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Which headphones brand to buy in 2019

By Oliver Trebilcock

We help you choose a headphone brand that will last with our survey of owners of AKG, Apple, Beats, Bose, JVC, Samsung, Sennheiser and Sony headphones.

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The most common reliability issue people reported with their headphones is deteriorating earcup fabric and faulty physical connections. In fact, with the worst wired headphones brand in our survey, half of all owners (49%) suffered deteriorating earcup fabric, and 29% faulty physical connections.

Knowing which brands develop the most faults, and how quickly, can be important factors in your buying decision. That's why each year we ask more than 10,000 Which? members to tell us whether they are happy, or have experienced problems, with their audio products in our unique reliability survey.

Our survey data takes into account the fault rates reported by their owners, plus the severity of these faults and the speed with which they occurred after buying the product.

In our latest analysis we've looked at the performance of the biggest headphone manufacturers – including AKG, Apple, Beats, Bose, JVC, Samsung, Sennheiser and Sony – and calculated a reliability rating for each so you know which brands to choose and the ones to avoid.

In this article:

Wireless vs wired headphone brands

Here's an overview of the difference between the best and worst headphone brands we've tested. We've looked at the average overall score, reliability rating and customer satifaction score.

As you can see, there's a significant difference between the most and least reliable of the biggest eight headphone brands. There’s a huge difference in test scores and customer satisfaction between the best and worst scoring brands for these too – so these are other important factors to consider when deciding on your purchase. Products can be reliable but unremarkable, and vice versa.

Wireless headphones are headphones that can connect to your devices wirelessly, usually using Bluetooth.

The most reliable headphone brands 

The tables below summarise this year’s reliability results. Each brand is ranked by its customer score, which relates to whether customers would recommend it. The more stars for reliability, the fewer the problems reported.

Only logged-in Which? members can view which brands achieved the ratings and verdicts in the tables below. If you're not yet a member, join Which? to get instant access.

Wireless headphones

Brand Reliability rating Reliability score Customer score
95% 81%
95% 81%
97% 78%
88% 78%
92% 75%
Table notes
Results based on a survey of 1349 wireless headphone owning Which? members April-July 2019.

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Member Content

Wired headphones

Only logged-in Which? members can view which brands achieved the ratings and verdicts in the table below. If you're not yet a member, join Which? to get instant access.

Brand Reliability rating Reliability score Customer score
92% 81%
87% 78%
92% 76%
97% 74%
94% 68%
90% 68%
97% 62%
Table notes
Results based on a survey of 1475 wired headphone owning Which? members April-July 2019.

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Member Content

Common headphone problems 

By far the most common problems people experience with their headphones is the earcup material deteriorating, as well as faulty physical connections with wired headphones like where the cable meets the 3.5mm plug. Of course, wear and tear should be expected over time, but with some brands up to an enormous 49% of owners experienced deteriorating fabric and 29% faulty physical connections with certain types of headphones, which we believe is far too high.

Owners of headphones from our worst-rated wireless headphone manufacturer reported that 13% of its devices had a problem within just three years of ownership – that's nearly one in seven of all owners. And it’s even worse with wired headphones, with 15% reporting faults within five years of ownership from the worst-rated manufacturer. Wireless headphones only became popular in the last few years, partly due to Apple removing the headphones socket from its iPhones, so there weren’t enough owners with wireless headphones five years old in our survey.

We believe that headphones should last at least five years without developing a fault, and you should expect no major faults in the first year of ownership. Our data tells a different story.

The tables above show a marked difference between the very best and worst headphone manufacturers for reliability. Indeed, only 3% of wired headphones from our top brand developed even a minor fault after five years of ownership, and the worst performer saw 11% develop faults in the first year alone. For wireless headphones, only 4% of owners reported a fault after three years of ownership for the top brand, and for the worst 10% reported a fault in the first year alone.

For wired headphones in particular, what's interesting – and is a clear example of a false economy – is that cheap wired headphones from some brands are more likely to fail than others. But this certainly wasn't true in all cases, and worryingly the most expensive wired headphone brand in our survey actually had the worst reliability out of the seven top brands we compared.

Wireless vs wired: Which headphone brand stays fault-free for longest? 

The graphs above show how the brand that stays fault-free for the longest compares with the worst brand and the overall average. Which? members can see how brands compare for faults over time in the tables below. The data is a shorter time period for wireless headphones as they only recently had a surge in popularity, partly related to Apple removing the headphones socket from its iPhones.

The tables below reveal the incidence of faults reported by each headphone brand in our survey.

Only logged-in Which? members can view which brands achieved the ratings and verdicts in the table below. If you're not yet a member, join Which? to get instant access.

Wireless headphones

Brand name % faults after one year % faults after three years
3% 4%
5% 5%
5% 6%
7% 10%
10% 13%
Table notes
Results based on feedback from 537 in-ear headphone owners, surveyed in June-July 2018.

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Wired headphones

Only logged-in Which? members can view which brands achieved the ratings and verdicts in the table below. If you're not yet a member, join Which? to get instant access.

Brand name % faults after one year % faults after five years
2% 3%
4% 4%
4% 6%
4% 9%
5% 10%
6% 16%
11% 11%
Table notes
Results based on feedback from 537 in-ear headphone owners, surveyed in June-July 2018.

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Member Content

How we measure faults and reliability for headphones

The table data takes into account minor, major and catastrophic faults:

  • Minor A fault that doesn't affect the product's performance significantly or a fault that only occurs occasionally with minimal impact. This issue may be irritating or annoying but it isn't frequently problematic and you can easily work around it. For example, a slight audible buzz or soft fabric peeling off.
  • Major A fault that has a noticeable effect on the product’s performance. This fault affects how you use the product and can be problematic. For example, the volume control buttons on the headphones stop working.
  • Catastrophic A fault that renders the product unusable, meaning the fault needs to be repaired or parts replaced before it can be used again. For example, sound stops working in one or both earpieces.

Full results: headphone brands rated 

Choose a brand from the list below to find out more about its performance in our survey.

Only logged-in Which? members can view our exclusive reliability ratings and verdicts. If you're not yet a member, join Which? to get instant access.

AKG headphones overview table
Number tested in the past three years 2
Number of Best Buys
Average test score in past three years
Brand reliability rating (wired headphones)
Customer score (wired headphones)
Typical spend (wired headphones)
Table notes We didn’t get enough respondents from wireless AKG headphone owners to give results for these. We haven’t given AKG wired headphones a loyalty score for the same reason . Average test score based on results of models tested in the past three years (at 24 October 2019) that are still available. The customer score and brand reliability rating are based on a Which? member survey in April-July 2019 of 1485 wired and 1488 wireless headphone owners. The customer score is based on whether members would recommend the brand to a friend, and reliability is based on members’ experience of that brand. Table last updated 24 October 2019.

Key

Member Content
  • Find out how well AKG headphones score for reliability, and how AKG fares against rival headphone brands like Bose, Sony and Sennheiser.
  • See what AKG owners thought of its headphones – we asked those in our survey how satisfied they were with its products, and how likely they were to recommend them to others.
  • Only logged-in Which? members can view our exclusive reliability ratings and verdicts. If you're not yet a member, join Which? to get instant access.
Apple headphones overview table
Number tested in the past three years 2
Number of Best Buys
Average test score in past three years
Brand reliability rating (wireless headphones)
Customer score (%) (wireless headphones)
Typical spend (wireless headphones)
Brand reliability rating (wired headphones)
Customer score (wired headphones)
Loyalty score (wired headphones)
Typical spend (wired headphones)
Table notes We haven’t given Apple wireless headphones a loyalty score as we didn’t get enough responses from Apple wireless headphone owners to do so. Average test score based on results of models tested in the past three years (at 24 October 2019) that are still available. The customer score and brand reliability rating are based on a Which? member survey in April-July 2019 of 1485 wired and 1488 wireless headphone owners. The customer score is based on whether members would recommend the brand to a friend, and reliability is based on members’ experience of that brand. Table last updated 24 October 2019.

Key

Member Content
  • Find out how well Apple headphones score for reliability, and how Apple fares against rival headphone brands like Bose, Sony and Sennheiser.
  • See what Apple headphone owners thought of its products – we asked those in our survey how satisfied they were with Apple headphones, and how likely they were to recommend them to others.
  • Only logged-in Which? members can view our exclusive reliability ratings and verdicts. If you're not yet a member, join Which? to get instant access.
Beats headphones overview table
Number tested in the past three years 7
Number of Best Buys
Average test score in past three years
Brand reliability rating (wireless headphones)
Customer score (wireless headphones)
Table notes We didn’t get enough respondents from wired Beats headphone owners to give results for these. We haven’t given Beats wireless headphones a loyalty score or given a typical spend from owners for the same reason. . Average test score based on results of models tested in the past three years (at 24 October 2019) that are still available. The customer score and brand reliability rating are based on a Which? member survey in April-July 2019 of 1485 wired and 1488 wireless headphone owners. The customer score is based on whether members would recommend the brand to a friend, and reliability is based on members’ experience of that brand. Table last updated 24 October 2019.

Key

Member Content
  • Find out how well Beats headphones score for reliability, and how it fares against rival headphone brands like Bose, Sony and Sennheiser.
  • See what owners of Beats headphones thought of its products – we asked those in our survey how satisfied they were with Beats headphones, and how likely they were to recommend them to others.
  • Only logged-in Which? members can view our exclusive reliability ratings and verdicts. If you're not yet a member, join Which? to get instant access.
Bose headphones overview table
Number tested in the past three years 16
Number of Best Buys
Average test score in past three years
Brand reliability rating (wireless headphones)
Customer score (wireless headphones)
Typical spend (wireless headphones)
Brand reliability rating (wired headphones)
Customer score (wired headphones)
Loyalty score (wired headphones)
Typical spend (wired headphones)
Table notes We didn’t get enough respondents from wireless Bose headphone owners to give a loyalty score. Average test score based on results of models tested in the past three years (at 24 October 2019) that are still available. The customer score and brand reliability rating are based on a Which? member survey in April-July 2019 of 1485 wired and 1488 wireless headphone owners. The customer score is based on whether members would recommend the brand to a friend, and reliability is based on members’ experience of that brand. Table last updated 24 October 2019.

Key

Member Content
  • Find out how well Bose headphones score for reliability, and how it fares against rival headphone brands like Apple, Sony and Sennheiser.
  • Discover the most common issues found with Bose headphones as users report on a range of faults, including battery problems, sound issues and hardware faults.
  • See what owners of Bose headphones thought of its products – we asked those in our survey how satisfied they were with Bose headphones, and how likely they were to recommend them to others.
  • Only logged-in Which? members can view our exclusive reliability ratings and verdicts. If you're not yet a member, join Which? to get instant access.
JVC headphones overview table
Number tested in the past three years 5
Number of Best Buys
Average test score in past three years
Brand reliability rating (wired headphones)
Customer score (wired headphones)
Typical spend (wired headphones)
Table notes We didn’t get enough respondents from wireless JVC headphone owners to give results for these. We haven’t given JVC wired headphones a loyalty score for the same reason. Average test score based on results of models tested in the past three years (at 24 October 2019) that are still available. The customer score and brand reliability rating are based on a Which? member survey in April-July 2019 of 1485 wired and 1488 wireless headphone owners. The customer score is based on whether members would recommend the brand to a friend, and reliability is based on members’ experience of that brand. Table last updated 24 October 2019.

Key

Member Content
  • Find out how well JVC headphones score for reliability, and how it fares against rival headphone brands like Bose, Sony and Sennheiser.
  • See what JVC headphones owners thought of its products – we asked those in our survey how satisfied they were with JVC headphones, and how likely they were to recommend them to others.
  • Only logged-in Which? members can view our exclusive reliability ratings and verdicts. If you're not yet a member, join Which? to get instant access.
Samsung headphones overview table
Number tested in the past three years 2
Number of Best Buys
Average test score in past three years
Brand reliability rating (wired headphones)
Customer score (wired headphones)
Typical spend (wired headphones)
Table notes We didn’t get enough respondents from wireless Samsung headphone owners to give results for these. We haven’t given Samsung wired headphones a loyalty score for the same reason. Average test score based on results of models tested in the past three years (at 24 October 2019) that are still available. The customer score and brand reliability rating are based on a Which? member survey in April-July 2019 of 1485 wired and 1488 wireless headphone owners. The customer score is based on whether members would recommend the brand to a friend, and reliability is based on members’ experience of that brand. Table last updated 24 October 2019.

Key

Member Content
  • Find out how well Samsung headphones score for reliability, and how it fares against rival headphone brands like Bose, Sony and Sennheiser.
  • See what Samsung headphone owners thought of its products – we asked those in our survey how satisfied they were with Samsung headphones, and how likely they were to recommend them to others.
  • Only logged-in Which? members can view our exclusive reliability ratings and verdicts. If you're not yet a member, join Which? to get instant access.
Sennheiser headphones overview table
Number tested in the past three years 21
Number of Best Buys
Average test score in past three years
Brand reliability rating (wireless headphones)
Customer score (wireless headphones)
Typical spend (wireless headphones)
Brand reliability rating (wired headphones)
Customer score (wired headphones)
Loyalty score (wired headphones)
Typical spend (wired headphones)
Table notes We didn’t get enough respondents from wireless Sennheiser headphone owners to give a loyalty score. Average test score based on results of models tested in the past three years (at 24 October 2019) that are still available. The customer score and brand reliability rating are based on a Which? member survey in April-July 2019 of 1485 wired and 1488 wireless headphone owners. The customer score is based on whether members would recommend the brand to a friend, and reliability is based on members’ experience of that brand. Table last updated 24 October 2019.

Key

Member Content
  • Find out how well Sennheiser headphones score for reliability, and how it fares against rival headphone brands like Apple, Bose and Sony.
  • See what Sennheiser headphones owners thought of its products – we asked those in our survey how satisfied they were with Sennheiser headphones, and how likely they were to recommend them to others.
  • Only logged-in Which? members can view our exclusive reliability ratings and verdicts. If you're not yet a member, join Which? to get instant access.
Sony headphones overview table
Number tested in the past three years 35
Number of Best Buys
Average test score in past three years
Brand reliability rating (wireless headphones)
Customer score (wireless headphones)
Loyalty score (wireless headphones)
Typical spend (wireless headphones)
Brand reliability rating (wired headphones)
Customer score (wired headphones)
Loyalty score (wired headphones)
Typical spend (wired headphones)
Table notes Average test score based on results of models tested in the past three years (at 24 October 2019) that are still available. The customer score and brand reliability rating are based on a Which? member survey in April-July 2019 of 1485 wired and 1488 wireless headphone owners. The customer score is based on whether members would recommend the brand to a friend, and reliability is based on members’ experience of that brand. Table last updated 24 October 2019.

Key

Member Content
  • Find out how well Sony headphones score for reliability, and how it fares against rival headphone brands like Apple, Bose and Sennheiser.
  • See what Sony headphones owners thought of its products – we asked those in our survey how satisfied they were with Sony headphones, and how likely they were to recommend them to others.
  • Only logged-in Which? members can view our exclusive reliability ratings and verdicts. If you're not yet a member, join Which? to get instant access.

How we calculate the best and worst brands 

Which? has a wealth of information on Britain's favourite audio brands. Every year we ask Which? members to tell us about the technology products they own, from how likely it is they would recommend a brand, to how reliable the products are once they get them home. This year more than 10,000 Which? members told us about more than 35,000 devices. We calculate a brand's reliability and its customer score based on the results of our annual survey.

Our reliability surveys, combined with our extensive lab tests, mean we can recommend the best headphones you should buy.

This data is crucial for our testing, too. If a brand falls far below the category average, we take away the manufacturer’s Best Buy status and won’t recommend any of its products unless a marked improvement in reliability is shown.

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