8 Best Headphones for Audiobooks 2021

Woman plugging headphones on book
Woman plugging headphones on book

Everything you should consider when choosing the best headphones for audiobooks. Plus, out top recommendations!

NameForm FactorSound SignatureConnectivityPrice
Bose QuietComfort 35 II Best OverallOver-earNeutralWirelessBUY
AirPods Pro Strong Runner-UpTrue wireless in-earNeutralWirelessBUY
Soundcore by Anker Life Q30 Best BudgetOver-earV-shapedWirelessBUY
GoNovate G8 Most DiscreetMono wireless in-earBalancedWirelessBUY
Sony WH-1000XM4 Best Noise CancellingOver-earBalancedWirelessBUY
CozyPhones Headband Headphones Best for SleepHeadbandBrightWiredBUY
Audio-Technica ATH-M50X Best Wired OptionOver-earV-shapedWiredBUY
Jabra Elite Active 75t Best for Active LifestylesTrue wireless in-earV-shapedWirelessBUY

How to Choose the Best Audiobook Headphones

Audiobooks are rising in popularity. According to a US survey, each audiobook enthusiast listens to an average of 6.8 audiobooks in 2019 to 8.1 in 2020.

And while you can listen to audiobooks through speakers, you can’t do this everywhere without disturbing those around you. This is why headphones are a must for a clear and private listening experience.

Not all headphones work great for audiobooks, though. In fact, choosing the right headphones for audiobooks takes some consideration. For instance, if you listen to audiobooks during your commute, you may struggle to hear them clearly without the addition of noise-cancelling technology.

Worse yet, if they’re uncomfortable, you’ll need to take regular breaks from listening. Imagine that happening in the middle of an exciting part!

To save you from this, here are the factors you should consider when shopping for the best audiobook headphones. Read on!

Woman plugging headphones on book
Woman plugging headphones on book

What’s the best sound quality for audiobooks?

Rewinding your audiobook because you missed something is annoying. This could be due to poor quality or low volume, or if you’re super unlucky, both.

Unfortunately, most commercial headphones put ‘color’ in the audio to emphasize certain frequencies, like the bass. This is precisely why headphones for audiobooks should differ from those for music. Audiobooks need crystal clear playback that’s optimized for voices. Otherwise, voices may sound distorted and unnatural.

The sound quality of your headphones depends on their frequency response, which defines the range of frequencies the headphones can recreate. It also depends on its sound signature, which refers to any cuts or boosts made to certain frequencies to create a certain ‘sound’ (like increased bass). The two combined form the overall quality of your music and audiobooks.

In terms of frequency response and sound signature, the focus for audiobook headphones should be on the mids and highs. For men, their typical speaking frequency range is between 85 to 155 Hz. For women, this is 156 to 255 Hz.

That’s why a flat or bright sound signature is preferred as they don’t overly-enhance the bass and offer clearer sound than other sound signatures.

Some headphones also have companion apps that allow you to customize your listening experience using an equalizer (EQ). This is useful for those that want to make minor changes to enhance playback and those that want to be able to switch listening modes from music to audiobooks.

However, good audio straight out of the box is always better than making adjustments.

Comfort and fit

What good would a pair of expensive headphones be if you can’t wear them for more than 30 minutes?

Seeing as you’ll likely wear them for long periods at a time, your headphones should be comfortable. Otherwise, it will feel like a chore while wearing them.

When it comes to comfort, here are some things you should look at:

  • Form factor: Choose a form factor that suits your lifestyle. If you prioritize quality over everything, over-ear might be the way to go. On the other hand, on-ear is a good mix of portability, price, and quality. But if you’re always on the go, in-ear headphones and earbuds are the most portable, often at the cost of quality.
  • Breathability: Adequate airflow ensures your ears don’t get hot and sweaty even in long listening sessions. The design and material of your headphones should allow air to pass through your ear cups.
  • Padding & clamping force: Ample padding (around 1 inch on the earcups) distributes the pressure your head may feel when wearing headphones. It also aids in providing a secure fit without causing discomfort by the clamping force.
  • Weight: Heavy headphones can be tiresome to lug around and wear. A good pair of audiobook headphones should be lightweight and portable. Generally, you should go for headphones weighing less than 0.55 lbs or 250 g.

Noise cancellation

To zone in and remain captivated by your audiobook, noise cancellation is a huge help.

When shopping for headphones, you’ll likely come across two types of noise cancellation: Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) and Passive Noise Cancellation (also known as noise isolation). Although both reduce the amount of unwanted noise you hear, they do so in different ways:

  • Active Noise Cancellation: A type of technology that uses microphones to capture surrounding noise and digitally filter them out so you won’t hear them through your headphones.
  • Passive Noise Cancellation: This combines form factor, materials, and design to act as a physical barrier that passively blocks out unwanted noise.

For the best noise reduction, ANC is the way to go if you have the budget for it. Otherwise, if you’re looking for a cheaper alternative, you can choose a good pair of headphones and improve their noise reduction on your own using some crafty methods.

While noise cancellation is a nifty feature, some people need to hear what’s going on around them in addition to their audiobook for safety reasons. For instance, joggers need to listen for hazards, and some office workers need to stay alert. If you’re one of them, you may want a pair of headphones that allow you to hear your surroundings while listening instead.

Connectivity

Are wireless headphones better than wired? There’s no right or wrong answer, as this question comes down to personal preference. Each has their pros and cons.

To help you decide, let’s look at the benefits and drawbacks of wired headphones:

What We Like
  • Better sound quality as audio isn’t compressed or processed as much when sent via cable.
  • Manufacturers can spend more on audio quality rather than wireless technology.
  • Cheaper and easier to repair.
  • No need to charge them (unless they use ANC).
What We Don't Like
  • Less mobility since you have to remain conscious of the connecting cable.
  • You have to deal with the age-old problem of untangling knotted wires.
  • The 1.5mm headphone jack is gradually being phased out, as seen in audiobook devices like the Kindle Paperwhite and Kindle Oasis.

Wireless headphones also have their advantages and disadvantages, as listed below:

What We Like
  • Increase mobility. Take them wherever you go without worrying about the cable catching on objects you pass by.
  • Futureproof for emerging technologies that often rely on wireless technology.
  • No worries about the most delicate part of other headphones, the cable.
What We Don't Like
  • Battery life. In order to use your headphones, you will need to keep them charged.
  • Often more expensive as they include additional technology.
  • Susceptible to Bluetooth interference from other devices.

At the end of the day, the decision comes down to your lifestyle and personal preference. Wired and wireless are both great, it just depends on what you prioritize. For example, if you’re always on the go and love to move around, wireless headphones are for you. If you only want to listen to audiobooks in your downtime while relaxing at home, wired headphones can be a great option!

Battery life

If you decide to go with wireless headphones, you must add battery life to your list of considerations. Audiobooks usually take a lot of time to complete. If you listen to audiobooks regularly, you need a battery that can support your listening habits.

Fortunately, most Bluetooth headphones have a battery of around 6 to 12 hours, with premium brands reaching 20 hours and above of playtime. This is usually enough time to fuel your audiobook listening habits.

However, the defining factor could be the headphones’ charging time. This will determine how long you need to wait before using the headphones again.

Wireless headphones typically take around 2 to 3 hours to charge, however, some manufacturers include a quick charge feature that gives you hours of playtime from a 5 to 15-minute charge.

To avoid harming your ears, listen to your audiobooks no louder than 85 decibels for no more than 8 hours a day. Listening to higher volumes for longer periods can cause irreparable hearing damage.

8 Best Headphones for Audiobooks 2021

Bose QuietComfort 35 II

Best Overall
Close look at Bose QuietComfort 35 II (From: Amazon)
Close look at Bose QuietComfort 35 II (From: Amazon)

Key features:

  • Form Factor: Over-ear
  • Connectivity: Wireless
  • Battery life: 20 hours
  • ANC: Yes
  • Companion app: ‎Bose Connect
  • Sound profile: Neutral

The Bose QuietComfort 35 II headphones have everything you need to make your listening session a good one. Their neutral sound profile brings attention to the speaker’s voice, making them perfect for audiobooks. The active EQ also complements this by preserving audio quality and keeping it free of distortion, even at high volumes.

Moreover, you can choose between the three levels of the headphones’ world-renowned noise cancelling technology. All by pressing a few buttons in the Bose Connect app.

The app also allows you to check your battery levels, customize the physical buttons’ functions and set up an auto-off timer if you want to fall asleep while listening without manually turning them off.

The headphones are also well constructed, made from a mixture of impact-resistant materials like glass-filled nylon and stainless steel to withstand daily travels. Plus, the soft cushions ensure maximum comfort during listening sessions that last hours.

When compared to the previous Bose QuietComfort 35’s, the only real difference is the newly added button on the left ear cup for communicating with your phone’s personal assistant. Pressing and holding it will allow you to issue voice commands using the built-in microphone.

However, Bluetooth has to be the biggest drawback for these headphones, particularly when you try to connect to more than one device at a time. The headphones seem to bounce between two devices if both are within range.

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AirPods Pro

Strong Runner-Up
Close look at AirPods Pro (From: Amazon)
Close look at AirPods Pro (From: Amazon)

Key features:

  • Form Factor: True wireless in-ear
  • Connectivity: Wireless
  • Battery life: 4.5
  • ANC: Yes
  • Companion app: ‎Built-in Apple software
  • Sound profile: Neutral; slight emphasis on highs

Apple’s Airpods Pro earbuds are one of the most popular true wireless earbuds on the market.

Since they’re targeted at the average consumer, Apple has done a great job at ensuring they sound great when listening to almost anything. But, they’re particularly good for audiobooks.

For the most part, they have a fairly neutral sound signature, which slightly rises in the higher ranges to bring attention to voices.

Another useful feature is ANC. As you’d expect, they may not compete with ANC on headphones. But, they do a surprisingly good job at counteracting the everyday noise you’d expect to hear when walking around the city or commuting to work.

Moreover, the earbuds and charging case are made of high-quality plastic. It’s nothing ground-breaking in terms of durability, but it can withstand the occasional drop if they happen to slip out of your hand. In fact, you may find yourself worrying about losing them rather than breaking them, due to their small size.

A silicone tip has been added to each earbud — a big improvement over the original AirPods to improve passive noise isolation by creating a tighter seal in your ear. Adaptive EQ is another new addition, which creates a personalized listening experience by tuning the music according to your ear shape.

Apple is known for creating a seamless experience between its own devices. This is great if you’re an iPhone user, but the opposite if you’re not. Though AirPods do work with Android, some features are just not available. Their silicone ear tips may also make them prone to falling out.

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Soundcore by Anker Life Q30

Best Budget
Close look at Soundcore Life Q30 (From: Amazon)
Close look at Soundcore Life Q30 (From: Amazon)

Key features:

  • Form Factor: Over-ear
  • Connectivity: Wireless
  • Battery life: 40
  • ANC: Yes
  • Companion app: ‎Soundcore
  • Sound profile: V-shaped; adjustable with EQ

The Soundcore by Anker Life Q30 over-ear headphones deliver exceptional quality sound through their 40mm drivers. Out of the box, these headphones have a v-shaped sound profile, with an emphasis on bass. Luckily, you can use the Equalizer available in the Soundcore app to adjust the sound so the bass isn’t draining out voices.

The Soundcore app (available on iOS and Android) has a variety of built-in EQ presets you can use to personalize your sound. The podcast preset is especially useful when you want to bring attention to the voices of your audiobooks. If you’re not satisfied with the presets, you can create your own custom EQ within the app too.

The included transparency mode uses the built-in microphones to capture what’s happening around you and feed it directly into the speakers. This way, you can have a conversation with someone without needing to remove your headphones!

Aside from that, comfortability is good. The ear cups and headband feature soft memory foam padding to keep you comfortable during long listening sessions. The headphones are primarily made from plastic which can make them feel and look cheap, but some cut-backs are expected to achieve an affordable price point.

Compared to the Life Q20’s, the Life Q30’s include NFC for easier connectivity and compatibility with the Soundcore app. The charging port has also been upgraded from a Micro-USB to USB-C, a smart move in terms of future-proofing.

The Hybrid noise-canceling feature is underwhelming. It struggles to filter out some sounds, like the low rumbling noise of a distant highway or passing conversations. The headphones are also quite loose, which takes away from the overall noise isolation.

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GoNovate G8

Most Discreet
Close look at GoNovate G8 (From: Amazon)
Close look at GoNovate G8 (From: Amazon)

Key features:

  • Form Factor: Mono wireless in-ear
  • Connectivity: Wireless
  • Battery life: 5.5
  • ANC: No
  • Sound profile: Balanced

If you’re someone who wants to stay connected to the world around you while listening to your audiobooks, the GoNovate G8 true wireless mono in-ear earbud is for you. The frequency response is designed specifically for audiobooks and podcasts, allowing for clear sound without the need to customize it.

The design of the earbud is very discreet, adopting a beige tone to make it less noticeable when worn. As one of the smallest earbuds you’ll find, it sits inside your ear comfortably and securely. You also have the option to choose between one of three silicone tip sizes for improved fit and noise isolation.

The 55 +/- 5 mAh Lithium-Ion battery provides up to 6 hours of playtime, depending on the volume you’re listening to. Such a battery life is impressive for an earbud of this size. In fact, this is the best battery life you can expect without compromising the size and design of the earbud.

An often overlooked aspect of this earbud is the charger. You will receive two chargers, and both plug directly into a power socket. To charge, you magnetically attach the earbud to the charger. If you’re someone who hates the mess that’s associated with cables, you’ll like the cableless approach that GoNovate have gone for.

The sad thing is, this earbud doesn’t hold up well over time. After a few months, it just stops turning on. The total amount of charge it can hold also gradually reduces the more it’s charged. While it does come with a one-year warranty, it would be nice to see GoNovate address some of the durability concerns.

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Sony WH-1000XM4

Best Noise Cancellation
Sony WH-1000XM4 (From: Amazon)
Close look at Sony WH-1000XM4 (From: Amazon)

Key features:

  • Form Factor: Over-ear
  • Connectivity: Wireless
  • Battery life: 30
  • ANC: Yes
  • Companion app: Sony Headphones Connect
  • Sound profile: Balanced; with tight bass, adjustable with EQ

The Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones offer great quality sound through the two 40mm drivers. With a frequency response of 4 hz to 40 kHz, you’ll be able to hear and feel every sound that’s played. If you’re looking for headphones that work well for music and audiobooks, these are a great choice.

The WH-1000XM4 are among the best noise canceling headphones you can get. They use dual noise sensors to capture ambient noise and filter it out using an advanced algorithm. They also include Adaptive Sound Control that automatically optimizes your sound based on the environment you’re in.

Using the Sony Headphones Connect app, you can perfect your sound using the built-in EQ. You can also monitor battery levels and enable Adaptive Sound Control.

The headphones have a very sleek minimal design. Made from durable plastic, they have a smooth premium feel to them. The earpads are complete with soft foamed urethane to cushion your ears when worn.

While both the WH-1000XM4’s and WH-1000XM3’s share a 30-hour battery life, the WH-1000XM4’s do it just a bit better thanks to the Wearing Detection feature that pauses music when you remove them and resumes when they’re put back on. Although small, this saves battery life over time and removes the hassle of manually pausing and resuming your audiobook.

For the high price tag, you’d expect all-around high-quality performance. However, the touch controls on these headphones are very sensitive and take some time to get used to. The inside of the ear cups can also get quite warm if you wear them for hours on end and would benefit from a more airflow-orientated design.

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CozyPhones Headband Headphones

Best for Sleep
Close look at CozyPhones (From: Amazon)
Close look at CozyPhones (From: Amazon)

Key features:

  • Form Factor: Headband
  • Connectivity: Wired
  • ANC: No
  • Sound profile: Bright; shallow lows, emphasis on highs

Do you like to listen to audiobooks in bed but hate trying to find a comfortable position while wearing headphones? The CozyPhones Headband Headphones can fix that problem. They wrap around your head and remain comfortable even when sleeping on your side thanks to their unique design.

While they may not have ANC, they do offer good quality sound. The removable speakers sit inside the thin 1/8″ cushioned headband to feed sound directly into your ear. You can use your audiobook or the sweet sound of white noise to comfortably drift off to sleep.

Because they’re wired, you do need to be mindful that you don’t get tangled up as you move around. However, the 52-inch long braided cord offers some freedom. If these were wireless, though, this is one worry you could cross off.

The CozyPhones Headband Headphones are some of the best headphones for sleep in the market today. For other options, check out our full guide for more recommendations on the top sleep headphones!

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Audio-Technica ATH-M50X

Best Wired Option
Close look at Audio-Technica ATH-M50X (From: Amazon)
Close look at Audio-Technica ATH-M50X (From: Amazon)

Key features:

  • Form Factor: Over-ear
  • Connectivity: Wired
  • ANC: No
  • Sound profile: V-shaped; warm bass

With a frequency response range of 15 Hz to 28 kHz, your audio will sound crystal clear when played through the 45mm drivers on the Audio-Technica ATH-M50X’s. They also have a v-shaped sound profile with some slight emphasis on low and high frequencies.

You have three detachable cables to choose from based on your preference in length. The two straight cables are 1.2m and 3m, great if you know how much cable you need. The coiled cable is between 1.2m to 3m long for those who need a more flexible option. Additionally, you’ll also receive a carrying pouch and a 6.3mm (1/4”) adapter.

The headphones are primarily made from a thick dense plastic that offers great protection and can fold for easy transport. However, the weakest parts of the headphones are the joints — a trait shared with the previous ATH-M40X’s.

Compared to the previous version, the ATH-M50Xs have significantly improved their sound quality. In addition to the rise of supported frequencies from 20 kHz to 28 kHz, one improvement the ATH-M50X headphones have over the ATH-M40X’s are the slightly larger ear cups which accommodate larger ears and improve breathability.

The earcups can now also rotate 90° in both directions rather than 15° and allow for a better fit according to your head shape.

Some points need to be taken away for comfort, though. The clamping force of these headphones is quite high. The earpads also have insufficient padding, which worsens the pressure felt by the clamping force. As a result, you may need to take breaks when listening to audiobooks.

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Jabra Elite Active 75t

Best for Active Lifestyles
Close look at Jabra Elite Active 75t (From: Amazon)
Close look at Jabra Elite Active 75t (From: Amazon)

Key features:

  • Form Factor: True wireless in-ear
  • Connectivity: Wireless
  • Battery life: 5.5
  • ANC: Yes
  • Companion app: Jabra Sound+
  • Sound profile: V-shaped; bass-rich lows, bright mids and highs

If you plan to listen to audiobooks while you’re on the move, the Jabra Elite Active 75t’s are an excellent choice. They sound great and offer considerable noise isolation thanks to the silicone that molds to your ear shape.

Jabra Elite Active 75t’s ANC works well. The four microphones (two on each earbud) work with the Qualcomm chipset to effectively block out ambient noise so you can focus on your audiobook whether you’re jogging outside or just zoning out in the break room at work.

Additionally, the fast charging feature provides you with 1 hour of battery from a 15-minute charge. And, the total battery life is bumped up from 5.5 hours to 24 hours if you include the charge provided by the case.

Out of the box, the Jabra Elite Active 75t’s have a bass-heavy sound profile. But you can customize the built-in EQ to find the perfect balance between frequencies using the Jabra Sound+ app.

The earbuds are lightweight, with each earbud weighing 5.5g each. This is lighter than the Jabra Elite Active 65t’s, which have a mismatched weight of 6.5g for the right and 5.8g for the left. They also now have an IP57 rating, protecting them from water, sweat, and dust. The biggest difference between the two, however, must be the lack of ANC found in the 65t’s.

However, the touch controls are quite sensitive and you’ll often find yourself accidentally pausing your audiobook or enabling hear-through when adjusting them. Plus, connectivity can be somewhat sporadic, resulting in occasional dropouts.

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