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Most reliable headphone brands

By Oliver Trebilcock

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

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The most common reliability issue people encounter with their headphones is deteriorating earphone fabric and faulty physical connections. In fact, our research indicates that these account for a whopping 71% and 50% of faults respectively.

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, Bose, 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:

Difference between the best and worst headphone brands

As you can see, there's a significant difference between the most and least reliable of the biggest five headphone brands and the satisfaction score reported by customers. 

The most reliable headphone brands 

The table below summarises 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 table below. If you're not yet a member, join Which? to get instant access. 

Brand Reliability rating Reliability score Customer score
92% 82%
89% 79%
82% 82%
82% 76%
88% 68%
Table notes
Data based on a survey of 537 in-ear headphone, 445 on-ear headphone and 537 over-ear headphone Which? members June-July 2018.

Key

Member Content

Common headphone problems 

By far the most common problem people experience with their headphones is the earphone material deteriorating. Of course, wear and tear should be expected over time, but with some brands up to an enormous 71% experienced this fault with certain types of headphones, which we believe is far too high.

Another major source of faults for wired headphones was faulty physical connections, such as with the cable and 3.5mm headphone socket, and where the cable meets the headphone housing. For some brands, half of all owners experienced this fault with certain types of headphone – again a pretty poor record.

Owners of headphones from our worst-rated manufacturer reported that 14% of its devices had a problem within just five years of ownership – that's nearly one in seven of all owners.

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 table above shows a marked difference between the very best and worst headphone manufacturers for reliability. Indeed, only 3% of headphones of its type from our top brand developed even a minor fault after five years of ownership, and the worst performer saw 9% develop faults in the first year alone.

For in-ear headphones in particular, what's interesting – and is a clear example of a false economy – is that cheaper in-ear headphones from some brands are more likely to fail than others. But this certainly wasn't true in all cases, and wasn't the case at all with on-ear and over-ear headphones. Some brands experienced similar reliability ratings regardless of the average cost of their headphones, and – worst of all – the most expensive over-ear headphone brand in our survey actually had the worst reliability out of the five top brands we compared.

Which headphone brand stays fault-free for longest? 

In-ear headphones

On-ear headphones

Over-ear headphones

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 a five-year period in the table below.


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
6% 6%
4% 11%
7% 14%
9% 10%
Table notes
Results based on feedback from 537 in-ear headphone owners, surveyed in June-July 2018.

Key

Member Content

How we measure faults and reliability in 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.

Headphone brands rated 

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

Apple headphones overview table
Number tested in the past three years 2
Number of Best Buys
Average test score
Brand reliability rating
Customer score (%)
Loyalty score
Typical spend
Table notes Average test score based on results of models tested in the past three years (at 10 October 2018) that are still available. The customer score and brand reliability rating are based on a Which? member survey in June-July 2018 of 537 in-ear, 445 on-ear and 1,267 over-ear 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 10 October 2018.

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.
  • Discover the most common issues found with Apple headphones as users report on a range of faults, including battery problems, sound issues and hardware faults.
  • See how Apple fared based on its customer score – 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.
Bose headphones overview table
Number tested in the past three years 11
Number of Best Buys
Average test score
Brand reliability rating
Customer score (%)
Loyalty score
Typical spend
Table notes Average test score based on results of models tested in the past three years (at 10 October 2018) that are still available. The customer score and brand reliability rating are based on a Which? member survey in June-July 2018 of 537 in-ear, 445 on-ear and 1,267 over-ear 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 10 October 2018.

Key

Member Content
  • Find out how well Bose headphones score for reliability, and how Bose 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 how Bose fared based on its customer score – 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.
Sony headphones overview table
Number tested in the past three years 38
Number of Best Buys
Average test score
Brand reliability rating
Customer score (%)
Loyalty score
Typical spend
Table notes Average test score based on results of models tested in the past three years (at 10 October 2018) that are still available. The customer score and brand reliability rating are based on a Which? member survey in June-July 2018 of 537 in-ear, 445 on-ear and 1,267 over-ear 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 10 October 2018.

Key

Member Content
  • Find out how well Sony headphones score for reliability, and how Sony fares against rival headphone brands like Bose, AKG and Sennheiser.
  • Discover the most common issues found with Sony headphones as users report on a range of faults, including battery problems, sound issues and hardware faults.
  • See how Sony fared based on its customer score – 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.
AKG headphones overview table
Number tested in the past three years 23
Number of Best Buys
Average test score
Brand reliability rating
Customer score (%)
Loyalty score
Typical spend
Table notes Average test score based on results of models tested in the past three years (at 10 October 2018) that are still available. The customer score and brand reliability rating are based on a Which? member survey in June-July 2018 of 537 in-ear, 445 on-ear and 1,267 over-ear 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 10 October 2018.

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.
  • Discover the most common issues found with AKG headphones as users report on a range of faults, including battery problems, sound issues and hardware faults.
  • See how AKG fared based on its customer score – we asked those in our survey how satisfied they were with AKG 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 6
Number of Best Buys
Average test score
Brand reliability rating
Customer score (%)
Loyalty score
Typical spend
Table notes Average test score based on results of models tested in the past three years (at 10 October 2018) that are still available. The customer score and brand reliability rating are based on a Which? member survey in June-July 2018 of 537 in-ear, 445 on-ear and 1,267 over-ear 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 10 October 2018.

Key

Member Content
  • Find out how well Sennheiser headphones score for reliability, and how Sennheiser fares against rival headphone brands like Bose, Sony and Apple.
  • Discover the most common issues found with Sennheiser headphones as users report on a range of faults, including battery problems, sound issues and hardware faults.
  • See how Sennheiser fared based on its customer score – 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.

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 nearly 10,000 Which? members told us about more than 20,000 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 laptops 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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