The best new headphones on the market for listening to classical music
BBC Music Magazine's audio expert Chris Haslam tells us what we should be looking for when we buy a pair of headphones and recommends some of the best on the market, catering to all budgets
What to look for when buying new headphones
Open or closed back?
‘Open-backed’ headphones give music room to breathe, and emphasise the scale of the performance, whereas ‘closed-back’ models are more intimate, but keep the noise inside the headphones so you can use them in public.
Bluetooth is convenient, but it compresses the quality of your music significantly. If you want a better streaming experience, you’ll need aptX headphones and a compatible player or smartphone. Want even better? Look out for aptX HD which plays 24-bit, better-than-CD quality.
Active Noise Cancellation (ANC)
These headphones reduce background noise such as everyday traffic, train and plane engine rumble by using miniature microphones in the earpiece. They work by creating a soundwave opposite to the ambient noise, effectively cancelling it out. Superb for plane journeys.
BBC Music Magazine Best Buy: The Best All-Round Headphones
Sennheiser Momentum 2019 £349
This is my third pair of Sennheiser Momentum wireless noise cancelling headphones, and thankfully they’re the best yet, boasting decent upgrades while staying true to the sound quality that made them so popular in the first instance.
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They look good and fold easily, plus they turn off as soon as you remove them from your head and pair when you put them back on. It’s almost unnervingly convenient. There are also three noise-cancelling modes: ‘Max’, ‘Anti-Wind’ and ‘Anti-Pressure’ that complement your commute, café and office environments. Sennheiser has also partnered with Tile, a Bluetooth tracking service, which means you can find your headphones via a smartphone app. But all these features, while considered and useful, do hamper battery life, which at 17 hours is behind the curve.
But what about the performance? Well, they’re wonderful, capable headphones. Rest assured, everything sounds great, with a full-bodied, lively performance that never pushes too hard, allowing you to enjoy a choral motet one minute and a thrilling orchestral finale the next. sennheiser.com
The best headphones for home comfort
Cleer NEXT £699
Cleer Audio is a new brand in the UK, with a range of mass-market designs, but my magpie eye was drawn to these wired open backed home-listening headphones. Made from leather and aluminium, they have all the winning traits of pairs costing three times as much, and although they’re quite heavy, I could happily lounge in them all day. Avoid compressed music formats and you’ll find that the 40mm ironless magnesium drivers will delight, with acres of space, exceptional detail and plenty of natural flair. harrods.com
The best headphones for budget audiophiles
Shanling ME100 £99
From the aluminium body and gold-plated connectors to the high-quality detachable cables and custom 10mm dynamic driver, there’s no reason why this pair of in-ear monitors should cost so little. Eighteen earbud size variations, and some that actually offer enhanced bass and improved vocals, ensure a snug fit for all, and once plugged into my Astell & Kern Kann hi-res player, I enjoyed wonderful instrument separation and an expansive sound. en.shanling.com
Chris Haslam is a freelance consumer technology journalist, specialising in tech, audio, lifestyle, health and interiors. He is the monthly audio columnist for BBC Music Magazine, rounding up the best audio equipment on the market for classical music lovers. He is also a contributing editor for Wired UK.