It will be interesting to see how prolific they are when the world gets back to normal next year.

The On-Ear headphone space is new to me, and for this,I’ve been using another of the Jabra fleet of audio products – the Elite 45h which retail for $179 $129. Like the AirPods Max, these are a very well designed full headphone with lightness as one of its key engineering characteristics – weighing only 160g.

A truly wireless exprience with sound quality that is of a very high standard. Like the Bose QuiteComfort 35s a number of buttons are integrated into the headphones for complete control of your music.

As a wearer of glasses, I find the on-ear headphones do push my ears into the frames which is quite uncomfortable after an hour or so. These might just be the perfect headphones for watching something on the iPad in bed.


Gaming Headset

I’m not a gamer but thankfully my wife and I have raised two teenagers and they certainly know a thing or two about gaming.

What they didn’t know is just how sophisticated a gaming headset can be until they tried the Astro A50 Gen 4 Wireless Headset and Base Station.

Packed with an impressive array of features, the A50 Gen 4 wireless headphones are extremely comfortable and judging by their engineering, they will be very durable. The base station allows your gamer to attach the headphones to an optical sound source from a PC or Gaming Console. The base station also manages any auxiliary sound sources as well as a USB-A plug for charging and a switch for built-in PC or PS4 profiles.

The Astro A50 Gen 4 Headphones themselves allow up to three sound equaliser profiles to be set and cycled through at the touch of a button. Sound balance may also be enhanced between voice and gaming via a switch on the outside of the right-hand ear and Dolby sound can also be selected. The base station also houses the charging points for the A50 Gen 4. The rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery holds 15+ hours of life and recharges in less than 2 hours.

Finally, the integrated flexible microphone swings through 130ยบ to suit any sized head. Simply, flip the microphone back to ’12 o’clock’ to engage the Mute function. The free ASTRO Command Center app for Windows 10, Xbox and Mac gives users complete control over the audio experience, which includes voice communication and game audio settings.

As these are the fourth generation of the Astro A50 gaming headset you’ve got to think that they are going to be pretty awesome for any gamer. With an RRP of $549.95 they certainly should provide years of high-quality audio accompaniment to the most hard-core gamer.


I hope this has helped you consider all the options when you look for your next set of headphones.