Finding the best headphones to suit your style and listening habits can be difficult – especially when there are so many different models to choose from.
What all the best headphones of 2021 have in common, is that they deliver on comfort, great-looking design, top audio fidelity, and a range of fantastic features, including built-in voice assistants and wireless connectivity.
A great pair of headphones is essential for anyone who loves podcasts, listens to loads of audiobooks or music lovers who prioritize top sound quality over anything else. The good news is, there’s plenty of choice. You can find headphones to suit you whether you're looking for audiophile sound quality or budget-friendly earbuds for working out.
And there’s more choice on the way soon. Rumors of the AirPods Pro 2, and the AirPods 3 have been gaining traction for months now – and we're hearing more information on the first Sonos headphones, too.
With many options to choose from, making the right buying decision can be tricky. That’s why it’s our mission to hook you up with the best headphones for your needs (and your budget).
There's a new overall winner, too – the Sony WH-1000XM4 have usurped the XM3s to take the top spot as our best headphones for 2021 overall, thanks to continued great sound, plus a host of cool new features including audio upscaling, adaptive noise cancellation, and Speak to Chat.
We encourage you to look at all of the headphones listed here on TechRadar. But if you're in a hurry and just want to find the best headphones your money can buy right now, then check out the top picks from every category below.
[Update: Our Apple AirPods Max review is live. If you don't have time to read a full review right now, however, it'll suffice to say that they're among the best-sounding headphones we've ever tested, easy to use, and their noise cancellation is great. However, their high price, limitations for Android users, and lack of 3.5mm audio port means we'd only recommend them to iOS users with a lot of money to spare – and no interest in Hi-Res Audio.]
Our best headphone picks
The Sony WH-1000XM4 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
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.
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
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 are well worth considering. The title of best wireless headphones still goes to the Sony WH-1000XM3 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.
For a lot less ($150 / £140 / AU$240), Plantronics now sells the brilliant 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
Considering it's still rare to get noise cancellation in wired earbuds at all, the fact that Sony has managed to pack it into a pair that are not only wireless, but true wireless is very impressive indeed.
The Sony WF-1000XM3 manage to offer a level of noise-cancelation that's very good for a pair of earbuds – they won't offer the same isolation as a pair of over-ear cans, but if you're after a sleek form factor then the compromise is worth it.
That being said, in spite of a few minor problems we feel that Sony has knocked the ball out of the park with the WF-1000XM3: not only are these hands-down the best-looking true wireless earbuds out there, but they also combine serious noise cancelling tech with fist-pumping musicality.
If you don’t want the inconvenience of carrying full-size cans, these true wireless earbuds are a persuasive and smart alternative.
Read more: Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Earbuds review
You may not have heard of up-and-coming audio brand Lypertek yet, but expect to hear a lot from it soon – its Lypertek Tevi 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 Tevi true wireless earbuds review
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.
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
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
Sennheiser is well-known for its great-sounding noise-cancelling headphones, and its latest, the $199 / £159 (about AU$280) Sennheiser HD 450BT, offer a cheaper alternative to previous models like the Momentum 3 Wireless and class-leaders like the Sony WH-1000XM4.
With a minimal design and built-in noise cancellation, these fully-foldable wireless headphones are aimed squarely at the commuting crowd. Their well-balanced profile should appeal audiophiles and bass-hunters alike.
Battery life and connectivity are both very good, and the noise-cancelling works well enough, although you might find that these headphones don’t quite block out all external noise.
Read more: Sennheiser HD 450BT review
For your money, you can't do any better than Grado's 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
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. 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
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
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
If you ignore the price, the Focal Stellias 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 2020, at a glance
- Best headphones 2021: Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Headphones
- Best in-ear headphones: 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphone
- Best budget in-ear headphones: RHA S500u
- Best wireless headphones: Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Wireless Headphones
- Best budget wireless headphones: Plantronics BackBeat Go 810
- Best true wireless earbuds: Sony WF-1000XM3 True Wireless Earbuds
- Best budget true wireless earbuds: Lypertek Tevi
- Best Bluetooth earbuds: NuraLoop headphones
- Best noise-canceling headphones: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
- Best budget noise-canceling headphones: Sennheiser HD 450BT
- Best on-ear headphones: Grado SR60e
- Best budget on-ear headphones: Jabra Elite 45h
- Best over-ear headphones: Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro
- Best budget over-ear headphones: JBL Tune 750BTNC
- Best luxury headphones: Focal Stellia
What to look for
Choosing the best headphones for you can be an agonizing 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?
If you're all about that bass, the best headphones for you will probably contain dynamic drivers that displace lots of air, leading to a bassy soundstage. If detail is everything, look for large frequency ranges – 20Hz to 20 kHz is the standard, so anything larger than this may allow for more detail in the highs and lows.
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 also need to consider the design of your new headphones. Do you want the freedom of true wireless earbuds or the security of a pair of sturdy over-ear headphones?
Wireless or wired is also an important consideration. A few short years ago, we may have tried to dissuade you from buying a pair of wireless headphones (the technology had issues with wireless connectivity over Bluetooth and sound quality took a dive as a result).
Nowadays however, advances in Bluetooth technology means that wireless headphones can sound fantastic and rarely experience annoying dropouts. If you're going for wireless headphones, make sure the battery life is decent, too.
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.
Lastly, you need 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.
Press on to page two to see how to pick out a good pair of headphones along more of our recommendations.
Check out our videos below for a roundup of the best headphones available.