Over the last twelve months or so I’ve had the chance to do plenty of listening from a wide range of in-ear and circumaural headphones. I’m always amazed how, even with shared form factors, the sound, functionality, comfort, and durability of different models can vary so widely even within a similar price bracket. Every audio device is “tuned” to provide a specific sound signature, meaning that from product to product, even within the same brand, you’re likely to get a wide variation in how things actually sound which, in turn, greatly affects the overall performance.

There were a few pairs that had unique features such as Skullcandy’s Crusher with its preposterous bass performance that provides a fun experience and others are meant to be entry-level devices, so making comparing those to some of the higher end models on this list would be a bit unfair. Still, there were some units that continue to be my daily drivers, providing months of musical enjoyment during every day use, while commuting or traveling on the plane, or even when taking meetings and needing a decent microphone setup for clear communication.

Here are my top headphones that I’ve reviewed over the last year or so.

1. Sony WF-1000XM4 earphones

I’m hardly the first to extol the virtues of these award winning earphones, but a year later and there’s nothing to really compare to the quality, the features and the performances of these exceptional buds. Sony has crammed an amazing amount of tech into these, and with class-leading noise cancellation, LDAC support for Android users, fantastic build quality and great battery life. It all comes together in a package that should be the at the top of anyone hunting for the best in class. The sound is punchy without being bloated, rivaling even my reference in-ear monitors that cost several times what these retail for. Along with the equally excellent Link Bud S model, with its extraordinarily comfortable form factor and sound that comes close to that of its bigger sibling, these remain a year on my go-to in-ear models both on the go and when doing listening at home. I’m looking forward to trying out the 1000XM5 that looks to be a continuation of Sony’s commitment to quality and innovation.

Read my review of the Sony WF-1000XM4 earphones.

2. Sennheiser Momentum 4 headphones

Like the Sony’s above, these circumaural true-wireless headphones from Sennheiser are pretty beloved within the head-fi community. I’ve been the proud owner of a half dozen pairs of headphones from this company, right up to their flagship model costing thousands of dollars, and absolutely love how they present audio in just about all their models with a commitment to clear sound with little in the way of overemphasis or excessive manipulation. For on-the-go, over-the-ear use these managed to trounce much of the competition thanks to their comfort, build quality, and, above all, the sound that’s both rich and enveloping, with a massive sound stage and clear reproduction of just about any genre of music. While I continue to be miffed one can’t fully disable ANC, it’s a minor quibble given just how great these sound when playing back your favourite tracks.

Read my review of the Sennheiser Momentum 4 headphones.

3. Urbanista Austin earphones

This model from Urbanista provide to be the most mauve of any that I tested, but luckily they also managed to sound pretty great as well. These lavender lovelies from the Austin-based company illustrated something I’m a big fan of, where certain key features from more premium models from the company managed to trickle down to more affordable models. The form factor takes a bit of getting used to, but if you’re looking for the stick-and-ball type form factor with a bit of style to match these may well do the trick for you as your daily drivers.

Read my review of the Urbanista Austin earphones.

4. Monster Clarity 8.0 earphones

This attractive, well built in-ear model from Monster was among the tops when it came to providing clean, clear audio. While lacking some of the more powerful features of higher-end models, these earphones seem to fit the sweet spot for price and performance. The sound is fairly neutral, and thanks to a slew of earpad options you can find the right fit for your ear pretty readily. While the app would never behave for me, and the active noise control affected the sound more than I prefer, they’re still a decent set worth considering within this price range.

Read my review of the Monster Clarity 8.0 earphones.

5. Sudio A2 earphones

I reviewed a number of models from Sudio, but I found these to be the biggest bang for the buck. While they don’t have some of the more premium features found in the likes of the N2 or N2 Pro models, I was pleasantly surprised about how the more junior pair managed to hold its own. A great mix of comfort, style and performance, these were among those rare products that punched well above its weight and delivered quality sound at a very reasonable price.

Read my review of the Sudio A2 earphones.

If you’re looking for a new pair of headphones, you can’t go wrong with any of those mentioned above. Whether you choose Sony’s top-of-the-line WF-1000XM series headphones or the affordable but high-quality Sudio A2s, you’re sure to find great sound.

Want more options? Check out more of the blog’s recommendations for headphones or head over to bestbuy.ca to explore all the headphones available.

Jason Gorber
Jason Gorber, M.A., is a film, technology, and media journalist and member of the Toronto Film Critics Association. He is the managing editor and chief film critic at That Shelf and a regular contributor to POV Magazine, SlashFilm, and CBC Radio. Jason has been a Tomatometer-approved critic for over 20 years, is an avid collector of music, movies, LEGO and many other aesthetic and technical treats.


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