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

Finding the best headphones to suit your style and listening habits can be difficult – especially when there are so many different models t...

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.

The best headphones include everything from true wireless earbuds that cut the cord completely to immersive noise-cancelling headphones that block out the world – and everything in between.

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.

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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

sony wh-1000xm4

(Image credit: Sony)

Best headphones 2021: Sony WH-1000XM4

The headphones that do it all

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

Improved noise-cancellation
DSEE Extreme audio upscaling
Multipoint pairing
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

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

Lush sound quality
Excellent build and design
Unmatched value
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

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

Excellent build quality  
Balanced, rich audio  
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

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

Best-in-class sound quality
Competitive battery life
Robust Bluetooth connection
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-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.

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

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

Excellent build quality
Warm, balanced sound
Reliable wireless connection
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

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

Efficient noise cancelation
Inconspicuous looks
Great fun to listen to
Not suitable for sports

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

lypertek tevi

(Image credit: Lypertek)

Best budget true wireless earbuds: Lypertek Tevi

Incredible, affordable buds

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

Incredible value
Neutral audiophile-like sound
Great battery life
Design is a bit plain

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

Nuraloops

(Image credit: NuraLoop)

Best Bluetooth earbuds: NuraLoop headphones

Improving on aural perfection

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

Rich, adaptive audio
ANC and social mode
Rugged, sweatproof desig
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

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

Outstanding noise cancelation
Fun, lively sound
Elegant design
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

sennheiser hd 450bt

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

Best budget noise-cancelling headphones: Sennheiser HD 450BT

Great noise-cancelling headphones for those on a budget

Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 238g | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: 18Hz - 22kHz | Drivers: 40mm | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: 100 [email protected]/1mW | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 30 hours | Wireless range: 30ft (10m) | NFC: No

Fantastic sound
Comfortable fit
Flimsy build
Soundstage could be more open

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

grado sr60e

(Image credit: Grado)

Best on-ear headphones: Grado SR60e

Truly excellent sound performance for a stellar price

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

Very comfortable
Impressive definition for the price
Highly recommended
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

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

Balanced sound
Impressive battery life
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

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

Built like a tank
Excellent comfort
Breathtaking resolution
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

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

Good sound quality
Strong active noise cancelation
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

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

Stunning, precise sound
Open soundstage
Opulent design
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.

Headphone deals

Not sure how to pick the best headphones for your needs? We've provided a breakdown of what you can expect from each form factor, from tiny true wireless earbuds to big over-ear headphones.

What headphones should you buy? Check out our video below for everything you need to know.

In-ear headphones

More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphones

The 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphones.

This type of headphone, more commonly referred to as an earbud or earphone, is usually the cheapest and easiest way to pump audio into your ears. If you've purchased an MP3 player like the iPod touch (7th generation), it's likely that a set was included with the purchase. But that doesn't mean you have to stick with what you're given, as our guide to the best earbuds will attest.

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.

You're not likely to find strong performers at the low-end of the price spectrum. Their sound delivery is generally muddled, lacking bass and overcompensating for that with harsh mids and highs. That said, it won't cost you much money at all to find a value-packed option complete with inline controls and a microphone.

On-ear headphones

grado gw100

Grado's GW100 Wireless on-ear headphones. (Image credit: Grado)

While similar to over-ear headphones in appearance, they 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, and as such they 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

Focal Stellia

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

This ear-muff style of headphone generally provides greater richness and depth of sound, which allows listeners to pick apart the instruments and sounds much easier. Additionally, over-ear, or circum-aural headphones, go around the ear and offer a generous amount of padding.

The price range for a set of on-ear headphones begins around $100 / £100 and from there, the sky's the limit – for example, the excellent Focal Stellia cost $3,000 / £2,799. It's definitely not necessary to spend that much, but you do tend to get what you pay for.

If your headphone budget is in the low hundreds or less, you'll still find plenty of options that have excellent build quality, premium materials and amazing sound and features like ANC (active noise cancellation.)

Wireless headphones

bowers & wilkins px7

The Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Wireless Headphones. (Image credit: Bowers & Wilkins)

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. 

Opting to go wireless will cost you a premium of anywhere between $50-100 over the price of wired cans. Going futuristic isn't cheap. One important thing to consider is that your music player must support the Bluetooth wireless protocol, as it's required to use this type of headphone.

Speaking of Bluetooth, it has become exponentially more reliable over time, but it's always susceptible to disturbances in the force.

Sony WF-1000XM3

The Sony WF-1000XM3 true wireless earbuds. (Image credit: Sony)

True wireless earbuds

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. 

Noise-cancelling headphones

Sony WH-1000XM3

The Sony WH-1000XM3 noise-cancelling headphones.

This category, like wireless headphones, isn't limited to a form factor. You can find this clever mix of technologies integrated into the ear pieces of in-ear and over-ear headphones alike.

Many companies falsely claim to offer true noise cancelation with just the padding included around the ear cups. Don't believe it. This is PNC (passive noise cancelation), and it doesn't amount to much. You can even replicate this effect by cupping your hands around your ears, so why shell out the big bucks for it?

On the other hand, ANC (active noise cancelation) is the real deal. This technique employs a set of external microphones, which detect the decibel level outside. Once it has an idea of the incoming noise level, the headphone speakers inside transmit a noise generated to dampen the racket. The end result is an effect that hushes the outside noise, allowing you to focus.

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