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

Best Headphones
Image credit: Sony
PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID

Picking the best headphones to fit your budget, your style and your listening preferences can be tricky – especially considering there are many different models and types of headphones to choose from. 

Luckily for you, we’ve selected the best headphones you can buy right now. Our list of the top headphones in shops today include a range from true wireless earbuds that cut the cord completely, through to immersive, noise-cancelling headphones that block out all ambient sounds so you can focus – and everything in between.

What all the best headphones of 2021 we’ve picked out below have in common, is that they truly deliver when it comes to comfort, great-looking design, top audio fidelity, and a range of fantastic features, which includes built-in voice assistants and wireless connectivity.

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A great pair of headphones is a must-have for anyone who travels a lot, loves podcasts, needs music on while they work to focus, listens to loads of audiobooks or music lovers who prioritize top sound quality over anything else. That's true whether you're listening on your smartphone, your laptop, or one of the best MP3 players of 2021. 

The good news is, there’s plenty of choice. You can find the right pair of headphones to suit you whether you're looking for unbeatable, audiophile sound quality or budget-friendly earbuds for working out that you don't mind getting a bit sweaty.

There’s even 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, and the rumored Sony WF-1000XM4 as well.

With many different options to choose from, making the right buying decision can be a challenge. 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 in our list, too – the Sony WH-1000XM4 have usurped the XM3s to take the top spot as our best headphones for 2021 overall, thanks to teir 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 want to find the best headphones your money can buy right now, then check out the top picks from every audio tech category below. 

Our best headphone picks

sony wh-1000xm4

(Image credit: Sony)

Best headphones 2021: Sony WH-1000XM4

The headphones that do it all

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 8.95 oz
Cable length: 3.94 ft
Frequency response: 4Hz to 40kHz
Drivers: 1.57-inch
Driver type: Dome-type
Sensitivity: 104.5 dB
Impedance: 47 ohm
Battery life: 30 hours
Wireless range: 30 meters (98ft)
NFC: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Improved noise-cancellation+DSEE Extreme audio upscaling+Multipoint pairing
Reasons to avoid
-Not water-resistant

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

1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphone

(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: N/A
Cable length: N/A
Frequency response: 20-40,000Hz
Drivers: N/A
Driver type: Dynamic
Sensitivity: 99 dB/mW
Impedance: 32 ohms
Battery life: N/A
Wireless range: N/A
NFC: 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

rha s500u

(Image credit: RHA)

Best budget in-ear headphones: RHA S500u

Great-sounding, incredibly cheap in-ear headphones

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 14 grams
Cable length: 1.35m, dual material
Frequency response: 16-22,000Hz
Drivers: Micro Dynamic
Driver type: Dynamic
Sensitivity: 100dB
Impedance: 16 ohms
Battery life: N/A
Wireless range: N/A
NFC: 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

bowers & wilkins px7

(Image credit: Bowers & Wilkins)

Best wireless headphones: Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Wireless Headphones

Strong all-rounders

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 310g
Cable length: 1.2m
Frequency response: 10 – 30,000 Hz
Drivers: 43.6mm
Driver type: Full range
Sensitivity: N/A
Impedance: 20 kOhms
Battery life: 30 hours
Wireless range: N/A
NFC: N/A
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 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

Plantronics BackBeat Go 810

(Image credit: Plantronics)

Best budget wireless headphones: Plantronics BackBeat Go 810

Solid, affordable, mid-range noise-cancelling headphones

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 0.64 lbs (289g)
Cable length: N/A
Frequency response: N/A
Drivers: 40mm
Driver type: Dynamic
Sensitivity: N/A
Impedance: N/A
Battery life: 24 hours
Wireless range: 100 meters (330 feet)
NFC: No
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 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

Sony WF-1000XM3

(Image credit: Sony)

Best true wireless earbuds: Sony WF-1000XM3

Noise cancelation without the wires

Specifications
Weight: 70g
Frequency response: 20Hz - 20kHz
Drivers: 6mm
Driver type: Dome Type
Sensitivity: N/A
Impedance: N/A
Battery life (charging case): 18 hours
Wireless range: 30ft
NFC: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Efficient noise cancelation+Inconspicuous looks+Great fun to listen to
Reasons to avoid
-Not suitable for sports

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

[Update: There could be a new pair of Sony earbuds on the horizon – the Sony WF-1000XM4 are the rumored follow-up to the best wireless earbuds you can buy today.]

lypertek tevi

(Image credit: Lypertek)

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

Incredible, affordable buds

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: N/A
Frequency response: 20-20,000Hz
Drivers: 6mm
Driver type: Graphene
Sensitivity: N/A
Impedance: N/A
Battery life (on-board): 10 hours
Battery life (charging case): 70 hours
Wireless range: N/A
NFC: No
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 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.

Nuraloops

(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
Driver type: Dynamic
Sensitivity: N/A
Impedance: N/A
Battery life: 16 hours
wireless range: N/A
NFC: No
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.

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

Bose headphones

(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
Cable length: N/A
Frequency response: N/A
Drivers: N/A
Driver type: N/A
Sensitivity: N/A
Impedance: N/A
Battery life: 20 hours
Wireless range: 33 ft
NFC: Yes
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

AKG N60NC wireless noise cancelling headphones prices deals sales

Best budget noise-cancelling headphones: AKG N60NC

Excellent performance at a low price

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: N/A
Cable length: 1.2m
Frequency response: 10 - 20,000 Hz
Drivers: N/A
Driver type: N/A
Sensitivity: 111dB
Impedance: 32 Ohm
Battery life: 15 hours
Wireless range: 33 ft
NFC: No
Reasons to buy
+15-30 hours' battery life+Lossless audio support+Superb sound
Reasons to avoid
-On-ear form can be uncomfortable

These 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

grado sr60e

(Image credit: Grado)

Best on-ear headphones: Grado SR60e

Truly excellent sound performance for a stellar price

Specifications
Acoustic design: Open
Weight: N/A
Cable length: N/A
Frequency response: 20Hz-20,000Hz
Drivers: N/A
Driver type: Dynamic
Sensitivity: 99db
Impedance: 32 ohm
Battery life: N/A
Wireless range: N/A
NFC: 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 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

on-ear headphones

(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
Cable length: 300mm
Frequency response: 20Hz-20,000Hz
Drivers: 40mm
Driver type: N/A
Sensitivity: N/A
Impedance: N/A
Battery life: 50 hours
Wireless range: 10m
NFC: N/A
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. 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

best over ear headphones

(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
Cable length: 9.8ft or 3.9 ft
Frequency response: 5 – 40,000Hz
Drivers: N/A
Driver type: N/A
Sensitivity: 102dB
Impedance: 250 Ohms
Battery life: N/A
Wireless range: N/A
NFC: 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

jbl tune 750btnc

(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
Cable length: N/A
Frequency response: 20Hz - 20kHz
Drivers: 40mm
Driver type: N/A
Sensitivity: 95dB
Impedance: 32 ohms
Battery life: 15 - 22 hours
Wireless range: 30ft (10m)
NFC: No
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

focal stellia

(Image credit: Focal)

Best luxury headphones: Focal Stellia

Luxury cans with a luxury price tag to match

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 0.96 lbs (435g)
Cable length: 1 x 4ft OFC 24 AWG cable, 1 x 10ft OFC 24 AWG cable
Frequency response: 5Hz - 40kHz
Drivers: 40mm
Sensitivity: 106dB SPL / 1mW @ 1kHz
Impedance: 35Ohms
Battery life: NA
Wireless range: NA
NFC: No
Reasons to buy
+Stunning, precise sound+Open soundstage+Opulent design
Reasons to avoid
-Extremely expensive

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

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.

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