Canstar Blue’s 2020 review of headphones compares Sennheiser, Sony, Bose, JBL and Beats by Dre on sound quality, audio enhancements, practicality, comfort, design, value for money and overall satisfaction.
See our Ratings Methodology.
Many of us simply can’t live without listening to music or podcasts, especially when we’re stuck on public transport during peak hour. And you don’t want to be that one person at work who forgot their headphones and be forced to ask to borrow a pair. There’s something extremely personal about headphones and that’s why a lot of consideration should go into buying the right pair for your ears and budget.
To find out which type of headphones Aussies rated best, we asked more than 400 people about the headphones they purchased in the last two years. Respondents rated brands on sound quality, audio enhancements, practicality, comfort, design, value for money and overall satisfaction. Those which received the minimum survey sample size of 30 responses are included in our report.
This year, the message was loud and clear. Sennheiser rated best for overall customer satisfaction and five stars in most categories.
Here are the best brands of headphones in Australia, as rated by consumers in Canstar Blue’s latest review:
Sennheiser took the lead in our latest ratings, earning a five-star review for overall satisfaction, as well as sound quality, design, practicality, comfort and value for money. Most other brands landed on four stars for overall satisfaction, except for Beats by Dre which rounded up the scores on three stars.
Read on for a guide to the brands compared this year, with details on what they have to offer if you’re in the market for a new set of headphones.
For 75 years now, Sennheiser has been one of the leading audio brands around the world, producing a neat selection of premium audiophile headphones, and more recently a 3D soundbar. There’s also plenty of other products for travel, watching TV at home as well as for professionals. Its range of over-ear headphones usually starts from $109.95 for the HD 300, and reaches up to $3,499 for the HD 820. For those who want to avoid fussing over a cable, you can snag yourself wireless headphones for around $200. Sennheiser also offers a collection of noise-cancelling headphones from $299.95 and up to $599 for the latest model.
Some Sennheiser headphones currently available include:
Sennheiser rated best for majority of categories, including sound quality, practicality, comfort, design, value for money and overall satisfaction. The only exception was audio enhancements, where it got a respectable four stars.
Global tech giant Sony can be found in almost every area of the entertainment industry, including movies, gaming and music. With an audio range that covers small earphones right through to professional mixing tables, there’s plenty on offer for basic listeners, professionals and everyone in between. Its noise-cancelling, wireless and on-ear headphones are usually available for just under $500, typically in a black or silver design.
For its most expensive headphones, Sony promises high-resolution audio that’s claimed to capture music at a higher rate than a CD. Many of its headphones are also said to feature a combination of 3D sewn synthetic leather surfaces and a foam cushion to provide an ergonomic fit. These headphones come with a 4.4mm balanced connection cable and silver-coated oxygen-free copper cables.
Sony’s headphone range features:
Sony impressed on comfort, receiving a five-star review for the category. It landed on four stars for overall satisfaction and the remaining areas.
Bose has been one of the major audio companies for more than 50 years, covering products like wireless and noise-cancelling headphones as well as headphones suited for exercise and sleeping. Prices for the brand’s over-ear and around-ear headphones usually start from $329.95 for the SoundLink Arond-Ear Wireless Headphones II, and reach up to $679.95 for the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 which come with a charging case.
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 is the latest model, and features controllable noise-cancelling technology and four microphones that are claimed to pick up and isolate your voice while cancelling the noise around you. Plus, if you need an answer to a question, these bad boys are optimised with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.
Some headphones you can expect from Bose include:
Bose rated best for audio enhancements, earning the only five-star review for the category. It also achieved full marks for comfort, before landing on four stars for overall satisfaction and everywhere else.
JBL has been operating for more than 70 years and is well-known within the audio industry. Its website allows you to refine results by price, colour, as well as design features including wireless models, noise-cancelling, or waterproof headphones. JBL’s headphones start from just under $40 for a set of kids’ headphones, and can go up to around $500 for club headphones.
One of the latest models in the range are the JBL Tune 500BT headphones, which feature wireless Bluetooth streaming and JBL Pure Bass Sound technology. These are said to provide 16 hours worth of battery life, with a two-hour recharge time or a quick five-minute charge for an additional hour of music. You can also make hands-free calls with a 1-button remote. JBL also promises a lightweight and foldable design, allowing you to wear the headphones for extended periods.
Here are a few headphones from JBL:
JBL received a respectable four-star review for most categories, such as design, value for money and overall satisfaction. The two exceptions were sound quality and audio enhancements, where it got three stars in both areas.
Most people who are big on their music would have heard of Beat by Dre. Starting out in 2006, Beats by Dre offers a number of headphones within its line-up, as well as some funky colours such as yellow, navy and red. Prices range from around $140 to $450, depending on the model.
The Beats Pro headphones are claimed to deliver a solid interior sound platform to hear the highs as well as the deep bass. When you plug a cable into one earcup, the other port apparently switches to the output mode, letting you share the music you’re listening to. These are said to be made with an aluminium gunmetal frame, and contain leather ear cups for comfort. It also comes with a ‘RemoteTalk’ cable that allows you to control the music as well as take phone calls.
The Beats by Dre headphone range includes:
Beats by Dre rounded up the scores with a four-star review for design and comfort and three stars in the remaining categories.
Almost one in four respondents (23%) said that brand name was an important factor in their purchase decision. But while different marketing campaigns will attract consumers to different models in the first place, customer satisfaction is ultimately determined by other factors – like whether or not the headphones actually live up to the hype. Our survey found the biggest drivers of customer satisfaction when buying headphones to be:
Headphones tend to be marketed around providing enhanced sound quality and better design and comfort, so it’s not surprising that consumer satisfaction is largely driven by those factors. If you’re using your headphones whenever you’re out and about, including on your daily commute, you want them to feel and look good, as well as be easy to store away, with wireless models also coming in handy. Noise-cancelling headphones are also pretty popular and one in three respondents to our survey (38%) seem to agree.
There are a variety of headphones to choose from. But in this particular survey, we’re focusing on the larger end of the spectrum – lightweight, full-size or noise-cancelling headphones. Basically, anything that doesn’t involve sticking something inside your ears! If you’re interested in those that do fit in your ears, check out our earphones review.
To come back to headphones, here are the main types:
Our survey found that respondents spent an average of $178 on their latest headphones, with most people having kept their old pair for three years. Nearly two-fifths (38%) bought headphones with Bluetooth or wireless capabilities, with a similar number of people also looking towards something with noise-cancellation (38%).
This report was written by Canstar Blue’s home & lifestyle journalist, Tahnee-Jae Lopez-Vito. She’s an expert on household appliances, grooming products and all things grocery and shopping. In addition to translating our expert research into consumer-friendly ratings reports, Tahnee spends her time helping consumers make better-informed purchase decisions on all manner of consumer goods and services, while highlighting the best deals and anything you need to be aware of.
Picture credits: Dean Drobot/Shutterstock.com, Dusan Petkovic/Shutterstock.com, Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock.com.
*Prices taken from retailer websites, correct as of October 2020.
Our headphones review saw a range of brands perform well in different areas:
Canstar Blue surveyed 3,000 Australian adults across a range of categories to measure and track customer satisfaction, via ISO 26362 accredited research panels managed by Qualtrics. The outcomes reported are the results from customers within the survey group who have purchased new headphones in the last two years – in this case, 469 people.
Brands must have received at least 30 responses to be included. Results are comparative and it should be noted that brands receiving three stars have still achieved a satisfaction measure of at least six out of 10. Not all brands available in the market have been compared in this survey. The ratings table is first sorted by star ratings and then by mean overall satisfaction. A rated brand may receive a ‘N/A’ (Not Applicable) rating if it does not receive the minimum number of responses for that criteria.
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