Headphones: How we test headphones
Which? examines everything that matters for headphones; including 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 our Best Buy and Don't Buy verdicts and choose with confidence.
We put all the headphones through the same tests - providing consumers with impartial advice - which means that if a product isn't any good we'll say so, without fear of penalty. Which? works for you, providing trustworthy advice without a hidden agenda.
- What's the sound quality like?
- What's the comfort and fit like?
- Suffer from sound leakage?
- How durable are they?
- Should I buy it?
Trial Which? today for just £1 to find out which headphones impressed us enough to be rated as Best Buys.
What's the sound quality like?
To test sound quality we use a listening panel of three experts. They listen to 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 three 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. While doing these assessments, the ergonomists also consider how suitable the headphones are for left handed users as well as those with weak grip, poor sight, poor hearing and colour-blindness.
Suffer from sound leakage?
Our scientists use a test head and torso dummy – affectionately known as Henry – to test how much noise headphones keep out and keep in. Henry has small microphones in his ears so he can listen to sounds. Our scientists place him next to a loudspeaker and play a range of frequencies. They then record what Henry hears with and without the headphones on to see how well they shield unwanted noise.
To measure how much sound leaks from headphones our scientists put them back on Henry’s head and play the same noise through them. They then measure sound levels from a 30cm away.
How durable are they?
Our scientists rate the quality of the material used in construction and any areas of obvious concern.
They also gently tug at cables as if they're caught on arms or around the neck, to make sure they're strong enough as well as performing a tangle assessment.
Should I buy it?
We give every pair of headphones a Which? test score so you can immediately see at-a-glance, which are the best and worst, plus how each model compares to each other in features and specifications. The headphone score ignores price and is based on the following criteria:
- Sound quality 65%
- Comfort 30%
- Sound leakage 5%
How we test headphones
All data sent back from our labs is carefully analysed by Which? experts so that the highs and lows of every product are revealed. Which? doesn't just tell you to buy or not buy specific models, we take it that next step further. If we find any faults we'll purchase a new product to see whether it's a one-off issue, or symptomatic of a larger problems. We'll also speak to the manufacturer to help solve the issue and find out if there are solutions in place for future models.
- Best Buy headphones - read our reviews to find the best pair of headphones for you
- How to buy the best headphones - what to look for in a good pair of headphones
- MP3 players reviews – pair up some Best Buy headphones with an MP3 player