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Best headphones 2021: your definitive guide to the latest and greatest audio

The Sony WH-1000XM4, the Best Headphones you can buy, lying on a desk
Image credit: Sony
PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID

What are the best headphones in 2021? With so many brands, models, and designs to choose from, finding the right headphones for you can be tricky – but we're here to help.

Our list below features all of the best headphones you can buy today, and includes a range of options, from true wireless earbuds that cut the cord completely, through to super immersive, noise-cancelling headphones that can block out all ambient sounds, leaving you to focus on your work, music, or podcasts.

They may all look different, but the top-performing headphones in this list all have some key things in common: comfortable designs, class-leasing audio performances, and a range of fantastic extra features, such as built-in voice assistants and wireless connectivity.

We believe that a good pair of headphones is a must-have for anyone who loves their music – and that's true whether you're listening on your smartphone, your laptop, or one of the best MP3 players you can buy today. 

Whether you're looking for unbeatable, audiophile sound quality or budget-friendly earbuds that can handle a sweaty workout sessions, we've got you covered.

How to choose the right headphones for you

There are a number of different factors to consider when you're looking for the best headphones. 

The most important consideration is design. Do you want a pair of in-ear headphones that are discrete and will stay snug all-day? Do you want a pair of true wireless headphones to give you ultimate flexibility? Or how about a big pair of over-ear headphones, the ultimate in noise cancellation and comfort?

We've included a number of different headphone types below, like in-ear, on-ear, over-ear, wireless and true wireless.

There’s even much more choice on the way soon, too. Rumors of the AirPods Pro 2 and the AirPods 3 have been circulating for months now – and we're hearing more information on the first Sonos headphones, as well as the rumored Beats Studio Buds.

So, if you're in a hurry and want to find the finest headphones your money can buy right now, check out the top picks from every audio tech category below. 

Our best headphone picks

A pair of the sony wh-1000xm4 over-ear headphones in black

(Image credit: Sony)

Best headphones 2021: Sony WH-1000XM4

The headphones that do it all

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 253g
Frequency response: 4Hz to 40kHz
Drivers: 1.57-inch dome-type
Battery life: 30 hours
Reasons to buy
+Improved noise-cancellation+DSEE Extreme audio upscaling+Multipoint pairing
Reasons to avoid
-Not water-resistant

The Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones deliver excellent noise-cancellation and surprising sound quality all in a lightweight, comfortable design.  

While they don't look significantly different from their predecessors, the Sony WH-1000XM3, a number of new features including multipoint pairing, DSEE Extreme upscaling, conversational awareness and auto-play/pause using a built-in sensor all help the WH-1000XM4 claim the title of best headphones in 2021.

By every possible metric, the Sony WH-1000XM4 is a wonderful pair of wireless noise-cancelling headphones. They deliver exactly what they promise and then some thanks to their exceptional noise cancellation and cutting-edge codec support.

On top of the adjustments listed above, the Sony WH-1000XM4 support Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format that enables spatial audio on stereo headphones plus the LDAC codec that can send a bitrate of up to 990 kbps. The unfortunate bit there, though, is that it no longer supports aptX or aptX HD, so your Hi-Res Audio support mileage may vary.

Despite being usurped by the XM4s, the Sony WH-1000XM3s are still well worth considering – and they're likely to be discounted now that the newer model is out.

Read more: Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Headphones review

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A pair of the 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphones in black and gold

(Image credit: 1More)

Best in-ear headphones: 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphone

Your search for great-sounding, good value headphones ends here

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 18g
Frequency response: 20-40,000Hz
Drivers: Dynamic
Battery life: N/A
Reasons to buy
+Lush sound quality+Excellent build and design+Unmatched value
Reasons to avoid
-Plastic remote feels cheap

After spending a few weeks with both the 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphones, we were blown away by the great value for money they represent – that's why they're the best headphones for those who like wired earbuds.

For $100 / £100 (about AU$168), it’s hard to think of a better-sounding and more well-built pair of earphones than the 1MORE Triple Drivers. (That said, if you want just that little extra refinement and luxury materials, the 1MORE Quad Drivers are still a bargain at twice the price.)

There’s very little we can fault the Triple Drivers for. Sure, the inbuilt remote feels a little cheap, but that's more than made up for by the lush sound quality offered by these luxe-looking earbud.

For the price, it’s impossible to do better than 1MORE's Triple Driver in-ear headphones. 

Read more: 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphone review

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The s500u earbuds from RHA in black and silver

(Image credit: RHA)

Best budget in-ear headphones: RHA S500u

Great-sounding, incredibly cheap in-ear headphones

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 14g
Frequency response: 16-22,000Hz
Drivers: Micro Dynamic
Battery life: N/A
Reasons to buy
+Excellent build quality  +Balanced, rich audio  
Reasons to avoid
-Sibilant at times -Narrow soundstage 

If you have a tendency to lose or break headphones, but you still value sound quality, it’s hard to think of a better value pair of earbuds than the RHA S500u

These in-ear headphones have no business sounding so good for $40 / £30 / AU$52, sporting a balanced soundstage with a slight mid-bass bump to power you through your workouts and make your music sound great. 

Bass is slightly emphasized but not egregiously and features good impact while maintaining good control – and highs, while sibilant at times, makes music sound more exciting. In short, these are the best headphones you can buy if you're on a strict budget.  

Read more: RHA S500u review

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The px7 over-ear headphones from Bowers and Wilkins

(Image credit: Bowers & Wilkins)

Best wireless headphones: Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Wireless Headphones

Strong all-rounders

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 310g
Frequency response: 10 – 30,000 Hz
Drivers: 43.6mm full range
Battery life: 30 hours
Reasons to buy
+Best-in-class sound quality+Competitive battery life+Robust Bluetooth connection
Reasons to avoid
-Earcups don't collapse

If you’re looking for wireless headphones with active noise cancellation and you're not put off by the $399 / £349 / AU$600 price tag, the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Wireless Headphones are well worth considering. The title of best wireless headphones still goes to the Sony WH-1000XM4 of course, but there's not much in it. 

With sophisticated noise cancellation, much-improved sound quality, and a honed aesthetic, the PX7 could give any of the headphones on this list a run for their money. 

Plus, they're packing aptX Adaptive for improved stability and latency between the headphones and your device, as well as high-quality (24-bit) streaming aptX HD brought to the table. That's why they're the best headphones if you're looking for a strong pair of all-rounders.

Read more: Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Wireless Headphones review

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A pair of the BackBeat Go 810 over-ear headphones from Plantronics

(Image credit: Plantronics)

Best budget wireless headphones: Plantronics BackBeat Go 810

Solid, affordable, mid-range noise-cancelling headphones

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 289g
Frequency response: N/A
Drivers: 40mm dynamic
Battery life: 24 hours
Reasons to buy
+Excellent build quality+Warm, balanced sound+Reliable wireless connection
Reasons to avoid
-Hiss when music isn't playing

For years, the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 were among our favorite wireless headphones because of their excellent sound, build quality and features. Unfortunately, they were also kind of expensive. 

For a lot less ($150 / £140 / AU$240), Plantronics now sells the brilliant Plantronics BackBeat Go 810, which use less premium materials but sound nearly identical to its more expensive predecessor – and sport an equally chic design. 

With that in mind, the BackBeat Go 810 are the best headphones for those that want wireless connectivity without the high price tag.

Read more: Plantronics BackBeat Go 810 review

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A pair of the sony wf-1000xm4 true wireless earbuds in black

(Image credit: Sony)

Best true wireless earbuds: Sony WF-1000XM4 Wireless Earbuds

The best true wireless earbuds you can buy today

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 7.3g
Frequency response: 20-40,000Hz
Drivers: 6mm
Battery life : 8 hours (earbuds) 16 hours (charging case)
Reasons to buy
+Rapid, full-bodied and eloquent sound+Truly useful features+Impressive call quality
Reasons to avoid
-Unremarkable battery life-No aptX support

Sony is largely responsible for the rude health of the active noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds market, and with the Sony WF-1000XM4, the company has combined performance, ergonomics, and build quality more effectively than ever before. 

Compared to their predecessors, the Sony WF-1000XM3, the new wireless earbuds offer enough quality-of-life features to make them worth upgrading to, even if they are more expensive. 

While other true wireless earbuds surpass the Sony WF-1000XM4 in particular areas – noise cancellation, for example – no other model comes close to offering such excellent quality across the board. That’s why the Sony WF-1000XM4 are hands-down the best true wireless earbuds you can buy today.

Read more: Sony WF-1000XM4 review

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A pair of the lypertek tevi true wireless headphones in silver

(Image credit: Lypertek)

Best budget true wireless earbuds: Lypertek PurePlay Z3 (Tevi)

Incredible, affordable buds

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 100g
Frequency response: 20-20,000Hz
Drivers: 6mm graphene
Battery life : 10 hours (earbuds) 70 hours (with charging case)
Reasons to buy
+Incredible value+Neutral audiophile-like sound+Great battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Design is a bit plain

Formerly known as the Lypertek Tevi, the Lypertek PurePlay Z3 (Tevi) true wireless earbuds are among the best true wireless earbuds we’ve tried, especially given their low price tag ($130 / £99 / AU$185).

With USB-C charging, a well-balanced sound, lengthy battery life, and waterproofing, they tick every box you could ask for, from what are basically a pair of budget buds. 

The Lypertek Tevi, surprisingly, might just blow you away, punching well above their weight and rivaling buds from some of the biggest audio brands on the planet – and making it onto our round up of the best headphones. 

Consider us pleasantly surprised.

Read more: Lypertek PurePlay Z3 (Tevi) true wireless earbuds review

Looking for something even cheaper? Check out the Lypertek SoundFree S20 boast a great sound and excellent connectivity for a low price.

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The Nuraloop wireless headphones in black

(Image credit: NuraLoop)

Best Bluetooth earbuds: NuraLoop headphones

Improving on aural perfection

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 25g
Frequency response: 20Hz - 20 kHz
Drivers: 8.6mm dynamic
Battery life: 16 hours
Reasons to buy
+Rich, adaptive audio+ANC and social mode+Rugged, sweatproof desig
Reasons to avoid
-Stiff neckband can get in the way

NuraLoop boils down the essence of the company's first product, the Nuraphone, into a much more compact, rugged, and affordable package, and doesn't lose much in the process with the NuraLoop headphones.

The star of the show is its adaptive audio technology, which automatically determines a listening profile for the user and feeds them well-balanced, lush sound as a result.

On top of this, features like active noise-cancelling, social mode, an IPX3 rating, Immersion mode, a great battery life, and the ability to attach an analog cable for 3.5mm headphone jacks makes this pair of wireless earbuds truly shine.

Read more: NuraLoop headphones review

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A pair of the over-ear Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 in grey

(Image credit: Bose)

Best noise-cancelling headphones: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

Class-leading noise cancellation, but not the best battery life

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 25g
Frequency response: N/A
Drivers: N/A
Battery life: 20 hours
Reasons to buy
+Outstanding noise cancelation+Fun, lively sound+Elegant design
Reasons to avoid
-Battery life could be better

If the Sony WH-1000XM4s are the true king of noise-cancelling headphones, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are next in line for the throne – and for the sake of offering an alternative, we've included them in this list.

By applying noise cancellation to phone calls as well as music, Bose has made great strides in the field of noise-cancelling headphones. The sound quality is undeniably good, with a vibrant, lively character and well-balanced soundstage.

If you’re trying to decide between buying the Sony WH-1000XM4s and the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, we’d recommend going for the former because of that lower price and better battery life – they're the best headphones of 2020 for a reason. That being said, you wouldn’t be making a mistake if you opted for the Bose cans instead (and we wouldn’t blame you if you did) – they sound great, look stunning, and the noise cancellation is out of this world. 

Read more: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review

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A pair of the AKG N60NC over-ear headphones in black

Best budget noise-cancelling headphones: AKG N60NC

Excellent performance at a low price

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 198g
Frequency response: 10 - 20,000 Hz
Drivers: 40mm
Battery life: 15 hours
Reasons to buy
+15-30 hours' battery life+Lossless audio support+Superb sound
Reasons to avoid
-On-ear form can be uncomfortable

The AKG N60NC headphones are award-winners, with a coveted 5-star rating from TechRadar. Now the price has fallen considerably they’re an even better buy. The noise cancellation is very good indeed, and like other AKG headphones there’s good, solid bass without overpowering the midrange and treble. They’re comfortable, too, which is an important consideration if you’re using them on your travels.

The battery is decent for cheap noise canceling headphones, with 15 hours of playback over Bluetooth. If you just want full noise cancellation, you’re good for a whopping 30 hours of peace and relative quiet before you need to find a charger. Note: these headphones are available in wired or wireless versions.

Read more: AKG N60NC review

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A pair of the Bose QuietComfort true wireless earbuds in white

(Image credit: Bose)

Best noise-cancelling earbuds: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

Noise cancellation in the true wireless market just got serious

Specifications
Acoustic Design: Closed
Weight: 8.5g
Frequency Response: N/A
Drivers: N/A
Battery on-board: 6 hours (earbuds) 12 hours (charging case)
Reasons to buy
+Best-in-class ANC+Rich, clear sound+Secure, comfortable fit+Wireless charging
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks on-board volume control-Bulky charging case-Case could offer more charge

It’s Bose’s second attempt at a set of true wireless headphones, and the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are leaps and bounds better than the older SoundSport Free. Not only is the design a lot better, but the noise cancellation is also exemplary. Sound quality is also really very good – albeit a touch less bassy as compared to Sony – with superb clarity. These noise-cancelling earbuds are incredibly comfortable and well balanced too, despite their bulky form factor.

Read more: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review

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The grado sr60e over-ear headphones in black

(Image credit: Grado)

Best on-ear headphones: Grado SR60e

Truly excellent sound performance for a stellar price

Specifications
Acoustic design: Open
Weight: 220g
Frequency response: 20Hz-20,000Hz
Drivers: Dynamic
Battery life: N/A
Reasons to buy
+Very comfortable+Impressive definition for the price+Highly recommended
Reasons to avoid
-No in-line controls

For your money, you can't do any better than the Grado SR60e. The third-generation of the Brooklyn, NY-based company's Prestige Series are its best and most refined yet. 

The SR60e in particular are a smart choice if you're looking for an entry-level pair of headphones that sound far more expensive than they really are.

Their open-backed earcup design makes them feel more breathable than most on-ear headphones, delivering a wide, natural soundstage. In a few words, they're our gold-standard when it comes to on-ears.

(Our review is for the SR60i, but the newer SR60e headphones are largely similar in design and performance.)

Read more: Grado SR60e review

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The Jabra Elite 45h on-ear headphones in sand

(Image credit: Jabra)

Best budget on-ear headphones: Jabra Elite 45h

The best value on-ear headphones you can buy

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 160g
Frequency response: 20Hz-20,000Hz
Drivers: 40mm
Battery life: 50 hours
Reasons to buy
+Balanced sound+Impressive battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Leaky sound-Iffy call quality

For just  $79 / £69/ AU$99, Jabra has wrapped Bluetooth 5 connectivity, 40mm full-range dynamic drivers and a smattering of physical push-button controls in a wireless on-ear frame with the Jabra Elite 45h. Faux leather and memory foam, combined with winningly un-creaky plastic, make for a comfortable fit (even if the earpads themselves absorb ear-heat quite quickly and then give it straight back).

There’s voice control available from Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri. Jabra’s Sound+ control app even walks you through a brief hearing test to establish exactly how the EQs should be set to best suit your ears. By the standards of overtly affordable headphones, the Elite 45h are feature-packed.

Read more: Jabra Elite 45h review

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The Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro over-ear headphones in black

(Image credit: Beyerdynamic)

Best over-ear headphones: Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro

Professional headphones that know how to have fun

Specifications
Acoustic design: Open
Weight: 370 g
Frequency response: 5 – 40,000Hz
Drivers: 45mm dynamic Tesla neodymium
Battery life: N/A
Reasons to buy
+Built like a tank+Excellent comfort+Breathtaking resolution
Reasons to avoid
-Slightly recessed mids

While Beyerdynamic may not be as well known as its German brother, Sennheiser, the audio company has a history of creating some of the best sounding audio gear on the market.

Enter the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro, an open-back version of the Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pro, which won our Editor’s Choice for their imaging, design and value for the money. Both headphones are priced the same ($599 / £589 / AU$1,159), so you won’t find a deal picking up one over the other. The difference here comes down to sound. 

As they’re open-back, the DT 1990 Pro are meant to be used at home or in the studio for serious analytical listening. Sound is able to get in and out, but the good news is that the open-back design gives the DT 1990 Pro a great sense of space. The soundstage is quite wide, too, allowing even the most lackadaisical listener to pinpoint the exact location of where each instrument is playing.  

If you've been searching for a pair of high fidelity cans that are used by some of the world's leading audio engineers, these are the best headphones for you.

Read more: Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro review

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The JBL tune 750btnc over-ear headphones in black

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Best budget over-ear headphones: JBL Tune 750BTNC

Quality noise-cancelling over-ears for a great price

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 220g
Frequency response: 20Hz - 20kHz
Drivers: 40mm
Battery life: 22 hours
Reasons to buy
+Good sound quality+Strong active noise cancelation
Reasons to avoid
-No waterproofing-Average battery life

JBL is a popular name in the world of headphones and Bluetooth speakers, and rightly so. Solidly dependable, consumers know what to expect from the brand – decent sound quality for a decent price. 

That's what we found with the JBL Live 650BTNC last year – and now, ready to take their place are the JBL Tune 750BTNC, a superior successor to the 650BTNC's as a high-spec and well-priced set of over-ear headphones.

The JBL Tune 750BTNC sound great, look great, and they fit well. Reliable and easy to use, you might miss waterproofing and a few minor features – but at this price, it feels foolish to complain too readily.

Read more: JBL Tune 750BTNC review

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The focal stellia over-ear headphones in bronze

(Image credit: Focal)

Best luxury headphones: Focal Stellia

Luxury cans with a luxury price tag to match

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 435g
Frequency response: 5Hz - 40kHz
Drivers: 40mm
Battery life: N/A
Reasons to buy
+Stunning, precise sound+Open soundstage+Opulent design
Reasons to avoid
-Extremely expensive

If you ignore the price, the Focal Stellia headphones are perhaps the best headphones on the planet. Their wide-open soundstage and detailed, accurate sound treatment means they make any genre of music sound brilliant.

If you listen to songs you think you know inside out, the Stellias' precise separation of the frequencies means that you will probably hear details you’ve never noticed before.

If you like to keep things minimal in the headphones department, you probably won’t like the showy, opulent design of the Focal Stellias, and they can feel a little chunky for wearing on the commute into work. 

But if luxury is your thing, the full-grain leather cups, woven cables, brushed copper accents, and matching carrying case are likely to appeal. 

That luxury feel is translated right down to the presentation of the user manuals in a neat little leather-style wallet – and you may well expect to find this level of detail in exchange for parting with $3,000. Ouch. 

Read more: Focal Stellia headphones review

Best headphones of 2021, at a glance

What to look for

Choosing the right headphones for you can be a tough decision – but it doesn't have to be if you look for a few key features. 

Above all, sound quality is the most important thing to look for. That doesn't mean you have to buy the most expensive audiophile headphones on the market; it just means that you should have an idea of what kind of sound you like. 

How you define good sound quality depends on your personal taste. Do you like a warm, well-rounded sound, or do you prefer ultra high-fidelity that allows you to hear every single detail of your music? Are you a dedicated bass head or a classical music junkie? Do you want active noise cancellation (ANC) to drown out ambient noise? 

It's also important to consider the soundstage as a whole; if you love a wide, open sound, try a pair of open-back headphones. Worried about sound-leakage when you're in the company of others? Try a pair of closed-back cans with a secure fit to stop your tunes bothering the people around you.

You should also think about what you'll be using your new headphones for; if you need to soundtrack your workout, you'll want to look at the best headphones specifically designed for running or swimming.

It also pays to consider price. You don't have to break the bank when your buying the best headphones for you, as evidenced by our guide to the best cheap headphones of 2021.

Which type of headphones are right for you?

There are a number of headphones types that all have slightly different designs and sit on your head in different ways. Let's take a look at the main kinds of headphones, so you can find the right ones for you.

In-ear headphones, referred to as an earbuds or earphones, are usually the cheapest and easiest way to pump audio into your ears. 

Earphones rest in or just outside the ear canal, creating a tight seal to keep air out and sound in. Compared to other types of headphones, these are the most discreet ones you'll find. Their small form-factor also makes them the king/queen of portability and the prime choice for athletes.

The 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphones in black and silver

The 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphones.

On-ear headphones fit to your head a little differently. Instead of enveloping your ears with a soft cushion, on-ear headphones create a light, breathable seal around your ear. Thus, the noise isolation is much less effective than in-ear or over-ear options. This might be a dealbreaker for some, but there are big benefits to consider here.

On-ear headphones are usually more portable than their over-ear brethren, appeal to travelers and make good fitness headphones. Taking a walk or a jog around town is also safer, as you can hear traffic go by and be aware of potential hazards.

Over-ear headphones generally provide greater richness and depth of sound, which allows listeners to pick apart the instruments and sounds much easier. Additionally, over-ear, or circumaural headphones, go around the ear and offer a generous amount of padding.

The Focal Stellia over-ear headphones in bronze

The Focal Stellia over-ear headphones. (Image credit: Focal)

Wireless headphones can be split into three different categories: wireless earphones connected via a neckband, wireless on-ear headphones, and wireless over-ear headphones – all are battery-powered and use Bluetooth to connect to your smartphone, laptop, portable music player, or even your turntable. 

For wireless over-ear and on-ear models, you simply lose the wire connecting them to your device – otherwise, they look pretty much the same as your regular pair of wired cans, and give you the noise-isolating prowess of over-ears without the need for cumbersome wires to connect to your device.

Wireless in-ear models, earphones, or earbuds (depending on your preferred vernacular), have a neckband connecting each earbud, making them ideal for runners who want the freedom of a wireless connection with the security of a wire keeping their earbuds firmly around their neck. 

True wireless earbuds on the other hand, have no cord whatsoever; no wires to get caught in your zipper, and nothing to keep each bud connected to each other. For some, this means true freedom; for others, untethered true wireless means constant danger of losing their expensive audio kit down the drain – or terrible connections. 

The latter, at least, has changed now – thanks to advances in Bluetooth technology like aptX HD, the best true wireless earbuds have never sounded better.

These advances have also paved the way for true wireless earbuds to dominate the audio market. You just have to look at the popularity of the Apple AirPods (2019)Beats Powerbeats Pro, and Samsung Galaxy Buds, to understand how successful the true wireless market has become in recent years. 

Check out our videos below for a roundup of the best headphones available.

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