Canstar Blue’s 2021 review of headphones compares Bose, Sony, JBL, Beats by Dre, Logitech, Sennheiser and Kmart 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 900 people for their feedback on 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 that received the minimum survey sample size of 30 responses are compared in our report.
This year’s review saw Aussies dance to Bose’s beat, with the brand returning to the top spot after rating best for overall satisfaction. It also achieved five-star reviews in most other categories.
Here are the best brands of headphones in Australia, as rated by consumers in Canstar Blue’s latest review:
The results were loud and clear – Bose is the best-rated brand for headphones after receiving the only five-star review for overall satisfaction, and top marks for sound quality, audio enhancements, comfort and design. Most other brands achieved four stars overall, except for Kmart which ended on three stars for overall satisfaction
However, Kmart was hard to beat when it came to value for money, similar to Logitech, both scoring full marks for the category. Logitech additionally placed as one of the top performers for design and practicality. Sony also grooved its way to number one in terms of practicality, and again for sound quality (as did JBL and Beats by Dre).
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.
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 Around-Ear Wireless Headphones II, and go up to just under $600 for the Bose Noise-Cancelling Headphones 700.
The Bose Noise-Cancelling Headphones 700 are the latest model, and feature 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.
Otherwise, there’s the Bose QuietComfort 35 Wireless Headphones II, a cult-favourite set that provides up to 20 hours of battery life, noise-cancelling, voice assistant, and a quick 15-minute charge function claimed to give you 2.5 hours of playback. The headband on the over-ear model is also wrapped in Alcantara − the same material used in high-end vehicles and yachts. Fancy!
Some headphones you can expect from Bose include:
Bose clearly impressed consumers after it received five-star reviews for sound quality, audio enhancements, design, comfort and overall satisfaction. It got four stars for practicality and value for money.
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. You can expect to see Sony over-ear headphones cost anywhere from just $26 for its wired ZX110 Entry Overhead Headphones and up to $2,499.95 for its high-end models.
The Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise-Cancelling Headphones ($399 RRP*), are one of the latest models, claimed to feature a HD noise-cancelling processor QN1 to minimise outside noise, plus smart listening technology to improve your listening experience. This headphone set is available in silver and black. Sony also offers the WH-CH710N Wireless Noise-Cancelling Headphones as a more wallet-friendly alternative which provide up to 35 hours’ worth of listening time, hands-free controls and a quick charge function that supposedly gives you a 60-minute playback with 10 minutes of charging.
Sony’s headphones range includes:
Sony earned five stars for sound quality and practicality, before achieving four stars for value for money, overall satisfaction and in the remaining categories.
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 $50 for a set of wired headphones, and can go up to $500 for wireless noise-cancelling models.
Some of the most budget-friendly 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 one-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 was rated five stars for sound quality and four stars everywhere else, including for design, value for money and overall satisfaction.
Since steering consumers towards music players with click wheels and touch screens in the early 2000s, Apple has finally jumped on the headphones bandwagon with the AirPods Max. These headphones are described as providing high-fidelity playback and ultra-low distortion, plus noise control and spatial audio. The AirPods Max also feature a knitted mesh canopy and what is claimed to be acoustically engineered memory foam ear cushions.
The AirPods Max retail for $899 RRP* and come in the following colours:
Apple was rated four stars for sound quality, audio enhancements and overall satisfaction. It got three stars everywhere else.
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.
Options include the Beats Solo Pro ($429.95 RRP*), which provide up to a whopping 40 hours’ worth of listening time (or 22 hours when using Noise-Cancelling and Transparency Mode). There is also a Fast Fuel mode so you can enjoy three hours of playback with just a 10-minute charge. Another standout feature is the audio sharing function, which lets you share audio with another set of Beats headphones or AirPods. These on-ear headphones are additionally said to contain advanced acoustics for powerful sound with balanced tonality, plus dual beam-forming microphones, a motion and speech accelerometer to detect speech and remove background noise, hands-free controls and voice assistance on compatible devices.
The Beats by Dre headphones range includes:
Beats by Dre drummed up a five-star review for sound quality and four stars for design, value for money, overall satisfaction and in the remaining categories.
For gamers and those working from home, electronics company Logitech has a few wireless and wired headsets to try on. Prices start from $49.95 for the Logitech H151 Stereo Headset and max out at $419.95 for the Logitech Zone Wireless Headset. One of the latest models is the Logitech Zone Wired USB Headset ($219.94 RRP*). It’s described as being ideal for noisy workspaces and comes with noise-cancelling dual-mic technology designed to isolate your voice and minimise sounds like keyboard clicks and conversations up to 60cm away.
Here are several Logitech headsets currently available:
Logitech achieved five-star reviews for design, practicality and value for money. It was also rated four stars for sound quality, comfort and overall satisfaction, plus three stars for audio enhancements.
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 retails from $149.95 for the HD 400S 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 anywhere between the $200 and $600 mark. Sennheiser also offers a collection of noise-cancelling headphones from $299.95 and up to $599.95 for the latest model.
Some Sennheiser headphones currently available include:
Sennheiser received four stars for most factors, including sound quality, design and overall satisfaction. The only exception was value for money, where it scored three stars.
When Kmart isn’t cooking up a popular range of kitchen gadgets like air fryers and pie makers, the retailer is probably trying to stay in tune with its headphones range. The retailer offers some of the most affordable options on the market, with products retailing from just $9.50 for a set of on-ear wired headphones and reaching up to $40 and above for wireless alternatives. Kmart also has gaming headsets on its shelves for $25, which come with a fixed microphone on the ear shell, volume and mic controls and a PC adapter cable. The headset is compatible with PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4 and mobile phones.
Some Kmart headphones currently available include:
Kmart rounded up the scores on five stars for value for money and three stars across the rest of the board, including for sound quality and overall satisfaction.
Almost one in four respondents (20%) 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, with one in three respondents to our survey (40%) having bought headphones with Bluetooth and/or wireless capabilities.
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 $186 on their latest headphones, with most people having kept their old pair for 2.5 years. Two-fifths of consumers surveyed (40%) bought headphones with Bluetooth or wireless capabilities, with a similar number of people also looking towards something with noise-cancellation (40%).
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 are taken from retailer websites, correct as of September 2021.
Canstar Blue surveyed more than 6,000 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, 929 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.
Check out the past winners of Canstar Blue’s headphone review:
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