Best Headphones 2021

After a new set of headphones? There are plenty of different styles in different sizes that come with all types of features. If it’s an on-ear you’re after, perhaps an over-ear or maybe even an in-ear; our selection of headphones represent the very best we’ve tested.

From budget cans to the latest premium efforts, there’s enough variety to suit not only your needs but your budget.

We’ve put these headphones through our tests with a variety of music to suit any interest, as well as being compared to similar priced and feature sets so you can be confident that you’re getting exactly what you need.

If you’re after something specific, why not have a look at our best wireless earbuds? If you’re in need of something more sporty, we have our best running headphones and if you want to block the world out, then our selection of the best noise cancelling headphones will hep achieve just that.

How we test headphones

Not just anybody can review a pair of headphones. You don’t need superhuman hearing to tell what’s good, but you do need to know what to listen out for.

Our headphone tests are done by some of the best and most prolific reviewers in the industry, with years of experience listening to everything from the plasticky freebie earbuds that come with your smartphone, to five-figure beasts of glass and marble. We love music and we want your tunes to sound good, too.

So we listen every pair of headphones we can get on or in our ears. We use a variety of sources, from basic MP3s playing on a laptop to high-quality tracks on dedicated hi-res audio players.

Our test tracks are wide-ranging to give headphones a thorough challenge. They’re also familiar, so we know every track backwards, and we know which bits might trouble the lesser performers.

We listen again and again, and we do that for weeks in case the sound changes – because it usually does. Then we’ll listen to similarly priced rivals and come up with a verdict that reflects the performance and features for the money.

Raises the bar for over-ear headphones
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Pros

  • Superb audio
  • Impressive noise cancellation
  • Comfortable fit
  • Useful smart features

Cons

  • Drops aptX/aptX-HD from the specification
  • No IP resistance

The XM4 knocks off the XM3 from top spot on this list, and it does so with an improvement in all areas. Some improvements are rather subtle, such as the design, but they reap dividends with cushier, more comfortable wearing experience. More obvious are the new smart features in Speak-to-Chat and improvements to Ambient smart Control that personalise your audio experience without getting in the way.

ANC is again terrific, suppressing noise for an even smoother and quieter noise-cancelling experience, and the sound is terrific, taking the performance of the previous over-ears and refining it in a way that makes the XM3 sound rather dated. The XM4 are Sony’s best noise-cancellers yet.

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Sony WH-1000XM4

Another brilliant true wireless pair
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Pros

  • Superb audio
  • Impressive noise cancellation
  • Comfortable fit
  • Smart features are useful

Cons

  • Drops aptX/aptX-HD from the specification
  • No IP resistance

The WF-1000XM4 are more ergonomic in shape and smaller in size than the previous models and this helps them sit in the ear better and stay seated, with the new polyurethane noise isolation ear-tips helping to dissipate noise within the ear. 

Despite the charging case being 40% smaller, the XM4’s battery life with ANC improves from 6 hours to 8 hours (24 in total), and with ANC off it stretches 36 hours, four more than the XM3. 

When it comes to noise cancellation, the XM4 excels, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are more impressive still. Call quality is better but appears to be sensitive to background noise.

When it comes to audio, the WF-1000XM4 are versatile in the music genres they can handle with playback having a natural sound, with voices and instruments sounding just like they should. Music is effortlessly conveyed by the XM4 with a fluidity and dynamism that’s impressive to hear. The Sony WF-1000XM4 raise the bar for wireless earbuds ever higher.

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Sony WF-1000XM4

The best earbuds for noise cancellation
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Pros

  • Tremendous noise cancelling
  • Neutral sound
  • Comfortable fit
  • Excellent transparency mode

Cons

  • Rather average battery life
  • No aptX

The QuietComfort Earbuds look is a bit kidney bean-like but we like the svelte appearance. The StayHear Max tip ensures that they stay rooted in the ear, with the only parts touching your ear being silicone for what proves to be a comfortable fit. At launch the Bose didn’t have onboard volume control, but subsequent updates have added the feature.

The noise-cancelling is superb – the best we’ve heard from a wireless earbud. There are a range of ANC levels to cycle through, with the Earbuds’ Transparency Mode giving the listener excellent situational awareness of what’s around them.

The sound quality just as good. They deliver lots of power and energy, the handling of highs, mids and lows are well judged and the tone is not just neutral but natural. They are one of the best, if not the best ANC wireless earbuds available.

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

Fantastic over-ear sound from the British audio brand
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Pros

  • Big, textured sound
  • 30 hour battery
  • Effective wear sensor technology Impressive
  • Ambient pass-through mode

Cons

  • ANC ought to be stronger
  • Wireless connectivity gets choppy in busy areas

With the PX7, B&W has crafted another entertaining pair of headphones. The active noise cancellation isn’t as strong as others, but fends off most distractions. Wireless connectivity can get choppy in busy areas, though, despite the presence of aptX adaptive audio.

The audio is fantastic; delivering a big, textured and sumptuous listening experience that make the PX7 one of the finest-sounding ANC headphones on the market.

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Bowers & Wilkins PX7

Another top-notch headphone from the German audio brand
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Pros

  • Expressive sound
  • Reasonable good ANC
  • Good fit
  • Robust feature set

Cons

  • Pricey
  • Battery taxed by heavy ANC and Transparency Mode usage

The Momentum True Wireless 2 refine areas the original were lacking and bump up the feature set for a a great true wireless experience.

The introduction of ANC is welcome, and even though it’s not particularly vigorous, it suppress a good amount of surrounding noise. Sennheiser has excelled yet again in the audio department, delivering a warm, lush and expressive sound that we can’t get enough of.

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2

Big, powerful sound from Sennheiser
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Pros

  • Rapid, forceful and detailed sound
  • Fit comfortably
  • Look and feel the money’s-worth

Cons

  • Quite big
  • Others cancel noise even more effectively

The Momentum Wireless 3 is a monster of a headphone, both in size and in sound.

The noise cancelling is lighter than you’d expect, but as a overall package they’re up there with the best. Build quality is great; features are plentiful though battery life is just 17 hours. The sound is outstanding with well-controlled bass, plenty of clarity and a midrange that is laced with detail and nuance.

Reviewer: Simon Lucas
Full review: Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3

An uncompromising performance from a non-wireless pair
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Pros

  • Lavishly detailed and explicit sound
  • Light, portable and robust design

Cons

  • Sound leakage makes them anti-social
  • Not exactly feature-rich

At £399, the Audeze (pronounced Aw-dee-zee) LCD-1 are the company’s most affordable headphones. Yes, most affordable.

The design is open-backed so they’re not commuter-friendly, and the feature list is small – the LCD-1 is all about the audio performance. And the LCD-1 serve up a detailed and dynamic sound that aims for neutrality and hits it. If offending fellow passengers with your music tastes appeals, these headphones produce a thrilling sound while doing so.

Reviewer: Simon Lucas
Full review: Audeze LCD-1

Weird looks but great sound
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Pros

  • Open, balanced, detailed, punchy and all-around splendid sound
  • Decent battery life
  • Robust wireless connection

Cons

  • Flat-out odd looks
  • App updates can’t come soon enough

The Aonic 215 are one of the stranger looking true wireless around with their huge antennae, but Shure’s first stab at a wireless earbud is a resounding success.

On the feature front they hit nearly every mark – Bluetooth 5.0, aptX and long battery life – but no ANC is disappointing for the price. Nevertheless, thanks to the weird antennae, the fit offered is great; noise isolation is robust and the sound quality is very satisfying: well-defined, well-balanced and never less than convincing.

Reviewer: Simon Lucas
Full review: Shure Aonic 215

An affordable noise cancelling pair
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Pros

  • Well made from good materials
  • Decent spec
  • Punchy, full-fat and subtle sound

Cons

  • Ho-hum noise-cancelling
  • Could sound more dynamic

The PH805 aren’t the most effective noise-cancellers, but offer a decent noise-zapping experience for its £150 price.

Bluetooth 5.0 is supported and battery life reaches 30 hours (with noise cancellation toggled off). Dynamically they could be better, but otherwise there’s little to complain about, with a sound that’s a faithful-enough reproduction of what you’re listening to.

Reviewer: Simon Lucas
Full review: Philips PH805

What are the best budget headphones?

The Philips PH805 are a fair shout. You can currently find them for less than £100 and they feature active noise cancellation.

What are the best Bluetooth headphones

The Sony WH-1000XM4 would get vote for the best overall headphones. The feature set is comprehensive, the wireless connection reliable, and of course, they sound excellent for the money, too.

What are the best headphone earbuds?

Again, we’d have to give that to another pair of Sony headphones. The Sony WF-1000XM4 may not be class-leading in terms of noise cancellation, in pretty much every other category they excel.

We’ve reviewed

1,159

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