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A lot of people used to be perfectly happy listening to their tunes on the earbuds that came free with cell phones and other electronics. But in recent years, headphones that cost hundreds of dollars have become a fairly mainstream purchase.

The second generation AirPods—the cheaper version without noise-canceling tech—cost about $160, and you could pay more than twice that for popular models from Bose and Sony.

Sometimes the performance justifies the price, but many people don’t have room in their budget to spend three figures on a new pair of headphones, especially when a lot of models aren’t built to last a lifetime. 

These tips and tricks will help you shop smarter when it’s time for your next headphone purchase. We also have some strategies to keep your current headphones working longer, and even a tip to breathe some new life into headphones you might assume are broken for good. 

Look Past the Brand Name

A few headphone brands like Apple and Beats are household names. Both companies make some good products, but our tests show that with most manufacturers, quality varies enough across various models that the brand name isn’t a reliable predictor of how well a particular headphone will perform.

When you’re on the hunt for your next pair of headphones, you have hundreds to choose from. The Consumer Reports headphones ratings are a great place to spot a deal, but we’ve also done a lot of the work for you in a variety of articles breaking headphones down by categories like price, style, and features. A few places to start are our list of the best headphones under $50, CR’s recommendations for AirPods alternatives, and this roundup of the best noise-canceling headphones for shoppers on