How we test headphones
By Oliver Trebilcock
Discover how our experts test headphones for sound quality and comfort. Only the very best earn our Best Buy award.
What makes Best Buy 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?
- Do they suffer from sound leakage?
- How durable are they?
- Should I buy them?
Head straight to our headphone reviews - or read on to find out more about how we test to answer each of these questions.
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?
Ergonomists consider how suitable headphones are for left handed users
How the headphones sound isn't our only consideration – we also assess them for comfort and how adjustable they are.
Our five lab experts rate these aspects, taking into account placing them in or on your ear, removing them from your ear, the potential of the headphones to accidentally fall out of your ear, and how restrictive the wire is. 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 calibrated reference ear to accurately test the headphones for acoustic leakage. They also subjectively assess the headphones for sound leakage while in use, listening for any loud or irritating noises or tones.
The reference ear gives us a clear indication of the frequency response for each set of headphones. It is also used to assess how good noise cancelling features are.
How durable are they?
We rate the quality of the material used to construct the headphones and any areas of obvious concern.
The headphone cables are stress tested, to replicate getting them caught on arms or around your neck - to make sure they're strong enough, as well as assessing how tangled they get.
70%the score headphones need to earn our Best Buy logo
Should I buy them?
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 in regards to features and specifications. The headphone score ignores price and is based on the following criteria:
Comfort & durability.......15%
Headphones need 70% in our tests to earn our Best Buy recommendation. Headphones that score 45% or less are highlighted as Don't Buy models to avoid.
Will they last?
As well as our tough lab tests we also assess how reliable headphone brands are in our annual member survey. Each year we get data on over 50,000 devices - including more than 1,800 headphones - and use this to determine which products are built to last. If we find that headphones from a brand are unreliable and likely to experience a fault then we won't name them as Best Buys, no matter how well they did in our lab assessment.